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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 8

Section 2 Subsection 4

And there was an Earthquake



The storm of thunders and lightnings being expended, the earth into which the fire from the angel’s frankincense bowl was cast, began to shake. The seasonable death of Constantius A.D. 361, delivered the Roman Empire from the calamities of civil war, which had hitherto progressed without serious effusion of blood. Julian was now acknowledged as emperor by the whole empire. His throne was the seat of philosophy and science, falsely so-called, heathen piety, and vanity. He despised the honors, renounced the pleasures, and discharged with incessant diligence the duties of his exalted station.

The reformation of the imperial court was one of the first and most necessary acts of Julian’s revolutionary government. Soon after his entrance into the palace of Constantinople, he had occasion for the service of a barber. An officer magnificently dressed presented himself. "It is a barber," exclaimed Julian, with affected surprise, "that I want, and not a receiver general of the finances." He questioned the man concerning the profits of his employment; and was informed that besides a large salary and some valuable perquisites, he enjoyed a daily allowance for twenty servants, and as many horses. A thousand barbers, a thousand cupbearers, a thousand cooks, were distributed in the several offices of catholic luxury; and the number of the eunuchs of this "christian" establishment could be compared only to the insects of a summer’s day. The "BISHOP OF BISHOPS" was distinguished by the oppressive magnificence of his dress, his table, his buildings, and his train. The domestic crowd of the palace surpassed the expense of the legions. The monarch was disgraced, and the people injured, by the creation and sale of an infinite number of obscure and even titular employments; and the most worthless of mankind might purchase the privilege of being maintained, without the necessity of labor, from the public revenue. The waste of an enormous household, the increase of fees and perquisites, which were soon claimed as a lawful debt, and the bribes they extorted from those who feared their enmity, or solicited their favor, suddenly enriched these haughty menials. Their rapine and venality could be equalled only by the extravagance of their dissipations. Their silken robes were embroidered with gold, their tables were served with delicacy and profusion; and the most honorable citizens were obliged to dismount from their horses, and respectfully to salute any eunuch they might meet on the public highway. All this excited the contempt and indignation of the philosophic Julian, who despised the pomp of royalty, and was impatient to relieve the distress, and to appease the murmurs of the people. By a single edict, he reduced the palace of Constantinople to an immense desert, and dismissed with ignominy the whole train of slaves and dependents. The splendid and effeminate dress of the Asiatics, the curls and paint, the collars and bracelets, which had appeared so ridiculous in the person of "the first christian emperor," CONSTANTINE, were rejected with contempt by his philosophic and pagan nephew, Julian.

But the "earthquake" would have only slightly shaken the Apostasy, if Julian had only corrected the abuses, without punishing the crimes, of his catholic predecessor’s reign. "We are now delivered," says he, in a familiar letter to one of his intimates, "we are now surprisingly delivered from the voracious jaws of the many-headed Hydra. I do not mean to apply that epithet to my brother Constantius. He is no more; may the earth be light upon his head! But his artful and cruel favorites studied to deceive and exasperate a prince, whose natural mildness cannot be praised without some efforts of adulation. It is not, however, my intention, that even those men should be oppressed: they are accused, and they shall enjoy the benefit of a fair and impartial trial." To conduct this inquiry, Julian named six judges of the highest rank in the state and army; and as he wished to escape the reproach of condemning his personal enemies, he fixed this extraordinary and inexorable Chamber of Justice at Chalcedon, on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus; and transferred to the commissioners an absolute power to pronounce and execute their final sentence without delay and without appeal. The office of president was exercised by the venerable praefect of the east, a second Sallust, whose good qualities conciliated the esteem of Greek sophists, and catholic bishops. He was assisted by the eloquent Mamertinus, one of the consuls elect. But the civil wisdom of these two magistrates was overbalanced by the ferocious violence of four generals. One of these, Arbetio by name, more fit for the prisoners’ bar than the bench, was supposed to possess the secret of the commission; the armed and angry leaders of the Jovian and Herculean bands encompassed the tribune; and the judges were alternately swayed by the laws of justice, and by the clamors of faction.

A devout and sincere attachment for the gods of Athens and Rome constituted the ruling passion of Julian; and the superstitious phantoms which existed only in his mind, had a real and judicial effect through the government of the empire. The vehement zeal of the catholics, who despised the worship, and overturned the altars, of those heathen rivals of the martyrs, engaged their imperial votary in a state of irreconcilable hostility with a very numerous party of his subjects. The subsequent triumph of this party, which he deserted and opposed, has fixed a stain of infamy on the name of Julian; and the unsuccessful "apostate" has been overwhelmed with a torrent of Arian and Trinitarian invectives, of which the signal was given by the sonorous trumpet of Gregory Nazianzen.

