grew in a world noted for its intellectual speculation. The
pagan empire of Rome – with its great cities, its roads,
the peace protected by its legions, made many things possible, including Christianity – a 'Divine
Providence' the Church Fathers were pleased to acknowledge.
The arts, philosophy, law, science and technology – all attained
remarkable levels of development, thanks to the Pax Romana and
its vibrant Hellenic culture.
the same fertile environment also favoured the proliferation
of 'magic and mysteries' – charlatanism,
cults, sooth-saying and nonsense. The very richness of this cosmopolitan
world, which enthusiastically
so many diverse cultures, meant that even
a movement known by the general rubric of 'Christianity' – to
the disgust of the intolerant St Augustine – emerged
as 'eighty three heresies'. Sadly,
each rival variant held itself to be the one 'truth'.
St Paul's Celebration of Ignorance
lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain
deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of
the world, and not after Christ ...
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek
after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews
a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness ...
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant ... For
I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ,
and him crucified.
For you see your calling, brethren,
how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty,
not many noble, are called:
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise."
2.8, 1 Corinthians.
Constantine Imposes 'Truth'
of the tragedy for humanity was that the disingenuous Constantine thought that he could impose a single 'truth' or 'Faith' on the
empire in the same manner that he could impose a tax law.
a century after Constantine's revolution, the 'battle of ideas'
was waged yet secular tolerance ultimately could
be no match to a fanatical intolerance.
purpose does knowledge serve – for as to knowledge
of natural causes, what blessing is there for me if I should
know where the Nile rises, or whatever else under the heavens
the 'scientists' rave about?"
wrote Lucius Lactantius (Freeman,
p322), the first Latin 'theologian' and propagandist for
Constantine. Appointed tutor to the emperor's son Crispus – a
job he lost when Constantine had his son executed for adultery
with his stepmother – Lactantius recorded that Constantine
was "a model of Christian virtue and holiness" (De
the Brave New World of the Christian empire, in which scientific
rationalism was to be condemned as demonic, Constantine's despotism
and Lactantius's sycophantic lies were indeed 'model' for what
was to come.
Father, Like Son
the influence of a fanatic from Alexandria, Bishop Athanasius,
Constantine's youngest son Constans I (337-350)
extended state-sanctioned intolerance by banning pagan sacrifice
in Italy and waging a campaign against the Donatists in
Africa. It ignited a civil war which would wreck the prosperity
of Rome's North
Donatist doctrines were declared illegal. Their crime? – resisting
the centralising authoritarianism of Catholicism. Proscribed
in 405 and again in 411 they remained a subversive 'true church'
until the 7th century arrival of Islam, even spinning off an
armed resistance movement – the Circumcellions.
has the Emperor to do with the Church?" asked the
in the east, Constantius II, a fool terrified of sorcery and
manipulated by a succession of rival bishops – Eusebius,
Macedonius, Ursacius – waged
a campaign against 'soothsayers and Hellenists'.
In the 340s the banishment of pagan intellectuals began, followed
by the first burning of books of 'magic.'
353 Constantius ordered the closure of 'heathen' temples and
sacrifice a capital
Close by the abandoned temples workshops were established to
reduce the holy architecture of the pagans to lime. In gratitude
for their destruction of 'idols' Constantius exempted
Death of Tolerance
does it matter by which wisdom each of us arrives at the
It is not possible that only one road leads to so sublime a mystery."
plea from one of the last pagan senators, Aurelius Symmacus,
to the boy emperor Valentinian II in 383, asking for freedom
you are ignorant of, we know from the Word of God. And
what you try to infer, we have established as truth from
the very Wisdom of God."
Ambrose replies on behalf of the emperor.
Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind, p234)
into disarray by Christianity's
4th century civil war (Arian
vs. Catholic) and the renaissance of paganism
inspired by Emperor Julian, the Catholic theocracy re-established
by Emperor Theodosius and Bishop Ambrose was determined to
quash any and all opposition.The
brief reign of Julian (360-3) had seriously alarmed
Church hierarchs. It had raised the spectre of their worst fear – a
successful pagan 'counter-revolution.'
resurgent, intolerant orthodoxy condemned out
of hand contrary opinion and the rule of
Christian fanatics narrowed ever-tighter the focus of human
enquiry. On 27th February 380, Christianity was declared
the exclusive religion of the Roman empire.
the renewed triumph of Christ, the age of intellectual speculation
drew to a close. Over the course of the next twenty years
Theodosius issued a raft of draconian anti-pagan laws in which
any disagreement with
dogma was declared "insane" and subject to harsh
penalty. Libraries were looted and burned. Recalcitrant
pagans lost their employment and property. Throughout
the empire, officially sanctioned mobs attacked anything
– human or material – that might harbour the
possibility of rekindling non-Christian thought.
the Church, austere demagogue John Chrysostom attacked not only
ellenike), pagans and Jews but also sex, music and
The 'philosophers' – the
teachers and scholars of the pagan intelligentsia which
had schooled the Church Fathers and given them the very
language in which they hammered out the
theology of Christ – were
castigated and condemned.
went too far - he was banished for offending the indulgences
of the court – but his
fanaticism (in his youth he had been an anchorite,
living in a cave) – had followers in Cappadocia.
Silencing the East: The
should be enough for you to know that there is a good shepherd
who gave his soul for his sheep ... How big God is, what
His limits are, and of what essence ... such questions are
dangerous ... they shall be taken care of with silence.' – St
Godfathers of Cappadocia – Gregory of Nazianzus, and the bothers from Nyssa, Basil and Gregory – initially
spearheaded the attack on the Arian faction. With the rout of
the Arians at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the Cappadocian
brotherhood slammed shut the door of further theorising. Their
call was for silence.
was unknowable"; a difference of opinion from the
Church – merely thinking for oneself – was 'the
Sin of Pride.'
of the Cappadocian Godfathers
The Cappadocian Fathers
Pacifiers of the Eastern Church
Great', Bishop of Caesarea (329-379); his brother, Gregory
of Nyssa (died 385); and Gregory of Nazianzus (325-389),
patriarch in Constantinople.
All came from
wealthy families and had a privileged education in Athens
(where they were fellow students of the future emperor
Julian!) They saw off the challenge from Antioch to produce
a sterile 'Orthodoxy' in the eastern Roman empire.
us Christians prefer the simplicity of our faith
to the demonstrations of human reason ... For
to spend much time on research about the essence
of things would not serve the edification of the
– St Basil.
the 'Ambrose' of the eastern church, challenging secular
authority and building a power base upon a network
of monasteries. Basil did more than anyone to get the
Holy Spirit promoted to God, trouncing the efforts
of the so-called "Pneumatomachi."
younger brother Gregory was a bit of a lightweight.
His writings include a treatise "On Virginity",
written about 370 AD and a doctrine on the temporary
nature of hell ("Apocatastasis") – not
one that went down well with the management. He disappeared
shortly after being sent to repress ecclesiastical
disorder in Arabia.
son of a bishop, refused to visit the see to which
Basil had appointed him and secured the top job in
Constantinople. He successfully campaigned for the
Trinity and against the Arians in the city and then
retired to his country estates where he wrote a great
deal of poetry.
volumes that move God to wrath and that harm the soul we
do not want to come to men's hearing."
– Thus declared
Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) (Grant,
The Fall of the Roman Empire, p162).
learning was on trial. It distracted the
human mind from a proper reverence for the 'sublime mystery
of God'; it
put the 'immortal soul' in jeopardy. Moreover, it posed
a danger to
of God's order on earth. Secular study was condemned
and sentenced to death. With
its execution, the scientific principles known to the ancients,
rationalised and formulated over centuries, were discarded, replaced
a mean, sterile dogma.
worst excesses of human psychosis were realised in a
new, elaborate "demonology" and mythology
of "witchcraft" which emanated from
the fanatic minds of churchmen. The Christians believed in
the old gods – they simply metamorphosed them into demons.
Greek Pan (Roman Sylvanus) – god
of flocks and herds.
goat-man god was fond of his shepherd's pipe, music
Far too lusty for a Christian empire – chosen
as role model for Old Nick himself.
of 423 Empress Pulcheria, elder sister of Theodosius,
and in the thrall of her bishops, declared that the practices
of the pagans were
nothing more than demon worship and ordered that
all those who persisted be imprisoned and tortured.
The mere possession of a work of classic literature
ran the risk of being taken as proof that the possessor
was a 'witch' or a 'necromancer'.
