Walker, “Period II. The Gnostic Crisis,” and “Period III, The Imperial State Church,” 2.17-3.1, pp. 87-
THE end of the period of persecution affected by the edict of Gallienus, in 260, was followed by more than forty years of practical peace. Legally, the church had no more protection than before, and the able Emperor Aurelian (270-275) is said to have intended a renewal of persecution when prevented by death. Even with him it apparently did not come to the proclamation of a new hostile edict. The chief feature of this epoch was the rapid growth of Christianity. By 300 Christianity was effectively represented in all parts of the empire. Its distribution was very unequal, but it was influential in the central provinces of political importance, in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Syria, Egypt, northern Africa, central Italy, southern Gaul and Spain. Nor was its upward progress in the social scale less significant. During this period it won many officers of government and imperial servants. Most important of all, it began now to penetrate the army on a considerable scale. As late as 246-248 the best that Origen could say in reply to Celsus’s criticism that Christians failed of their duty to the state by refusal of army service, was that Christians did a better thing by praying for the success of the Emperor. Origen also expresses and defends Christian unwillingness to assume the burdens of governmental office. Even then Christians had long been found in the Roman armies ; but Origen undoubtedly voiced prevalent Christian feeling in the middle of the third century. By its end both Christian feeling and practice had largely changed.
This period of rapid growth was one of greatly increasing conformity to worldly influences also. How far this sometimes went a single illustration may show. The Council of Elvira, now Granada, in Spain (c.313), provided that Christians who as magistrates wore the garments of pagan priesthood could be restored after two years’ penance, provided they had not actually sacrificed or paid for sacrifice.
As compared with the first half of the third century, its latter portion was a period of little literary productivity or theological originality in Christian circles. No names of the first rank appeared. The most eminent was that of Dionysius, who held the bishopric of Alexandria (247-264), a pupil of Origen and like him for a time head of the famous catechetical school. Through his writings the influence of Origen was extended, and the great theologian’s thoughts were in general dominant in that period in the East. Dionysius combated the widespread Eastern Sabellianism. He also began the practice of sending letters to his clergy, notifying them of the date of Easter—a custom soon largely developed by the greater bishoprics, and made the vehicle of admonition, doctrinal definition, and controversy. Beside the Sabellianism, which Dionysius combated, Dynamic Monarchianism was vigorously represented in Antioch by Paul of Samosata till 272. This administratively gifted bishop held a high executive position under Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, to whom Antioch belonged for a period before her overthrow by the Emperor Aurelian. Paul’s opponents, being unable to deprive him of possession of the church building, appealed to Aurelian, who decided that it rightfully belonged to “those to whom the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome should adjudge it.” Doubtless Aurelian was moved by political considerations in this adjudication, but this Christian reference to imperial authority, and the Emperor’s deference to the judgment of Rome were significant.
With Antioch of this period is to be associated the foundation of a school of theology by Lucian, of whom little is known of biographical detail, save that he was a presbyter, held aloof from the party in Antioch which opposed and overcame Paul of Samosata, taught there from c. 275 to c. 303, and died a martyr’s death in 312. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia were his pupils, and the supposition is probable that his views were largely reproduced in them. Like Origen, he busied himself with textual and exegetical labors on the Scriptures, but had little liking for the allegorizing methods of the great Alexandrian. A simpler, more grammatical and historical method of treatment both of text and doctrine characterized his teaching.
THE latter half of the third century was the period of the greatest influence of Mithraism in the empire. As the Sol Invictus, Mithras was widely worshipped, and this cult was popular in the army and favored by the Emperors who rose from its ranks. Two other forces of importance arose in the religious world. The first was Neo-Platonism. Founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas (?-c. 245), its real developer was Plotinus (205-270), who settled in Rome about 244. From him, the leadership passed to Porphyry (233-304). Neo-Platonism was a pantheistic, mystical interpretation of Platonic thoughts. God is simple, absolute existence, all perfect, from whom the lower existences come. From Him the Nous (νοῦς) emanates like the Logos in the theology of Origen. From the Nous the world-soul derives being, and from that individual souls. From the world-soul the realm of matter comes. Yet each stage is inferior in the amount of being it possesses to the one above— has less of reality—reaching in gradations from God, who is all-perfect, to matter which, as compared with Him, is negative. The morals of Neo-Platonism, like those of later Greek philosophy generally, were ascetic, and its conception of salvation was that of a rising of the soul to God in mystic contemplation, the end of which was union with the divine.
