Julian the Apostate

Julian The Apostate emperor of Rome A.D. 361-363, is especially celebrated by his able and vigorous, but vain attempt to dethrone Christianity, and to restore the ancient Graeco-Roman paganism in the Roman Empire to its former power and glory. He was the nephew of Constantine the Great, the first Christian on the throne of the Caesars, and was educated under the restraining influence of the court Christianity of his cousin, the Arian emperor Constantius. The austere, monastic, intolerant, tyrannical, and hypocritical form of this belief repelled the independent youth, and made him a bitter enemy of Christianity, and an enthusiastic admirer of the heathen poets and philosophers, whose writings, in spite of the severe prohibition, he managed secretly to procure and to study, especially during his sojourn at the University of Athens. "The Arian pseudo-Christianity of Constantius produced the heathen anti-Christianity of Julian, and the latter was a well deserved punishment of the former." But he shrewdly concealed his real convictions. and hypocritically conformed to all the outward rites of Christianity till the death of the emperor. His heathenism was not a simple, spontaneous growth, but an artificial and morbid production. It was the heathenism of pantheistic eclecticism and Neo-Platonism, a strange, mixture of philosophy, poesy, and superstition, and, in Julian at least, in great part an imitation or caricature of Christianity. With all his philosophical intelligence, he 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 favor and protection. His moral character corresponded to this pseudo-philosophy. He was full of affectation, vanity, sophistry, loquacity, and dissimulation, Everything he said, or wrote, or did was studied and calculated for effect. His apostasy from Christianity Julian dates from his twentieth year, A.D. 351. But while Constantius lived he concealed his pagan sympathies with consummate hypocrisy for ten years, and outwardly conformed to all the rites of the Church. After December, 355, he suddenly surprised the world with brilliant military successes and executive powers as Caesar in Gaul, which was at that time threatened by barbarians, and won the enthusiastic love of his soldiers. Now he raised the standard of rebellion against his imperial cousin, and in 361 openly declared himself a friend of the gods. By the sudden death of Constantius in the same year he became sole emperor, and made his triumphal entry into Constantinople. He immediately set to work with the utmost zeal to reorganize all departments of the government on the former heathen basis. He displayed extraordinary talent, industry, and executive tact. The eighteen short months of his reign (Dec. 361-June 363) comprehend the plans of life long administration. He was the most gifted, the most learned and most active, and yet the least successful of Roman emperors. His reign was an utter failure, teaching the important lesson that it is useless to swim against the stream of history and to impede the Onward march of Christianity. He proved beyond the possibility of doubt, that paganism had outlived itself, and that Christianity was the only living religion which had truly conquered the world, and carried all the hopes of humanity. He died in the midst of his plans in a campaign against Persia, characteristically exclaiming (according to later tradition), "Galilaean, thou hast conquered!"

Julian did not resort to open violence in his attempt to destroy Christianity in the empire. He affected the policy of philosophical toleration. He did not wish to give the Christians an additional glory of martyrdom. He hoped to attain his end more surely in an indirect way. He endeavored to revive heathenism by his own personal zeal for the worship of the gods. But his, zeal found no echo, and only made him ridiculous in the eyes of the cultivated heathen themselves. When he endeavored to restore the oracle of Apollo near Antioch, and arranged for a magnificent display, only a solitary priest appeared in the temple and ominously offered — a goose. He also attempted to reform heathenism by incorporating with it the morals and benevolent institutions of Christianity. But this was like galvanizing a decaying corpse, or grafting fresh scions on a dead trunk. As to the negative part of his assault upon Christianity, Julian gave liberty to all the sects, in the hope that they might devour each other, but, instead of that, he only gave new vigor to the cause he hated. He forbade the Christians to read the classical authors, and deprived them of the benefit of schools of their own, that they might either grow up in ignorance, or be forced get an education from heathen teachers. He assisted the Jews in rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem in order to falsify the prophecy of Christ, but the attempt, three times repeated, signally failed, by an interposition of Providence approaching to the character of a miracle. (Respecting this question, see the judicious remarks in Lardner's Jewish and Heathen Testimonies, vol. 4.) Finally he wrote a book against Christianity, in which he united all the arguments of Porphyry, Celsus, Lucian, and other enemies before him, and infused into them his own bitter and sarcastic spirit. But this attack called forth able refutations from Gregory of Nazianzum, Cyril of Alexandria, and others, and contains a number of incidental admissions which confirm the truth of most of the leading facts of the Gospel history. Dr. Lardner (in his learned book on the Credibility of the Gospel History, in the London edition of his works by Kippis, 7, 638-639) thus sums up the involuntary testimony of this ablest and bitterest of all the heathen opponents of Christianity:

"Julian has borne a valuable testimony to the history and to the books of the New Testament. He allows that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, at thee time of the taxing made in Judaea by Cyrenius; that the Christian religion had its rise, and began to be propagated, in the times of the emperors Tiberius and Claudius. He bears witness to the genuineness and authenticity of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles; and he so quotes them as to intimate that they were the only historical books received by Christians as of authority, and the only authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and the doctrines preached by them. He allows their early date, and even argues for it. He also quotes, or plainly refers to, the Acts of the Apostles, to St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. He does not deny the miracles of Jesus Christ, but allows him to have 'healed the blind, and the lame, and daemoniacs;' and to have rebuked the winds, and walked upon the waves of the sea.' He endeavors, indeed, to diminish these works, but in vain. The consequence is undeniable such works are good proofs of a divine mission. He endeavors also to lessen the number of the early believers in Jesus, and yet he acknowledges that there were 'multitudes of such men in Greece and Italy' before St. John wrote his Gospel. He likewise affects to diminish the quality of the early believers, and yet acknowledges that, besides men servants and maid servants,' Cornelius, a Roman centurion at Caesarea, and Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, were converted to the faith of Jesus before the end of the reign of Claudius. And he often speaks with great indignation of Peter and Paul, those two great apostles of Jesus, and successful preachers of his Gospel; so that, upon the whole, he has undesignedly borne testimony to the truth of many things recorded in the books of the New Testament. He aimed to overthrow the Christian religion, but has confirmed it: his arguments against it are perfectly harmless, and insufficient to unsettle the weakest Christian. He justly excepts to some things introduced into the Christian profession by the hate professors of it, in his own time or sooner, but has not made one objection of moment against the Christian religion as contained in the genuine and authentic books of the New Testament."

Literature. — Juliani Imperatoris Opera quoe supersunt omnia (ed. by Petavius, Par. 1583, and more completely by E. Spanheim, Lips. 1696, 2 vols. fol.); Cyril of Alexandria Contra impium Jul. librix (which contains the chief argument of Julian against Christianity, with their refutation), in Cyril's Opera, ed. Aubert, tom. 6, and in Spanheim's edition of Julian's works. Also the relevant sections in the heathen historians Ammianus Marcellinus, Zosimus, and Eunapius, and in the Church histories of Socrates, Sozomenus, and Theodoret. Among modern writers on Julian we refer to Tillemont, Memoires, etc., 7, 322-420; Warburton, Julian (London, 1751); Neander, Julian and sein Zeitalter (Leipz. 1812; in an English dress, N.Y. 1850, l2mo); Joudot. Histoire de l'empereur Julien (1817, 2 vols.); Wiggers, Julian der Abtrunnige (Leipzig, 1837); Teuffel, De Juliano religionis Christiani contemptore (Tub. 1844); Fr. Strauss, Der Romantiker auf dem Thron der Coesaren, oder Julian der Abtrunnige (Manheim, 1847); Schaff; Ch. Hist. 2, 40 sq.

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