NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 20.4
This final section from Chapter 20 of Tom Lee's manuscript is an interesting read that will likely take many readers off into deeper explorations. (We've included a couple of Wikipedia links to assist.) It recounts how, after the setback of Emperor Julian re-instating Pagansim as the official State religion of the Empire, Christianity was re-instated under his successor, Jovian. Towards the end of this essay Tom offers an opinion why Christianity triumphed over its rivals.
Arian Resurgence as the Sons Inherit. Part 20.4
Return of Paganism under Julian...
Emperor Constantius died in 361 on the eve of civil war with his cousin Julian who thus became sole emperor. His reign lasted less than two years. He was just at the end of his twenties, that critical age when pupils often surprise their teachers, when men begin to find themselves and show what they are, not merely what they have been taught. He had been revolted by the conduct of his imperial cousins, and had regarded his uncle the emperor Constantine as a savage and degenerate tyrant.
Chafing still at the clerical influences under which he grew up, Julian reverted to paganism. Returning from Gaul to Constantinople, he reopened the pagan temples as he advanced, then set himself to restore the rights and the rites of paganism everywhere, reducing Christianity to the position of a tolerated religion.
Julian ordered that temples that had been expropriated and turned into churches were to be restored to their original form of worship. He recalled all the bishops sent into exile by Constantius, but Christian priests were no longer exempted from taxes and municipal duties. Julian also restored all the privileges of the Jews, and promised that he would help them to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
The return of Athansius and then another exit...
The news of Julian's ascendancy set loose howling mobs in Alexandria. They overthrew Bishop George who had been Constantius' choice to replace the exiled Athanasius. His enemies portrayed George as a dissolute and rapacious figure, but other descriptions indicate that there was a soul just visible beneath his pomposity. When civil authorities declined to proceed with legal action against him, the mob broke into his prison and beat him to death. His corpse was then burnt to ensure that his remains would not become relics to be preserved and venerated. Despite this post-mortem precaution, in the course of time legend-would weave the story of Prometheus with his to transform him into St. George the dragon slayer.
Athanasius graciously returned to his troubled see, and proceeded to act as though he were the Primate of the World. You had to admire his courage, but regret his recklessness. He devised a formula to readmit to communion those bishops who had subscribed to the erroneous Arian opinions accepted under Constantius' bullying. For his pains Emperor Julian ordered his arrest. Julian may have rejected Christianity, but still regarded it as his privilege to appoint bishops. Athanasius slipped away to the desert once more, flitting from one oasis to another, protected by the monks and the populace.
There were other victims, not so much of the emperor himself, but of repressed pagans getting their own back. Two such martyrs were Saints John and Paul. According to the earliest remaining record of them, a sixth century manuscript known as The Passion, they had been officers at the court of Constantine, and guardians of his daughter Constantia. Upon the emperor's death John and Paul retired to private life, living together on the Caelian hill in Rome. Possibly they had been lovers, but they got religion.
When Julian ascended the throne, John and Paul were recalled to military service at his court, but as pacifist Christians they refused. Found by the captain of Julian's guard in their home awaiting their fate, they were beheaded and then secretly buried at the same site, on the night of 26-27 June 361. This is a curiosity since city regulations required that all cremations and burials, except of Vestals or the imperial family, had to take place outside the city walls. Two clerics and a matron who assisted them at the last were subsequently executed also and buried in the same place.
A Christian senator Pammachius later built a church over two connected-houses. Excavations beneath the present church have found much of the original church and the two houses beneath it, including five tombs. One room is decorated with praying figures, arms outstretched in the ancient fashion. In other rooms pagan frescoes have been uncovered which were evidently painted over when it became a Christian dwelling.
Julian's policy to reinvigorate paganism had at first seemed promising. Roman history and tradition still reminded people that the great days of the Empire were the apogee of paganism. The Classics — Homer and Horace and Virgil — that were still the preferred literature of educated men and the textbooks in schools of rhetoric and philosophy, were full of the gods.
Julian decreed that Christians could no longer teach the Classics as they denied the gods extolled in them. He who had received the finest possible Christian education rejected it and declared that he could not understand how the beautiful stories of the gods had come to be replaced by the police record of a reforming Jewish rabbi. Having studied the Gospels and diligently compared them one with the other he felt that their contradictions and casualness with truth seemed to put them beyond redemption.
Julian had grown up acquainted with bishops (Eusebius of Nicomedia and Constantinople was his cousin) who indulged their dislike and eyed each other with a lack of appreciation that warmed his heart. He knew from personal experience that there was no ferocity on earth to equal a Christian bishop hunting heresy, which was what they called any opinion contrary to their own.
Julian with his Athenian philosophical training realized that logic had never been a strong point of the Christian faith. Neo-Platonism and Pythagoreanism had gone some way towards rehabilitating pagan philosophy. Many of the old noble families in the cities, and remote country folk, were still pagan. There had seemed a chance to bring back the past.
It proved to be too late. People had, for the most part, rejected polytheism. Christianity, though it lacked discipline and often forgot its ideals, still seemed better. Membership of the Christian ekklesia affected a person's whole life. It offered salvation and linked them in a community of belief with the Christians of other cities, despite some theological squabbling. The schools of rhetoric and philosophy could not offer an adequate parallel.
Even Julian was impressed by the Christian's organized charities and social cohesiveness and tried to make the pagan civil and religious authorities imitate them. But pagan practices lasted longer than people think, many of them incorporated into Christianity. St. Jerome encouraged assimilation: "Better ... worship of the saints in the pagan manner than none at all". In the end Christian bonfires ensured that Christian accounts of the period outnumbered those written by pagans.
Traditional paganism and the cult of the emperor offered civic ritual and the expression of communal solidarity, but no moral or theological system. The philosophical sects offered a guide for life, but virtually no access to the numinous or the sacramental. Mithraism and the cult of Isis offered initiation rites and a bit of mysticism, but no coherent worldview. Christianity alone developed a system uniting philosophy and theology, sacrament and morality, a church and private sense of God. It won through because in the long run it had no rival. It looked different from the start.
Mithraism seems to have melted into the universal sun worship save for its innermost groups of initiates and, with the gradual departure of the Roman armies from the provinces, and the triumph of Christianity, it expired. The fathers walled up their crypts, burnt their sacred things, and withdrew to desolate mountain caves or to the East where they fused with Zoroastrianism.
Mithras was not an historical person and nobody thought he was: but the cult was bound up with both astrology and nature worship, and there was no form of this with which his followers could not associate themselves.
Jovian restores Christianity as the religion of the Empire...
When emperor Julian died fighting on the Persian front, possibly murdered by one of his own men, he was saddled by the Christians with the epithet the Apostate. With him died the fears of the Christians and the hopes of the Jews and the pagans. He was succeeded as emperor by a hearty fellow from the Danube, Jovian, who negotiated peace with the Persians and restored Christianity as the religion of the empire, besieged by contentious bishops but was too busy to be worried about the doctrinal squabbles.
The seventy-year-old Athanasius, without waiting for an imperial invitation, returned triumphally to Alexandria. Then, cautiously, he joined-the flood of bishops descending on Antioch. The new emperor affirmed the Nicene Creed and confirmed him in office. Athanasius returned to the Primacy of Egypt surviving another ten years. Emperor Jovian died after a reign or only eight months.
It cannot now be known, with any certainty, whether Indian beliefs had any influence in the Trinitarian disputes and formulations of belief. But it is possible, just as knowledge of their holy men may have influenced monasticism.
In the Padma Purana, it is taught that Vishnu is the supreme cause, and also that his special work is to preserve: "In the beginning of creation, the great Vishnu, desirous of creating the whole world, became threefold; Creator, Preserver, Destroyer. In order to create this world, the Supreme Spirit produced from the right side of his body himself as Brahma; then, in order to preserve the world, he produced from his left side Vishnu; and in order to destroy the world, he produced from the middle of his body the eternal Siva. Some worship Brahma, others Vishnu, others Siva; but Vishnu, one yet threefold, creates, preserves, and destroys: therefore Let the pious make no difference between the three."
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