Conclusion

In this chapter, we have seen that the oriental god Sol was widely worshipped under Elagabalus and Aurelian and that under Constantine, at least for a while, Sol was jointly worshipped with Jesus. By the third century, in fact, the monotheistic worship of Sol or Sol Invictus had spread across much of the empire. Diocletian hoped to reverse the tide of political, economic, and social chaos that he inherited when he became emperor in 284 C.E. by reintroducing the worship of the revered gods of the state. The result was a gradual weakening of the empire-wide worship of Sol. In addition to reestablishing the universal worship of the traditional gods, Diocletian also infused the worship of the emperor with a new aura of divinity. Moreover, he showed no tolerance for anyone who resisted his religious program. In 303 C.E., near the end of a twenty-year reign during which Christians and non-Christians had lived peaceably, he and his Caesar, Galerius, launched the most extensive persecution of Christians in the history of the church.

To understand the persecution as an unpredictable aberration in an otherwise harmonious coexistence of Christians and non-Christians, however, is an oversimplification. For Diocletian and Galerius, as well as for many citizens, the Christians' refusal to participate in the official state religion, which was the only way to ensure the pax deorum, put the empire's survival at risk. All citizens were required to sacrifice to the traditional gods and also worship the emperor, in order to ensure the safety and prosperity of the state. Many considered it the fault of the Christians that the empire was crumbling internally. The constant wars and the continued threat of barbarian invasions only heightened the antagonism against those who refused to worship the state gods. More and more, people felt that the Christians had to be resisted and that traditional worship and traditional religious rituals had to be uniformly performed. The view of Diocletian and Galerius was that Christians were disrupting essential religious rituals and thereby provoking the anger of the gods against the empire. Thus, the persecution of303 C.E., the most serious and sustained of all imperial anti-Christian persecutions, was the culmination of a steadily increasing intolerance of any worship that did not include prayers for the emperor and the due observance of the traditional gods of the state.

In contrast to Diocletian, Constantine was a tolerant monotheist. He primarily worshipped Sol Invictus. Even after his conversion at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 C.E., there is evidence that along with Jesus he continued to worship Sol Invictus. Thus, the supposition that when Constantine legalized Christianity a new Judeo-Christian monotheism triumphed over a worn-out polytheism is also an oversimplification. We need only think of the pagan worship of Sol or the Christian worship of the patron saints and martyrs (more than enough to fill an entire calendar!) to realize how the distinctions between the pagan pantheon and Christian monotheism blur. Just as Sol shared many aspects with hundreds of deities, so were Christians able to find Jesus in the worship of hundreds of saints and martyrs. A powerful visual example of Constantine's unique Christian monotheism—an empire-wide syncretistic Jesus-Sol worship— is encapsulated in this detail: the last mention in the ancient sources of Aurelian's splendid temple to Sol relates that eight of its porphyry columns were removed to Constantinople, the modern Istanbul, Turkey, to adorn the grandest Christian building project in his new capital, the church of Saint Sophia.

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