Reaction under Julian and the competition of old and new faiths

The numerical triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire was not yet fully accomplished. First came a brief attempt to restore paganism by Julian, one of the family of Constantine. There was also the continued competition of historic paganism, reinforced by the mounting disasters to the Empire. To this were added new religious faiths and the inroads of barbarians with their cults. As, from the vantage of the accomplished fact, we may think that the victory of Christianity in the Mediterranean world had long been assured, it did not necessarily so appear to contemporaries.

Julian, because of his record branded by Christians as "the apostate," is an extraordinarily appealing figure. Sensitive, able, studious, deeply religious, Julian had a youth which determined his scorn for Christianity and his nostalgic adherence to the traditional paganism. A scion of the Constantinian house and a cousin of the Emperor Con-stantius, he and his brother were left the only survivors of his branch of the family by a series of political murders which were designed to remove inconvenient rivals for the imperial purple. Kept under watchful ward by Constantius, he was instructed in the Christian faith, and outwardly conformed to it. Indeed, for a time he may even have been a convinced Christian. However, reared under these unhappy circumstances, it is not surprising that Julian conceived an ardent admiration for the philosophies which were critical of Christianity and for the religions which that faith was supplanting.

Made C^sar by Constantius and placed in command of an army on the frontier, Julian was proclaimed Augustus by his troops and was marching against Constantius when the latter's convenient death (361) left him undisputed lord of the Empire. On his march against Constantius, Julian threw oft any remaining pretense of being Christian and openly acknowledged his paganism. He did not undertake a violent persecution of Christianity, but he deprived the Church and its clergy of some of the privileges accorded them by his recent predecessors, restored pagan temples, and in appointments to public office gave preference to pagans. He endeavoured to purge the revived paganism of its more palpable weaknesses and attempted to incorporate in it some of the institutional features of the Christian Church, such as a hierarchy, monasteries for meditation, penance, the sermon, and almonries. He wrote against the "Galileans," as he persisted in calling the Christians, and sought to annoy them by beginning the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

Julian failed. Paganism was too moribund to be revived by artificial stimulation. When, after a reign of about two years, he perished (363) in a war against the Persians, his troops elected in his place Jovian, of German descent. It is said that when Jovian at first demurred on the ground that he was a Christian, his troops declared that they too were Christians and refused to let him decline. Certainly Julian was the last Roman Emperor who openly avowed paganism. Some of the others were far from being Christians in character, but all of them outwardly conformed to the faith.

The ancient paganism was not yet dead. It held on in many places. It was strong in some of the rural districts and in remote mountain valleys. In the Eternal City the aristocracy, conservative as an aristocracy usually is, possibly resentful of the new Constantinople, cherished the pagan traditions associated with the days of Rome's glory. Especially in Italy, Gaul, and Spain paganism persisted, even m the cities, down into the fourth and fifth centuries.

The lament of the aristocracy seemed to be confirmed by the capture and sack of Rome by Alaric and his Goths in 410. To the Mediterranean world Rome was the symbol of civilization, order, and stability. Although Rome recovered very quickly physically, the experience further shook the morale of a portion of the globe which was being dealt many blows. Here, to the mind of the adherents of the old gods, was proof conclusive that the defection of the Christians from the ancient cults was the source of the illnesses of society.

The beginnings of the barbarian invasions which were to swell to major proportions in the fifth century often brought with them cults from beyond the borders of the Empire. As we are to see, some of the barbarians adopted Christianity before entering the Roman realms and all of those from the North were eventually to do so. However, for a time their religions brought fresh if fleeting resistance to Christianity.

New faiths were entering the lists against Christianity. One of these was Neopla-tonism. An outgrowth of the ancient philosophies of Greece, especially Platonism, its first major creative figures, Ammonias Saccas and Plotinus, flourished in the third century. It was both a philosophy and a religion and in the fourth and fifth centuries was widely popular among the intellectuals. Julian was enamoured of it. It left a permanent impress upon Christianity, partly through Augustine of Hippo, partly through its share in shaping Christian thought in general, and especially in its contributions to Christian mysticism.

Formidable also was Manich^ism. Manich^ism had as its founder Mani, of the third century. Of Persian stock, with some of the blood of the Parthian Arsacids in his veins, Mani was reared in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the chief city of Mesopotamia, where East and West met. Deeply religious, he was impressed by the many faiths with which he came in contact — the Zoroastrianism of his Persian ancestors, the ancient Babylonian beliefs, Judaism, and Christianity. He came to the conviction that he was commissioned by divine revelation to be a prophet. Opposed by the powerful Zoroastrianism, he was driven out of the Persian Empire and for many years was a wandering preacher of the new faith and is said to have traveled and taught widely in Central Asia and India. Returning to his native land, he is reported to have been favoured by the reigning monarch, but to have been killed under a successor. His followers went both westward and eastward and Manich^ism was eventually represented from the Western Mediterranean to the China Sea. In the Mediterranean world especially it took on some Christian features. Mani is said to have begun his letters with "Mani, Apostle of Jesus Christ." He declared either that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus or that the Paraclete spoke through him.

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