The Great Persecution and the Final Victory, Part 1

The History of Christianity #75

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is John 16:33 which reads: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from a martyr called Thelica. He said: “I am concerned only about the law of God, which I have learned. That is the law which I obey, and in which I shall overcome. Besides that law, there is no other.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Great Persecution and the Final Victory” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

After the persecutions of Decius and Valerian, the church enjoyed a long period of relative peace. Early in the fourth century, however, the last and worst persecution broke out. The reigning emperor was Diocletian, who had reorganized the empire and brought renewed prosperity. Part of Diocletian’s reorganization had consisted of placing the government on the shoulders of a team of four emperors. Two of these had the title of augustus: Diocletian himself in the East, and Maximian in the West. Under each of them there was a junior emperor with the title of caesar: Galerius under Diocletian, and Constantius Chlorus under Maximian. Thanks to Diocletian’s political and administrative gifts, this division of power worked quite well as long as he held ultimate authority. Its main purpose, however, was to ensure an orderly process of succession; for Diocletian planned that a “caesar” would succeed his “augustus,” and that then the remaining emperors would appoint someone to fill the vacancy left by the promoted caesar. Diocletian hoped that this would avert the frequent civil wars that racked the empire over the question of succession. As we shall see, this hope proved futile.

In any case, under Diocletian’s administration the empire was enjoying relative peace and prosperity. Apart from recurring skirmishes along the borders, only Galerius had to undertake significant military campaigns, one along the Danube River and another against the Persians. Among the team of emperors, it seems that only Galerius had given any indication of enmity toward Christianity. Both Diocletian’s wife, Prisca, and their daughter, Valeria, were Christians. The peace of the church seemed assured.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Great Persecution and the Final Victory.

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