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§ 4. Julian the Apostate, and the Reaction of Paganism. a.d. 361–363.
These agree in all the principal facts, even to unimportant details, but differ entirely in spirit and in judgment; Julian himself exhibiting the vanity of self-praise, Libanius and Zosimus the extreme of passionate admiration, Gregory and Cyril the opposite extreme of hatred and abhorrence, Ammianus Marcellinus a mixture of praise and censure.
1. Heathen sources: Juliani imperatoris Opera, quae supersunt omnia, ed. by Petavius, Par. 1583; and more completely by Ezech. Spanhemius, Lips. 1696, 2 vols. fol. in one (Spanheim gives the Greek original with a good Latin version, and the Ten Books of Cyril of Alex. against Julian). We have from Julian: Misopogon (Misopwvgon, the Beard-hater, a defence of himself against the accusations of the Antiochians); Caesares (two satires on his predecessors); eight Orationes; sixty-five Epistolae (the latter separately and most completely edited, with shorter fragments, by Heyler, Mog. 1828); and Fragments of his three or seven Books κατὰ Χριστιανῶνin the Reply of Cyril. Libanius: Ἐπιτάφιος ἐπ ̓ Ἰουλιανῷ, in Lib. Opp. ed. Reiske, Altenb. 1791–97. 4 vols. Mamertinus: Gratiarum actio Juliano. The relevant passages in the heathen historians Ammianus Marcellinus (I.c. lib. xxi-xxv. 3), Zosimus and Eunapius.
2. Christian Sources (all in Greek): the early church historians, Socrates (l. iii.), Sozomen (I. v. and vi.), Theodoret (I. iii.). Gregory Naz.: Orationes invectivae in Jul. duae, written some six months after the death of Julian (Opp. tom. i.). Cyril of Alex.: Contra impium Jul. libri x. (in the Opp. Cyr., ed. J. Aubert, Par. 1638, tom. vi., and in Spanheim’s ed. of the works of Julian).
Tillemont: Memoires, etc., vol. vii. p. 322–423 (Venice ed.), and Histoire des empereurs Rom. Par. 1690 sqq., vol. iv. 483–576. Abbé De la Bleterie: Vie de l’empereur Julien. Amst. 1735. 2 vols. The same in English, Lond. 1746. W. Warburton: Julian. Lond. 3d ed. 1763. Nath. Lardner: Works, ed. Dr. Kippis, vol. vii. p. 581 sqq. Gibbon: l.c. ch. xxii.–xxiv., particularly xxiii. Neander: Julian u. sein Zeitalter. Leipz. 1812 (his first historical production), and Allg. K. G., iii. (2d ed. 1846), p. 76–148. English ed. Torrey, ii. 37–67. Jondot (R.C.): Histoire de l’empereur Julien. 1817, 2 vols. C. H. Van Herwerden: De Juliano imper. religionis Christ. hoste, eodemque vindice. Lugd. Bat. 1827. G. F. Wiggers: Jul. der Abtrünnige. Leipz. 1837 (in Illgen’s Zeitschr. f. Hist. Theol.). H. Schulze: De philos. et moribus Jul. Strals. 1839. D. Fr. Strauss (author of the mythological “Leben Jesu”): Der Romantiker auf dem Thron der Caesaren, oder Julian der Abtr. Manh. 1847 (containing a clear survey of the various opinions concerning Julian from Libanius and Gregory to Gibbon, Schlosser, Neander, and Ullmann, but hiding a political aim against King Frederick William IV. of Prussia). J. E. Auer (R.C.): Kaiser Jul. der Abtr. im Kampf mit den Kirchenvaetern seiner Zeit. Wien, 1855. W. Mangold: Jul. der Abtr. Stuttg. 1862. C. Semisch: Jul. der Abtr. Bresl. 1862. F. Lübker: Julians Kampf u. Ende. Hamb. 1864.
Notwithstanding this great conversion of the government and of public sentiment, the pagan religion still had many adherents, and retained an important influence through habit and superstition over the rude peasantry, and through literature and learned schools of philosophy and rhetoric at Alexandria, Athens, &c., over the educated classes. And now, under the lead of one of the most talented, energetic, and notable Roman emperors, it once more made a systematic and vigorous effort to recover its ascendency in the Roman empire. But in the entire failure of this effort heathenism itself gave the strongest proof that it had outlived itself forever. It now became evident during the brief, but interesting and instructive episode of Julian’s reign, that the policy of Constantine was entirely judicious and consistent with the course of history itself, and that Christianity really carried all the moral vigor of the present and all the hopes of the future. At the same time this temporary persecution was a just punishment and wholesome discipline for a secularized church and clergy.5959 So Gregory of Naz. regarded it, and Tillemont justly remarks, Mem. vii. 322: “Le grand nombre de pechez dont beaucoup de Chrétiens estoient coupables, fut cause que Dieu donna a ce prince la puissance imperials pour les punir; et sa malice fut comme une verge entre les mains de Dieu pour les corriger.”
