What do you know about the “Edict of Milan?” That it had something to do with Constantine? It was in the early fourth century? That it legalized Christianity? Consider this from Peter Leithart’s recent book Defending Constantine.

“Every schoolchild knows that shortly after his victory over Maxentius, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, giving freedom to Christians to worship as they pleased. By the standard account, the edict was issued jointly from Milan by Constantine and Licinius in 313, when they were together to celebrate Lincinus’s marriage. But the standard account is a fiction. Constantine and Licinius issued no edict from Milan. What was issued was not an edict, it was neither issued from Milan nor applied to that city, and it did not legalize Christianity. There was no need, after all, in either east or west, to decree toleration for Christians. As soon as Constantine was acclaimed as Augustus of the West at York in 306, he ended the persecution of Christians. Maxentius granted freedom to Christians in Rome and Italy during his six years of rule there.”

“Constantine and Licinius did meet at Milan in 313, they did discuss the imperial policy toward Christianity and religion in general, and they did arrive at a common policy, which is expressed in two letters jointly signed by the two Augusti, one a Latin letter posted in Nicomedia in June 313 and the other a slightly different Greek version posted in Caesarea some time later. Lactantius preserved the first, a letter to the governor of Bithynia. Licinius and Constantine referred to their ‘interview at Milan,’ at which they ‘conferred together with respect tot he good and security of the commonweal’ and concluded that ‘reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention’ and that ‘it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best.’ Their intention was to ensure that ‘God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government.’ and that ‘the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us.’ Considering it ‘highly consonant to right reason,’ they adopted the policy that ‘no man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his might directed him.’ Thus all Christians ‘are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed in any ways, or molested.’ The letter made clear that this ‘indulgence which we have granted in matters of religion to Christians is ample and unconditional’ and intended to help the provincial officials to ‘perceive at the same time that the open and free exercise of their respective religions is granted to all others, as well as to the Christians.’ Given the ‘well-ordered state and the tranquility of our times,’ ‘each individual’ should be permitted ‘according to his own choice, to worship the Divinity; and we mean not to derogate anything from the honor due to any religion or its votaries.'”

“Thus far, the decision merely confirmed the status quo determined by the decree of Galerius and Constantine’s own earlier cessation of persecution. The legal substance of the letter was to order the return of the church property that had been seized during the persecution: ‘Now we will that all persons who have purchased such places, either from our exchequer or from any one else, do restore them to the Christians, without money demanded or price claimed, and that this be performed peremptorily and unambiguously.'” (99-100)