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No. IX.

JANUARY, 1861.


By PAILIP SCHAFF, D.D., Prof. in Theol. Seminary, Mercersburg, Pa.

The reign of Julian the Apostate is a brief but most interesting and instructive episode in the history of the Roman Empire and of the ancient Church. It was a systematic and vigorous effort to dethrone Christianity and to restore Paganism to its former supremacy. But in its entire failure it furnished an irresistible proof that Christianity had accomplished a complete intellectual and moral victory over the religion of Greece and Rome.

Julian, a nephew of Constantine the Great, was born in 331, and educated in the Arian court-Christianity of his despotic and suspicious cousin Constantius. He was even intended for the priesthood against his secret wish and will, and ordained a reader of the Scriptures in public worship. But the despotic and mechanical force-work of a repulsively austere and vio. lently polemic type of Christianity roused the vigorous and independent spirit of the highly gifted youth to rebellion, and drove him over to Paganism which, although deprived of its former vitality and power, was by no means extinct, and by its literature continued to exert its influence upon the higher classes of society. The pseudo-Christianity of Constantius, the persecutor of the heathen and of the orthodox Christians, produced by way of natural reäction the anti-Christianity of Julian; and the latter was a well-deserved punishment of the former. A similar example history furnishes us at a more recent period, in the case of Frederick the Great, whose infidelity must be explained to a great extent from the forced character of his injudicious Christian training.

With enthusiasm and untiring diligence the young Roman prince secretly read Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and the NeoPlatonists. The partial prohibition of such reading gave

it double zest. He secretly obtained the lectures of the celebrated rhetorician, Libanius, afterwards his eulogist, whose productions, however, represent the degeneracy of the heathen literature in that day, covering emptiness with a pompous and tawdry style, attractive only to a vitiated taste. He became acquainted by degrees with the most eminent representatives of heathenism, particularly the Neo-Platonic philosophers, rhe. toricians, and priests, like Libanius, Ædesius, Maximus, and Chrysanthius. These confirmed him in his superstitions by sophistries and sorceries of every kind. He gradually became the secret head of the heathen party. Through the favor and mediation of the empress Eusebia, he visited for some months the schools of Athens (A.D. 355), where he was initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, and thus completed his transition to the Grecian idolatry.

This heathenism, however, was not a simple, spontaneous growth; it was all an artificial and morbid production. It was the heathenism of the Neo-Platonic, pantheistic eclecticism, a strange mixture of philosophy, poesy, and superstition, and, in Julian at least, in great part an imitation or caricature of Christianity. It sought to spiritualize and revive the old mythology by uniting with it oriental theosophemes and a few Christian ideas; taught a higher, abstract unity above the multiplicity of the national gods, genii, heroes, and natural powers; believed in immediate communications and revelations of the gods through dreams, visions, oracles, entrails of sacrifices, prodigies; and stood in league with all kinds of magical and theurgic arts. Julian himself, with all his philosophical intelligence, credited the most insipid legends of the gods, or gave them a deeper, mystic meaning by the most arbitrary allegorical interpretation. He was in intimate personal intercourse with Jupiter, Minerva, Apollo, Hercules, who paid their nocturnal visits to his heated fancy, and assured him of their special protection. And he practised the art of divination as a master.* Among the various divinities he worshipped with peculiar devotion the great King Helios, or the god of the sun, whose servant he called himself, and whose etherial light attracted him already in tender childhood with magic force. He regards him as the centre of the universe, from which light, life and salvation proceed to all creatures. In this view of a supreme divinity he made an approach to the Christian monotheism, but substituted an airy myth and pantheistic fancy for the only true and living God and the personal historical Christ.

His moral character corresponds with the preposterous nature of this system. With all his brilliant talents and stoical virtues, he wanted the genuine simplicity and naturalness, which are the foundation of all true greatness of mind and character. As his worship of Helios was a shadowy reflection of the Christian monotheism, and so far an involuntary tribute to the religion he opposed, so in his artificial and ostentatious asceticism we can only see a caricature of the ecclesiastical monasticism of the age which he so deeply despised for its humility and spirituality. He was full of affectation, vanity, sophistry, loquacity, and a master in the art of dissimulation. Every thing he said or wrote was studied and calculated for effect. Instead of discerning the spirit of the age and putting himself at the head of the current of true progress, he identified himself with a party of no vigor or promise, and thus fell into a false and untenable position, at variance with the mission of a ruler. Great minds, indeed, are always more or less at war with their age, as we may see in the reformers, in the apostles; nay, in Christ himself. But their antagonism proceeds from a clear knowledge of the real wants and a sincere devotion to the best interests of the age; it is all progressive and reformatory, and at last carries the deeper spirit of the age with itself, and raises it to a higher'level. The antagonism of Julian, starting with a radical misconception of the tendency of history and animated by selfish ambition, was one of retrogression and reaction, in addition, was devoted to a bad cause. He had all the faults, and therefore deserved the tragic fate of a fanatical reactionist.

* Libanius says of him, Epit. p. 582: μαντέων τε τους αρίστους χρώμενος, , αυτός τε ών ουδαμών εν τη τέχνη δεύτερος. Ammianus Marcellinus calls him, XXV, 4, praesagiorum sciscitationi nimiae deditus, superstitiosus magis quam sacrorum legitimus observator. Comp. Sozom. V, 2.

| Comp. his fourth Oratio, which is devoted to the praise of Helios.


His apostasy from Christianity, to which he was probably never at heart committed, Julian himself dates as early as his twentieth year, A.D. 351. But while Constantius lived, he concealed his pagan sympathies with consummate hypocrisy, publicly observed Christian ceremonies, while secretly sacrificing to Jupiter and Helios, kept the feast of Epiphany in the church at Vienne as late as January, 361, and praised the Emperor in the most extravagant style, though he thoroughly hated him, and after his death all the more bitterly mocked him.* For ten years he kept the mask. After December, 355, the student of books astonished the world with brilliant military and executive powers as Cæsar in Gaul, which was at that time severely threatened by the German barbarians; he won the enthusiastic love of the soldiers, and received from them the dignity of Augustus. Then he raised the standard of rebellion against his suspicious and envious imperial cousin and brother-in-law, and in 361 openly declared himself a friend

* Comp. Jul. Orat. I, in Constantii Laudes; Epist. ad Athenienses, p. 270; Cæsares, p. 335 sq. Even heathen authors concede his dissimulation; as Ammianus Marc. XXI, 2, comp. XXII, 5, and Libanius, who excuses him with the plea of regard to his security, Opp. p. 328, ed. Reiske.

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