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Pr. Valerian Şesan (1878-1940) şi Edictul de la Mediolanum

Rev. Valerian Şesan (1878-1940) and the Edict of Milan

Autor(i): Adrian MARINESCU


The most impressive and, therefore, the most important of the studies con-cerning the Edict of Milan (313), issued – according to most specialists – by St Con-stantine the Great, is authored by the Romanian theologian Rev. Valerian Şesan, a professor of Canon Law at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Czernowitz (1913-1940). His work provided a thorough investigation which captured general attention and prompted us to write the present paper, in order to outline and raise (fresh) awareness of the scientific results reached by the reputable scholar of Czernowitz. The text below is part of a more comprehensive project, addressing the Edict of Milan precisely from the standpoint of its evaluation in the specialized literature, a highly interesting and profitable endeavor which reveals the way in which primary and secondary sources have been perceived and interpreted in various periods, cultures and milieus. As we confine our research to the contribution brought by the Romani-an scholar – while placing it in a historiographic context – we do not provide here any final conclusions or solutions regarding the important document issued following Constantine’s encounter with Licinius at Milan. The present analysis follows the main elements and the most important lines of thought and interpretation, put forth by Rev. Valerian Şeşan. His ideas are succintly compared with those of modern histori-ans.
The year 2013 brought again to attention the religious policy of Emperor Constantine the Great, and opened again the debate on the existence (or lack there-of) of an Edict issued by the emperor at Milan, in 313 A.D. Today many experts, well-esteemed and followed by a great part of the Orthodox church historians, regard the Edict of Milan as a definitively settled issue and a matter of „church interest”, too „clerical”, or a matter of „church policy”, and they avoid any discussions concern-ing it. In their opinion, what took place at Milan was a mere discussion, an agreement – which recent literature tends to present as a swap between Constantine and Licini-us, the former offering his sister in marriage as well as his military support, in ex-change for the improvement of Christians’ situation in the territories ruled by the latter. Admittedly, the extant sources do not shed much light on this issue. The two main sources available – Licinius’ rescript and the edict, as recorded by Lactantius and Eusebius, respectively, are well-known. Modern research, however, has investi-gated other sources as well.
Thus an extremely important source is the account of Licinius’ veteriniarian, who accompanied him in his precipitous journey to Milan (Theomnestus, Hippiatrica Berolinensia, 34,11-14). The text is important because, on the one hand, 1) It marks the date when Licinius travelled to Milan, and on the other hand, 2) It reveals the manner in which Licinius made he journey to Italy, especially his haste to leave Car-nuntum, which suggests there was some „urgency”. However, the text is rather ob-scure about the circumstances surrounding the meeting of Milan and the existence (or lack thereof) of an edict issued on this occasion in favor of Christians. The haste of Licinius’ journey to Milan cannot be (exclusively) accounted for, by the need for a prompt alliance, not involving negotiations, that is, not involving a deliberate meeting and agreement made at leisure. The haste to perform the wedding is also not a con-vincing argument. The status of Constantine the Great at the time did not allow any kind of impromptu ceremony, even if a betrothal had been concluded. Also, the fact that Licinius „ran”, despite the extremely bad weather, endangering the lives of his servants and himself, does not justify either the precipitous journey in order to strengthen a political alliance. The meeting of Milan, the residence of Constantine the Great, ruler of the Western territories (Italia, Gallia, Hispania, Britannia), and one of the two augusti, presupposed a particular protocol and special preparations, making any impromptu marriage impossible. Such haste, and taking such risks, could be justified only if Licinius had been threatened by the army of Maximinus, stationed at his gates and preventing any defense, which was not the case, as Lactantius asserts that it was only against the background of the wedding between Licinius and Con-stantia, that Maximinus began preparations for a military offensive.