Neo- Platonism was much to influence Christian theology, notably that of Augustine. Its founders were not conspicuously organizers, however, and it remained a way of thinking for the relatively few rather than an inclusive association of the many. Far otherwise was it with a second movement, that of Manichæism. Its founder, Mani, was born in Persia in 215 or 216, began his preaching in Babylon in 242, and was crucified in 276 or 277. Strongly based on the old Persian dualism, Manichæism was also exceedingly syncretistic. It received elements from Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. Light and darkness, good and evil are eternally at war. Its conception of the relations of spirit and matter, and of salvation, in many ways resembled those of Gnosticism. Man is essentially a material prison house of the realm of evil, in which some portion of the realm of light is confined. Hence salvation is based on right knowledge as to the nature of this bondage, and desire to return to the realm of light, coupled with extreme ascetic rejection of all that belongs to the sphere of darkness, especially the physical appetites and desires. Its worship was as simple as its asceticism was strict. Its membership was in two classes, the perfect, always relatively few, who practised its full austerities; and the hearers, who accepted its teachings, but with much less strictness of practice—a distinction not unlike that between monks and ordinary Christians in the church. Its organization was fairly centralized and rigid. In Manichseism Christianity had a real rival. Its spread was rapid in the empire, and it absorbed not only many of the followers of Mithraism, but the remnants of Christian-Gnostic sects, and other early heresies. Its great growth was to be in the fourth and fifth centuries, and its influence was to be felt till the late Middle Ages through sects which were heirs of its teachings, like the Cathari.
Mani (or Manes c.216–276) and Manichaeism. It is impossible to state in brief compass the facts relating to the life of Mani (or, acc. to the usual W. form of his name, ‘Manichaeus’), the founder of Manichaeism, as the relatively late sources of his life are mutually contradictory in their details. The chief sources are: (1) the writings of certain of the Church Fathers, notably St Ephraem Syrus, Titus of Bostra, Serapion of Thmuis, and esp. St Augustine of Hippo (who was himself a Manichee for nine years before his conversion); (2) a report of a reputed dialogue between Mani and a bishop, Archelaus, the so-called ‘Acta Archelai’, which was issued by one Hegemonius; (3) references in various medieval Muslim historians who came across Manichaeism in Babylonia, notably Al-Biruni; (4) a collection of Manichaean documents, discovered in 1904–5 at Turfan and elsewhere in Chinese Turkestan, and published by F. W. K. Müller and others; (5) another collection of Manichaean documents of the 3rd and 4th cents. found in Egypt in 1930 and published by C. Schmidt, H. J. Polotsky, and others, which, if not from Mani himself, embody the teaching of his earliest disciples; and (6) a biography of Mani, prob. translated from a Syriac original, more recently discovered in Egypt. This casts a new light on his evolution as a young man, in the environment of a Judaeo-Christian sect, the Elkesaites.
From our extant sources it would seem that Mani (c.216–276) was born near Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire; that he began his own special teaching in 240; that opposition from the Zoroastrians forced him into exile in India, and that he propagated his teaching rapidly by preaching far and wide in the E.; that in 242 he returned to the capital and may have approached Sapor I, who first gave him active support and then attacked him; and that under his second successor, Bahram I, he was put to death by being flayed alive, and his disciples banished.
Mani’s system was a radical offshoot of the Gnostic traditions of E. Persia. Deeply influenced by St Paul (Manichaeism struck Christians as a ‘Pauline heresy’), Mani transformed the cramped, ritualist views of the Judaeo-Christian sect in which he had been brought up into a coherent body of Gnostic dogma, uncompromisingly dualistic, consequential, and deeply conscious of having ‘unveiled’ truths of universal validity. It was based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It taught that the object of the practice of religion was to release the particles of light which Satan had stolen from the world of Light and imprisoned in man’s brain and that Jesus, Buddha, the Prophets, and Mani had been sent to help in this task. For the Manichaean believer, the whole physical universe was mobilized to create this release. The Gnostic myth of salvation has seldom been presented on so grandiose a cosmic scale, worked out in rigorous detail; every phase of the movements of the sun, moon, and stars was a stage in the deliverance of the believer’s soul, and every ritual act of the individual had resonance among the heavenly bodies.
