CHRISTIANITY AND HELLENISMOS

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Historically, there is animosity between Christians and the followers of Ællinismόs

In the first century of the Common Era, a new religion appeared which challenged all the previous ancient religions in the western world. Eventually this religion gained political power and usurped all the other religions and philosophies and dominated the western world for hundreds of years. This religion is Christianity and the subject of this essay is the confrontation which this new religion presented to Ællinismόs, the ancient Greek religion, and all the ancestral religious traditions, and on how this confrontation bears relevance to the 21st century in the west and beyond.

The Essential Background

Christianity begins with the life of Jesus, a Jew who was born shortly before the beginning of the Common Era, about 3 BCE. The Jewish religious world in which he dwelt was monotheist, that is, the Jews only worship one God. Many scholars now believe that Judaism was originally a polytheistic tradition which developed into a monolatry, that is, that the very ancient Jews acknowledged the existence of multiple Gods, but only worshipped one. By the sixth century BCE, Judaism had become a complete monotheism and denied the existence of any other Gods. This is the religious world in which Jesus lived and taught. He lived in a humble environment in Israel in the Galilean city of Nazareth. In ways which are unclear, he became a teacher, and acquired a number of followers. This career came apparently quite late in his rather short life, at perhaps thirty years of age. His teaching was apocalyptic, a term which means that he predicted a coming kingdom which would establish justice on Earth, and he admonished his disciples to repent of their sins and to live their lives as though this kingdom was to come soon. There were other Jewish teachers during the time of Jesus who held similar views. Jesus is also said to have performed miracles and to have healed the sick. In his sermons, he spoke of the compassion of his God but also cautioned that this God possessed and was willing to exercise great powers of retribution. 

In the final week of his life, during the Passover celebrations, the major festival of the Jews, Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem. Jews were entering the city from various places and needed to make sacrifice for the great religious festival. This required the purchase of animals for sacrificial victims. Since these visitors where arriving from many foreign lands, Roman, Greek, or other coinage needed to be converted to the Jewish money because foreign currency usually had images impressed on the coinage and images, especially religious images, were forbidden in Judaism. Jesus, in a great fury, expelled the money-changers from the temple, saying that this was a house of prayer but that they had made it into a den of thieves. This act and other incidents caused great consternation and worry in the Jewish elders who were likely fearful of any kind of uprising during a nationalistic religious celebration when the country was under the domination of the Roman Empire. Jesus was arrested, put on trial before Pontius Pilate the Roman prefect of Judaea, and crucified like a common criminal. He died at perhaps the age of thirty-three, around 30 CE. 

After the crucifixion, Jesus was buried or entombed, but his disciples claimed that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The resurrection of Jesus eventually became the focal point of the new religion. The disciples preached that if one would believe in Jesus and in the power of his death to purify one’s sins, a Christian could share in his resurrection and be saved from a life of eternity in a post-death place of eternal suffering. If someone wished to convert to this religion, he was instructed and underwent a ritual called baptism in which the individual was either submerged under or sprinkled in some way with water. Christians also engaged in a communal meal commemorating the last supper of Jesus and his disciples, in which they ate bread and drank wine, representation of his body and blood.

The ancient Hebrew scriptures prophesied that a messiah would come to rescue Israel in a mighty show of justice and retribution; the Christians believed that this messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, Jesus came to be called the Christ. The word Christ comes from the Greek Khristós (Christos; Gr. Χριστός), which means “the anointed one.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiah (Messiah), which means "king."  The kings were anointed with oil, hence the choice of this word in the Greek language, which became the first language of the writings of the early Christians.   

Christianity arose in Israel, the place of its birth, a country unique in the ancient world because the predominant religion was, as we have already stated, monotheistic, i.e. the worship of one God. The rest of the world espoused polytheistic religions, those which worshiped many Gods. The early Christians were Jews and therefore they also believed in the worship of one God, but in time they came to understand that Jesus was the one God of the Jews. As the beginning centuries of the new religion went by, literature was composed about the life of Jesus and these scriptures referred to three separate entities, all of which seemed to be divine. By the Fourth Century CE, the Christians had developed a rather obscure theology called the doctrine of the Trinity: three persons in one God, the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

 

