Why Europeans must reject Christianity, 13

by Ferdinand Bardamu

 
Christianity: bringer of violence and bloodshed

Word of mouth is notoriously ineffective as a means of spreading religious propaganda. This explains why Christianity’s growth remained largely unspectacular until the early 4th century. Of course, the primary reason for the Christianization of the empire was the conversion of Constantine to the new religion. The influence of Christianity in the empire was continuously reinforced and strengthened by the imperially coercive legislation of his successors. Christianization also sanctioned acts of religious violence against pagans, which contributed significantly to the religion’s spectacular growth in numbers and influence. Christianity unleashed a wave of violence that nearly drowned Europe in an ocean of blood. Without Constantine, and the religious violence of his successors, Christianity would have remained just another competing religion in the provincial backwaters of the empire, like Mithraism or the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The imperial policy of Christianization was further aided by the religion’s intrinsic advantages over rival philosophical and religious belief systems, making it more palatable to the ignorant masses. This facilitated its rapid spread across the empire until, by the reign of Theodosius in the late 4th century, most urban areas were predominantly Christian. These advantages included the egalitarian ethos of the Christian church. Unlike Mithraism, which was elitist, Christianity accepted all potential recruits, regardless of ethno-linguistic or socio-economic difference. The Christians of the first three centuries practiced a form of primitive communism. This attracted the chronically indigent, as well as freeloaders. Another advantage was the child-like simplicity of Christian doctrine.

The Crisis of the 3rd century, where rival claimants fought each other for the title of Caesar, was an internecine conflict lasting for decades. It produced widespread economic instability and civil unrest. This disruption of daily life encouraged men and women to seek refuge in the mystery religions, but also Christianity, which offered easy answers in an increasingly chaotic and ugly world. The Christian religion promised life everlasting to those who successfully endured tribulation on earth.

Passage of the edict of Milan in 313 meant that Christians would go from being a persecuted minority to a persecuting majority. Although persecution of religious dissidents had occurred before Constantine, such events were comparatively rare. Roman “persecution” of Christianity was mild and sporadic. It was not even religious in nature, but political; Christians refused to swear loyalty to the state by offering the pinch of incense to the emperor’s genius. Christians were not so much persecuted as they were subjected to Roman police action for disobeying the laws of the land. In contrast, Christian persecution of pagans and heretics was entirely motivated by religious hatred. It combined the authoritarian anti-pagan legislation of the emperors with the bigotry of the clergy and the violence of the Christian mob.

The first repressive laws against paganism were passed by Constantine. In 331, he issued an edict that legalized the seizure of temple property. This was used to enrich church coffers and adorn his city of Constantinople. He redirected municipal funds from the curiae to the imperial treasury. The curiae used these funds for the construction and renovation of temples, as well as for pagan banquets, processions and festivals. The redirection of municipal funds significantly diminished the influence of paganism in the public sphere. Constantine also showed preference for Christians when considering prospective candidates for government posts. For the first time in the empire’s history, conversion to Christianity was considered an attractive proposition.

Pagan temples and statuary were first vandalized and destroyed under Constantine. Christians believed that this first wave of iconoclasm was in fulfillment of scriptural command: “Ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves; . . . for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34.13f). The earliest Christian iconoclasm included the partial destruction of a Cilician temple of Asklepios and the destruction of temples to Aphrodite in Phoenicia (ca. 326 AD).

Constantine’s sons, Constans and Constantius II, followed in their father’s footsteps. In 341, Constans issued an edict banning animal sacrifice. In 346, Constans and Constantius II passed a law ordering the closure of all temples. These emperors were egged on by the Christian fanatic Firmicus Maternus who, in an exhortation addressed to both emperors in 346, called for the “annihilation of idolatry and the destruction of profane temples.” The fact that pagans continued to occupy important posts in the imperial administration made it difficult to legislate the active destruction of temples, statuary and inscriptions without alienating a large segment of the empire’s population. Nevertheless, Constantine’s sons turned a blind eye to private acts of Christian vandalism and desecration.

