19 September 2006

BZZZTT!

To the dual snide references to the battle of Milvian Bridge, that put the Holy Constantine Augustus Isoapostolis of blessed memory on the throne of the Roman Empire. Constantine I's policy on religion has nothing to do with forced conversions, indeed is entirely moderate and liberal, and to demonstrate that point the relevant so-called "Edict of Milan" is reproduced in its entirety.


When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn, and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.

Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.

From Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI).
Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30. This text is in the public domain.

Point, Game, Set, Match.

Care to try again?

12 Comments:

Anonymous cMAD said...

One excellent return does not quite win you the match.

But before we play on ...

I am going to have to take a close look at the actions of Holy Constantine Augustus Isoapostolis of blessed memory, at least until the time when he became a baptized Christian (as you know, he strategically picked a good time for his baptism).

This is your space, so I respectfully ask whether I may try and find some evidence that will cast doubt on the Edict of Mediolanum (these OCR thingies are not perfect yet), which you quoted face value.

(This will take me a while, anyway. Your return service was excellent.)

10:14 PM  
Blogger Zero Ponsdorf said...

Christians may have done some baaad things from time to time.

So what?

While there is certainly merit in considering history when dealing with current issues, It can be a trivial excerise.

If we were facing an enemy made up of Native Americans who were using the tactics of the Islamic Imperialists it would do little practical good to muse on the way they were treated, or to dredge up Custer and the Little Big Horn.

I'm not raising a straw man to be brushed aside.

Focus a bit.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Feel free, although keep in mind that anything he might have done (and I honestly doubt you'll find anything of interest) still wouldn't meet the original mythological statement of 'tribes' forced to convert after being defeated in battle.

7:35 AM  
Anonymous cMAD said...

You wrote "where defeat in battle led to forced conversion".

Senatus Populusque Romanus is stretching the concept of "tribe" somewhat, but citizens and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire would qualify as forced conversion if, in fact, they were converted by force.

While the Edict of Milan that you quote does indeed sound relatively tolerant (although compensation for returning property to Christians is promised, but not guaranteed to the present owners), I followed the line of thought quoted by Prof. Ratzinger and looked at later evidence for forced conversion, when the new faith had better established itself. This still qualifies as result of the Battle at the Milvian Bridge.

So I looked what made Julian Apostata try to restore the faith in the old Roman pantheon.

According to Wikipedia:

"He himself, as attested to in private letters between him and the rhetorician Libanius, had Christianity forced on him as a child by his cousin Constantius II, who was a zealous Christian and would have not tolerated a Pagan relative."
[...]
"He also forced the Christian church to return the riches, or fines equalling them, looted from the Pagan temples after the Christian religion was made legitimate by Constantine."
[...]
"He suppressed the official bias against Pagans and allowed them to once again repair their temples, a practice that was forbidden after Christian Emperor Constantine official encouragement of Nicene Christianity."
[...]
"Constantine and his immediate successors had prohibited the upkeep of Pagan temples, and many temples were destroyed and Pagan worshippers killed during the reign of Constantine and his successors.[citation needed] The extent to which the emperors approved or commanded these destructions and killings is disputed, but it is certain they did not prevent them.[citation needed]"

Ok, lots of [citation needed] there, but it seems that Constantius II was into forced conversion.

Searching the internet for information about Constantius II, I eventually found a plethora of forced conversion as a consequence of making Christianity Rome's state religion, compiled by Vlasis Rassias. It seems like Constantinus I established something like dhimmitude to non-Christians, but didn't persecute them outright, while his successors were less scrupulous.

One may suspect Rassias of bias (and I don't really want to spend the time right now to follow up on further information on the events he lists to prove the suspicion groundless), so I looked for some more information.

I found A History of the Church by [Monsignore] Philip Hughes, in particular volume 1, chapter 6, section 2.