Persecutions of Christians by Jews

From the beginning, there had been persecution of the followers of Jesus, but the first persecutions were not from the Hellenes or from the Romans, but rather, arose from opposition to Christian teaching in Israel in the synagogues and Jewish communities. The Jewish role of the persecution of Christians does not particularly concern us here, but it marks the onset of a phenomenon, a reaction to something about what Christians were doing, that resulted in the repression of this religion. Christianity began as a purely Jewish sect which was evangelical, and their zeal commenced in the communities from which the religion arose, Jewish communities, and there was trouble from the start. They taught that the Messiah predicted in Jewish scriptures was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified in Jerusalem. Most Jews thought that this claim was preposterous for more than one reason, but chief amongst them was that crucifixion was viewed as a humiliation and that someone who was punished thus could not possibly be the predicted savior of the Jewish people. Since the Christian Jews were persistent, they created tremendous friction in their communities, eventually leading to persecution against the new religion. This can be seen in the writings of Paul (Galatians 1.13), a Jew who himself persecuted Christians before he converted. There is also confirmation of this in the Acts of the Apostles (9.1) and considerable evidence in Christian writings outside of the canonical scriptures and even in non-Christian sources. 

As Christianity began to extend beyond the boundaries of Israel, their problems with Jews followed them. Jews lived in many parts of the empire and, being monotheists, had the potential of being targets of pagan persecution for similar theological reasons as Christians, but they had several advantages. For one, they were not evangelical and from the perspective of religion, they did not condemn, but kept to themselves, an ancient people who were content to enjoy the benefits of a rather private covenant which they shared with their one God, so they were not offensive to the polytheistic communities in which they settled because of the private nature of their religious covenant. The Jews had another great advantage over Christians; the Romans saw Judaism as a very ancient and venerable religion, and because of this, the Jews were exempt from particular laws which affected Christians. For instance, when Roman citizens were required to sacrifice to the emperor for the benefit of the state, the Jews were allowed to simply sacrifice, but not required to worship the emperor, out of respect for the traditions of this very ancient religion. This exemption was highly desired by Christians, and they claimed that the antiquity of Judaism was actually their own possession and, further, that the Jewish covenant was actually fulfilled in Jesus. By the time of Justin Martyr (100-165 CE) the Christians were claiming that the Jews never actually understood their own scriptures and that these books were in truth their own inheritance and not the Jews, that the Hebrew scriptures were actually Christian. This can be seen in Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho, starting with chapter 71. More such ideas can be found in the Epistle of Barnabas (exact authorship unknown). This aroused tremendous animosity between Jews and Christians and the hostility became so great that Christians began calling Jews Christ-killers. 

For the above and various additional reasons beyond the scope of this essay, Jews generally rejected Christianity and the friction between the two communities festered into Christian antisemitism. This antisemitism arose in early times and continued through its entire history extending even into the present.

 

The background on the ancient polytheistic world

In order to discuss the entry of Christianity in to the ancient religious world, it is essential to have some understanding of the religious views which confronted the new religion. Christianity, being an offshoot of Judaism, was monotheistic. The world into which it now entered was quite different. Once the religion left Israel, it entered the vast regions of the Roman Empire, from Egypt and northern Africa in the south, from the Greek-like areas from Albania through Dalmatia, from Italy and Gaul to Hispania, this, and the world beyond the Roman Empire, almost everywhere they would encounter polytheistic religions. 

The Roman Empire consisted primarily of religious variations of the ancient Greek religion. The eastern countries had been conquered by Alexander the Great and were Hellenized by those who followed him. In the west, people who were educated greatly admired Greek civilization, so to the extent possible, they adopted the religions of Greece. In any case, even the pre-Greek religions were markedly similar to the Greek religions in that they were all polytheistic. These religions had pantheons of many, many Gods who were seen to have governance over every aspect of nature. 

The ancient peoples were very religious. There were temples everywhere, from humble structures to grand and elegant marvels of architecture. The ancient peoples worshiped Gods, knowledge of which they inherited from their family ancestry and communities, and as travelers passed through their countries, they would sometimes adopt the worship of other Gods. In cases where educated people traveled to other lands, sometimes they would assume that the Gods of these lands were the same Gods whom they worshiped already, but known in the foreign countries by other names, as can be seen win the writings of the historian Herodotus when he visited Egypt. So we can see from this that one of the most evident and admirable characteristics of polytheism is openness and tolerance. In fact, there was virtually no religious intolerance in the ancient world. 

Polytheistic religions generally use statues in their worship of Gods. It is not true that they thought that these statues actually contained the spirit of the Gods, but perhaps amongst the uneducated this was not as true. Some of the polytheistic religions from the Eastern parts of the empire did not use statues in their worship, as they felt that deity could not be adequately represented. In any case, the use of statues was forbidden in the Jewish religion and Christians inherited this position, at least in the earliest of times.