After the death of Constantius II, Julian was made emperor in 361. Having succumbed to the influence of pagan tutors in his youth, he developed a deep hatred for the “Galilean madness.” Accession to the throne allowed him to announce his conversion to Hellenism without fear of retribution. Julian set about reversing the anti-pagan legislation first enacted by his uncle. He re-opened the temples, restored their funding and returned confiscated goods; he renovated temples that had been damaged by Christian vandals; he repealed the laws against sacrifice and barred Christians from teaching the classics. Julian’s revival of pagan religious practice was cut short in 363, when he was killed in battle against the Persian Sassanids.

His successor Jovian revoked Julian’s edicts and re-established Christianity as most favored religion in the empire. The emperors who came after Jovian were too occupied with barbarian invasion to be concerned with internal religious squabbles; it was more expedient to simply uphold the toleration imposed on pagans and Christians alike by the Edict of Milan. Anti-pagan conflict again came to the forefront with Gratian. In 382 he angered pagans by removing the altar of Victory from the Senate. In the same year, Gratian issued a decree that ended all subsidies to the pagan cults, including priesthoods such as the Vestal Virgins. He further alienated pagans by repudiating the insignia of the pontifex maximus.

In 389, Theodosius began his all-out war on the old Roman state religion by abolishing the pagan holidays. According to the emperor’s decrees, paganism was a form of “natural insanity and stubborn insolence” difficult to root out, despite the terrors of the law and threats of exile. This was followed by more repressive legislation in 391, which re-instated the ban on sacrifice, banned visitation of pagan sanctuaries and temples, ended imperial subsidies to the pagan cults, disbanded the Vestal Virgins and criminalized apostasy. He refused to return the altar of Victory to the Senate house, in defiance of pagan demands. Anyone caught performing animal sacrifice or haruspicy was to be arrested and put to death. In the same year, the Serapeum, a massive temple complex housing the Great Library of Alexandria, was destroyed by a mob of Christian fanatics. This act of Christian vandalism was a great psychological blow to the pagan establishment.

Pagans, dissatisfied with the imperially-sponsored cultural revolution that threatened to annihilate Rome’s ancestral traditions, rallied around the usurper Eugenius. He was declared emperor by the Frankish warlord Arbogast in 392. A nominal Christian, Eugenius was sympathetic to the plight of pagans in the empire and harbored a certain nostalgia for pre-Christian Rome. He restored the imperial subsidies to the pagan cults and returned the altar of Victory to the Senate. This angered Theodosius, emperor in the east. In 394, Theodosius invaded the west and defeated Eugenius at the battle of Frigidus in Slovenia. This ended the last serious pagan challenge to the establishment of Christianity as official religion of the empire.

Apologists for Christianity argue that imperial anti-pagan legislation was more rhetoric than reality; their enforcement would have been difficult in the absence of a modern police state apparatus. This objection is contradicted by archaeological and epigraphic evidence. First, based on stratigraphic analysis of urban temples, cult activity had virtually ceased by the year 400, after passage of the Theodosian decrees. Second, temple construction and renovation declined significantly under the Christian emperors. In Africa and Cyrenaica, temple construction and renovation inscriptions are far more common under the first Tetrarchy than the Constantinian dynasty, when pagans still constituted a significant majority of the empire’s citizens. By the end of the 4th century, the authoritarian legislation of the Christian emperors had seriously undermined the strength and vitality of the old polytheistic cults.

The emperors did not stop with the closure of pagan religious sites. In 435 AD, a triumphant Theodosius II passed an edict ordering the destruction of all pagan shrines and temples across the empire. He even decreed the death penalty for Christian magistrates who failed to enforce the edict. The Code Justinian, issued between 529 to 534, prescribes the death penalty for public observance of Hellenic rites and rituals; known pagans were to seek instruction in the Christian faith or risk property confiscation; their children were to be seized by officials of the state and forcibly converted to the Christian religion.

Imperially mandated closure of all urban temples resulted in the privatization of polytheistic worship. This further exacerbated the decline of the pagan religious cults because of the object-dependent nature of ritual practice, which could not be fully realized in the absence of statuary, processions, festivals, lavish banquets and monumental building. In urban areas, imperial legislation was clearly effective. This was ruthlessly enforced by professional Christians and zealous magistrates, who used the additional muscle of the Roman army to get their own way, especially when preaching and public example failed.

