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Chapter I.—The Pretended Relaxation.
1. The imperial edict of recantation, which has been quoted above,27102710 The toleration edict of Galerius, given in Bk. VIII. chap. 17. was posted in all parts of Asia and in the adjoining provinces. After this had been done, Maximinus, the tyrant in the East,—a most impious man, if there ever was one, and most hostile to the religion of the God of the universe,—being by no means satisfied with its contents,27112711 For the reason of Maximin’s failure to join with the other emperors in the issue of this edict, see Bk. VIII. chap. 17, note 1. instead of sending the above-quoted decree to the governors under him, gave them verbal commands to relax the war against us.
2. For since he could not in any other way oppose the decision of his superiors, keeping the law which had been already issued secret, and taking care that it might not be made known in the district under him, he gave an unwritten order to his governors that they should relax the persecution against us. They communicated the command to each other in writing.
3. Sabinus,27122712 Of Sabinus we know only what is told us here. He seems to have been Maximin’s prime minister, or prætorian prefect (τῷ τῶν ἐξοχωτ€των ἐπ€ρχων ἀξιώματι τετιμημένος, Eusebius says of him). He is mentioned again in chap. 9, where an epistle of Maximin addressed to him is quoted. at least, who was honored with the highest official rank among them, communicated the will of the emperor to the provincial governors in a Latin epistle, the translation of which is as follows:
4. “With continuous and most devoted earnestness their Majesties, our most divine masters, the emperors,27132713 Literally, “the divinity of our most divine masters, the emperors.” The style throughout the epistle is of an equally stilted character. formerly directed the minds of all men to follow the holy and correct course of life, that those also who seemed to live in a manner foreign to that of the Romans, should render the worship due to the immortal gods. But the obstinacy and most unconquerable determination of some went so far that they could neither be turned back from their purpose by the just reason of the command, nor be intimidated by the impending punishment.
5. Since therefore it has come to pass that by such conduct many have brought themselves into danger, their Majesties, our most powerful masters, the emperors, in the exalted nobility of piety, esteeming it foreign to their Majesties’ purpose to bring men into so great danger for such a cause, have commanded their devoted servant, myself, to write to thy wisdom,27142714 Literally, “have commanded my devotedness to write to thy wisdom.” It is clear that the communication was dictated, or at least directly inspired, by Maximin himself. that if any Christian be found engaging in the worship of his own people, thou shouldst abstain from molesting and endangering him, and shouldst not suppose it necessary to punish any one on this pretext. For it has been proved by the experience of so long a time that they can in no way be persuaded to abandon such obstinate conduct.
6. Therefore it should be thy
care to write to the curators27152715 τοὺς
λογιστ€ς, commonly used to translate the Latin curatores
urbium. and magistrates
and district overseers27162716 τοὺς
(the common designation for the chief magistrates of
cities in the eastern part of the empire) καὶ τοὺς
τοῦ π€γου. of every city,
that they may know that it is not necessary for them to give further
attention to this matter.”27172717 The mss. all read γρ€μματος, but Valesius conjectures that πρ€γματος
is the true reading, and his conjecture is supported
by Nicephorus, who has φροντίδα
ποιεῖθαι. Stroth follows Valesius, and I have done the same. Heinichen
remarks: “Sed non necessaria, credo, est hæc emendatio,
immo eadem fere exsistet sententia per γρ€μματος, hoc modo: ut scient sibi non licere operam dare sc. ut
facile intelligitur persequendis Christianis, ultra hoc scriptum, id
est, magis quam hoc scripto est designatum.” Closs interprets
in the same way, translating: “dass sie sich nicht weiter, als in
diesem Schreiben befohlen ist, mit den Christen zu befassen
haben.” The Greek, however, does not seem to me to admit of this
interpretation (it reads ἵνα
προσήκειν), and there seems to be no other alternative than to change
the word γρ€μματος
to πρ€γματος, or at least give it the meaning of πρ€γματος, as Mason does, without emending the text (though I am not
aware that γρ€μμα can
legitimately be rendered in any such way). I am inclined to think that
the word negotium stood in the original, and that it was
translated by the word πρ€γμα. Had
epistola or litteræ been used, referring to the
present document,—and it could not well refer to anything
else,—we should expect Eusebius to translate by ἐπιστολγή, for he calls the document an ἐπιστολή in §3, above. On the other hand, if scriptura, or any
other similar word, had been used and translated γρ€μμα by Eusebius, we should have expected him to call the document
a γρ€μμα, not
an ἐπιστολή in §3.
The general drift of the letter cannot be mistaken. As Mason paraphrases it: “In other words, Christianity strictly is still illicit, though in particular cases not to be punished as severely as heretofore; and the emperor, though forced for the present not to require you to persecute, will expect you not to relax your exertions more than can be helped.” Mason justly emphasizes in the same connection the use of the words μὴ προσήκειν in the last clause, which do not mean non licere (“it is not permitted”) as Valesius, followed by many others, render them, but “it is not necessary,” “they need not.” It is plain that Maximin made his concessions very unwillingly and only because compelled to; and it is clear that he suppressed the edict of Galerius, and substituted general and not wholly unambiguous directions of his own, in order that as little as possible might be done for the Christians, and that he might be left free for a future time when he should find himself in a more independent position; he evidently did not care to compromise and hamper himself by officially sanctioning the full and explicit toleration accorded in the edict of Galerius. For a fuller discussion of Maximin’s attitude in the matter, see Mason, p. 309 sq. As he remarks, it is “almost a wonder that the judges interpreted Maximin’s document in a sense so favorable to the brotherhood as they really did. Though no effectual security was given against the recurrence of the late atrocities, the Persecution of Diocletian was at an end, even in the East. The subordinate officers issued and posted local mandates, which conceded more than they were bidden to concede.”
7. Thereupon the rulers of the provinces, thinking that the purpose of the things which were written was truly made known to them, declared the imperial will to the curators and magistrates and prefects of the various districts27182718 τοῖς κατ᾽ ἀγροὺς ἐπιτεταγμένοις in writing. But they did not limit themselves to writing, but sought more quickly to accomplish the supposed will of the emperor in deeds also. Those whom they had imprisoned on account of their confession of the Deity, they set at liberty, and they released those of them who had been sent to the mines for punishment; for they erroneously supposed that this was the true will of the emperor.
8. And when these things had thus been done, immediately, like a light shining forth in a dark night, one could see in every city congregations gathered and assemblies thronged, and meetings held according to their custom. And every one of the unbelieving heathen was not a little astonished at these things, wondering at so marvelous a transformation, and exclaiming that the God of the Christians was great and alone true.
9. And some of our people, who had faithfully and bravely sustained the conflict of persecution, again became frank and bold toward all; but as many as had been diseased in the faith and had been shaken in their souls by the tempest, strove eagerly for healing, beseeching and imploring the strong to stretch out to them a saving hand, and supplicating God to be merciful unto them.
10. Then also the noble athletes of religion who had been set free from their sufferings in the mines returned to their own homes. Happily and joyfully they passed through every city, full of unspeakable pleasure and of a boldness which cannot be expressed in words.
11. Great crowds of men pursued their journey along the highways and through the market-places, praising God with hymns and psalms. And you might have seen those who a little while before had been driven in bonds from their native countries under a most cruel sentence, returning with bright and joyful faces to their own firesides; so that even they who had formerly thirsted for our blood, when they saw the unexpected wonder, congratulated us on what had taken place.
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