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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
Exclusive Representation of the Nativity Scene.
The cruelest persecution of the first Christians was that of Diocletian; it was so bloody that in the year 303, the Christians counted from a new era, “the era of the martyrs”. The emperor promulgated the following edicts, which promised to extirpate the Christian religion in the Roman Empire: 1° The churches of the Christians were to be destroyed and their sacred books thrown into the fire. 2° Bishops and priests were to be arrested, tortured and punished with the ultimate torture if they did not deny their faith. 3° All Christians are excluded from the dignities of the State and lose their civil rights. 4° Christians must be denounced to the authorities. If they do not sacrifice to the gods, they will be put to torture and if they remain constant they will be beheaded. 5° Every official or soldier will be obliged, from time to time, to sacrifice; whoever refuses will be punished by death. It was during this persecution that the massacre of the Theban legion, commanded by Saint Maurice, the martyrdom of Saint Florian and of a great number of virgins, among others Saint Agnes in Rome and Saint Lucy in Syracuse, took place. The persecution lasted for ten years, and at the end the Christians were so sparse that monuments were erected to Diocletian (+ 312) with the inscription: “To the emperor Diocletian, exterminator of the Christians”. But the situation soon changed, because Constantine the Great, the protector of Christianity, appeared. His mother, Saint Helena, had taught him to respect and value the Christian religion. His father, Constantius Chlorus, had been Caesar under Diocletian and had ruled as such in Gaul, Spain and Britain. After the death of Constantius Chlorus, his son Constantine was proclaimed emperor (306) by the legions. Constantine, trusting in the loyalty of his troops, ventured into battle with Maxentius, whom the legions of Italy had proclaimed emperor, and defeated him at the memorable battle of “Pont-Milvius” (312). Before the action, Constantine had seen in the sky a shining cross with these words: “In hoc signo vinces” (by this sign you will win), that later he made embroider on the standards of the legions. Already in that same year, Constantine had issued his edict of tolerance for Christians, and after the battle he published the Edict of Milan which allowed everyone to embrace the Christian religion. In 313, Constantine was the sole master of the West, but in the East ruled his brother-in-law Licinius, who never stopped persecuting Christians. He was defeated by Constantine in 323 and the latter introduced into the Eastern provinces the edicts already in force in the West. Although he was still a pagan, he made the whole Roman Empire celebrate Sunday, gave the pagan temples that had become deserted to Christian bishops and appointed Christian officials to the highest positions in the provinces, in order to enforce the edicts in favor of the Christians. Several legions received priests who celebrated services in tents, and the penalty of crucifixion was abolished out of respect for the Savior. Finally, he had a beautiful basilica built over the tomb of Saint Peter, which was replaced in the 16th century by the masterpiece of Bramante. Together with Saint Helen, he had many shrines built in the Holy Land and in other countries. Constantine died in 337, at Pentecost, in the white habit of the catechumens, because he was not baptized until his deathbed.
Thus the pagans had triumphed too soon in the time of Diocletian; their joy at seeing Christianity destroyed was reduced to smoke. The Church is like Peter’s boat on the lake of Gennesaret: a furious storm roars while the Lord seems to be sleeping, but suddenly He rises and commands the sea to calm down.