A. 10.—With the Diocletian administration necessarily came the Diocletian Persecution—an essential feature of the situation. There is no reason to imagine that the great reforming Emperor had, like his colleague Maximian, any personal hatred for Christianity. But Christianity was not among the religiones licitae of the Empire. Over and over again it had been pronounced by Imperial Rescript unlawful. This being so, Diocletian saw in its toleration merely one of those corruptions of lax government which it was his special mission to sweep away, and proceeded to deal with it as with any other abuse,—to be put down with whole-hearted vigour and rigour.
A. 11.—The Faith had by this time everywhere become so widespread that the good-will of its professors was a political power to be reckoned with. Few of the passing Pretenders of the Era of Confusion had dared to despise it, some had even courted it; and thus throughout the Empire the Christian hierarchy had been established, and Christian churches been built everywhere; while Christians swarmed in every department of the Imperial service,—their neglect of the official worship winked at, while they, in turn, were not vigorous in rebuking the idolatry of their heathen fellow-servants. Now all was changed. The sacred edifices were thrown down, or (as in the famous case of St. Clement’s at Rome) made over for heathen worship, the sacred books and vessels destroyed, and every citizen, however humble, had to produce a libellus, or magisterial certificate, testifying that he had formally done homage to the Gods of the State, by burning incense at their shrines, by pouring libations in their name, and by partaking of the victims sacrificed upon their altars. Torture and death were the lot of all recusants; and to the noble army of martyrs who now sealed their testimony with their blood Britain is said (by Gildas) to have contributed a contingent of no fewer than seventeen thousand, headed by St. Alban at Verulam.
A. 12.—So thorough-going a persecution the Church had never known. But it came too late for Diocletian’s purpose; and it was probably the latent consciousness of his failure that impelled him, in 305, to resign the purple and retire to his cabbage-garden at Dyrrhachium. Maximian found himself unwillingly obliged to retire likewise; and the two Caesars, Galerius and Constantius, became, by the operation of the new constitution, ipso facto Augusti.
A. 13.—But already the mutual jealousy and distrust in which that constitution was so soon to perish began to manifest themselves. Galerius, though properly only Emperor of the East, seized on Rome, and with it on the person of the young Constantine, whom he hoped to keep as hostage for his father’s submission. The youth, however, contrived to flee, and post down to join Constantius in Gaul, slaughtering every stud of relays along the entire road to delay his pursuers. Both father and son at once sailed