Licinius’ haste had different possible reasons: 1) It first indicates that the au-gustus of Carnuntum was not an equal but a vassal (δούλος) of Constantine the Great (who, in any case, was primus augustus at the time); 2) It is very likely that the two had arranged in advance a meeting at Milan, immediately after the return of Constantine the Great there – of which Licinius found out (belatedly); on the one hand he was aware of the extremely difficult military and political situation, which could require Constantine the Great to travel fast and more or less safely, for long periods of time, to a different place in the Empire; and on the other hand he intuited or knew that Constantine the Great wished to enlarge his sphere of political influence and authority (while Licinius, who had been favored under Galerius, now found him-self in a precarious political position) –, Licinius hurrying to conclude the agreement and not cause dissent and conflict; 3) maybe Licinius hurried to meet Constantine the Great at his residence in Milan, precisely in order to demonstrate his submission (after Constantine’s conquest of Italy and triumphal greeting by the Senate in Rome), and to obtain a long-planned alliance which he now needed stringently; 4) Licinius certainly felt he risked being next on the list of the territories conquered by Constan-tine the Great, especially on hearing that the latter had returned to his residence in northern Italy and on the territory where no army had opposed him, an opportunity for him to conduct new successful campaigns if he so chose, even against a co-augustus who had failed to treat Christians well enough; anyway, caught between Maximinus and Constantine, Licinius had no other choice but to associate with the latter (who had just destroyed the alliance Maximinus-Maxentius), whom he had to assure directly of his loyalty (especially given the envisaged marriage to his sister, and his victory at Pons Milvius) and make him forget that Galerius had favored Licinius himself, but ignored Constantine for many years despite his obvious qualities, acknowledged not only by the army but also by the population and the citizens; 5) This is why we deem that Licinius’ haste, unless it was due to a direct short-notice request of Constantine the Great (who might have called him to Milan to discuss important matters concerning the Empire – and maybe even to assess his position directly – and decide on the new system of managing the Empire, its military and religious affairs, and also celebrate the planned wedding), could be accounted for by Licinius’ intention to meet Constantine the Great as soon as possible at his residence, situated not far from the residence of the Carnutum augustus, in order to pay hom-age to Constantine for his conquest of Italy (so much desired by Galerius and planned, but never achieved, by Licinius himself) and to assure him of his loyalty, especially by improving the situation of Christians in the territories under his rule, an extremely important fact to Constantine the Great, making him regard Licinius in a friendlier way and see him as a supporter of his political intentions (in this situation it is highly likely that the Edict of Milan was issued at the urgent request of Licinius – to prevent a possible incursion of Constantine the Great into the east, especially since he had just defeated tyrant Maxentius and his power and authority were in-creasing, and his religious policy protecting Christians was gaining momentum –, a good occasion to celebrate the wedding as culmination of a major project concerning the future of the Empire, as envisaged by Constantine the Great). It might have been Constantine the Great who had invited him to Milan urgently, in order to assess his position and to establish the new regime of the Empire and its military and reli-gious situation. It is only such a situation that compelled Licinius to accept the haste, the effort and the risks, even renouncing his personal schedule and the rest of his „winter holidays”.
The study published in 1911 by the Romanian professor of Cernăuţi Rev. Va-lerian Şesan includes four sections: premises, existence, text, contents. He starts from the idea that the Edict of Milan was an event logically following the emperor’s conversion to Christianity in 312 A.D. Thus the upbringing and education (293-305) of Constantine the Great at the court of Diocletian (284-305) made him adopt the policy of strengthening the Empire, a goal which could not be achieved without Chris-tianity, perceived as the solution for safeguarding the Roman orbis terrarum. Accord-ing to the Romanian professor, Constantine the Great had prepared the Christian reform, started in 312-313 A.D., long in advance, largely because paganism was decading. The Edict of Milan – Rev. V. Şesan employs this title without hesitation! – is a result of the Christian beliefs held by Constantine the Great and places Christi-anity (die wahre Religion) on at least equal footing with polytheism (die alte Staatsre-ligion). Understanding this Constantinian act only in political terms is misleading. It actually involved both political factors (Staatsklugkeit), and theological factors (die religiöse Überzeugung). The Edict of Milan had a crucial importance for Christianity. The philological analysis of the two versions recorded by Eusebius and Lactantius did not only stir the debates of experts, but it also indicates very clearly that, while Lac-tantius’ text has some omissions, Eusebius did not use it as his source. Therefore, it is quite problematic – based on experts’ arguments – to consider the text recorded by Lactantius as the original text of the Edict and Eusebius’ version as its translation. We must take into account the overestimation, respectively the underestimation of the non-identical and at the same time identical character of the two texts. The diffi-culty is, of course, compounded by the titles (tituli) of the two texts: Lactantius speaks of the so-called litterae Licinii, issued in Nicomedia, while Eusebius records, as he writes in the introductory part of his text, a διάταξις (= edict) Κωνσταντίνου καὶ Λικιννίου, issued precisely at Milan. Careful examination of the two incipits invalidates the opinion that Lactantius recorded the original Edict, and Eusebius – the translation of Licinius’ rescript. According to Rev. V. Şesan, Otto Seeck marks a major moment in the history of the exegesis of the two texts, but although he had an essential contribution in establishing the differences between the texts, he ignored precisely their common elements. The Edict of Milan testifies, in the opinion of our author, both to the Christian thinking of Constantine the Great, and to his Christian policy. The importance of this document, acknowledged according to Rev. V. Şesan, for almost two millennia by the Christians, is denied by O. Seeck, whose opinions failed to gain the support of specialists and were, moreover, rejected by scholars such as Görres, Crivelluci, Hülle, Schultze and others. In O. Seeck’s inability to under-stand reality from the arguments of his opponents, the Romanian theologian finds serious reasons to resume the debate, adding his own remarks to those of his prede-cessors. This is why he follows very attentively the arguments of O. Seeck and pro-vides detailed answers in a comprehensive perspective.
