The Edict of Milan
Constantine Augustus and Licinius Augustus
The persecution of Christians ended in 313 when Constantine of the West and Licinius of the East proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which established a policy of religious freedom for all. This is an English translation of the edict.
When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.
From Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI).
Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30. This text is in the public domain.
The Edict of Milan was issued in 313 AD, in the names of the Roman Emperors Constantine I, who ruled the western parts of the Empire, and Licinius, who ruled the east. The two augusti were in Milan to celebrate the wedding of Constantine’s sister with Licinius.
A previous edict of toleration had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and posted up at Nicomedia on 13, May 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence.
Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.
By the Edict of Milan the meeting places and other properties which had been confiscated from the Christians and sold or granted out of the government treasury were to be returned:
…the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception…
It directed the provincial magistrates to execute this order at once with all energy, so that public order may be restored and the continuance of the Divine favor may “preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state.”
The actual edicts have not been retrieved inscribed upon stone. However, they are quoted at length in a historical work with a theme of divine retribution, Lactantius‘ De mortibus persecutorum (“Deaths of the persecutors”), who gives the Latin text of both Galerius’s Edict of Toleration as posted up at Nicomedia on 30 April 311 AD, and of Licinius’s letter of toleration and restitution addressed to the governor of Bithynia, posted up also at Nicomedia on 13 June 313 AD. Eusebius of Caesarea translated both into Greek in his History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica). His version of the letter of Licinius must derive from a copy as posted up in Palestine (probably at Caesarea) in the late summer or early autumn of 313 AD, but the origin of his copy of Galerius’s edit of 311 AD is unknown, since that does not seem to have been promulgated in Palestine.