Pagan rites and rituals were still observed at rural sanctuaries and temples for some time after the closure of urban centers of worship. These remained off the beaten track, so to speak, and were harder to shut down.

Churchmen like the fiery John Chrysostom, cognizant of this fact, exhorted the rich landowning class of the east to convert the heathen on their country estates. Those who allowed pagan worship on their rural properties were just as guilty of violating imperial anti-pagan legislation as the pagans themselves. Itinerant Christian evangelists, like Martin of Tours, fanned out across the countryside, winning souls for Christ through a campaign of intimidation, harassment and violence. In the end, aggressive evangelism, privatization of pagan religious practice and social marginalization ensured the death of paganism in rural areas.

Christianization of the empire was complete by 600 AD, although it is unclear to what extent Christ was considered just another deity to be worshipped alongside the old pagan gods.

Kriminalgeschichte, 38

Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums
(Criminal History of Christianity)

 
First assaults on the temples

Paganism still had many followers among the peasants, the many rectors and philosophers; it was also preserved among the cultivated aristocracy, especially the most rancid senatorial families, even among those of the Eastern empire.

In the year 341, a decree attributed to Constans began not with the classic exposition of motives, but with a propagandistic cry: ‘Let the superstition cease! May the delirium of sacrifices be abolished!’ (caesat superstitio sacrificiorum aboleatur insania). Consequently, the sovereign ordered in 346 the closing, with immediate effects, of the temples located in the cities; in 356, the closing of all the temples was ordered.

The question was to prevent the wicked (perditi) from doing their bad things, which triggered a wave of assaults on the temples. The confiscation of property and death by stepping on a temple, or by participating in the ‘aberration’ of sacrifices or worshiping an image, was one of the points of the laws of Constantius: ‘Whoever such things do, be struck down by the avenger sword’.

Libanius, a pagan Hellene rector of Antioch, wrote that Constantius inherited from his father ‘the spark of the inclination to evil deeds, converted by him into a great fire, because he plunders the treasures of the gods, demolishes the temples, annuls the sacred canons’. Libanius comments that Constantius ‘generalized to the rhetoric (logoi) the contempt of pagan worship, and it is not surprising, because both, worship and rhetoric are related and go together’. The contemporary reader will understand that with this he accused the emperor of going against religion and against classical culture at the same time.

The most fanatical Christians already attacked altars and temples. The deacon Cyril of Heliopolis, for example, became famous with his actions. In Arethusa of Syria, the priest Marcus made to demolish an old sanctuary (what later, being bishop and during the reaction of Julian, it was worth a serious beating). In Caesarea of Cappadocia, the Christian community razed a temple of Zeus, patron of the city, and another of Apollo. In Alexandria, the Arian Georgios destroyed a whole series of sacred places of paganism.
 

Hecatombs under the pious Gallus

(Constantius Gallus in a late copy of 354.) In Palestine, the scene of the process of Scythopolis, occurred the outrages of Gallus, a cousin of Constantius who was saved from the dynastic slaughter of the year 337. We find here another good Christian, assiduous to the church since childhood, great reader of the Bible and supposedly faithful husband of the old Constantina, sister of the emperor and married in second nuptials: a notorious harpy, ‘an unleashed fury’, Amianus wrote, ‘as bloodthirsty as his own husband’.

Gallus sent his brother Julian several letters of reprimand, inviting him to return to Christianity. In 351, the year of his proclamation as Caesar, Gallus scandalized the pagans by carrying the bones of Saint Babylas—incidentally, the first well-documented relocation we know—to the famous Apollo sanctuary in Daphne, which was thus rendered denaturalized.

The Christian Gallus, a great fan of boxing (at that time boxing was very bloody, with frequent breaking of bones), was revealed as a little tyrant in his residence of Antioch, through arbitrariness of all kinds and trials for high treason and witchcraft in which he made fun of all the legal norms and that brought a wake of confiscations, exile, horrible tortures and executions.

