The Assault upon Paganism

Theodosius

First of the Spanish Inquisitors

Jesus Never Existed – The Criminal History of the Christian Church


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Kenneth Humphreys

 


09.11.11

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Religious totalitarianism

"The first Spanish Inquisitor."

– Hugh Trevor Roper
, The Rise of Christian Europe, p36.

theodius

Theodosius I (379-395)

The Christian monarch who introduced the world to religious totalitarianism. Theodosius outlawed the heresy of Arianism – and everything else of which he disapproved throughout the empire.

 

 

 
 
 

Destroyer of Worlds

“Theodosius set fanatical mobs to bash down the pagan temples of the east and required all his subjects to believe the no less remarkable doctrine of the Trinity.”

– Hugh Trevor Roper (The Rise of Christian Europe, 1966)

 

 

 

 

380

From his military headquarters in Macedonia Theodosius issues the Edict of Thessalonica compelling all Christians to adhere to the Catholic faith:

"It is our pleasure that all nations which are governed by our clemency and moderation should steadfastly adhere to the religion that was taught by St Peter to the Romans, which faithful tradition has preserved, and which is now professed by the pontiff Damasus, and by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness."

All other Christian sects are declared heretical.

 

 

 

381

Now ensconced in an imperial capital filled with doubters, Theodosius convenes a Council of Constantinople to proclaim that not only is Christ god – but that the Holy Spirit is god too!

The Roman world gets a triune god – three versions of nonsense rather than one.

 

382

Under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, Gratian moves the imperial court to Milan. He orders that The Altar of Victory removed from the Senate house in Rome.

In Constantinople, Inquisitors are appointed to seek out Manichaeans.

 

383

Incorrigible Arian bishops meet with Theodosius but he throws their declarations into the fire and threatens exile.

 

384

The worship of idols, divination, public sacrifices, and pagan religious ceremonials are made capital offences.


389

Sacred feast days of the polytheists are made workdays, further eroding popular support for pagans.

 

391

Pagan sacrifice, whether public or private, banned by law. Visits to pagan sanctuaries and temples forbidden.

Conversion of abandoned sites to Christian churches begins in earnest.

 

392

Eugenius, the last pagan emperor is proclaimed in Rome.

In Constantinople, Theodosius passes legislation prohibiting all pagan worship throughout the empire.

 

boxing

393

The Olympic, Pythian, & Aktia Games – held as a homage to the gods for over 1200 years – ended by the Christian fanatic Theodosius I

 

394

Eugenius defeated.

 

395

Death of Theodosius.

 
 
 
 
 

 

Persecution

"Such was the persecuting spirit of the laws of Theodosius, which were repeatedly enforced by his sons and grandsons, with the loud and unanimous applause of the Christian world."

–Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Self-indulgence

“The luxury of the Romans was more shameless and dissolute in the reign of Theodosius than in the age of Constantine, perhaps, or of Augustus.”

– Edward Gibbon
(Decline and Fall)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Stainless virginity"

"What is virginal chastity but an integrity free of stain from outside?"

– Bishop Ambrose


A triumphant Christian Church, far from unifying the Roman world with a single faith, rent division and civil conflict throughout the empire. Every measure designed to crush and stamp out non-Christian belief met with renewed resistance, disaffection from the imperial cause and civil commotion. Yet the fanatical intolerance rampaged on, with increasingly more severe rescripts from the imperial court. The campaign to wipe out heterodox opinion realized its zenith with the reign of Theodosius I late in the 4th century.


Theodosius - Murdering Fanatic Arrives from Spain

“The statesmanlike decision of Gratian to elevate to the purple the competent son of a convicted traitor was of great significance in Roman history. Ultimately the dynasty of Theodosius presided over the dismemberment of the Roman Empire in the West.”

– Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire, p68.


