Posted by: ken98 | February 10, 2010

The Last Persecution, and Bishops’ Gilded Cars and Fiery Steeds

Day 152 – Ken here (W)(2-10-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.25, pp.980-990)

I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already! Lots of rain here, and flooding, which is typical for monsoon season (or maybe monsoon season with a twist of climactic change). I’m feeling a little under the weather myself (my stock phrase, I know), and a little dramatic and theatrical after just having seen the DVD of the movie The Watchmen (which strikes me as having been written to a 12 year old audience – but thats another story – apologies to fans). So… today might be a tad short.

It is the year 365, and we continue today in the extreme twilight of all we have known and understood about Antiquity, the Empire, Rome, and Western Civilization from the last nearly-thousand Gibbon-pages. The Oracles deserted, the temples en-ruined, the new Christian Empire wracked with dissension, bathed in blood, and prelates living like Russian Mafia with hired armies and the equivalent of whole fleets of late model, black Mercedes patrolling the streets of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, etc. covered in gold and silver and pearls. It is a time of extremes and opportunity and change. These same Bishops will be called Fathers of the Church and Saints in later years, when what little knowledge of the 3rd and 4th centuries extant is re-purposed as myth and legend masquerading as history.

This is the last generation to remember the old Europe, to have a sizable pagan population still visible, to have a strong daily connection with the past and its architecture, literature, religions, languages, myths, culture. Five hundred years before this, the Mediterranean was at the height of the Alexandrian Renaissance – Antiquity wildly creative and exuberant, five hundred years from now, the Carolingian Renaissance will be petering out and the great quest of the Age will be TO SAVE the (very) little that remains of Roman/Greek knowledge still in the West before it is all mislaid/destroyed and completely forgotten.

Gibbon and the 2 generations just preceding him are the first historians in 1,300 years to look at the current history (the 300’s) we are reading with the same rational, educated eyes as Ammianus Marcellinus (huge source in Gibbon), who is documenting this mid-century history of his country – Rome – thinking he is but one in a long line of historians stretching back at least half a millenium. But Ammianus is the last of his kind for 1,300 years. We are in the twilight.

And just for that reason, that the 4th century is the CUSP of old and new Europe (the new Europe about to be born in the Dark Ages – we are the children of the Dark Ages) – the 4th century is very interesting (at least to me). Some small changes now will have huge consequences later. Some huge events now are going to be swallowed up in history – to have minimal effect on later generations or to be forgotten entirely. No one knows (in our time – the 4th century) that the world is about to end, and a new one about to be born. But the old will soon be forced to its knees, and then left prostrate, and then remain only as a fading memory – and all this will take place in the next 30 years.

The Story
Valentinian/Valens and Christianity – Valens Persecution

  • Valentinian – the last Roman Roman Emperor
  • Valentinian professes religious toleration for the 12 years of his reign, although he is in the West, and the West is decidedly, Trinitarian/Athanasian (364-375)
  • Valens complies with the Toleration ,but is instructed by an Arian priest (well, the Bishop of Constantinople – after all Valens is emperor over all the East) (during his catechism – he was baptized Arian before he went on started his campaigns as a precaution just in case he was killed – actually many “Christians” waited to be baptized on their death-beds) (obviously this Valens is a CAUTIOUS, PRUDENT fellow)
  • Valens persecutes the Catholics (Christian on Christian), continuing the common Gibbon theme that there is nothing more bloodthirsty than a Christian (367-378)
  • Valens persecutes the always-persecuted Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria – Athan. goes into exile for the 5th time
  • Valens accidentally kills 80 Catholic priests – burnt on a ship
  • All Christians hate that Pagans and Jews are officially protected. Christians persecute them anyway.
  • Catholics riot and persecute Arians
  • Gibbons makes a VERY GOOD POINT – that all this persecution of Valens is written by FUTURE CATHOLICS writing about what they consider one of the last great Christian Persecutions – its all very suspicious
  • Gibbon notes 3 examples of why the persecution probably didn’t occur – at least not the way it appeared in the later chronicles – 1) The Silence of Valentinian (a Catholic) could show that there weren’t any real systematic abuses, but some isolated instances of monks-gone-awry (a common 4th cent problem) – 2) Basil of Caesarea lambasted Valens mercilessly, and was awarded an enormous “town” to turn into a leper hospital (a pet project of Basil’s) – 3) The only extant law of Valens that remotely hits Catholics is the law requiring tax-exempt monks in Egypt (EGYPT AGAIN!!! – you always have to watch Egyptians) who were joining monasteries to avoid taxation but “forgetting” to give up all their worldly possessions – the law states, pay tax or renounce possessions (Codex Theodosianus 1.xii, titli, leg 64) – hardly a persecution there
  • Example of Luxury and Worldliness of 4th century Clergy – the Bishop Damasus – Bishop of Rome (360-384) – see below
    Valentinian Foreign Wars – Arena 1. Germany

