44: Attempting to Exterminate Christianity

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

Matthew 21:44

The Diocletian persecution which commenced in February 303 AD was the final effort by the Roman state to eradicate Christianity from the world. Both the Emperor and his son-in-law and co-regent, Gellerius, believed in the success and the propriety of their efforts. Pillars were raised and medals struck celebrating the end of Christians. They were delusional and deceived blinded by their pride and arrogance.

Christian churches were destroyed, property confiscated, copies of the Scriptures burned, Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods were executed and all Christians in public office were removed. In the east of the Empire under Gallerius, where the persecution was fiercest, all food sold was sprinkled with wine that was offered to the gods challenging Christians to capitulate or starve.

Eusebius, the Christian historian who lived during these times, records pastors being driven to the amphitheatres to be torn apart by wild beasts. He writes of Christians singing praises with their final breath. Even the wild animals he says, grew tired of the killing and the executioners themselves were wearied with their endless task.

This was a season of bloody triumph for the Church but it was also a time of winnowing. The wheat was separated from the chaff, as many apostatised, even surrendering copies of the Scriptures to the authorities. But there were more who stood firm, even little children were true to their faith in such adversity.

Only God knows the number of His people who died during these eight years of terror. He saw, he cared, he loved and would ensure that justice would be executed.

But Rome’s moral capital was spent. The persecution itself was an admission that paganism had failed to win the heart of the Empire.

In the West of the Empire God was silently working. The ruler over Spain, Gaul and Brittania was Contantius Chlorus, who had some sympathy for Christians. His son who was born in Brittania was rapidly rising in influence; destined to be Constantine the Great. These two men were instrumental in preventing the worst of the persecution being visited upon their lands.

Ultimately it would be Constantine the Great who would bring relief to the persecuted flock, by declaring freedom for all.

Diocletian was destined for failure, his dynasty would collapse while the cause of Christ flourished.

Who, who are these beside the chilly wave,
Just on the borders of the silent grave,
Shouting Jesus’ power to save,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb?

These, these are they who in the conflict dire
Boldly have stood amid the hottest fire;
Jesus now says: Come up higher;
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Tullius C. O’Kane

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