The fight against the pagans was tinged with true fanaticism, and he used a network of spies that covered the entire city. The Caesar Gallus, of whom Theodoret says with emphasis that ‘he was orthodox to death until the day of his death’, even induced some lynching by the plebs to get rid of certain uncomfortable fellow citizens. In 352, when the Jews suffered another of their periodic attacks of messianic excitement and rebelled against the prohibition of having slaves who were not Jews, assaulting a Roman garrison to procure weapons and naming someone of name Patrician, the pious Gallus burned entire cities and cut the throats even of the children.

Nor were the high imperial officials saved from this regime of terror; thus it fell the prefect of the East, Thalasius, directly responsible to the emperor. He was succeeded by Domitian, who shortly after his arrival in Antioch was captured by the soldiers, dragged through the streets, hung by his legs and thrown into the river Orontes; the same end suffered his quaestor.

There were several other murders, and towards the beginning of the summer of 354 the population rose ‘for varied and complicated reasons’, as Ammianus writes, but above all because of famine and general misery. Governor Theophilus was killed and dismembered.

Constantius was in need of calling his cousin, despite having promised him full immunity, and asked him to be accompanied by his wife, ‘the lovely Constantina’, since he had not seen her for a long time. Gallus understood that there was something fishy, but he trusted the support of Constantina, the emperor’s sister.

But this supporter died in those days as a result of a fever and the emperor beheaded his man of confidence one autumn morning in 354, in Istria. After the execution he proceeded with the rack, the axe of the executioner or exile against all the friends of Gallus, his officers and officials, and even against some religious people.

Only the death of the sovereign, at forty-four years of age on November 3, 361, avoided Constantius a confrontation with his cousin Julian.

Kriminalgeschichte, 35

Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums
(Criminal History of Christianity)

 
First wars among devout Christians

After the massacre, the sons of Constantine shared the spoils. The eldest, Constantine II (337-340) stayed with the western provinces, Gaul, Hispania, Britannia, and established his residence in Trier; the youngest, Constans, the centrals, Italy, Africa and Greece, with its capital in Sirmium (the current Mitrovicz, in Serbia). Constantius II (337-361), who survived and inherited them all, was awarded East and resided in Antioch until 350, when he was not campaigning.

(Bust of Constans)

Soon war broke out between the eldest and the youngest on a question of border demarcation. In early 340, Constantine II left Gaul and invaded Italy by surprise, but fell into an ambush near Aquileia, while trying to force an alpine pass. Constans’ generals killed him and threw the corpse into the river. In those moments Constantius II, as we will see in the following section, was very busy with the quarrels between Christians and especially with the incursions of the Persians in the East, so that Constans could stay with the western provinces without any discussion.

That seventeen-year-old adolescent, owner of two thirds of the immense empire, was the only one baptized among the sons of Constantine and had been educated in chastity, the ultimate Christian virtue, as we know. In fact, he shied away from women but used to enjoy the company of blond Germans, hostages or slaves, with whom he went out to hunt in remote solitary forests, while publicly declaring himself an enemy of pederasty.

Within the domains of Constans the first temple destructions, sporadic at the beginning, are produced in Rome, as well as a renewed persecution against the Donatists. As they did not allow themselves to be corrupted by the monies of the emperor, which the old Donatus had brusquely rejected, Constans decided to expropriate the unbowed clerics and, by force of arms, handed over the Donatist churches to the Catholics.

In 347 there was the bloody crushing of the Bagai insurrection, where the ordinary was assassinated, another Donatus and Bishop Majorinus, principal saint of the Donatists. Others were tied to columns and whipped by order of Macarius, the imperial commissioner, praised by Catholics as ‘advocate of the holy cause’. They began to speak of ‘the Macarian persecution’. Some Donatists died tortured in prisons. Many fled and others were exiled. Donatus himself died, apparently in the wreck of the ship where he was travelling deported. The assets of the exiles were confiscated.

Meanwhile, on January 18, 350, there was in Autun (Lyon) the pronouncement of General Magnentius, born in Amiens and the son of a Frankish and a Breton, who seized the western provinces. According to some later sources he was pagan; however, the coins he minted suggest the opposite, that is, he was a Christian. The Franks and the Saxons supported him at once, and all the towns and fortresses of the Rhine fell into his hands. Britain, Gaul, Italy, and Africa hastened to recognize him as emperor.

