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Saint Miltiades

Second of the 'African' Popes


Miltiades (aka Melchiades) was pope from 311 CE to 314 CE. His feast day is 10 December. Records show that he came from Roman North Africa. His feast day is 10 December.

Date of Birth: unknown, North Africa
Date of Death: 10 (or 11) January (11 days before the Kalends of Decembris) 314, Rome

As with the other two 'African' Popes (Victor I and Gelasius I), little is known about Pope Miltiades. He succeeded Eusebius in on 2 July 311 CE (during the reign of Emperor Constantine I) to become the 49th pope, in a line that starts with St Peter (32--67 CE). He died in 496 CE, in Rome, and was succeeded by Anastasius II.

Miltiades is declared by the Liber Pontificalis to be "Miltiades, natione Afer", which roughly translates as "Miltiades, an African by birth." Note that Afer was the Roman term for its North Africa province of Africa Proconsularis -- present day Tunisia and Algeria -- so he was likely either Carthaginian, Roman, or Berber by decent. (It is unlikely that he was a Black African, since the Romas refered to people from sub-Saharian Africa as Aethiopes ('Ethiopians') [from the Greek "aitho" and 'ops" effectively meaning "burnt face"].)

Miltiades was fortunate to come to power at a time of toleration in the Roman Empire. The Roman Tetrarchy of Galerius (c.206--311 CE), Constantine (c.272--337 CE) Maxentius (c.278--312 CE) and Licinius (c.263--325 CE) issued the 'Edict of Toleration in 311 CE, which effectively ended the period of persecution started by Emperor Diocletian. (Galerius, who had been nominated by Emperor Diocletian and governed the eastern part of the Empire, had been amongst those who wished to remove the Christians, but he admitted defeat after falling seriously and painfully ill, in what he worried may be vengeance from the Christian God. Licinius had been nominated by Galerius, and both had opposed Constantine who they believed sympathized with the Christians.) Maximinus II is said to have re-initiated the persecution of Christians after the Edict, only to renew his agreement shortly before his death at Tarsus.

Emperor Maxentius (c.278--312, named Augustus of Rome from 307), who had control of Italy and Africa, had sought support amongst Christians by allowing them in 308 CE to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Miltiades' predecessor Eusebius. (In the same year, the vicarious1 of Africa, Lucius Domitius Alexander, had rebelled and proclaimed himself Augustus -- Maxentius need all the friends he could get.) Maxentius exiled Eusibius to Sicily in August 310 CE, where he died shortly afterwards. It was only after several months that Miltiades was elected Bishop of Rome.

This was a period of great upheaval amongst the Tetrachy (a system of two Augusti and two subordinate Caesars which had been instituted by Emperor Diocletian), with one warring against the other. Starting with Maxentius seizing power in 306 CE after the death of Constantious I Chlorus, and opposing the pairing of Severus II and Constantine I, the war of the Roman Tetrachy lasted until Constantine defeated Maxentius (Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE) and Licinius (Battle of Adrianople 324 CE).

As Constantine seized power he slowly reformed the Roman Empire to accept and adopt Christianity. At Milvian Bridge, Constantine is said to have had a vision from the Christian God promising victory if he adopted a flag with the symbols Chi-Rho. Constantine I (for the western Roman Empire) and Licinius (for the east) proclaimed that there would be religious toleration of Christianity in the Edict of Milan in February 313 CE (in fact it allowed people to worship whatever deity they wished, not just Christians). Christians were allowed to organize churches, and property previously confiscated was ordered to be returned -- at last the church had the capacity to house and organize an ecclesiastical administration. The previous Edict of Toleration had been short lived, this Edict was set to last.

In 313 CE Constantine donated an Imperial Roman property, the Lateran, to Miltiades. A new cathedral was built -- the Basilica Constantiniana (now San Giovanni in Laterano).

In 313, Miltiades' greatest dispute occurred at the Lateran Synod. Miltiades supported Caecilian as the Bishop of Carthage and condemned the North African Donatists who refused to accept his choice. The Donatists had gone behind Miltiades back, who asserted the primacy of Rome in all church matters, and they had approached Constaintine with a plan to have bishops from Gaul act as judges in the case. On 2 October the synod of 18 bishops from Italy and Gaul decided in favor of Caecilian, who was deemed to be the legitimate bishop of Carthage. Shortly afterwards, the Donatists were pronounced schismatic.

Constantine ordered a new synod meeting at Arles to discuss the matter, but Miltiades died before it could be convened. Miltiades was buried in the Calisti Church on the Appian Way in December 314 CE.

1 Not a Christian vicar, but a deputy. In full, the vices agens praefectorum praetorio or 'deputy of the praetorian prefect of a diocese. The diocese was an administrative division within the Roman Empire created by Diocletian around 290 CE. The terms vicar and diocese were adopted by the Catholic church to describe their administrative structures after the fourth century CE.

Principal Sources:
• 'Liber Pontificalis (Late 6th century A.D.)', Retrieved 10 February 2013, from http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/liberpontificalis1.html
The Book of the Popes: Liber Pontificalis trans. by Louise Ropes Loomis, Columbia University Press, 1916.

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