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Julian The Apostate

The reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) is important in the history of
the Christian Church, in the first place, as indicating the slight hold
which heathenism had retained as a system upon the bulk of the people and
the impossibility of reviving it in any form in which it might compete
with the Church. Julian attempted to inject into a purified heathenism
those elements in the Christian Church which he was forced to admire. The
result was a fantastic mixture of rites and measures with which the
heathen would have nothing to do. In the second place, in the development
of the Church's doctrinal system, and especially in the Arian controversy,
the reign of Julian gave the contestants, who were obliged to stand
together against a common enemy, reason for examining in a new way the
points they had in common, and enabled them to see that some at least
differed more over the expression than over the content of their faith.
The character of Julian has long been a favorite subject of study and
especially the motives that induced him to abandon Christianity for the
Neo-Platonic revival of heathenism.

Additional source material: Socrates, Hist. Ec., III: Ammianus
Marcellinus, Roman History, XVI-XXV, translated by C. D. Yonge
(Bohn's Classical Library); Select Works of Julian, translated
by C. W. King (Bohn).

(a) Socrates. Hist Ec. III. 1. (MSG, 67:368.)

The Emperor Julian.

The account of the Emperor Julian as given by Socrates is probably
the best we have. It is, on the whole, a model of a fair
statement, such as is characteristic of the history of Socrates in
nearly all its parts. In spite of its length it is worthy of a
place in its entirety, as it explains the antecedents of a
character which the world has had difficulty in understanding.

