The thirteenth installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Mother
Church deals with the end of the Christian persecutions by the Roman Emperor through the Edict of
Milan effected by Constantine the Great. With the demise of Diocletian, believers of the one, true faith were now free to worship only without fear of reprisal. But another evil had raised its ugly head,
that of the Arianism heresy. It was left to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea to establish the true
doctrine in the profession of faith through the Nicene Creed.
Though Constantine had moved the seat of the empire from Rome to Constantinople in order to
establish the vast Byzantine empire, the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church remained in
Rome. This greatly aided the Church for without state interference, Holy Mother Church was able to
flourish with countless conversions and the constructions of basilicas, cathedrals and churches in
which to worship throughout the empire and beyond. In chapter thirteen we cover the end of
Diocletian and the reign of Constantine as well as the causes and effects of Arianism during the first
half of the Fourth Century - the century of freedom, marked by the Cross...for, as Constantine was
told through the intercession of his holy mother Saint Helena, founder of the True Cross, "In This Sign You
The Fourth Century: The End of Diocletian
Over the last several installments we have been treating the Roman persecutions of the Christians in the Second and Third
Centuries, the latter being one of the worst. As the the Fourth Century dawned, Roman-born Pope Saint Marcellinus, who
had been elected on June 30th 296 AD, was the 29th pontiff having succeeded Pope Saint Caius. Marcellinus' greatest
sadness was witnessing the climax of the horrendous persecutions of the vile Roman Emperor Diocletian which claimed the lives of many saints such as Saints Agnes, Lucy, Bibiana, Sebastian and Lucian and finally his own life on October 25, 304.
So fierce were the persecutions which were to be the Romans' "last hurrah" that the papal throne was left vacant until May 27, 308 when the electorate selected another Roman Pope Saint Marcellus I as the 30th successor to the Chair of Peter. Thus
in 305 the bishops met at the Synod of Elvira, declaring as a fixed law the celibacy of the clergy and praying for the end of the
persecutions. As early as this the Church was already aware of the sodomy problem in Rome and possible infiltration into the Church. Thus it was at this Council, as recently documented by Atila Sinke Guimar„es in his just-released book Vatican II, Homosexuality and Pedophilia, on page 15, he notes that, "The first statement of a Church council on homosexual practices was issued by the Council of Elvira (305-306). The decree excluded from communion, even in articulo mortis [in imminence of death], the stupratores puerorum [sexual abusers of children]." It should also be noted that this problem was successfully dealt with until the explosion and implosion as a result of Vatican II.
But back to the early fourth century where the faithfuls' prayers were soon to be answered in pleading for an end to the bloody persecutions of Diocletian. One of the main problems Pope Marcellus I faced was trying to regroup the flock after a four year vacancy in the papacy. It was necessary for Marcellus to pardon many who had abjured during the persecutions because there was no Pope to follow. Yet, guided by the Holy Ghost, he pardoned those who deserved such and declined to pardon others who secretly railed against the Church. This
ultimately led to his own persecution and martyrdom less than a year later on January 16, 309. During this short span
Marcellus decreed that a Council could not be held without the authorization of the Pope. This would also give greater impetus to all Councils that would follow down through the centuries.
He was succeeded by Pope Saint Eusebius on April 18, 309 and he, too, was martyred a few months later in Sicily on August 17, 309. During his even shorter term, Eusebius succeeded in maintaining a position of firmness and pardon in respect to the polemics about the apostates which brought the Church to the brink of schism.
