Chapter

Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine

Henry Chadwick

in The Church in Ancient Society

Published in print December 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246953
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600463 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0199246955.003.0028

Series: Oxford History of the Christian Church

 Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine

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The long peace and expansion of the Church in the middle years of the third century was suddenly ended by fierce persecution under Diocletian in 303–04. In the period of political confusion after Diocletian's death, two of the contenders for power, Constantine and Maxentius, both established freedom of worship. This is reflected in the canons produced by the council of Elvira in Spain in about 310. But the persecution precipitated two long‐lived schisms: the Donatists in Carthage and North Africa and the followers of Melitius, bishop of Lycopolis, in Egypt. Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 confirmed his rise to power, though exactly when and how he came to identify himself with Christianity is unclear. He invoked divine help not only in the west but also against anti‐Christian rivals in the east. Constantine's transferral of his capital to Constantinople added ecclesiastical differences to political tensions between east and west, with a parallel Church authority in the Greek east as against the Latin west with Rome as its centre.

Keywords: Constantine; Constantinople; Council of Elvira; Diocletian; Donatists; persecution

Chapter.  6348 words. 

Subjects: History of Christianity

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