Constantine, who gave Byzantium his own name, had two brothers born of the
same father but by a different mother, of these one was named Dalmatius,
the other Constantius. Dalmatius had a son of the same name as his own;
Constantius had two sons, Gallus and Julian. Now, as on the death of
Constantine, the founder of Constantinople, the soldiery had put the
younger brother Constantius to death, the lives of his two orphaned
children were also endangered; but a disease, apparently fatal, preserved
Gallus from the violence of his father's murderers; and as to Julian, his
age--for he was only eight years old at the time--protected him. The
Emperor's jealousy toward them having been subdued, Gallus attended
schools at Ephesus in Ionia, in which country considerable possessions had
been left them by their parents. Julian, however, when he was grown up
pursued his studies at Constantinople, going constantly to the palace,
where the schools then were, in simple attire and under the care of the
eunuch Mardonius. In grammar, Nicocles, the Lacedaemonian, was his
instructor; and Ecbolius, the sophist, who was at that time a Christian,
taught him rhetoric; for the Emperor Constantius had made provision that
he should have no pagan masters, lest he should be seduced to pagan
superstitions; for Julian was a Christian at the beginning. Since he made
great progress in literature, the report began to spread that he was
capable of ruling the Roman Empire; and this popular rumor becoming
generally spread abroad, greatly disquieted the Emperor. Therefore he
removed him from the great city to Nicomedia, forbidding him at the same
time to frequent the school of Libanius the Syrian sophist. For Libanius,
having been driven away by the teachers of Constantinople, had opened a
school at Nicomedia. Here he gave vent to his indignation against the
teachers in his treatise composed against them. Julian, however, was
interdicted from being his auditor, because Libanius was a pagan in
religion; nevertheless because he admired his orations, he procured them
and read them secretly and diligently. As he was becoming very expert in
the rhetorical art, Maximus the philosopher arrived in Nicomedia, not the
Byzantine, Euclid's father, but the Ephesian whom the Emperor Valentinian
afterward caused to be executed as a practicer of magic. This took place
later; at that time the only thing that attracted him to Nicomedia was the
fame of Julian. Having obtained from him a taste for the principles of
philosophy, Julian began to imitate the religion of his teacher, who had
instilled into his mind a desire for the Empire. When these things reached
the ears of the Emperor, wavering between hope and fear, Julian became
very anxious to lull the suspicion that had been awakened, and he who was
at first truly a Christian then became one in pretence. Shaved to the very
skin, he pretended to live the monastic life; and while in private he
pursued philosophical studies, in public he read the sacred writings of
the Christian Church. Moreover, he was appointed reader of the church in
Nicomedia. Thus by these pretexts he escaped the Emperor's displeasure.
Now he did all this from fear, but he by no means abandoned his hope;
telling many of his friends that times would be happier when he should
possess all. While his affairs were in this condition his brother Gallus,
who had been created Caesar, when he was on his way to the East came to
Nicomedia to see him. But when Gallus was slain shortly after, Julian was
immediately suspected by the Emperor; therefore the latter directed that
he should be kept under guard; he soon found means, however, of escaping
from his guards, and fleeing from place to place he managed to be in
safety. At last Eusebia, the wife of the Emperor, having discovered him in
his retreat, persuaded the Emperor to do him no harm, and to permit him to
go to Athens to study philosophy. From thence--to be brief--the Emperor
recalled him and afterward created him Caesar, and having given him his own
sister Helen in marriage, he sent him to Gaul against the barbarians. For
the barbarians whom the Emperor Constantius had hired as auxiliary forces
against Magnentius, being of no use against that usurper, were pillaging
the Roman cities. Inasmuch as he was young he ordered him to undertake
nothing without consulting the other military chiefs. Julian's complaint
to the Emperor of the inertness of his military officers procured for him
a coadjutor in the command more in sympathy with his ardor; and by their
combined efforts an assault was made upon the barbarians. But they sent
him an embassy, assuring him that they had been ordered by letters of the
Emperor to march into Roman territories, and they showed him the letters.
But he cast the ambassadors into prison, vigorously attacked the forces of
the enemy and totally defeated them; and having taken their king prisoner,
he sent him to Constantius. After these successes he was proclaimed
Emperor by the soldiers; and inasmuch as there was no imperial crown at
hand, one of the guards took the chain which he wore around his own neck
and placed it upon Julian's head. Thus Julian became Emperor; but whether
he subsequently conducted himself as a philosopher, let my readers
determine. For he neither sent an embassy to Constantius, nor paid him the
least homage in acknowledgment of past favors; but conducted everything
just as it pleased him. He changed the rulers of the provinces, and he
sought to bring Constantius into contempt by reciting publicly in every
city the letters which Constantius had written to the barbarians. For this
reason the cities revolted from Constantius and attached themselves to
him. Then he openly put off the pretence of being a Christian; going about
to the various cities, he opened the pagan temples, offering sacrifices to
the idols, and designating himself "Pontifex Maximus"; and the heathen
celebrated their pagan festivals with pagan rites. By doing these things
he excited a civil war against Constantius; and thus as far as he was
concerned all the evils involved in war happened. For this philosopher's
desire could not have been fulfilled without much bloodshed. But God, who
is the judge of His own counsels, checked the fury of these antagonists
without detriment to the State by the removal of one of them. For when
Julian arrived among the Thracians, it was announced that Constantius was
dead. And thus did the Roman Empire at that time escape the intestine
strife. Julian entered Constantinople and at once considered how he might
conciliate the masses and secure popular favor. Accordingly, he had
recourse to the following measures: he knew that Constantius was hated by
all the people who held the homoousian faith and had driven them from the
churches and had proscribed and exiled their bishops. He was aware, also,
that the pagans were extremely discontented because they had been
forbidden to sacrifice to their gods, and were anxious to get their
temples opened and to be at liberty to offer sacrifices to their idols.
Thus he knew that both classes secretly entertained hostile feelings
toward his predecessor, and at the same time the people in general were
exceedingly exasperated by the violence of the eunuchs, and especially by
the rapacity of Eusebius, the chief officer of the imperial bed-chamber.
Therefore he treated all with craftiness. With some he dissembled; others
he attached to himself by conferring obligations upon them, led by a
desire for vainglory; but to all he manifested how he stood toward the
heathen religion. And first, in order to slander Constantius and condemn
him as cruel toward his subjects among the people generally, he recalled
the exiled bishops and restored to them their confiscated estates. He next
commanded suitable agents to open the pagan temples without delay. Then he
directed that those who had been treated unjustly by the eunuchs should
receive back the property of which they had been plundered. Eusebius, the
chief officer of the imperial bed-chamber, he punished with death, not
only on account of the injuries he had inflicted on others, but because he
was assured that it was through his machinations his brother Gallus had
been killed. The body of Constantius he honored with an imperial funeral,
but he expelled the eunuchs, the barbers, and cooks from the palace. At
night, remaining awake, he wrote orations which he afterward delivered in
the Senate, going thither from the palace, though in fact he was the first
and only Emperor since the time of Julius Caesar who made speeches in that
assembly. He honored those who were eminent for literary attainments, and
especially those who taught philosophy; in consequence of which an
abundance of pretenders to learning of this sort resorted to the palace
from all quarters, men who wore their palliums and were more conspicuous
for their costume than for their erudition. These impostors, who
invariably adopted the religious sentiments of their prince, were inimical
to the welfare of the Christians; but since Julian himself was overcome by
excessive vanity he derided all his predecessors in a book which he wrote,
entitled "The Caesars." Led by the same haughty disposition, he composed
treatises against the Christians as well.

(b) Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., V, 3. (MSG, 67:1217.)

Julian's restoration of heathenism.

