[New lecture, May 23, 2011. Pp.
73-89 of the Dulles book should prove useful here.]
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
In this, conquer
By the end of the 3rd century AD, Christian thinkers had in large part
won the debate with their pagan opponents. While a few great
philosophers (like Porphyry) questioned the new faith, the greatest
philosophical minds of the time were, more and more, coming from the
ranks of the Christians—all the more remarkable when one considers that
embracing the Christian faith meant persecution and death for many of
Constantine became emperor (co-emperor in 312, sole emperor 324-337),
the intellectual victory of Christianity seemed even more
assured. Unlike some of his great predecessors, Eusebius found
himself supported encouraged by the emperor. He and another great
Christian writer (Lactantius) became tutors to the emperor’s sons.
political and intellectual victory, Christianity, in short order,
became the dominant religion of the empire, soon, just about the only
legal religion in the empire. But there were two last pagan advances to
the Apostate (361-363)
attempt to reverse the Christian victory was a combined
political/intellectual assault from the emperor Julian, a man who would
eventually be called Julia the Apostate.
Even though he
was a nephew of Constantine and cousin of Constantine’s successor
Constantius, Julian had an exceedingly rough time of it growing up—or,
more accurately, because he was a nephew of Constantine and a cousin of
Constantius, he had a rough time growing up. Soldiers zealous for
preserving rule only be those in the *direct* line of Constantine
slaughtered Julian’s parents when Julian was only five years old.
Julian himself was watched closely all his life, and sometimes even
kept in a virtual prison. He was allowed few friends and
associates, and many time the friends he was permitted to have were
Julian turned out to be a remarkably able young man. He was
first-rate scholar, the kind of kid who just devours books. He
knew thoroughly the OT and NT, all of the classical writers (including,
of course, Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle). He
was especially well-read in the Neo-Platonist philosophy fashionable
among both Christians and the relatively few remaining non-Christians
in the 4th century.
Julian was also
a first-class leader. He was put in charge of Gaul when
Constantius took off for east. This was supposed to be a kind of
figurehead position, but Julian took charge, and turned out to be
remarkably adept. He thwarted invasion attempts by the
Franks/Allemani, then decided to launch a punitive expedition across
the Rhine. Here, too, he continued to win. Not only that,
Julian turned out to be an excellent administrator. But, you see,
with a ruler like Constantius on the throne, this can get you into
trouble. Julian's very successes brought him under
suspicion. Constantius ordered him to send troops to east.
Julian, knowing that to do so would allow barbarian invasion, simply
refused. Constantius then decided he'd use his army against
Julian--but on the way, he dies. And now in charge of Rome?
philosopher/administrator/general/writer--perhaps another Gaius Julius
Caesar, only better. Julian was one of the most moral men ever to
rise to such a position, far more moral than Gaius Julius Caesar.
Julian's marriage was forced on him as a political expedient. Yet
there is no record that he was ever unfaithful to his wife, or that he
engaged in any irregular unions either before or after marriage.
If you wanted
someone to finally complete the job of restoring the greatness of Rome,
Julian was your man. Except for one small default. Julian
had a secret. A most surprising secret. You see Julian,
although he never told anyone this, was a pagan. Now how
could this be? Julian was raised in a Christian home. He
had nothing but Christian tutors. He was in church all the
time. But Julian had no use for Christianity at all, and longed
for the return of paganism.
Now when I call
Julian a pagan, I need to make it clear that his paganism was not the
ordinary superstitious kind. His was the kind of paganism
advocated by the Neo-Platonist philosophers. In the thinking of
these men, the gods were not supermen, but the personifications of
philosophical principles. Aphrodite and Eros principle of love,
Saturn principle of truth, etc. and it was the worship of these
principles that Julian wanted to restore--and a restoration of the
classical culture Julian believed the Christians had destroyed.
Julian was no
fool. He realized that he wasn't going to get rid of Christianity
through persecution--and he had no taste for persecution anyway.
Julian decided that a more effective tool in destroying the church
would be toleration.
back the various Christians whose beliefs had earlier been deemed
heretical. Julian made sure they could teach openly, hoping
in that way to weaken the church. Likewise, Julian favored the
Jews, believing that this too would weaken the church's hold on the
minds and hearts of Romans. Julian weeded the Christians out of
the educational system, forbidding them to teach the classics.
big hope was a restored paganism. He opened the pagan temples
again. He recruited and organized a pagan clergy, a clergy in
some ways modeled after Christian clergy. Julian brought in
elaborate and splendid pagan sacrifices and ceremonies.
And the result
of all this in terms of religious change? Nothing. No
rallying of pagan sentiment, no temples filled with worshippers.
