Posted by: ken98 | January 26, 2010

Hating Monks and New Religions

Day 137 – Ken here (T)(1-26-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.21, pp.870-880)

We spend today visiting with Gibbon Julian’s new world of Organized Pagan Religion.

The Story
Julian’s Theology

  • Julian was a Neo-Platonist, so he was very much a child of his times (most of the Christian controversies/heresies were derived from Neo-Platonic Philosophy applied to Christianity). Neo-Platonism was, for Julian, a modern, scientific view of the world, an elaborate refinement, and an extension of Plato’s writings – and the cutting edge of science and philosophy
  • Julian believed in the First Cause, the One, that generated the nous that is the image of the one, but is also the world around us. Generated from the nous are lower divinities, increasingly material and less divine, until you reach man. The Gods are intermediaries between the physical world and the First Cause.
  • Julian identified his particular patron as the SUN – this was for him the representation of the LOGOS – the reason which pervades all nature – in turn the image of the invisible, divine, First Cause. Christians believed in a much more complicated relationship and tended to identify LOGOS with Jesus, and the remaining 2 parts of the Trinity with other parts of Neo-Platonic science
  • Its not a coincidence that the whole array of saints, Mary and the rest of the Christian intermediaries between God and Man (not even touching upon the relationship of the Trinity with itself – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) all rely heavily on 3rd-4th cent. Neo-Platonic vocabularies. Even the verbs (ex. “generate”) found in Creeds are scientific (Neo-Platonic) terms, common to philosophers of Julian’s time. Neo-Platonism was how educated people spoke – Christian or Pagan. Julian’s theology was not a strange, hybrid form of paganism, but a real threat to the Neo-Platonic-ridden Christian Church of the 300’s.
    Julian’s Apostacy

  • Julian initiated into Eleusian Mysteries at 20 (he is to be emperor, and publicly pagan at 30)
  • Julian pretends to be Christian for 10 years. Gallus, his brother, is adamantly Christian (although Arian, like Constantius)
  • Julian – once he becomes publicly pagan as emperor, writes against the Christians and takes the place of Porphyry as the most dangerous anti-Christian writer/philosopher in the empire
    Julian’s Universal Toleration

  • In order to NOT promote more Christian martyrs, Julian proclaims Universal Toleration of all religions (ie he DOES NOT outlaw Christianity again)
  • Julian forces all the different sects of Christianity (Arian, Athanasian, Nestorian, Donatist) to STOP persecuting each other, and to return all church property confiscated by opposing Christian parties. This infuriates every sect of Christianity – as all are sure their most basic right is to harass and punish people (other Christians) who do not believe as they do
  • Ammianus Marcellinus assumes this was also a political divide-and-conquer move on Julian’s part to ensure his Organized Paganism had a fighting chance
    Reformation of Paganism

  • Julian orders all temples cleaned and opened
  • Julian takes on (as was the custom for the last 400 years) the office of High Priest for the Empire (Supreme Pontifex) once he is sole emperor
  • Julian appoints kind of prefect-priests for each of the 4 Praetorian Prefects
  • Julian organizes a national priesthood, and draws up rules regulating national priestly conduct (ie no taverns, or gambling, a pure and upright character, no frivolous reading, etc
  • Reforming local pagan practices and generalizing rules at a national level doesn’t work very well. The basis of ancient polytheism was the local custom, local loyalty, and local pride. Instituting empire-wide controls irritates the pagan population of the empire as being non-traditional, and therefor suspect, and possibly, un-holy
    Gibbon on Fanaticism
    Gibbon uses the word fanaticism as a generic four-letter word (right up there with “enthusiasm”, “miracle”, and “superstition”). He HATES the emotional, and the irrational, as the ultimate source of all human sorrow and suffering. And it’s plebeian and embarrassing to boot. Gibbon is particularly scandalized by 4th cent. Neo-Platonists (with impeccable philosophical pedigrees) maintaining that they (the philosophers) are able to perform miracles in much the same way Christian priests or monks (armed with the remains of martyrs and saints) claim to be able to heal the sick, raise the dead, or cause miraculous weather.

    I think when we come across something that strikes us as very odd in history, we have been very lucky. In this case, we get to see directly into the 4th cent. and understand how very, very different early Christianity was in the Late Roman Empire. Anyone and everyone was doing miracles – all ascribing the miracles to the First Cause – God.
    This from Gibbon (buried in a footnote) – describing a typical philosopher’s miracle

    The sophists of Eunapius perform as many miracles as the saints of the desert; and the only circumstance in their favour is, that they are of a less gloomy complexion. Instead of devils with horns and tail, Iamblichus evoked the genii of love, Eros and Anteros, from two adjacent fountains. Two beautiful boys issued from the water, fondly embraced him as their father, and retired at his command. P. 26, 27.