To achieve this release, severe asceticism, including vegetarianism, was practised. There existed in the sect a hierarchy of grades professing different standards of austerity; the ‘Elect’ were supported by the ‘Hearers’ in their determined missionary endeavours and in an otherworldly state of perfection. The Manichaeans’ enemies attributed to them many abominable practices, but St Augustine, with his exceptional opportunities for being well informed, nowhere criticized their morals.
The sect spread rapidly. It appears to have been established in Egypt before the end of the 3rd cent., and at Rome early in the 4th. In the later 4th cent. Manichaeans were numerous in Africa. How far the sect directly influenced such heretics as the Albigensians, Bogomils, and Paulicians is disputed; for some similarities of practice would account for the charges of ‘Manichaeism’ laid against them. On the other hand, the Turfan fragments attest its survival in Chinese Turkestan down to the 10th cent.; and, as the ‘Doctrine of Light’, it still flourished in 13th-cent. Fukien.
Convenient collection of texts ed. A. Adam, Texte zum Manichäismus (Kleine Texte für Vorlesungen und Übungen, 175; 1954; enlarged edn., 1969); fuller collection of texts, in Ger. tr., by J. P. Asmussen and A. Böhlig, Die Gnosis [ed. W. Förster], 3: Der Manichäismus (Zurich, 1980). The texts discovered in Egypt in 1930, which were reported in 1933, were shared mainly between the Chester Beatty Collection and the Berlin Academy; those in the former collection have been ed. by H. J. Polotsky, Manichäische Homilien (Stuttgart, 1934) and C. R. C. Allberry, A Manichaean Psalm-Book, pt. 2 (ibid., 1938), and those in the latter by C. Schmidt and others, Kephalaia, 1. Hälfte (ibid., 1940), all with introds. by H. Ibscher. The Psalm Book is also ed. by G. Wurst (Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum, Series Coptica, 1 etc.; Turnhout, 1996 ff.). Eng. tr. of The Kephalaia of the Teacher, with introd. by I. Gardner (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, 37; Leiden, 1995). On the Life of Mani, see A. Henrichs and L. Koenen, ‘Ein griechischer Mani-Codex (P. Colon. inv. nr. 4780)’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 5 (1970), pp. 97–216 (the first report). It was ed., with comm., by idd., ibid. 19 (1975), pp. 1–85; 32 (1978), pp. 87–199; 44 (1981), pp. 201–318; and 48 (1982), pp. 1–59. Pages 1–99.8 of the codex are repr., with Eng. tr., by R. Cameron and A. J. Dewey, The Cologne Mani Codex (Society of Biblical Literature, Texts and Translations, 15; Missoula, Mont., 1979). Crit. edn., with Ger.tr., by L. Koenen and C. Römer (Papyrologica Coloniensia, 14; Opladen, 1988). The first crit. study of Manichaeism was I. de Beausobre, Histoire critique de Manichée et du manichéisme (2 vols., Amsterdam, 1734–9). Important later works include F. C. Baur, Das manichäische Religionsystem (1831); G. Flügel, Mani, seine Lehre, seine Schriften (1862); F. Cumont and M. A. Kugener, Recherches sur le manichéisme (2 vols., 1908–12); P. Alfaric, Les Écritures manichéennes (2 vols., 1918–19). F. C. Burkitt, The Religion of the Manichees (Donnellan Lectures for 1924; 1925); H. C. Puech, Le Manichéisme (1949); G. Widengren, Mani und der Manichäismus (Urban-Bücher, 57; Stuttgart ; Eng. tr. 1965); F. Decret, Aspects du manichéisme dans l’Afrique romaine: Les controverses de Fortunatus, Faustus et Felix avec Saint Augustin (Études Augustiniennes, 1970); id., L’Afrique Manichéenne (IVe—Ve siècles): Étude historique et doctrinale (2 vols., ibid., 1978). There is also a more popular study by id., Mani et la tradition manichéenne (Maîtres spirituels, 1974). E. Rose, Die manichäische Christologie (Studies in Oriental Religions, 5; Wiesbaden, 1979). S. N. C. Lieu, Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China (Manchester ). P. Brown, ‘The Diffusion of Manichaeism in the Roman Empire’, Journal of Roman Studies, 59 (1969), pp. 92–103. A. Böhlig in TRE 22 (1992), cols. 25–45, s.v. ‘Manichäismus’.
