Christian History

The Edict of the Mediolanum

A. A. Vasilev, History of the Byzantine Empire,A, Ed. Papyros, pp. 76-77.

During the reign of Constantine the Great, Christianity gained the official right to exist and to develop. The first decree favoring Christianity was issued in 311 by Galerius, who was one of his fiercest persecutors. This decree forgave Christians for their resistance to the orders of the state to return to idolatry and to recognize their legitimate right to exist. "Christians," wrote the decree, "can again exist and be assembled, since they do nothing contrary to the common good, and are obliged to pray to their god for our sake, the good of the state and their own ».

Constantine The Great Above: Mary and christchild. To the right Constantine the Great with a model of the city. To the left Justinian with the church, 944 AD, Aghia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey

Two years later, after his victory over Maxentius and his agreement with Likinius, Constantine met with Likinius in Milan, where they issued the extremely interesting document, which is wrongly called the Edict of the Mediolanum. The original of the document had not survived, but a Latin decree, sent by Likinius to the prefect of Nicomedia, has been rescued by Laktantios. A Greek translation of the Latin original exists in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius.

According to this decree, Christians and believers in other religions were completely free to follow any religion they wanted. All anti-Christian measures were considered invalid.

In 1891, German historian O. Seeck formulated the theory that the Edict of Mediolanum was never issued. The only Edict that was issued is the Edict of Toleration by Galerius in 311. The 313 Mediolanum document was not really an edict, but a letter to the governor of Asia Minor.

Imperial Palace Mediolanum Above: Ruins of the imperial pallace of Mediolanum, Milan, Italy

The conclusion, however, is that Constantine and Likinius gave Christianity the same rights with idolaters and other religions. It is premature to speak of a triumph of Christianity at the time of Constantine, who believed that Christianity could be reconciled with idolatry. The most important fact is that it not only gave Christians the right to exist, but also put them under the protection of the State. This is an extremely important milestone for the history of early Christianity. Nevertheless, the Edict of Nicomedia does not give grounds for the view of some historians that during the reign of Constantine Christianity had been placed above all religions, that other religions were merely tolerated and that the Edict of the Mediolanum did not proclaim a tactic of tolerance, but the primacy of Christianity. When it comes to the question of the choice between the primacy or the equal rights of Christianity, we must certainly tend to equal rights. Nevertheless, the importance of the Edict of Nicomedia is great. As a historian says, "in fact, without exaggeration, the significance of the Edict of the Mediolanum remains unquestionably great because it is an act that put an end to Christians' (outside the Law) position while at the same time recognizing full religious freedom, thereby degrading idolatry, de jure, from its previous position, as the only official religion, to the same position as other religions had ".