The famous edict of Constantine and Licinius is by no means a charter of rights and privileges. It is a political act, and as such is conditioned by the circumstances of the moment. Both of these emperors had long been agreed that the persecution menaced the future of the State. If one of them was recently converted to a belief in Christianity -- and the belief was as yet incomplete -- his colleague, however, still remained a Pagan. Constantine himself could have no policy which went beyond the maintenance of a balance between the two religions, and the language of the edict, as far as we can tell, is not that of a Christian at all. In this respect it is very evidently the supplement to the act of 311 and the spirit it breathes is that of the "deistic" monotheism which was the reigning fashion at the court. It is an arrangement prepared by Constantine which his colleague accepts, and which is expressed in tactfully neutral language. The motive for the new policy is no longer the restoration of the old Roman ways but simply "the public good." This is unattainable if due honours are not rendered to "the divinity." That these honours may be rendered, all who honour "the divinity" have leave to do so -- Christians with the rest. Thus the edict does not by any means proclaim universal toleration. "To the Christians and to all men we decree there be given free power to follow whatever religion each man chooses, that, whatever gods there be, they may be moved mercifully in regard to ourselves and those over whom we exercise authority" -- an insurance devised possibly to comfort the devout Pagan critic against vengeance from the old gods for any apostasy implied in the act. The edict, then, grants once more what Alexander Severus had first granted, and then Gallienus thirty years later. But this time the grant is explicitly built into the law as a fundamental principle of public welfare; and the emperors from whom it emanates are no religious dilettantes, nor weaklings anxious at a crisis to rally a disunited people. They are conquerors, one of them the empire's greatest soldier for generations and a whole-hearted convert to the faith, and the edict is the sign of their conquest. But it does more than restore liberties. A further clause gives the surest of all guarantees that the toleration is no mere matter of form, no political trick of the moment. It decrees the restoration to Christians of whatever property has been confiscated "without any price asked or any transference money ... without delay and without discussion."
[...]
The first breach in this policy of neutrality was the work of his sons. Constantine died in 337 leaving as heirs his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans. The eldest died three years later, and the new law bears the signature of the two younger brothers. It declares the abolition of all sacrifices and threatens dire punishment to those who contravene it (341). Among one section of the Christians its enactment was the occasion of great joy. They exhorted the emperors to go further still. Whence so great an uneasiness among the Pagans that, a year later, the emperor in the West, Constans, the vast majority of whose subjects were Pagans, published a new law to reassure them, ordering special care for the historic temples of the old capital. Ten years later Constantius II, now sole emperor, published a new edict which threatened death to those who worshipped idols. The temples were to be closed, the sacrifices to cease. No doubt where the thing was peaceably possible the law was enforced. But despite the law the facts show the old religion as still flourishing unhindered throughout the West. All the old feasts were observed at Rome, with all the accustomed sacrifices, in the year which followed this law (354), and in the very year which saw its renewal Constantius II himself, visiting Rome, confirmed the privileges of the different cults, the subsidies of public money granted to them and, acting as Pontifex Maximus, he filled the vacant priestships by nominations of different members of the Roman aristocracy. This contrast between the terrifying threats, and the impotent toleration of those who ignored the threats was characteristic of the general policy of Constantine's vacillating successors. They repudiated their father's policy, and were yet too weak to enforce the repudiation. The chief effect of their legislation was to irritate the Pagans, and to prepare the way for the anti-Christian reaction which followed under Julian.
[...]
Theodosius (379-395), the one great man the Empire produced in the two centuries which separate Constantine and Justinian, was that phenomenon hitherto rare, an emperor baptised from the beginning of his reign and a convinced practising Catholic. The Catholicism of his regular private life was the mainspring of his public action as the Catholic Emperor. He was not only Latin -- almost the first emperor for a hundred and fifty years not born East of the Adriatic -- but he came from the most Latin province of all the West, Spain. He had pre-eminently all the Latin virtues; he had a logical mind, an inexhaustible fund of personal energy, a temperament made for prompt solutions, and impatient of half measures. When Valens died, in 378, Gratian had associated Theodosius as his partner and assigned to him the difficult task of restoring the East to something like peace and contentment after half a century of religious disunion that bordered on civil war.