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, p.871, fn.22)

    Icon of Simeon Stylites stepping down.  Simon Stylites - a column-sitting-monk lived for years unprotected from the weather at the top of a column in a public place, supported by the local citizens who considered it lucky to have an obvious holy man with good heavenly connections in the neighborhood.  Gibbon hates monks and all thing monkish.  I'm sure Gibbon would have approved of this Icon - a representation of the famous column-sitting monk getting OFF of his column

    Icon of Simeon Stylites stepping down. Simon Stylites - a column-sitting-monk lived for years unprotected from the weather at the top of a column in a public place, supported by the local citizens who considered it lucky to have an obvious holy man with good heavenly connections in the neighborhood. Gibbon hates monks and all thing monkish. I'm sure Gibbon would have approved of this Icon - a representation of the famous column-sitting monk getting OFF of his column

    Gibbon Hating Monks (Again)
    Gibbon commenting on Julian’s predilection for fasting and abstinence (in the service of the many Gods, not of the Hebrew God).

    These sleeping or waking visions, the ordinary effects of abstinence and fanaticism, would almost degrade the emperor to the level of an Egyptian monk. But the useless lives of Antony or Pachomius were consumed in these vain occupations.

    Early Christian Mosaic - Jesus represented as a Roman Soldier, but wearing purple

    Early Christian Mosaic - Jesus represented as a Roman Soldier, but wearing purple

    In the Words of Julian Himself – Julian’s Against the Galileans (Christians)
    There is no stronger supporter than one who is converted – and Julian is a converted pagan. There is no more dangerous opponent than one who is intimately acquainted with the arguments of his enemy – and Julian is a man who was being raised to be a Christian priest, who is now the sworn enemy of Christianity (and, of course, the most powerful man in the Western World – the Roman Emperor). But Julian was a gentleman, a philosopher, and a Greek – so he loved to talk (and discuss). Here, we hear his own voice – the voice of a 30 year old philosopher-king – arguing in his witty, elegant, and common-sense style the primitive irrationality of his former Christian beliefs.

    (Julian’s Against the Galileans – full text here) – translated in 1923, so a little bit stilted – and using strange King James Bible-like vocabulary (ex. help meet – which is a mistranslation from Greek to King James English in the first place).

    Julian lays the groundwork in his opening paragraph:

    It is, I think, expedient to set forth to all mankind the reasons by which I was convinced that the fabrication of the Galilaeans is a fiction of men composed by wickedness. Though it has in it nothing divine, by making full use of that part of the soul which loves fable and is childish and foolish, it has induced men to believe that the monstrous tale is truth. Now since I intend to treat of all their first dogmas, as they call them, I wish to say in the first place that if my readers desire to try to refute me they must proceed as if they were in a court of law and not drag in irrelevant matter, or, as the saying is, bring counter-charges until they have defended their own views. For thus it will be better and clearer if, when they wish to censure any views of mine, they undertake that as a separate task, but when they are defending themselves against my censure, they bring no counter-charges.

    A brief extract on the Garden of Eden and the mean-minded envy of the Christian God in Genesis
    (Note how Julian gives the writers of Genesis the benefit of the doubt – granting them that all these stories are not literal, but allegories (a very Neo-Platonic solution) of divine systems too rarefied to explain directly.

    Now it is true that the Hellenes invented their myths about the gods, incredible and monstrous stories. For they said that Kronos swallowed his children and then vomited them forth; and they even told of lawless unions, how Zeus had intercourse with his mother, and after having a child by her, married his own daughter,4 or rather did not even marry her, but simply had intercourse with her and then handed her over to another.

    Then too there is the legend that Dionysus was rent asunder and his limbs joined together again. This is the sort of thing described in the myths of the Hellenes. Compare with them the Jewish doctrine, how the garden was planted by God and Adam was fashioned by Him, and next, for Adam, woman came to be. For God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. Let us make him an help meet like, him.” Yet so far was she from helping him at all that she deceived him, and was in part the cause of his and her own fall from their life of ease in the garden.

    This is wholly fabulous. For is it probable that God did not know that the being he was creating as a help meet would prove to be not so much a blessing as a misfortune to him who received her? Again, what sort of language are we to say that the serpent used when he talked with Eve? Was it the language of human beings? And in what do such legends as these differ from the myths that were invented by the Hellenes? Moreover, is it not excessively strange that God should deny to the human beings whom he had fashioned the power to distinguish between good and evil? What could be more foolish than a being unable to distinguish good from bad? For it is evident that he would not avoid the latter, I mean things evil, nor would he strive after the former, I mean things good. And, in short, God refused to let man taste of wisdom, than which there could be nothing of more value for man. For that the power to distinguish between good and less good is the property of wisdom is evident surely even to the witless; so that the serpent was a benefactor rather than a destroyer of the human race.

    Furthermore, their God must be called envious. For when he saw that man had attained to a share of wisdom, that he might not, God said, taste of the tree of life, he cast him out of the garden, saying in so many words, “Behold, Adam has become as one of us, because he knows good from bad; and now let him not put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and thus live forever.” Accordingly, unless every one of these legends is a myth that involves some secret interpretation, as I indeed believe, they are filled with many blasphemous sayings about God. For in the first place to be ignorant that she who was created as a help meet would be the cause of the fall; secondly to refuse the knowledge of good and bad, which knowledge alone seems to give coherence to the mind of man; and lastly to be jealous lest man should take of the tree of life and from mortal become immortal,—- this is to be grudging and envious overmuch.


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