Pagans didn't really care. Julian's ascetic, moral paganism had
no appeal to the masses. If you're going to have a moral
religion, you might as well be a Christian.
hardly got a fair chance. Only 2 years into his reign, Julian set
out to deal with the Persian threat on the eastern borders. He
got all the way to Ctesiphon, but was unable to bring Persian troops to
battle. During a minor skirmish, he was fatally wounded, perhaps
by one of his own soldiers, a disgruntled Christian. As he died,
flung his blood into air: "Galilean, thou hast conquered." or "Be
satisfied." He was only 32. A real tragedy, for no man as
capable was to follow for a long time. Had Julian only
lived...well, who knows what would have happened?
probably the last man who had a chance of preserving the empire of
Constantine and Diocletian intact. After his death, no emperor
had the combination of military ability, administrative expertise,
popularity and luck necessary to hold empire together. Same old
story: usurpations, mutinies, barbarian invasions. There was only
one other emperor even close to bringing stability.
the Great (379-395)
Theodosius made one
last valiant attempt to preserve, not just the Eastern portion of the
empire, but the Western empire (including Rome itself) to its
past greatness He saw (quite rightly) saw unity as the key to
success, and he
attempted to secure this unity by making Rome entirely Christian.
made sacrifice again a capital offense. There is no record that
anyone ever executed: no pagans were willing to be martyrs—and small
temples were converted to churches, many others were destroyed.
It’s a real shame that much great art and architecture was lost as the
temples were cleansed or destroyed. Theodosius wasn’t directly
responsible, and he tried to preserve art treasures. But he
didn't do a whole lot to stop destruction of the temples, and many of
his officials actually aided the vandals. But one can understand
why the destruction went as far as it did, and why no pagans stood up
for what was being destroyed. When the temples were opened up,
all sorts of sordid secrets came out. People learned the secrets
of the temples: hollow statues or speaking tubes through which “gods”
gave worshippers answers. Priests were discovered to have been
disguising themselves as "gods" to seduce or cover up their
affairs with female worshippers
Nile river floods provided ideal conditions even after the destruction
of the Serapeum in Alexandria, it was clear to everyone that the pagan
gods were nothing at all. The relative peace, prosperity, and
unity of the empire let Christians boast that the switch of religions
had done Rome good, that their religion had done exactly what people
always want their religion to do, it had made them prosperous in this
end of the world
prosperity, and unity didn't last. Theodosius at his death split
the empire between his sons. Arcadius takes over in east,
Honorius in the west. And then the fun begins--a series of
invasions which eventually destroys the western empire and brings the
east to its knees. And for the few remaining pagans, it was easy enough
to see why these disasters had hit the Roman people. The Romans
had abandoned the gods, and now the gods were abandoning them.
The remedy? "Give me that old time religion.”
theologians, it was a difficult task to explain why the Romans
shouldn't have simply gone back to the "old time religion" of
paganism. A difficult task--but one they were more than able to
see through. St. Augustine particularly immensely successful both
in explaining the disasters that had fallen on the Roman people and in
explain the relationship between religion and political success.
and the City of God
the Visigoths under Alaric sacked Rome (410), Augustine, Bishop of
Hippo (AD 354-430) wrote his greatest work, The City of God, a book
that, among other things, answers the pagan charge that the barbarian
attacks prove the folly of following Christianity.
overall argument of the City of God, you’ll find it helpful to read
through the Chapter summaries here:
argues, first of all, that such disasters are not unique, that one can
find similar things happening throughout the days of the Roman empire,
even during those periods where worship of the old gods was most
Christianity had done some good. The barbarian invaders had been
partially Christianized and they were less ruthless than they might
otherwise have been.
of Christians aren’t a reproach to God. These sufferings
demonstrate neither his powerlessness nor his lack of goodness.
God allows suffering sometimes as just punishment for our sins, but, as
often, for the purpose of purification.
Of course, put
so simply, this seems harsh, but as you read Augustine, it’s clear that
there is a tremendous comfort to those who have suffered.
Particularly, Augustine has much to say to comfort women (and men) who
were raped by the barbarians.
But is there a
fear that even another's lust may pollute the violated? It will not
pollute, if it be another's: if it pollute, it is not another's, but is
shared also by the polluted. But since purity is a virtue of the soul,
and has for its companion virtue, the fortitude which will rather
endure all ills than consent to evil; and since no one, however
magnanimous and pure, has always the disposal of his own body, but can
control only the consent and refusal of his will, what sane man can
suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy
the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity?
sanctity of the body does not consist in the integrity of its members,
nor in their exemption from all touch; for they are exposed to various
accidents which do violence to and wound them, and the surgeons who
administer relief often perform operations that sicken the spectator. A
midwife, suppose, has (whether maliciously or accidentally, or through
unskillfulness) destroyed the virginity of some girl, while endeavoring
to ascertain it: I suppose no one is so foolish as to believe that, by
this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost
anything even of her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul
keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the
violence done by another’s lust makes no impression on this bodily
sanctity, which is preserved intact by one’s own persistent continence.
follows this up with an excellent argument against suicide in any
most important contribution of the City of God is the image that
dominates the 2nd half of the book particularly. Augustine says
that the Christian lives in two cities, an earthly city and a heavenly
city. While on this earth, the Christian makes legitimate use of
the earthly city and all of assets both material and intellectual.
intellectual realm, this is what Augustine himself does. He uses
ideas from Cicero, Varro, and Porphyry (!), incorporating in his own
work all that he finds useful, correcting and improving their ideas
when he needs to , rejecting what doesn’t seem suitable.
