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Bad Horse


Just an honest businesspony with a Patreon.

More Blog Posts622

  • Monday
    Meetup this Friday in Redwood City, CA

    GaPJaxie, equestrian_sen, horizon, and I hope to meet up this Friday, at 7PM Pacific time (maybe a little earlier to get a table), at the Denny's in Redwood City, CA. That's near San Francisco.
    horizon doesn't know for sure yet if he's coming.

    Any other bronies who can make it are welcome. Reply in the comments if you plan to come.

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    13 comments · 144 views
  • 4 weeks
    Recs: An even worse self insert, The making of "Spring is Dumb"

    Two recommendations:

    HoofBitingActionOverload's two blog posts on how he wrote "Spring is Dumb".  (At first he said there would be 3 posts, but I believe it's finished with these two.  There's also an introductory post, which you don't need to read.)

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    7 comments · 353 views
  • 4 weeks
    Share a Smile! Also, the worst dump I ever took.

    Crystal Wishes did a thing, as pones do. As an old curmudgeon, I'm obligated to hate these things, but I have some people to thank, so... this time. :trixieshiftleft:

    The genealogy of this smile is:
    Crystal Wishes -> Undome Tinwe -> Bad Horse

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    34 comments · 449 views
  • 5 weeks
    How and Why Humans Dichotomize

    Language Decay

    Someone--I can't remember who--observed that adjectives and adverbs in all languages gradually decay and must be replaced with new ones, because they are gravitationally drawn over the centuries towards meaning simply "good" or "bad".  Consider the original meanings of these words:

    Good: From Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- (“to unite, be associated, suit”)

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    32 comments · 528 views
Apr
12th
2017

The Arian Heresy and the Fall of Rome · 12:15am April 12th

Before talking about the Arian [10] heresy and the fall of Rome, I should probably explain why it’s important to fan-fiction. :pinkiecrazy:

The hardest problem in understanding what makes a story good or bad is figuring out what aspects of stories are important because of human nature, and what aspects are important to specific cultures. I approach this by looking for patterns in Western art across history. (I include literature, but it’s usually easier & quicker to see trends in visual art.) No properties of stories or of visual art have remained constant, but some recur continually, some usually appear together, and some never appear together.

The patterns in stories correspond to patterns in the priorities, beliefs, and hegemonic powers of the civilizations that made the stories [13]. Usually, people wrote about why they made art the way they did, and this is a good entry point into decoding the patterns. We can also form and test theories about these correspondences by looking at times when religion, art, politics, and technology had strong effects on each other. A rough summary of my conclusion is that there is an art of order and an art of chaos, and major artistic clashes represent political differences over whether society needs more order, unity, and stasis, or more freedom, diversity, and change.

This post is about one such time: the Arian controversy in the Christian church. I don’t care about the controversy itself; I’m interested in its political consequences. So I’ll spend little time on the theological disputes of the 4th century, and more on the wars of the 5th and 6th centuries.

Here I’m looking not at art, but at religion. The controversy is relevant to art because it used religion the same way art is sometimes used: it sublimated a political dispute into a dispute that was reputedly more high-minded and noble, and which, by virtue of being thought of as more noble, was ironically more able to incite people to kill.

The episode is interesting because the participants openly admitted how religion motivated their violence. Art may help inspire people to violence, as we’ll see in my posts on WW1 and WW2, but those people seldom admit it afterwards. Here we have, if anything, the opposite problem--the suspicion that people may have overstated the degree to which their violence was inspired by religion.

A cheap way of summarizing it would be to say that the Arian challenge was a bid for freedom of thought, and the Catholic response proved that they would rather destroy civilization than allow that. That overstates the degree to which it was a conscious choice, though. I still blame the Church for being unreasonable, but I don’t think the church elders meant to start a war. But when secular leaders needed (or wanted) to take military action, the links between church and state made most conflicts line up along the same axis across Europe.

By itself, this post may not seem relevant to understanding art. But with a series of similar posts, we can begin connecting the dots of art, religion, and politics. I’ve already written one giving an overview across history, one on the Iliad, one on medieval art which I need to rewrite, one on modernism and World War 1, and one on the Nazis and art. I also want to write one about the role of real numbers in the Renaissance, one on the similarities and differences between Stalinist, fascist, modern, medieval Catholic, and primitive art, and one tracing the cultures at war in America’s current political disputes back to the different cultures that colonized the United States. [12]

I’ve studied this history for a few weeks, and some people have studied it their entire lives, so this may be bollocks. But all of these posts are going to be like that.

That said, let’s look at one of the most literally epic fails in history, the story of how the Roman civilization tore itself to shreds and brought on the Dark Age thanks to a 500-year theological dispute over whether Jesus and God the Father were consubstantial, or merely of like essence.

If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. None of the people who fought over it did, either.


[10] “Arian” and “Aryan” have nothing to do with each other, except that “Aryan” is sometimes misspelled “Arian”, and Google will often “helpfully” change “Arian” to “Aryan” in searches.

[12] I’d like to learn and write about the relationships between Romanticism and Marxism, and between the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and neo-classicism, though I’m afraid that may be prohibitively complex and time-consuming. In case I never post the one on the colonial US, I’d mostly be repeating stuff from Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It’s like a cross between The Nine Nations of North America and Albion’s Seed.

[13] I have already concluded that the variability in literatures is greater than the variability in human nature, and that this is because hegemonic powers allow people to tell only the kinds of stories which the powers think are advantageous to them.

(The rest of the footnotes are at the end of the post.)


Rome and the Barbarians

One traditional date for the fall of Rome, that used by Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), is 476 A.D., when Flavius Odoacer deposed the Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus.

A problem with this date is that “Emperor” Romulus had been appointed Emperor by a rebel general, and was not recognized by the Roman Senate. Odoacer was not a Roman citizen, but was an officer in the Roman army, and had the support of the Roman Senate, and ruled Italy for many years afterwards in the name of Rome, in theory subordinate to the Senate and/or Emperor (when one existed), following Roman laws and maintaining Roman institutions. Saying Rome fell in 476 because Odoacer took over is a little like saying America fell in 1960 because an Irish-Catholic American became President.

Many history books say that the Germanic tribes became more and more important militarily in late Rome because Romans didn’t want to serve in the military anymore. This is an absurd claim which is either false, or is covering up the reason why Romans wouldn’t serve in the military. There must have been some reason--the Roman Senate couldn’t pay them, the Church said they shouldn’t, something. Possibly there were too few Romans to run an empire, or the Romans came to trust the Germans more as they became more Roman.

Anyway, the Western Roman Empire kept on Roming for many years after 476, but its people were increasingly of Germanic descent. They weren’t barbarians who burned Roman cities and destroyed their art. Often they built better buildings and made better art.

I included this famous mosaic of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian in a post I haven’t posted yet, as an example of how much better Roman and Dark Age art was than Christian representational art of the High Middle Ages.

It turns out this mosaic is as much barbarian as it is Roman. There's a very similar mosaic in a nearby Arian basilica, made at the same time, likely by the same person, which is probably of the Ostrogoth emperor Theodoric. Both emperors are wearing not Roman crowns, but Lombard crowns, like this one:

Golden crown of the Langobardian queen Teodelinda, circa 590 [7]

The Justinian mosaic is in this basilica in Ravenna, Italy:

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

The Romans had moved their capital to Ravenna by the time the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410. Odoacer, the barbarian of unknown ethnicity who overthrew the emperor in 476, did so in Ravenna. The Ostrogoths captured it in 493. The basilica was built during the rule of the Ostrogoths, for a Roman Catholic bishop, and paid for by a Roman citizen. It was started in 527 A.D. and finished in 547, 7 years after the Byzantine (Eastern) Romans conquered the city.

Is it Roman, or Ostrogothic? The distinction is meaningless. Ravenna was culturally Roman the whole time. The Ostrogoths were Arian instead of Catholic, but they didn’t interfere with Catholic worship.

The Ostrogoths have a more-secure claim to be the sole builders of this originally-Arian basilica:

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

… and of Theodoric’s tomb:

The Visigoths weren’t shabby, either:

[1]

Oh, and the barbarians wrote books.

Codex Argenteus, circa 520 A.D., one of the three surviving books in Gothic

Books which have nearly all vanished today, because nobody copied them, because nobody could read them. [6] Because the people who made those buildings were replaced by the people who made… this one.

Baptistery of St. John, Poitiers, France

This was built by the Franks, the people who conquered Western Europe (except for Spain and Britain) from the other Germanic tribes in the name of defeating Arianism. It’s one of their most-impressive remaining pieces of architecture from that time.


The Arian Heresy

The early Catholic Church did not have a doctrine of the Trinity. They said that Jesus was definitely God, and God the Father was definitely God, but Jesus was definitely not God the Father. Also, Jesus was definitely God the Father’s son, but God the Father definitely did not exist before Jesus. The Arian heresy was the first of many attempts to make sense of that, all of which were declared heretical by today’s Catholic Church. It begins by saying Jesus was God’s begotten (biologically-ish fathered) son, since that was what the Bible appeared to say in several places.

The opponents of the Arians are sometimes called Athanasian, Trinitarian, Catholic, or Orthodox. Athanasian is too specific, the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed until the late 4th century, and Catholic and Orthodox effectively just mean “the winners.” I’ll use the term Nicene, because the first formulation in reaction against Arianism was the Nicene Creed. It says you have to believe the aforementioned contradictory things, and it’s a Mystery. The Nicenes say the Arians deny Jesus divinity, but that’s only if you use the Nicene definition of divinity.

Other ways of making sense of the Trinity include Monophysitism, which says that whatever Jesus is, he’s one kind of thing, can we agree on that? No; the official position is that Jesus has two natures at the same time, and it’s a Mystery. So a third position, Miaphysitism, tries to compromise between these positions…

… look, you really don’t want to know [2]. The point is that people killed each other and countries had wars and civil wars over “Christology”, the study of the ontology of Jesus, a thing not one person in Europe understood, because at base it made no sense. The Arian Wars were one part of an even larger, longer battle between people who wanted to make sense of the Trinity, and a Church which had taken a stand and would not tolerate dissent nor legitimize this dangerous “making sense” idea. A partial account is in Philip Jenkins’ The Jesus Wars, which I haven’t read, but which sounds like the most fun book ever written on 5th-century Christian theology. [8]

Fighting over it isn’t as stupid as it sounds, because one real issue at stake was freedom of thought [3]. The Arian Wars were the first conclusive test of the question, “Can Christians disagree with official Church doctrine on points that the Bible gives no remotely clear answer to, which have no effect on behavior or salvation, and that nobody understands anyway?” The Church’s determined answer [5] was, “No.” It was the principle of the thing. Arianism stood for free thought, and it had to be stamped out.


The Arian Wars

There are lots of theories over what caused “Rome’s” fall. If we restate this slightly and ask, “Why did Roman culture fall?” or “What caused the Dark Ages?”, the most-obvious answer is, “The Christology Wars.”

Googling “Arian Wars” turns up mostly pages about an online Star Wars roleplaying game. Here’s a quote from the first non-Star-Wars-related Google hit:

Gregory Nazianzen, who lived in Constantinople in the midst of the Arian wars, describes the division and hostility which this polemic spirit introduced between parents and children, husbands and wives, old and young, masters and slaves, priests and people. "It has gone so far that the whole market resounds with the discourses of heretics, every banquet is corrupted by this babbling even to nausea, every merrymaking is transformed into a mourning, and every funeral solemnity is almost alleviated by this brawling as a still greater evil; even the chambers of women, the nurseries of simplicity, are disturbed thereby, and the flowers of modesty are crushed by this precocious practice of dispute."
--Philip Schaff, 1910, The Christian Church from the 1st to the 20th Century, vol 3, chapter 9, sections 117-119 (no page numbers)

Some more chosen at random:

The church was no fooner delivered from external opprefion, but unhappy differences were fomented within itſelf, and its concord broken by internal diffentions. Amongſt thefe, few were more fatal than the controverfies between Arius, a preſbyter of the church of Alexandria, and Alexander, a biſhop of the fame city, concerning the divinity of Jefus Chrift. This difpute confuſed, and deſtroyed, the peace of the church in almoſt every corner.
--Joseph Strutt, 1779, The Chronicle of England, part III, p. 206

The father of Constantius, Constantine the Great, is undoubtedly responsible for having communicated to Christianity that secular character, which, during succeeding centuries, gave the Church so much sway over the temporal affairs of the world, as totally for a time to submerge the spiritual simplicity of its original… The peace of the empire was disturbed by the conflicts between Arius and Athanasius. Constantius was an Arian, and, though our ecclesiastical writers were too courtly to charge on the emperor all the evils which his Arian bias occasioned, yet they spare no abuse in describing the pestilential nature of the doctrines. "The holy union," continues Gildas, "between Christ the Head and the members of His Church, was interrupted by the Arian treason, which, fatal as a serpent, and vomiting its poison from beyond the sea, caused deadly dissension between brothers inhabiting the same house, and thus, as if a road were made across the sea, like wild beasts of all descriptions, and darting the poison of every heresy from their jaws,they inflicted dreadful wounds upon their country, which is ever desirous to hear something new, and remains constant long to nothing."
--J. A . Giles, 1847, History of the Ancient Britons, chpt. 19, p. 313-314

Gildas was plagiarizing Bede:

The churches of Britain remained at peace until the time of the Arian madness, which corrupted the whole world and even infected this island, sundered so far from the rest of its mankind, with the poison of its error. This quickly opened up the way for every foul heresy from across the Ocean to pour into an island which always delights in hearing something new and holds firmly to no sure belief.
--Bede, 731, quoted in Rowley p. 79

The Lombard invasion [in 553] brought into the church's territory a large number of refugees, and the Roman population recovered some of its old energy in the double hatred for barbarians and Arians.
--Williams, p. 531

Those quotes testify to a furor over Arianism in Rome and in three corners of the Roman Empire--Britain, Constantinople, and Alexandria. The city of Rome was ruled by Arian emperors from 335-378 [11] and 476-538, and had four waves of imperial persecution--three persecuting Arians, and one persecuting Niceans. Church and State were not separate; the Emperor ruled the Church and used it as a political tool--which meant schisms over doctrine were a form of rebellion against the Emperor. (The Empire during most of this time period had two emperors at the same time, which made this especially awkward when they disagreed.)

How important was Arianism and the Arian Wars?

Let’s look at a map of Europe in 500 A.D.:

Here’s a map of Europe in 500 A.D. [14], with diagonal white stripes across the Nicene territories and horizontal black stripes across the Arian territories:

Here’s another map, with diagonal white stripes across the territories of cultures that survived into the 9th century, and horizontal black stripes across the cultures that were conquered, enslaved, dispersed, or exterminated:

Notice it’s the same map.

The Arian Wars extended beyond this map. All of North Africa, and most of Syria and Armenia, were Arian or something like it--they all rejected the 451 A.D. Definition of Chalcedon, which was supposed to lay Arianism to rest. The parts of those areas that broke free of Rome were all reconquered by Justinian in the 6th century, then soon after overrun by Persians and/or Muslims.

All these people would have fought wars anyway. But it was the injection of a two-sided religious controversy into the political area that wrecked western Europe. Everyone had to line up on one side or the other of the religious controversy, and that polarization turned what had been an assortment of independent conflicts into one Great War of extermination. Ordinary conflicts would have resulted in treaties and shifting alliances, but the Arian Wars weren’t stopped until one side--the Arians--was eliminated. Some by the Franks, and the rest hung out to dry when the Muslim invasions came.

We call the Dark Age (~400-800 A.D.) “dark” because we don’t know what happened, because we have few books. History books say that classical writings fell out of use in the desperate Dark Age, only to be recovered in the 8th-9th centuries from Ireland, Spain, and Rome (Wolff), and in 12th-13th centuries from Constantinople (see e.g. Recovery of Aristotle). In other words, mostly from those areas of Europe which had not been Arian, and remained loyal to the Latin Church, and so kept copying books in Latin or Greek.

Well, maybe. But the Arians built cathedrals and monasteries. They had monks. Maybe they wrote books, and the Catholics burned the books because they were Arian, or let them rot because they couldn’t read them. Maybe the multiple cultural genocides of the Arian Wars, which saw the settled, sophisticated, Romanized, Arian “barbarian” cultures wiped out by the less-sophisticated Franks by 800 A.D., turned the centuries before them into a Dark Age retrospectively, and lost everything that had been set down in Gothic and other writing.

A civilization might make no books, or a civilization might make a lot of books--but three books? That's like finding a civilization that made three automobiles.

"Guys, let's make an alphabet. Then we'll build a monastery and teach a bunch of monks how to read. Then we can train them in calligraphy, and develop parchment and inks and staining and bookbinding. Then we’ll learn how to inlay gold and silver leaf on the lettering. Then we can make a book."

"No way, man. If we go to all that work, we ought to make, like, three books."

It might seem unlikely that they could have written many books, and left only three--but how many Roman manuscripts are left? The Roman composition of which we have the most ancient copies, and which was by far its most-popular and most-quoted work--it’s said we could reconstruct the entire text from quotations of it--is the Aeneid, written in the first century B.C.. We have only four nearly-complete copies from the 4th and 5th centuries (Frieze & Dennison p. 24). All of our many other copies, are copies of copies of copies of copies of copies. Julius Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars are perhaps the next most-famous and popular Roman writings, but there are no Roman copies of it--the oldest manuscripts are three partial copies made in the 9th century.

And how many of the writings of Arius do we have--the writings that began the Great Arian War, that were followed by all Western Europe at one time or another? Nothing but a few letters--because the Catholics burned everything else. The emperors Constantine and Honorius prescribed death for anyone who did not hand over any writings of Arius to be burnt (Penny Cyclopedia, “Office, Holy”, p. 406; many other sources as well). Emperor Theodosius also burned his writings. (I’m not sure he condemned people who hid his books to death, though that was standard Roman practice regarding books you didn’t want people to read.)

What would a good Catholic conqueror have done, confronted with a Gothic codex he could not read? Trust a Goth that it didn’t say anything Arian, and maybe risk death? Or burn it?


Emperor Constantine burning Arian books. Manuscript CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, Italy, 825.


The Importance of Pretending to be Earnest

Did any of these rulers, or their subjects, really care about doctrine?

As far as I can tell, some of them cared quite a lot about doctrine. The large fraction of emperors in the 4th and 5th centuries who adopted a position contrary to most of their subjects in this and other controversies, and so caused themselves great difficulties, suggests sincerity.

They certainly cared about what people said they cared about. Religious beliefs about things no one understood weren’t beliefs in any meaningful sense; they were political claims about who had religious authority. Why did the Byzantines ally in the Great War with the Franks, a still culturally-pagan people, against the Romanized Goths and Vandals? The only answer I’ve found in history books is, Because Clovis was Catholic. A Catholic whose subjects still sometimes made pagan sacrifices, but, hey, at least he wasn’t Arian. That was, as shown above, a Big Deal. The Byzantines couldn’t and wouldn’t ally themselves with Arians.

Let’s look at a little bit of the timeline--mostly the war parts--to see how much Arianism mattered.



325 A.D., Council of Nicea

This was the council emperor Constantine called to resolve the dispute between Arius and Athanasius. It produced the Nicene Creed and anathematized Arianism.



439 A.D., Vandal occupation of Carthage

I watched a BBC video on the fall of Carthage--the second fall, when the Vandals took it in 439--which said that the Vandals just walked into the city on a day with a really important set of Hippodrome races, and the Romans thought it was more important to finish the races than to fight them off.

This seems highly unlikely, but Wikipedia backs it up. And Wikipedia can’t be wrong!

I still thought that sounded fishy, so I looked to see if there were a religious aspect. There was. Carthage was the stronghold of Donatism, a Catholic heresy which began with “we don’t want to take communion from priests who cooperated with the persecution of Christians,” then progressed to “we won’t take communion from priests ordained by those priests,” and so on. It was persecuted severely by the Romans for over a hundred years (thanks largely to Augustine, patron saint of kicking the shit out of other Christians for obscure theological differences [9]) before the "fall" of Carthage. The Vandals were Arians, so they freed Carthage from the Roman church, which is what Carthage had been struggling for since about 313 AD. That’s probably why the Carthaginians let the Vandals walk in.

(Then the Vandals persecuted them for being Nicene.)



451 A.D., Council of Chalcedon, near Constantinople

This council met to try to resolve the Arian controversy. The result was a permanent estrangement between European Christianity, which accepted the council’s creed, and the Church in the Middle East and Africa, which did not. This critically weakened Byzantium and helped the Muslims conquer those regions which had split from the Roman church.



sometime by the 490s A.D., Franks conquer Western Roman Empire

Once Clovis had conquered all the Franks and Western Romans left to conquer, he wanted to keep on conquering his neighbors. To do that, he needed an alliance with somebody who wasn’t his neighbor, and the best candidate was the Eastern Romans (the Byzantines). This would be kind of awkward, as he’d just conquered what remained of independent Western Rome. How could he make peace with them?



variously reported as 493, 496, 497, or 498 A.D., Frankish king Clovis I converts to Catholicism

The pagan king Clovis suddenly converted to Catholicism, and all his people (according to Bishop Gregory of Tours) welcomed this change. So did the Byzantines. Now they had one potential Catholic ally in Europe.



507 A.D., defeat of the Visigoths by Clovis I of the Franks

Clovis said that he made war against the Visigoths to rescue his Germanic brethren from the Arian heresy. I have read a quote by him to this effect, but I can’t find it now, darn it. In any case, the Franks allied themselves permanently with the Roman Catholic church.

The Frankish monarchy became the ardent supporter of the papacy during the early Middle Ages. Frankish kings crossed the Alps many times to save the Roman bishop from his [Arian] enemies in Italy.
--Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, p. 123

It is evident, from the language of Gregory of Tours, that this conflict between the Franks and the Visigoths was regarded by the orthodox party of his own and preceding ages as a religious war, on which, humanly speaking, the prevalence of the Catholic or the Arian creed in western Europe depended.
--Walter Copland Perry, The Franks, from their first appearance in history to the death of King Pepin, p. 85.
This quote and many more from http://www.patmospapers.com/daniel/in508.htm

Among all the Germanic nations, the Franks alone had become Catholic from their first rise in the provinces of the Roman Empire. This acknowledgment of the Roman see had secured important advantages to the Frankish nation. In the Catholic subjects of their Arian enemies, the western Goths and Burgundians, the Franks found natural allies. We read so much of the miracles by which Clovis was favoured — how St. Martin showed him the ford over the Vienne by means of a hind, how St. Hilary preceded his armies
in a column of fire — that we shall not greatly err if we conclude these legends to shadow forth the material succours afforded by the [Nicene] natives to those who shared their creed, and for whom, according to Gregory of Tours, they desired victory "with eager inclination."
--Williams, p. 525

The Great Arian War began in earnest at this point, as an alliance between the Franks, the Catholic Church, and the Byzantines, against all the rest of Western Europe and North Africa, and sometimes even the Persians, who synchronized their invasion of the Byzantine Empire with the Ostrogoths.



533-554 A.D., Justinian’s reconquista

This was the other major action in the Great Arian War. Justinian’s armies reconquered much of the Western Roman Empire from Arians in just 20 years, but the effort left his empire so weakened that it was torn apart from all sides almost immediately after he died in 565, leading directly to the Dark Age.

Justinian seems to have been genuinely interested in theology, but is usually said to have waged war motivated by the desire to recreate the Roman Empire. This was, however, in the wake of hostility between the Byzantines and the Ostrogoths created by the Arian controversy. All the monarchs in this conflict probably just wanted to fight and expand their land, but the interweaving of church and state made it impractical for anyone to ally with someone on the other side of the Arian controversy.

With the ascension of Justin I in 518, a more harmonious relationship seemed to be restored. Eutharic, Theoderic's son-in-law and designated successor, was appointed consul for the year 519, while in 522, to celebrate the healing of the Acacian schism, Justin allowed both consuls to be appointed by Theoderic [the Arian Goth]. Soon, however, renewed tension would result from Justin's anti-Arian legislation, and tensions grew between the Goths and the [Roman] Senate, whose members, as Chalcedonians [non-Arians], now shifted their support to the [Byzantine] Emperor.
--https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostrogothic_Kingdom

774 A.D., Charlemagne conquers the Lombards

Charlemagne conquered the Lombards, the last free Arians. Charlemagne was a fanatical Catholic, although his grasp of theology is questionable, as it was his practice to offer conquered people a choice between Catholicism, or death.

The Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne led a series of campaigns against the Saxons, a Germanic tribe, in order to pressure them to convert to Christianity. This included the destruction of the Saxons’ holy site at Irminsul and the massacre of 4500 Saxon captives at Verden in 782. Three years later the Saxon leadership and peoples surrendered and accepted baptism.
--How Christianity came to Europe

Charlemagne called his empire the Holy Roman Empire, a name which was ridiculed in the 20th century. It is accurate, however, in that the Franks’ two main allies in the 300-year battle to create this empire were the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church.


In summary, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that Western Europe’s “Dark Age” of 400-800 A.D. appears dark mainly because Western Europe was ruled entirely by people who were wiped out, and their writings destroyed or simply not copied, in a 300-year-long war to wipe out Arianism and re-establish the Roman (Catholic) Empire.

Even if that’s not true, it seems that the Arian controversy increased the cultural destructiveness of the wars. Perhaps just as many battles would have been fought without the Arian controversy, but it does not seem likely that the large alliance needed to wipe out all six Arian kingdoms could have been maintained for 300 years if a two-sided religious dispute had not made alternative alliances impossible. What probably would have happened is that the different kingdoms would have fought each other sporadically, power-balancing politics would have favored the weak, and cultural transfer would have had more time to preserve knowledge of the period.

You might wonder whether or not people intended for their argument about religion to have these effects. If we’re asking about the “purpose” of religion, though, then this might not matter. If you think that religion is a product of rationality and proceeds rationally, then that would be a reasonable question. If you think religion evolved to serve a social function, then whether or not something was the intent of the human agents that caused it is irrelevant to whether that is its function.


[1] Lombards and Vandal architecture is, unfortunately, un-googlable, the Vandals because “vandal architecture” returns lists of vandalized architecture, and the Lombards because the region of Italy where they lived is called Lombardy and “Lombard architecture” is used for much-later Carolingian architecture built in Lombardy.

[2] If you really do want to know, start by word-searching your Bible for the phrase “only begotten”. You’ll find several verses calling Jesus God’s only begotten son, including the famous John 3:16. Here’s where that word came from:

Greek monogenes → Latin unigenitus → English "only-begotten"

Christians are still fighting over this translation. Orthodox Nicenes say that monogenes refers to something that is “the chosen one,” something in a special relationship. (The Wikipedia page on monogenes was written by such anti-Arian propagandists.) Evil heretics point out that ancient Greeks only used the word to refer to sons or daughters or metaphorical fatherings, so “genesis”, a kind of creation, is still part of the meaning in any case, so the word still imples that Jesus was a creation and the focus on “the special one” (the “mono” part) is a smokescreen. St. Jerome, who chose the word “unigenitus”, did so in the middle of a fierce Arian war in Rome itself in 383 A.D., and may have chosen that word to be anti-Arian, though I see it as pro-Arian. On the other hand, it’s the obvious literal translation of monogenes. It has been dropped from many modern translations--according to some Christians, for being pro-Arian, and according to others, for being anti-Arian.

The Arians have been dead for over a thousand years, so this continued vigilance against them might surprise you if you aren’t familiar with the Catholic Church. A better discussion of the issues re. the translations is here, and a reasonable defense of the orthodox view is here, and you can find many others, though honestly I don’t advise reading any of them. The discussion itself is ultimately nonsense--a twisting of words trying to find some way of resolving Bible passages that are either contradictory, or so metaphorical that they shouldn’t be interpreted in such corporeal ways. What’s important is its consequences.

[3] It may also have been a political power-play. Some contemporary historians think that the “Arian heresy” was the majority view of the original Church, and that the now-“orthodox” view was a doctrine that a radical group used to take over. Citation needed, but I’ve got to finish this and you can look it up yourself if you care. Personally, I think that the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were Arian, while the book of John and the writings of Paul were Nicene. I have a very high opinion of the authority of Mark; I think it’s the only book in the New Testament which might have information about the historical Jesus. I have a low opinion of the book of John and the writings of Paul; I consider them to be full of fanciful, invented theology, apparently written in ignorance of the events and the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, and they contain most of the objectionable parts of the New Testament. Together with Revelations, they are the parts of the New Testament which should not have been included. So perhaps I would be Arian if I were Christian.

[5] It’s only fair to note that the people who turned the Arian controversy hot and dangerous were a series of Roman emperors--Constantine (mostly Nicene), Valentius (Arian), and Theodosius (Nicene).

[6] There are still some northern Italians who call themselves Lombards today, but AFAIK no Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, or Huns since the 7th century. What happened to them?

The Romans dispersed the Vandals. The Ostrogoths joined up with the Lombards. The Merovingian and Carolingian (Frankish) kings constantly raided their neighboring kingdoms for slaves (Wolff 1968), so it’s a good guess that the Franks enslaved the other tribes they conquered, which was all of Western Europe except Britain, Spain, and the heel of Italy. That may have been how serfdom originated. Procopius of Caesarea, a historian who travelled with the Roman general Belisarius, wrote that the Franks

began to sacrifice the women and children of the Goths whom they had found at hand and to throw their bodies into the river as the first fruits of war. For these barbarians , though they had become Christians, preserve the greater part of their ancient religion; for they still make human sacrifices and other sacrifices of an unholy nature, and it is in connection with these that they make their prophecies.
--(De Bello Gothico, 6.25.1-18)

However, he also wrote that Justinian was a demon whose head sometimes vanished, so take that with a grain of salt.

[7] This is weird, since neither the Romans nor the Ostrogoths were Lombards. Possibly Odoacer was. If anybody can clear this up for me, please do.

[8] In between the time when the Western Roman Empire tore itself apart over Christology, and the time when the Western and Eastern Church ruptured over Christology, the Eastern Roman Empire nearly destroyed itself over whether drawing pictures of saints was evil.

[9] Also patron saint of kicking your common-law wife and son out into the street in order to be ordained as a bishop.

[11] I’m counting Constantine I’s last 2 years as pro-Arian, because he recalled Arius from exile and exiled Athanaius.

[14] Based on one from timemaps.com.


References

The Venerable Bede 731. Ecclesiastical History. (Latin; Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum)

Earle E. Cairns 1954. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church.

Henry Frieze & Walter Dennison, editors, 1902. Virgil's Aeneid, Books 1-12. New York City: American Book Company.

J.A. Giles 1847. History of the Ancient Britons, from the Earliest Period to the Invasion of the Saxons. London: George Bell, 186 Fleet Street.

The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge 1840. Penny Cyclopaedia, vol. 16: Murillo--Organ. London: Charles Knight & Co., 22 Ludgate St.

Walter Copland Perry 1857. The Franks, from their first appearance in history to the death of King Pepin. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts.

Sharon M. Rowley 2011. The Old English Version of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica. D. S. Brewer.

Philip Schaff 1910. The Christian Church from the 1st to the 20th Century.

Joseph Strutt 1779. The Chronicle of England; or, A compleat history, civil, military and ecclesiastical, of the ancient Britons and Saxons, from the landing of Julius Caesar in Britain, to the Norman conquest. London: Printed by Joseph Cooper for T. Evans in Pater Noster Row and Robert Faulder No. 42 New Bond Street.

Henry Smith Williams 1907. The Historians’ History of the World, vol 8: Parthians, Sassanids, and Arabs; the crusades and the Papacy. London & NYC: Hooper & Jackson.

Philippe Wolff 1968. The Cultural Awakening. New York: Pantheon. (A book on several key figures of the early middle ages.)

Comments ( 40 )

The really fun thing is... thanks to Extra History, I could follow all of this.

Really great bit of history and insight here.

If you want these posts to be accessible to people who aren't pn0y-buckers (like educational-types), you should really get a blog (Wordpress.com is free) and post them there principally. You can still copy them here if you like, of course.

Seriously. You need to do this. Your valuable insights are housed in a dirty alleyway.

