The End of the Persecution of the Christians

Although under the various leaders in the west (Severus, Constantine, Maximian, Maxentius, and Licinius) the persecution lost steam, it continued with fury in the east under Galerius and Maximin Daia. General sacrifices were ordered in 306 C.E. and in 308 C.E. Food for sale in public markets was sprinkled with libations to the gods and the baths were closed to anyone who would not sacrifice before entering. Those who refused were blinded in one eye or crippled, when they were not killed. The persecution only abated when Galerius became ill. In 311 C.E., he was in the final stages of what seems to have been an extremely painful cancer. His unbearable pain and ulcerous bleeding left him only intermittent periods of lucidity, and it was during one of these that he issued his edict of April 30, 311 C.E., sometimes called the Palinode of Galerius (see Primary Document 3.3), which ended the persecution and granted tolerance to Christians on the condition that they pray for his recovery. The edict recognized that despite earlier orders forbidding them to worship Jesus the Christians had steadfastly refused to offer due religious observance to the pagan gods, and that, out of fear, they had even stopped worshipping their own God. In the hope that through the efficacy of the Christians' prayers to their own God he might recover, Galerius permitted Christians to resume their worship and to rebuild their meeting places.

This tenuous cessation of the persecution did not last. Within a few months of the edict of tolerance that Galerius had published just before his death, Maximin Daia had renewed the attacks against Christians, purging whole cities and organizing pagan sacrifices. Priests performing the sacrifices had the right to arrest Christians who refused to participate and even have them put to death. To defend his severe anti-Christian policies, Maximin Daia made a show of attributing the plentiful harvests that year to the persecution of the Christians. It was not until his death, in 313 C.E., that the persecution finally ended.

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