Freethought Archives > G W Foote & J M Wheeler > Crimes of Christianity
CONSTANTINE the younger, who succeeded the first Christian emperor, restored Athanasius to his primacy, and the archbishop immediately began to expel the Arians, and to restore the churches to the Catholic faith. [25:1] This prince's brief reign was followed by that of his brother, Constantius, who proceeded to walk in their father's footsteps by murdering his relations. Being a semi-Arian, he also expelled Athanasius; but Constans, the emperor of the west, "who, in the indulgence of unlawful pleasures, still professed a lively regard for the orthodox faith," [25:2] threatened if Athanasius were not at once restored to the archiepiscopal throne he would come with an army and a fleet and seat him there. A religious war was averted by the submission of Constantius, but on the death of his brother two Councils, at Arles (A.D. 353), and at Milan (A.D. 355), confirmed the expulsion of Athanasius, all the bishops who refused to subscribe to the sentence being suspended and banished. Athanasius, however, refused to abdicate, and his church was entered by Syrianus, the Duke of Egypt, at the head of five thousand soldiers.
"The doors of the sacred edifice yielded to the impetuosity of the attack, which was accompanied with every horrid circumstance of tumult and bloodshed; but, as the bodies of the slain, and the fragments of military weapons, remained the next day an unexceptional evidence in the possession of the catholics, the enterprise of Syrianus may be considered as a successful irruption, rather than as an absolute conquest. The other churches of the city were profaned by similar outrages; and, during at least four months, Alexandria was exposed to the insults of a licentious army, stimulated by the ecclesiastics of an hostile faction. Many of the faithful were killed, who may deserve the name of martyrs, if their deaths were neither provoked nor revenged; bishops and presbyters were treated with cruel ignominy; consecrated virgins were stripped naked, scourged, and violated; the houses of wealthy citizens were plundered; and under the mask of religious zeal, lust, avarice, and private resentment were gratified with impunity, and even with applause." [26:3]
Athanasius escaped, but many of his adherents were tortured and killed in the hope of finding him. Constantius offered a reward for him, dead or alive, denouncing him as "an impostor, a corruptor of men's souls, a disturber of the city, a pernicious fellow, one convicted of the worst crimes, not to be expiated by his suffering death ten times over." Athanasius retorted that the emperor was an Arian idolator, a hangman, and capable of all kinds of rapine, violence and murder.
Liberius, the Bishop of Rome, who had refused to sanction the exile of Athanasius, was himself banished, and Felix appointed his successor. But the people demanded the return of Liberius, and upon making his submission to the emperor, he was restored. Gibbon says:
"After some ineffectual resistance, his rival was expelled from the city by the permission of the emperor and the power of the opposite faction; the adherents of Felix were inhumanly murdered in the streets, in the public places, in the baths, and even in the churches; and the face of Rome, upon the return of a Christian bishop, renewed the horrid image of the massacres of Marius and the proscriptions of Sylla." [26:4]
The archbishopric of Alexandria was filled by George of Cappadocia, the person who, after an infamous career, became the patron saint of England. Emerson thus describes him:
"George of Cappadocia, born at Epiphanin, in Cilicia, was a low parasite, who got a lucrative contract to supply the army with bacon. A rogue and informer, he got rich, and was forced to run from justice. He saved his money, embraced Arianism, collected a library, and got promoted by a faction to the Episcopal throne of Alexandria. When Julian came, A.D. 361, George was dragged to prison; the prison was burst open by the mob, and George was lynched, as he deserved. And this precious knave became, in good time, Saint George of England, patron of chivalry, emblem of victory and civility, and the pride of the best blood of the modern world." [27:5]
George had been placed in his position by military force, and it is remarked by Gibbon that:
"In the use, as well as in the acquisition of power, the tyrant George disregarded the laws of religion, of justice, and of humanity; and the same scenes of violence and scandal which had been exhibited in the capital were repeated in more than ninety episcopal cities of Egypt." [27:6]
Not satisfied with violence against the clergy of the opposing faction, this worthy caused the widows of the Athanasian party to be scourged on the soles of their feet, the virgins to be stripped naked, and then flogged with the prickly branches of palm-trees, or to be slowly scorched over fires till they abjured their creed. [27:7]
Athanasius had reason to complain of persecution yet he evidently thought it an excellent thing for others. In a letter to Epictetus, Bishop of Corinth, he says: "I wonder your piety suffers these heresies, and that you did not immediately put those heretics under restraint and propose the true faith to them; that if they would not forbear to contradict they might be declared heretics; for it is not to be endured that these things should be either said or heard amongst Christians." In another place he says "that they ought to be held in universal hatred for opposing the truth;" and comforts himself that the emperor, upon due information, would put a stop to their wickedness, and that divine justice would overtake them.
