He appears to speak in one way to government officials, who wanted the existing laws carried out to their fullest extent, and in another to the Donatists, who denied to the State any right of punishing dissenters.In his correspondence with state officials he dwells on Christian charity and toleration, and represents the heretics as straying lambs, to be sought out and perhaps, if recalcitrant chastised with rods and frightened with threats of severer but not to be driven back to the fold by means of rack and sword . As to Priscillianism, not a few points remain yet obscure, despite recent valuable researches. Damascus at Rome seem to have refused him a hearing. 1), almost in the name of the western Church, says: "Corrigi eos volumus, non necari, nec disciplinam circa eos negligi volumus, nec suppliciis quibus digni sunt exerceri" — we wish them corrected, not put to death ; we desire the triumph of (ecclesiastical) discipline, not the death penalties that they deserve. John Chrysostom says substantially the same in the name of the Eastern Church (Hom., XLVI, c.State intervention not answering to their wishes, and the violent excesses of the Circumcellions being condignly punished, the Donatists complained bitterly of administrative cruelty. Optatus of Mileve defended the civil authority (De Schismate Donatistarum, III, cc. Finally, however, he changed his views, whether moved thereto by the incredible excesses of the Circumcellions or by the good results achieved by the use of force, or favoring force through the persuasions of other bishops.Apropos of his apparent inconsistency it is well to note carefully whom he is addressing.Lactantius was yet smarting under the scourge of bloody persecutions, when he wrote this Divine Institutes in A. He writes: Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows [verbis melius quam verberibus res agenda est]. with excommunication ), while Judaism necessarily proceeded against its dissidents with torture and death.(2) However, the imperial successors of Constantine soon began to see in themselves Divinely appointed "bishops of the exterior", i.e.A law of 407, aimed at the traitorous Donatists, asserts for the first time that these heretics ought to be put on the same plane as transgressors against the sacred majesty of the emperor, a concept to which was reserved in later times a very momentous role.The death penalty however, was only imposed for certain kinds of heresy ; in their persecution of heretics the Christian emperors fell far short of the severity of Diocletian, who in 287 sentenced to the stake the leaders of the Manichæans, and inflicted on their followers partly the death penalty by beheading, and partly forced labor in the government mines.
Cels., VII, 26) is satisfied with explaining that one must distinguish between the law which the Jews received from Moses and that given to the Christians by Jesus ; the former was binding on the Jews, the latter on the Christians. It is true that nothing is so important as religion, and one must defend it at any cost [summâ vi] . If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defense, but desecration and insult.However, the successors of Constantine were ever persuaded that the first concern of imperial authority (Theodosius II, "Novellae", tit. In the space of fifty seven years sixty-eight enactments were thus promulgated.All manner of heretics were affected by this legislation, and in various ways, by exile, confiscation of property, or death.Jewish Christians, if sincere, could no longer conform to all of the Mosaic law ; hence they were no longer at liberty to kill their enemies or to burn and stone violators of the Christian Law. Cyprian of Carthage, surrounded as he was by countless schismatics and undutiful Christians, also put aside the material sanction of the Old Testament, which punished with death rebellion against priesthood and the Judges. For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion.
"Nunc autem, quia circumcisio spiritalis esse apud fideles servos Dei coepit, spiritali gladio superbi et contumaces necantur, dum de Ecclesia ejiciuntur" (Ep. 4) religion being now spiritual, its sanctions take on the same character, and excommunication replaces the death of the body. Naturally, therefore, he stood for the most absolute freedom of religion. Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty . ( Divine Institutes V:20) The Christian teachers of the first three centuries insisted, as was natural for them, on complete religious liberty; furthermore, they not only urged the principle that religion could not be forced on others -- a principle always adhered to by the Church in her dealings with the unbaptised -- but, when comparing the Mosaic Law and the Christian religion, they taught that the latter was content with a spiritual punishment of heretics (i.e.Moderns experience difficulty in understanding this institution, because they have, to no small extent, lost sight of two facts.