Day 136 – Ken here (M)(1-25-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.22, ch.23 pp.860-870)
Julian’s Distant Youth and a Story of Orphan Bones
Julian started out as a fervent Christian. He and his cousin, Gallus, both imperial nephews, in their youth dedicated/built a church to the remains of the (very young) martyr Mammes (a local saint of Caesarea, who had lived 100 years before in the same city Julian and Gallus were imprisoned in/kept in by their uncle Constantius when they were boys) (see below for picture of tapestry portraying Saint Mammes). The beautiful city of Caesarea is in ruins now, and the church they dedicated is long gone, but the remains they enshrined in their Christian youth were transferred in the 13th century to Gaul (France) to the Langres Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Mammès de Langres) (in 1209, I’m thinking that the church in Caesarea was destroyed in succeeding centuries (Islam? Persia?), and the remains safeguarded in a church in Constantinople, safe until the Venetians looting in the 4th Crusade stole most of the relics from Constantinople when they sacked the Eastern Empire – the Venetians, wanting to make a quick buck (they ARE VENETIANS AFTER ALL) then sold it to the bishop of Langres? in 1209).
Mammes is famous in Cyprus (although the hagiography differs) , other pieces of Mammes (a section of skull) made their way eventually to the Cathedral of Santa Magdalena in Zaragoza, Spain. Saint Mammes became popular in southern France, and all along the northern coast of Spain (the Santiago de Campostela pilgrimage route) especially in Bilbao, Spain (Basque country) where even the local soccer team is called the Lions of Mammea.
What a strange journey for a 15 year old to make – orphaned, killed, enshrined by the last pagan emperor, remains saved in the capital city, then sold off to the furthest corners of Europe. There’s no escaping the past – Julian’s smallest decisions (saving the remains of a 15 year old martyr) influence pilgrims today in Basque country. Our own innocent, small decisions might have similar long-lived (1700 year) consequences – you never know.
Julian’s Apostacy – Why?
Julian was raised as a fervent Christian (although Arian, and a heretic by Catholic standards – although most of the Roman world under Constantius (an Arian) was Arian at this time). He, and his fellow prisoner, Gallus (both grandsons of Constantine, nephews/captives of their uncle emperor Constantius) were looked after by famous Christian personalities of the time (example – the famous Uber-Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia), given an emphatically Christian education, and baptized (even when Constantius was not).
This from Gibbon on Julian’s early years:
The cause of his strange and fatal apostasy may be derived from the early period of his life when he was left an orphan in the hands of the murderers of his family. The names of Christ and of Constantius, the ideas of slavery and of religion, were soon associated in a youthful imagination, which was susceptible of the most lively impressions. The care of his infancy was intrusted to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, who was related to him on the side of his mother; and till Julian reached the twentieth year of his age, he received from his Christian preceptors the education not of a hero but of a saint.
The emperor, less jealous of a heavenly than of an earthly crown, contented himself with the imperfect character of a catechumen, while he bestowed the advantages of baptism on the nephews of Constantine. They were even admitted to the inferior offices of the ecclesiastical order; and Julian publicly read the Holy Scriptures in the church of Nicomedia. The study of religion, which they assiduously cultivated, appeared to produce the fairest fruits of faith and devotion. They prayed, they fasted, they distributed alms to the poor, gifts to the clergy, and oblations to the tombs of the martyrs; and the splendid monument of St. Mamas, at Caesarea, was erected, or at least was undertaken, by the joint labour of Gallus and Julian.
They respectfully conversed with the bishops who were eminent for superior sanctity, and solicited the benediction of the monks and hermits who had introduced into Cappadocia the voluntary hardships of the ascetic life
(DEF v.2 ch.23, p.865-866)
And Yet He Turned…
Julian was truly attracted to spiritual matters, but the Arian controversy destroying the church, and reeking of worldly political ambitions, together with the sad, corrupted-by-wealth-and-power state of the huge churches of the Middle East (ex. Antioch, Alexandria, etc) forever stained Julian’s understanding of Christianity with a very strong sense of hypocrisy, deceit, violence, and ingnorance. It didn’t help that the empire was being torn apart by wildly passionate opinions about very complicated details concerning the Trinity (Arianism).
The problem of Trinity – what was heretical and what was orthodox teaching about the Trinity – arose out of the 3rd and 4th century renaissance of NeoPlatonic philosophy. Christians attempted to reconcile the latest (4th cent.) scientific philosophy with the gospel’s accounts of Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. To Julian this all seemed more and more superfluous. Why not go back directly to the source (Philosophy) and cut off the unnecessary additions of Neo-Platonic Christians and all their talk of Aeons, Emanations, Begats, Same or Similar Substances, or First Causes?
It seemed a simple step to walk into the Light of Plato out of the blood-drenched, power-hungry pit of darkness that seemed to be the home of the Christian church in the middle 300’s. Julian took that step and never looked back.
Gibbon’s summary of Julian
Gibbon’s Summary of Julian’s Character – the Love Letter
Whatever had been his choice of life, by the force of intrepid courage, lively wit, and intense application, he would have obtained, or at least he would have deserved, the highest honours of his profession, and Julian might have raised himself to the rank of minister or general of the state in which he was born a private citizen. If the jealous caprice of power had disappointed his expectations; if he had prudently declined the paths of greatness, the employment of the same talents in studious solitude would have placed beyond the reach of kings his present happiness and his immortal fame.
When we inspect with minute, or perhaps malevolent, attention the portrait of Julian, something seems wanting to the grace and perfection of the whole figure. His genius was less powerful and sublime than that of Caesar, nor did he possess the consummate prudence of Augustus. The virtues of Trajan appear more steady and natural, and the philosophy of Marcus is more simple and consistent. Yet Julian sustained adversity with firmness, and prosperity with moderation. After an interval of one hundred and twenty years from the death of Alexander Severus, the Romans beheld an emperor who made no distinction between his duties and his pleasures, who laboured to relieve the distress and to revive the spirit of his subjects, and who endeavoured always to connect authority with merit, and happiness with virtue.
A Backhanded Compliment Buried in a Hostile Poet
Gibbon quoting the poet Christian poet Prudentius’ Apotheosis (full text here). Prudentius lived at about the same time as Julian, but was about 20 years younger, and a fervent Christian all his life. He was a lawyer who rose to prominence under Theodosius at the end of the 300’s, but is best known for being one of the first Latin writers to compose elegant Christian verses and hymns. He would not be a man to easily compliment an emperor who had fallen away from the true faith and begun to worship filthy demonic idols. In Apotheosis, Prudentius glorifies and defends the divinity of Christ, but in a brief aside, remembers his youth, and
This from Gibbon (with a typical Gibbon one-word zinger with respect to Gibbon’s view of the quality of Prudentius’ literary output)
Even faction, and religious faction, was constrained to acknowledge the superiority of his genius in peace as well as in war, and to con fess, with a sigh, that the apostate Julian was a lover of his country, and that he deserved the empire of the world.
and this from the footnote:
…Ductor fortissimus armis,
Conditor et legum celeberrimus, ore manuque
Consultor patriae, sed non consultor habendae
Religionis, amans tercentum millia Divum.
Perfidus ille Deo, quamvis non prefidus orbi.
Prudent. Apotheosis, 450, etc.
The consciousness of a generous sentiment seems to have raised the Christian poet above his usual mediocrity.
(DEF v.2, ch.21, p.863, fn. 85)
Translation from above (H. J. Thompson, 1949)
Yet of all the emperors one there was in my boyhood, I remember, a brave leader in arms, a lawgiver, famous for speech and action, one who cared for his country’s weal, but not for maintaining true religion, for he loved the myriad gods. False to God, however, but true to the world…
NOTE: what is amazing to me about Gibbon is that I WAS ABLE TO FIND HIS EXACT QUOTE in the online Prudentius from his reference. This may not seem so incredible, but Gibbon is one of the first historians to ACCURATELY document his work – so well – that I (230 years later), in a completely different format (online – he was working I’m sure with bulky folio volumes of Latin Poetry), am able to find the exact spot in a very long work that he wished to highlight in a matter of minutes. OUTSTANDING!