In Constantinople the triumph of Christianity ensured the same prevalence of fanaticism as at Rome and Alexandria. After the death of Alexander the episcopal throne was disputed by Paul and Macedonius. In the space of fourteen years the former was five times driven from his seat, to which he was more frequently restored by the violence of the people than by the permission of the emperor. He was eventually cast into prison, left six days without food, and then strangled. [28:8]
The installation of Macedonius in the see of Constantinople was graced by the slaughter of about three thousand persons. [28:9] So great was his zeal that he not only compelled the reluctant to attend church, but gagged their mouths and compelled them to receive the sacrament. [28:1] As the civil and military forces were at his command, his cruelty was under no restraint. "The delicacy of virgins, guilty of no crime but non-conformity, was not allowed to shield them from violence; they suffered for their obstinacy by having their breasts squeezed between heavy and sharp pieces of wood, or scorched by the application of heated irons and roasted eggs. This mode of torture Socrates, the Church historian remarks, "was never practised even among the heathen, but was invented by those who professed to be Christians." [28:2]
The same learned historian tells us that by the intestine war among the Christians Constantinople was kept in a state of perpetual turbulence, and the most atrocious outrages were perpetrated, whereby many lives were lost." [28:3]
Africa was equally disturbed by the factions of the rival bishops Caecilian and Donatus, which afflicted its provinces above three hundred years, the feud being only extinguished when Christianity was overcome by Mohammedanism. Excommunicated by the Western Church, the Donatists boldly excommunicated all other churches than their own.
"Whenever they acquired a proselyte, even from the distant provinces of the East, they carefully repeated the sacred rites of baptism and ordination; as they rejected the validity of those which he had already received from the hands of heretics or schismatics. Bishops, virgins, and even spotless infants were subjected to the disgrace of a public penance before they could be admitted to the communion of the Donatists. If they obtained possession of a church which had been used by their Catholic adversaries, they purified the unhallowed building with the same jealous care which a temple of idols might have required. They washed the pavement, scraped the walls, burnt the altar, which was commonly of wood, melted the consecrated plate, and cast the Holy Eucharist to the dogs, with every circumstance of ignominy which could provoke and perpetuate the animosity of religious factions." [29:4]
Among the Donatists, the Circumcelliones for a time abstained, in obedience to the evangelical command, from the use of the sword, beating to death those who differed from their theological opinions with massive clubs, to which they gave the significant name of Israelites. [29:5] The well-known sound of "Praise be to God," which they used as their war-cry, diffused consternation over the unarmed provinces of Africa. Many of these fanatics were possessed with the desire of martyrdom, which, in common with most of the early Christians, they deemed the sure passport to eternal bliss. [29:6] They would rudely disturb the festivals and profane the temples of Paganism in order to excite revenge. Gibbon rightly observes:
"In the actions of these desperate enthusiasts, who were admired by one party as the martyrs of God, and abhorred by the other as the victims of Satan, an impartial philosopher may discover the influence and the last abuse of that inflexible spirit which was originally derived from the character and principles of the Jewish nation." [29:7]
There was a striking contrast between the reign of Constantius and that of his pagan successor. Julian decreed universal tolerance. No Christian was visited with punishment on account of his religion. The only means he employed to combat the growing superstition was to write against it, and throughout his short but beneficent reign he afforded convincing proof of the superiority of his Paganism to the Christianity of his predecessors. His temper and his philosophy were so humane that he pardoned a band of Christian soldiers who conspired to assassinate him, and he forgave the people of Antioch for an insult such as the pious Theodosius avenged at Thessalonica by a wholesale massacre.
No sooner, however, was the Christian Jovian on the throne than once more the spirit of bigotry burst into open violence. In Rome the rival bishops, Damasus and Ursinus, disputed by force of arms. Damasus prevailed at the head of his own clergy and hired gladiators, leaving one hundred and thirty-seven dead bodies in the church. [30:8] No wonder Richard Baxter says of the bishops of this period:
"Their feuds and inhuman contentions were so many and so odious that it is a shame to read them. Multitudes of cities had bishops set up against bishops, and some cities more than two or three, the people reviling and hating each other and sometimes fighting tumultuously unto blood for their several prelates. The Christian world was made as a cock-pit, and the Christian religion made a scorn by the contention of the bishops." [30:9]
Jovian made a disgraceful treaty with Persia, and retired to Antioch, where he indulged his disposition for pleasure. The contending leaders of various sects hastened to his court.