Julian, surnamed the Apostate (Apostata), a nephew of Constantine the Great and cousin of Constantius, was born in the year 331, and was therefore only six years old when his uncle died. The general slaughter of his kindred, not excepting his father, at the change of the throne, could beget neither love for Constantius nor respect for his court Christianity. He afterwards ascribed his escape to the special favor of the old gods. He was systematically spoiled by false education and made the enemy of that very religion which pedantic teachers attempted to force upon his free and independent mind, and which they so poorly recommended by their lives. We have a striking parallel in more recent history in the case of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Julian was jealously watched by the emperor, and kept in rural retirement almost like a prisoner. With his step-brother Gallus, he received a nominally Christian training under the direction of the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia and several eunuchs; he was baptized; even educated for the clerical order, and ordained a Lector.6060 Jul. ad Athen. p. 271; Socr. iii. 1; Sozom. v. 2; Theod. iii. 2. He prayed, fasted, celebrated the memory of the martyrs, paid the usual reverence to the bishops, besought the blessing of hermits, and read the Scriptures in the church of Nicomedia. Even his plays must wear the hue of devotion. But this despotic and mechanical force-work of a repulsively austere and fiercely polemic type of Christianity roused the intelligent, wakeful, and vigorous spirit of Julian to rebellion, and drove him over towards the heathen side. The Arian pseudo-Christianity of Constantius produced the heathen anti-Christianity of Julian; and the latter was a well-deserved punishment of the former. With enthusiasm and with untiring diligence the young prince studied Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and the Neo-Platonists. The partial prohibition of such reading gave it double zest. He secretly obtained the lectures of the celebrated rhetorician Libanius, afterwards his eulogist, whose productions, however, represent the degeneracy of the heathen literature in that day, covering emptiness with a pompous and tawdry style, attractive only to a vitiated taste. He became acquainted by degrees with the most eminent representatives of heathenism, particularly the Neo-Platonic philosophers, rhetoricians, and priests, like Libanius, Aedesius, Maximus, and Chrysanthius. These confirmed him in his superstitions by sophistries and sorceries of every kind. He gradually became the secret head of the heathen party. Through the favor and mediation of the empress Eusebia he visited for some months the schools of Athens (a.d. 355), where he was initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, and thus completed his transition to the Grecian idolatry.
This heathenism, however, was not a simple, spontaneous growth; it was all an artificial and morbid production. It was the heathenism of the Neo-Platonic, pantheistic eclecticism, a strange mixture of philosophy, poesy, and superstition, and, in Julian at least, in great part an imitation or caricature of Christianity. It sought to spiritualize and revive the old mythology by uniting with it oriental theosophemes and a few Christian ideas; taught a higher, abstract unity above the multiplicity of the national gods, genii, heroes, and natural powers; believed in immediate communications and revelations of the gods through dreams, visions, oracles, entrails of sacrifices, prodigies; and stood in league with all kinds of magical and theurgic arts.6161 Comp. vol. i. § 61. Julian himself, with all his philosophical intelligence, credited the most insipid legends of the gods, or gave them a deeper, mystic meaning by the most arbitrary allegorical interpretation. He was in intimate personal intercourse with Jupiter, Minerva, Apollo, Hercules, who paid their nocturnal visits to his heated fancy, and assured him of their special protection. And he practised the art of divination as a master.6262 Libanius says of him, Epit. p. 582: ... μαντέων τε τοῖς αρίστοις χρώμενος, αὐτός τε ὤν οὐδαμῶν ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ δεύτερος. Ammanius Marcellinus calls him, xxv. 4, praesagiorum sciscitationi nimiae deditus, superstitiosus magis quam sacrorum legitimus observator. Comp. Sozom. v. 2. Among the various divinities he worshipped with peculiar devotion the great king Helios, or the god of the sun, whose servant he called himself, and whose ethereal light attracted him even in tender childhood with magic force. He regarded him as the centre of the universe, from which light, life, and salvation proceed upon all creatures.6363 Comp. his fourth Oratio, which is devoted to the praise of Helios. In this view of a supreme divinity he made an approach to the Christian monotheism, but substituted an airy myth and pantheistic fancy for the only true and living God and the personal historical Christ.
His moral character corresponds with the preposterous nature of this system. With all his brilliant talents and stoical virtues, he wanted the genuine simplicity and naturalness, which are the foundation of all true greatness of mind and character. As his worship of Helios was a shadowy reflection of the Christian monotheism, and so far an involuntary tribute to the religion he opposed, so in his artificial and ostentatious asceticism we can only see a caricature of the ecclesiastical monasticism of the age which he so deeply despised for its humility and spirituality. He was full of affectation, vanity, sophistry, loquacity, and a master in the art of dissimulation. Everything he said or wrote was studied and calculated for effect. Instead of discerning the spirit of the age and putting himself at the head of the current of true progress, he identified himself with a party of no vigor nor promise, and thus fell into a false and untenable position, at variance with the mission of a ruler. Great minds, indeed, are always more or less at war with their age, as we may see in the reformers, in the apostles, nay, in Christ himself. But their antagonism proceeds from a clear knowledge of the real wants and a sincere devotion to the best interests of the age; it is all progressive and reformatory, and at last carries the deeper spirit of the age with itself, and raises it to a higher level. The antagonism of Julian, starting with a radical misconception of the tendency of history and animated by selfish ambition, was one of retrogression and reaction, and in addition, was devoted to a bad cause. He had all the faults, and therefore deserved the tragic fate, of a fanatical reactionist.
