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Earthdate 2003-06-02

10.  Julian's religious policy  by the Rev. T. M. Lindsay, D.D., LL.D.

In his treatment of Christianity he believed that he shewed impartiality and refrained from persecution, and, if due allowance be made for his private hatred of those whom he contemptuously called Galilaeans, it is possible to believe that he was sincere in his professions.

His first act was to issue an edict permitting all bishops, exiled by Constantius for their attachment to the Nicene theology, to return and resume possession of their confiscated property but not their sees.  More than once the leaders, clerical and laic, of the various parties into which Christianity was then divided, were summoned to his palace and told that they were at liberty to follow and advocate any form of belief they pleased.  Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a pagan and a devoted admirer of Julian, declares that the Emperor did this in the firm belief that the Christians were so thoroughly divided that this liberty would end in their destroying each other by their mutual quarrels.  If so the intention shews how little Julian understood the faith he despised.  The bishops who had thronged the antechambers of Constantius and used backstairs intrigues against their rivals were very poor specimens of Christianity.  The freedom of discussion which Julian permitted, the absence of Imperial interference, were the means of uniting not destroying the Church.

The greater part of the Emperor's edicts against Christianity were undoubtedly meant by him to make restitution to paganism and to the State of property and privileges which had been wrongly bestowed.  The churches were commanded to restore the temple-sites and lands which had been given them for ecclesiastical purposes.  If churches had been erected they were ordered to be demolished and the temples rebuilt at the expense of the Christians.  The clergy and Christian poor had been granted sums of money from municipal treasuries; and these grants were to cease.  Constantine's legislation had given to the Christian clergy privileges enjoyed by the heathen priesthood.  To Julian's mind paganism was the religion of the State and alone it carried privileges with it.  So the special laws guaranteeing to the Church rights of inheritance, and laws exempting the clergy from personal taxation and freeing them from the obligation to serve on municipal councils, were abrogated.  Ammianus Marcellinus probably expresses the popular opinion when he declares that this legislation, however just in theory, was harsh in practice from its cumulative weight and the haste with which it was enforced.

No edict of Julian's excited the indignation of the Christians so thoroughly as that upon education.  It was enacted that no Christian was to be allowed to teach in schools where the literature of Greece and Rome formed the basis of education; that all teachers must expound and insist upon the religion of the authors studied; but that Christian children might attend the schools.  Perhaps the Emperor's reasons for his legislation increased their wrath; for pedantry is more irritating than force, and Julian's pedantic nature is displayed in his reasonings.  “Homer, Hesiod, Demosthenes, Thucydides, Isocrates, Lysias, all founded their learning on the gods.  Did not some of them believe themselves to be consecrated to Hermes and others to the muses?  It seems therefore absurd to me that those who explain their works should not worship the gods they reverenced.”  He did not like to remember that Mardonius, his own honoured teacher, had been a Christian.  His fixed idea was that Christianity could have no connexion with Hellenic thought or civilisation, that its affectation of interest in ancient Greek literature was hypocrisy, and that it was his duty as ruler to keep men from occasions of practising such a vice.  From one point of view the edict seemed to affect the Christians but slightly.  They had long been accustomed to send their children to schools in which the most famous teachers were pagans; but now they believed that the Emperor desired to use all the public schools throughout the Empire for proselytising purposes.  In the end this edict did more good than harm to Christianity.  It shewed in a striking way both the stedfastness and the resources of the Christians.  The two most distinguished Christian teachers, Prohaeresius of Athens and C. Marius Victorinus of Rome, at once resigned their appointments.  The former was the most esteemed teacher in the East, Libanius only excepted.  Julian did his utmost to win him over to paganism.  When he remained firm, the Emperor offered to make him an exception to his rule; but the Christian refused to accept any concession which was not to be shared by his humbler brethren.  Christian teachers all over the East assiduously devoted themselves to acquire the elegancies of the Greek tongue and to write school-books in that language which could serve as substitutes for the authors they were forbidden to use.

The Emperor naturally abolished the Labarum, and changed all other Christian into pagan emblems.  He permitted, encouraged, the worship of his statues; he purged the Praetorian guard (not the whole army) of Christians.  He also dismissed from his service all Christian attendants, and endeavoured to make the civil service completely pagan.

At least one distinguished Christian had little cause to thank Julian for his toleration, and his treatment of Athanasius almost suggests that the Emperor felt that the great bishop was the opponent from whom his plans had most to fear.  On Julian's edict restoring to their homes and properties Christian bishops who had been banished by Constantius, Athanasius naturally returned to Alexandria and was warmly welcomed by his people.  Julian was indignant.  He insisted that his edict had not authorised the banished bishops to resume their ecclesiastical work, and ordered Athanasius to be sent away from the city and then from Egypt.  “By all the gods,” he wrote to the governor of Egypt, “nothing could give me more pleasure than that thou shouldst expel from every corner of Egypt that criminal Athanasius, who has dared, during my reign, to baptise Greek wives of illustrious citizens.  He must be persecuted.”



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