When Julian was placed in sole possession of the Empire he commanded all
the temples throughout the East to be reopened; and he also commanded that
those which had been neglected to be repaired, those which had fallen into
ruins to be rebuilt, and the altars to be restored. He assigned
considerable money for this purpose. He restored the customs of antiquity
and the ancestral ceremonies in the cities and the sacrifices. He himself
offered libations openly and sacrificed publicly; and held in honor those
who were zealous in these things. He restored to their ancient privileges
the initiators and the priests, the hierophants and the servants of the
temples, and confirmed the legislation of former emperors in their favor.
He granted them exemption from duties and other burdens as they had
previously had had such exemption. He restored to the temple guardians the
provisions which had been abolished. He commanded them to be pure from
meats, and to abstain from whatever, according to pagan opinion, was not
befitting him who had announced his purpose of leading a pure life.

(c) Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., V, 5. (MSG, 67:1225.)

Julian's measures against the Christians.

Among those who benefited by the recall of those who had been
banished for their religious beliefs were not only the orthodox
Christians who suffered under Constantius, but also the Donatists
and others who had been expelled from their homes by the previous

Julian recalled all who, during the reign of Constantius, had been
banished on account of their religious beliefs, and restored to them their
property which had been confiscated by law. He charged the people not to
commit any act of injustice against any of the Christians, not to insult
them and not to constrain them to sacrifice unwillingly. He deprived the
clergy, however, of their immunities, honors, and provisions which
Constantine had conferred, repealed the laws which had been enacted in
their favor, and reinforced their statutory liabilities. He even compelled
the virgins and widows, who on account of their poverty were reckoned
among the clergy, to refund the provision which had been assigned them
from the public treasury. In the intensity of his hatred of the faith, he
seized every opportunity to ruin the Church. He deprived it of its
property, votive offerings, and sacred vessels, and condemned those who
had demolished temples during the reign of Constantine and Constantius to
rebuild them or to defray the expense of re-erection. On this ground,
since they were unable to repay the sum and also on account of the search
after sacred money, many of the priests, clergy, and other Christians were
cruelly tortured and cast into prison. He recalled the priests who had
been banished by the Emperor Constantius; but it is said that he issued
this order in their behalf, not out of mercy, but that through contention
among themselves the churches might be involved in fraternal strife and
might fall away from their law, or because he wished to asperse the memory
of Constantius.

(d) Julian, Ep. 49, ad Arsacium; Julian, Imp., Epistulae, ed.
Hertlein. Leipsic, 1875 f.; also in Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., V, 16. (MSG,

To Arsacius, High Priest of Galatia. Hellenism(110) does not flourish as
we would have it, because of its votaries. The worship of the gods,
however, is grand and magnificent beyond all our prayers and hopes. Let
our Adrastea be propitious to these words. No one a little while ago could
have dared to look for such and so great a change in a short time. But do
we think that these things are enough, and not rather consider that
humanity shown strangers, the reverent diligence shown in burying the
dead, and the false holiness as to their lives have principally advanced
atheism?(111) Each of these things is needful, I think, to be faithfully
practised among us. It is not sufficient that you alone should be such,
but in general all the priests, as many as there are throughout Galatia,
whom you must either shame or persuade to be zealous, or else deprive them
of their priestly office, if they do not come with their wives, children,
and servants to the temples of the gods, or if they support servants,
sons, or wives who are impious toward the gods and prefer atheism to
piety. Then exhort the priests not to frequent the theatres, not to drink
in taverns, nor to practise any art or business which is shameful or
menial. Honor those who comply, expel those who disobey. Establish
hostelries in every city, so that strangers, or whoever has need of money,
may enjoy our philanthropy, not merely those of our own, but also those of
other religions. I have meanwhile made plans by which you will be able to
meet the expense. I have commanded that throughout the whole of Galatia
annually thirty thousand bushels of corn and sixty thousand measures of
wine be given, of which the fifth part I order to be devoted to the
support of the poor who attend upon the priests; and the rest is to be
distributed by us among strangers and beggars. For if there is not one
among the Jews who begs, and even the impious Galileans, in addition to
their own, support also ours, it is shameful that our poor should be
wanting our aid.

(e) Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., V, 16. (MSG, 67:1260.)

Measures taken by Julian for the restoration of heathenism.

