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§ 9. Julian’s Attack upon Christianity.
For Literature comp. § 4 p. 39, 40.
The last direct and systematic attack upon the Christian religion proceeded from the emperor Julian. In his winter evenings at Antioch in 363, to account to the whole world for his apostasy, he wrote a work against the Christians, which survives, at least in fragments, in a refutation of it by Cyril of Alexandria, written about 432. In its three books, perhaps seven (Cyril mentions only three112112 In the preface to his refutation, Contra Jul. i. p. 3: Τρία συγγέγραψε βιβλία κατὰ τῶν ἁγίων εὐαγγελίων καὶ κατὰ τῆς εὐαγοῦς τῶν Χριστιανῶν θρησκείας. But Jerome says, Epist. 83 (tom. iv. p. 655): ” Julianus Augustus septem libros, in expeditione Parthica [or rather before he left Antioch and started for Persia], adversus Christianos vomuit.”), it shows no trace of the dispassionate philosophical or historical appreciation of so mighty a phenomenon as Christianity in any case is. Julian had no sense for the fundamental ideas of sin and redemption or the cardinal virtues of humility and love. He stood entirely in the sphere of naturalism, where the natural light of Helios outshines the mild radiance of the King of truth, and the admiration of worldly greatness leaves no room for the recognition of the spiritual glory of self-renunciation. He repeated the arguments of a Celsus and a Porphyry in modified form; expanded them by his larger acquaintance with the Bible, which he had learned according to the letter in his clerical education; and breathed into all the bitter hatred of an Apostate, which agreed ill with his famous toleration and entirely blinded him to all that was good in his opponents. He calls the religion of “the Galilean” an impious human invention and a conglomeration of the worst elements of Judaism and heathenism without the good of either; that is, without the wholesome though somewhat harsh discipline of the former, or the pious belief in the gods, which belongs to the latter. Hence he compares the Christians to leeches, which draw all impure blood and leave the pure. In his view, Jesus, “the dead Jew,” did nothing remarkable during his lifetime, compared with heathen heroes, but to heal lame and blind people and exorcise daemoniacs, which is no very great matter.113113 Cyril has omitted the worst passages of Julian respecting Christ, but quotes the following (Contra Jul. l. vi. p. 191, ed. Spanh.), which is very characteristic: “Jesus, who over-persuaded much (ἀναπείσας) the lowest among you, some few, has now been talked of (ὀνομάζεται) for three hundred years, though during his life he performed nothing worth mentioning (οὐδὲν ἀκοῆς ἄξιον), unless it be thought a mighty matter to heal the cripples and blind persons and to exorcise those possessed of demons in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany (εἰ μή τις εἴεται τοὺς κολλοὺς καὶ τοὺς τυφλοὺς ιάσασθαι, καὶ δαιμονώντας ἐφορκίζειν ἐν Βηθσείδᾳ καὶ ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ταῖς κώμαις τῶν μεγίστων ἔργων εῖναι )” Dr. Lardner has ingeniously inferred from this passage that, Julian, by conceding to Christ the power of working miracles, and admitting the general truths of the gospel traditions, furnishes an argument for Christianity rather than against it. He was able to persuade only a few of the ignorant peasantry, not even to gain his own kinsmen.114114 Jno. vii. 5. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor Paul called him God. John was the first to venture so far, and procured acceptance for his view by a cunning artifice.115115 “Neither Paul,” he says (Cyr. l. x. p. 327), “nor Matthew, nor Luke, nor Mark has dared to call Jesus God. But honest John (ὁ χρηστόσ Ἰωάννης), understanding that a great multitude of men in the cities of Greece and Italy were seized with this distemper; and hearing likewise, as I suppose, that the tombs of Peter and Paul were respected, and frequented, though as yet privately only, however, having heard of it, he then first presumed to advance that doctrine.” The later Christians perverted his doctrine still more impiously, and have abandoned the Jewish sacrificial worship and ceremonial law, which was given for all time, and was declared irrevocable by Jesus himself.116116 Matt. v. 17-19. A universal religion, with all the peculiarities of different national characters, appeared to him unreasonable and impossible. He endeavored to expose all manner of contradictions and absurdities in the Bible. The Mosaic history of the creation was defective, and not to be compared with the Platonic. Eve was given to Adam for a help, yet she led him astray. Human speech is put into the mouth of the serpent, and the curse is denounced on him, though he leads man on to the knowledge of good and evil, and thus proves himself of great service. Moses represents God as jealous, teaches monotheism, yet polytheism also in calling the angels gods. The moral precepts of the decalogue are found also among the heathen, except the commands, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and, “Remember the Sabbath day.” He prefers Lycurgus and Solon to Moses. As to Samson and David, they were not very remarkable for valor, and exceeded by many Greeks and Egyptians, and all their power was confined within the narrow limits of Judea. The Jews never had any general equal to Alexander or Caesar. Solomon is not to be compared with Theognis, Socrates, and other Greek sages; moreover he is said to have been overcome by women, and therefore does not deserve to be ranked among wise men. Paul was an arch-traitor; calling God now the God of the Jews, now the God of the Gentiles, now both at once; not seldom contradicting the Old Testament, Christ, and himself, and generally accommodating his doctrine to circumstances. The heathen emperor thinks it absurd that Christian baptism should be able to cleanse from gross sins, while it cannot remove a wart, or gout, or any bodily evil. He puts the Bible far below the Hellenic literature, and asserts, that it made men slaves, while the study of the classics educated great heroes and philosophers. The first Christians he styles most contemptible men, and the Christians of his day he charges with ignorance, intolerance, and worshipping dead persons, bones, and the wood of the cross.
With all his sarcastic bitterness against Christianity, Julian undesignedly furnishes some valuable arguments for the historical character of the religion he hated and assailed. The learned and critical Lardner, after a careful analysis of his work against Christianity, thus ably and truthfully sums up Julian’s testimony in favor of it:
“Julian argues against the Jews as well as against the Christians. He has borne a valuable testimony to the history and to the books of the New Testament, as all must acknowledge who have read the extracts just made from his work. He allows that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, at the time of the taxing made in Judea by Cyrenius: that the Christian religion had its rise and began to be propagated in the times of the emperors Tiberius and Claudius. He bears witness to the genuineness and authenticity of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles: and he so quotes them, as to intimate, that these were the only historical books received by Christians as of authority, and the only authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and the doctrine preached by them. He allows their early date, and even argues for it. He also quotes, or plainly refers to the Acts of the Apostles, to St. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. He does not deny the miracles of Jesus Christ, but allows him to have ’healed the blind, and the lame, and demoniacs,’ and ’to have rebuked the winds, and walked upon the waves of the sea.’ He endeavors indeed to diminish these works; but in vain. The consequence is undeniable: such works are good proofs of a divine mission. He endeavors also to lessen the number of the early believers in Jesus, and yet he acknowledgeth, that there were ’multitudes of such men in Greece and Italy,’ before St. John wrote his gospel. He likewise affects to diminish the quality of the early believers; and yet acknowledgeth, that beside ’menservants, and maidservants,’ Cornelius, a Roman centurion at Caesarea, and Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, were converted to the faith of Jesus before the end of the reign of Claudius. And he often speaks with great indignation of Peter and Paul, those two great apostles of Jesus, and successful preachers of his gospel. So that, upon the whole, he has undesignedly borne witness to the truth of many things recorded in the books of the New Testament: he aimed to overthrow the Christian religion, but has confirmed it: his arguments against it are perfectly harmless, and insufficient to unsettle the weakest Christian. He justly excepts to some things introduced into the Christian profession by the late professors of it, in his own time, or sooner; but has not made one objection of moment against the Christian religion, as contained in the genuine and authentic books of the New Testament.”117117 Dr. Nathiel Lardner’s Works, ed. by Dr. Kippis in ten vols. Vol. vii. pp. 638 and 639. As against the mythical theory of Strauss and Renan the extract from Lardner has considerable force, as well as his whole work on the credibility of the Gospel History.
The other works against Christianity are far less important.
The dialogue Philopatris, or The Patriot, is ascribed indeed to the ready scoffer and satirist Lucian (died about 200), and joined to his works; but it is vastly inferior in style and probably belongs to the reign of Julian, or a still later period;118118 According to Niebuhr’s view it must have been composed under the emperor Phocas, 968 or 969. Moyle places it in the year 302, Dodwell in the year 261, others in the year 272. since it combats the church doctrine of the Trinity and of the procession of the Spirit from the Father, though not by argument, but only by ridicule. It is a frivolous derision of the character and doctrines of the Christians in the form of a dialogue between Critias, a professed heathen, and Triephon, an Epicurean, personating a Christian. It represents the Christians as disaffected to the government, dangerous to civil society, and delighting in public calamities. It calls St. Paul a half bald, long-nosed Galilean, who travelled through the air to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12, 1–4).
The last renowned representative of Neo-Platonism, Proclus of Athens (died 487), defended the Platonic doctrine of the eternity of the world, and, without mentioning Christianity, contested the biblical doctrine of the creation and the end of the world in eighteen arguments, which the Christian philosopher, John Philoponus, refuted in the seventh century.
The last heathen historians, Eunapius and Zosimus, of the first half of the fifth century, indirectly assailed Christianity by a one-sided representation of the history of the Roman empire from the time of Constantine, and by tracing its decline to the Christian religion; while, on the contrary, Ammianus Marcellinus (died about 390) presents with honorable impartiality both the dark and the bright sides of the Christian emperors and of the Apostate Julian.119119 The more is it to be regretted, that the fisrt thirteen books of his history of the Roman emperors from Nerva to 353 are lost. The remaining eighteen books reach from 353 to 378.
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