Feastday: 10 December
Two popes had been exiled by Emperor Maxentius, and for nearly two more
years the Church in Rome was steeped in turmoil, making it impossible to
choose a pope. Finally Miltiades, an African, was elected. He had served
as a priest under Marcellinus during the terrible Diocletian persecution.
Now, however, he witnessed the effects of a kinder, more generous Roman
government. Indeed, the Church would actually be favored with splendid
gifts. By 311 the Church began to enjoy a peace resulting from a decree
of toleration issued in both the East and the West. Emperor Maxentius
ordered the properties of the Church restored. These included the land
and buildings that had been confiscated during the reign of Emperor
Diocletian. In 312 for the first time since the outbreak of persecution,
a pope was able to preside over the celebration of Easter in full
possession of the Church's holy assets.
Pope Miltiades worked diligently in a difficult time of transition. His
edicts included forbidding the Christians to fast on Thursday and Sunday
(the days during which the pagans kept their fasts) and directing that
the Eucharist plate blessed by the bishop be carried to the various
Constantine, having been proclaimed emperor in Gaul, now marched on Rome.
The sign of the cross had been revealed to him in a vision where he was
told that "by this sign shalt thou conquer." Constantine
ordered his standards changed, and for the first time in history, the
sign of peace was borne by an army. Constantine's legions defeated
Maxentius, and the year 312 ushered in a new era, an era of peace; the
Christians were truly set free. During the emperor's stay in Rome, the
famous Lateran palace was given to Pope Miltiades by Fausta,
Constantine's wife. The Lateran served as the papal residence for some
four hundred years.
Less than a year later, a schism broke out in North Africa. Headed by a
rigorist named Donatus, the faction objected to the policies of the
bishop of Carthage, Caecilian. Bypassing the pope, they appealed directly
to Constantine to intervene. The emperor, annoyed that he should be
called on to settle disputes among the clergy, commissioned Miltiades and
three other Gallic bishops to rectify the matter. The pope gathered
fifteen additional bishops and held a synod in the great Lateran palace.
The decision of this synod was to condemn Donatus and his party and to
support the true bishop, Caecilian. The Donatists (as they later became
called) appealed again to Constantine, but by the time another council
could be called, Pope Miltiades had died.
St. Miltiades was an excellent pontiff who guided the Church wisely
during a difficult time of changeover. Pope Miltiades was the last pope
to be buried in a catacomb in the cemetery of Calixtus. His feast is
celebrated December 10.
Excerpted from The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett