Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.VII

Part II: Renovation

VII. Apostasy and Reaction

The rise of Julian the Apostate to the throne was a revolution in politics and philosophy "from Christ to Plato." (261-262) This was a "personal enterprise" (262-263), in which through his devotion to things Classical he mingled his (well-deserved) personal animus with public policy. (263) His views of Christianity were shaped by his view of Constantine (263-264), and including the belief that Christianity was escapist and an invitation to license, since all could be forgiven at the cross. (264) Christianity is a relapse to barbarism, falling from Rome and Greece to the very worst aspects of Judaism. (264-265) Julian condemns Christianity, Jesus, and Christian theological claims. (265-266) The Christian God is, in his mind, petty and small, embodying will rather than reason. (266)

These criticisms go back to Celsus (267-268), and suggest inconsistencies between God, evil, the world, and free will. Julian goes farther and condemns Christians in their actions as well as their doctrines (267-268), suggesting that by throwing out Classicism the have thrown out virtue itself. (268) They have replaced reason with saints' relics. This criticism was focused especially on monasticism. (268-269) This particular sort of exhibitionist withdrawal condemned pagans while offering exactly nothing in return (269), only a vague "Christian law." (269-270) Julian called this an attempt to seize virtue and the good life without work. (270)

Monasticism was the exception, not the rule, and tended to be outside the church life (270), though they nominally still submitted and thus rejected reason as the chief guide of life, and hence may in some ways be seen as barbaric. Julian saw them, along with church leaders, as false leaders of stupid congregations. For Julian, Athanasius was the "very spirit of unreasonableness." (271)

And while the Christians fought among themselves, they drained resources from the Empire. (272) Julian's reaction (like Constantius') was an attempt to undo the Constantinian settlement, and move back to Classical ideas of nature, reason, and politics (273), at least those of Plato.

Julian adds no new developments to Platonism, he just adopts it to the now-cosmopolitan Empire. (274) He believes 1) "the Idea is hypostatized;" and 2) the Idea is a cause. (275) This is nothing new, though it is interesting as applied to Romanitas. One can reason back from the varieties of human nature and discern characteristics of God. (276-277) Thus virtue (felicity, the summum bonum) is living according to reason by our natures. (277) This was both a personal and a social ethic (278), and culminated in "philanthropy." The model of kingship then becomes divine (278-279), and Platonic, especially in religion and virtue. (279)

Julian's attempt to Platonize the state was not a move back to the freedom/ideals of Cicero and Augustus. It was rather his attempt to reimpose paganism. Even his bureaucratic reforms were attempts to revivify old Romanitas. (281-282) Favors were switched back to pagan priests and temples, and classical education was promoted. (282) Believing that religion was the foundation of the state, he attacked the corporate church, not individual Christians. (282-283) He removed political benefits and immunities and ordered neutrality on the part of the state, and forbade religious violence. (283-284) Ammianius said this was simple justice, though "disruption" (as in Athanasius) was still not tolerated. (284)

Everyone agreed that the state needed a religion, the real question was "why not Hellenism, the religion of good citizenship rather than of bad?" (285) But if Plato is used, how is he to be adopted to the variety of both local deities across the Empire (Plato was after all a functional monotheist) and to the national standards? (285-286) By restoring traditional rights and by reviving the study of the classics. (286)

Public schools were established and the Emperor set the curriculum. This was seen as only second to war in terms of national importance. Education, for Julian, is not just words, but is the teaching of virtue as well. Which means that the teachers need to be virtuous, which means that they need to be classically Hellenist. (287-288) Thus literature becomes a pillar of the establishment, rather than a repository of mankind. (288) This was a totalitarian step aimed at exterminating Christianity and barring it from the fullness of life. (288-289)

Julian's "restoration" included restoring military glory, which cost him his life and cost Rome the power of 65,000 trained men. (289)
Julian's Campaign against the Sassanids
With him the movement back to paganism died. Not because of him per se, but because of the weaknesses already present in paganism.

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