One significant difference between the ancestral religions and Christianity concerned the idea of belief. Ancient polytheistic religions typically do not demand that a worshiper recite a creed or promise to believe any particular thing. It is not that such religions do not have beliefs, but polytheistic religions are generally not exclusivistic. In other words, they did not claim to have exclusive hold on truth. The ancient peoples generally accepted that it was likely that all religious worship had validity and likely shared truth with the religious worship in which you already partook. And these religions often shared with one another in their cultic practices, such that the worship of Isis, for instance, an Egyptian cult, became very popular in Rome itself. The ancient religion were tolerant, such that it was even open to questioning its own validity, as can be seen in the development of philosophy, which should be seen as an expression of ancient religion, despite the opinions of some scholars.

 

 

Areas of Controversy between the ancient religion and Christians

When Christianity entered into this wide-open and tolerant religious world, it does not take much imagination to intuit the reaction. This new religion was exclusivistic; this is a scholastic term which identifies religions which assert that they have exclusive spiritual knowledge and that all other religions are erroneous. Christianity was the first religion to make such a claim in the Western world, Islam being the second. This religion claimed that all of the ancient ancestral Gods were false and that in order to save oneself (an idea that in itself would be very strange to the ancient peoples), one had to abandon your previous beliefs and adopt a religion that was promulgated by a man who was executed like a common criminal, but who the Christians were claiming was actually the lord of the universe. To the ancient mind, these ideas were strange and preposterous and attacked long-held and cherished familiar beliefs and customs. It was outrageous for such an intolerant view to be expressed in the ancient world, a world which was accustomed to friendliness from other religious traditions. Exclusivism would have been viewed as ývris (hubris; Gr. ὕβρις), excessive pride and insolence.

Another factor which fueled fear of Christians was the widely held belief that giving worship to the Gods was beneficial for the common welfare, but now a strange religion was entering the empire that not only refused to worship the ancestral Gods but openly desecrated them. Rumors spread that the Christians worshiped in secret (those who were not baptized were excluded) and that they partook in rituals which involved incest (from the Christian habit of calling each other brother and sister, kissing each other in greeting, and being baptized in the nude) and the eating of children (derived from the Eucharist ritual of eating the bread and wine representing the body and blood of the Son of God). 

 

Persecution of Christians

In our time, here in 2010 CE, we live in a world which is largely Christian; this is still true, at least in the western hemisphere. The predominance of polytheism has all but disappeared in this part of the world. What accounts for this passing? Did the Christians convince the ancient people that their religion was false, or did the old religions slowly fade away?

There are many controversies involved with this subject, but here we will primarily investigate one major topic which is involved in the ascendancy of Christianity in the ancient world: persecution. Who was being persecuted? Christians. And who persecuted them? Did the followers of the ancient religions actually persecute Christians and, if so, why? Is persecution of Christians in antiquity one of the factors that caused the demise of the ancient cultus? 

Throughout their history, Christians have made the case that the ancient religions were hostile to Christianity from the start. So the issue is the accusation that in antiquity the practitioners of the ancient religions persecuted Christians. There is copious historical evidence which supports this indictment, so we shall endeavor to explore the issues and try to get a grasp on why one particular religion would be persecuted in an era known for unsurpassed religious tolerance.

As Christianity gained converts in the non-Jewish communities beyond Israel, there was a slowly growing animosity towards the new religion, both in Jewish communities and polytheistic communities. When Christianity first appeared, it entered into civilizations which had ancestral polytheistic religions in place; this included all countries with the exception of the birthplace of Christianity, Israel. Being that the Christians were evangelical, exclusivistic, and hostile to the worship of other Gods, they quickly infuriated the local populace wherever they preached their gospel, and there was a reaction. At first, attacks on Christians were not organized in any way but were a spontaneous response to what were viewed as offensive and impious condemnation of local religious traditions. In time, the reaction against Christians became more organized.

The western world during early Christianity was largely dominated by the Roman state. The Romans did not care what religion was held by people under its domination, but the Christians with their secrecy and abstinence from traditional festivals soon aroused suspicion with local populaces. The first recorded instance of the empire having any involvement in the persecution of Christians was in the fire of Rome in 64 CE. It is believed that in order to divert suspicion of arson on himself, the emperor Nero, who wanted to initiate a building campaign in the areas where the fire occurred, used the Christians, an easy target, as a scapegoat, although it has never been proven who actually started this fire. (Tacitus Annals Book 15.44) This was an independent act by the emperor himself and was not the result of any law against Christians. 