The Emperor, who had long since been eager that Hellenism should prevail
through the Empire, was bitterly grieved seeing it excelled by
Christianity. The temples, however, were kept open; the sacrifices and the
ancient festivals appeared to him in all the cities to come from his will.
He grieved that when he considered that if they should be deprived of his
care they would experience a speedy change. He was particularly chagrined
on discovering that the wives, children, and servants of many pagan
priests professed Christianity. On reflecting that the Christian religion
had a support in the life and behavior of those professing it, he
determined to introduce into the pagan temples everywhere the order and
discipline of the Christian religion: by orders and degrees of the
ministry, by teachers and readers to give instruction in pagan doctrines
and exhortations, by appointed prayers on certain days and at stated
hours, by monasteries both for men and for women who desired to live in
philosophical retirement, likewise hospitals for the relief of strangers
and of the poor, and by other philanthropy toward the poor to glorify the
Hellenic doctrine. He commanded that a suitable correction be appointed by
way of penance after the Christian tradition for voluntary and involuntary
transgressions. He is said to have admired especially the letters of
recommendation of the bishops by which they commended travellers to other
bishops, so that coming from anywhere they might go to any one and be
hospitably received as known and as friends, and be cared for kindly on
the evidence of these testimonials. Considering also these things, he
endeavored to accustom the pagans to Christian practices.

(f) Sozomenus. Hist. Ec., V, 18. (MSG, 67:1269.)

Cf. Socrates, Hist. Ec., III, 16.

Julian forbade the children of Christians to be instructed in the writings
of the Greek poets and authors, and to frequent the public schools. He
did not permit Christians to be educated in the learning of the Greeks,
since he considered that only from them the power of persuasion was
gained. Apollinaris,(112) therefore, at that time employed his great
learning and ingenuity in the production of a heroic epic on the
antiquities of the Hebrews to the reign of Saul as a substitute for the
poem of Homer. He also wrote comedies in imitation of Menander, and
imitated the tragedies of Euripides and the odes of Pindar. Were it not
that men were accustomed to venerate antiquity and to love that to which
they are accustomed, the works of Apollinaris would be equally praised and

(g) Julian, Epistula 42.

Edict against Christian teachers of the classics.

This is the famous decree prohibiting Christians from teaching the
Greek classics, and was quite generally understood by Christians
as preventing them from studying the same.

I think true culture consists not in proficiency in words and speech, but
in a condition of mind which has sound intentions and right opinions
concerning good and evil, the honorable and the base. Whoever, therefore,
thinks one thing and teaches those about him another appears to be as
wanting in culture as in honor. If in trifles there is a difference
between thought and speech, it is nevertheless an evil in some way to be
endured; but if in important matters any one thinks one thing and teaches
in opposition to what he thinks, this is the trick of charlatans, the act
not of good men, but of those who are thoroughly depraved, especially in
the case of those who teach what they regard as most worthless, deceiving
and enticing by flattery into evil those whom they wish to use for their
own purposes. All those who undertake to teach anything should be upright
in life and not cherish in their minds ideas which are in opposition to
those commonly received; most of all I think that such they ought to be
who converse with the young on learning, or who explain the writings of
the ancients, whether they are teachers of eloquence or of rhetoric, and
still more if they are sophists. For they aim to be not merely teachers of
words but of morals as well, and claim instruction in political science as
belonging to their field. Whether this be true, I will leave undetermined.
But praising them as those who thus strive for fine professions, I would
praise them still more if they neither lied nor contradicted themselves,
thinking one thing and teaching their pupils another. Homer, Hesiod,
Demosthenes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Isocrates, and Lysias were indebted to
the gods for all their science. Did they not think that they were under
the protection of Hermes and of the Muses? It seems to me, therefore,
absurd that those who explain their writings should despise the gods they
honored. But when I think it is absurd, I do not say that, on account of
their pupils, they should alter their opinions; but I give them the
choice, either not to teach what they do not hold as good, or, if they
prefer to teach, first to convince their pupils that Homer, Hesiod, or any
of those whom they explain and condemn, is not so godless and foolish in
respect to the gods as they represent him to be. For since they draw their
support and make gain from what these have written, they confess
themselves most sordidly greedy of gain, willing to do anything for a few
drachmas. Hitherto there were many causes for the lack of attendance upon
the temples, and overhanging fear gave an excuse for keeping secret the
right teaching concerning the gods. Now, however, since the gods have
granted us freedom, it seems to me absurd that men should teach what they
do not regard as good. If they believe that all those men are wise whose
writings they expound and as whose prophets they sit, let them first
imitate their piety toward the gods; but if they think that these writers
erred concerning the most honored gods, let them go into the churches of
the Galileans and expound Matthew and Luke, believing whom you forbid
attendance upon the sacrifices. I would that your ears and tongues were
born again, as you would say, of those things in which I always take part,
and whoever loves me thinks and does. This law is to apply to teachers and
instructors generally. Whoever among the youth wishes to make use of their
instruction is not forbidden. For it would not be fair in the case of
those who are yet youths and do not know which way to turn, to forbid the
best way, and through fear to compel them to remain unwillingly by their
ancestral institutions. Although it would be right to cure such people
against their wills as being insane, yet it is permitted all to suffer
under this disease. For it is my opinion that the ignorant should be
instructed, not punished.

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