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Pope_Miltiades second African Pope. Image By Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) - http://archive.org/details/livesofpopes01artauoft, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26543843

The Second African Pope

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St Miltiades, was the second African Pope, born in Africa, he was elected on the 2nd July 311 and died on the 11 January, 314. During his pontificate the emperor Constantine, after the vision “in hoc signo Vinces” issued his decree of tolerance for the Christian Faith. Blessed bread dates from his time. He constructed the Basilica of St John Lateran.

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The First African Pope

Pope Miltiades, or Melchiades (Greek: Ο Άγιος Μιλτιάδης ; Μελχιάδης ὁ Ἀφρικανός; ca. 270 – 10 January 314), was Bishop of Rome from 2 July 311 to his death in 314. According to the Liber Pontificalis, Miltiades was a native of North Africa, ethnically of Berber origin. Miltiades was also a Roman citizen.


Give me the scoop on Miltiades.
This pope was African by birth. Though not elected until after Emperor Galerius issued a reluctant edict of toleration (aka a note that said “we’ll stop killing the Christians”), Miltiades was elected pope on July 2, 311. The formal act of toleration toward Christians by the Roman Empire two years later — Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan in 313 — meant Miltiades was blessed to preside over the return of all of the Church’s confiscated property, including the 15 titular churches (parishes) and various other possessions, and ultimately reorganize the Church fully once again. He died on the 10th or 11th of January in 314, was buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus. Even better, Miltiades was venerated almost immediately as a saint for his heroic leadership.

What was he known for?
Miltiades is best known for being Emperor Constantine’s first pope. Constantine was famously sympathetic to the Church, formally declaring Christianity legal and eventually being baptized, thanks in large part to having a (literally) saintly mother – St. Helena. His conquering of emperor Maxentius in 312 gave the emperor control over Rome and, indirectly, gave Christians the peace for which they had so long prayed.

One of the first things Constantine did to help the Church was appoint three bishops to hear the complaint, under Miltiades’ direction, of some unruly heretics in Africa that the Carthage’s new bishop wasn’t valid. The reason? Basically, the bishop had surrendered his Scriptures (renounced the faith) during the last persecution. Miltiades, along with the 18 extra bishops he decided to bring along (because why not?), ruled that the heretics were in the wrong, dealing the first defeat to those pesky Donatists and declaring that the Bishop of Carthage was on the up and up.

Fun fact: Once Constantine conquered Rome, he said “Surprise!” and presented Miltiades with the Lateran Palace, which became the home of the pope and the seat from which he governed the Church. The Lateran Palace is still in existence and is now home to the Vatican Historical Museum. It sits right next door to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome.

What else was going on in the world at the time?
The famous “Arch of Constantine” was constructed in Rome in 312, celebrating the emperor’s victory over Maxentius and conquering of Rome. It still stands, sitting between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

Summary of Pope Miltiades:

  • Born: Native of North Africa, ethnically of Berber origin
  • Died: 10th or 11th of January in 314
  • Successor: Pope St Sylvester 1
  • Predecessor: Pope St Eusebius
  • Position: 32th  Pope in the history of the Catholic Church
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