His apostasy from Christianity, to which he was probably never at heart committed, Julian himself dates as early as his twentieth year, a.d. 351. But while Constantius lived, he concealed his pagan sympathies with consummate hypocrisy, publicly observed Christian ceremonies, while secretly sacrificing to Jupiter and Helios, kept the feast of Epiphany in the church at Vienne so late as January, 361, and praised the emperor in the most extravagant style, though he thoroughly hated him, and after his death all the more bitterly mocked him.6464 Comp. Jul. Orat. i. in Constantii laudes; Epist. ad Athenienses, p. 270; Caesares, p. 335 sq. Even heathen authors concede his dissimulation, as Ammianus Marc. xxi. 2, comp. xxii. 5, and Libanius, who excuses him with the plea of regard to his security, Opp. p. 528, ed. Reiske. For ten years he kept the mask. After December, 355, the student of books astonished the world with brilliant military and executive powers as Caesar in Gaul, which was at that time heavily threatened by the German barbarians; he won the enthusiastic love of the soldiers, and received from them the dignity of Augustus. Then he raised the standard of rebellion against his suspicious and envious imperial cousin and brother-in-law, and in 361 openly declared himself a friend of the gods. By the sudden death of Constantius in the same year he became sole head of the Roman empire, and in December, as the only remaining heir of the house of Constantine,6565 His older brother, Gallus, for some time emperor at Antioch, had already been justly deposed by Constantius in 854, and beheaded, for his entire incapacity and his merciless cruelty. made his entry into Constantinople amidst universal applause and rejoicing over escape from civil war.
He immediately gave himself, with the utmost zeal, to the duties of his high station, unweariedly active as prince, general, judge, orator, high-priest, correspondent, and author. He sought to unite the fame of an Alexander, a Marcus Aurelius, a Plato, and a Diogenes in himself. His only recreation was a change of labor. He would use at once his hand in writing, his ear in hearing, and his voice in speaking. He considered his whole time due to his empire and the culture of his own mind. The eighteen short months of his reign Dec. 361-June 363) comprehend the plans of a life-long administration and most of his literary works. He practised the strictest economy in the public affairs, banished all useless luxury from his court, and dismissed with one decree whole hosts of barbers, cup-bearers, cooks, masters of ceremonies, and other superfluous officers, with whom the palace swarmed, but surrounded himself instead with equally useless pagan mystics, sophists, jugglers, theurgists, soothsayers, babblers, and scoffers, who now streamed from all quarters to the court. In striking contrast with his predecessors, he maintained the simplicity of a philosopher and an ascetic in his manner of life, and gratified his pride and vanity with contempt of the pomp and pleasures of the imperial purple. He lived chiefly on vegetable diet, abstaining now from this food, now from that, according to the taste of the god or goddess to whom the day was consecrated. He wore common clothing, usually slept on the floor, let his beard and nails grow, and, like the strict anachorets of Egypt, neglected the laws of decency and cleanliness.6666 In the Misopogon (from μισέω and πώγων, the beard-hater, i.e. hater of bearded philosophers), his witty apology to the refined Antiochians for his philosophical beard, p. 338 sq., he boasts of this cynic coarseness, and describes, with great complacence, his long nails, his ink-stained hands, his rough, uncombed beard, inhabited (horribile dictu) by certain θηρία. It should not be forgotten, however, that contemporary writers give him the credit of a strict chastity, which raises him far above most heathen princes, and which furnishes another proof to the involuntary influence of Christian asceticism upon his life. Libanius asserts in his panegyric, that Julian, before his brief married life, and after the death of his wife, a sister of Constantius, never knew a woman; and Namertinus calls his lectulus, “Vestalium toris purior.” Add to this the testimony of the honest Ammianus Marcellinus, and the silence of Christian antagonists. Comp. Gibbon, c. xxii. note 50; and Carwithen and Lyall: Hist. of the Chr. Ch., etc. p. 54. On the other hand, the Christians accused him of all sorts of secret crimes; for instance, the butchering of boys and girls (Gregor. Orat. iii. p. 91, and Theodor. iii. 26, 27), which was probably an unfounded inference from his fanatical zeal for bloody sacrifices and divinations. This cynic eccentricity and vain ostentation certainly spoiled his reputation for simplicity and self-denial, and made him ridiculous. It evinced, also, not so much the boldness and wisdom of a reformer, as the pedantry and folly of a reactionist. In military and executive talent and personal bravery he was not inferior to Constantine; while in mind and literary culture he far excelled him, as well as in energy and moral self-control; and, doubtless to his own credit, he closed his public career at the age at which his uncle’s began; but he entirely lacked the clear, sound common sense of his great predecessor, and that practical statesmanship, which discerns the wants of the age, and acts according to them. He had more uncommon sense than common sense, and the latter is often even more important than the former, and indispensable to a good practical statesman. But his greatest fault as a ruler was his utterly false position towards the paramount question of his time: that of religion. This was the cause of that complete failure which made his reign as trackless as a meteor.
The ruling passion of Julian, and the soul of his short but most active, remarkable, and in its negative results instructive reign, was fanatical love of the pagan religion and bitter hatred of the Christian, at a time when the former had already forever given up to the latter the reins of government in the world. He considered it the great mission of his life to restore the worship of the gods, and to reduce the religion of Jesus first to a contemptible sect, and at last, if possible, to utter extinction from the earth. To this he believed himself called by the gods themselves, and in this faith he was confirmed by theurgic arts, visions, and dreams. To this end all the means, which talent, zeal, and power could command, were applied; and the failure must be attributed solely to the intrinsic folly and impracticability of the end itself.
