Miltiades is claimed by the “Liber Pontificalis” to be the second of the bishops of Rome (after Victor d. 198, q.v.) to have been born in the Roman province of Africa, although it has proven impossible to verify that claim. Of the pontiffs he is named thirty-second [thirty-third according to the “Liber Pontificalis”; cf. TTH 6 (22000) 14]] in the official listing. Miltiades succeeded a Greek physician, Eusebius, whose brief papacy (April 18 - October 21, 310) had been marked by exile well before his death, so that there had been several years interruption in the office. Miltiades held the office according to the tradition “from July 7 in the 9th consulship of Maxentius to the 2nd of Maximus which after September was named for Volusianus and Rufinus” but this information is garbled; he was buried on December 10 (still accorded his feast day) in the cemetery of Callistus on the Via Appia [cf. OEEC 156], though modern scholarship gives his pontifical dates from July 2, 311 until January 10, 314. Kelly observes [ODP (1986) 26] therewith Miltiades was “the first pope to see the church not only tolerated but beginning to enjoy the active favour of the Roman government.”
At the outset of Miltiades’ papal administration, the co-emperor (Marcus Aurelius Valerius) Maxentius (October 28, 306 - October 28, 312), anticipating the beneficial consequences of the so-called “Edict of Milan” [H.E. 10.5.2-14; cf. OEEC 263] for the Christian Church, ordered restitution of all properties which had been confiscated during the persecution by his predecessor, (Gaius Aurelius Valerius) Diocletian (b.c.245, ruled November 20, 284 until abdication on May 1, 305, d.c.316). Subsequently, (Flavius Valerius) Constantine (b.February 17, c.274, ruled Spring 307 to May 22, 337), even more favorably disposed, placed the Empress (Flavia Maxima) Fausta’s (m.307, d.326) Lateran palace into papal hands for his residence.
While Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340) in his pioneering history of the church provides no information relative to the person of Miltiades, he does include a letter (“the first of its kind received by a pope”) in Greek from Constantine as imperial authority to Miltiades as “bishop of the Romans” commanding that the latter (perhaps specifically because he was of African origin) hold a synod of bishops in Rome to consider the matter which had arisen within the African church concerning the disputed election of Caecilian [d.345, q.v.] to the bishopric of Carthage in about 312 [H.E. 10.5.18-20]. While Miltiades did not live to conclude the issue of the “Donatist schism” which erupted [Lawlor 1928:314-315; Pelikan 1 1971:308-313], his administration was the first to tackle the delicate matter of adjudicating between more rigorous and more lenient episcopal clusters which were to complicate the history of the northwest African church over the next several centuries [Frend 1952; Greenslade 1953:130-131, 150]. Minimal accounting of those proceedings in which Miltiades played a role, along with the naming of the other bishops involved, are briefly narrated by Optatus, bishop of Milevis in North Africa (q.v.), writing “a full sixty years and more” after the persecution by Diocletian (i.e. between 363 and 384), in his “First Book Against the Donatists” [I.22-24; TTH 27 (1997) 22-25; for the discussion of the date of composition see I.13 and TTH 27 xvi-xviii].
Within the church at Rome, Miltiades is remembered as the one who regulated fast days so as to exclude Sunday and Thursday, thereby still trying to distinguish Christian practice from that of the “pagan” majority. But there were identified as also active within the city Manichaeans [see Smith 1991] from his time until subsequent imperial administrations promulgated laws for their suppression [TTH 6.14].
Clyde Curry Smith
Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):
ODP 26-27; TTH 6.14 (100, 108 for the variants in traditional dating)
ODCC 902; NIDCC 661; OEEC 560 (BStuder)
Frend 1952 The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa, by William Hugh Clifford Frend. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press.
Schism in the Early Church, by S. L. Greenslade. London: SCM Press Ltd.
Lawlor 1928 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume II: Introduction, Notes, and Index, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor.
Oulton 1927 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume I: Translation, by John Ernest Leonard Oulton. (Specific references also cited as H.E. with book and chapter).
Pelikan 1 1971
The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, by Jaroslav Pelikan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).
“Manicheism,” by Clyde Curry Smith. In New 20th-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by James Dixon Douglas. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Pp. 542-543.
This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.