From the beginning Theodosius was definite. The long domination of the little clique of Arian bishops, in whose influence at court lay the real cause of the troubles, came to an end. Catholicism was freed; and security for its future provided in the first code for the repression of heresy. Orthodox Christianity received its first description in civil law as "the faith which the Roman Church has received from the Apostle Peter," it is the faith "professed by the pontiff Damasus and Peter Bishop of Alexandria." The churches of heretics of every sort, Anomeans, Arians, Apollinarians, Macedonians, are to be confiscated and handed over to the Catholics. Heretical assemblies are forbidden and heretics lose all power of making wills or of inheriting. Six times in the next fifteen years these laws are renewed.

Towards the Pagans, on the other hand, Theodosius is much less rigorous. There is a law against apostates from Christianity to Paganism, and all sacrifices to divine the future are now strictly forbidden. Divination of all kinds is abolished. On the eve of his succession to the Western Empire (391) upon the death of Valentinian II, an edict closes all the temples once and for all. Gradually they are given over to other uses. Finally, in the year in which Theodosius becomes master of the whole Roman world (392), the law occupies itself with the domestic religion which was the last refuge of Paganism, as, in Rome at least, it had been the place whence it sprang. All household rites are forbidden, all the domestic shrines are to be destroyed. But with all this anti-Pagan legislation it is to be noted that there is no attempt to compel the Pagan to become a Christian. Christian and Pagan are equal before the law. Honours and office continue to go impartially to the one as to the other. There is no violence offered to persons. The supports of the old religion have been ruthlessly struck away. The structure will soon fall of itself. Pagans remain, and will remain, here and there for a century yet, especially in the country districts. The old cults will, finally, come to be so associated with rusticity that the Roman's very name for a countryman (paganus) will for ever describe, and describe primarily, one who worships the old gods. Pagans, countryfolk, living remotely and divorced from the day's life and culture, ignorantly clinging to ancient superstitions and rites, backwoods men, there still will be in plenty; and for three centuries after Theodosius the business of their conversion will occupy the Church; but Paganism, with Theodosius, dies never to rise again.


The Nihil obstat on the title page of Hughes's book clearly indicates pro-Catholic bias; nonetheless, he mentions an order of Constantius II to punish pagan worship by death, and also describes the equivalent of dhimmitude, and of forced conversions among Christians who accuse each other of heresy.


These sources, to me, are satisfactory evidence that forced conversion did result from making Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire, which was the result of the Battle at the Milvian Bridge.

Your move.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Rassias definitely has an ax to grind.

Constantinus's pressure upon his (child) relative to adopt Christianity is no more and no less than the vast majority of religious folks attempt to do for their children: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Religious instruction is a function of the family, even a family as dysfunctional as that of a Roman Emperor.

While some of Constantine's sons may have put onto the books laws forbidding public pagan sacrifices, there is no forbidding of pagan beliefs and in fact pagans are continued on the Imperial payroll at least until the reign of Justinian (among others, the faculty of the Academy in Athens).

You must recall that under the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, the priests of state cults were public officials and were on the Imperial payroll. You can't honestly expect a Catholic Emperor to continue to bankroll those beliefs to which he is deeply opposed, can you? Termination of the public spectacles is the severing of the old state-supported nature of the old paganisms.

I am not sure there is any real evidence for the actual executions, unless perhaps it was of some fool who courted death.

Public temples were property of the state. When the State no longer supported the pagans, there was no reason to permit them to continue to use state property.

As for the churches of heretics, Church property belongs to the Church. Once you depart the Body of the Faithful, you lose the right to use Church property.

"But with all this anti-Pagan legislation it is to be noted that there is no attempt to compel the Pagan to become a Christian. Christian and Pagan are equal before the law. Honours and office continue to go impartially to the one as to the other. There is no violence offered to persons. The supports of the old religion have been ruthlessly struck away."

That's nothing like dhimmitude. Key phrase being 'equal before the law'. Had paganism been viable, it would have survived under far more rigorous persecution, like that offered to Christianity under Roman paganism for three centuries prior.