It was left to his successor and Diocletian's successor to right the ship. The first step was the election of African-born Pope
Saint Miltiades on July 2, 311. Again, the papacy had been vacant, this time for two years. Six years earlier Diocletian had
abdicated his throne in the East while in the West Maximian had also given up his rule. Diocletian was succeeded by
Emperor Galerius while in the west Constantius Chlorus replaced Maximian. A year later Chlorus was succeeded by his
32 year-old son Constantine who was a Serb. Constantine set his sights on overthrowing Maxentius, son of Maximian in
Italy and Africa. Constantine was victorious in Africa and, as he moved up the boot of Italy, Maxentius retreated to Rome. The
night before the showdown outside the city, Constantine beheld in the sky a lighted cross surrounded by the Latin words, "In
Hoc Signo Vinces" which means "In This Sign You shall Conquer." Then, through mystical miraculous revelation, Voice spoke to Constantine advising him to adopt the cross as a standard bearer instead of the Roman eagle which had been the standard. He
took it to heart because his own mother Saint Helena was a Christian and it was she who had unearthed the true cross in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile Maxentius had also consulted his gods and confidently was assured of victory over Constantine, announcing to all and even letting it reach the ears of Constantine.
Unabashedly Maxentius led his troops out from Rome to attack by way of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber where, despite greatly outnumbered, Constantine's men soundly defeated them in a great battle that numbered thousands of fatalities including Maxentius. Constantine knew then and there that the sign he had been given was not another superstition but one of substance. He marched triumphantly into Rome carrying the cross as his standard and the people received him with great pomp, erecting an arch and statue of him in memory of his great triumph. Shortly after this Constantine sought out the new emperor of the East Licinius whose soldiers had called upon Jesus' protection before their victory over Galerius' son Maximian Daia. Both Constantine and Licinius had seen first hand the Hand of God in their victories and were moved to accept the Christians and their faith. Thus, in 312 the two signed a pact of toleration toward the Christians called the Edict of Milan giving all people the freedom to worship as they wished.
On January 2nd, 314 Miltiades, having just completed construction of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, died peacefully. A
few weeks later on January 31, the 33rd successor to Peter was elected. He was Pope Saint Sylvester I who would enjoy a
reign of 21 years as Pope. He became the first to wear the tiara and instituted Sunday as a Holyday of obligation in memory of the Resurrection. Sylvester also created the "Iron Crown" with a nail from the Holy Cross which had been presented to him by Helena. Through her influence and his own experience, her son Constantine, who would eventually convert just before his death, erected many churches throughout the Roman Empire including a basilica over the tomb of Saint Peter which was the
beginning of St. Peter's as well as a church over the tomb of Saint Paul and oversaw the completion of St. John Lateran plus building an imperial palace for the Pope nearby. He also built churches in Nicomedia, Antioch and Tyre plus a church
dedicated to the Holy Spirit known as St. Sophia in Constantinople and in Jerusalem -the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on
Calvary , the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension on Mt. Olivet. Constantine decided Rome was not the center but rather farther east in the ancient Grecian port of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople, moving the
cultural and civilized center of the Empire east to this city. As we shall see in future installments this had pro and con effects,
the pro being that civilization was saved from the barbarian hordes who would attack Rome in the next century and that, with the government farther away from the seat of Catholicism the Church was free to spread spirituality more readily without interference from the State as was the case in the East and which led to the ultimate split of the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The latter split was a definite con because of the tragic results and because the State in the East eventually interfered too closely with the Church and continues to do so today in places such as Russia where the Orthodox Church is the State religion.
The First Ecumenical Council
In the aftermath of the Council of Ancyra in 314 which Sylvester had approved, and where, as Guimar„es also noted how it powerfully influenced the West and was "often cited as an authoritative argument in later declarations against homosexual practices, per Canon 17 (pp. 15-16), Sylvester decided another major council was necessary. While the Council of Jerusalem was the very first Council of the Church, the Council of Nicaea in 325 was the First Ecumenical or, correctly referred: Oecumenical not in the sense of "all religions" but in incorporating all issues important to the Church. That is important to realize today when the word ecumenism is tossed about so freely. We encourage you to read Mario Derksen's excellent analysis of Pope Pius XI' no-nonsense totally Catholic response to this in his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos. Mario presents his second installment in this series The Truth About Ecumenism.