Certainly, Magnentius, the first Germanic anti-caesar and the most dangerous of all the usurpers who threatened the throne of Constantius (up to six in all), failed to enjoy his victory for a long time. The emperor left the Balkans for the Danube, to initiate the ‘holy war’, with troops that doubled those of his opponent. According to Theodoret, even the pagans of the army had to be baptized by order of Constantius.

Magnentius was expelled from Italy in 352; was also defeated in Gaul, and on August of 353, seeing himself surrounded in his castle of Lyon, he threw himself on the tip of his own sword, not without having finished with his intimate friends before; his brother Desiderius and his mother. Constantius had the enemy’s head roved around the country, and had many others cut off.

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Kriminalgeschichte, 34

Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums
(Criminal History of Christianity)

 

______ 卐 ______

 

Chapter 7: The Christian Sons of
Constantine and His Successors

‘Since Constantine, the emperors were much more devoted Christians than they had ever been as pagans’.

— Frank Thiess

‘During the 4th and 5th centuries, the alliance between Christianity and the Imperium Romanum provided the inhabitants of the empire… an entirely new image of the world’.

— Denys Hay

 

Everything seemed very promising: a new idea of the world, the Imperium as a Christian institution oriented towards peace, the emperors turned into zealous Christians…

Statue of Emperor Constantine II.

Indeed, the sons of Constantine, Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans, along with the father, were compared by Eusebius with the Trinity. Almost since they began to walk, they were accompanied by experienced prefects, dressed in purple, in the ranks of the army. They were barely fifteen, twelve, eleven years old, and they took part in campaigns on remote fronts. Good Christians and intrepid soldiers: an ideal combination advocated for centuries by a religion of peace that has never brought peace anywhere.
 

The first Christian dynasty founded on family extermination

The imperial father did the pioneering work. Scarcely had he died and Constantius II, who considered himself an envoy of God and ‘bishop of bishops’, and once even practiced sexual continence, began in August 337 the extermination of almost all the male members of the imperial house in Constantinople: his uncle Dalmatius, half brother of Constantine who had lived many years surrounded by spies, and the father of Emperor Julian, Julius Constance, very hated by the Empress St. Elena, amen of six cousins and other badly seen courtesan personalities. Among these, the almost omnipotent Ablabius, prefect of the praetorians, whose daughter Olympias was promised as a child to Constantine. (Later, Constantius married her to the king of the Armenians, Arsaces III, and she was killed by the former wife of the sovereign with the complicity of a priest who mixed poison in the wine of mass.)

Christian mercy only respected Julian, who was five years old (he would be assassinated during a campaign against the Persians); his stepbrother Gallus was also saved because he was so sick that he seemed lost anyway (he would die in Istria in 354).

Constantius was a Christian, so were most of his obedient assassins, soldiers of his guard; Julian deduced from all this that ‘there is no beast as dangerous to man as Christians are to their fellow-believers’.

And just as no man in the Church had criticised the murders of relatives perpetrated by Constantine, no one censured those of the devotee Constantius, ‘one of the most notorious Christian princes of the century’ (Aland). Eusebius alludes to the ‘inspiration from above’ to justify the carnage. In Constantius one could contemplate a revived Constantine, the bishop wrote, and he was not mistaken. The praises dedicated to the multiple parricide and bellicose Constantius are almost as dithyrambic as those deserved by the military leader and exterminator of relatives, Constantine.

Paradigm of the cruelty according to Amianus, Constantius did not take long in sending a message to the bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, the preceptor of Julian, asking him never to speak with him about the destinies of his family.

And six years later, Julian and Gallus were imprisoned in Macellum, a sinister fortress hidden between mountains— ‘without authorizing anyone to approach us, without studies worthy of such a name, without conversations, although we were surrounded by a splendid service’, remembers Julian. A secret agent of the emperor suggested Gallus, the first-born, that Constantius was not guilty of the death of his father, and that the extermination of his family had been an uncontrolled act of the soldiery.