I. To look, first, at the positive side of his plan, the restoration and reformation of heathenism:
He reinstated, in its ancient splendor, the worship of the gods at the public expense; called forth hosts of priests from concealment; conferred upon them all their former privileges, and showed them every honor; enjoined upon the soldiers and civil officers attendance at the forsaken temples and altars; forgot no god or goddess, though himself specially devoted to the worship of Apollo, or the sun; and notwithstanding his parsimony in other respects, caused the rarest birds and whole herds of bulls and lambs to be sacrificed, until the continuance of the species became a subject of concern.6767 Ammianus Marc. xxv. 4 ... innumeras sine parsimonia pecudes mactans ut aestemaretur, si revertisset de Parthis, boves jam defuturos. He removed the cross and the monogram of Christ from the coins and standards, and replaced the former pagan symbols. He surrounded the statues and portraits of the emperors with the signs of idolatry, that every one might be compelled to bow before the gods, who would pay the emperors due respect. He advocated images of the gods on the same grounds on which afterwards the Christian iconolaters defended the images of the saints. If you love the emperor, if you love your father, says he, you like to see his portrait; so the friend of the gods loves to look upon their images, by which he is pervaded with reverence for the invisible gods, who are looking down upon him.
Julian led the way himself with a complete example. He discovered on every occasion the utmost zeal for the heathen religion, and performed, with the most scrupulous devotion, the offices of a pontifex maximus, which had been altogether neglected, although not formally abolished, under his two predecessors. Every morning and evening he sacrificed to the rising and setting sun, or the supreme light-god; every night, to the moon and the stars; every day, to some other divinity. Says Libanius, his heathen admirer: “He received the rising sun with blood, and attended him again with blood at his setting.” As he could not go abroad so often as he would, he turned his palace into a temple and erected altars in his garden, which was kept purer than most chapels. “Wherever there was a temple,” says the same writer, “whether in the city or on the hill or the mountain top, no matter how rough, or difficult of access, he ran to it.” He prostrated himself devoutly before the altars and the images, not allowing the most violent storm to prevent him. Several times in a day, surrounded by priests and dancing women, he sacrificed a hundred bulls, himself furnishing the wood and kindling the flames. He used the knife himself, and as haruspex searched with his own hand the secrets of the future in the reeking entrails.
But his zeal found no echo, and only made him ridiculous in the eyes of cultivated heathens themselves. He complains repeatedly of the indifference of his party, and accuses one of his priests of a secret league with Christian bishops. The spectators at his sacrifices came not from devotion, but from curiosity, and grieved the devout emperor by their rounds of applause, as if he were simply a theatrical actor of religion. Often there were no spectators at all. When he endeavored to restore the oracle of Apollo Daphneus in the famous cypress grove at Antioch, and arranged for a magnificent procession, with libation, dances, and incense, he found in the temple one solitary old priest, and this priest ominously offered in sacrifice—a goose.6868 Misopog. p. 362 sq., where Julian himself relates this ludicrous scene, and vents his anger at the Antiochians for squandering the rich incomes of the temple upon Christianity and worldly pleasures. Dr. Baur, l.c. p. 17, justly remarks on Julian’s zeal for idolatry: “Seine ganze persönliche Erscheinung, der Mangel an innerer Haltung in seinem Benehmen gegen Heiden und Christen, die stete Unruhe und schwärmerische Aufregung, in welcher er sich befand, wenn er von Tempel zu Tempel eilte, auf allen Altären opferte und nichts unversucht liess, um den heidnischen Cultus, dessen höchstes Vorbild er selbst als Pontifex maximum sein wollte, in seinem vollen Glanz und Gepränge, mit alten seinen Ceremonien und Mysterien wieder herzustellen, macht einen Eindruck, der es kaum verkennen lässt, wie wenig er sich selbst das Unnatürliche und Erfolglose eines solchen Strebens verbergen konnte.”
At the same time, however, Julian sought to renovate and transform heathenism by incorporating with it the morals of Christianity; vainly thinking thus to bring it back to its original purity. In this he himself unwittingly and unwillingly bore witness to the poverty of the heathen religion, and paid the highest tribute to the Christian; and the Christians for this reason not inaptly called him an “ape of Christianity.”