IN 284 Diocletian became Roman Emperor. A man of the humblest origin, probably of slave parentage, he had a distinguished career in the army, and was raised to the imperial dignity by his fellow soldiers. Though a soldier-emperor, he was possessed of great abilities as a civil administrator, and determined to reorganize the empire so as to
provide more adequate military defense,
prevent army conspiracies aiming at a change of Emperors,
and render the internal administration more efficient.
To these ends he appointed an old companion- in-arms, Maximian, regent of the West, in 285, with the title of Augustus, which Diocletian himself bore.
In further aid of military efficiency he designated, in 293, two “Cæsars”—one, Constantius Chlorus, on the Rhine frontier, and the other, Galerius, on that of the Danube. Each was to succeed ultimately to the higher post of “Augustus.” All was held in harmonious working by the firm hand of Diocletian.
In internal affairs the changes of Diocletian were no less sweeping. The surviving relics of the old republican empire, and of senatorial influence, were now set aside.
The Emperor became an autocrat in the later Byzantine sense.
A new division of provinces was effected; and Rome was practically abandoned as the capital, Diocletian making the more conveniently situated Nicomedia, in Asia Minor, his customary residence.
[Crippling inflation was countered by legislation that fixed prices for all items throughout the empire – with violation punishable by death.
To insure adequate services, certain professions were made hereditary.
In character Diocletian was a rude but firm supporter of paganism of the cruder camp type.
To such a man of organizing abilities, the closely knit, hierarchically ordered church presented a serious political problem. It must have seemed a state within the state over which he had no control. Though there had never been a Christian uprising against the empire, and Christianity had held aloof from politics to a remarkable degree, the church was rapidly growing in numbers and strength. Two courses lay open for a vigorous ruler, either to force it into submission and break its power, or to enter into alliance with it and thus secure political control of the growing organism. The latter was to be the method of Constantine; the former the attempt of Diocletian. No other course could be expected from a man of his religious outlook. The Eastern Caesar, Galerius, was even more hostile to Christianity, and had much influence over Diocletian. To him the suggestions of persecution may have been due. The growth of Christianity, moreover, was uniting all the forces of threatened pagan ism against it; while Diocletian and Galerius were disposed to emphasize emperor-worship and the service of the old gods.
Diocletian moved slowly, however.
 A cautious effort to rid the army and the imperial palace service of Christians
 was followed, beginning in February, 303, by three great edicts of persecution in rapid succession.
 Churches were ordered destroyed,
 sacred books confiscated,
 clergy imprisoned and forced to sacrifice by torture.
 In 304 a fourth edict required all Christians to offer sacrifices.
It was a time of fearful persecution. As in the days of Decius there were many martyrs, and many who “lapsed.” Popular feeling was, however, far less hostile than in previous persecutions. The Christians had become better known. The severity of the persecution varied with the attitude of the magistrates by whom its penalties were enforced. Cruel in Italy, North Africa, and the Orient, the friendly “Cæsar,” Constantius Chlorus, made apparent compliance in Gaul and Britain by destroying church edifices, but left the Christians themselves unharmed. He thereby gained a popularity with those thus spared that was to redound to the advantage of his son.
The voluntary retirement of Diocletian, and the enforced abdication of his colleague, Maximian, in 305, removed the strong hand of the only man able to master the complex governmental situation.