(including Augustine’s great contemporary Jerome) had worried about
this. Jerome talked of a disturbing dream:
Suddenly I was
caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the
Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around
were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to
look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: "I am a Christian." But He
who presided said: "Thou liest, thou art a follower of Cicero and not
of Christ. For 'where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be
also.'"(4) Instantly I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the
lash--for He had ordered me to be scourged--I was tortured more
severely still by the fire of conscience, considering with myself that
verse, "In the grave who shall give thee thanks?"(5) Yet for all that I
began to cry and to bewail myself, saying: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord:
have mercy upon me."
though, using Ciceronian ideas isn’t a worry: the classical
heritage is his own, and he uses it without hesitation. He is not
the first Christian to do so, but he is in some ways the most
successful, and perhaps the most important single individual in
creating the Christian/classical synthesis that comes to dominate
Western philosophy and theology.
important is Augustine’s teaching that Christian hope is not
inextricably bound with the fate of his earthly country. “This
world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through,” says one
spiritual. And the Bible itself (in Hebrews) says, “Here we have
no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
gift of the Greeks
I fear the
Danaans (Greeks) even when they are bringing gifts, said the Trojan
priest Laocoon, and while Greek philosophy proved very valuable to
Christian apologists in their struggles to justify their faith,
philosophy was in some ways as potentially dangerous as the Trojan
Horse. Or, perhaps, it’s better to compare philosophy to a
double-edged sword: sometimes very useful, sometimes destructive
depending on how used.
Note that the
combination of philosophy and the prophetic tradition gave the church a
double dose of the “will to truth,” and two important tools for trying
to find that truth: reason and scripture. Theoretically, this should
work perfectly, and it certainly works well with Augustine himself. Few
writers before or since show as much wisdom and clarity as
Augustine. Augustine uses his tools well particularly in his
confrontation with heretics, false teachers who threatened to divide
the church. But perhaps Augustine went a bit far.
of Augustine, a man named Pelagius (AD 354-420?), tried to encourage
the Christians of Rome to be a little more rigorous in their lifestyle,
emphasizing the importance of good works to a truly Christian
life. Augustine, though he had earlier regarded Pelagius as a
saintly man, thought this a heresy, a denial of salvation by God’s
grace. At a council at Carthage (419), Augustine secured the
affirmation of certain principles which (allegedly at least) Pelagius
denied. Here’s a nice, neat Wikipedia summary:
Death came from sin, not man's physical nature.
Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.
The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God's
No good works can come without God's grace.
We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.
The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.
The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.
Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom
of heaven and eternal life.
Now notice what
is happening here. We have Augustine’s will to truth working
toward a kind of orthodoxy here. But if these points are
established as dogma, what then? Must they be no longer
back at the ranch (and just a bit earlier)
been Pelagius and Augustine is by no means the first nor the last
example of this dilemma. Later Christians, trying to balance
things out, said that what we need is a recognition of one simple
principle: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty. But
what is essential? And what is not?
In 325 AD, the
Constantine thought he had fixed the problem once and for all at least
as far as his dominions were concerned. He was disturbed at what
was called the Arian controversy and its potential for dividing the
church. To settle the issue, Constantine called a great
ecumenical council, getting 220 bishops together, and asking them to
settle the issue. The bishops didn’t seem to have much
trouble. Only two of the 220 didn’t agree to the condemnation of
Arius. Further, the bishops adopted the Nicene Creed which seemed
to settle the issues once and for all: here is what Christians believe.
But the Nicene
Creed included a word not found in the Bible itself. Christians
were to affirm that Christ was “homo-ousias,” of the same essence as
God. Some of the bishops were uncomfortable, and preferred a
different formula. Shouldn’t we say instead that Christ is
“homoi-ousias” of “like” essence rather than “same” essence?
This came to be
called the Semi-Arian position. It was eventually condemned as a
heresy by the 2nd Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, AD 381).
But, again, controversy didn’t die. Further divisions included:
(the denial that Mary should be called the “mother of God”)—condemned
at the Council of Ephesus (431).
(the idea the human and divine natures in Christ combined into
one)—condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451)
(the idea that the human and divine natures in Christ had a common
will)—condemned at the third Council of Constantinople (680-681)
idea that the use of images amounted to idolatry)—condemned at the 2nd
Council of Nicea (787).
disputes got going, they just weren’t going to stop despite the best
efforts of emperors and bishops. Several of the peacemakers ended
up condemned as heretics themselves!
“If ye bite and
devour one another, take heed lest ye be consumed one of another,”
warned the Apostle Paul. And Jesus himself warned that a house
divided against itself cannot stand. Such divisions helped the
Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) snatch defeat from the jaws
of victory, weakening the empire to the point where the Moslems had an
easy time swallowing up what had once been the most fervently Christian
lands in the world.