At any rate, stretching the point of 'forced conversion as a result of loss in battle' to include a two-century gradual process with remarkably little documented coercion is not what the original statement meant, nor what I meant either.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous cmad said...

I was afraid of this. Now I actually have to go and look at supporting evidence for Rassias's arguments. I've reserved a book that seems to treat this scientifically from the library here.

If you think of it, it's not surprising that there would be remarkably little documented coercion ... the winners write history, and the church attempted to get the monopoly of keeping written records for a few centuries in Europe.

Anyway, I'll let you know what I'll find.


As a side remark, I've read a statement similar to "I am not sure there is any real evidence for the actual executions, unless perhaps it was of some fool who courted death." when I contacted a half-Lebanese guy, whom I had met in freshman mathematics lectures, who was kind of an odd guy, and who in the mid-1990s turned Wahhabi fundamentalist, some time in late September 2001. He was referring to the Islamic rule in Spain.
In how many acts did that drama unfold, anyway?

8:51 PM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Inprimis, the Church did NOT monopolize written records in the part of the world that remained civilized. Not my fault your ancestors killed everyone literate who wasn't a priest in Western Europe. There is much more documentation available in the Eastern half of the Empire, including a number of historians who were themselves still pagan.

Speculation is not history. Sources, sources, sources. Accusations require, if not proof then at least evidence. It is not sufficient to say, "I dislike Christianity, therefore Christianity must have been spread by violence, therefore Christianity is just as bad as Islam."

The half-Lebanese fellow is flying in the face of evidence. I can document my points. All I ask the same courtesy.

The remaining acts in al-Andalus are pretty familiar: Islamic infighting and Christian unity leads to hammering flat of all but Granada, and then Granada refuses to continue the by-then-traditional tribute payment as specified in the peace treaty, and gets taken down fast and hard. Spain executes an end zone dance which culminates in discovering the Americas.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous cMAD said...

Reading 150 pages of A Chronicle of the Last Pagans,
I found your statement
"While some of Constantine's sons may have put onto the books laws forbidding public pagan sacrifices, there is no forbidding of pagan beliefs and in fact pagans are continued on the Imperial payroll at least until the reign of Justinian (among others, the faculty of the Academy in Athens)."
confirmed.

As to
"That's nothing like dhimmitude. Key phrase being 'equal before the law'. Had paganism been viable, it would have survived under far more rigorous persecution, like that offered to Christianity under Roman paganism for three centuries prior.",
things started with "equal before the law", under Constatnine I's reign (with Christians a little more equal than others). The old Greek and Roman religions were intimately related with the state, so when they were no longer state religion, they lost a lot of their viability.

"You must recall that under the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, the priests of state cults were public officials and were on the Imperial payroll. You can't honestly expect a Catholic Emperor to continue to bankroll those beliefs to which he is deeply opposed, can you? Termination of the public spectacles is the severing of the old state-supported nature of the old paganisms."

Expecting goverment to bankroll beliefs it is opposed to is anachronistic indeed. A secular nation supporting university chairs of theology of different confessions is a relatively recent development (which is praiseworthy, and indeed Prof. Ratzinger praised it in his recent lecture).

"At any rate, stretching the point of 'forced conversion as a result of loss in battle' to include a two-century gradual process with remarkably little documented coercion is not what the original statement meant, nor what I meant either."

"Forced conversion as a result of loss in battle" is how you wrote it. You are right that there is no evidence of sudden mass forced conversions as a direct result of the Battle at the Milvian Bridge.

"I am not sure there is any real evidence for the actual executions, unless perhaps it was of some fool who courted death."
[...]
"Public temples were property of the state. When the State no longer supported the pagans, there was no reason to permit them to continue to use state property."
[...]
"As for the churches of heretics, Church property belongs to the Church. Once you depart the Body of the Faithful, you lose the right to use Church property."

