Posted by: ken98 | December 5, 2009

Exagerrated Persecutions, Real Tragedies, and Anne Frank

Day 87 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.16, pp.560-570)

Wonder of wonders! First Volume Read! I have been reading ahead to try and catch up (I missed a couple of days this week, both reading and posting – too much holiday stuff, Xmas cards, getting-out-of-the-house-and-having-a-life, etc) and today I have finished the first volume. It’ll take a couple of days for the blogging to catch up though.

(If you noticed a change in the day number – I found 3 missing days in September and adjusted for them – so now we REALLY start at September 12, 2009)

Still… a very emotional event (eyes reddening, wiping away tears) – I’m all verklempt – excuse me a moment…

I’m back….Gibbon continues his history of the Christian persecutions, concentrating on the beginnings of the last great persecution – under Diocletian.

The Story
The Persecutions

  • Gibbon briefly digresses on the reaction of paganism to the extremely organized upstart (Christianity), quoting the emperor Julian he comments on the new (artificial) organized hierarchy of paganism
  • Persecution – emperors Maximin and Galerius punish a few Christian soldiers – stories of 2 men who refused to military service after becoming Christian and were executed
  • Persecution – emperor Galerius convinces Diocletian to begin a persecution, Galerius afraid of the anti-military, anti-Roman zeal of Christians
  • Persecution – Diocletian persecution begins with demolition of church at Nicomedia (Diocletian’s home and imperial capital) (3-23-303)
  • First Edict against Christians (3-24-303) – Christian property (churches, etc) seized, sold to highest bidder, holy books seized and burnt, Christians ineligible for office, cannot make legal complaint if suffered injury (withdrawal of legal protection of any sort for individual persons)
  • Persecution – Christian reaction – riots in Nicomedia, Diocletian’s palace burnt twice in suspicious fires – Galerius leaves Nicomedia, claiming to fear for his safety
  • Persecution – First edict executed spottily – took 50 days to be posted in Syria, 4 months before reached Africa (a HOTBED of zealous Christians)
  • In Africa, those that handed over (literally traditores – ie traitors) sacred books later want to be reconciled to the church – a BIG controversy in the 300’s
  • Gibbon briefly describes the Phrygian church – demolished according to the law, the church members ran into the building to save it, hoping to force the soldiers to stop, but church was destroyed (burnt) with men, women and children inside – this per Eusebius and Lactantius
    Persecution – subsequent Diocletian edicts – all church officials to be apprehended, and to use any means possible to change their minds and reclaim them
  • Gibbon briefly notes the number of pagans who shielded and sheltered outlaw Christians (in an Anne Frank kind of way)
  • Photograph of Anne Frank - a jewish girl whose diaries while hiding from the Nazis during the Holocaust in World War II are justly famous - during the Persecutions it was the Christians who were being hidden by the pagans

    Photograph of Anne Frank - a jewish girl whose diaries while hiding from the Nazis during the Holocaust in World War II are justly famous - during the Persecutions it was the Christians who were being hidden by the pagans

    Anne Frank of the Christians
    Gibbon notes in a kind of eerie premonition (150 years early) of World War II and the German Concentration Camps that many pagans sheltered Christians sought by the authorities in the manhunts that resulted from Diocletian’s edicts on persecution of the Christians (quoting Athanasius). The whole comment is very reminiscent of Anne Frank.

    Of course, the differences are huge – the number of Christians killed during the persecutions are negligible compared to the Holocaust, and the persecution itself was much more sporadic, intermittent, and less vicious and violent. But the idea of a police state actively seeking out a particular minority religion/race and of majority sheltering the persecuted at their peril is very interesting – the more so because it was the Christians being persecuted by the majority culture. Again, the 1600’s and the Wars of Religion saw more than their fair share of Protestants sheltering Catholics and Catholics sheltering Prostestants – but that’s another story.

    Athanasius - Saint Athanasius of Alexandria - wrote of the Christian persecutions of his times, and of the pagans who jeopardized their lives to hide the outlawed Christian bishops and Deacons

    Athanasius - Saint Athanasius of Alexandria - wrote of the Christian persecutions of his times, and of the pagans who jeopardized their lives to hide the outlawed Christian bishops and Deacons

    Fact Stranger than Fiction – A Phrygian Church and Its Congregation Up in Flames
    I’m sure Eusebius’ and Lactantius’ intentions were to document the enthusiasm of the Phrygian Christian church in their times, with the goal of encouraging others to act as courageously and piously, but the event plays out to Gibbon with a slightly different twist and to this author with yet another interpretation. This is an example (as I’ve mentioned before – search on Layers, and Umberto Eco in this blog) of the layering of readers interpretations over narratives over time (or even concurrent with the author’s writing of a text).

    Phrygia is a province, and so we don’t have the name of the city of the church where this happened – but in one account – the church itself (Eusebius) was to be burnt/destroyed (along with the Bible), so the inhabitants barricaded themselves into the church to prevent the fire, and were burnt when the church and sacred writings were burnt by order of the magistrate (following the edict’s instructions on destroying sacred writings). In another account (Lactantius) the entire town was under siege. To the ancient Christians, it was an example of martyrdom and salvation in the face of demonic attacks.

    To Gibbon, this is an example of “obstinate refusal” and “provocation” by the Christians – the Christians were given every chance to leave the church before demolition and burning and refused. It is a common Gibbon theme – that much early martyrdom was self-inflicted (actually the early church had a real problem with provoked, self-inflicted persecution, and had to write manuals on the difference between persecution and martyrdom and death-seeking). Another Gibbon theme is presented here: that of “Irritating Examples of Irrationality“. To act irrationally and with enthusiasm is a cardinal sin to a reasonable man of the Enlightenment (such as Gibbon).

    To this author, at first it smacks of Masada, and voluntary sacrifice for a spiritual cause, (which I’m sure was Lactantius’ intent) Then, (upon reading the footnotes), it seemed an almost negligible incident in a century when the common people were well on the way to being serfs, and the upper class and noble magistrates of the empire were almost a caste unto themselves. Life was cheap(er) than now, and incidents like these of mini-pograms were very common. These same early Christians themselves mercilessly attacked those whose doctrines differed from their own – and depending on who had the ear of the nearest magistrate/noble in power, much damage could be done to a person’s possessions, family, and life.

    We react to the unjust deaths, Gibbon reacts to the unmartyr-esqe quality of the whole incident, Lactantius reacts to the extreme exercise of faith and the holy example the incident teaches.

    Whew! End of My FIRST VOLUME OF GIBBON!  Thursday Dec. 3 2009 at 6:04pm - I feel like a racehorse rounding the first bend - such a long way to go yet

    Whew! End of My FIRST VOLUME OF GIBBON! Thursday Dec. 3 2009 at 6:04pm - I feel like a racehorse rounding the first bend - such a long way to go yet

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