The catholics, who beheld with horror and indignation the apostasy of Julian from their superstition, had much more to fear from his power than from his arguments. The pagans, who were conscious of his fervent zeal, expected that the flames of persecution should be immediately kindled against the enemies of the gods; and that the ingenious malice of Julian would invent some cruel refinements of death and torture, which had been unknown to the rude and inexperienced fury of his predecessors. But the hopes, as well as the fears, of the rival religious factions were disappointed by one who was persuaded that neither steel nor fire can eradicate the erroneous opinions of the mind. Influenced by this conviction he extended to all the inhabitants of the Roman world the benefits of a free and equal toleration; and the only hardship he inflicted on the catholics, was to deprive them of the power of tormenting their fellow-subjects whom they stigmatized as idolators and heretics. Among these so-called "heretics," were those who in the reigns of Constantius and Julian were being sealed in their foreheads with the seal of the Deity as the 144,000. The pagans were expressly ordered to reopen all their temples; and they were at once delivered from the oppressive laws, and arbitrary vexations they had sustained under the reign of Constantine and his sons. At the same time the trinitarian bishops and clergy, who had been banished by the Arian emperor, Constantius, were recalled from exile, and restored to their respective conventicles; also the Donatists*, Novatians, Eunomians, and so forth. Julian, who understood and derided their theological disputes, invited to the palace the leaders of the hostile sects, that he might enjoy the agreeable spectacle of their furious encounters. The clamor of controversy sometimes provoked him to exclaim, "Hear me! the Franks have heard me, and the Allemanni;" but he soon discovered that he was now engaged with more obstinate and implacable enemies; and though he exerted the powers of oratory to persuade them to live in concord, or at least in peace, he was perfectly satisfied before he dismissed them from his presence, that he had nothing to dread from the union of the "christians" so-called.

[* Optatus accused the Donatists of owing their safety to an apostate. Yes, the fire of the altar developed the Julian earthquake in their behalf.]

As soon as he ascended the throne, he assumed, according to imperial custom, the character of SUPREME PONTIFF, not only as the most honorable title of imperial greatness, but as a sacred and important office, the duties of which he was resolved to execute with pious diligence. Encouraged by the example, exhortations, and liberality of their pious sovereign, the cities and families resumed the practice of their neglected ceremonies. "Every part of the world," exclaims Libanius, with devout transport, "displayed the triumph of religion; and the grateful prospect of flaming altars, bleeding victims, the smoke of incense, and a solemn train of priests and prophets, without fear and without danger. The sound of prayer and of music was heard on the tops of the highest mountains; and the same ox afforded a sacrifice for the gods and a supper for their joyous votaries."

As the army is the most forcible engine of absolute power, Julian applied himself with peculiar diligence to corrupt the religion of his troops, without whose hearty concurrence every measure must be dangerous and unsuccessful; and the natural temper of soldiers made this conquest as easy as it was important. On the days of solemn and public festivals, the emperor received the homage and rewarded the merit of the troops. His throne of state was encircled with the military ensigns of the Roman republic; the name of Christ was erased from the Labarum, and the symbols of war, of majesty, and of pagan superstition, were so dexterously blended that the faithful subject incurred the guilt of idolatry when he respectfully saluted the person or image of his sovereign. The soldiers passed successively in review, and each of them, before he received from the hand of Julian a liberal donative proportioned to his rank and services, was required to cast a few grains of incense into the flame which burned upon the altar. This restoration and encouragement of paganism revealed a multitude of pretended christians, who, from motives of temporal advantage, had acquiesced in the catholicism of the former reign, and who afterwards returned, with the same flexibility of conscience, to the superstition professed by the successors of Julian.

As I am not composing a history of the Julian earthquake, but merely evidencing illustratively by history the symbolical drama of the apocalypse, it is only necessary that I should show that the events of the first sixteen months of his reign over the whole empire, following the "lightnings," were, in the fullest sense, such a revolution as could only fairly and properly be represented by "an earthquake." I need not go into all the details of his remarkable reign. It will, therefore, be sufficient to say that, in his great work of humbling the LAODICEAN APOSTASY in the lowest depths of degradation into which he could plunge it, he proclaimed himself the gracious protector of the Jews! He had no love for these unfortunates, but they deserved the friendship of the idolator by their implacable hatred of the christian name. He proposed to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, and relieved them of the pecuniary oppressions imposed upon them by the bishops and eunuchs of the court of Constantius. The catholics were firmly but erroneously persuaded that a sentence of everlasting destruction rested upon the whole fabric of the Mosaic law. Julian, therefore, argued that the success of his rebuilding speculation would prove the falsity of the prophets, and turn the truth of revelation into a lie. But had he succeeded, his success would only have proved the ignorance of the catholics, who understood nothing aright. His enterprise, however, was defeated by an earthquake, a whirlwind, and a fiery eruption, which scorched and blasted the workmen, overturned and scattered their works, and compelled the abandonment of the undertaking.