In time, however, Christians were persecuted by the empire through laws. It became an official act of the Roman state. The original reasoning used by the Romans appears to be based not so much on prejudice against the Christian religion, but on fear of insurrection. The crime that the Christians were accused of was sedition. The idea of this legislation was to prevent people from secretly gathering, for the fear was that they would conspire against the government. Christians were by no means the only groups targeted. Often the worshipers of Diónysos, even before the Christian era, were targets of the similar laws because, amongst various complaints, they also had hidden meetings; as but one example, the Senatus consultum de bacchanalibus was a Senatorial decree banning the worship of Diónysos in 186 BCE with the penalty for disobedience being death.

Another serious issue in the persecution of Christians was religious in nature, but not actually an attack on the Christian worship of their one God or their theology, but rather on their exclusivity. In recent years we hear news of Christian evangelical preachers who claim that certain trends in our contemporary society, things such as the legalization of abortion and homosexual marriage, will bring down the wrath of God on our world. There has even been at least one preacher who claimed that HIV Aids was a punishment of God. Such an idea of the vengeance of heavenly power is not new. There was widespread belief in ancient times that if an individual would not honor the many Gods of the various localities, and, even worse, if this person would disparage these Gods, such behavior could have ill effects on the community at large, angering the Gods and causing retribution. The ancient Christians would not sacrifice to the ancestral Gods of the various countries in which they were living, and they preached that the ancient Gods were false Gods. The Christians further aroused suspicion because their meetings were held in secret and rumors spread that they ate human flesh and blood in their rituals. It did not take long before Christian beliefs aroused great fear and animosity, being that their ideas were thought of as not only intolerant but highly impious and dangerous to the welfare of the state.  

A major point of contention were laws compelling citizens to honor emperors as Gods. Concerning this, there are several issues that must be kept in mind. In reality, this practice was not exactly worshiping the emperor as a God. After the death of an emperor, the Senate would somehow decide that the emperor's genius had joined the ranks of Gods and that he had become deified, like the Heroes of antiquity. But the Roman edicts which targeted the Christians required this sacrifice to the emperor's genius while he was yet alive, and this was repugnant to Christians and forced them to challenge it, or, they felt, that they had betrayed their religion. Further, the Romans believed that giving cultus to the emperor, just as to the pantheon of ancestral deities, was for the benefit of the state, and, conversely, not giving such worship was viewed as to the detriment of the state. A typical punishment for refusing to do the sacrifice was for the Christian to be given to the entertainments of the arena, where they were publicly fed to wild animals or left almost defenseless against armed gladiators, and various other cruelties. Thus the birth of the famous Christian martyrs. 

 

To give the reader a flavor of how the Roman thought, we have here an excerpt of an actual account of a trial of Christians executed under the rule of (strangely enough) Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE in Carthage, North Africa:

WHEN Praesens, for the second time, and Claudianus were the consuls, on the seventeenth day of July, at Carthage, there were set in the judgment-hall Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda and Vestia.

Saturninus the proconsul said: Ye can win the indulgence of our lord the Emperor, if ye return to a sound mind.

Speratus said: We have never done ill, we have not lent ourselves to wrong, we have never spoken ill, but when ill-treated we have given thanks; because we pay heed to our Emperor.

Saturninus the proconsul said: We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor, and pray for his welfare, as ye also ought to do.

Speratus said: If thou wilt peaceably lend me thine ears, I can tell thee the mystery of simplicity.

Saturninus said: I will not lend mine ears to thee, when thou beginnest to speak evil things of our sacred rites; but rather swear thou by the genius of our lord the Emperor.

Speratus said: The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve that God, whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see. I have committed no theft; but if I have bought anything I pay the tax; because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations. 

(trans J.A, Robinson in Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs , in Original supplement to the American Edition in Ante Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, [repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955], X, 290-291)

The Christians in this trial (called the Scillitan Martyrs) would not recant their beliefs and were all put to death, but not after being given thirty days in order to reconsider their position. From this account, it is obvious that the officials in charge were not always enthusiastic in carrying out these edicts.

