Series: On This Day In Christian History
Significant Events on This Day:
418: Pelagians were banished from Rome by imperial edict as great threat to peace, apparently for teaching that men can save themselves.
1532: James Bainham, a Lollard (a follower of the teachings of John Wycliffe) barrister (lawyer), was burned at the stake in Smithfield. He had been tied to a tree and whipped by Sir Thomas More, recanted his faith, was fined and then withdrew his recantation.
1658: Marguerite Bourgeoys established the first uncloistered Catholic missionary community in the new world at Ville Marie, Canada.
1854: James Montgomery (pictured left), who for many years was Scotland’s sole Moravian pastor, died on this day. Twice he went to prison for expressing his social views too freely in his newspaper, the Sheffield Iris. He was the author of many hymns, and he helped win acceptance for hymn singing in the Anglican Church. His best-known hymn was the Christmas carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”
“Galerius Issues a Toleration Edict as He Dies”
Sometimes when a person stares into the face of eternity, he becomes more religious or makes moral changes, perhaps hoping to influence his future beyond the grave. This may have been the case with Roman Emperor Galerius when he issued an Edict of Toleration on this day, April 30, in 311.
Galerius, the son of a Greek shepherd who became a Roman soldier, rose in power and authority to become a junior ruler under Diocletian. It was Galerius who instigated Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians in 303 by convincing Diocletian that Christians were dangerous enemies of the empire.
Galerius himself issued an edict in 304 requiring everyone in the empire to sacrifice to the gods of the empire on pain of death or forced labor. Leading churchman were imprisoned, precious Bible manuscripts were destroyed and hundreds of Christians were executed as a result of his edict.
When Diocletian abdicated, Galerius became senior emperor in 305. He continued his cruel persecution, which was so widespread and intense that it became known as the Great Persecution. However, Christianity simply would not go away. Even Galerius recognized the impossibility of snuffing out the illegal religion.
Then he became ill. A Christian writer named Lactantius said that Galerius’s body rotted and was eaten by maggots while he writhed in agony. Evidently Galerius’s conscience connected his persecution of Christians with his miserable condition. He apparently saw his illness as judgment from the Christian God, for from his sickbed he issued an edict of Toleration that mentioned only Christians.
The edict began by justifying the murders that had been committed under his original edict:
Amongst our other measures for the advantage of the Empire, we have hitherto endeavored to bring all things into conformity with the ancient laws and public order of the Romans. We have been especially anxious that even the Christians, who have abandoned the religion of their ancestors, should return to reason.
Nothing that some Christians had betrayed their faith out of fear while others endured torture, Galerius decided illogically that:
We, with our wonted clemency, have judged it wise and permit a pardon even to these men and permit them once more to become Christians and reestablish their places of meeting.
It should be the duty of the Christians, in view of our clemency [mercy], to pray to their god for our welfare, for that of the Empire, and for their own, so that the Empire may remain intact in all its parts, and that they themselves may live safely in their habitations.
Prayer seems to be the point of the proclamation. Galerius wanted Christian prayers. Did he hope for a miracle? Is so, he was disappointed. He died a week after issuing the edict.
His successor, Emperor Maximinus, tried to counteract the edict but did not succeed to any great extent during his short reign. The Great Persecution of Christians had ended.
Author’s of the Above Article: A. Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Gravesedited This Day In Christian History. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications Inc., 2005. The article above was adapted from the entry for April 30th.
A Kenneth Curtis, Ph.D, is president of the Christian History Institute and the founding editor of Christian History magazine. He has written and produced several award winning historical films for Gateway Films/Vision Video’s Church history collection. He is also coauthor of 100 Most Important Dates in Christian History and From Christ to Constantine: The Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. He and his wife, Dorothy, reside in eastern Pennsylvania.
Daniel Graves is the Webmaster for the Christian History Institute and holds a master’s degree in library science from Western Michigan University. He is the author of Doctors Who Followed Christ and Scientists of Faith. Dan and wife, Pala reside in Jackson, Michigan.
During its first three centuries, the Church met persecution in sporadic intervals around the empire. But nothing compared with the tempest that befell it during the days of Roman emperor Diocletian. Diocletian, seizing power in a coup, appointed fellow-soldier Maximian as co-emperor and two other men as assistants, Constantius and Galerius. The four ruled the empire, east and west, conservatively and with a philosophy of “traditional values.”
“Traditional values” for ancient Rome excluded Christianity. Though Diocletian himself seemed tolerant at first of Christians (his wife and daughter were believers), Galerius was strongly anti-Christian. His military prowess and battlefield victories gave him increasing influence. Slowly and methodically he painted Christians as enemies. He pushed through a series of persecutions against Christians, beginning with the destruction of a church in Nicomedia on February 23, 303. In rapid fire, several edicts were issued against the Church, the last and worst being published on April 30, 304.