Foiled in this manoeuvre, he attacked the catholic church in the very seat of its soul. He transferred to the priests of his own superstition the management of the liberal allowances from the public revenue which had been granted to their church by Constantine and his sons. The proud system of clerical honors and immunities was levelled to the ground, testamentary donations were forbidden, and the catholic priests were confounded with the last and most ignominious class of the people. By this policy he aimed to deprive them of all the temporal honors and advantages which rendered them respectable in the eyes of the world, which is "the enemy of God." But, besides this, he prohibited catholics from teaching the arts of grammar and rhetoric, observing that the men who exalt the merit of implicit faith are unfit to claim or enjoy the advantages of science, and that they ought to content themselves with expounding, not Homer and Demosthenes, but Luke and Matthew in the conventicles of the Galileans. This edict deprived them wholly of the education of youth, which, in the Roman world, was intrusted to masters of grammar and rhetoric, who were elected by the magistrates, maintained at the public expense, and distinguished by many lucrative and honorable privileges. Having thus substituted pagan sophists for catholic priests, he invited a free and general resort to the public schools, in a full confidence that the tender minds of the scholars would be paganized by the impressions received. The greater part of the catholic officers were gradually removed from their employments in the state, the army, and the provinces; and the hopes of future candidates were extinguished by his maliciously, but most correctly, reminding them, that it was unlawful for a christian to use the sword either of justice or of war; and studiously guarding the camp and the tribunals with the ensigns of idolatry. The powers of government were entrusted to the pagans, who professed an ardent zeal for the superstition of their ancestors. Under their administration the catholics had much to suffer and more to apprehend. Julian was averse to cruelty, but his provincial ministers exercised a vexatious tyranny against sectaries, on whom they were not permitted to confer the honors of martyrdom. He dissembled the knowledge of the injustice exercised in his name, and expressed his real sense of their conduct by gentle reproofs and substantial rewards.

The most effectual instrument of annoyance with which they were armed was the law that obliged the catholics to make full and ample satisfaction for the temples they had destroyed under the preceding reign. The zeal of the triumphant Laodicean Apostasy had not always the sanction of the public authority; and the catholic bishops, who were secure of impunity, had often marched at the head of their congregations to attack and demolish the rival fortresses of Satan. On his consecrated lands, which had been given to the clergy, and on the ruins of paganism, the catholics had frequently erected their conventicles. The ground had to be cleared of these, and the stately temples of the idols which had been levelled, and the precious ornaments which had been converted to catholic uses, had to be restored, making a very large amount of damages and debt. But the catholics, who had robbed and destroyed the property of "heretics" as well as pagans, in this, the dark hour of retribution, were unable to pay. The Roman law, therefore, gave the claimants a right to the debtors’ persons. They were, consequently, seized by Julian’s ministers, and subjected to bodily pains and torments. In this the moment of their prosperity, they dragged their mangled bodies through the streets, pierced them by the spits of cooks and the distaffs of enraged women, and the entrails of catholic priests and their ecclesiastical females, after they had been tasted by these bloody fanatics, were mixed with barley and contemptuously thrown to the unclean animals of the city.

About the same time, Julian was informed from Edessa that the proud and wealthy faction of Arian catholics had insulted the weakness of a sect of "heretics" styled Valentinians, and committed such disorders as ought not to be suffered with impunity in a well regulated state. Upon hearing of this, he confiscated the whole property of the church by his mandate to the magistrates of the place. The money was distributed among the soldiers, the lands were added to the state’s domain, and, with the most pungent irony, he wrote to the offenders, saying, "I show myself the true friend of the Galileans. Their admirable law has promised the kingdom of heaven to the poor; and they will advance with more diligence in the paths of virtue and salvation when they are relieved by my assistance from the load of temporal possessions. Take care," continued he, in a more serious tone, "take care how you provoke my patience and humanity. If these disorders continue, I will revenge on the magistrates the crimes of the people; and you will have reason to dread, not only confiscation and exile, but fire and sword." The catholics, both Arian and Athanasian, who, before the "earthquake" that levelled their high towers in the dust, had possessed above forty years the civil and ecclesiastical government of the empire, had contracted the insolent vices of prosperity, and the habit of believing that they were the saints, and that the saints alone were entitled to reign over the earth. As soon as the justice of Julian deprived the clergy of the privileges conferred by the favor of Constantine, unmindful of their own tyranny against "heretics," among whom were the sealed servants of the Deity, they complained bitterly of "the Apostate’s" most cruel oppression; and the free toleration of idolators and HERETICS, who were alone benefited by the Julian earthquake, was a subject of grief and scandal to catholics. Their present hardships, intolerable as they might appear, were considered as a slight prelude to impending calamities, which were suspended till their crafty oppressor’s victorious return from the Persian war, when laying aside the mask of dissimulation, he would cause the amphitheatres to stream with the blood of hermits and bishops; and that catholics who persevered in the profession of their opinions would be deprived of the common benefits of nature and society. These gloomy forebodings of deserved punishment, however, were suddenly dispelled by the death of Julian, who was mortally wounded, June 26, A.D. 363. He was pierced by a Persian javelin, in the thirty-second year of his age, after a reign of one year and eight months from the death of Constantius. He was the last of the house of Constantine, which was left without an heir, and the empire without a master, by his unexpected death. The trembling of the catholic world subsided, and the military election of Jovian restored tranquillity to the church and state.




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