Chuvin's comments on records of John of Ephesus (from the 580s AD) aptly summarize the contents of his book that records the history of Pagans from about 300 to 600
(in which most of the events mentioned by Rassias are confirmed, but not systematic forced conversion of pagans by the emperors):
"I am often tempted when reading him to superimpose on his text images of other riots in Istanbul: Janissaries demanding of the sultan the head of some grand vizier, or, more recently, the riots against Armenians at the end of the nineteenth century, or against the Greeks in 1954. But it would be facile and erroneous to suggest that in Istanbul, as in Alexandria at the time of the lynching of Hypatia, there is a geographic or 'climatic' determinism at work. Religious fanaticism owes nothing to latitude or ethnic origin, nor even much to the religion in whose name it is practiced. It would be more appropriate to say that the Christian mob in Byzantium was irritated by the aristocratic character of paganism, which they saw as collusion between powers beyond their understanding. However intolerable they found this, the people had nothing better to propose, so the movement was in no way revolutionary and ran itself dry in pogroms, followed by the bloody spectacles of executions."

"Accusations require, if not proof then at least evidence."
The evidence supports a fair amount of local religious unrest, but no single forced conversion event. This is consistent with local dignitaries (i.e., bishops) using religion to become more powerful at the expense of pagans. The battle at the Milvian Bridge made the various Christian beliefs available as pretexts for such power struggles which were more political than religious in nature. One can then argue that these struggles already started before, including the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian.

It is not sufficient to say, "I dislike Christianity, therefore Christianity must have been spread by violence, therefore Christianity is just as bad as Islam."
Here you seem to mistake your plausible hypothesis of what I may say with observation. My opinion, for what it's worth, is profound skepticism whether the potentially beneficial effects of any religion outweigh the dangers inherent in religious fanaticism of any kind. As I wrote before, I don't have a problem with religion that heeds its own tradition as well as the tradition of rational discourse (which may be traced back to both Hellenic Greece and, more recently, to the Enlightenment in Europe and its North American colonies). The latter, while it never really took hold in the Middle East, seems to be threatened by religious fanaticism even in the very country that is founded on its principles, namely, the USA.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

"One can then argue that these struggles already started before, including the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian."

One could also argue that in any organization, be it a church, a corporation, a university department, a Boy Scout troop, or a PTA, there will be people who desire power and are willing to use any pretext to get it. The Church is composed of human beings.

"My opinion, for what it's worth, is profound skepticism whether the potentially beneficial effects of any religion outweigh the dangers inherent in religious fanaticism of any kind."

Fanatics will always be with us. In the last two centuries, irreligious fanatics have been just as much, if not a greater threat than religious fanatics, at least in the West. Nationalists, anarchists, socialists, communists, fascists of multiple and varying stripes, have all demonstrated that the issue is not the problem, the fanaticism is the problem.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous cMad said...

Fanatics will always be with us. In the last two centuries, irreligious fanatics have been just as much, if not a greater threat than religious fanatics, at least in the West. Nationalists, anarchists, socialists, communists, fascists of multiple and varying stripes, have all demonstrated that the issue is not the problem, the fanaticism is the problem.

What, then, is the cause of the fanaticism of all the al-Hajjis who keep you busy? There seem to be more of them, and they seem to be more violent, than elsewhere (e.g., in Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Turkey).

9:27 PM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Ahhhh. . . which elements? The FRE are motivated by tribalism and sectarianism, as well as simple economics. Most Sunni Iraqis are pretty lousy Muslims. Comes of having a secular dictator for decades.

If you mean al-Qaeda in Iraq, or al-Qaeda in general I see the point, but looking back over the past 100 years I still see far more folks killed in the name of 'scientific socialism', and greater destinies of the 'German Volk', the 'New Roman Empire' of Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous cMAD said...

I was a little distracted, because I read another book about Hellenism in the Byzantine Empire ... lots of information about specifics of pagan cults and their interaction with Christianity and Islam, but I think I'd rather stick to less elusive concepts, like neutrinos.

I'm not trying to make the point that religion is the root cause of fanaticism.
I don't know what is the driving force ... probably economics is anything but simple ... but from the extreme southwest corner of the continental US, anything is mere speculation.

10:18 AM  

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