The Letters of Ambrose

Before he even knew the details of the petition, Ambrose wrote a letter (Epitsulae 17) to Valentinian opposing the senators' request (see Primary Document 5.2). He argued that Valentinian would be endorsing paganism and persecuting Christian senators if he returned the altar of Victory. He threatened that he would not be received in a Christian church and would even meet with an unforgiving God if he yielded to the demands to restore funds and property for pagan rituals. How could the emperor...

The Investiture Controversy

The most important medieval example of the separation of the powers of church and state is the eleventh-century Investiture Controversy, sometimes called the Lay Investiture Controversy. Investiture is the ritual of appointing church officials. The term is derived from the Latin investire, to clothe, because the bishop was invested with the mitre, ceremonial headdress, and the crozier, pastoral staff, as symbols of his episcopacy. The German king and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1050-1108 c.e.)...

Strengthening the Papacy

It was during Damasus' papacy in 380 C.E. that an edict of Gratian and Theodosius upheld orthodox Christianity over the Arian heresy. Damasus was named as a model of the orthodox faith in Theodosius' edict. The edict, preserved in the Codex Theodosianus (16.1.2), required that everyone observe the religion handed down to the Romans by the apostle Peter. This orthodox apostolic religion, Theodosius claimed, was evident still in the practices of Pope Damasus. Theodosius' imperial sanction may...

Mystery Religions

Like Christianity, the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world promised a blessed life after death through a ritual revelation and communion with the god. The most famous of the mystery religions in the ancient world was the annual ceremony connected to the worship of Demeter and her daughter Kore Persephone at Eleusis, near Athens. The story of Demeter and Persephone is a mythical explanation for the seasons and their agricultural cycles. During the Eleusinian mysteries, the abduction of...

First to Second Centuries

For Romans, the distinction was not so clear. In the early second-century accounts of imperial reactions to Christians, Jews and Christians often seemed to be conflated, as the testimony of classical writers attests. Suetonius wrote his Lives of the Caesars while serving in the court of Hadrian (117-138 C.E.). In the Lives, Tiberius (36) and Claudius (25.4) expel Jews from Rome, the one in 19 C.E. and the other in 49 C.E., because they fear their proselytizing and the growth of these close...

Diocletians Abdication and the Dissolution of the Tetrarchy

On May 1, 305 C.E., in the midst of the persecution, Diocletian abdicated, leaving his palace in Nicomedia to retire to his palace in the modern Split, in Croatia. At the same time, his co-Augustus Maximian abdicated under pressure in Milan. Maximian's Caesar in the West, Constantius, now became Augustus, and Diocletian's Caesar, Galerius, succeeded him as Augustus in the East. Diocletian acknowledged Galerius' primacy by granting him the exclusive privilege of appointing the new Caesars the...

The Codex Calendar of 354 CE

For modern readers, the Codex-Calendar of354 C.E. is an indispensable document for charting the growth of the Christian church in fourth-century Rome. It was also the fundamental calendrical model for Pope Damasus as he developed a Christian cycle of festivals to support his claim that Rome was the sedes Petri, episcopal seat of Peter, and the primate see of the Christian church. The Codex was produced for a wealthy Roman Christian aristocrat named Valentinus by the talented Christian...

Agrippa I and the Persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem

Agrippa had become so devoted to Judaism, in fact, that he allowed an attack against the Christian church in Jerusalem now headed by the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee. In these early days of the church in Jerusalem there was a growing antagonism between the Greek-speaking Hellenized Jewish Christians and the Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians. We read in Acts 10 that Peter baptized the first gentile and that Hellenized Jewish Christians were proselytizing and preaching...

Concordia Apostolorum

These images of Peter and Paul, which suggest that they ruled in joint sovereignty, have been commonly termed concordia apostolorum and are meant to recall Rome's other sets of twin founders Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux, and Caesar and Augustus. Damasus applied the concept and imagery of concordia apostolorum to a broad artistic program as part of his propagandizing effort to promote Rome's apostolic primacy. Peter and Paul embracing each other in symmetric unity with their arms...

The Return to Polytheism

Old conservative religious values impelled Diocletian 284-305 C.E. to reinstitute a more traditional polytheism. He may have hoped that by moving away from Aurelian's Sol Invictus cult and reinvigorating the worship of the traditional gods of the state that he could reverse the political turmoil that had thus far characterized the third century. If properly performed, the worship and ritual sacrifices to the revered gods of the state would ensure the gods' favor in return. But preserving the...

The End of the Persecution of the Christians

Although under the various leaders in the west Severus, Constantine, Maximian, Maxentius, and Licinius the persecution lost steam, it continued with fury in the east under Galerius and Maximin Daia. General sacrifices were ordered in 306 C.E. and in 308 C.E. Food for sale in public markets was sprinkled with libations to the gods and the baths were closed to anyone who would not sacrifice before entering. Those who refused were blinded in one eye or crippled, when they were not killed. The...

The Roman Popes Damasus and Praetextatus

Damasus was worldly, wealthy, and resolute in his efforts to strengthen the power of his papacy and the dominance of the Roman church. The rival Ursinians were reported to have called him a matronarum auriscalpius, an ear-scratcher of matrons, for his ability to persuade wealthy women to donate their worldly goods to the church. An edict of Valentinian I that forbade the practice of visiting wealthy matrons, widows, and orphans for the purpose of soliciting donations for the church may have...

Constantine and Sol Invictus

In contrast to Diocletian, Constantine was a tolerant monotheist. He seems to have inherited from his father a membership in the sun-god cult of Helios and his first recorded religious act was to consult the oracle at the temple of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, at Autun in 308 C.E. On his coins he was depicted as Pontifex Maximus with representations of the sun god. He consulted haruspices and pagan priests, yet, after conquering Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 C.E., he...