Kriminalgeschichte, 40

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

 
Christian tall stories

Christians, preachers of love of the enemy and of the doctrine that all authority emanates from God, celebrated the death of the emperor with great public banquets, with festivals in churches and chapels and dances in the theatres of Antioch: the city that, as Ernest Renan says, ‘was full of puppeteers, charlatans, actors, magicians, thaumaturges, witches and religious swindlers’.

The diatribe in three volumes that Julian had written shortly before his death, Against the Galileans, was promptly destroyed, but fifty years later, Cyril, the doctor of the Church still bothered to argue against it: Pro sanela Christianorum religione adversas libros athei Julian in thirty volumes, of which ten have reached us in their Greek text and ten others in Greek and Syriac fragments. Naturally, a bishop like Cyril, an avowed enemy of philosophy who even tried to prohibit its teaching in Alexandria, did not intend to grasp the thought of Julian, but only ‘crush it with maximum energy’ (Jouassard).

The Christians also destroyed all the portraits of Julian and the epigraphs that commemorated his victories, without sparing means to erase from the memory of men the remembrances of him.

During Julian’s life, the most famous doctors of the Church had kept a prudent silence, but shortly after his death, and for a long time more, they dedicated themselves to attacking him.

Ephrem, another saint whose odious songs were repeated by the parishioners of Edessa, dedicated a whole treatise to ‘Julian the Apostate’, the ‘pagan emperor’ and, according to him, ‘frantic’, ‘tyrant’, ‘trickster’, ‘damned’ ‘and’ idolatrous priest’. ‘His ambition caught the deadly release’ that ‘tore his body pregnant with oracles from his magicians’ to send him definitively ‘to hell’. The clerical historians of the 5th century, who sometimes were also jurists, such as Rufinus, Socrates, Philostorgius, Sozomen and Theodoret, speak of Julian in a still worse tone.

While the Christian world defamed the ‘apostate’, as he usually does with its enemies, the Enlightenment corrected that image in the diametrically opposite sense.

In 1699, the Protestant theologian Gottfried Arnold, in his Impartial History of the Church and of Heresy, rehabilitated the figure of Julian.

A few decades later, Montesquieu praised him as a statesman and legislator. Voltaire wrote: ‘Thus, that man who has been described to us horribly was perhaps the most noble of all, or at least the second’. Montaigne and Chateaubriand count him among the greatest historical figures.

Goethe praised himself for understanding and sharing Julian’s animosity against Christianity. Schiller wanted to make him protagonist of one of his dramas.

Shaftesbury and Fielding praised him, and Gibbon believes that he deserved to have owned the world. Ibsen wrote Caesar and Galilee and Nikos Kazantzakis his tragedy Julian the Apostate, premiered in Paris in 1948.

More recently, between 1962 and 1964, the North American Gore Vidal dedicated a novel to him. On the other hand, the Benedictine Baur (representative, in this, of many current Catholics) continues to defame Julian in the 20th century.

After the death of Julian, and having renounced the designated successor, Salutius, a moderate pagan philosopher and prefect of the praetorians of the East who had been a personal friend of Julian, the Illyrian Jovian acceded to the throne.

Julian, 18

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 

My interview with Constantius occurred on the last day of his visit. Bishop George spent the morning coaching us in what to say. He was as nervous as we were; his career was at stake, too.

Gallus was admitted first to the sacred presence. During the halfhour he was with the Emperor, I recall praying to every deity I could think of; even then I was eclectic!

At last the Master of the Offices, gorgeous in court robes, came to fetch me. He looked like an executioner. Bishop George rattled out a blessing. The Master gave me instructions in how I was to salute the Emperor and which formula of greeting I was to use. I muttered them over and over to myself as I swam—that was my exact sensation—into the presence of the Augustus.

Constantius was seated on an ordinary chair in the apse of the hall. Eusebius stood beside him, holding a sheaf of documents. On a stool at Constantius’s feet sat Gallus, looking well-pleased with himself.

I went through the formula of homage, the words falling without thought from my lips. Constantius gave me a long, shrewd, curious look. Then he did not look at me again during the course of the interview. He was one of those men who could never look another in the eye. Nor should this characteristic be taken, necessarily, as a sign of weakness or bad conscience. I am rather like Constantius in this. I have always had difficulty looking into men’s eyes. All rulers must. Why? Because of what we see: self-interest, greed, fear. It is not a pleasant sensation to know that merely by existing one inspires animal terror in others. Constantius was often evil in his actions but he took no pleasure in the pain of others. He was not a Caligula, nor a Gallus.

Constantius spoke to me rapidly and impersonally. “We have received heartening reports concerning the education of our most noble cousin Julian. Bishop George tells us that it is your wish to prepare for the priesthood.” He paused, not so much to hear what I might say as to give proper weight to what he intended to say next. As it was, I was speechless.

Constantius continued, “You must know that your desire to serve God is pleasing to us. It is not usual for princes to remove themselves from the world, but then it is not usual for any man to be called by heaven.” I suddenly saw with perfect clarity the prison I was to occupy. Deftly, Constantius spun his web. No priest could threaten him. I would be a priest.

“Bishop George tells me that you have pondered deeply the disputes which—sadly—divide holy church. And he assures me that in your study of sacred matters you have seen the truth and believe, as all Christians ought, that the son is of like substance to the father, though not of the same substance. Naturally, as one of our family, you may not live as an ordinary holy man; responsibilities will be thrust upon you. For this reason your education must be continued at Constantinople. You are already a reader in the church. In Constantinople you can hope to become ordained, which will give us pleasure, as well as making you most pleasing to God who has summoned you to serve him. And so we salute our cousin and find him a worthy descendant of Claudius Gothicus, the founder of our house.”

That was all. Constantius gave me his hand to kiss. I never said a word beyond those required by court ceremonial. As I backed out of the room, I saw Gallus smile at Eusebius.

