ARLY CHRISTIAN DESTRUCTION OF PAGAN CULTURES

- Vlasis Rassias

Although Christianity claims to preach love and brotherhood, its actual history reflects very little of either. Once the nascent creed established itself, one of its first tasks was to eradicate every other culture and religion standing in its way, especially of the Gentle sort, i.e. heathen or pagan. An awareness of this historical development essential to counter the popular view, assiduously nourished by Christian churches, that early Christianity arose out of the sacrifice of numerous “martyrs” tortured by cruel Pagans. While a few early Christians, often calling for the destruction of Pagan cults and culture, were indeed executed by Roman authorities, scholars today agree that many of the so-called martyrdoms receive no corroboration from history and may be later constructions. On the other hand, no one who studies history objectively can deny that pagans as well as “heretical” Christians were persecuted and murdered in far greater numbers as the behest of the growing church.

The following list of a few such landmarks was prepared by the Greek thinker and author Vlasis Rassias. Since the mid-1980s, he has “focused on the living, threatened or extinct polytheistic ethnic religions of the globe with special focus on the pre-Christian Hellenic [i.e., ancient Greek] tradition.” This chronology, reproduced with his permission, is extracted from his book Demolish them; it covers much of the first millennium AD.

Read about it on http://listentohearts.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/early-chritstian-destruction-of-pagan-cultures/

Another Account:

The Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I began in 381, after the first couple of years his reign in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 380s, Theodosius I reiterated Constantine's ban on Pagan sacrifice, prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, pioneered the criminalization of Magistrates who did not enforce anti-Pagan laws, broke up some pagan associations and destroyed Pagan temples.

Between 389-391 he emanated the infamous "Theodosian decrees," which establed a practical ban on paganism;[1] visits to the temples were forbidden,[2][3] remaining Pagan holidays abolished, the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum extinguished, the Vestal Virgins disbanded, auspices and witchcrafting punished. Theodosian refused to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, as asked by Pagan Senators.

In 392 he became emperor of the whole empire (the last one to do so). From this moment till the end of his reign in 395, while Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration,[4][5] he authorized or participated in the destruction of many temples, holy sites, images and objects of piety throughout the empire.[6] [7][8][9][10]participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites.[11] He issued a comprehensive law that prohibited any Pagan ritual even within the privacy of one's home,[12] and was particularly oppressive ofManicheans.[13] Paganism was now proscribed, a "religio illicita".[14] He is likely to have suppressed the Ancient Olympic Games, whose last record of celebration is from 393.[15]

Initial tolerance (379-381)

Theodosius I, who initially now reigning in the East, had been relatively tolerant towards Pagans in the early part of his reign.[16] He is known to have appointed various Pagans to office in the earlier part of his reign. For example, he appointed the Pagan Tatianus as the praetorian prefect of Egypt.[17] For the first part of his rule, Theodosius seems to have ignored the semi-official standing of the Christian bishops; in fact he had voiced his support for the preservation of temples or pagan statues as useful public buildings. In his early reign, Theodosius was fairly tolerant of the pagans, for he needed the support of the influential pagan ruling class. However he would in time stamp out the last vestiges of paganism with great severity.[18]

Theodosius I's relative tolerance for other religions is also indicated by his later order (in 388) for the reconstruction of a Jewish synagogue atCallicinum in Mesopotamia[19]

[edit]Persecution

[edit]First attempts to inhibit paganism (381-388)

His first attempt to inhibit paganism was in 381 when he reiterated Constantine's ban on sacrifice. In 384 he prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, and unlike earlier anti-pagan prohibitions, he made non-enforcement of the law, by Magistrates, into a crime itself.

Both Theodosius and Valentinian II formally recognized Maximus in the year 384. For a time, the Pagans enjoyed religious liberty once again and many distinguished Pagans rose to important offices in the state.[20] The fact that the temples continued to be cared for and that Pagan festivals continued to be celebrated is indicated by a law of 386, which declared that care for the temples and festivals were the exclusive prerogative of the Pagans.[21] This law also confirms the right of the priests to perform the traditional Pagan rites of the temples. In the year 387, Theodosius declared war on Maximus after Maximus had driven Valentinian II out of Italy. Maximus was defeated and executed and the anti-Pagan regulations of Gratian were apparently reinstated by Valentinian II.

In 388 he sent a prefect to Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor with the aim of breaking up pagan associations and the destruction of their temples. The Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed during this campaign.[22]

[edit]Theodosian decrees (389-391)

In a series of decrees called the "Theodosian decrees" he progressively declared that those Pagan feasts that had not yet been rendered Christian ones were now to be workdays (in 389).

In 391, he reiterated the ban of blood sacrifice and decreed "no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk through the temples, or raise his eyes to statues created by the labor of man"[2] (decree "Nemo se hostiis polluat", Codex Theodosianus xvi.10.10). Also in the year 391, Valentinian IIwhich was emperor in the West under the aegis of Theodosius, under the advice of Ambrose issued a law that not only prohibited sacrifices but also forbade anyone from visiting the temples.[3] This again caused turbulence in the West. Valentinian II quickly followed this law with a second one, which declared that Pagan temples were to be closed, a law that was viewed as practically outlawing Paganism.[1]

of Alexandria immediately noted in applying for permission to demolish a site and cover it with a Christian church, an act that must have received general sanction, for mithraea forming crypts of churches, and temples forming the foundations of 5th century churches appear throughout the former Roman Empire.

