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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

“WHEN the winter,” says he, “had lengthened the nights, the emperor undertook an examination of those books which make the man of Palestine both God, and the Son of God: and by a long series of arguments he has incontrovertibly proved that these writings, which are so much revered by Christians, abound with the most superstitious extravagances. In this matter therefore he has evinced himself wiser and more skilful than the Tyrian old man. But may this Tyrian sage be propitious to me, and mildly bear with what has been affirmed, seeing that he has been excelled by his son!” Such is the language of Libanius, who was unquestionably a man of great oratorical ability. But I am persuaded that had he not coincided with the emperor in religious sentiment, he would not only have given expression to all that has been said against him by Christians, but would have magnified every ground of censure with all the elaborateness of his art. While Constantius was alive he wrote encomiums upon him; but after his death lie brought the most insulting and reproachful charges against him. If Porphyry had been emperor, Libanius would certainly have preferred his books to Julian’s: and had Julian been a mere sophist, he would hare termed him a very indifferent one, as he does Ecebolius in his “Epitaph upon Julian.” Since then he has spoken in the spirit of a Pagan, a sophist, and the friend of him whom he lauded, we shall endeavour to meet what he has advanced, as far as we are able. In the first place he says that the emperor undertook to examine these books during the long winter nights: by which he means that he devoted that time in writing a confutation of them, as the sophists commonly do in teaching the rudiments of their art; for he had perused these books long before. But throughout the whole tedious contest into which he entered, instead of attempting to disprove any thing by sound reasoning, as Libanius asserts, the conscious want of truth and solid argument obliged him to have recourse to sneers and contemptuous jests, of which he was excessively fond; and thus he sought to hold up to derision, what is too firmly established to be overthrown. Thus too we often see one who enters into controversy with another, sometimes trying to pervert the truth, and at others to conceal it, endeavouring by every possible means to obtain an unfair advantage over his antagonist. And an adversary is not satisfied with doing malignant acts against one with whom he is at variance, but will speak against him also, and charge upon the object of his dislike the very faults he is conscious of in himself. That both Julian and Porphyry, whom Libanius calls the Tyrian old man, took great delight in scoffing, is evident from their own works. For Porphyry in his “History of the Philosophers” has treated with ridicule the life of Socrates, the most eminent of them all, making such remarks on him as neither Melitus, nor Anytus, his accusers, would have dared to utter: a man admired by all the Greeks for his modesty, justice, and other virtues; whom Plato, the most admirable among them, Xenophon, and the rest of the philosophic band, not only honour as one beloved of God, but also account as having been endowed with superhuman intelligence. And Julian, imitating his father, displayed a like morbidness of mind in his book entitled “The Cæsars,” wherein he traduces all his imperial predecessors, not sparing even Mark the philosopher. Their own writings therefore show that they both took pleasure in taunts and reviling: and that such was the natural propensity of Julian in particular, is thus attested by Gregory of Nazianzen, in his “Second Oration against the Pagans.”

“These things were made evident to others by experience, after the possession of imperial authority had left him free to follow the bent of his inclinations: but I had foreseen it all, from the time I became acquainted with him at Athens. Thither he came, by permission of the emperor, soon after the change in his brother’s fortune. His motive for this visit was twofold: one reason was honourable to him, viz. to see Greece, and attend the schools there; the other was a clandestine one, which few knew anything about, for his impiety had not yet presumed to openly avow itself, viz. to have opportunity of consulting the sacrificers and other impostors respecting his own destiny. I well remember that even then I was no bad diviner concerning this person, although I by no means pretend to be one of those skilled in the art of divination: but the fickleness of his disposition, and the incredible extravagancy of his mind, rendered me prophetic; if indeed he is the best prophet whose conjectures are verified by subsequent events. For it seemed to me that no good was portended by a neck seldom steady, the frequent shrugging of shoulders, an eye scowling and always in motion, together with a phrenzied aspect; a gait irregular and tottering, a nose breathing only contempt and insult, with ridiculous contortions of countenance expressive of the same thing; immoderate and very loud laughter, nods as it were of assent, and drawings back of the head as if in denial, without any visible cause; speech with hesitancy and interrupted by his breathing; disorderly and senseless questions, with answers of a corresponding character, all jumbled together without the least consistency or method. Why need I enter into more minute particulars? Long before time had developed in action the sort of person he really was, I had foreseen what his conduct has made manifest. And if any of those who were then present and heard me, were now here, they would readily testify that when I observed these prognostics I exclaimed, Ah! how great a mischief to itself is the Roman empire fostering! And that when I had uttered these words I prayed God that I might be a false prophet. For it would have been far happier that I should have been convicted of having formed an erroneous judgment, than that the world should be filled with so many calamities, by the existence of a monster such as never before appeared: although many deluges and conflagrations are recorded, many earthquakes and chasms, and descriptions are given of many ferocious and inhuman men, as well as prodigies of the brute creation, compounded of different races, of which nature produced unusual forms. His end has indeed been such as corresponds with the madness of his career.”

