The storm which had exiled Popes Marcellus and Eusebius seems to have
prevented an early election of a successor, but finally in 311 Miltiades,
an African, was chosen. (His name is also recorded in the forms Milziadus
and Melchiadus.) The new pope was to guide the bark of Peter into calmer
waters. Actually the Church in the West was already enjoying relief from
persecution. But though Maxentius in the West was easy on the Christians,
his colleague Galerius continued to scourge the Christians of the East
pitilessly. In 311 struck down by disease, Galerius decided to call a halt
to his war on Christ. He issued a decree of toleration which had its effect
even in Rome. Maxentius turned over to Pope Miltiades several churches
which had been confiscated.
Pope Miltiades worked hard to get the Church back in shape after the severe
storm. He also brought back the remains of Pope St. Eusebius and buried
them with due honor in the Cemetery of Calixtus.
Though St. Miltiades ruled the Church for only three years, he was to
witness one of history's turning points--the coming of Constantine and the
end of an era, the era of persecution. Constantine had been proclaimed
emperor in Gaul, and now in 312 he marched on Rome to overthrow the tyrant
Maxentius. Constantine, although not a Christian, had seen the cross in a
vision and had learned that "by this sign shalt thou conquer." And for the
first time in history the cross of peace appeared on the standards of an
army. Under the banner of the cross the legions of Constantine met and
routed the army of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. This dramatic victory
ushered in a new era, an era of peace for the Church. The very next year,
313, at Milan, Constantine and his colleague Licinius issued the famous
decree of toleration which really set the Christians free, free to come out
of the catacombs.
A new era meant a new position for the Church and new problems. Both
position and problems were quickly given emphasis by a gathering of bishops
held by Pope Miltiades in the Lateran Palace. This palace, so long revered
in Christian memory, had belonged to the Laterani family. Nero had
confiscated it, and now Constantine's wife, Fausta, give it to the Pope.
Here in this stately palace overlooking the forum with its proud pagan
monuments, the Pope presided over a gathering of fifteen Italian and three
Gallic bishops to settle an African difficulty. In Africa a schism had
broken out headed by an intriguer named Donatus. These Donatists disputed
the rule of Carthage with the true bishop, Caecilian. Constantine, troubled
by the resulting disturbances, had asked the Pope to do something about
the matter, and this synod in the Lateran answered by condemning Donatus.
St. Miltiades died shortly after. He was called by St. Augustine an
excellent pontiff. He had given the Church good leadership in a difficult
time of transition. St. Miltiades was buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus.
It is significant that he was the last pope to be buried in a catacomb.Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.