I wonder now what Constantius was thinking. I suspect that even then I may have puzzled him. Gallus was easily comprehended. But who was this silent youth who wanted to become a priest? I had planned to say all sorts of things to Constantius, but he had given me no opportunity. Surprisingly enough, he was nervous with everyone. He could hardly speak, except when he was able to speak, as it were, from the throne. Excepting his wife, Eusebia, and the Grand Chamberlain, he had no confidants. He was a curious man.

Now that I am in his place I have more sympathy for him than I did, though no liking. His suspicious nature was obviously made worse by the fact that he was somewhat less intelligent than those he had to deal with. This added to his unease and made him humanly inaccessible. As a student he had failed rhetoric simply through slowness of mind. Later he took to writing poetry, which embarrassed everyone. His only “intellectual” exercise was Galilean disputes. I am told that he was quite good at this sort of thing, but any village quibbler can make a name for himself at a Galilean synod. Look at Athanasius!

I was relieved by this interview. Of course I did not want to become a priest, though if that were the price I had to pay for my life I was perfectly willing to pay it.

In a blaze of pageantry, Constantius departed. Gallus, Bishop George and I stood in the courtyard as he rode past. Mounted, he looked splendid and tall in his armour of chased gold. He acknowledged no one as he rode out of Macellum. In his cold way he was most impressive, and I still envy him his majesty. He could stand for hours in public looking neither to left nor right, motionless as a statue, which is what our ceremonial requires.

It was the Emperor Diocletian who decided that we should become, in effect, if not in title, Asiatic kings, to be displayed on rare occasions like the gilded effigies of gods. Diocletian’s motive was understandable, perhaps inevitable, for in the last century emperors were made and unmade frivolously, at the whim of the army. Diocletian felt that if we were to be set apart, made sacred in the eyes of the people and hedged round by awe-inspiring ritual, the army would have less occasion to treat us with easy contempt.

To a certain extent, this policy has worked. Yet today whenever I ride forth in state and observe the awe in the faces of the people, an awe inspired not by me but by the theatricality of the occasion, I feel a perfect impostor and want to throw off my weight of gold and shout, “Do you want a statue or a man?” I don’t, of course, because they would promptly reply, “A statue!”

As we watched the long procession make its way from the villa to the main highway, Gallus suddenly exclaimed, “What I’d give to go with them!”

“You will be gone soon enough, most noble Gallus.” Bishop George had now taken to using our titles.

“When?” I asked.

Gallus answered. “In a few days. The Emperor promised, ‘When all is ready, you will join us.’ That’s what he said. I shall be given a military command, and then…!” But Gallus was sufficiently wise not to mention his hopes for the future. Instead he gave me a dazzling smile. “And then,” he repeated, with his usual malice, “you’ll become a deacon.”

“The beginning of a most holy career,” said Bishop George, removing his silver headdress and handing it to an attendant. There was a red line around his brow where the crown had rested. “I wish I could continue with your education myself, but, alas, the divine Augustus has other plans for me.” For an instant a look of pure delight illuminated that lean, sombre face.

“Alexandria?” I asked. He put his finger to his lips, and we went inside, each pleased with his fate: Gallus as Caesar in the East, George as bishop of Alexandria, and I… well, at least I would be able to continue my studies; better a live priest than a dead prince.

For the next few weeks we lived in hourly expectation of the imperial summons. But as the weeks became months, hope slowly died in each of us. We had been forgotten.

Bishop George promptly lost all interest in our education. We seldom saw him, and when we did his attitude was obscurely resentful, as if we were in some way responsible for his bad luck. Gallus was grim and prone to sudden outbursts of violence. If a brooch did not fasten properly, he would throw it on the floor and grind it under his heel. On the days when he spoke at all, he roared at everyone. But most of the time he was silent and glowering, his only interest the angry seduction of slave girls.

I was not, I confess, in the best of spirits either, but at least I had Plotinus and Plato. I was able to study, and to wait.

Published in: on November 19, 2017 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 17

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Gallus made a good impression on everyone—somewhat to my surprise, for he was always rather sullen with Bishop George and downright cruel to me and his teachers. But set among the great officers of the state, he was a different person. He laughed; he flattered; he charmed. He was a natural courtier, and one by one he enchanted the members of the Sacred Consistory, as the Emperor’s council is known. Only with Constantius did he make no headway. Our cousin was biding his time.

During the time the court was at Macellum, the junior officers and lesser officials dined in the main hall of the palace, while the Emperor and the magnates dined in the banqueting hall, which was somewhat smaller. In the hour before dinner everyone used to gather in the main hall to gossip. It was our first experience of a court. I found it bewildering, but Gallus took to it like a swan to water.

One evening Gallus allowed me to tag after him as he moved through that splendid company. Gallus was an excellent politician. He made friends not just with the magnates but also with the clerks and notaries who do the actual work of governing. He was shrewd. I of course was perfectly tongue-tied.

In the large hall, Gallus quickly gravitated to the group of officers with whom he had only that day gone hunting. I remember looking at these young men with wonder, for they had actually killed other men in battle in such far-away places as Germany and Mesopotamia. They were unusually self-contained and rather quiet, unlike the clerks and notaries, who were exceedingly talkative, eager to impress one with their knowledge of secret matters.

Gallus seemed particularly to like one tribune, an officer in his thirties named Victor (who is now one of my generals). Victor was—is—an impressive-looking man who speaks good Greek, though he comes from the Black Sea; he is bandy-legged and pale-eyed like so many Russians. “Is this the most noble Julian?” he asked, turning to me.

Gallus introduced me in an offhand way to the company. I blushed and said nothing.

“Will you be serving with us in the household troops?” Victor asked.

Gallus answered for me. “No. He’s going to be a priest.”

Before I could deny this, Victor said quite seriously, “I can think of no life worthier than one in the service of God.” I was struck by the simplicity with which he said this. No irony was intended.