"The highways of the East were crowded with Homoousian, and Arian, and semi-Arian, and Eunomian bishops, who struggled to outstrip each other in the holy race; the apartments of the palace resounded with their clamors, and the ears of their prince were assaulted, and perhaps astonished, by the singular mixture of metaphysical argument and passionate invective." [30:1]
The emperor declared for the orthodox doctrines established at the Council of Nice, and his decision led to the conversion of many Arian bishops. Although professing tolerance, he repealed the wise edicts of Julian, which moderated the power of the clergy; and he restored and enlarged their ecclesiastical immunities from the duties of citizenship. He re-established Athanasius on the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria. In return he was promised by that prelate that his orthodox devotion would be rewarded with a long reign. The prophecy failed. Jovian died after reigning seven months. Yet the success of Christianity was assured, and all the emperors who succeeded him continued, though with unequal zeal, the extirpation of Paganism. Gibbon tells us that already, in many cities, the temples were shut or deserted, and the philosophers who had taught in the reign of Julian "thought it prudent to shave their beards and disguise their profession."
In the reign of Valens, the Trinitarian party set up Evagrius as patriarch of Constantinople. The Arian party elected Demophilus. A contest ensued in which the Arians triumphed. Evagrius was driven out and his adherents were subjected to a variety of outrages. Eighty presbyters of the party went to carry a complaint to Valens, then in Nicomedia, but the ship they returned in was purposely set on fire and deserted, and the whole company of ecclesiastics perished. [31:2]
About the same time, Gregory Nazianzen complained of being attacked by the Arians of Constantinople. Ancient women, he says, worse than Jezebels, young nuns, common beggars, and monks like old goats, issuing out of their monasteries, armed with clubs and stones, attacked him and his flock in their church, and wrought much mischief. He did not scruple to retaliate and advocate the persecution of the Arians. He also incited Nectarius to persecute the Apollinarists, which was done accordingly. [31:3]
Upon the accession of Theodosius (379), the orthodox party again triumphed. He convoked the Council of Constantinople, which admitted the Holy Ghost to all the honors of the Trinity, and anathematised all heretics, denouncing by name the Eunomians, the Anomians, the Arians, the Semi-Arians, the Eudoxians, the Marcellians, Photinians, the Apollinarists, the Macedonians, the Sabbatians, the Novatians, the Montanists, the Quarto-decimani, the Tetratites, and the Sabellians.
When the Council was ended, the emperor issued two edicts against heretics, the first prohibiting their holding assemblies in public places or private houses, the second forbidding them to meet in fields or villages, and ordaining that the building or ground used for that purpose should be confiscated.
"In the space of fifteen years, he promulgated at least fifteen severe edicts against the heretics, more especially against those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity; and to deprive them of every hope of escape, he sternly enacted that, if any laws or rescripts should be alleged in their favor, the judges should consider them as the illegal productions either of fraud or forgery." [32:4]
The penal statutes were directed both against heretical ministers and their congregations. The former were exposed to the heavy penalties of exile and confiscation if they presumed to preach the doctrines or to practise the rites of their "accursed" sects; the latter were disqualified from the possession of honorable or lucrative employments. "Their religious meetings, whether public or secret, by day or by night, in cities or in the country, were equally proscribed by the edicts of Theodosius; and the building or ground which had been used for that illegal purpose was forfeited to the Imperial domain." [32:5]
All who did not agree with Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, and Peter the Bishop of Alexandria, were ordered to be exiled and deprived of civil rights.
In Constantinople, where there were many Arians, especially among the Goths, who had been converted by Ulfilas, [32:6] Gaina, one of the officers, petitioned for a church for his co-religionists. Saint Chrysostom bitterly inveighed against the tolerance of heresy, and urged the laws of Theodosius. The saint carried his point, and the consequence was an insurrection of the Goths in the city, which nearly ended in the destruction of the imperial palace and the murder of the emperor, and actually led to the extermination of all the Gothic soldiers and the burning of their Church, with great numbers of persons who fled thither for safety and were locked in to prevent their escape.
Similarly, at Milan, the empress Justina, a patroness of Arianism, and a Jezebel, as St. Ambrose calls her, interceded with her son, Valentinian II, to permit the Arians to have one church for worship in that city. St. Ambrose flatly refused, declaring that all the churches belonged to the bishop; and, as the orthodox populace threatened insurrection, the haughty prelate prevailed.
