Roman Law Allows Criminals to Seek Sanctuary in Christian Churches

Roman Law Allows Criminals to Seek Sanctuary in Christian Churches

Roman Emperor Theodosius II
Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen

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Roman emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III issue a new law allowing criminals to receive sanctuary in Christian churches — but only on the condition that they remain unarmed. This is a privilege unavailable to houses of worship of any other religion and it gives Christianity a special status within the Roman empire.

This new Roman law states:

"The temples of the Most High God shall be open to those persons who are afraid. ... We also command that those persons who seek sanctuary shall not have within the church any arms at all, in the form of any weapon, either of iron or of any other kind. ...

The clerics shall designate spaces sufficient for their protection and shall explain that capital punishment has been decreed if any attempt to forcibly enter and seize them. ...

[If they don't relinquish their weapons], armed men shall be sent in and the refugees shall be dragged off and subjected to all kinds of misfortunes - but not without consulting the bishop first." [CTh 9.45.4]

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