By decree in 391, Theodosius ended the subsidies that had still trickled to some remnants of Greco-Roman civic Paganism too. The eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was extinguished, and the Vestal Virgins were disbanded. Taking the auspices and practicingwitchcraft were to be punished. Pagan members of the Senate in Rome appealed to him to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House; he refused.

The apparent change of policy that resulted in the "Theodosian decrees" has often been credited to the increased influence of Ambrosebishop of Milan. In 390 Ambrose had excommunicated Theodosius, thereafter he had greater influence with a penitent Theodosius.[9]The excomunication was due to Theodosius orders which resulted in the massacre of 7,000 inhabitants ofThessalonica,[23] in response to the assassination of his military governor stationed in the city, and that Theodosius performed several months of public penance.

Some modern historians question the consequences of the laws against pagans.[24] The specifics of the decrees were superficially limited in scope, specific measures in response to various petitions from Christians throughout his administration[citation needed].

In the year 391 in Alexandria in the wake of the great anti-pagan riots "busts of Serapis which stood in the walls, vestibules, doorways and windows of every house were all torn out and annihilated..., and in their place the sign of the Lord's cross was painted in the doorways, vestibules, windows and walls, and on pillars."[9]

[edit]War on paganism by Theodosius (392-395)

Rome was more pagan than Christian up until the 390's; Gaul, Spain and northern Italy, in all but the urban areas, were pagan, save Milan which remained half pagan.[9]

In the year 392, Theodosius become Emperor of also the western part of the Roman Empire, and will be the last emperor to rule over both. In the same year he officially began to proscribe the practice of Paganism. This is the time in which he authorized the destruction of many temples throughout the empire.[6]

[edit]Christian actions against major Pagan sites

Theodosius participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites: the destruction of the gigantic Serapeum of Alexandria by soldiers and local Christian citizens in 392, according to the Christian sources authorized by Theodosius (extirpium malum), needs to be seen against a complicated background of less spectacular violence in the city: Eusebius mentions street-fighting in Alexandria between Christians and non-Christians as early as 249, and non-Christians had participated in the struggles for and against Athanasius in 341 and 356. "In 363 they killed Bishop George for repeated acts of pointed outrage, insult, and pillage of the most sacred treasures of the city."[11]

[edit]Repression of domestic rituals, religio illicita

Theodosius issued a comprehensive law that prohibited the performance of any type of Pagan sacrifice or worship, even within the privacy of a person's own home.[12][25] Theodosius prohibited men from privately honoring their Lares with fire, their Genius with wine, or their Penateswith incense. Men were prohibited from such traditions as burning candles or incense and suspending wreaths in honor of the deities. Theodosius also prohibited the practice of all forms of divination, even those forms of divination that were not considered harmful to the welfare of the Emperor, with this wide-ranging law. The laws were particularly hard against the Manicheans who were deprived of the right to make wills or to benefit from them. Manicheans could be sought out by informers, brought to court and in some cases executed.[13] Paganism was now proscribed, a "religio illicita".[14]

[edit]Repression from 393 till 395

In 393, Theodosius was ready to begin his war against Eugenius and Arbogastes. The battle that ensued became, in essence, a battle for the survival of Paganism.[26] The defeat of Eugenius by Theodosius in 394 led to the final separation of Paganism from the state. Theodosius visited Rome to attempt to convert the Pagan members of the Senate. Being unsuccessful in this, he withdrew all state funds that had been set aside for the public performance of Pagan rites.[4] From this point forward, state funds would never again be made available for the public performance of Pagan rites nor for the maintenance of the Pagan temples. Despite this setback on their religion, the Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration.[5] Many Pagans simply pretended to convert as an obvious instrument of advancement.

"Theodosius was not the man to sympathise with the balancing policy of the Edict of Milan. He set himself steadfastly to the work of establishing Catholicism as the privileged religion of the state, of repressing dissident Christians (heretics) and of enacting explicit legal measures to abolish Paganism in all its phases."[27]

Examples of the destruction of pagan temples in the late fourth century, as recorded in surviving texts, describes Martin of Tours' attacks on holy sites in Gaul,[7] the destruction of temples in Syria by Marcellus[8] the destruction of temples and images in, and surrounding, Carthage,[9] the Patriarch Theophilus who seized and destroyed pagan temples in Alexandria,[10] the levelling of all the temples in Gaza and the wider destruction of holy sites that spread rapidly throughout Egypt.[9] This is supplemented in abundance by archaeological evidence in the northern provinces (for which written sources hardly survive) exposing broken and burnt out buildings and hastily buried objects of piety.[9]The leader of the Egyptian monks who participated in the sack of temples replied to the victims who demanded back their sacred icons: "I peacefully removed your gods...there is no such thing as robbery for those who truly possess Christ.[9]

After the last Ancient Olympic Games in 393, it is believed that either Theodosius I, or his grandson Theodosius II in AD 435, suppressed them forever.[15] In the official records of the Roman Empire, the reckoning of dates by Olympiads soon came to an end.

Now[when?] Theodosius portrayed himself on his coins holding the labarum.

According to a Christian historian "Paganism was now dead", though pagans survived and would continue to do so for another three centuries, mainly outwith the towns – "rustics chiefly - pagani."[12][27] Edward Gibbon wrote: "The generation that arose in the world after the promulgation of the Imperial laws was attracted within the pale of the Catholic Church: and so rapid, yet so gentle, was the fall of paganism that only twenty-eight years after the death of Theodosius the faint and minute vestiges were no longer visible to the eye of the legislator."[28]

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