Theodosius, one of those luminaries of the Church accorded the honorific “Great”, showed that a Christian Emperor could best any pagan emperor for folly, indulgence and cruelty. While a Caligula or a Nero could unleash murder and mayhem on his family and entourage, Theodosius criminalized and punished a large part of the population of the whole empire, of which his treatment of Thessalonica is one notable example.

In 390 the Romano/Greek population of the city was involved in a riot over the intimidating presence of the local Gothic garrison. In the tumult, Botheric, the garrison commander, died. Enraged, Theodosius ordered his Gothic mercenaries to massacre spectators who happened to be trapped in the circus. Records Theodoret (393-466 AD) in his Ecclesiastical History:

“Thessalonica is a large and populous city, in the province of Macedonia. In consequence of sedition there, the anger of the Emperor rose to the highest pitch, and he gratified his vindictive desire for vengeance by unsheathing the sword most unjustly and tyrannically against all, slaying the innocent and guilty alike. It is said seven thousand perished without any forms of law, and without even having judicial sentence passed upon them; but that, like ears of wheat in the time of harvest, they were alike cut down.”

–  W. S. Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History.


Unlike earlier tyrants, by the late 4th century – thanks largely to the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine – emperors had at their disposal a formidable and costly state apparatus. Draconian laws now could be energetically enforced.

The world’s earliest totalitarianism – of Catholic Christianity – was inaugurated by Theodosius. No wonder to Christian scribes he became ‘the Great.’ In short order, the Roman world was compelled to be Christian – on pain of death! The fall of empire in the west was an acceptable price for the triumph of the Church of Christ.

Theodosius had, in his privileged youth, been military governor of Moesia. But after a charge of cowardice and his father’s execution for conspiracy he had languished in enforced early retirement in Spain. Yet when disaster hit the Roman world at Adrianople in 378, the debacle led Gratian – an inexperienced and 'pious' nineteen-year-old under the control of bishop Ambrose in Milan – to appoint the thirty-two year old Theodosius as Augustus for the east.

It was a reign almost cut short. After falling dangerously ill in the late summer of 380 (in Thessalonica) Theodosius was baptised by the local Catholic Bishop, Acholius. Unfortunately for the fate of civilization, thereafter Theodosius was more concerned with religious correctness than with the safety of the empire which now fell into his hands.

 

The Pacifying of Constantinople

"Let us believe the sole deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, under an equal majesty and a pious Trinity."

– Theodosius (Codex Theod. xvi 1.2)


Theodosius did not enter Constantinople until November of 380. He did so at the head of his army and with an entourage of Spaniards, determined to bring the capital of the Roman world – the "seat and fortress of Arianism" (Gibbon) – into the camp of Catholic Trinitarianism. In Constantinople, hitherto, all shades of theological subtleties had contended, a consequence, perhaps, of the still lingering tradition among the Greeks of philosophical speculation. But that tradition was soon to be extinguished.

With troops deployed within the church of St Sophia itself, and undeterred by hostile crowds, the Arian patriarch Demophilus was deposed and the suitably "orthodox" Gregory of Nazianzus installed. Yet he lasted barely a month, to be replaced as Patriarch by a praetor not even baptised at the time of his appointment! The new bishop, the undistinguished Nectarius, held the job for the next 16-years, the catspaw of the emperor.

In January 381 Theodosius issued the first of fifteen edicts directed against heretics and pagans. Over the course of the next forteen years, the master of the Roman world, chosen by God, sanctioned the destruction of non-Christian temples and sanctuaries; the burning of heterodox writings; and the exile or execution of recalcitrant polytheists and all who refused to believe, or at least to profess, the truth. Though never entirely eliminated, sectarian Christians lost possession of their churches and were forbidden even to assemble together.