Gallus was somewhat taken aback. “Not for me,” he said finally.

“Nor for me, unfortunately.” Victor gave me a sympathetic smile. “You must pray for us,” he said.

Gallus changed the subject. While he talked hunting with Victor, I stood by silently, beginning to feel already like one of those Galilean monks or “solitaries” as they are called, which is rather a misnomer since no monk is ever solitary. They are the most gregarious set of men in the world, for ever eating, guzzling and gossiping with one another. Most of them retire from the world in order to have a continuous party.

“Are you really going to become a priest?” The voice was low. I turned and saw a young man standing behind me. He had obviously been there for some time. I shook my head. “No,” I said.

“Good.” He smiled. He had sharp grey eyes beneath brows which met, giving him the look of one continually concentrating on some distant object. He wore civilian clothes, which was odd since at his age anyone of good family wears uniform at court.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Oribasius of Pergamon, physician to the divine Augustus, who doesn’t need me. Your cousin is the healthiest man I’ve ever met.”

“I am happy to hear that!” I blazed sincerity. One’s neck depended on this sort of response.

“It’s a matter of diet,” said Oribasius matter-of-factly. “He’s a perfect example of the moderate life. He drinks almost no wine. He never overeats. He’ll live forever.”

“I pray that he does,” I said, my heart sinking. What would my life be like, lived in the shadow of a never-dying, always suspicious Constantius?

“But why does your brother say you’re going to be a priest?”

“Because I read books. He finds that strange.”

“And he associates strangeness with the priesthood?”

I tried not to smile. “Something like that. But I should like to be a philosopher or a rhetorician. Apparently I have no gift for soldiering. At least Gallus says I haven’t. But then, everything depends on the will of the divine Augustus.”

“Yes,” said Oribasius. He looked at me curiously. I recognized the look. I had seen it all my life. It meant: Are they going to kill this boy? And if they do, how interesting it all is! From birth I had been treated like a character in a tragic play.

“Do you like Macellum?”

“Would you, if you were me?” I had not meant to say this. But his look had irritated me and I suddenly rebelled at being treated like a mere thing, a victim, the dumb sacrifice in a bloody legend.

“No,” said Oribasius evenly. “I would not.”

“Well, then, you know how it is.” But frightened now that I had said too much, I began to babble about the goodness of my cousin, the kindness of Bishop George, the beauty of Cappadocia. For all I knew, Oribasius was a secret agent. Luckily, one of the chamberlains came to announce the approach of the Emperor, and I hurriedly left the main hall and took my place at table.

I have recorded this meeting with Oribasius, since he was to become my closest friend. But I did not see him again at Macellum or, if I did, I don’t remember him. He has told me since, “I’ve never seen anyone look so frightened as you.”

When I told him that my memory of myself in those days was one of serene self-control, Oribasius laughed. “I was positive you were on the verge of madness. I even diagnosed you—incorrectly—as an epileptic.”

“And what did you think of Gallus?”

“He was the one who appeared serene. I was quite impressed.”

“And of course Gallus went mad.”

“I don’t claim to be infallible.”

People never make the impression they think they make. But Oribasius was quite right in one thing: I was terrified.

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 16

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Constantius had arrived at noon and gone straight to his apartments. That was all anyone knew. He might be with us in a few minutes, a few hours, or not at all. Meanwhile, we waited nervously in the great hall of the villa. The rafters were hung with boughs of evergreen, and the ordinarily musty interior smelled of pine and eucalyptus. At one end of the hall, on a dais, a gold throne had been set. To the right of the throne, but at floor level, was the ivory chair of the praetorian prefect of the East (he had arrived with the Emperor). According to rank, the officers of the state were arranged to the left and right of the throne. Just at the foot of the dais stood Bishop George in all his glory with Gallus on his right and me on his left.

Looking more than ever like a huge peacock, Eusebius stood at the door, surrounded by his staff of ushers. No one spoke or moved. We were like statues. Though the room was not hot, I was sweating nervously. I glanced at Gallus out of the comer of my eye; his mouth was twitching from the strain.

After what seemed days, we heard trumpets. Then the cry “Augustus!” which always precedes an emperor began, at first far off and faint; then closer, louder: “Augustus! Augustus!”

My legs began to tremble. I was afraid I might be sick. Suddenly with a crash the double doors were flung open and there in the doorway stood Flavius Julius Constantius, Augustus of the East. With a gentle moan, Eusebius embraced Constantius’ knees, melodiously murmuring soft words of ceremony not audible to the rest of us who were now prostrate, as the Lord of the World slowly and with extraordinary dignity crossed the room to his throne. I was too busy studying the mosaic floor to get even a glimpse of my imperial cousin. Not until the Master of the Offices gave the signal for everyone to rise was I able at last to observe my father’s murderer.

Constantius was a man of overwhelming dignity. That was the most remarkable thing about him; even his most ordinary gestures seemed carefully rehearsed. Like the Emperor Augustus, he wore lifts in his sandals to make himself appear tall. He was clean-shaven, with large melancholy eyes. He had his father Constantine’s large nose and thin, somewhat peevish mouth. The upper part of his body was impressively muscular but his legs were dwarfish. He wore the purple, a heavy robe which hung from shoulder to heel; on his head was a fillet of silver set with pearls.

Constantius sat very still on his throne as the Master of the Offices brought him Bishop George, who welcomed him to Macellum. Not once did the Emperor look at Gallus or me. The occasional ritual responses he made were said in such a low voice that none of us could make out the words.

Then the moment came. Bishop George led Gallus and me to the Master of the Offices, who in turn led us up to the dais and presented us formally to the Emperor. I was terrified. Without knowing how I got there, I found myself embracing Constantius’ knees, as court etiquette requires.

From far off I heard the Emperor’s voice, measured but rather higher-pitched than I had expected, “We are pleased to receive our most noble cousin Julian.” A large callused hand reached down, gripped me firmly by the left elbow and helped me to rise.