In the first place, he proposed to improve the irreclaimable priesthood after the model of the Christian clergy. The priests, as true mediators between the gods and men, should be constantly in the temples, should occupy themselves with holy things, should study no immoral or skeptical books of the school of Epicurus and Pyrrho, but the works of Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Chrysippus, and Zeno; they should visit no taverns nor theatres, should pursue no dishonorable trade, should give alms, practise hospitality, live in strict chastity and temperance, wear simple clothing, but in their official functions always appear in the costliest garments and most imposing dignity. He borrowed almost every feature of the then prevalent idea of the Christian priesthood, and applied it to the polytheistic religion.6969 Julian’s views on the heathen priests are laid down especially in his 49th Epistle to Ursacius, the highpriest of Gaul, p. 429, and in the fragment of an oration, p. 300 sqq., ed. Spanh. Ullmann, in his work on Gregory of Nazianzen, p. 527 sqq., draws an interesting parallel between Gregory’s and Julian’s ideal of a priest. Then, he borrowed from the constitution and worship of the church a hierarchical system of orders, and a sort of penitential discipline, with excommunication, absolution, and restoration, besides a fixed ritual embracing didactic and musical elements. Mitred priests in purple were to edify the people regularly with sermons; that is, with allegorical expositions and practical applications of tasteless and immoral mythological stories! Every temple was to have a well arranged choir, and the congregation its responses. And finally, Julian established in different provinces monasteries, nunneries, and hospitals for the sick, for orphans, and for foreigners without distinction of religion, appropriated to them considerable sums from the public treasury, and at the same time, though fruitlessly, invited voluntary contributions. He made the noteworthy concession, that the heathens did not help even their own brethren in faith; while the Jews never begged, and “the godless Galileans,” as he malignantly styled the Christians, supplied not only their own, but even the heathen poor, and thus aided the worst of causes by a good practice.
But of course all these attempts to regenerate heathenism by foreign elements were utterly futile. They were like galvanizing a decaying corpse, or grafting fresh scions on a dead trunk, sowing good seed on a rock, or pouring new wine into old bottles, bursting the bottles and wasting the wine.
II. The negative side of Julian’s plan was the suppression and final extinction of Christianity.
In this he proceeded with extraordinary sagacity. He abstained from bloody persecution, because he would not forego the credit of philosophical toleration, nor give the church the glory of a new martyrdom. A history of three centuries also had proved that violent measures were fruitless. According to Libanius it was a principle with him, that fire and sword cannot change a man’s faith, and that persecution only begets hypocrites and martyrs. Finally, he doubtless perceived that the Christians were too numerous to be assailed by a general persecution without danger of a bloody civil war. Hence he oppressed the church “gently,”7070 Ἐπιεικῶς ἐβιά ζετο, as Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. iv., expresses it. under show of equity and universal toleration. He persecuted not so much the Christians as Christianity, by endeavoring to draw off its confessors. He thought to gain the result of persecution without incurring the personal reproach and the public danger of persecution itself. His disappointments, however, increased his bitterness, and had he returned victorious from the Persian war, he would probably have resorted to open violence. In fact, Gregory Nazianzen and Sozomen, and some heathen writers also, tell of local persecutions in the provinces, particularly at Anthusa and Alexandria, with which the emperor is, at least indirectly, to be charged. His officials acted in those cases, not under public orders indeed, but according to the secret wish of Julian, who ignored their illegal proceedings as long as he could, and then discovered his real views by lenient censure and substantial acquittal of the offending magistrates.
He first, therefore, employed against the Christians of all parties and sects the policy of toleration, in hope of their destroying each other by internal controversies. He permitted the orthodox bishops and all other clergy, who had been banished under Constantius, to return to their dioceses, and left Arians, Apollinarians, Novatians, Macedonians, Donatists, and so on, to themselves. He affected compassion for the “poor, blind, deluded Galileans, who forsook the most glorious privilege of man, the worship of the immortal gods, and instead of them worshipped dead men and dead men’s bones.” He once even suffered himself to be insulted by a blind bishop, Maris of Chalcedon, who, when reminded by him, that the Galilean God could not restore his eyesight, answered: “I thank my God for my blindness, which spares me the painful sight of such an impious Apostate as thou.” He afterwards, however, caused the bishop to be severely punished.7171 Socrates: H. E. iii. 12. So in Antioch, also, he bore with philosophic equanimity the ridicule of the Christian populace, but avenged himself on the inhabitants of the city by unsparing satire in the Misopogon. His whole bearing towards the Christians was instinct with bitter hatred and accompanied with sarcastic mockery.7272 Gibbon well says, ch. xxiii.: “He affected to pity the unhappy Christians, but his pity was degraded by contempt, his contempt was embittered by hatred; and the sentiments of Julian were expressed in a style of sarcastic wit, which inflicts a deep and deadly wound whenever it issues from the mouth of a sovereign.” This betrays itself even in the contemptuous term, Galileans, which he constantly applies to them after the fashion of the Jews, and which he probably also commanded to be given them by others.7373 Perhaps there lay at the bottom of this also a secret fear of the name of Christ, as Warburton (p. 35) suggests; since the Neo-Platonists believed in the mysterious virtue of names. He considered them a sect of fanatics contemptible to men and hateful to the gods, and as atheists in open war with all that was sacred and divine in the world.7474 Ἀσεβεῖς, δυσσεβεῖς, ἄθεοι. Their religion he calls a μωρία or ἀπόνοια. Comp. Ep. 7 (ap. Heyler, p. 190). He sometimes had representatives of different parties dispute in his presence, and then exclaimed: “No wild beasts are so fierce and irreconcilable as the Galilean sectarians.” When he found that toleration was rather profitable than hurtful to the church, and tended to soften the vehemence of doctrinal controversies, he proceeded, for example, to banish Athanasius, who was particularly offensive to him, from Alexandria, and even from Egypt, calling this greatest man of his age an insignificant manikin,7575 Ἄθρωπίσκος εὐτελής. and reviling him with vulgar language, because through his influence many prominent heathens, especially heathen women, passed over to Christianity. His toleration, therefore, was neither that of genuine humanity, nor that of religious indifferentism, but a hypocritical mask for a fanatical love of heathenism and a bitter hatred of Christianity.
