Someone was puzzled by a phrase I used in my last post "the traditor bishops of the Diocletian persecution". A timely question; Cardinal Pell preached a splendid sermon in Rome in which he sketched a historical background to suggest that we should not panic at the trifling woes the Church is going through at the present time: things have been much, much, worse! I agree. So did Dom Gregory 'Anglican Patrimony' Dix. I will let him tell you the story.
"[I]t cannot be said that the episcopate as a whole had come well out of the universal crisis of the Diocletian persecution.
Few bishops when it broke out were men of much distinction. Eusebius, who as a bishop and a contemporary has some claim to be heard, says frankly that they were on the whole a poor lot, and ascribes the persecution largely to divine anger at their conduct. He is rather given to pious thoughts of this kind, which have not quite the value of historical judgments. But the precise and definite evidence of episcopal failure everywhere at this time can hardly be discounted ... The better bishops, of course, proved faithful and were martyred. But a shockingly large number at the first question turned traditor - i.e., handed over the Scriptures and sacred vessels to the authorities for destruction, the formal act required of them, which Church and State agreed to consider as constituting apostasy. Others denied that they had them in their keeping, but gave the names of the lectors who had them. Others again salved their consciences by handing over other books instead ...
"When the African Council of Cirta met in 305, after the persecution had spent its first violence in these parts, it revealed a pitiful state of affairs. All the bishops present but two seem to have been traditores in some sense. The president himself was compromised, and agreed to suspend all enquiries to avoid unpleasantness. Nor were the only faults those of lack of courage. More than one of these men was afterwards found guilty of direct theft; others of simony and adultery, and of peculating Church funds. One bishop, who admitted to two murders, retained his seat in this assembly by a timely display of diabolically bad temper.
"We may hope that this sort of thing was exceptional, but the evidence is not reassuring. We hear, e.g., of bishops in Palestine who after the persecution, "because they had not rightly shepherded the rational flock of Christ, were by divine justice turned into camel-drivers, an animal of a natural perversity to which they were suited". It is a fact that though there were a score of sees in Palestine, no bishop was martyred there in ten years of persecution ... "
Jolly stuff, eh?