The main purpose the authorities saw for convening this Council in Nicaea in Asia Minor was for the prime purpose of condemning Arianism, which had arisen in 318 by Arius a priest in Libya who was preaching falsely that the Son of God was not "consubstantial" with the Father. Though his bishop condemned him, excommunicating Arius and his followers, his heresy spread like a forest fire throughout the Empire which greatly troubled Constantine. Thus, with permission of Pope Sylvester, Constantine summoned all 318 of the Church's bishops to a meeting in Nicaea. There the Council Fathers pronounced the true and principle doctrines,
composing the Nicene Creed as a profession of faith for all to follow. Though Arius was banished, he returned to the Church repentant just before his death. Yet his heresy continued in many forms for many centuries as a source of problems to Holy Mother Church.
The first problem occurred with Constantine's sister. Enamored with Arius, she falsely produced a statement by Arius that claimed he had denounced all Arian teaching and wished to be reinstated. Constantine thus ordered the Bishop of Alexandria to restore Arius to his former position in Egypt. But the wise bishop, Saint Athanasius, the Church's first Doctor of the Church, declined. His refusal solidified him as an eternal enemy of Arianism and Arius' followers did all in their power to discredit Athanasius including accusing him of murder, treason, and magic as well as abuse of the Holy Eucharist. He was brought to trial and there in a "kangaroo court"
realized he could not receive a fair hearing. Thus Athanasius fled to Constantinople where he threw himself on the mercy of
Constantine imploring a fair trial. At first Constantine refused because he believed the Bishop was guilty and had him sent to Treves. Constantine was totally baffled by the Arians who were clever and insidious in their ways, guided by the prince of darkness. We shall see in the next installment when we cover the second half of the Fourth Century how Arianism infiltrated the highest courts and how St. Athanasius was finally absolved.
On December 31, 335 Pope Sylvester I passed on to his Heavenly reward and was succeeded a few weeks later by Pope
Saint Marcus who ruled only until October 7, 336. During these nine months Marcus decreed that the Pope should be
consecrated by the Bishop of Ostia and he instituted the "Pallium" which bishops still wear around their shoulders, a narrow circular band of white wool from a previously blessed lamb with two 12 inch pendants hanging down in front and back. It is
decorated with black crosses. Marcus also established a Church calendar for approved feastdays.
Upon his death there was a five month vacancy until Pope Saint Julius I was elected as the 35th in the line of Peter on February 6, 337. Julius would rule until April 12, 352. He is remembered for ordering the Church in the Orient to celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the Universal Church instead of combining it with the Epiphany on January 6th. He is also the founder of the Archives of the Holy See, ordering that all official
Acts be preserved. The same year as Julius' election signaled the end of a great emperor for the ideals and fairness of Constantine died with him in 337 when, on his deathbed he requested to be baptized. It was the ultimate reward of the countless prayers by his mother St.
Helena and his influence in granting freedom to Christians and establishing Christianity as the national religion would have
far-reaching effects for centuries to come. With Constantine's passing, the great Byzantine and Roman empire was left to his
three sons to split up. They, however, could not agree on anything and finally, after bitter battles, Constantius became the
sole ruler. While his father had been fair to all, his son was so pro-Christian that he went the other way, persecuting the pagans
in an effort to eradicate it. He became a self-made inquisition in an attempt to stamp out paganism everywhere yet, strangely,
forgot about the philosophy teachers in the schools, many of whom were spreading pagan philosophy and waging their own
clandestine ideological warfare against the Christians. We shall see in the next installment how the intellectual influence affected the second half of the Fourth Century in both a bad way with Julian the Apostate and, in a good way, the teachings of the great doctors Saint Ambrose and later, Saint Augustine.
Note: This series will resume on Thursday of Easter Week since Holy Week we are suspending regular features to dedicate to the season with articles in keeping with the Sorrowful Mysteries.