This is the sketch which Gregory has given us of Julian. Moreover that in their various compilations they have endeavoured to subvert the truth, sometimes by the corruption of passages of sacred Scripture, at others by either adding or taking away from the express words, and putting such a construction upon them as suited their own purpose, many have demonstrated, who in answering their cavils, have abundantly exposed their fallacies. Origen in particular, who lived long before Julian’s time, by himself raising objections to such passages of Holy Scripture as seemed to disturb some readers, and then fully meeting them, has repelled the invidious clamours of the ill-affected. And had Julian and Porphyry given his writings a candid and serious perusal, they would have discoursed on other topics, and not have lent their minds to the framing of blasphemous sophisms. It is also very obvious that the emperor in his discourses was intent on beguiling the ignorant, and did not address himself to those who retain an impression of the truth as it is presented in the sacred Scriptures. For having grouped together various expressions in which God is spoken of dispensationally, and more according to the manner of men, he thus comments on them. “Every one of these expressions is full of blasphemy against God, unless the phrase contains some occult and mysterious sense, which indeed I can suppose.” This is the language he uses in his third book against the Christians. But in his treatise “On the Cynic Philosophy,” where he shows to what extent fables may be invented on religious subjects, he says that in such matters the truth must be veiled: “For,” to quote his very words, “Nature loves concealment; and the hidden substance of the gods cannot endure being cast into polluted ears in naked words.” From which it is manifest that the emperor entertained this notion concerning the divine Scriptures, that they are mystical discourses, containing in them some abstruse meaning. He is also very indignant because all men do not form the same opinion of them; and inveighs against those Christians who understand the sacred oracles in a more literal sense. But it ill became him to rail so vehemently against the simplicity of the vulgar, and on their account to behave so arrogantly towards the sacred Scriptures: nor was he warranted in turning with aversion from those things which others rightly apprehended, because they understood them otherwise than he desired they should. A similar cause of disgust seems to have operated upon him that affected Porphyry, who having been beaten by some Christians at Cæsarea in Palestine, from the working of unrestrained rage renounced the Christian religion: and his hatred of those who had beaten him further urged him to write blasphemous works against Christians, which have been ably answered by Eusebius Pamphilus, who at the same time exposes the motives by which he was influenced. So the emperor having uttered disdainful expressions against the Christians in the presence of an unthinking multitude, through the same morbid condition of mind fell into Porphyry’s blasphemies. Since therefore they both wilfully broke forth into impiety, they are punished by the consciousness of their guilt. But when Libanius the Sophist says in derision, that the Christians make a man of Palestine both God and the Son of God, he appears to have forgotten that he himself has deified Julian at the close of his oration. “For they almost killed,” says he, “the first messenger of his death, as if he had lied against a god.” And a little afterwards he adds, “O thou cherished one of the demons! thou disciple of the demons! thou assessor with the demons!” Now although Libanius may have meant otherwise, yet inasmuch as he did not avoid the ambiguity of a word which is sometimes taken in a bad sense, he seems to have said the same things as the Christians had done reproachfully. If then it was his intention to praise him, he ought to have avoided equivocal terms; as he did on another occasion, when he substituted a more definite word for one which had been objected to. Moreover that man in Christ was united to the Godhead, so that while he was apparently but man, he was the invisible God, and that both these things are most true, the divine books of Christians distinctly teach. But the heathen before they believe, cannot understand: for it is the oracle of God that declares (Isa. 7:9), “Unless ye believe, assuredly ye shall not understand.” Wherefore they are not ashamed to place many men among the number of their gods: and would that, as to their morals, they had at least been good, just and sober, instead of being impure, unjust and addicted to drunkenness, like the Hercules, the Bacchus, and the Æsculapius, by whom Libanius does not blush to swear frequently in his orations. It would lead me into a tedious digression were I to attempt to describe the unnatural debaucheries and infamous adulteries of these objects of their worship: but those who desire to be informed on the subject, will find abundant evidence in “Aristotle’s Peplum,” “Dionysius’s Corona,” “Rheginus’s Polymnemōn,” and the whole host of poets, that the Pagan theology is a tissue of extravagant absurdities. We might indeed shew by a variety of instances that the practice of deifying human beings was far from uncommon among the heathen, nay that they did so without the slightest hesitation: let a few examples suffice. The Rhodians having consulted an oracle on some public calamity, a response was given directing them to pay their adoration to Atys, a Pagan priest who instituted frantic rites in Phrygia. The oracle was thus expressed:—

“Atys the mighty god propitiate,

Adonis chaste devoutly supplicate,

The fair-hair’d Bacchus claims your pious vows,

Who life’s best gifts abundantly bestows.”

Here Atys, who from an amatory mania had castrated himself, is by the oracle designated as Adonis and Bacchus.

Again, when Alexander king of the Macedonians passed over into Asia, the Amphictyons courted his favour, and the Pythoness uttered this oracle:—

“To Jove supreme who holds o’er gods his sway,”

And Pallas Tritogenia homage pay,

The king divine in mortal form conceal’d,

His glorious lineage by his acts reveal’d:

Justice and Truth his heaven-born race proclaim,

And nations bow at Alexander’s name.”

These are the words of the demon at Delphos, who when he wished to flatter potentates, did not scruple to assign them a place among the gods. The motive here was plainly to conciliate by adulation: but what adequate inducement was there in the case of Cleomedes the pugilist, whom they ranked among the gods in this oracle:—

“To Cleomedes, mortal now no more,

As last of heroes, full libations pour.”

Diogenes the cynic, and Oënomaus the philosopher, strongly condemned Apollo because of this oracle. The inhabitants of Cyzicum declared Adrian to be the thirteenth god; and that emperor himself deified his own catamite Antinoüs. Libanius does not term these ridiculous and contemptible absurdities, although he was familiar with these oracles, as well as with Lucian’s life of Alexander (the pseudo-prophet of Paphlagonia): nor does he himself hesitate to dignify Porphyry in a similar manner, when after having preferred Julian’s books to his, he says, “May the Syrian be propitious to me.” This digression will suffice to repel the scoffs of the sophist, without following him farther in what he has advanced; for to enter into a complete refutation would require an express work. We shall therefore proceed with our history.

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