The Edict of Milan is part of the ampler religious policy conducted by Em-peror Constantine the Great. To Rev. V. Şesan, the religious and political reasons for issuing the Edict of Milan are convergent and complementary, precisely because they have a common goal: Christianizing the Roman state. In the year 312 occured the „theophany” and „conversion” of the emperor to Christianity, entailing as a natu-ral consequence his religious policy, including the issuing of the Edict. Constantine the Great underwent his military and political training at the court of Diocletian, between 293-305, which made him take over and further Diocletian’s reforming intentions. Here, Constantine the Great also came into contact with the eastern, „absolutist” views in relation to religion. Constantine improved the political vision of his predecessor, associating the unity of the Empire to the religious (Christian) unity. The aim of the imperial policy: preserving that orbis terrarum, also made it necessary to change the existing laws. Due to his qualities (intelligence, military abilities, political vision, resourcefulness etc.), Constantine the Great appears as the most suitable person to achieve this reform.
The emperor understood that he had to carry out a complete reformation of the Roman state and promote a new mentality. The only possible foundation for this change was the Christian faith. For example, the state-political vision of the Holy Apostle Paul (Rom 13, 1-9; Tit 3, 1; 1 Ptr 2, 13-17; 2 Tim 2, 1-2), based on the teachings of Savior Jesus Christ, also brought about a new mentality in the ancient world. This also represents the Greek, or Byzantine, view on the state. As a Christian emperor, Constantine the Great confirms the universal-theocratic outlook on the world and state: whoever ignores the Church, in the relationship with the state, breaks two principles and thus deserves a twofold punishment. The Romanian profes-sor thus considers that emperor Constantine the Great mastered the so-called politi-cal theology of the Holy Apostle Paul. Since his youth, he knew Christians and Chris-tian realities well, and was a direct witness of the decadence of paganism and the development of Christianity in history. Moreover, the unfair way in which Christians were treated in the various imperial provinces, must have struck the Roman emper-or, in contrast with the unchanging position of Christians towards the imperial authority. Before Constantine the Great, the Roman state had come into contact with the Chuch and her members, and had become aware – including through Galerius – of their position and role in history (the omnipotence of God and the internal force of Christianity). For this reason, the development of eastern Roman society, especial-ly at historical level, now required a so-called policy of parity.
The Edict of Milan also indicates, according to Rev. V. Şesan, that Emperor Constantine the Great implemented in 313, plans he had prepared long before: a well-articulated project and system put into practice as soon as the opportunity pre-sented itself. In the view of Constantine the Great, before and after 312, Christianity represented the main element ensuring the cohesion of the state, and Pons Milvius (312) was the decisive moment in implementing his intention to Christianize the entire Empire (= have Christianity acknowledged throughout the Roman state). The fact that he understood, long before 313, that Christianity had to be the religion of the Roman state is mentioned in the very opening of the Edict of Milan, as recorded by the historian Eusebius: «ἤδη μὲν πάλαι» («long in advance»). On the other hand, it is also possible that the event of 313 took the emperor by surprise. This year obvi-ously marks a new era in the history of humankind as well as the Roman history, somehow overshadowing the victory of Pons Milvius, precisely by inaugurating a new policy and a new lifestyle. New syntheses and symbioses now begin at the macro level. Christianity had gained visibility and could no longer be stopped. The old world started to disappear, and the new one, of (increasingly) Byzantine character, asserted itself. Against this background, Emperor Constantine the Great changed not only his own fate, but also opened a new path for the entire world. The Edict of Milan is the result of the faith and commitment of Emperor Constantine the Great and aimed to obtain, at least for a while, the same treatment of Christians as the Roman state granted to the pagan religion. This juridical, political and ecclesiastical document is the legal form in which Christianity gained the upper hand over pagan polytheism, in a non-violent manner, and not only for political reasons. Moreover, in a predominant-ly pagan society, Emperor Constantine the Great avoided, as it was politically wise, hurting the interests of the non-Christian party. The Edict, as its introductory part shows explicitly, is the result not only of the Christian beliefs held by Constantine the Great, but has political grounds as well. It does not impose Christianity as the only state religion, although it could have done so. Political reasons did not lead to such a measure even in 323, when paganism was officially defeated.
Today, historians such as K.M Girardet deny the existence of the Edict of Mi-lan, however without providing valid counter-arguments, and much less a thorough analysis such as the one undertaken by Rev. V. Şesan. He (Rev. V. Şesan) can be a model for the historical and theological research, due to his qualities: mastery of work instruments (the scientific method, modern and classical languages), interdis-ciplinarity (historical, juridical, philological, theological background), evaluation skills (a thorough analysis of sources), knowledge of specialized literature (the current stage of research), clarity and concision in his arguments (demonstration of erudi-tion). His work has been long awaiting an answer from those who attempt to remove from history an event and a document of such value. Finally, we must not forget that Rev. V. Şesan, with all his scholarly excellence and erudition, sees history as being above all the result of God’s work, thus evincing – like Emperor Constantine the Great – a theocentric outlook on the world. It is also a great loss for the academic circles in general and for the German-language and Romanian-language ones in particular, that his scholarly contribution is insufficiently known or downright ig-nored. As for the Edict of Milan, relatively recent, original research demonstrate that the sources still have much to reveal. Therefore, neglecting Rev. Şesan’s contribution concerning the Edict of Milan, at least in the Romanian and German-speaking mi-lieus, is a great, unjustified loss.

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Studiu
Pagini: 71-136