This appears in his open partiality and injustice against the Christians. His liberal patronage of heathenism was in itself an injury to Christianity. Nothing gave him greater joy than an apostasy, and he held out the temptation of splendid reward; thus himself employing the impure means of proselyting, for which he reproached the Christians. Once he even advocated conversion by violent measures. While he called heathens to all the higher offices, and, in case of their palpable disobedience, inflicted very mild punishment, if any at all, the Christians came to be everywhere disregarded, and their complaints dismissed from the tribunal with a mocking reference to their Master’s precept, to give their enemy their cloak also with their coat, and turn the other cheek to his blows.7676 Matt. v. 89, 40. They were removed from military and civil office, deprived of all their former privileges, oppressed with taxes, and compelled to restore without indemnity the temple property, with all their own improvements on it, and to contribute to the support of the public idolatry. Upon occasion of a controversy between the Arians and the orthodox at Edessa, Julian confiscated the church property and distributed it among his soldiers, under the sarcastic pretence of facilitating the Christians’ entrance into the kingdom of heaven, from which, according to the doctrine of their religion (comp. Matt. xix. 23, 24), riches might exclude them.
Equally unjust and tyrannical was the law, which placed all the state schools under the direction of heathens, and prohibited the Christians teaching the sciences and the arts.7777 Gregory of Naz., Orat. iv., censures the emperor bitterly for forbidding the Christians what was the common property of all rational men, as if it were the exclusive possession of the Greeks. Even the heathen Ammianus Marcellinus, xxii. 10, condemns this measure: “Illud autem erat inclemens, obruendum perenni silentio, quod arcebat docere magistros rhetoricos et grammaticos, ritus Christiani cultores.” Gibbon is equally decided. Directly, Julian forbade the Christians only to teach, but indirectly also to learn, the classical literature; as they were of course unwilling to go to heathen schools. Julian would thus deny Christian youth the advantages of education, and compel them either to sink in ignorance and barbarism, or to imbibe with the study of the classics in the heathen schools the principles of idolatry. In his view the Hellenic writings, especially the works of the poets, were not only literary, but also religious documents to which the heathens had an exclusive claim, and he regarded Christianity irreconcilable with genuine human culture. The Galileans, says he in ridicule, should content themselves with expounding Matthew and Luke in their churches, instead of profaning the glorious Greek authors. For it is preposterous and ungrateful, that they should study the writings of the classics, and yet despise the gods, whom the authors revered; since the gods were in fact the authors and guides of the minds of a Homer, a Hesiod, a Demosthenes, a Thucydides, an Isocrates, and a Lysias, and these writers consecrated their works to Mercury or the muses.7878 Epist. 42. Hence he hated especially the learned church teachers, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen, Apollinaris of Laodicea, who applied the classical culture to the refutation of heathenism and the defence of Christianity. To evade his interdict, the two Apollinaris produced with all haste Christian imitations of Homer, Pindar, Euripides, and Menander, which were considered by Sozomen equal to the originals, but soon passed into oblivion. Gregory also wrote the tragedy of “The Suffering Christ,” and several hymns, which still exist. Thus these fathers bore witness to the indispensableness of classical literature for a higher Christian education, and the church has ever since maintained the same view.7979 Dr. Baur (l.c. p. 42) unjustly charges the fathers with the contradiction of making use of the classics as necessary means of education, and yet of condemning heathenism as a work of Satan. But this was only the one side, which has its element of truth, especially as applied to the heathen religion; while on the other side they acknowledged, with Justin M., Clement and Origen, the working of the divine Logos in the Hellenic philosophy and poetry preparing the way for Christianity. The indiscriminate condemnation of classical literature dates from a later period, from Gregory I.
Julian further sought to promote his cause by literary assaults upon the Christian religion; himself writing, shortly before his death, and in the midst of his preparations for the Persian campaign, a bitter work against it, of which we shall speak more fully in a subsequent section.8080 See below, § 9.
3. To the same hostile design against Christianity is to be referred the favor of Julian to its old hereditary enemy, Judaism.
The emperor, in an official document affected reverence for that ancient popular religion, and sympathy with its adherents, praised their firmness under misfortune, and condemned their oppressors. He exempted the Jews from burdensome taxation, and encouraged them even to return to the holy land and to rebuild the temple on Moriah in its original splendor. He appropriated considerable sums to this object from the public treasury, intrusted his accomplished minister Alypius with the supervision of the building, and promised, if he should return victorious from the Persian war, to honor with his own presence the solemnities of reconsecration and the restoration of the Mosaic sacrificial worship.8181 Jul. Epist. 25, which is addressed to the Jews, and is mentioned also by Sozomen, v. 22.
His real purpose in this undertaking was certainly not to advance the Jewish religion; for in his work against the Christians he speaks with great contempt of the Old Testament, and ranks Moses and Solomon far below the pagan lawgivers and philosophers. His object in the rebuilding of the temple was rather, in the first place, to enhance the splendor of his reign, and thus gratify his personal vanity; and then most probably to put to shame the prophecy of Jesus respecting the destruction of the temple (which, however, was actually fulfilled three hundred years before once for all), to deprive the Christians of their most popular argument against the Jews, and to break the power of the new religion in Jerusalem.8282 Gibbon, ch. xxiii.: “The restoration of the Jewish temple was secretly connected with the ruin of the Christian church.”