St. Epiphanius boasted of having caused by his information seventy women, some of high rank, to be sent into exile for their Gnostic heresies, from which he had himself recanted. He saved himself from the fate of his co-religionists by turning evidence against them on the outbreak of the persecution. When the empress Eudoxia recommended to his prayers her son Theodosius the younger, who was dangerously ill, this fanatical saint sent her word that the child should recover if she would get the Origenists and the works of Origen condemned. [33:7] St. Epiphanius pursued even the orthodox St. Chrysostom with his malice, and piously wished that he might die in banishment, as he actually did. St. Chrysostom was not behind him in Christian courtesy. "I hope you will not live to return to your own city," he declared; and the kindly wish was equally fulfilled.
Theodosius ordered that the heretics called Encratites, Saccophori and Hydroparastatae, should be punished summo supplicio et inexpiabili poena. And for the detection of such persons he appointed Inquisitors, who were thus instituted for the first time. [33:8]
The guilt of the Quartodecimani, who perpetrated the atrocious crime of celebrating Easter on the day of the Jewish Passover, and that of the Manichaeans and Audians, was esteemed of such magnitude that it could only be expiated by the death of the offenders.
In the West, after the Council of Saragossa (381) had condemned the errors of Priscillian, Bishop of Avila, he and his followers were prosecuted, chiefly at the instigation of Ithacius, Bishop of Sassuba, and charged with magic and numerous impieties. Priscillian and his friends went to Rome to justify themselves, but Damasus would not admit them even into his presence. They then repaired to Milan to beg the same favor of St. Ambrose. He also refused to receive them. Ithacius, and other bishops of like mind, managed so well with the western usurper, Maximius, that he condemned Priscillian and his chief followers to be tortured and executed. Among these were Matronius (called Latronian by Sulpicius Severus and Gibbon), a poet who is said to have rivalled the fame of the ancients; Felicissimus, Julianius, and a noble, learned lady, named Enchrotia. Others had their goods confiscated and were banished to the Scilly Islands. [34:9]
From this treatment of heretics we may infer the sentiments held towards Jews and Pagans. St. Ambrose, who by his zeal and inflexibility, acquired supremacy over the mind of Theodosius, induced that monarch to abolish the altar of Victory which remained the symbol of Paganism in the hall of the Roman Senate. Symmachus, the Pagan who opposed him, was disgraced and banished. Theodosius then proposed to the Senate, according to the forms of the republic, the important question whether the worship of Jupiter or that of Christ should be the religion of the Romans.
"The liberty of suffrages, which he affected to allow, was destroyed by the hopes and fears that his presence inspired; and the arbitrary exile of Symmachus was a recent admonition that it might be dangerous to oppose the wishes of the monarch. On a regular division of the Senate, Jupiter was condemned and degraded by the sense of a very large majority; and it is rather surprising that any members should be found bold enough to declare, by their speeches and votes, that they were still attached to the interest of an abdicated deity." [35:1]
The proof of the ascendancy of St. Ambrose over Theodosius was seen not only in his making him do penance for the wanton massacre of seven thousand persons at Thessalonica, but in a matter much less to the Father's credit. The Governor of the East reported to the emperor that a synagogue of the Jews and a church of the Valentinians had been burnt by the Christian populace at the instigation of the bishop. Theodosius gave orders that the synagogue should be rebuilt at the bishop's charge. Thereupon St. Ambrose wrote to him a letter which is still extant, [35:2] declaring that the order was not consistent with the emperor's piety, defending the action of the bishop and those who burnt the synagogue, and maintaining the unlawfulness of rebuilding it. He further declared that he would have done the same thing at Milan if God had not anticipated him by burning the Jewish synagogue himself, and even threatened to deprive the emperor of communion if he did not recall his order. The pious monarch complied with the will of the haughty ecclesiastic and excused the incendiaries from making restitution. [35:3] The same saint, in advocating the plunder of the vestal virgins and the Pagan priests, maintained the doctrine that it is criminal for a Christian state to grant endowments to the ministers of any but the orthodox religion, [35:4] and expressly praised and recommended the zeal of Josiah in the destruction of idolatry.
Dean Milman assigns to St. Ambrose all the credit or discredit of extinguishing Paganism.