So, "why did Rome fall" might be the first question I've read to which "god did it" is an appropriate, if woefully compact, answer. I'm going to have to read through this another time or two to really digest the information. I knew there was a sorted history of Catholics being dicks, but this far surpasses my wildest expectations. Amazing, if surprising, blog post.

The Goths and the Byzantines, everyone knows
Are proud and implacable, passionate foes:
It is always the same, wherever one goes.
And the Visigoths too, although most people say
They don't care who the Pope is, will often display
every symptom of wanting to join in the fray...

Actually, when you talk about Charlemagne's Empire, most people nowadays call it just that, or sometimes "The Carolingian Empire"

The term "Holy Roman Empire" is colloquially applied to a later institution, a loose confederation of German states that lasted from the end of Charlemagne's Empire up until about 1806. It generally begins with the rise of the Ottonian Empire.

And they didn't wait until the 20th century to mock it: Voltaire called it "neither Holy nor Roman nor Empire." But the 20th century has been mostly kind to Charlemagne, I guess because, whatever else he did, he kept the French and the Germans from fighting.

Will Cuppy, writing between the wars, had room to show a little cheek:

Charlemagne's strong point was morals. He was so moral that some people thought he was only fooling. These people came to no good. Naturally, he wanted to improve others, notably the heathen Saxons, who had stored an immense treasure in a hollow tree called the Irminsul in honor of Woden, or Irmen for short. So he paid them a visit, baptized them all and chopped down the Irminsul, and out fell the contents right into Charlemagne's lap. And was he surprised! Well, they asked for it.

A study of history is not complete without compiling a long list of feeble excuses people used for killing other people. My favorite is crossing yourself left to right instead of right to left.

Other than high school and a few odd books, my history research (such as it was in order not to sound *too* stupid in the Swords and Sorcery novel I'm writing) focused on the Great Schism, or the Time of the Two Popes. I purchased a grand total of four books for it, one of which was on various plagues and diseases of the era. Five if you count The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. (an excellent read)

On your recommendation, I just reserved The Jesus Wars at our local library. I'll let you know how it turns out. (Spoilers!)

As a Lutheran, I've got a certain sympathy to heretics who break away from established Catholic dogma, and since I was raised Lutheran from the beginning, all other religions look a little strange. Now having said that, you must consider the Athanasian Creed (AD 500), which was designed to distinguish Nicene Christianity from the heresy of Arianism. (one of the four major creeds of the Lutheran church, ECS, LCMS, and various other splinters) Brace yourself for this section:

And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

tl:dr: There's only one God, BUT God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Sprit are all individuals. But they're all one. Think quantum. Now take a drink.

I'll post a more informed comment when I get home from work, but damn, this was an interesting blog.

Hi, terribly interesting blog post. I think though that you've made the mistake of supposing that there's a meaningful difference in the ancient world, and the world of late antiquity, between between religion and politics. That is a difference that takes centuries after Constantine and the Arian heresy to develop, it's a conceptual anachronism as it were. Removing the distinction between religion and politics doesn't allow you to make the case that Arianism was about freedom of thought anymore. The reason for this is twofold. First, Christianity is stepping in to fill the role of state religion left by the collapse of the Dominate. The collapse of the Dominate is important because the senate can no longer fill the roll of providing legitimacy to the Emperor, and so Constantine has to look to the Bishops to provide that roll. By this point in time paganism and Christianity are really similar philosophically, in part due to the work of the neo-platonists, so choosing to make Christianity the official religion of the state makes political sense, while also giving Constantine the ability to take advantage of the network of Bishops who have a lot of authority in their local regions. If he makes them his allies, they give legitimacy to his rule so to speak.

Secondly, as the role of state religion was to ensure the continual existence of the state by ensuring the good graces of the gods (see Porphyry's justification for the Diocletians persecution of the christians), and this way of thinking continued on when Christianity was made the official religion, we can see that the disputes over heresy become disputes, in the minds of the actors, over how to keep the state in place. We see this with the way Eusebius of Caesara attributes Constantine's Christianity with the saving of the state and the end of civil war, and with the way he attributes the bad deaths of the Tetrachs to their not having appropriate beliefs (although the only one who really died in a terrible way was Galerius). Interestingly enough, Constantine is more of a consensus figure here, and he really only exiles people, like Arius or Athanasius, when they threaten his coalition of Bishops by not "toe-ing the party line" so to speak.

Unrelatedly the early Christian Church did have a doctrine of the Trinity as evidenced by folk like Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, and Theophilus of Antioch.

I'd recommend Drake's Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance, probably the best work on this period of history to start with, and perhaps The Making of a Christian Empire Lactantius and Rome by Digeser for further reading if you're interested.

A fascinating area of history I've spent little time on, and an even more interesting uniting thread that goes a long way to explain precisely why a large chunk of Europe went capital-D Dark for that period. Thank you for this meticulously constructed piece.

That being said, what's with the footnote ordering?

4493009
From this, I can only conclude that the Nicene God is not only a Trinity but a triangle.

4493141

...and somehow you have to get the rings apart.

When you can accomplish this, it will be time to leave the monastery.

And walk the Earth, seeking your own enlightenment.




And kicking ass in the Old West.

This is absolutely, sublimely brilliant. Your warning about it all perhaps being bollocks is well taken, but actually, given the axes to grind on the topic of the Dark Age it is not inconceivable that all the theoretically more informed people have long since blinded themselves.

Though Bradel will fight you on this, Mark is the best candidate for Best Gospel except for the annoying hints that it was not written by anyone who was familiar with how 1st century AD inhabitants of Palestine lived.

And lastly, the Huns are still with us in, predictably, Hungary. Now, likely, the Hungarians aren't really of significant Hunnish descent (haplogroup analysis shows they aren't, for instance) but they say they are, and that's how these things tend to work.

Boy, not one mention of Milvian Bridge.

You guys are no fun.

historytoday.com/sites/default/files/milvianbridge.jpg
Fun. Back in the day.

[7] This is weird, since neither the Romans nor the Ostrogoths were Lombards. Possibly Odoacer was. If anybody can clear this up for me, please do.

You know, that's an admirable Will Cuppy footnote if you just look at it the right way.

4493006

The term "Holy Roman Empire" is colloquially applied to a later institution, a loose confederation of German states that lasted from the end of Charlemagne's Empire up until about 1806. It generally begins with the rise of the Ottonian Empire.

The Roman Pope crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans in 800. Close enough for me. Otto I was a Carolingian, so I don't understand dividing the Carolingian dynasty into a Holy Roman part and a non-Holy Roman part.

The Western episcopate was largely, even prohibitively Nicean throughout the eras you'read referring to as the Arian Wars. The various Gothic tribal kingdoms were continually at war at a low, cultural level with their own administrative state, which by and large was run by the episcopal Niceans. This tended to weaken those kingdoms and induce decay in their physical and cultural conditions. The Gothic and other tribal confederations don't seem to have been vast seas of humanity, but rather small political elites. You can see the end result of this in both genetics and the surviving languages, which are far more Latin than Teutonic.

In short, the Arian Goths were a shallow overlay over a vast sea of Nicean conquests. You'll note that eastern sects continue to this day in various flavors of Nestorians and Monophysiteism and whatever the heck the Copts can be classified as. There are zero outbreaks of Western Arianism after the fall of the Gothic kingdoms. When heresy breaks out again in a big way, it is gnostic, and utterly unrelated to personhood controversies.

The Arians were cultural invaders of the West. Like Attila and other tribal political associations, they were a powerful fact so long as they were militarily dominant, but when they lost their grip on the sword, there was no cultural "bottom" to them. Like the members of Attila's Hunnic confederation, they flipped their coats overnight and it was as if there had never been such a thing as a Hun.

After all, Hungary is full of Magyars, not Huns.

And this in my humble opinion is why Europe should have stayed Pagan.

4493109

I think though that you've made the mistake of supposing that there's a meaningful difference in the ancient world, and the world of late antiquity, between between religion and politics. That is a difference that takes centuries after Constantine and the Arian heresy to develop, it's a conceptual anachronism as it were. Removing the distinction between religion and politics doesn't allow you to make the case that Arianism was about freedom of thought anymore.

Religion and politics were usually not separate in the ancient world, but Rome was a special case--the Roman Empire had one government, but many religions. Traditionally Rome had freedom of religion as long as people made the traditional sacrifices and would call the emperor a God. I've often been told (but only by Christians) that Roman religious persecution only began with Christians, because they wouldn't make the sacrifices or bow to the emperor. Then once the Christians were in power, they wanted payback.

Christianity was also a special case. Jesus had said explicitly that it should be apolitical. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." Obviously that didn't last, but even I'll admit Jesus had some influence over Christianity. The Christian church had arisen completely independently of the Roman state, unlike the religions of other ancient nations. It had only been decriminalized 12 years before the Council of Nicea. (Constantine favored it, and tried to control it, but it didn't become the official state religion until 380.)

So there was some distinction between religion and politics. The bishops usually sought to widen the distinction, and the emperors sought to eliminate it. The bishops struggled with the emperor over independence of Christianity, and with each other over independence within Christianity.

4493292 I think you're agreeing with 4493109 that the 6th thru 8th-century wars were strictly political?

I have issues with this:

- the Arian controversy was at its theological peak about a century before the barbarian invasions.
- the Arian controversy was hot in England, where I don't think there were any Arian tribes.
- the Goths tried not to get involved in the Arian controversy. I've heard only that the Vandals persecuted Niceans. The Ostrogoths gave them complete freedom.

Are you saying that 4th century Arians were religious, Roman Arians, and 5th century Arians were cultural, Germanic Arians, with no connections between them, meaning this episode in history doesn't say anything significant about religion as we think of it today?

Also, how do you explain the Goths conquering those big areas if they didn't have big numbers, especially if they were (as I expect) inferior to the Roman army in technology, equipment, and training? There are reports and estimates of army sizes, but I didn't keep track of them.

A brilliant blog. Fascinating topic, very smooth in structure to follow. I suspect that this is parts of a thesis or even book for publication, and if it isn't, it should be.

I am part of the Anglican Church. To this day, we still recite the Nicene Creed. I've always thought of the subject as being: "Can we understand the Mystery of three in one or not?" The Arians said yes, here's one possible way. The Orthodox Church said no, that is arrogant. And so it began...

Theologically, I lean towards the Orthodox side. Our discussions on the nature of time are already animated enough, and I think efforts to parse an extra-dimension being in terms of human understanding are well-meaning and ultimately academic.

History shows a lot of support for the separation of church and state, but few see how it is good for the church as well. Politics is a game played for power, and I refer to "game" as in game theory, that has time and again been able to supersede religion for its own use, thus trivializing its values (adherence to a higher power) and, as shown, outright altering them. I mean, the Dark Ages just show how because of power, what could have been a great development in discourse in history turned into one of the biggest objections against religion.

And so coming back to the overarching theme of the purpose of art and writing...

An interesting trend is the "normalization" of feature box material. Maybe I just haven't been paying as much attention, but things look less spikey. No more peach memes, ultra grimdark fantasies... we're in the fabled Slice of Life/Vanilla Romance meta that fanfic editors dreamed of. I wonder what that says about us.

4493401
It is true that roman religious persecution, as a matter of state policy only began with the Christians because they, unlike the Jews, had never received special permission to pray for Rome in their own way. Persecution was mostly at the discretion of the governors of the provinces though (as shown by Pliny's letter to Trajan regarding the Christians), until we get to Valerius who employs it as a matter of state policy. The most important persecutor is, of course, Diocletian, though, who explicitly engaged in persecution because they weren't praying to the emperor nor offering sacrifices to Jupiter.

The important thing to understand with the Edict of Milan, is that it not only decriminalized Christianity, but it was actually restoring the status quo set by Gallienus that Diocletian had gone against. 50 years prior to the Edict of Milan, Gallienus ended Valerius' persecution of the Christians and restored the property to the Church that the state had seized, tacitly establishing the legality of Christianity. The edict of Milan went further though insofar as it did not speak explicitly of the divine protector of the Roman state in terms any more specific that summa divinitas the supereme being, whereas Diocletian had spoken in terms of Jupiter, Constantine speaks of quicquid [est] divinitatis in sede caelesti (whatever God is in the seat of heaven (translation my own)), while, at the same time restoring the Church property taken during the Diocletian persecution. This had the effect of officially legalizing Christianity, which, as you rightly pointed out is an event that I conflated with making Christianity the official religion of the state, but also of allowing Christians to take part now in a traditional part of Roman imperial life which prior they weren't eligible for, namely, imperial largesse, they could now take part in the receiving of official imperial favors explicitly. I say all this to make the argument that Constantine is trying to use Christianity and the Bishops to replace the senate, and to argue that that has the effect of essentially blocking the separation between religion and politics with respect to Christianity. What that does is block your claim that the Arian heresy was about freedom of though. Another thing to note is that Christians only begin to use coercion and move away from Constantine's and Lactantius' doctrine of toleration when faced with heresy, and they justify state coercion in terms of it threatening the security of the state (for example, Augustine retractions 129).

4493423 Also, I did not mean to suggest that the 6-8th century wars were merely political, I think by that point reasons for acting become much more distinct. I know less about that period of history though, so I don't want to pretend to have a high confidence in that claim (say more than 50% but less than 90). I was more taking issue with your characterization of how the dispute arose during the 4th century, and what the actors would have seen themselves as doing. In a sense in the 4th century of course it was a theological debate about the divinity of Jesus, but given the role the church would have been seen as playing, the theological debate would at the same time be a debate concerning how to ensure divine protection and earthly rewards for the state, with disaster being the consequence for being theologically wrong. So freedom of thought was not really at issue.

In fact, for this period, the interesting divide seems to be amongst those who take a loose view of what is required to bring about divine protection as represented by those who prioritized the teaching that whoever is not against you is with you, vs. those who took the more restrictive view that whoever is not with you is against you. Both views have roots in the Gospels, and we find Arians and Athanasians on both sides.

4493285

I suppose because the term "Holy Roman Empire" has been a punchline ever since Voltaire. But Charlemagne was no joke. So people need some sort of rubric to distinguish between one and the other.

Yes, there is an arguable continuity of state between them. But you could say the same of Byzantium and Rome. Yet the "Fall of Rome, " in everyday conversation, has nothing to do with the Seljuk Turks :twilightsmile:

4493471

I was more taking issue with your characterization of how the dispute arose during the 4th century, and what the actors would have seen themselves as doing. In a sense in the 4th century of course it was a theological debate about the divinity of Jesus, but given the role the church would have been seen as playing, the theological debate would at the same time be a debate concerning how to ensure divine protection and earthly rewards for the state, with disaster being the consequence for being theologically wrong.

I'm aware some people would have seen it that way, but the controversy began in the late 3rd century, when Christianity was still illegal. At the time of the council of Nicea in 325, most of the church elders would have been people who had been elders while the church was illegal, and therefore did not see the church as part of the state. They would probably have been influenced by Jesus' (admittedly vague) teaching that the Church should not be political. These people risked their lives to be Christians; I think we have to consider the hypothesis that they were sincere and generally believed what the Church said.

Church doctrine has never been that its purpose is to provide protection and earthly rewards for the state. That's quite contrary to the New Testament (though very much in keeping with the Old Testament). That would probably be considered heresy at any point in the history of the Catholic church.

So I don't agree that Christians at that time, or at any time, all saw the issue that way. The emperors did, but not all Christians. We have cases all through the ages of churches and bishops fighting with secular rulers over control of the Church and attempts to manipulate the Church for secular purposes.

(I also wouldn't cite Augustine as representative of church leaders wrt authority. My understanding is that Augustine always favored a strong, authoritarian, centralized Church.)

4493471

In fact, for this period, the interesting divide seems to be amongst those who take a loose view of what is required to bring about divine protection as represented by those who prioritized the teaching that whoever is not against you is with you, vs. those who took the more restrictive view that whoever is not with you is against you. Both views have roots in the Gospels, and we find Arians and Athanasians on both sides.

Isn't that saying that the debate was about freedom within the church? But that it didn't line up on Arian/Athanasian lines. You make an important point which I missed--Arians weren't themselves calling for tolerance as much as they were insisting that they were right.

Yesterday I listened to a lecture by Derek de Solla Price in which he said that the ancients and medievals had no theory of uncertainty. That, he said, was why people cited numbers and claims from authorities without checking them--because they wouldn't have known what to do if two people measured the same thing and came up with different numbers. It may be that tolerance requires more mathematical sophistication.