The Jews now poured from east and west into the holy city of their fathers, which from the time of Hadrian they had been forbidden to visit, and entered with fanatical zeal upon the great national religious work, in hope of the speedy irruption of the Messianic reign and the fulfilment of all the prophecies. Women, we are told, brought their costly ornaments, turned them into silver shovels and spades, and carried even the earth and stones of the holy spot in their silken aprons. But the united power of heathen emperor and Jewish nation was insufficient to restore a work which had been overthrown by the judgment of God. Repeated attempts at the building were utterly frustrated, as even a contemporary heathen historian of conceded credibility relates, by fiery eruptions from on subterranean vaults;8383 Julian himself seems to admit the failure of the work, but, more prudently, is silent as to the cause, in a fragment of an epistle or oration, p. 295, ed. Spanh., according to the usual interpretation of this passage. He here asks: Τί περὶ τοῦ νεὼ φύσουσι, τοῦ παρ ̓ αὐτοῖς, τρίτον ἀνατραπέντος , ἐγειρομένου δὲ οὐδὲ νῦν:: “What will they [i.e., the Jewish prophets] say of their own temple, which has been three times destroyed, and is not even now restored?” “This I have said (he continues) with no wish to reproach them, for I myself, at so late a day, had intended to rebuild it for the honor of him who was worshipped there.” He probably saw in the event a sign of the divine displeasure with the religion of the Jews, or an accidental misfortune, but intended, after his return from the Persian war, to attempt the work anew. It is by no means certain, however, that the threefold destruction of the temple here spoken of refers to Julian’s own reign. He may have meant, and probably did mean, the destruction by the Assyrians and the destruction by the Romans; and as to the third destruction, it may be a mere exaggeration, or may refer to the profanation of the temple by Antiochus, or to his own reign. (Comp. Warburton and Lardner on this point.) The impartial Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a professed pagan, a friend of Julian and his companion in arms, tells us more particularly, lib. xxiii. 1, that Julian, being desirous of perpetuating the memory of his reign by some great work, resolved to rebuild at vast expense the magnificent temple at Jerusalem, and committed the conduct of this enterprise to Alypius at Antioch, and then continues: “Quum itaque rei fortiter instaret Alypius, juvaretque provinciae rector, metuendi globi flammarum prope fundamenta crebris assultibus erumpentes fecere locum exustis aliquoties operantibus inaccessum; hocque modo clemento destinatius repellente, cessavit inceptum.” (“Alypius, therefore, set himself vigorously to the work, and was assisted by the governor of the province, when fearful balls of fire broke out near the foundations, and continued their attacks until they made the place inaccessible to the workmen, after repeated scorchings; and thus, the fierce element obstinately repelling them, he gave up his attempt.”) Michaelis, Lardner (who, however, is disposed to doubt the whole story), Gibbon, Guizot, Milman (note on Gibbon), Gieseler, and others, endeavor to explain this as a natural phenomenon, resulting from the bituminous nature of the soil and the subterranean vaults and reservoirs of the temple hill, of which Josephus and Tacitus speak. When Herod, in building the temple, wished to penetrate into the tomb of David, to obtain its treasures, fire likewise broke out and consumed the workmen, according to Joseph. Antiqu. Jud. xvi. 7, § 1. But when Titus undermined the temple, a.d.70, when Hadrian built there the Aelia Capitolina, in 135, and when Omar built a Turkish mosque in 644, no such destructive phenomena occurred as far as we know. We must therefore believe, that Providence itself, by these natural causes, prevented the rebuilding of the national sanctuary of the Jews. and, perhaps, as Christian writers add, by a violent whirlwind, lightning, earthquake, and miraculous signs, especially a luminous cross, in the heavens,8484 Gregory Nazianzen, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Philostorgius, Rufinus, Ambrose, Chrysostom; all of whom regard the event as supernatural, although they differ somewhat in detail. Theodoret speaks first of a violent whirlwind, which scattered about vast quantities of lime, sand, and other building materials, and was followed by a storm of thunder and lightning; Socrates mentions fire from heaven, which melted the workmen’s tools, spades, axes, and saws; both add an earthquake, which threw up the stones of the old foundations, filled up the excavation, and, as Rufinus has it, threw down the neighboring buildings. At length a calm succeeded the commotion, and according to Gregory a luminous cross surrounded by a circle appeared in the sky, nay, crosses were impressed upon the bodies of the persons present, which were shining by night (Rufinus), and would not wash out (Socrates). Of these writers however, Gregory alone is strictly a contemporary witness, relating the event in the year of its occurrence, 363, and that with the assurance that even the heathens did not call it in question. (Orat. iv. p. 110-113). Next to him come Ambrose, and Chrysostom, who speaks of this event several times. The Greek and Roman church historians, and Warburton, Mosheim, Schröckh, Neander, Guericke, Kurtz, Newman, Robertson, and others, of the Protestant, vindicate the miraculous, or at least providential, character of the remarkable event. Comp. also J. H. Newman (since gone over to Romanism): “Essay on the Miracles recorded in ecclesiastical history,” prefixed to the Oxford Tractarian translation of Fleury’s Eccles. Hist. from 381-400 (Oxford, 1842) I. p. clxxv.–clxxxv. Warburton and Newman defend even the crosses, and refer to similar cases, for instance one in England in 1610, where marks of a cross of a phosphoric nature and resembling meteoric phenomena appeared in connection with lightning and produced by electricity. In Julian’s case they assumed that the immediate cause which set all these various physical agents in motion, as in the case of the destruction of Sodom, was supernatural. so that the workmen either perished in the flames, or fled from the devoted spot in terror and despair. Thus, instead of depriving the Christians of a support of their faith, Julian only furnished them a new argument in the ruins of this fruitless labor.