"It was Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, who enforced the final sentence of condemnation against Paganism; asserted the sin, in a Christian Emperor, of assuming an Imperial title connected with Pagan worship; and of permitting any portion of the public revenue to be expended on the rites of idolatry. It was Ambrose who forbade the last marks of respect to the tutelar divinities of Rome in the public ceremonies." [36:5]
When Theodosius had become sole master of the Roman Empire, he proceeded with the utmost zeal to extirpate the Pagan religion. The inspection of the entrails of victims and magical rites had already been capital offences, but in A.D. 391 he issued an edict forbidding all sacrifices by the most severe punishment, and even prohibiting entrance into a temple. In A.D. 392 all immolations were forbidden to any person of whatever rank, under pain of death, and all other acts of idolatry under forfeiture of the house or land in which the offence was committed. The harmless garlands, frankincense, and libations of wine were condemned. To hang up a simple chaplet was to incur the forfeiture of an estate. Even the Lares and Penates, the household gods, around which clustered the tender ancestral associations of Paganism, were included in these rigorous proscriptions, and those who failed to reveal and denounce offenders were threatened with penalties. [36:6] Jortin candidly remarks:
"One would think that the Emperor intended to turn all his Christian subjects into informers and pettifoggers, and to set them, like so many spies and eavesdroppers, to peep into the dwellings of the Pagans, and to see whether they paid any religious honors to their household gods." [36:7]
If the French Freethinkers were not only to close the churches and proscribe the performance of Mass as a penal offence, but were also to punish the use of rosaries and relics, and the private possession of religious pictures, we should have a parallel to the high-handed proceedings of Christians towards their opponents as soon as they found themselves invested with power.
Christians universally deemed it their duty to suppress and destroy idolatry, and the sanguinary laws of the Jews, and the example of their dealing with idolators, were frequently held up as the models for Christian conduct. Lecky observes that:
"A large portion of theological ethics was derived from writings in which religious massacres, on the whole the most ruthless and sanguinary upon record, were said to have been directly enjoined by the deity, in which the duty of suppressing idolatry by force was given a greater prominence than any article of the moral code, and in which the spirit of intolerance has found its most eloquent and most passionate expressions. [37:8] Besides this the destiny theologians represented as awaiting the misbeliever was so ghastly and so appalling as to render it almost childish to lay any stress upon the earthly suffering that might be inflicted in the extirpation of error."
"The new religion, unlike that which was disappearing, claimed to dictate the opinions as well as the actions of men, and its teachers stigmatised as an atrocious crime the free expression of every opinion on religious matters diverging from them." [37:9]
In the reign of Valens laws had been published ostensibly against sorcery, but really against Pagan philosophy and learning. Milman tells us:
"So severe an inquisition was instituted into the possession of magical books, that, in order to justify their sanguinary proceedings, vast heaps of manuscripts relating to law and general literature were publicly burned, as if they contained unlawful matter. Many men of letters throughout the East, in their terror, destroyed their whole libraries, lest some innocent or unsuspected work should be seized by the ignorant or malicious informer, and bring them unknowingly within the relentless penalties of the law." [37:1]
Theodosius also decreed that "all writings whatever which Porphyry or anyone else has written against the Christian religion, in the possession of whomsoever they shall be found, shall be committed to the fire." [37:2] Thus were the evidences of Christianity effectually established, and the opposition of learned and philosophical Pagans overcome.
Draper says of the ecclesiastics of that time:
"A burning zeal rather than the possession of profound learning animated them. But eminent position once attained, none stood more in need of the appearance of wisdom. Under such circumstances, they were tempted to set up their own notions as final and unimpeachable truth, and to denounce as magic, or the sinful pursuit of vain trifling, all the learning that stood in the way. In this the hand of the civil power assisted. It was intended to cut off every philosopher. Every manuscript that could be seized was forthwith burned. Throughout the East, men in terror destroyed their libraries, for fear that some unfortunate sentence contained in any of the books should involve them and their families in destruction. The universal opinion was that it was right to compel men to believe what the majority of society had now accepted as the truth, and if they refused it was right to punish them." [38:3]
Draper also remarks that "Impartial history is obliged to impute the origin of these tyrannical and scandalous acts of the civil power to the influence of the clergy, and to hold them responsible for the crimes."
St. Augustine was the most renowned theologian of that age, and of him Mr. Lecky observes:
"For a time he shrank from, and even condemned, persecution; but he soon perceived in it the necessary consequence of his principles. He recanted his condemnation; he flung his whole genius into the cause; he recurred to it again and again, and he became the framer and the representative of the theology of intolerance.