Interesting stuff. I hope that these posts are being collected into a book. (I also hope you're charging us Patreons for this, so we can support you in the meantime.)

Comment posted by Badgie deleted April 12th

Many history books say that the Germanic tribes became more and more important militarily in late Rome because Romans didn’t want to serve in the military anymore. This is an absurd claim which is either false, or is covering up the reason why Romans wouldn’t serve in the military. There must have been some reason--the Roman Senate couldn’t pay them, the Church said they shouldn’t, something. Possibly there were too few Romans to run an empire, or the Romans came to trust the Germans more as they became more Roman.

I think this statement seems to be forgetting the fact that the Roman military consisted mostly of volunteers from the many places the Empire conquered. As Rome's power and influence waned, more and more people found they didn't really care to fight and possibly die with people who, historically, they hadn't really liked before Rome showed up.

Frankish kings crossed the Alps many times to save the Roman bishop from his enemies in Italy.

Eventually it got so they couldn't stop.

4493685
I think its important that my claim only applies to Christians in the 4th and 5th centuries, so I agree that in later periods of history church politics matches your description, but it is only after this more ancient understanding of the difference between religion in politics disappears. The whole premise of the ancient state was that it organized human activity in the way that was needed to ensure that divine forces remained benevolent to the community.

Church doctrine has never been that its purpose is to provide protection and earthly rewards for the state. That's quite contrary to the New Testament (though very much in keeping with the Old Testament). That would probably be considered heresy at any point in the history of the Catholic church.

That is exactly how Christians saw themselves in the 4-5 centuries, even seeing it in line with the New Testament. We can see this from the way Eusebius of Caesarea attributes Constantine's victory over Maxentius in 312 to Constantine's belief in a single supreme deity rather than the pagan God's and his willingness to use the chi-rho on his soldiers shields. Here I'll quote Eusebius at length:

Being convinced, however, that he needed some more powerful aid than his military forces could afford him, on account of the wicked and magical enchantments which were so diligently practiced by the tyrant [Maxentius], he sought divine assistance, deeming the possession of arms and a numerous soldiery of secondary importance, but believing the co-operating power of Deity invincible and not to be shaken. He considered, therefore on what God he might rely for protection and assistance...Reflecting on this, and well weighing the fact that they who had trusted in many gods had fallen by manifold forms of death, without leaving behind them either family or offspring, stock, name, or memorial among men: while the God of his father had given to him, on the other hand, manifestations of his power and very man tokens: and considering father that those who had already taken arms against the tyrant, and had marched to the battle-field under the protection of a multitude of gods, had met with a dishonorable end (for one of them had shamefully retreated from the contest without a blow, and the other, being slain in the midst of his own troops, became, as it were, the mere sport of death); reviewing, I say all these considerations, he judged it to be folly indeed to join in the idle worship of those who were no gods, and, after such convincing evidence, to err from the truth; and therefore felt it incumbent on him to honor his father's God alone.

(Eusebius VC 1.26-27 qtd. in Drake, 2002).

So what this passage shows us is that the church of the 4th century had no problem identifying proper belief in God with earthy rewards.
Eusebius was widely considered the most learned Christian of his day, and look at what he says went into Constantine's calculation of which god to choose. He portrays Constantine as wanting a god that will protect him from magic arts, and give him a long earthy reign. Notice how Eusebius doesn't make any mention of any modern concerns, such as salvation from sins, in Constantine's calculation of which god to choose. He portrays Constantine's thought process solely in terms of how it would benefit him. Further, he portrays it in such a matter of fact tone, as though there were nothing out of the ordinary, yet in other places he describes him as a model christian, who continuously studies scriptures, prays, etc. And, at the end of the day Constantine's Christianity leads him to being presented and hailed as Isapastolos (equal to the apostles). So how are we to make sense of this apparent contradiction where the most learned christian of the day apparently thinks that Constantine is the greatest christian of the age, but also doesn't see anything problematic with the "anti-christian" reasoning of his conversion. One answer may well be, that his reasonings weren't considered anti -christian at all, but merely par the course. The thought being, "Of course one would want a god who could provide one with earthly benefits." And we should also remember that this was a time of civil war, and so Constantine's unification of the empire really amounts to the salvation of the Roman state. So the Christians at the time would have seen Constantine as saving the empire because of his proper beliefs in God. (Also Maxentius, though he did provide the Christians in Rome with many benefits, was always a pagan.)

Of course that by itself doesn't establish the view, to do so would probably require a book, (actually Drake's book), and an in depth look at the justifications for persecution presented by Porphyry, Diocletian's court philosopher. But for one more example, we can look at the way desert monks were looked at in the 5th century. Take Daniel the Stylite (409-493CE), for example. He lived for more than 30 years confined on a small platform some 60 feet off the ground, his body covered in sources and destroyed by neglect. Now in his Life, a disciple of his records that this man Titus, a Gallic general of the emperor Leo, who was so impressed when he saw Daniel that he gave up everything to follow the lifestyle. The Emperor begged Daniel to return the general, but Daniel ignored him, and Titus died soon after (he had jury-rigged a device that would suspend him from a ceiling beam by his armpits while he lived on a diet of three figs a day). The interesting point of this story for our present discussion is Daniel's reply to emperor Leo's request, and the Emperors response

You yourself need no human aid; for owing to your perfect faith in God you have God as your everlasting defender; do not therefore covert a man who today is and tomorrow is not; for the Lord doeth all things according to His will. therefore, dedicate thy servant to God Who is able to send your Piety in his stead another still braver and more useful; without your approval I never wished to do anything

(qtd. in Drake 2002).

And in response the emperor essentially says thank you. His response is telling because it suggests that Leo viewed being in the good graces of this monk as vital to his successes, note that at this time Leo is holding together the eastern empire while the west is crumbling. Also important is the action of Titus, who ends up giving up the generalship in favor of trying to follow the monk, suggesting that, given the public spiritedness of the age, he viewed that as the best way he could help the empire.

To conclude then, I think these two examples give reason to think that we ought not create a separation between religion and politics in the ancient world, when that's a distinction that is more medieval and modern. A nice upshot to denying the separation is that it unifies roman imperial culture as well, since now religion is playing the same role for Constantinian emperors, as it was for Diocletian going all the way back to Augustus, who continually appealed to Apollo for the safety of the state, and also provides continuity with the republican period as well. The point about the "interesting divide" I was making was that it is what actually provides for the first instance I can find of Toleration in the west, and so the divide becomes how do we tolerate other fundamentally different religious views, i.e., is it possible to allow pagans to pray for the state and maintain the state's safety. And for the longest time under Constantine the tolerance folk had the upper hand. In terms of intellectual statements, it is an interesting question where tolerance develops. The first real place I can find it in the west is in the writings of Lactantius' Divine Institutes in which he writes against the neo-platonists, and tries to head off the Diocletian persecution. Turns out that paganism was thoroughly intolerant of those religions which could resist syncretism, but if you're only tolerant towards those views which you can incorporate without fundamental disagreement, that doesn't sound like tolerance at all.

And lastly, as someone who's day job is the study ancient philosophy, I can in no way endorse Price's claim, and I feel like he completely mischaracterizes the intellectual climate of the ancient and medieval world, by supposing its more unified than it is. In some areas people had no theory of uncertainty, in other areas, particularly areas which had access to Aristotelian texts, they did, of course granted it wasn't mathematized yet....Also sorry for the length of these comments, this is my second favorite period of history, and I love discussing it.

A very basic and silly question to ask then - why wouldn't the same happen then with Catholic/Orthodox split?
On the surface of it it seems to be a rather similar situation - the obscure theological difference (filioque), two different fractions which even use different language and alphabet (greek vs latin) etc.
One would expect a similar-ish situation, no?

4494180 That's a good question. Perhaps because west and east were both already collapsing--and did both mostly collapse--from external threats, the west warring with Vikings, Muslims in Spain, and Mongols, and the east with Mongols, Muslims, and I've forgotten who all else. The First Crusade began just after the Great Schism.

4494176
I understand what you're saying, and your knowledge is impressive, but I still disagree in two respects.

First, re.
>we ought not create a separation between religion and politics in the ancient world, when that's a distinction that is more medieval and modern.