Constantius Chlorus and Galerius now became “Augusti,” but in the appointment of “Cæsars,” the claims of the sons of Constantius Chlorus and Maximian were passed over in favor of two protégés of Galerius, Severus and Maximinus Daia. Persecution had now practically ceased in the West. It continued in increased severity in the East. Constantius Chlorus died in 306, and the garrison in York acclaimed his son Constantine as Emperor. On the strength of this army support, Constantine forced from Galerius his own recognition as “Caesar,” with charge of Gaul, Spain, and Britain. Soon after Maximian’s son, Maxentius, defeated Severus and made himself master of Italy and North Africa. The next trial of strength in the struggle for the empire to which Constantine had set himself must be with Maxentius. Its outcome would determine the mastery of the whole West. Licinius, a protégé of Galerius, succeeded to a portion of the former possessions of Severus.
Before the decisive contest for the West took place, however, Galerius, in conjunction with Constantine and Licinius, issued in April, 311, an edict of toleration to Christians “on condition that nothing is done by them contrary to discipline.” This was, at best, a grudging concession, though why it was granted at all by the persecuting Galerius, who was its main source, is not wholly evident. Perhaps he had become convinced of the futility of persecution. Perhaps the long and severe illness which was to cost him his life a few days later may have led him to believe that some help might come from the Christians’ God. The latter supposition is given added probability because the edict exhorts Christians to pray for its authors.
The death of Galerius in May, 311, left four contestants for the empire. Constantine and Licinius drew together by mutual interest; while Maximinus Daia and Maxentius were united by similar bonds. Daia promptly renewed persecution in Asia and Egypt. Maxentius, while not a persecutor, was a pronounced partisan of paganism. Christian sympathy naturally flowed toward Constantine and Licinius. Constantine availed himself to the full of its advantages. To what extent he was now a personal Christian it is impossible to say. He had inherited a kindly feeling toward Christians. He had joined in the edict of 311. His forces seemed scarcely adequate for the great struggle with Maxentius. He doubtless desired the aid of the Christians’ God in the none too equal conflict— though it is quite probable that he may not then have thought of Him as the only God. Constantine’s later affirmation that he saw a vision of a Christian symbol (a cross? A chi-rho?) with the inscription, “ in this sign conquer,” was a conscious or unconscious legend. But that he invaded Italy, as in some sense a Christian, is a fact. A brilliant march and several successful battles in northern Italy brought him face to face with Maxentius at Saxa Rubra, a little to the north of Rome, with the Mulvian bridge across the Tiber between his foes and the city. There, on October 28,312, occurred one of the decisive struggles of history, in which Maxentius lost the battle and his life. The West was Constantine’s. The Christian God, he believed, had given him the victory, and every Christian impulse was confirmed. He was, thenceforth, in all practical respects a Christian, even though pagan emblems still appeared on coins, and he retained the title of Pontifex Maximus.
Probably late in 312 Constantine and Licinius published in Milan the great edict which gave complete freedom to Christianity, though it has been preserved only in the form addressed by Licinius to the Eastern officers. It was no longer, as in 311, one of toleration; nor did it make Christianity the religion of the empire. It proclaimed absolute freedom of conscience, placed Christianity on a full legal equality with any religion of the Roman world, and ordered the restoration of all church property confiscated in the recent persecution. A few months after the edict was issued, in April, 313, Licinius decisively defeated the persecutor, Maximinus Daia, in a battle not far from Adrianople, which seemed to the Christians a second Mulvian bridge. Two Emperors were, however, one too many. Licinius, defeated by Constantine in 314, held scarcely more than a quarter of the empire. Estranged from Constantine, the favor shown by the latter to Christianity Licinius increasingly resented. His hostility grew to persecution. It was, therefore, with immense satisfaction that the Christians witnessed his final defeat in 323. Constantine was at last sole ruler of the Roman world. The church was everywhere free from persecution. Its steadfastness, its faith, and its organization had carried it through its perils. But, in winning its freedom from its enemies, it had come largely under the control of the occupant of the Roman imperial throne. A fateful union with the state had begun.
