Little Bits of History

Religious Persecution

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 24, 2012

Emperor Galerius

February 24, 303: Roman Emperor Galerius publishes an edict. Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus was Caesar under Diocletian from 293-305. He then became Augustus with a variety of men from 305 until his death in 311. Caesar was an imperial title and meant he was ruler in a portion of the Empire. When he rose to Augustus status, it meant he was one of two senior Emperors (one for the East, the other for the West). In 303 Galerius served under Diocletian who ruled alone from 284-286 and then as Augustus (East) with Maximian.

Diocletian and Galerius had been warring with Persia. When peace was brokered, they returned to Syrian Antioch. In 299, the two powerful men performed a ritual sacrifice but the haruspices (men trained to divine omens from sacrificed animals) were unable to clearly “read the entrails.” Their inability to predict the future was blamed on Christians living in the household. The Christians were removed and everyone made sacrifices to purify the court.

Diocletian was conservative in his religious practices and honored the Roman gods. According to Eusebius, known today as the Father of Church History, it was Galerius who was the more pious of the two. It was he who ordered military commands to perform sacrifices to restore the good will of the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. Diocletian lived in Antioch but traveled to Egypt. There, he was dismayed by some religious practices and ordered followers of Mani to be killed and their scriptures burned.

On February 23, 303, after a winter of debating the fate of the bothersome Christians (they interrupted sacrifices), an order came down to destroy a newly built church. The next day, an “Edict against the Christians” was published. It called for the destruction of all Holy Scriptures and churches across the Empire. Christians were barred from gathering for worship. When a fire destroyed part of the palace, Galerius blamed the Christians and some were tortuously executed. Christians were persecuted across the Roman Empire but were not wiped out. In less than 25 years, the entire Roman Empire would be ruled by Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. He reversed the edicts and restored property to the Church.

Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution. – William Butler Yeats

Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety. – Edmund Burke

Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there have been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else. – Walter Koenig

All people in all regions in China enjoy religious freedom in accordance with the law. – Liu Jianchao

Also on this day:

Smile – In 1938, DuPont created a nylon-bristle toothbrush.
Opera – In 1607, the first opera premiered.
Murder, She Wrote – In 1981, Jean Harris was convicted of murder.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on March 2, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Nearly all of those pilgrims that landed on Plymouth Rock and in Virginia had been given the choice of the new world or the gallows for killing those that refused to join their church, a religious persecution of another faith. Death for nearly all in their choice but they did live longer. History does show that these people had fled the country but returned when the Crown announced to help freedom of religion- but outright murder was not forgiven.

    • patriciahysell said, on March 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

      I don’t know your data source, but my research does not indicate that the Puritans and Separatists were involved in murderous activities either in Britain or the Netherlands.

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