The Great Persecution and the Final Victory, Part 3

The History of Christianity #77

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is John 15:18 which reads: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from George Whitefield. He said: “If you are going to walk with Jesus Christ, you are going to be opposed. In our days, to be a true Christian is really to become a scandal.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Great Persecution and the Final Victory” (Part 3) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Following the example of Decius, efforts were made to encourage Christians to abandon their faith. Accustomed as they were to the relative ease of several decades, many Christians succumbed. The rest were tortured with refined cruelty, and eventually killed in a variety of ways. A number were able to hide, and some of these took the sacred books with them. There were even a few who crossed the border into Persia — thus appearing to confirm the worst suspicions as to their lack of loyalty.

While all this was taking place, Galerius aspired to the supreme position within the empire. In 304 AD, Diocletian became ill and, although he survived, he felt weak and tired. Galerius went to him and apparently induced him to abdicate. He also secured Maximian’s abdication by threatening to invade his neighbor’s territories with his clearly superior army. In 305 AD, both Diocletian and Maximian abdicated, while Galerius and Constantius Chlorus took the title of augustus. The two caesars under them, Severus and Maximinus Daia, were Galerius’ inept creatures.

These arrangements, however, were not well received by many in the legions, where the sons of Constantius and Maximian, Constantine and Maxentius, were very popular. Young Constantine lived for years in Diocletian’s court, and later in Galerius’ court, apparently as a hostage to insure the loyalty of his father Constantius Chlorus. But he escaped — or, according to some historians, was released — and joined his father, who had pleaded ill health in asking that his son be sent to him. When Constantius died, the troops refused to obey the designs of Galerius and proclaimed Constantine as their augustus. Meanwhile, Maxentius had taken Rome, and Severus, who ruled in the ancient capital, committed suicide. Galerius invaded the territories held by Maxentius; but his troops began to pass over to his rival’s side, and he was forced to return to the Eastern portion of the empire, where his support was stronger. Finally, in desperation, Galerius appealed to Diocletian, asking him to come out of retirement and establish order. But Diocletian declared that he was quite happy growing cabbages in his retirement, and refused to resume the government of the empire — although he was willing to lead the necessary negotiations among the various rivals. The final result was a very unstable arrangement, which included the appointment of a new augustus, Licinius. By then the claimants to various parts of the empire were too numerous to list here, and further civil wars were clearly inevitable. Meanwhile Constantine, the son of Constantius Chlorus, was simply biding his time and strengthening his position in his territories in Gaul and Great Britain.

In the midst of such political chaos, persecution continued, although its impact depended upon the policies set by each emperor in each region. In the West, most of the territory was under the effective control of Constantine and Maxentius, and neither of these two emperors enforced the decrees against Christians, which they saw as the work of their rival Galerius. Galerius and his main protege, Maximinus Daia, continued persecuting Christians. Maximinus sought to perfect the policies of Galerius by having Christians maimed and put to work in stone quarries. But then many of the condemned began organizing new churches in their places of punishment, and Maximinus had them killed or deported anew. The lists of martyrs grew longer and longer, and there seemed to be no end in sight.

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

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