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Miltiades, Bishop of Rome

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Miltiades (2) ( Melchiades ), bp. of Rome after EUSEBIUS, from July 2, 310, to Jan. 10 or 11, 314, the see having been vacant for 10 months and 14 days. The long vacancy is accounted for by the circumstances of his predecessor's death in exile and the divided state of the Roman church at the time.

The pontificate of Miltiades was marked by the accession, and so-called conversion, of Constantine the Great, and the definite termination of Diocletian's persecution. To Miltiades the possessions of the Christians at Rome, including the cemeteries, were at length restored by Maxentius: "Melchiades was recorded to have sent deacons with letters from the emperor Maxentius and from the prefect of the Praetorium to the prefect of the city, that they might recover possession of what had been taken away in the time of persecution, and which the aforesaid emperor had ordered to be restored" (Augustine, Brevic. Collat. cum Donat.; die iii. c. 34). Constantine, after the defeat and death of Maxentius (Oct. 28, 312), promulgated at Milan in 313 with Licinius the full edict of toleration known as "the Edict of Milan," which Licinius proclaimed in June 313 at Nicomedia in the East. All these important events were during the episcopate of Miltiades, who would be a personal witness of Constantine's entry into Rome after the battle of the Milvian bridge, with the labarum borne aloft, and the monogram of Christ marked upon the shields of his soldiers. But the pope's name does not become prominent until the complications which soon arose in connexion with the African Donatists. Constantine, according to Optatus, was greatly annoyed at being called upon to settle disputes among the clergy, but he complied with the request, nominating three Gallic bishops whom he commanded to go speedily to Rome to adjudge the matter in conjunction with Miltiades. He wrote a letter preserved by Eusebius, addressed to Miltiades and an unknown Marcus. There is no evidence, in this or other acts of Constantine, that he regarded the bp. of Rome as the sole or necessary judge of ecclesiastical causes on appeal. He was, indeed, careful to refer spiritual cases to the spirituality, and he naturally and properly referred the chief cognizance of a case arising in W. Africa to the Roman see, though not to the pope singly, but to him assisted by assessors whom he named himself. The three bishops of Gaul are named in the letter as colleagues of Miltiades and Marcus, and it appears from Optatus that 15 Italian bishops were added to the conclave, summoned, we may suppose, by Miltiades himself, so that he might hear the case canonically in synod with the assistance of the Gallic assessors. The decisions of the conclave were duly transmitted to Constantine, whom they fully satisfied ( Ep. Constant. ad vicar. Africae; ejusd. ad Episc. Syrac. —Labbe, i. p. 1445; Eus. H. E. x. 5). Moved, however, by the continued complaints of Donatus and his party, he summoned the general synod of Arles (a.d. 314) with a view to a final settlement. In these further proceedings the bp. of Rome does not appear to have been consulted by the emperor, or regarded as possessing any position of supremacy. Constantine, professing great reverence for the episcopate in general, and recognizing the right of the clergy to settle cases purely ecclesiastical, himself set in motion and regulated ecclesiastical proceedings, delegated their administration to such ecclesiastics as he chose, and certainly shewed no peculiar deference to the Roman see. Nor do we find any protest on the part of the church of his day against his mode of procedure.

The fact that the conclave under Miltiades met in the Lateran palace (in the house of the empress Fausta) is adduced by Baronius ( A.D. 312) as proving the tradition true that Constantine had made over that palace to the pope as a residence. But it is not known with any certainty when the popes came into permanent possession of the Lateran.

Miltiades was, in the time of St. Augustine, accused by African Donatists of having, as one of the presbyters of pope MARCELLINUS, with him given up the sacred books and offered incense under the persecution of Diocletian. Augustine treats the whole charge as unsupported by documentary evidence, and probably a calumny; and we find no mention of any such charge against Miltiades during his life, when the party of Donatus was likely to have made a strong point of it had it been known of them. Further, in the conference with the Donatists held a.d. 411 by order of the emperor Honorius the charge was alleged, but all proof of it broke down (Augustine, u.s. ).

Miltiades was buried, as his predecessors since Pontianus till the commencement of persecution had been, in the cemetery of St. Callistus on the Appian Way. There also he had deposited the remains of his immediate predecessor Eusebius (Depos. Episc. Liber. ). Yet neither of these two popes (according to early recensions of the Pontifical) lay in the old papal crypt of that cemetery, but each in a separate cubiculum apart from it. De Rossi supposes the approaches to the old crypt to have been blocked up by the Christians to save it from profanation; and the state in which the passages leading to it have been found confirms this supposition. He has identified positively the cubiculum of Eusebius, but that of Miltiades only conjecturally (see Northcote and Brownlow, Rom. Sotter. p. 146). Miltiades was the last pope buried in this cemetery.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Miltiades, Bishop of Rome'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​m/miltiades-bishop-of-rome.html. 1911.
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