No one can describe the carnage. Christians were dismissed from their positions, their civil rights suspended. Church buildings were set afire. Copies of the Scriptures were burned in the marketplaces. Pastors and church leaders were caught and executed, many by lions in the Coliseum. In Phrygia one whole community was wiped out. Other Christians were thrown into squalid prisons or sent to dreaded mines. All former persecutions were forgotten in the horror of this last and greatest storm.
But the empire gradually grew sick of the killing. Executioners were exhausted, and even the lions, it is said, grew tired of Christian flesh. Galerius, meanwhile, found he was dying of a disease commonly known as “being eaten with worms.” On April 30, 311, anniversary of the earlier edict, he issued another in which he suspended persecution against Christians if they would pray for his recovery. From a thousand prisons, mines, and labor camps, the scarred warriors of Christ streamed home (ancient statue of Gelerius pictured left).
Many of them no doubt prayed for Galerius, but he didn’t recover. Some five days after he signed the edict the worms finished their work.
Herod … sat down on his throne and made a speech. The people shouted, “You speak more like a god than a man!” At once an angel from the Lord struck him down because he took the honor that belonged to God. Later, Herod was eaten by worms and died. God’s message kept spreading. – Acts 12:21b-24
About the Author: Robert J. Morgan, is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best-selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, Red Sea Rules, and On This Day – this article was adapted from the April 30th entry in this excellent book. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country.
“Minka and Margaret: They Were Political Casualties”
Thailand was a difficult place to be a missionary in 1974. The Vietnam War had spilled over into Laos, Cambodia, and northern Thailand. In southern Thailand there was ongoing conflict between the military and Muslim liberation groups that wanted independent for Thailand’s predominantly Muslim provinces. Malaysia, having a majority Muslim population, was supporting the Muslim rebels. The tense religious and political climate made missionary work difficult and dangerous.
Minka Hanscamp, a six-foot-tall Dutch woman who had grown up in Java as the daughter of missionaries, and Margaret Morgan, a nurse from a Welsh mining village, were missionary nurses with Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). They had worked tirelessly in southern Thailand for sixteen and nine years respectively. They both had a special burden for those with leprosy. Their ministry involved cutting away rotten flesh, treating ulcerated sores that emitted a horrible stench, and washing many leprous feet (Margaret and Minka pictured left c. 1970).
Every two weeks the women held a leprosy clinic in the town of Pujud. On April 20, 1974, Minka’s sixteenth anniversary at OMF, she and Margaret were lured away from Pujud by strangers who insisted they come with them to the mountains to treat some sick patients needing help.
On April 30, 1974, Ian Murray, the OMF representative for Thailand, received two devastating letters. One was a letter from Minka and Margaret suggesting they had been kidnapped by “jungle people” but were well and “still praising.” The second letter was from their captors. It demanded a half-million-dollar ransom. The kidnappers also demanded that an official letter be sent from OMF to the nation of Israel in support of Palestinian rights. OMF’s policies did not allow them to comply with either demand. If they paid a ransom, every missionary would become more susceptible to abduction. It was also against OMF policy to become involved in political issues.
Instead Ian Murray met with Thai officials and representatives of the kidnappers, attempting to secure the release of Minka and Margaret. The meeting was unsuccessful. Violence in the area escalated over the next few days between Muslim separatists and the military. The Muslim gang that held the women issued a statement saying that they were not against OMF but against American and British support of Israel. The women would not be released unless the “Christian world stop and support to Israel against the Palestinian people.”
The crisis received international attention and prayer, but the letters from the women soon stopped. Rumors of their executions spread but were not confirmed.
Finally in March 1975 a Malaysian man confessed that he had shot both missionaries in the head. The chief of the Muslim gang had decided that the women had to be killed in order to keep the respect of his underlings in the rebel movement. The man said that the nurses were calm when they were told they were going to die, saying only, “Give us a little time to read and pray.” Although the Christian world hoped the story wasn’t true, it was confirmed when two skeletons that physically matched the women were found in the jungle. They had been shot in the head five or six months earlier.
On May 15 hundreds attended their funeral, not only Christians but Buddhists and Muslims as well. Many were shocked and saddened by the violent murders of the women who had come to help them. One man testified at the funeral that he had been a former bandit killer but had become a Christian after Minka had tenderly placed his ulcerated foot on her lap as she treated it. Following the funeral, native pastors and missionaries received more inquiries about the Christian faith than ever before.
Can you imagine yourself ministering to lepers as Minka and Margaret did?
Are there areas of Christian ministry that you suspect you should participate in but are outside your comfort zone?
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons, Give as freely as you have received.” – Matthew 10:8
Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 30th entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.