It seems to me that's a distinction first made by the Romans, before Christianity, and we should give them credit for it. It was a distinction that began breaking down after the Edict of Milan, but it had been there. I don't mean that they separated their own state religion from politics, but that, for the people they conquered, they separated religious freedom from political freedom.

Second, re.
> That is exactly how Christians saw themselves in the 4-5 centuries

I think you're implying "all Christians" where you should say "some Christians." You agree that Christianity was illegal in 312 AD, right? How could you believe that in 313 AD, those same Christians suddenly believed the purpose of their religion was to strengthen the state? If that was its purpose, what were they doing all those centuries before, when the state persecuted them? Your argument seems to be that the relationship between church and state was so ingrained in the ancients that they could not conceive of religion in any other way--and yet the very same people had obviously all conceived of the church as being completely independent of the state just one year before 313.

Of course many believed God would side with a Christian state over a non-Christian state--but that belief was equally strong in the Middle Ages, really almost until the present.

I didn't represent Price precisely. What he actually said, IIRC, was that they had no theory to differentiate between acceptable variabilities and errors in measurement. If one person said it was 25 miles from Marathon to Athens, and someone else measured it and got 26, they would probably have thought that meant one of them was wrong.

4494592

Why do you think that the distinction between politics and religion began with the Romans and began breaking down with Milan? The way I see it, the argument you would have to make needs to explain why for the entire republican period, political affairs in the state could be stopped by any of the augurs, or the pontifex maximus on the grounds of seeing a bad omen, a fact that Cato loved to exploit. Additionally it would need to explain the central role that Apollo and Jupiter played during the Principate era, and the start of the practice of the deification of emperors. And, finally, you would need to explain why, in the transition from the Principate to the Dominate during the 3rd century, the Tetrachs began modeling themselves not after traditional Roman emperors, but after eastern kings who were often synonymous with deity. If you can show all that then my argument is defeated in general, but I would also love the correction, as it would save me from a pretty grave error in how I've built up my understanding of the entirety of the Roman world.

I think you're implying "all Christians" where you should say "some Christians."

Fair enough, universal claims are always dangerous in history, but I do mean to say that the vast majority of Christians did see things this way. I would agree that christianity was illegal in 310, made tacitly legal in 311, and in 313 officially legal, but I also think that it is important to remember that the great persecution from 303-310 interrupted a 50 year period where Christianity had been de facto legal, and had been made so by the Emperor Gallienus, who ruled from 260-268, and who ended his father Valerius' persecution (Google seems to like to confuse him with Gallerius and his edict of toleration which ended the Diocletian persecution, and additionally google also seems to think that Gallerius' Edict of Toleration was the first, but this is mistaken, I'll try to find my pdf of the text of Gallienus' who actually had the first). So the majority of Christians would have grown up under this period where they could see themselves as, if not officially ensuring the protection of the state, de facto ensuring the protection of the state. Then we should recall that Eusebius of Caesarea attributed the horrid death of Gallerius, and the death of Diocletian, and the civil war between Constantine and Maxentius culminating in Maxentius defeat, to their going against the Christians during the persecution.

I do think you bring up a really challenging point that to my ears seems more pertinent to our understanding Christianity in the first and second centuries. The question is, how would the church of those centuries seen themselves, since they didn't have de facto rights, and weren't allowed to pray for the empire in their own way. It seems like they would have had to see themselves as independent of the state in just the way you are saying, but that this independence from the state would have had to erode away as the Church grew in power as it approached the third, fourth and fifth. Interestingly the chaos of the third century might have given the church grounds for thinking that it was because they were excluded that the empire was collapsing, just as Diocletian inferred from his successful ending of the 3rd century crisis that it was his loyalty to traditional religion that allowed him to save it. If this is right, then the earliest forms of Christianity are a major break from traditional norms in the Roman world, but then by the time we get to the 4th century Christianity has returned to those norms. I don't know here, and need to look into it, but if this is the case, then it would suggest that the distinction between religion and politics actually has its first appearance in early early Christianity, which would be a really neat result. This period of christianity is so hard to investigate though because its basically a back water movement that no one really cares about until they start destroying local economies by not buying meat (see Pliny's letter to Trajan on the christians).

4494679
4494592

On the one hand, this is a fascinating topic and I enjoy reading your points. On the other hand, I'm slightly disappointed in the both of you. Neither of you have even attempted to call into question the other's sexual orientation, or the honor of their parentage.

4494679

Why do you think that the distinction between politics and religion began with the Romans and began breaking down with Milan? The way I see it, the argument you would have to make needs to explain why for the entire republican period, political affairs in the state could be stopped by any of the augurs, or the pontifex maximus on the grounds of seeing a bad omen, a fact that Cato loved to exploit. Additionally it would need to explain the central role that Apollo and Jupiter played during the Principate era, and the start of the practice of the deification of emperors.

I edited my comment, but you seem to have replied to the original version. I added sentences to clarify that I didn't mean that the Romans separated their religion from their state. They separated freedom of religion from freedom of politics for the people they conquered, thus introducing the concept. The Christian church was formed in that sphere of thought--and, unlike other religions even in Rome, it was never allied with any state or nation. Once it got dragged back into Roman politics, things changed, but by then it had a long tradition of being independent.

I don't know here, and need to look into it, but if this is the case, then it would suggest that the distinction between religion and politics actually has its first appearance in early early Christianity, which would be a really neat result.

It's a priori unlikely, but then again, it's a strongly self-selected observation. I don't know anything about Christianity between the book of John and the 3rd century, though, nor even whether there is anything that can be known. I gather there's some connection with the Essenes, but no one seems to know what it is.

4495076 He can't question my parentage. I have papers.

4493120

That being said, what's with the footnote ordering?

I numbered them in the order that I wrote them. I used to go back and renumber them, but it's a pain and doesn't change the meaning.

4495468
the honor of one's parents, however, can always be brought into question.

Even yours, Mr. 'I have papers proving I'm not an orphan aren't I so fancy'.

4495466

Yeah I missed the correction. And I agree to an extent, I'm just not sure what the distinction amounts to when, for most of the religions Rome encountered, they were easily assimilate, since there were no fundamental theological or philosophic differences. In most cases you could always just add the god into the pantheon, or think that the god was just another aspect of Jupiter or some other god in the pantheon. The only exceptions I'm aware of are Judaism, and Christianity. In the case of Judaism, Israel was made a part of the empire during the civil war between Caesar and Pompeii, and, since the Jews sided with Caesar, they were immediately granted permission to pray for Rome in their own way, and so the problem never really came up.

In the case of Christianity, well we get that interesting 200 year gap that you brought to my attention, so during that period at least, Christians could have quite reasonably have seen themselves as separate. For that period though I don't know enough to really say.

Justinian seems to have been genuinely interested in theology

Well, Hitler and the Nazi’s were genuinely interested in science. A lot of good that did for everybody. :P

What probably would have happened is that the different kingdoms would have fought each other sporadically

Seems logical to me. Lack of religion doesn’t prevent people from killing each other, but it does change the reasons they do it (or the reasons they pretend to, anyway), which probably influences who they kill and when. I suppose you could also consider the hypothesis of religious doctrinal differences acting as a release valve of tensions for a once-great empire that was falling into chaos. It seems not coincidental to me that what amounted to a war on religious purity occurred the same time, I’m sure, people were plagued by the idea of a purer Roman Empire of the past. But then again, I am no historian.

I have a low opinion of the book of John and the writings of Paul; I consider them to be full of fanciful, invented theology, apparently written in ignorance of the events and the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, and they contain most of the objectionable parts of the New Testament.

How come?

EDIT: a few extra tidbits:

The hardest problem in understanding what makes a story good or bad is figuring out what aspects of stories are important because of human nature, and what aspects are important to specific cultures.

I totally agree. Though I suppose this assumes human nature is unchanging, otherwise it's useless (...sort of).

A rough summary of my conclusion is that there is an art of order and an art of chaos, and major artistic clashes represent political differences over whether society needs more order, unity, and stasis, or more freedom, diversity, and change.

I agree. Have you been listening to Johnathan Haidt or Jordan Peterson?

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