In May 381 Theodosius summoned one hundred and fifty bishops from the eastern provinces to the capital, resolved on the final extirpation of Arianism and every other sectarianism within the Christian camp. The canons issued in July from this First Council of Constantinople (aka Second Ecumenical Council) condemned all unorthodox beliefs as heresy. A particular target were the followers of Macedonius (otherwise known as "semi-Arians"), who balked at the promotion of the Holy Spirit as a third god in the peculiar Catholic trinitarian godhead. For its compliance to the Catholic cause, the see of Constantinople was promoted to "second in honour to Rome, as the New Rome", much to the chagrin of old Rome and its ally, Alexandria.

"There follow in 381, 382, 384, 388, 389, 394, laws against the heretics – Eunomians, Arians, Apollinarians, Macedonians, Manichaeans – confiscating their churches, and handing them over to Catholics, forbidding their assemblies, exiling their bishops and priests, confiscating all the places where their rites were celebrated. The great number of these laws, several of which are repeated, prove that they were not everywhere carried out."

– P. Allard, Christianity and the Roman Empire, p263.

 

 

Winning Hearts and Minds – by Capital Punishment!

'It is our will and pleasure that none of our subjects, whether magistrates or private citizens, however exalted or however humble may be their rank and condition, shall presume in any city or in any place, to worship an inanimate idol by the sacrifice of a guiltless victim.'


With these words of an imperial edict, in 384 AD Theodosius made divination from the entrails of a chicken a crime of high treason which could be expiated only by the death penalty. All the many – and popular – manifestations of pagan worship were criminalized: torch bearing processions, the wearing of garlands, the burning of frankincense, the offering of libations of wine. Even harmless household gods were proscribed. Whereas earlier laws enacted against the pagans had often been mitigated or ignored by local magistrates who were themselves pagans or secular 'philosophers', now a magistrate who failed to rigorously enforce the draconian laws would himself become a criminal.

To the delight of the Christian priesthood their 'pious' emperor set the entire machinery of the state against the pagan establishment.

It was the clergy itself, however, who made up the vigilante 'brown shirts', desecrating temples and destroying idols. At every level the old religions were to be rooted out and – joy of joy! – the accumulated wealth of a thousand shrines and temples, amassed over a millennium, expropriated for the Christian Church.

Once engorged on the wealth of the pagan world, the Church, in an act of sublime cynicism, moved rapidly to reintroduce the rituals and practices it had so assiduously extirpated.

 


Folly & Religious War – Goths and Pagans

Theodosius, entrusted initially with the defence of Thrace, bought peace with the Goths by ceding large tracts of the Balkans for their settlement. Rather than hunt down and defeat the victors of Adrianople Theodosius decided to accept them as allies (“foederati”). Indeed, when the Gothic King Athanaric died in 382 he was honoured with a state funeral in Constantinople. Unlike most Roman citizens, however, the Goths were armed and ignored Roman law with impunity. Ruled by their own chieftains and not subject to crippling imperial taxation these ‘Christianised tribesmen’ lived off the local populace as conquering heroes.

Having thus accommodated the enemy within the empire, Theodosius then recruited whole regiments of the barbarians – under their own officers – into the army, where they became the dominant influence. Barbarianisation of the army went hand-in-hand with the enfeeblement of the legions. Starved of funds which Theodosius instead directed into the church to support a growing army of parasitic clergy, the demoralised troops were forced into part-time farming to feed themselves. The greater part of the legions were downgraded to ‘border guards’. As such, they lacked the pan-continental mobility of an earlier age. Allowed to marry local women, the troops spent much of their time in ‘market gardens’ and the barter economy.

In such circumstances the tight discipline and continual drill which had allowed the Romans to defeat every barbarian enemy from the Scottish highlands to the Syrian desert had to be abandoned. The troopers also set aside their protective armour, which had become burdensome and expensive – ironically at the very time the barbarian cavalries were adopting a simplified version of Roman armour. The ‘border guards’ as a matter of policy avoided pitch battles with the enemy, a task now assigned to a few elite units of a ‘mobile field army,’ which increasingly became little more than an overblown imperial bodyguard.