For an instant I was so close to Constantius that I could make out every pore in his face, which was sunburned dark as a Persian’s. I noticed the silkiness of his straight brown hair, only just beginning to turn grey. He was thirty-two, but I thought him ancient. I also remember thinking: what must it be like to be Emperor of Rome? to know that one’s face on coins, on monuments, painted and sculptured, is known to all the world? And here—so close to me that I could feel the reciprocal warmth of his skin—was the original of that world-famous face, not bronze or marble but soft flesh and bone, like me, like any other man. And I wondered: what is it like to be the centre of the world?

For the first time I experienced ambition. It came as a revelation. Only in communion with the One God have I known anything to equal it. How candid I am! I have never admitted to anyone that in my first encounter with Constantius, all that I could think was how much I should like the dominion of this earth! But my moment of madness was brief. I stammered a speech of loyalty, and took my place beside Gallus on the dais. I can remember nothing else that happened that day.

Constantius remained at Macellum for a week. He attended to the business of the state. He hunted. Bishop George had a long interview with him on the day he arrived, but then, to the Bishop’s chagrin, Constantius ignored him. Though Gallus and I dined at the Emperor’s table every evening, he never spoke to us.

I was beginning to fear the worst. But Gallus, who saw Eusebius every day, said that the eunuch was optimistic. “He’s positive we’ll be allowed to come to court this year. At least I will. He also said there was talk in the Sacred Consistory that I be made Caesar for the East.” Gallus glowed with excitement. “Then I could live at Antioch. I’d have my own court. After all, it’s what one was born for!”

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 11:38 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 15

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
The last official to arrive was the most important of all: the Grand Chamberlain of the Sacred Palace, the eunuch Eusebius. He was so large that it took two slaves to pull him out of his ivory and gold litter.

He was tall, stout and very white. Beneath the peacock blue of his silk tunic one could see the rolls of flesh quiver as he moved. Of all the officers of state, only he wore civilian clothes. In fact, he looked like a winsome lady of fashion with mouth artfully rouged and hair arranged in long oiled ringlets. The gold thread of his cape flashed in the sunlight.

Eusebius looked about him with sharp eyes, and I knew suddenly that he was looking for us. Half hidden by a mound of saddlebags, Gallus and I tried to become invisible, but though the Chamberlain had never seen either of us before, he knew immediately who we were. Gracefully, he motioned for us to join him.

Like slaves anticipating a beating, we shuffled forward. Since we were not certain as to how to greet him, I attempted a military salute, which Gallus imitated. Eusebius smiled a tiny smile, exposing small dark teeth; several babyish dimples appeared in his full cheeks. He inclined his head; the neck fat creased; a long curl strayed across his brow.

“Nobilissimi,” he said in a soft voice. This was an excellent omen. The title nobilissimus is used only for members of the imperial family. Bishop George never used this title with us nor did our guards. Now, apparently, our rank had been restored.

After a long scrutiny, Eusebius took each of us by a hand. I can still recall the soft dampness of his touch. “I have so looked forward to seeing you both! And how grown up you are! Especially the noble Gallus.” Delicately he felt Gallus’s chest. This sort of impertinence would ordinarily have sent my brother into a rage, but that day he was far too frightened. He also knew instinctively that his only protection was his beauty. Complaisantly he allowed the eunuch to caress him as we entered the villa.

Eusebius had the most beguiling voice and manner of anyone I have ever known. I should say something here about the voices of eunuchs. Actors and other people who try to mimic them invariably tend to pitch their voices high, and screech. Eunuchs seldom sound like that. If they did, who would ever find their company tolerable?

And at a court one must be particularly pleasing in one’s manners. In actual fact, the voice of a eunuch is like that of a particularly gentle child, and this appeals to the parent in both men and women. Thus subtly do they disarm us, for we tend to indulge them as we would a child, forgetting that their minds are as mature and twisted as their bodies are lacking. Eusebius spun his web about Gallus. He did not bother with me. I was too young.

Gallus and Eusebius dined alone together that night. The next day Gallus was Eusebius’s devoted admirer. “He’s also a friend” said Gallus. We were alone together in the baths. “He told me how he’s been getting reports about me for years. He knows everything I’ve ever done. He even knows about her.”

Gallus named the Antiochene, and giggled. “Eusebius says I’ll be a great success at court. Not only am I good-looking but I have a well-developed intelligence, those are his exact words. He’s positive he can talk the Emperor into letting me go free. He says it may take a little time but that he has some small influence with His Eternity, that’s exactly how he put it. He’s very interesting, though it’s hard sometimes to figure out what he’s talking about. He expects you to know all sorts of things you wouldn’t have any way of knowing, buffed in this damned place. Anyway Constantius does just as Eusebius tells him. Everyone says so. Which means if you have Eusebius on your side, that’s half the battle. And I’ve got him.”

“What did he say about me?” I asked. Gallus seldom strayed very far from his essential interest: himself.

“You? Why should he say anything about you?” Gallus ducked me in the cold pool. I pulled him in after me. He was slippery as a fish, but I managed to hold his head under water for a satisfactory length of time. At sixteen I was as strong as he was at twenty-one. He emerged spluttering and blue in the face. “He’s going to make a monk out of you, that’s what. Though if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be a eunuch.” He tried to kick me between the legs but slipped on the marble and fell.

He cursed loudly, and I laughed. Then we were joined by slaves who helped us dress. Since Gallus was a man, the Master of the Offices had ruled that although he was not technically an officer, he could on this occasion wear the uniform of the household troops. Unfortunately, the nobilissimus Julian was merely a student and must dress accordingly. As a result, I looked quite insignificant beside my glittering half-brother. But I was perfectly happy to go unnoticed. Let Gallus shine. I preferred obscurity, and survival.

