Friday, September 26, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.VIII

Part II: Renovation

VIII. State and Church in the New Republic

Valentinian marked the "penultimate" stage of Romanitas. (292) Under the nominal name of Christianity, Classical culture retrenched, tried to weather the storm, and prepared for someone like Theodosius.
Following Julian the Apostate, Jovian restored Christianity and repudiated paganism. (292-293) This meant the death of further attempts at the reinvigoration of paganism by purely political and secular means. (293)

And yet, the two--Christianity and the Empire--remained at odds. The rise of Valentinian and Valens did not spark the same hopes that Constantine had, since realism had replaced millenialism. (294) Toleration was again the order of the day, though with "exemptions and immunities" for Christians. (294-295) Moderation was the watchword of the times (296), especially moderation which promoted public order. This came along with vast barbarian invasions. (296-297) War set the Empire on a military footing, with higher taxes and conscription, even of monks. (298) Veterans' benefits were escalated, and the requirements for service were largely eliminated. (299)

None of this was done in the name of religion. The Emperor's power was unique and secular, not religious. (299-300) Valentinian continued the reforms of Julian (not the religious ones, of course), albeit from a conservative rather than from a Christian foundation. (300-301) These efforts were, overall, ultimately just a part of the gradual bureaucratization of all things begun by Aurelian. (302) Thus, rules were set for public services, bakers (302-304), shipping, ship building, and trade. (303-304) Strict controls were placed on these institutions and corporations. (304) Even labor was regulated. (304-305)

The spirit of the age was all about "service" (305), which meant "work", either labor or money. Since all worked for the state, "individual enterprise" died. (306) Property remained, though it became hereditary. Thus "property" and "contract" were severed from each other (306-307), and practical servitude was the result. (307) Economic bureaucracy was the order of the day, with each place in society being determined by its economic value. (307) This culminated in the regulation and ordering of even dress. (307)

This was to some extent influenced by the Orient, but it remained Roman in nature. (308) In this ordered society, education became increasingly important. (308) Valentinian and the Christians managed to co-opt education, exactly the way Julian had failed to do. State schools were mandated and teaching turned into a caste. This included the founding of "imperial universities" (310), and libraries as well. Private instruction was consequently outlawed.

These efforts reflected 1) traditional pagan thought (see Amiannus, for example), and 2) Christians who used pagan methods.

Ammianus reflects the first, being just an old-line pagan. (311-312) Ausonius the poet reflects the second (313-314), where he translates Christian doctrine into pagan poetry. In reflecting on the new order, Ammianus criticizes 1) the aristocrats, who waste their lives and follow charlatans, rather than serving the state and philosophy (314-315); and 2) Imperial society, which had perverted justice to the point where it could no longer be the solution to politics as promised by Augustus. (316) Lawyers especially had corrupted the complex bureaucracy and legal code.

Yet, Ammianus is a shallow thinker, assuming that lawyers--and not the Classical ideal itself--were at fault. (316-317) He doesn't really understand the challenge or promise of Christianity. Virtue and fortune were really no longer sufficient to explain the world.

If all this is true, Valentinian may have been the last true Roman Emperor. He was working for a system of values that no longer held up in the real world, though he at least saw the need for fresh vitality from an outside source. (317)

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