For the eastern front, Theodosius adopted a cowardly policy of ceding four fifths of Roman Armenia to the Persians (387). Having thus secured his rear and ‘barbarianised’ his legions, Theodosius used them to intervene in the 'religious politics' of the west, where Gratian had been deposed by another Spanish Catholic, his general Magnus Maximus. Gratian was executed in August 383 in Gaul, leaving his hapless 12-year-old half-brother Valentinian II taking instruction from Milan's city boss Bishop Ambrose. The bishop, wary of the rival Arian Christianity, widespread in the east and among the Gothic tribesmen, wrote a tract clarifying the new doctrine of the Trinity for the guidance and edification of the young prince,

It was ostensibly on behalf of Valentinian II, Theodosius used his mercenaries to bring to an end the reign of Maximus (388) using an army mainly composed of Goths, Huns and Alans at the battle of Aquileia.

A few years later, Valentinian was sent packing by another usurper – Eugenius (392-394), a former teacher of grammar and rhetoric – and Theodosius massed his barbarian Christian mercenaries against the regular pagan legions of the west.

The battle of the Frigidus River (6 September 394), on the border of Italy and Slovenia, proved to be the last serious attempt of the senatorial class to resist the Christianisation of the empire. Fighting at the head of 20,000 barbarians on the side of Theodosius was the Gothic chieftain Alaric, who sixteen years later would sack Rome itself.



The Menace Behind the Throne – Bishop Ambrose

"Nothing can be found in this world more exalted than priests or more sublime than bishops."
– Bishop Ambrose


Since the days of Constantine Bishops had inveigled their way into the imperial entourage (compare this to the position of Stoic philosophers at an earlier date). Ambrose famously brought Theodosius to heel (and "penitence") over the massacre in Thessalonica, an incident carefully written up by Christian scribes to give maximum credit to the Church. Yet the true character of the ambitious Ambrose was shown in his power struggle a few years earlier with the Empress Justina (regent for the young monarch Valentinian II ) whose authority and faith he rejected out of hand – and used Christian mobs to back up his position.

At the moment when it seemed that the mob might have been seen off by the imperial guard, Ambrose "miraculously" discovered "martyrs' bones" in the besieged churchyard and mob-rule prevailed. The creation of saints and miracles now became a staple weapon in the Christian armoury.

Ambrose, having asserted his authority over the feeble-minded youths Gratian and Valentinian, was not inclined to cede power to the new "Catholic" monarch Theodosius – nor was Theodosius the man to stand up to the senior churchman. In a notable incident, Ambrose, to his horror, learnt that the emperor had ordered Christian arsonists to rebuild a destroyed synagogue. The bishop defended the zealots and censured the emperor – who meekly rescinded his decision.

Theodosius maintained an imperial court in both Milan and Constantinople. The year 394 was the last in which a single monarch ruled the Roman world. Yet with Ambrose as the Grey Eminence that "unity" merely amplified the insidious influence of the Catholic bishop. He saw off the challenge of the Arians and successfully propagated the notions of the "Trinity", discipline and regimentation; anti-Semitism became encoded in Theodosius's vast catalogue of intolerant laws; and women were made more subordinate than ever. The prison of the late Roman world now became dark and forbidding.

"Christ," assured Bishop Ambrose, "was now at the head of the legions."


 

 

Sources:
Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (Thames & Hudson, 1995)
Robert Graves, Count Belisarius (London, 1938)
Arthur Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire (Thames & Hudson, 1986)
Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (Morningstar & Lark, 1995)
Richard Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe (Harper Collins, 1999)
Edward Gibbon, The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1799)
Michael Grant, The Climax of Rome (Weidenfeld& Nicolson, 1996)
Michael Grant, Fall of the Roman Empire (Weidenfeld& Nicolson, 1996)
Robert Wilken, The Christians As the Romans Saw Them (Yale UP, 1984)
Robin Fox lane, Pagans & Christians (Viking, 1986)

 

 

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Copyright © 2004 by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no material herein is sold for profit.