The providential frustration of this project is a symbol of the whole reign of Julian, which soon afterward sank into an early grave. As Caesar he had conquered the barbarian enemies of the Roman empire in the West; and now he proposed, as ruler of the world, to humble its enemies in the East, and by the conquest of Persia to win the renown of a second Alexander. He proudly rejected all proposals of peace; crossed the Tigris at the head of an army of sixty-five thousand men, after wintering in Antioch, and after solemn consultation of the oracle; took several fortified towns in Mesopotamia; exposed himself to every hardship and peril of war; restored at the same time, wherever he could, the worship of the heathen gods; but brought the army into a most critical position, and, in an unimportant nocturnal skirmish, received from a hostile arrow a mortal wound. He died soon after, on the 27th of June, 363, in the thirty-second year of his life; according to heathen testimony, in the proud repose and dignity of a Stoic philosopher, conversing of the glory of the soul (the immortality of which, however, he considered at best an uncertain opinion);8585 Ammianus, l. xxv. 3. He was himself in the campaign, and served in the body guard of the emperor; thus having the best opportunity for observation. but according to later and somewhat doubtful Christian accounts, with the hopeless exclamation: “Galilean, thou hast conquered!”8686 Sozomen, vi. 2; Theodoret, iii. 25 (Νενίκηκας Γαλιλαῖε ); then, somewhat differing, Philostorgius, vii. 15. Gregory Nazianzen, on the contrary, who elsewhere presents Julian in the worst light, knows nothing of this exclamation, to which one may apply the Italian maxim: “Se non è vero, è ben trovato.” The above-named historians mention also other incidents of the death, not very credible; e.g. that he threw toward heaven a handful of blood from his wound; that he blasphemed the heathen gods; that Christ appeared to him, &c. Sozomen quotes also the groundless assertion of Libanius, that the mortal wound was inflicted not by a Persian, but by a Christian, and was not ashamed to add, that he can hardly be blamed who had done this ” noble deed for God and his religion” (διὰ θεὸν καὶ θρησκείαν ἣν ἐπῄνεσεν)! This is, so far as I know, the first instance, within the Christian church, of the vindication of tyrannicide ad majorem Dei gloriam. The parting address to his friends, which Ammianus puts into his mouth, is altogether characteristic. It reminds one of the last hours of Socrates, without the natural simplicity of the original, and with a strong admixture of self-complacence and theatrical affectation. His body was taken, at his own direction, to Tarsus, the birthplace of the apostle Paul, whom he hated more than any other apostle, and a monument was erected to him there, with a simple inscription, which calls him a good ruler and a brave warrior, but says nothing of his religion.
So died, in the prime of life, a prince, who
darkened his brilliant military, executive, and literary talents, and a
rare energy, by fanatical zeal for a false religion and opposition to
the true; perverted them to a useless and wicked end; and earned,
instead of immortal honor, the shame of an unsuccessful Apostate. Had
he lived longer, he would probably have plunged the empire into the sad
distraction of a religious civil war. The Christians were generally
expecting a bloody persecution in case of his successful return from
the Persian war. We need, therefore, the less wonder that they abhorred
his memory. At Antioch they celebrated his death by festal dancings in
the churches and theatres.8787 Theodor. H. E. iii. 27.
Even the celebrated divine and orator, Gregory Nazianzen, compared him
to Pharaoh, Ahab, and Nebuchadnezzar.8888 The Christian poet, Prudentius, forms an
exception, in his well known just estimate of Julian(Apotheos. 450 sqq.), which Gibbon also cites:
——“Ductor fortissimus armis;
Conditor et legum celeberrimus; ore manuque
Consultor patriae; sed non consultor habendae
Religionis; amans tercentûm millia Divûm.
Perfidus ille Deo, sed non et perfidus orbi.” It has been reserved for the more impartial historiography of modern times to do justice to his nobler qualities, and to endeavor to excuse, or at least to account for his utterly false position toward Christianity, by his perverted education, the despotism of his predecessor, and the imperfections of the church in his day.
With Julian himself fell also his artificial, galvanized heathenism, “like the baseless fabric of a vision, leaving no wreck behind,” save the great doctrine, that it is impossible to swim against the stream of history or to stop the progress of Christianity. The heathen philosophers and soothsayers, who had basked in his favor, fell back into obscurity. In the dispersion of their dream they found no comfort from their superstition. Libanius charges the guilt upon his own gods, who suffered Constantius to reign twenty years, and Julian hardly twenty months. But the Christians could learn from it, what Gregory Nazianzen had said in the beginning of this reign, that the church had far more to fear from enemies within, than from without.
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