The arguments by which Augustine supported persecution were, for the most part, those which I have already stated. Some of them were drawn from the doctrine of exclusive salvation, and others from the precedents of the Old Testament. It was merciful, he contended, to punish heretics, even by death, if this could save them or others from the eternal suffering that awaited the unconverted. Heresy was described in Scripture as a kind of adultery; it was the worst species of murder, being the murder of souls; it was a form of blasphemy, and on all these grounds might justly be punished. If the New Testament contained no examples of the apostles employing force, this was simply because in their time no priest had embraced Christianity. But had not Elijah slaughtered with his own hand the prophets of Baal? Did not Hezekiah and Josiah, the king of Nineveh, and Nebuchadnezzar, after his conversion, destroy by force idolatry within their dominions, and were they not expressly commended for this piety? St. Augustine seems to have originated the application of the words 'Compel them to come in' to religious persecution." [39:4]
St. Jerome, another renowned Father of that age, and the translator of the Vulgate Bible, shared these sentiments. "If," writes Jortin, "we should say that Jerome was a persecutor, we should do him no wrong; we have it under his own hand." [39:5]
With these views animating their ablest men, and with a bigoted and priest-led emperor upon the throne, the Christians felt themselves authorised to avenge on the Pagan edifices any infraction of the imperial edicts. Theodosius authorised Cynegius, Prefect of the East, to shut the temples, to seize or destroy the instruments of idolatry, to abolish the privileges of the priests, and to confiscate the consecrated property, for the benefit of the emperor, of the Church, and of the army. [39:6] He further decreed that, if any Governor of Egypt so much as entered a temple, he should be fined fifteen pounds of gold. But the Christians were not satisfied with this. As long as the temples remained, the Pagans fondly cherished the secret hope that an auspicious revolution, or a second Julian, might restore the altars of the gods; and the earnestness with which they addressed their unavailing prayers to the throne increased the zeal of the Christians to extirpate without mercy the root of superstition. Moreover, as Dean Milman observes:
"The Christians believed in the existence of the heathen deities, with, perhaps, more undoubting, faith than the heathens themselves. The daemons who inhabited the temples were spirits of malignant and pernicious power, which it was no less the interest than the duty of the Christians to expel from their proud and attractive mansions." [39:7]
The canons of Gregory and Basil, as well as the severe edicts of Theodosius against apostasy, by which all were made outlaws, who, having once become Christian, afterwards returned to Paganism, show that the ancient faith was often secretly cherished by the converts. [40:8]
"Soon after the accession of Theodosius, the Pagans, particularly in the East, saw the storm gathering in the horizon. The monks, with perfect impunity, traversed the rural districts, demolishing all the unprotected edifices. In vain did the Pagans appeal to the episcopal authority; the bishops declined to repress the over-active, perhaps, but pious zeal of their adherents." [40:9]
In Gaul, the celebrated St. Martin of Tours went from place to place, with a band of faithful monks, burning temples and destroying the sacred places. [40:1] Tillemont says "he was persuaded, as almost all the saints were, that the end of the world was at hand." [40:2] His life was speedily regarded as a model for the imitation of all devout Christians. [40:3]
In Syria the divine and excellent Marcellus, as the Bishop of Apamea is styled by the Church historian Theodoret, resolved to level the Pagan temples within his diocese. He himself set fire to one temple, but, while his followers went to burn another, a band of rustics caught and burnt him. [40:4] Gibbon tells us that "the synod of the province pronounced, without hesitation, that the holy Marcellus had sacrificed his life in the cause of God." The desert monks, who supported Marcellus and fought in this holy cause, were less moral than zealous. "Some of them," says Gibbon, "might deserve the reproaches of avarice and intemperance - of avarice, which they gratified with holy plunder; and of intemperance, which they indulged at the expense of the people, who foolishly admired their tattered garments, loud psalmody, and artificial paleness." [41:5]
The stately temple at Edessa, one of the most magnificent edifices in the world, was seized by a troop of monks and soldiers and completely destroyed. The Pagan orator, Libanius, who, as the minister of Julian had exhibited a spirit of tolerance even more remarkable than that of his master, pleaded the peasants' cause with courage, dignity and pathos. [41:6] He recalled the illustrious origin and character of the temples which were, he said, to the peasants the symbol and manifestation of religion - the solace of their troubles, the most sacred of their joys. To destroy their temples was to annihilate their dearest associations; the tie that linked them to the dead would be severed; the poetry of life, the consolation of labor, the source of faith, would be destroyed. Conversions, as the result of such persecution, were but acts of hypocrisy. Libanius even condescended to appeal to motives of taste to save the gorgeous and artistic monuments of antiquity, suggesting that, even if alienated from religious and let for profane purposes, they might be a productive source of revenue. But the arguments and eloquence of the Pagan orator were wasted on unheeding ears.
