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Aurelian

AURELIAN: Roman emperor 270-275. He was of humble origin but through his talents as a soldier rose to a high position under the emperors Valerian and Claudius and by the latter was nominated Cæsar at the wish of the army. Upon the death of Claudius (270), Aurelian succeeded to the principate at a time when the integrity of the empire was threatened by the barbarians and the appearance of numerous pretenders within its bounds. His talent and energy in restoring order and repelling invasion won him the title of Restorer of the Commonwealth. He was victorious on the Danube and in Italy, but is best known in connection with the overthrow of the Syrian kingdom of Palmyra and its celebrated queen Zenobia. He was assassinated in Thrace by one of his own officers while preparing to set out on an expedition against the Persians.

Aurelian, according to an old tradition in the Church, originated the ninth of the ten great persecutions of the Christians spoken of by the early writers; but this tradition seems to rest on a misunderstanding of the texts. Orosius (vii, 23) speaks of Aurelian as a persecutor of the Christians, but attributes to him only the inception of a plan of persecution without stating that it was put into effect. The author of the De mortibus persecutorum (vi) is authority for the statement that an edict hostile to the Christians was promulgated, but that before it could reach the border provinces the death of the emperor intervened. Eusebius (Hist. eccl., vii, 30), to whom all other accounts may be referred as the source, says that toward the end of his reign Aurelian experienced a change of view with regard to the Christians and for the worse, but that before he could proceed to the execution of his hostile designs he was overtaken by the divine vengeance. Eusebius speaks neither of the actual issue of an edict nor of its execution, and this accords with the known character of the emperor and the conditions prevailing in the empire. Aurelian was first of all a soldier and was occupied almost entirely with military affairs during his reign. It is highly improbable that in a time of foreign danger and internal unrest he would risk further disturbances by organizing a general persecution of the Christians; and, though he was devoted to the pagan faith and even to its superstitions, he would recognize that Christianity had held, since the time of Gallienus, a publicly guaranteed position in the State.

August Klostermann.

Bibliography: Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xi; T. Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, i, 180, 268-269; ii, 117-120, New York, 1887; V. Duruy, History of Rome, vii, 283-323, Boston, 1890; and other histories of the period.

« Augustinians Aurelian Auricular Confession »





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