TO Constantine’s essentially political mind Christianity was the completion of the process of unification which had long been in progress in the empire. It had one Emperor, one law, and one citizenship for all free men. It should have one religion. Constantine moved slowly, however. Though the Christians were very unequally distributed and were much more numerous in the East than in the West, they were but a fraction of the population when the Edict of Milan granted them equal rights. The church had grown with great rapidity during the peace in the last half of the third century.
Under imperial favor its increase was by leaps and bounds. That favor Constantine promptly showed.
By a law of 319 the clergy were exempted from the public obligations that weighed so heavily on the well-to-do portion of the population.
In 321 the right to receive legacies was granted, and thereby the privileges of the church as a corporation acknowledged.
The same year Sunday work was forbidden to the people of the cities.
In 319 [it is possible – but not certain – that] private pagan sacrifices were prohibited.
Gifts were made to clergy, and great churches erected in Rome, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and elsewhere under imperial auspices.
Above all, Constantine’s formal transferrence of the capital to the rebuilt Byzantium, which he called New Rome, but which the world has named in his honor, Constantinople, was of high significance. Undoubtedly political and defensive in its motives, its religious consequences were far-reaching. From its official foundation, in 330, it established the seat of empire in a city of few pagan traditions or influences, situated in the most strongly Christianized portion of the world. It left the bishop of Rome, moreover, the most conspicuous man in the ancient capital, to which the Latin-speaking West still looked with reverence — in a conspicuity which was the more possible of future importance because it was wholly unintended by Constantine, and was spiritual rather than political. Great as were the favors which Constantine showed to the church, they were only for that strong, close-knit, hierarchically organized portion that called itself the “Catholic.” The various “heretical” sects, and they were still many, could look for no bounty from his hands.
If Christianity was to be a uniting factor in the empire, the church must be one. Constantine found that unity seriously threatened.
In North Africa the persecution under Diocletian had led to a schism, somewhat complicated and personal in its causes, but resembling that of Novatian in Rome, half a century earlier (ante,§ 2.16).
The church there was divided. The strict party charged that the new bishop of Carthage, Cæcilian, had received ordination in 311, from the hands of one in mortal sin, who had surrendered copies of the Scriptures in the recent persecution. That ordination it held invalid, and chose a counter- bishop, Majorinus. His successor, in 316, was the able Donatus the Great, from whom the schismatics received the name, Donatists.
In 313 Constantine made grants of money to the Catholic clergy of North Africa. In these the Donatists did not share, and appealed to the Emperor.
A synod held in Rome the same year decided against them, but the quarrel was only the more embittered. Constantine thereupon mapped out what was to be henceforth the imperial policy in ecclesiastical questions. He summoned a synod of his portion of the empire to meet, at public expense, in Arles, in southern Gaul. The church itself should decide the controversy, but under imperial control. Here a large council assembled in 314.
The Donatist contentions were condemned.
Ordination was declared valid even at the hands of a personally unworthy cleric.
Heretical baptism was recognized,
and the Roman date of Easter approved.
The Donatists appealed to the Emperor, who once more decided against them, in 316; and as they refused to yield, now proceeded to close their churches and banish their bishops. The unenviable spectacle of the persecution of Christians by Christians was exhibited. North Africa was in turmoil. Constantine was, however, dissatisfied with the results, and in 321 abandoned the use of force against these schismatics.
They grew rapidly, claiming to be the only true church possessed of a clergy free from “deadly sins” and of the only valid sacraments. Not till the Muslim conquest did the Donatists disappear.
 Celsus, 8:73.
 Ibid., 8:75.
 E. g., Tertullian, Corona, 1.
 Canon, 55.
 Eusebius, Church History, 7:30.19.
 Eusebius, Church History, 8 173; Ayer, p. 262.
 Eusebius, Church History, 10; 5; Ayer, p. 263.
 Codex Theodosianus, 16 : 22 ; Ayer, Source Book, p. 283.
 Ibid., 16:24; Ayer, p. 283.
 Codex Justinianus, 3:12.3; Ayer, p. 284.
 Codex Theodosianus, 9 : 16.2 ; Ayer, p. 286.
 Eusebius, Church History, 10 : 6 ; Ayer, p. 281.
 See Ayer, p. 291.
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