Published in: on October 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 14

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 

IV

Five years passed. Little news of the outside world came to us. Sapor, the Great King of Persia, threatened our Eastern border, while the Germans infiltrated Gaul. That was all we knew. Politics was a forbidden subject. I studied Homer and Hesiod; read Plotinus and Porphyry; made love to the Antiochene; fought with Gallus, until one day I out-wrestled him and he never challenged me again. He was a coward except when he was in a rage; then he would do anything.

As long as I could read, I was never entirely wretched. But I did long to see more of the world than Macellum. It is most unnatural for a youth to be brought up entirely by soldiers and slaves, none of whom dares to be fond of him. Gallus and I had each other for company but we were not true brothers in any but the family sense—and only half-brothers at that, for we had different mothers. We were like two potentially hostile animals in the same cage.

Yet I was ravished by his beauty, and impressed by his energy. Gallus was always doing something which I wanted to imitate. Sometimes he let me, but more often not, for he enjoyed tormenting me. It gave him particular pleasure to quarrel with me just before we were to go hunting. Then he could exclaim, “All right! You stay home. This is a day for men.” And the soldiers would laugh at me and I would flee while the exuberant Gallus would ride forth to hunt, as dogs barked and horns sounded through the dark green woods. But when I was allowed to go with him, I was close to ecstasy.

One September afternoon Bishop George arrived unexpectedly at Macellum. We had not seen him for some months, because, according to the deacon, “It looks as though—now don’t repeat a word of this!” (as if we two prisoners had anyone to confide in)— “Bishop George will be raised to the see of Alexandria. Bishop Athanasius holds Alexandria only because the Emperor Constans of the West insisted upon it. But now the Emperor Constantius is arranging for Athanasius to be exiled again and if he is, we go to Alexandria!” The deacon was exalted at the thought.

But Bishop George said nothing to us about church politics when we joined him in the main hall of the hunting lodge. He had other, greater news. His sallow face was dark with excitement while his fingers snapped a sharp continuous accompaniment to his words. “The divine Augustus will visit you in ten days’ time. He is on his way home from Antioch. He is making this side trip for the express purpose of seeing the two of you.” I was too frightened to speak. It was Gallus who asked, “What does he want?”

The Bishop was impatient. “He is your cousin. Your guardian. Your emperor. He wants to see you. What else? To see what sort of men you’ve grown into. To see the result of our education. Now he will be particularly interested in your religious training. Therefore, I shall stay here until he arrives. We will review everything I have tried to teach you. This will mean, Gallus, a great deal of work for you. I suggest you put your mind to it, since your entire future may depend on the impression you make.” And so does yours, Bishop, I remember thinking to myself, eager to include anyone I could in what I was certain would prove to be a harsh fate.

We studied hard. For hours on end the Bishop drilled us mercilessly. Fortunately I have an excellent memory and can learn though not always understand!—a page at a glance. Between lessons, we tried to find out all that we could about Constantius’ mood. Was he favourably disposed towards us? Were we to remain at Macellum? But the Bishop gave us no comfort. “The divine Augustus will do what is best, as he always does. You have nothing to fear, if you are loyal and obedient.” But of course we had everything to fear. I did not sleep one night through during that time of waiting.

The day before Constantius was due to arrive, the imperial court came to Macellum. Some of the court had been with Constantius at Antioch; but most came directly from the Sacred Palace at Constantinople. All the chief officers of the state were to be lodged in the villa, while in the surrounding fields a hundred tents were pitched to accommodate the thousand clerks and notaries who conduct the business of the government.

At dawn the pageant began. Gallus and I stationed ourselves in the courtyard of the palace and gaped like two bumpkins. Neither of us had ever seen an imperial progress before, and in the general excitement and dazzle of that frosty autumn day we momentarily forgot our terror.

Bishop George stood in the doorway of the villa. He wore a jewelled chasuble, and held a silver crosier in one hand. To his left and right the military garrison of Macellum stood at attention to honour the great magnates of the Roman Empire. Some arrived on horseback, others in litters. Each was accompanied by a retinue of soldiers, clerks, eunuchs, slaves. All wore some variation of military dress, for ever since Diocletian the court has been military in its appearance, symbolic of Rome’s beleaguered state.

The courtyard was soon crowded with clerks and slaves, horses and mules; only the area just in front of the door was kept clear. After each official dismounted, he would cross to the doorway, where Bishop George would then greet him with all his titles.

The Bishop was a master of protocol. He knew exactly who everyone was and how he should be addressed, an enviable gift, since nowadays there are hundreds of subtle titles and distinctions. Highest in rank are the clarissimi. They include the two consuls for the year, all former consuls, the praetorian prefects, much of the senate. Next are the officials who are called spectabiles. Then the heads of government departments who are called illustres. But it is not easy to keep straight who is what, since an important minister of state like the quaestor (the emperor’s legal adviser) is only an illustris, while the governor of an insignificant province may be a clarissimus.

Also, the matter of the counts is confusing. In the old days, “count” was simply a courtesy title for any official or high-ranking officer who travelled in the emperor’s entourage. But Constantine, with his Persian sense of hierarchy, made the title “count” a reward for important service. So some counts are clarissimi while others are merely spectabiles. It is amazing how obsessed otherwise sensible people are by these foolish titles. I have sat for hours in the company of grown men who could discuss nothing but who held what title and why he was unworthy of it. Yet a wise emperor can exert considerable pressure on ambitious men by the giving or withholding of these empty titles.

Constantius was a master at this sort of thing. Unfortunately, since I find it hard to remember who is what, I call nearly everyone “my dear fellow”, in imitation of Plato. This scandalises the dignified.

First to arrive was the Count of the Sacred Largesse. It is his task to see that each province pays its taxes promptly on the first of every March. He also administers the government’s salt monopoly and the provincial banks, as well as all state-owned factories, mines, and of course the mint. He is never a popular official, but he dies rich. He was followed by the Count of the Privy Purse, who administers the personal property of the imperial family. This official was accompanied by twenty slaves carrying chests of dark wood studded with metal; they contained the large sums of gold and silver the emperor must always travel with. Since Privy Purse is responsible for every coin, he tends to be a nervous, distracted figure, for ever counting boxes.