Although the emperor did not at first direct the destruction of the temples, the monks were permitted to take the law into their own hands with impunity.
"In almost every province of the Roman world, an army of fanatics, without authority and without discipline, invaded the peaceful inhabitants; and the ruin of the fairest structures of antiquity still displays the ravages of those barbarians, who alone had time and inclination to execute such laborious destruction." [41:7]
These Christian barbarians went to work in a spirit of ferocity, regardless of all that had made Pagan civilization valuable. They denied not only liberty of worship, but what they had been allowed to the full by Paganism - liberty of thought and expression. To the true believer objects of art and culture were but vanities, seducing from the claims of another world. Eunapius informs us that the monks led the Goths through Thermopylae into Greece, and rejoiced in their devastation of the classic monuments of Greek art. [42:8]
"After the edicts of Theodosius," says Gibbon, "had severely prohibited the sacrifices of the Pagans, they were still tolerated in the city and temple of Serapis." The ruins of this noble edifice may still be distinguished at Alexandria. It "rivalled the pride and magnificence of the Capitol," and "its stately halls and exquisite statues displayed the triumph of the arts." The great Museum within its precincts became the favored seat of science and learning, to which philosophers flocked from all parts of the world. Botanical gardens, zoological menageries, anatomical and astronomical schools, and chemical laboratories, afforded ample provision for study. There were also two splendid libraries, containing over seven hundred thousand volumes, which had been collected at immense labor and expense. The Alexandrine school produced some of the most distinguished men in the history of science; such as Euclid the geometer, Archimedes the mechanist, Eratosthenes the astronomer, Apollonius who is said to have invented the first clock, Hero who seems to have invented the first steam-engine, and Hippocrates the father of medicine. [42:9] But this great scientific school had expired before the age of Theodosius, although Alexandria still sheltered the relics of Greek philosophy, and the Serapion preserved the learning of antiquity upon its shelves.
The Archbishop of Alexandria at this period was Theophilus, who is described by Gibbon as "the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood." [42:1] Jortin says that "he was a man of parts, and a consummate knave." "Socrates, Palladius, and other writers," he adds, "agree in describing Theophilus as a prelate guilty of perjury, calumny, violence, persecution, lying, cheating, robbing, bearing false witness." [43:2] Jortin elsewhere describes him as a "covetous and violent prelate," who "employed the basest ingenuity and the most scandalous tricks to revenge himself" on those who "could not approve his vile behavior"; and, indeed, there was nothing of which he was not capable. As a persecutor, he was exceedingly active and unscrupulous. He assembled a council at Alexandria in A.D. 399, and procured the condemnation of the works of Origen. [43:3] He then ordered the excommunication of all who approved them, and with an armed force drove the monks from the mountains of Nitria. His malice was also directed against Chrysostom. By the private invitation of the Empress Eudoxia, whom the great preacher had reviled as Jezebel, "Theophilus landed at Constantinople, with a stout body of Egyptian mariners, to encounter the populace; and a train of dependent bishops, to secure, by their voices, the majority of a synod." [43:4] Chrysostom was summoned to the Council of Chalcedon, but he "refused to trust either his person or his reputation in the hands of his implacable enemies." He was therefore condemned as contumacious and deposed from his archbishopric. His arrest and banishment were the result of this sentence. But he was soon recalled and avenged. "The first astonishment of his faithful people," says Gibbon, "had been mute and passive; they suddenly rose with unanimous and irresistible fury. Theophilus escaped; but the promiscuous crowd of monks and Egyptian mariners were slaughtered without pity in the streets of Constantinople." [43:5]
It was reserved for this fighting prelate to destroy the Alexandrine library in the name of Christ. After a bloody dispute between the Christians and the Pagans, in which the latter defended their temple with desperate courage, an imperial rescript of Theodosius ordered the immediate destruction of the idols of Alexandria. Headed by their archbishop, the Christians began the holy enterprise. The great temple of Serapis was reduced to a heap of rubbish, and the battle-axe of a Christian soldier shattered the huge idol, whose limbs were ignominiously dragged through the streets. [44:6] Not content with this ravage, the archbishop turned his attention to the library, which "was pillaged or destroyed; and nearly twenty years afterwards the appearance of the empty shelves excited the regret and indignation of every spectator whose mind was not totally darkened by religious prejudice." [44:7]
Dr. Smith seeks to exonerate Theophilus and his pious rabble from this crime. "It would appear," he says, "that it was only the sanctuary of the god that was levelled with the ground, and that the library, the halls, and other buildings in the consecrated ground, remained standing long afterwards." He "concludes" that the library "existed down to A.D. 638," when, according to Amrou, it was burnt by the order of the caliph Omar. [44:8] But Gibbon easily disposes of this fabulous story. The destruction of books is repugnant to the spirit and the precepts of Mohammedanism, and the early historians of the Saracenic capture of Alexandria do not allude to such an incident; nor is there the slightest evidence of the existence of the library during the interval between Theophilus and Omar.
