Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.IX

Part II: Renovation

IX. Theodosius and the Religion of State

Theodosius finally broke Romanitas and created the Medieval world--though whether he was trying to save Romanitas or create a Christian commonwealth is unclear. (318)

Theodosius came to power as a result of the disaster of Adrianople. (318) His goal was the restoration of the Empire after the barbarian incursions. (318-319) By force and diplomacy he (for the last time) secured the Roman borders and turned to internal affairs. These included civil revolts (319), which were put down only after further extensive national regimentation. (319-320)

Theodosius thus inherited a massive bureaucracy, as well as all the trappings of a despot. (321) The Law itself became holy, and law-breaking a sacrilege. (322) Even his appointees became sacred, and civil service (and all society) became hierarchical. (322-323) Ambition to rise in society thus became a sin. (323)

But, it wasn't making the state holy that marked Theodosius--it was how he did so. Valentinian had tried to found the state on its own strength, and found it to be insufficient, so the church instead had to be its foundation. Yet, Theodosius seems not just to have been a politician, he seems to have been a genuine believer. (324) He was really trying to reconcile Christianity with the state, including a revision of the law that would give special privilege to the church. (325) Attempts were made to reconcile public law with Christian doctrine. (325-326) This was the time that truly marked the death of Classical views of the family. (326-327)

The true revolution, however, was the "Edict of Thessalonica", which established the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal (327-328), a veritable "Orthodox Empire." This Empire 1) adopted Nicene Chrsitianity; and 2) adopted Christianity "as a principle of social integration." (328) The state thus became an arm of the church, and set about enforcing "the theory and practice of orthodoxy." (328-329) Paganism was systematically exterminated (329-330), both in cult and in calendar. (330) The pagan religion was "legislated out of existence" (331), which was quite easy. (331-332)

The overall program was to unite catholicism and citizenship. (332) Heretics were gradually outlawed and kept from the benefits of citizenship. (332-333) Jews were given "unique status" as a legal--but isolated--people/cult. (334-335)

And so the "principle of the Theodosian order" was that it was sacrilege to break the civil law. (335) This was an attempt to bring the vitality of the church into the state. (336) This was more "civilizing" the church than it was "Christianizing" the state. (336-337) The state merely switched its trappings, rather than actually changing (converting) to meet the new religion. Orthodox vs heretic replaced civilized vs. barbarian. This both ripped apart the Western Empire by adding yet another conflict, and preserved the Eastern for another thousand years by strengthening political and religious unity. (337)

Theodosius was the last to "restore the Empire," though in doing so he exhausted "the last reserves of moral and physical energy which it possessed." (337) He tried to save the Empire (like Julius Caesar) and failed, despite great efforts on his part. (337-338) The resulting destruction paved the way for the reconstruction of the modern world. (338)

One immediate effect of the new religion was that no further restraints were placed on catholicism, including on the development of monasticism (338-339), which had both positive and negative moral value, but which had zero political value in the Classical sense. (339-340) It emphasized dependence on God and the independence of man. (340-341) In the monastic movement and new society, even a new polis, was formed. (340-341) Under Basil, "hermeticism" became "monasticism," and by the time of Augustine it had moved West and been adapted to the Western Empire by resisting Manicheanism and reorienting desires properly (342), according to Scripture. The Kingdom of God thus becomes an inner love for God. In this Kingdom, men become ends, rather than means. Food is now for life, not life for food. (343)

This grew as a response to the increasing politicization of Christianity and the failure of the Empire. (343-344) In turn, this was reinforced by the flight of the capable to the church from the state (Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, etc.) (344) Such losses had to be made up by barbarians outside the Empire, which was facilitated by new ideas of equality brought in by Christianity. (344-345)

Theodosius shows this as he blends barbarian and Roman, leading to the idea of a nation-state. (345-346) The church, especially Ambrose, supported these policies. (346-347)

Ambrose was concerned with the freedom of the church to 1) determine its own membership; and 2) to speak freely. (347) Thus the church has rights, while secular society is limited, merely existing to mitigate sin. (347-348) The state becomes relative, and based on Scripture. (348) The church consequently has indirect power--that is, the power to intervene--when the state oversteps. (348-349) This power culminates in a practical way in the excommunication of Theodosius (349-350), and paganism at this point must surely be dead!

Ambrose was even willing to persecute in the name of the Kingdom of God. (350) This points away from the Classical Republic and to the Medieval polity. The new order was laid by Theodosius and fulfilled in the Middle Ages, after the final destruction of the old order. (351) Theodosius was a "twilight man" in a "twilight government." But it was too late, the Empire was already under assault (351-352), and Rome itself was sacked in 410 AD.

The Theodosian Code shows that the city is breaking down. (352) Cities first went bankrupt, then fled the Empire. (352-353) The rich retreated to self-sufficient villas, and renounced their public obligations. (353) Finally, the government could no longer maintain order and legislated/legitimized vigilantism (354), and set up the Dark Ages. (355)

Rome's death was the death of an idea. (355-356) The final effort to Romanize Christianity failed, and may even have hastened collapse.

Was there ever any hope of reconciling Christianity and Classical thought? (356) Reconciliation between peace in this world and peace in the next? (Of course, phrases like "downfall" and "collapse" are sort-of misnomers, and apply only if we approach the whole topic from the Classical perspective.)
The new question was rather one of the relationship between Christianity and barbarism. How well-equipped was Christianity to engage the barbarians? This depends on how Christian thought had developed since Nicea... (356-357)

No comments:

Post a Comment