Next, the Count of the East, who governs Syria and Mesopotamia. Then the Master of the Offices, a very great man indeed. He administers the state transportation system and post; he is the head of the bureau of secret agents; he commands the palace guard; he arranges for audiences with the Emperor. Bishop George bowed particularly low to him.

For six years Gallus and I had seen no one except Bishop George and our guards. Now all at once there passed before us the whole power of the state. Our eyes were dazzled by glittering armour and elaborate cloaks, by the din of a thousand clerks and notaries who scurried about the courtyard, demanding their baggage, quarrelling with one another, insisting on various prerogatives. These noisy clerks with their inky fingers and proud intelligent faces were the actual government of Rome, and they knew it.

Published in: on October 15, 2017 at 10:18 am  Comments (4)  
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Julian, 13


 
That same summer, Bishop George suggested that Gallus and I build a chapel at Macellum to be dedicated to Saint Mammas, a local shepherd whose remains were considered particularly potent: skin diseases were promptly cured by applying the saint’s shinbone to the afflicted area. Bishop George thought it would be an inspiring gesture if Gallus and I were to build a charnel house for these scraps of dead shepherd.

So all one summer Gallus and I worked on this project. I enjoyed laying brick. But Gallus hated prolonged effort of any kind, and I’m afraid he spent a good deal of time cursing Saint Mammas as we sweated in the sun. Shortly after we completed the chapel, the roof fell in. I am told that the Galileans now say that only my section of the building collapsed, because I was apostate. This is not true. The whole thing collapsed—because of faulty design.

At that time I neither believed nor disbelieved. Yet Porphyry’s eloquent case against the Nazarene was now lodged in my head. When I tried to argue doctrinal points with Bishop George, I was swiftly discouraged with this sort of thing: “The very idea of the trinity is a mystery. Only through faith can it be understood, and then never entirely.”

I much preferred Plotinus, who four times in five years achieved that total consciousness of the One which is the ultimate goal of all religious practice. Despite Porphyry’s wisdom, he experienced this heightened consciousness only once, at the age of sixty-eight. So far I have experienced it twice. I pray each day for yet another revelation.

* * *

Gallus and I had neither friends nor allies. Except for his dogged attempts to make me a priest, Bishop George showed no personal interest in either of us. Everyone else at Macellum treated us with nervous respect. We alarmed people; we reminded them of murder; we were such obvious victims.

I kept to my reading. I took little exercise, though I was naturally strong, particularly in the arms. Gallus continued to surpass me at all games and physical feats. He was taller than I, beautifully made, with the face of a god. The soldiers assigned to guard us were infatuated with him, and he flirted shamelessly with them. They took him hunting whenever he chose and I suppose that he had affairs with some of them, though we were both involved much of the time with the same girl—or rather woman.

She was the twenty-five-year-old wife of a civil servant who acted as comptroller to our household. She seduced me first, then Gallus. She was insatiable. Her husband was amenable; not that he had any choice. He used to giggle uncontrollably whenever he saw either of us. He was fat and small, and I remember asking her how she could bear to be touched by him.

“He has gifts,” she said slyly. I can still recall how her black hair glistened as it fell over bare brown shoulders. Never before or since have I felt such smooth skin. I suppose she oiled herself but if she did she was an artist at it, for one’s fingers never came away thick with perfumed grease as happens so often with women of her sort. She was Antiochene.

What else? Love-making is the only art the people of Antioch have ever taken seriously. She affected to find me attractive, but it was the golden Gallus who really enchanted her. He used to tell me with pride how “she does everything and I don’t move”. His passivity was baffling. But then I never understood Gallus. Later when he turned monster, I was not surprised. He could have been anything at all because at heart he was nothing.

Yet when he was in a room, all eyes watched him, for he was physically fascinating; men and women were equally attracted to him and since he felt nothing for anyone, every woman saw him as a challenge who must be made to love. So Gallus was able to take his pleasure as he chose… while hardly moving!

The Syrian woman was mistress to us both for three years. Though I am now celibate, I often think of her, especially at night. Where is she now? I don’t dare inquire. She is probably fat and old, living in some provincial town and paying youths to sleep with her. But for a thousand days she was Aphrodite to my Adonis.

Published in: on October 8, 2017 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 12

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 

But at that time I was hardly a philosopher. I studied what I was told to study. The deacon who gave me instruction was most complimentary. “You have an extraordinary gift for analysis,” he said one day when I was exploring with him John 14:25, the text on which the Arians base their case against the Athanasians. “You will have a distinguished future, I am sure.”

“As a bishop?”

“Of course you will be a bishop since you are imperial. But there is something even more splendid than a bishop.”

“A martyr?”

“Martyr and saint. You have the look of one.”

I must say my boyish vanity was piqued. Largely because of this flattery, for several months I was confident that I had been especially chosen to save the world from error. Which, in a way, turned out to be true, to the horror of my early teachers.

Bishop George was an arrogant and difficult man but I got on with him, largely because he was interested in me. He was a devoted controversialist. Finding me passably intelligent, he saw his opportunity. If I could be turned into a bishop, I would be a powerful ally for the Arians, who were already outnumbered by the Athanasians, despite the considerable help given them by Constantius.

Today, of course, the “pernicious” doctrine of the three-in-one God has almost entirely prevailed, due to the efforts of Bishop Athanasius. Constantius alone kept the two parties in any sort of balance. Now that he is dead the victory of the Athanasians is only a matter of time. But today none of this matters since the Galileans are now but one of a number of religious sects, and by no means the largest. Their days of domination are over. Not only have I forbidden them to persecute us Hellenists; I have forbidden them to persecute one another. They find me intolerably cruel!