Theophilus was succeeded in the see of Alexandria by his nephew Cyril, who flourished from A.D. 412 to A.D. 444. His first exploit was characteristic of his family and his profession. "He immediately," says Socrates, "shut up all the Novatian churches in Alexandria, took away all their plate and furniture, and all the goods and chattels of their bishop, Theopemptus." [45:9]
He next attacked the Jews, who numbered forty thousand.
"Without any legal sentence, without any royal mandate, the patriarch, at the dawn of day, led a seditious multitude to the attack of the synagogues. Unarmed and unprepared, the Jews were incapable of resistance; their houses of prayer were levelled with the ground, and the episcopal warrior, after rewarding his troops with the plunder of their goods, expelled from the city the remnant of the unbelieving nation." [45:1]
Jortin alleges that the Jews began the quarrel, but he censures, no less severely than Gibbon, the "insolent behavior" of this soldier of the cross.
Orestes, the Roman governor, who protested against Cyril's usurpation of the secular power, was assaulted in the streets by "wild beasts of the desert" in the form of Christian monks. His face was wounded by a stone, but the monk who cast it was seized and executed. Cyril buried him with great honor, preached his funeral sermon, changed his name from Ammonius to Thaumasius, the wonderful, and elevated a rebel and an assassin into a martyr and a saint.
Cyril was by no means a man of genius. He held that "Christians ought to believe without inquiring too curiously, and that a man must be a Jew to insist upon reasons and to ask how on mysterious subjects, and that the same how would bring him to the gallows." [45:2] According to Jortin, "his writings overflow with trash," and "his sermons are flat and tiresome to the last degree." [45:3] Yet a comely person and a musical voice acquired for him the fame of a popular preacher; and his reputation was heightened by a "band of parasites, who used to praise him and clap him when he preached." [45:4] His pride was incensed, however, by the fame of a Pagan rival, whom he removed by the method of assassination.
"Hypatia, the daughter of Theon the mathematician, was initiated in her father's studies; her learned comments have elucidated the geometry of Apollonius and Diophantus; and she publicly taught, both at Athens and Alexandria, the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. In the bloom of beauty, and in the maturity of wisdom, the modest maid refused her lovers and instructed her disciples; the persons most illustrious for their rank or merit were impatient to visit the female philosopher; and Cyril beheld, with jealous eye, the gorgeous train of horses and slaves who crowded the door of her academy. A rumor was spread among the Christians, that the daughter of Theon was the only obstacle to the reconciliation of the prefect and the archbishop; and that obstacle was speedily removed. On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster-shells, and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames. The just progress of inquiry and punishment was stopped by seasonable gifts; but the murder of Hypatia has imprinted an indelible stain on the character and religion of Cyril of Alexandria." [46:5]
Dr. Smith accuses Gibbon of exaggeration, and says that "her throat was probably cut with an oyster-shell," as though the supposition diminished the heinousness of her murder. Socrates, the nearest historian to the event, distinctly says they "murdered her with shells" in the plural, implying that the fanatics assailed her person with indiscriminate fury. [46:6] Jortin says that "Cyril was strongly suspected of being an instigator of this iniquity," and that "neither Socrates or Valesius has dropped one word in his vindication," while Damascius openly accuses him of the crime. [46:7] His guilt may be considered demonstrated by the fact that the Church has elevated him to the dignity of a saint.
So perished this young and beautiful woman, a victim to the envy
and bigotry of a Christian priest who was unworthy to touch the hem
of her garment. She typified in her own sweet
person the witchery and the magic of Greece. With Hypatia
philosophy itself expired in the intellectual metropolis of the
world. There was henceforth no shelter for the lovers of wisdom;
the world was prostrate at the feet of the Church; and the Dark
Ages, swiftly approaching, buried almost every memory of what was
once noble and lovely in the antiquity of thought.