The Thumb Screws Tighten
Emperors Justin and Justinian ...
is our intention to restore the existing laws which affect
the rest of the
heretics of whatever name they are, and we label as
heretic whoever is not a member of the Catholic Church
and of our
Orthodox and Holy Faith; likewise the pagans who
attempt to introduce the worship of many gods, and the
the Samaritans ...
forbid any of the above-mentioned persons to aspire to any
dignity or to acquire civil or military office or to attain
to any rank.”
Justinian 1i,5,12 - 527 AD)
Justinian's long reign (527-565) marked the tortured end of the
late Roman Empire. His own peasant origins, and the ferocious
determination of his empress wife - the ex-prostitute Theodora
– gave a particular vicious edge to his policies. Nephew of
a career soldier who had himself made guard commander and
emperor (Justin), Justinian followed the same route (murdering
rival Vitalian along the way.)
targets of the pious monarch were the Samaritans and Manichaeans;
a law ordered their synagogues destroyed and took away their
right to bequeath property to the non-orthodox. A revolt followed,
brutally suppressed, and 20,000 Samaritans were sold into slavery.
Soon after, a similar law was enacted against the Jews themselves.
pagans also felt the whip. Pagans were barred
from the civil service, baptized Christians who lapsed back into
to be put to death, as were any persons
caught making secret sacrifice
to the gods. Pagan teachers were denied stipends from the imperial
treasury and if they would not accept baptism, they lost
their property and were exiled.
The closure of
the pagan stronghold – the School of Athens –
inevitably followed (529). The last of the philosophers
I (founder of a medical school
at Gondeshapur) with one
happy consequence, that all of Plato's works were
translated into Persian.
his treaty of "Endless
Peace" with Justinian in 532 Chosroes stipulated
that these philosophers should have the right to practice
unmolested within the empire. It seems they were.
in the Empire of Christendom, the intellectuals had been silenced.
the Dark Ages
Common Christian Apologetics
DENIAL – 'The
Dark Ages were not actually that gloomy at all.'
try to have it both ways.
Firstly they blame
the 'barbarian hordes' for the collapse of
civilization – and then argue that there
was no real collapse anyway!
The artistry of
the pagans is claimed for Christendom – yet
at the same time, their fantasy has noble Christian
lords and jolly peasants in sunny, rural idylls – not
abandoned cities, pestilence and millions sunk
in ignorance and suffering (Into
FALSEHOOD – 'Christianity
preserved literacy and learning.'
monks in remote fastnesses copying the Classics'?
not believe a word of it! Remote they may have
been, pious perhaps. Illiterate and indolent
for the most part, they re-used (and thus 'preserved')
ancient parchments because of the scarcity of
Washing off ancient wisdom, and
copying without understanding their biblical
fables, they excelled at adding pictures and
calligraphy based on pre-Christian tribal motifs.
Actually, it was the neglected archives of Byzantium
and the schools of Islam that preserved much
of classic learning, which trickled into western
Europe, particularly after the 13th century.
FANTASY – 'A
Renaissance occurred around 800 AD under Charlemagne.'
glorification of the murderous warlord from
Aachen is scandalous.
Charlemagne waged continuous
warfare to establish a tenuous hold on lands
all the way from Barcelona to the Elbe but
evidence of Carolingian civil society is 'miniscule'
to say the least! The 'empire' disintegrated
shortly after the warlord's death. (Withering
NONSENSE – 'Christianity
actually fostered and encouraged science.'
particular deceit is based upon the Church's
monopoly of medieval schooling.
science were nearly always in religious orders
simply because without the possession of private
wealth no avenue for study existed outside
of the Church. Usually heretical in their opinions,
'monkish scientists' often lost their sinecures
and fell foul of the Inquisition.
But the ridiculous
contention conceals a much bigger truth: it
was the works of Islamic scholars which provided
the catalyst for the European Renaissance.
Charles Freeman, The Closing of The Western Mind (Heinemann, 2002)
Keith Hopkins, A World Full of Gods (The Free Press, 2000)
Peter Roberts, In Search of Early Christian Unity (Vantage,
Friedrich Heer, The Fires of Faith (Newsweek Books, 1973)
Alan Alford, When the Gods Came Down (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)
Frank Delaney, A Walk in the Dark Ages (Fontana, 1990)
John Julius. Norwich, Byzantium, The Early Centuries (Viking,
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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