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Constantinian Edicts

Annotation

Many of the records that survive from Constantine’s reign are official edicts and proclamations, written on papyrus and parchment. This is a series of edicts issued by Constantine regarding religion, beginning with the original edict of toleration from 311 signed by three of the then four rulers of the Roman Empire: Lactantius, Licinius, and Constantine. The remaining edicts were issued by Constantine alone and are here in chronological order. They cover a range of actions that Constantine took either directly on behalf of the Christian church or because he was inspired by Christian ideas. Some indicate his opinion toward those following other systems of belief. Reading them will allow your students to begin developing ideas about how Constantine encouraged the growth of Christianity. This source is a part of the Constantine and Christianity teaching module.

Constantinian Edicts

Text

A. EDICT OF TOLERATION, 311

Among our other regulations to promote the lasting good of the community we have hitherto endeavored to restore a universal conformity to the ancient institutions and public order of the Romans; and in particular it has been our aim to bring back to a right disposition the Christians who had abandoned the religion of their fathers. . . . 3. After the publication of our edict ordering the Christians to conform to the ancient institutions, many of them were brought to order through fear, while many were exposed to danger. 4. Nevertheless, since many still persist in their opinions, and since we have observed that they now neither show due reverence to the gods nor worship their own God, we therefore, with our wonted clemency in extending pardon to all, are pleased to grant indulgence to these men, allowing Christians the right to exist again and to set up their places of worship; provided always that they do not offend against public order. 5. We will in a further instruction explain to the magistrates how they should conduct themselves in this matter. In return for this indulgence of ours it will be the duty of Christians to pray to God for our recovery, for the public weal and for their own; that the state may be preserved from danger on every side, and that they themselves may dwell safely in their homes.

B. OCT. 31, 313 (?)

The Emperor Constantine Augustus. We have learned that the clergy of the Catholic Church are so harrassed by a faction of heretics as to be burdened with nominations to office and common public business, contrary to the exemptions granted to them. Wherefore, it is ordered that if your gravity should find anyone thus annoyed, another man is to be substituted for him, and from henceforth, men of the religion above mentioned are to be protected from wrongs of this kind.

C. MARCH 21, 315 (316?)

The same [Constantine] Augustus to Eumelius [the vicar of Africa]. If any one, on account of the crimes in which he is detected, should be condemned to the arena or the mines, by no means let him be branded in the face, although both on his hands and legs the penalty of his condemnation may be marked in a single brand; while the face which is formed in the likeness of heavenly beauty shall not be dishonored.

D. MAY 15, 319

The same [Constantine] Augustus to the People. We prohibit all soothsayers, priests of prophecy, and those who are wont to administer such rites, from entering a private house, or, under the guise of friendship, from crossing another’s threshold. And if they despise this law penalties shall be meted out to them. You, who think this applies to yourselves, go to the public altars and shrines, and celebrate your customary ceremonies, for we do not forbid the full services of ancient tradition from being conducted in the day time.

E. DEC. 17, 320 (321?)

The Emperor Constantine to Maximus [the Prefect of the City of Rome] If a part of our palace, or any other public building, be struck by lightning, let the customs of the old religion be observed and the haruspices [Roman religious authorities who interpreted the meaning of natural events] be consulted for the meaning of the omen, and let their words be very carefully brought together and reported to us. Permission for the practice of the custom should also be granted to others, provided that no household sacrifices are made, for these are specifically forbidden.

F. JULY 3, 321

The same [Constantine] Augustus to the People. Every man, when dying, shall have the right to bequeath as much of his property as he desires to the holy and venerable Catholic Church. And such wills are not to be broken.

Credits

(a) Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 15;

(b–f) Theodosian Code, trans. and rpt. Maude Aline Huttman, The Establishment of Christianity and the Proscription of Paganism, Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, no. 60 (New York: AMS Press, 1967), pp. 152, 154, 161–162, 163, 164.

How to Cite This Source
Constantinian Edicts in World History Commons,