Was I a true Galilean in those years at Macellum? There has been much speculation about this. I often wonder myself. The answer is not clear even to me. For a long time I believed what I was taught. I accepted the Arian thesis that the One God (whose existence we all accept) mysteriously produced a sort of son who was born a Jew, became a teacher, and was finally executed by the state for reasons which were never entirely clear to me, despite the best efforts of Bishop George to instruct me.

But while I was studying the life of the Galilean I was also reading Plato, who was far more to my taste. After all, I was something of a literary snob. I had been taught the best Greek by Mardonius. I could not help but compare the barbarous backcountry language of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to the clear prose of Plato. Yet I accepted the Galilean legend as truth. After all, it was the religion of my family, and though I did not find it attractive I was unaware of any alternative until one afternoon when I was about fourteen.

I had been sitting for two hours listening to the deacon sing me the songs of Bishop Arius… yes, that great religious thinker wrote popular songs in order to influence the illiterate. To this day I can recall the words of half a dozen of his inane ballads which “proved” that the son was the son and the father was the father. Finally, the deacon finished; I praised his singing.

“It is the spirit which matters, not the voice,” said the deacon, pleased with my compliment. Then—I don’t know how it happened—Plotinus was mentioned. He was only a name to me. He was anathema to the deacon. “A would-be philosopher of the last century. A follower of Plato, or so he claimed. An enemy of the church, though there are some Christians who are foolish enough to regard him highly. He lived at Rome. He was a favourite of the Emperor Gordian. He wrote six quite unintelligible books which his disciple Porphyry edited.”

“Porphyry?”

As though it were yesterday, I can remember hearing that name for the first time, seated opposite the angular deacon in one of the gardens at Macellum, high summer flowering all about us and the day hazy with heat.

“Even worse than Plotinus! Porphyry came from Tyre. He studied at Athens. He called himself a philosopher but of course he was merely an atheist. He attacked the church in fifteen volumes.”

“On what grounds?”

“How should I know? I have never read his books. No Christian ought.” The deacon was firm.

“But surely this Porphyry must have had some cause…”

“The devil entered him. That is cause enough.”

By then I knew that I must read Plotinus and Porphyry. I wrote Bishop George a most politic letter, asking him to lend me the books of these “incorrigible” men. I wished to see, I said, the face of the enemy plain, and naturally I turned to the Bishop for guidance, not only because he was my religious mentor but because he had the best library in Cappadocia. I rather laid it on.

To my astonishment Bishop George immediately sent me the complete works of Plotinus as well as Porphyry’s attack on Christianity. “Young as you are, I am sure that you will appreciate the folly of Porphyry. He was an intelligent man misled by a bad character. My predecessor, as bishop of Caesarea, wrote a splendid refutation of Porphyry, answering for all time the so-called ‘inconsistencies’ Porphyry claimed to have detected in scriptures. I am sending you the Bishop’s works, too. I cannot tell you how pleased I am at the interest you are showing in sacred matters.”

What the good Bishop did not know was that the arguments of Porphyry were to form the basis for my own rejection of the Nazarene.

Published in: on October 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 11

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
We were nominally in the charge of Bishop George of Cappadocia who lived at Caesarea. He visited us at least once a month, and it was he who insisted that our education be essentially Galilean. “Because there is no reason why you should not be a priest.” He pointed a long finger at me. He was a small thin man whose lean face always looked in need of shaving.

While I was respectfully trying to think of a number of reasons why I should not become a priest, Gallus with an engaging smile said, “Julian dreams of the priesthood, Bishop. It’s his whole life. He does nothing but read.”

“I was that way myself at your age.” Bishop George looked pleased at finding this likeness.

“But I read philosophy…” I began.

“So do we all, of course. But then we come to the story of Jesus which is the beginning and the end of knowledge. But I am sure you have had a good training already from your late cousin, my old friend, the Bishop Eusebius. Those of us who are true Christians miss him greatly.” Bishop George began to pace up and down the room, snapping his fingers, a characteristic habit. Gallus grinned at me, very pleased with what he had done.

Bishop George suddenly spun round; the long finger was again pointed at me.

Homoiousios. What does that mean?”

I knew. I rattled my answer like a crow taught to speak. “It means that Jesus the son is of similar substance to God the father.”

Homoousios. What does that mean?”

“That Jesus the son is of one substance with God the father.”

“The difference?”

“In the first case, Jesus was created by the father before this world began. He is God’s son by grace but not by nature.”

“Why?”

“Because God is one. By definition singular. God cannot be many, as the late Bishop Arius maintained at the council of Nicaea.”

“Excellent.” I received a series of finger-snappings as applause. “Now in the second case?”

Homoousios in that pernicious doctrine”—I had been well drilled by old Eusebius—“which maintains that the father and the son and the holy spirit are one and the same.”

“Which cannot be!”

“Which cannot be,” I chirruped obediently.

“Despite what happened at Nicaea.”

“Where in the year 325 Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria…”

“A mere deacon at the time…”

“Opposed my cousin Bishop Eusebius as well as Bishop Axius, and forced the council to accept the Athanasian doctrine that the father, son and holy spirit are one.”

But the battle is far from over. We are gaining ground every year. Our wise Augustus believes as we believe, as the late Bishop Arius believed. Two years ago at Antioch we Eastern bishops met to support the true doctrine. This year we shall meet again at Sardica and, with the Emperor’s aid, the true believers shall once and for all destroy the doctrine of Athanasius. My son, you are to be a priest. I can tell. You have the mark. You will be a great force in the church. Tomorrow I shall send you one of my deacons. He will give you religious instruction, both of you.”

“But I’m to be a soldier,” said Gallus, alarmed.

“A God-fearing soldier has the strength of twenty,” said Bishop George automatically. “Besides, religious training will do you no harm.” And curiously enough, it was Gallus who became the devout Galilean while I, as the world knows, returned to the old ways.

