Posted by: ken98 | December 8, 2009

Spin Control in the Church, Scarce Martyr Body Parts, and Melancholy Thoughts

Day 88 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.16, pp.570-580)

Late at night again, but catching up on Gibbon – THANKFULLY, we have reached the end of (the very long) Chapter 16 on the Persecutions, AND the END OF THE FIRST VOLUME. The next entry will be in a different world, in a different book (published a couple of years later), by a different author (well, the same man – Gibbon, but one who had been ruthlessly praised and attacked for his first volume).

When last we visited Gibbon he was continuing with a history of Roman persecution of early Christians. The persecutions were pretty minor, and very much exploited by later generations of monk-ish writer/historians.

We are, actually, at a critical juncture in European history: European man is about to “forget” Antiquity (and the last 4000 years of Mediterranean civilization) and re-invent himself as something different. We (of the 21st century) are the direct result of that re-invention. In just a hundred or so years, men will think giants or demons built some of the great crumbling Roman monuments surrounding them and will piously/superstitiously fear them and avoid them. The fifth century (400’s) is the time of beginnings – and we are in the middle of it.

Persecution very much depended on who your emperor was – in much the same way, the empire became Christian because the one emperor (Constantine) who happened to win all the civil wars, happened also to be Christian. No Persian monarch converted to Christianity, and so the Persian empire remained Zoroastrian to the day Islam invaded and erased it.

The Story
Roman Persecution of the Church – Emperor by Emperor (cont)

  • Emperor Constantius – (280’s on) peace in the Church in Gaul and Britian
  • Emperors Maximin and Severus – (280’s on) persecution in Italy and Africa
  • Retired emperor Maxentius’ revolt (early 300’s) immediately ended the persecution in Italy and Africa (he used the Christians as a source of support to bolster his entry onto the imperial stage)
  • Emperors Galerian and Maximin Daia in Illyricum and East begin persecuting (early 300’s)
  • Emperor Galerius eaten by worms and dies (see previous post – search:worms), peace in the church in the East
  • Emperor Maximin sets up regular order of priests for pagans (60 years before Julian (called the Apostate) attempted to do the same thing long after the empire had been Christianized
  • Emperor Maximin begins persecution, but is stopped by his fellow (and stronger) emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, his civil war with Licinius, and his death
  • Diocletian’s Persecution (330 on) Gibbon very much doubts the total war which is the common understanding of the Diocletian persecution. The contemporary sources are suspect (example Eusebius below), and the later sources relied more on myth/hearsay/legend/faith than fact
  • The Diocletian persecutions were negligible at best. Gibbon estimates no more than 1500 deaths over 10 years over the entire empire, or approximately 100 people/year in an empire of between 45 million and 65 million people (he calculates using Eusebius and the 92 people that died/were martyred in the province of Palestine during that 10 year period)
  • THE END OF THE FIRST VOLUME
  • A Renaissance Eusebius - in a portico of Saint Peters, Vatican City

    A Renaissance Eusebius - in a portico of Saint Peters, Vatican City

    Quotable Gibbon: Ancient Spin Control – Eusebius and Distorting History for the Greater Glory of God

    Distortion being, of course, a cardinal sin to a man of the Enlightenment – spin is a four-letter-word to Gibbon.

    This from Gibbon “But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe. The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion. Such an acknowledgment will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fundamental laws of history has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his contemporaries.” (DEF, v.1, ch.16, p.577).

    Bust of Emperor Maxentius from the Pushkin - a doomed, capable man, to bring Constantine eternal fame at the Mylvian Bridge, ironically remembered by the church as a support and bringer of peace

    Bust of Emperor Maxentius from the Pushkin - a doomed, capable man, to bring Constantine eternal fame at the Mylvian Bridge, ironically remembered by the church as a support and bringer of peace

    Quotable Gibbon: Demand for Martyr Body Parts Greatly Exceeds Supply during Maxentius – The Story of Saint Boniface
    Under Maxentius (306 – 312) Christians were treated leniently, and a great peace reigned in the churches in Italy and Africa under his control. Ironically, it was Maxentius who lost his territories, rule, and life to Constantine at the famous Battle of the Mylvian Bridge (10-28-312). That same battle gave Constantine his famous vision from heaven insuring victory – Constantine inscribed Christian signs (the Chi-Rho) on the shields of all his soldiers – and thus made the empire Christian.

    Medieval painting Saint Boniface - Baptising and Martyrdom from Sacramentary of Fulda - 11Century - This is Boniface, the favorite steward of the very rich lady Aglae

    Medieval painting Saint Boniface - Baptising and Martyrdom from Sacramentary of Fulda - 11Century - This is Boniface, the favorite steward of the very rich lady Aglae

    Such was the peace, that murdered Christians were very hard to find, together with the miraculous powers of their corpses.

    The Early Saint Boniface
    This per Gibbon (quoting The Acts of the Passion of Saint Boniface):

    “Such was the happy condition of the Christian subjects of Maxentius, that, whenever they were desirous of procuring for their own use any bodies of martyrs, they were obliged to purchase them from the most distant provinces of the East.

    A story is related of Aglae, a Roman lady, descended from a consular family, and possessed of so ample an estate that it required the management of seventy-three stewards. Among these Boniface was the favourite of his mistress and, as Aglae mixed love with devotion, it is reported that he was admitted to share her bed. Her fortune enabled her to gratify the pious desire of obtaining some sacred relics from the East. She intrusted Boniface with a considerable sum of gold and a large quantity of aromatics, and her lover, attended by twelve horsemen and three covered chariots, undertook a remote pilgrimage as far as Tarsus in Cilicia.” (DEF v.1, ch.16, pp.572-573).

    Melancholy Thoughts on our Current Age
    In the first decade of the 21st century, we are trying as hard as possible to forget our past, our culture, our inheritance, and launch ourselves into a brave new world. The civilization that took root in the fifth century in Europe, erasing the ancient world in a sea of new religious, social, political, and cultural values, seems to have peaked in the first half of the 20th century – and seems to be in retreat now before globalization, world-culture, and new religious and social ideas.

    Which is not to say that this is all bad, it’s just sad.

    Like the Romans of the fifth century, we seem to be the unfortunate generation that straddles two worlds – disillusioned by the monolithic Eurocentrism of the past, but unsure what vast, new, unforeseen structures form about us to comfort us and provide a cultural superstructure in the future on which to hang our lives and our hopes. Or at least it seems that way to me on this rainy Monday night.

    goodnight – until tomorrow –

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