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A History of Rome to 565 A. D. by Boak

It was during the reign of Theodosius II


of the persistence of paganism.* There were several reasons for the persistence of paganism. The Oriental and Orphic cults exercised a powerful hold over their votaries, and made an appeal very similar to that of Christianity. Stoicism, with its high ideal of conduct, remained a strong tradition among the upper classes of society; and Neoplatonism had a special attraction for men of intelligence and culture. Roman patriotism, too, fostered loyalty to the gods under whose aegis Rome had grown great, and until the close of the fourth century the Roman Senate was an indefatigable champion of the ancient faith. But more potent than all these causes was the fact that, apart from some works of a theological character, the whole literature of the day was pagan in origin and in spirit. This was the only material available for instruction in the schools, and formed the basis of the rhetorical studies which constituted the higher education of the time. Thus, throughout the whole period of their intellectual training, the minds of the young were subjected to pagan influences.

*The persecution of paganism.* Constantine the Great adhered strictly to his policy of religious toleration and, although an active supporter of Christianity, took no measures against the pagan cults except to forbid the private sacrifices and practice of certain types of magical rites. He held the title of pontifex maximus and consequently was at the head of the official pagan worship.

With his sons, Constantius and Constans, the Christian persecution of the pagan began. In 341 they prohibited public performance of pagan sacrifices, and they permitted the confiscation of temples and their conversion into Christian places of worship. With the accession of Julian this persecution came to an end, and there was in the main a return to the policy of religious toleration, although Christians were prohibited from interpreting classical literature in the schools. The attempt of Julian to create a universal pagan church proved abortive and his scheme did not survive his death. His successors, Jovian, Valentinian I and Valens, adhered to the policy of Constantine the Great.

Gratian was the first emperor to refuse the title of pontifex maximus, and to deprive paganism of its status as an official religion of Rome. In 382 he withdrew the state support of the priesthoods of Rome, and removed from the Senate house the altar and statue of Victory, which Julian had restored after its temporary removal by Constantius. This altar was for many of the senators the symbol of the life of the state itself, and their spokesman Symmachus made an eloquent plea for its restoration. However, owing to the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, the emperor remained obdurate, and a second appeal to Valentinian II was equally in vain. Although the brief reign of Eugenius produced a pagan revival in Rome, the cause of paganism was lost forever in the imperial city. In the fifth century the Senate of Rome was thoroughly Christian.

Theodosius the Great was even more energetic than his colleague Gratian in the suppression of paganism. In 380 he issued an edict requiring all his subjects to embrace Christianity. In 391 he ordered the destruction of the great temple of Serapis at Alexandria, an event which sounded the death knell of the pagan cause in the East. The following year Theodosius absolutely forbade the practice of heathen worship under the penalties for treason and sacrilege. Theodosius II continued the vigorous persecution of the heathen. Adherence to pagan beliefs constituted a crime, and in the Theodosian Code of 438 the laws against pagans find their place among the laws regulating civic life. It was during the reign of Theodosius II, in 415, that the pagan philosopher and mathematician, Hypatia, fell a victim to the fanaticism of the Christian mob of Alexandria.

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