Published in: on September 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 10

 

III

When I was eleven years old, my life again changed abruptly. One morning in May I was doing lessons with Mardonius. I was reciting Hesiod and making a good many mistakes, when Gallus came into the room.

“He’s dead. The Bishop’s dead. In the church. He died. Just like that!”

Mardonius drew a cross on his chest; so did I. A moment later we were joined by clergy, officials, servants. Everyone was stunned, and alarmed, for it is a great event when the bishop of Constantinople dies, and who succeeds him is a matter of national importance. The emperor—if he is Galilean—always has a hand in the choosing of a successor. But Constantius was a thousand miles away, on the borders of Persia. So for several weeks no bishop was appointed, and no one knew what to do with Gallus and me. Luckily, my uncle Count Julian was in the city, and the day after the funeral he came to see us.

“He’s going to kill us, isn’t he?” Under stress, Gallus could be reckless.

Count Julian’s smile was not very convincing. “Certainly not. After all, you are the heirs of Constantine the Great.”

“So was our father,” said Gallus grimly. “And all the others.”

“But the divine Augustus is your friend.”

“Then why are we under arrest?” Gallus indicated the secret police who had arrived only that day; when Gallus and I had tried to go out, we were told politely to stay where we were “until further orders”.

“They are for your protection.”

“The only protection we need is from Constantius,” said Gallus; but he lowered his voice. Though hot-tempered, he was not suicidal. Count Julian looked very nervous.

“That is not true, Gallus. Now listen to me carefully. Someone close to the Emperor, very close, has told me that Constantius believes that the reason he cannot have children is because he—because so many members of his own family were—because they, ah, died!”

“Yes, but since he’s already committed enough murders to get him into hell, why stop at us? He has nothing to lose.”

“Nothing to gain, either. After all, you are only children.”

Gallus snorted. At sixteen he was physically a man, though in character he was still a child, a fierce destructive child.

“Believe me, you are safe.” Count Julian was soothing. He was in an excellent mood, for he had just been appointed governor of Egypt, and I am afraid that was more on his mind than the fate of his nephews. But he did his best to comfort us, for which I at least was grateful. He left us with the hollow words, “You have nothing to fear.”

When he was gone, Gallus deliberately smashed the cup he had used. Breaking things always gave Gallus physical relief; shattering this particular cup took on ritual significance. “He’s like all the rest!” Gallus’s voice cracked with anger as he stood there in the bright sun of a green May day, his long pale hair tangled across his brow, his startling blue eyes magnified with sudden tears. “There’s no way out of this!”

I tried to say something hopeful but he rounded on me. “You’re no loss, you little ape! But why do I have to die?”

Why indeed? Everyone asks himself that question sooner or later. No one can ever love us quite so much as we love ourselves. Gallus saw no justice in a world where a beauty and vitality such as his could be pinched out as casually as a lamp wick. Of course fate is cruel. But children cannot accept this, nor men like Gallus who see all things as incidental to themselves. I loved Gallus. I hated him. During the first years of my life I was so entirely absorbed by him that I was hardly aware of myself at all except as I was reflected in those vivid blue eyes, which saw nothing of me nor much of anything else.

But Count Julian was right. Constantius did suffer remorse for his crimes. We were safe, for the time being. In due course a message arrived from the Chamberlain Eusebius. Gallus and I were to be sent to Macellum in Cappadocia “to continue your education”.

“Education for what?” asked Gallus when this message had been read us. But Mardonius silenced him. “The Augustus is merciful. Never forget that he is now your father as well as your lord.”

We departed for Macellum that same day. I was most upset, for Mardonius was not to accompany us. I don’t know the motive behind this act of petty cruelty except that as the Chamberlain Eusebius was also a eunuch he might have thought that a fellow eunuch would prove to be too subtle an ally for us. Sniffling wretchedly, I was bundled into a wagon with Gallus.

Mardonius was also grief-stricken but he controlled himself. “We shall meet again,” he said. “And when we do, I shall expect Gallus to know as much Hesiod as Julian.” Mardonius stood stiffly in front of the bishop’s palace as we drove off, escorted by a cohort of cavalry, just as if we were important princes, which we were, or important prisoners, which we also were. I sobbed. Gallus swore fierce oaths under his breath. In the street a crowd of people were gathered, eager for a glimpse of us. To get a close view one bold burgher thrust his head over the side of the wagon. Gallus promptly spat in the man’s astonished face. Then Gallus covered his head with his cloak and would not take it off until we were outside the city gate. No one expected to see us alive again.

All travellers agree that Macellum is one of the beautiful places of the world. I hate it to this day. Macellum is not a town but an imperial residence originally used by the ancient Cappadocian kings as a hunting lodge. Constantine enlarged it so that it is now a complex of many buildings set in lonely woods at the foot of Mount Argaeus, some four hundred miles south-east of Constantinople. When Constantius inherited the principate, he acquired the lodge, along with a number of other properties in the neighbourhood; in fact, our family’s private income derives almost entirely from the Cappadocian crown lands.

Tonight when I was telling Priscus about my childhood, he said that it sounded enviable. “After all, you lived in a palace, with gardens, baths, fountains, a private chapel,” he enjoys teasing me, “in the very best hunting country with nothing to do but read. You had the perfect life.” Well, it was not perfect. Gallus and I might just as well have been hostages in a Persian prison. We had no one to talk to, except for a series of schoolmasters from nearby Caesarea.

None stayed with us very long because of Gallus. He could not resist tormenting them. He got on better with our jailers, particularly the young officers. Gallus could be very winning when he wanted to be, and he soon had them training him in the use of sword and spear, shield and axe. Gallus was a natural athlete, with a gift for weaponry. I would have liked to practise with him but he preferred to keep his military companions to himself. “You read your books,” he said sharply. “I’m the one who’s to be a soldier.” So I read my books.

Published in: on September 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm  Comments (23)  
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