CH101 - The Third Century
The Expansion of the Church, 202 - 303 A.D.
The Empire Reorganized - The Church Prospers
In 257/258 AD Emporer Valerian issued edicts against the Christians. This series of
persecution was not a general attack as had come from Decius. This was targeted at the
bishops and the upper class Christians.
In the 260's the borders of the empire were being breached by barbarian tribes. The
peace and security of the Roman Empire was threatened on every side. Emperor
Gallienus sought to keep things in order - he could not protect the outer regions, so
regional legions did their best. Territory was lost around the edges, but the empire was
In 261 Valerian was taken prisoner by the Persians and Gallienus became the sole
emperor. Weary of the violence against Christians, Gallienus issued an edict of toleration
which basically stated that Christians should be free to assemble without fear and their
properties should be returned to them and protected from confiscation.
In 284 Diocletian became the emperor, and to push back the encroachments of the
barbarians, Diocletian brings Maximian into his confidence. The two men rule the empire
as a team, Diocletian ruling in the east and Maximian in the west. In addition, both men
took on a prince so that, in effect, there were now 4 emperors, each waging war against
the barbarian hordes in a different region of the empire. The important fact to know
here is that Maximian selected Constantius to be his prince. He ruled over Gaul and
Britain and would have a famous son, known as Constantine the Great.
After the borders of the empire were basically restored, Diocletian went about rebuilding
the financial status of the empire. Standard coinage and regulated pricing was
established; taxes were increased which brought in record revenues, but the military also
had grown, needing more of this new funding. To secure his legacy, Diocletian started
several building programs.
The Church Prospers
By the year 300 AD, according to Eusebius, there were 40 churches in Rome. The third
Christian century was coming to a good close - everything was good - the church was
growing, church buildings were getting larger, and the Church was financially
prosperous. The peace of Rome was good and the Christian Church was enjoying being
a legitimate part of that peace.
For the 40 years after Gallienus issued his edict of toleration the church prospered.
Christians were to be found at every level of society and serving in every level of government,
even serving in the military with many becoming officers. With a wink and a nod Christians serving as governmental
officials and military leaders were allowed to avoid making the normal loyalty sacrifices to Rome.
If the third century ended well, the fourth century would begin with equal trauma.
Possibly one of the worst of the Roman persecutions was coming and it was completely
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