  • After Julian in known to be dead, the Germans attack quickly on all fronts in 365
  • Counter attack by Romans – early 366, at 1st with mixed results
  • The Herulians and the Jovians Legions (the crack Imperial troops) lose their standard (the most grievous loss a legion could sustain) to the Alemanni
  • Valentinian gathers them in, proposes they be sold into slavery (actually a mercy – usually every 10th man might be killed) – they beg him to prove their worth (CLEVER VALENTINIAN)
  • Gibbon tells how the Herulians and Jovians Legions take German tribe after German tribe – Jovinus, the general in charge gets the consulship in 367 – (AND AMAZINGLY its exactly so if you look it up – FL. Iovinus (for the West) in 367 in the list of Consuls on Wiki (remember to scroll down PAST THE BC’s into the AD’s – the first numbers in descending order are all BC (BCE)(here – it’s also in the LINKS list to the right) – (little stuff like that AMAZES me – that Gibbon is accurate, and we can still look it all up and corroborate Gibbon’s text – it makes you appreciate the HUGE amount of work he did compiling the 1400 year, 3000 page history he wrote of Rome)

    The Bishop Damasus of Rome (366-384) - a man Gibbon particularily held up as an example (a bad example) of what was going very wrong with the Imperial Christian Church in the last half of the Fourth Century.  Gibbon is flabbergasted by him, and the more so because Damasus got prominent vituperative Christian writers (Jerome for example) to propagandize in his favor

    The Bishop Damasus of Rome (366-384) - (from a cornice in St Peters, Vatican City) a man Gibbon particularily held up as an example (a bad example) of what was going very wrong with the Imperial Christian Church in the last half of the Fourth Century. Gibbon is flabbergasted by him, and the more so because Damasus got prominent vituperative Christian writers (Jerome for example) to propagandize in his favor. Note the S. in his name above - he is Saint Damasus now (1500's)

    The Bishop Damasus of Rome – Gibbon’s Study in Fantastic 4th Century Clerical Lives
    The Bishop Damasus merited nearly 2 pages of Gibbon excoriation and dis-embowelment. The big 4: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria were infamous for their religious inter-Christian warfare and Gibbon pulls no punches in re-creating the scene for our own personal enlightenment.

    This per Gibbon:

    Ambition and luxury of Damascus, bishop of Rome. A.D. 366-384.

    Damasus, bishop of Rome, who was constrained to stigmatise the avarice of his clergy by the publications of the law of Valentinian, had the good sense, or the good fortune, to engage in his service the zeal and abilities of the learned Jerom; and the grateful saint has celebrated the merit and purity of a very ambiguous character.

    But the splendid vices of the church of Rome, under the reign of Valentinian and Damasus, have been curiously observed by the historian Ammianus, who delivers his impartial sense in these expressive words:- “The praefecture of Juventius was accompanied with peace and plenty, but the tranquillity of his government was soon disturbed by a bloody sedition of the distracted people.

    The ardour of Damasus and Ursinus to seize the episcopal seat surpassed the ordinary measure of human ambition They contended with the rage of party; The quarrel was maintained by the wounds and death of their followers; and the praefect, unable to resist or to appease the tumult, was constrained by superior violence to retire into the suburbs. Damasus prevailed: the well-disputed victory remained on the side of his faction; one hundred and thirty-seven dead bodies were found in the Basilica of Sicininus, where the Christians hold their religious assemblies, and it was long before the angry minds of the people resumed their accustomed tranquillity.

    When I consider the splendour of the capital, I am not astonished that so valuable a prize should inflame the desires of ambitious men, and produce the fiercest and most obstinate contests. The successful candidate is secure that he will be enriched by the offerings of matrons; that, as soon as his dress is composed with becoming care and elegance, he may proceed in his chariot through the streets of Rome; and that the sumptuousness of the Imperial table will not equal the profuse and delicate entertainments provided by the taste and at the expense of the Roman pontiffs.

    How much more rationally (continues the honest Pagan) would those pontiffs consult their true happiness, if, instead of alleging the greatness of the city as an excuse for their manners, they would imitate the exemplary life of some provincial bishops, whose temperance and sobriety, whose mean apparel and downcast looks, recommend their pure and modest virtue to the Deity and his true worshippers!”

    The schism of Damasus and Ursinus was extinguished by the exile of the latter; and the wisdom of the praefect Praetextatus restored the tranquillity of the city. Praetextatus was a philosophic Pagan, a man of learning, of taste, and politeness; who disguised a reproach in the form of a jest, when he assured Damasus that if he could obtain the bishopric of Rome, he himself would immediately embrace the Christian religion.

    This lively picture of the wealth and luxury of the popes in the fourth century becomes the more curious as it represents the intermediate degree between the humble poverty of the apostolic fisherman and the royal state of a temporal prince whose dominions extend from the confines of Naples to the banks of the Po.

    (DEF v.2 ch.25, pp.986-988)

    and this from the footnotes to this passage (where Gibbon deposits the juicier details he is too shy to put up in the main text):

    Note 081
    Jerom himself is forced to allow, crudelissimae interfectiones diversi sexus perpetratae (in Chron p. 186 [tom. viii. p. 809, ed. Vallars.]). But an original libel or petition of two presbyters of the adverse party has unaccountably escaped. They affirm that the doors of the basilica were burnt, and that the roof was untiled; that Damasus marched at the head of his own clergy, gravediggers, charioteers, and hired gladiators; that none of his party were killed, but that one hundred and sixty dead bodies were found. This petition is published by the P. Sirmond, in the first volume of his works.

    (DEF v.2 ch.25, p.987, fn 81)

    Note 084
    Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. xxxii. p. 526) describes the pride and luxury of the prelates who reigned in the Imperial cities; their gilt car, fiery steeds, numerous train, etc. The crowd gave way as to a wild beast.

    (DEF v.2 ch.25, p.987, fn 84)


    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


    Connecting to %s


    %d bloggers like this: