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§ 5. From Jovian to Theodosius. a.d. 363–392.


I. The heathen sources here, besides Ammianus Marcellinus (who unfortunately breaks off at the death of Valens), Zosimus and Eunapius (who are very partial), are: Libanius: Ὑπὲρ τῶν ἱερῶν, or Oratio pro templis (first complete ed. by L. de Sinner, in Novus Patrum Grace. saec. iv. delectus, Par. 1842). Symmachus: Epist. x. 61 (ed. Pareus, Frcf. 1642). On the Christian side: Ambrose: Epist. xvii. and xviii. ad Valentinian. II. Prudentius: Adv. Symmachum. Augustin: De civitate Dei, l. v. c. 24–26 (on the emperors from Jovinian to Theodosius, especially the latter, whom he greatly glorifies). Socr.: l. iii. c. 22 sqq. Sozom.: l. vi. c. 3 sqq. Theodor.: l. iv. c. 1 sqq. Cod. Theodos.: l. ix.–xvi.

II. De la Bleterie: Histoire de l’empereur Jovien. Amsterd. 1740, 2 vols. Gibbon: chap. xxv–xxviii. Schröckh: vii. p. 213 sqq. Stuffken: De Theodosii M. in rem christianam meritis. Lugd. Batav. 1828


From this time heathenism approached, with slow but steady step, its inevitable dissolution, until it found an inglorious grave amid the storms of the great migration and the ruins of the empire of the Caesars, and in its death proclaimed the victory of Christianity. Emperors, bishops, and monks committed indeed manifold injustice in destroying temples and confiscating property; but that injustice was nothing compared with the bloody persecution of Christianity for three hundred years. The heathenism of ancient Greece and Rome died of internal decay, which no human power could prevent.

After Julian, the succession of Christian emperors continued unbroken. On the day of his death, which was also the extinction of the Constantinian family, the general Jovian, a Christian (363–364), was chosen emperor by the army. He concluded with the Persians a disadvantageous but necessary peace, replaced the cross in the labarum, and restored to the church her privileges, but, beyond this, declared universal toleration in the spirit of Constantine. Under the circumstances, this was plainly the wisest policy. Like Constantine, also, he abstained from all interference with the internal affairs of the church, though for himself holding the Nicene faith and warmly favorable to Athanasius. He died in the thirty-third year of his age, after a brief reign of eight months. Augustin says, God took him away sooner than Julian, that no emperor might become a Christian for the sake of Constantine’s good fortune, but only for the sake of eternal life.

His successor, Valentinian I. (died 375), though generally inclined to despotic measures, declared likewise for the policy of religious freedom,8989   Cod. Theodos. l. ix. tit. 16, I. 9 (of the year 371): Testes sunt leges a me in exordio imperii mei datae, quibus unicuique, quod animo imbibisset, colendi libera facultas tributa est. This is confirmed by Ammian. Marc. l. xxx. c. 9. and, though personally an adherent of the Nicene orthodoxy, kept aloof from the doctrinal controversies; while his brother and co-emperor, Valens, who reigned in the East till 378, favored the Arians and persecuted the Catholics. Both, however, prohibited bloody sacrifices9090   Libanius, l.c. (ed. Reiske, ii. 163): τὸ θύειν ἱερεῖα—ἐκωλύθη παρὰ τοῖν ἀδελφοιν, ἀλλ̓ ̓ οὐ τὸ λιανωτόν. No such law, however, has come down to us. and divination. Maximin, the representative of Valentinian at Rome, proceeded with savage cruelty against all who were found guilty of the crime of magic, especially the Roman aristocracy. Soothsayers were burnt alive, while their meaner accomplices were beaten to death by straps loaded with lead. In almost every case recorded the magical arts can be traced to pagan religious usages.

Under this reign heathenism was for the first time officially designated as paganismus, that is, peasant-religion; because it had almost entirely died out in the cities, and maintained only a decrepit and obscure existence in retired villages.9191   The word pagani (from pagus), properly villagers, peasantry, then equivalent to rude, simple, ignorant, ἰδιώτης, ἄφρων, first occurs in the religious sense in a law of Valentinian, of 368 (Cod. Theodos. l. xvi. tit 2, I. 18), and came into general use under Theodosius, instead of the earlier terms: gentes, gentiles, nationes, Graeci, cultores simulacrorum, etc. The English heathen and heathenism (from heath), and the German Heiden and Heidenthum (from Heide), have a similar meaning, and are probably imitations of the Latin paganismus in its later usage. What an inversion of the state of things in the second century, when Celsus contemptuously called Christianity a religion of mechanics and slaves! Of course large exceptions must in both cases be made. Especially in Rome, many of the oldest and most respectable families for a long time still adhered to the heathen traditions, and the city appears to have preserved until the latter part of the fourth century a hundred and fifty-two temples and a hundred and eighty-three smaller chapels and altars of patron deities.9292   According to the Descriptiones Urbis of Publicus Victor and Sextus Rufus Festus, which cannot have been composed before, nor long after, the reign of Valentinian. Comp. Beugnot, l.c. i. 266, and Robertson, l.c. p. 260. But advocates of the old religion—a Themistius, a Libanius, and a Symmachus—limited themselves to the claim of toleration, and thus, in their oppressed condition, became, as formerly the Christians were, and as the persecuted sects in the Catholic church and the Protestant state churches since have been, advocates of religious freedom.

The same toleration continued under Gratian, son and successor of Valentinian (375–383). After a time, however; under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, this emperor went a step further. He laid aside the title and dignity of Pontifex Maximus, confiscated the temple property, abolished most of the privileges of the priests and vestal virgins, and withdrew, at least in part, the appropriation from the public treasury for their support.9393   Cod. Theos. xii. 1, 75; xvi. 10, 20. Symmach. Ep. x. 61. Ambrose, Ep. xvii. By this step heathenism became, like Christianity before Constantine and now in the American republic, dependent on the voluntary system, while, unlike Christianity, it had no spirit of self-sacrifice, no energy of self-preservation. The withdrawal of the public support cut its lifestring, and left it still to exist for a time by vis inertiae alone. Gratian also, in spite of the protest of the heathen party, removed in 382 the statue and the altar of Victoria, the goddess of victory, in the senate building at Rome, where once the senators used to take their oath, scatter incense, and offer sacrifice; though he was obliged still to tolerate there the elsewhere forbidden sacrifices and the public support of some heathen festivities. Inspired by Ambrose with great zeal for the Catholic faith, he refused freedom to heretics, and prohibited the public assemblies of the Eunomians, Photinians, and Manichaeans.

His brother, Valentinian II. (383–392), rejected the renewed petition of the Romans for the restoration of the altar of Victoria (384). The eloquent and truly venerable prefect Symmachus, who, as princeps senatus and first Pontifex in Rome, was now the spokesman of the heathen party, prayed the emperor in a dignified and elegant address, but in the tone of apologetic diffidence, to make a distinction between his private religion and the religio urbis, to respect the authority of antiquity and the rights of the venerable city, which had attained the dominion of the world under the worship of the gods. But Ambrose of Milan represented to the emperor, in the firm tone of episcopal dignity and conscious success, that the granting of the petition would be a sanctioning of heathenism and a renunciation of his Christian convictions; denied, that the greatness of Rome was due to idolatry, to which indeed her subjugated enemies were likewise addicted; and contrasted the power of Christianity, which had greatly increased under persecution and had produced whole hosts of consecrated virgins and ascetics, with the weakness of heathenism, which, with all its privileges, could hardly maintain the number of its seven vestals, and could show no works of benevolence and mercy for the oppressed. The same petition was renewed in 389 to Theodosius, but again through the influence of Ambrose rejected. The last national sanctuary of the Romans had hopelessly fallen. The triumph, which the heathen party gained under the usurper Eugenius (392–394), lasted but a couple of years; and after his defeat by Theodosius, six hundred of the most distinguished patrician families, the Annii, Probi, Anicii, Olybii, Paulini, Bassi, Gracchi, &c., are said by Prudentius to have gone over at once to the Christian religion.



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