Persecution of Christians transformed into a horrific mold with an edict of Trajan Decius (b. 201, d. 251; ruled 249-251 CE) which persisted from 250-251 CE, aimed not only at Christian clergy but on the Christian laity as well, requiring all people to sacrifice to the Gods for 'the safety of the Empire.' [1] This persecution ended when the emperor was killed by the Goths in 251 CE. The emperor Valerian (b. 193?, d. 260; ruled 253-260 CE) issued another similar edict which lasted from 258-260, but he was captured in battle by the Sassanid king of the Persian empire, Shapur I, who used the emperor as a living footstool to mount his horse, ending the edict. The most notorious was a series of four edicts which comprised the Great Persecution, primarily under Diocletian (b. 244, d. 314; ruled 284-305 CE), beginning in 303. This was the first systematic attempt by the empire to eradicate Christianity and involved the confiscation of church property, the destruction of the top church officials, burning of Christian scripture, and loss of political and judicial rights. The fourth edict required the Christians to sacrifice and those who refused were executed. 

The persecutions of Christians were an abomination, enough cannot be said to condemn them, and they were were completely contrary by the true spirit of freedom which is the genuine Ællinismόs. Those who hold the genuine Ællinismόs in their heart, now and through all history, fight all such injustice and cruelty. Period. Let these historical events stand as a powerful admonition to all people, that those who condone injustice or stand by while injustice is being done and do nothing, will reap retribution by mere association alone and must bear some blame.

 

 

Constantine and the end of an era

At the beginning of the 4th century CE, the aggression against the Christians persisted, but the persecutions ended for good in 313 CE with the Edict of Milan, signed by the convert-emperor Constantine I (b.272, d. 337; ruled 306-337) and his co-emperor Licinius I (b. 263, d. 325; ruled 308-324), protecting the right to practice religion for both Christians and pagans. At this time, the empire faced enormous difficulties. There were powerful non-Roman peoples who were threatening the borders and there were uprisings within the vast territories. Many scholars believe that Constantine devised to use Christianity as a means of unifying the empire under one religion and one God under the leadership of a glorious Christian ruler (Constantine ruled alone after Licinius I died in 325). This allegation calls into question the sincerity of Constantine's conversion, but whether or not it is true, it can be argued that the Christianization of the empire had this effect, at least to some degree.

It is significant to note that Christian numbers until the conversion of Constantine are believed to have been quite small, approximately 5% of the entire population of the empire. It took a Constantine, actually many emperors, and all the power and money of imperial patronage to convert the people. And money and power flowed into the church in abundance, for the idea of separation of religion and state was unknown in the ancient world. The imperial government and aristocracy supported the temples before ascension of Christianity. Now it was evident that to please the emperor, one must be Christian, and therefore within time the aristocracy fell into place. By the end of the century, the numbers of Christians had increased to perhaps 50% of the peoples of the empire; one cannot help but wonder at the sincerity of these conversions. 

The conversion of Constantine was an event of immense significance with ramifications that continue to affect our world to this very day. Without his conversion, the history of the western world would have been immensely different.

 

Julian the Philosopher-Emperor

There was one final attempt by a Roman emperor to champion the ancient religion. Julian II (born 331? CE) became emperor in 361 CE. He was born into a Christian family and was the son of a half-brother of Constantine. Julian converted to the ancient religion, was highly inspired by the Neoplatonist philosophers, and was initiated into the Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries; Gr. Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια). Upon gaining the throne, he attempted to restore ancestral worship and philosophy and to rule as a philosopher-king. His administration removed imperial patronage of the churches and bishops, but he was tolerant and did not persecute the Christians. Julian was the last emperor to rule Rome (perhaps with the exception of Anthemius [b. 420, d. 472; ruled 467-472]) who followed the ancient religion. With his premature death from a battle wound in 364 CE, the government immediately fell back to the hands of Christian emperors and the cause of the ancient religion as a viable public presence was doomed.

 

Persecution of the ancient religion by Christians

Once the emperors were now Christian and the new faith was the official religion of the empire, it was through Roman laws that now practitioners of the ancient religion, rather than Christians, were persecuted. Although Ællinismόs itself cannot be blamed for the persecution of Christians, the extent of suffering and injustice imposed upon Christians left a kind of communal guilt hanging on the ancient elite and populace, regardless of whether the actual responsibility was the Roman imperial government or the practitioners of the old religion. And since the Christian cult was persecuted for over two centuries, it can hardly be surprising that when the Christians gained political power, they exacted retribution, and arguably more pernicious punishment on their religious predecessors by the edicts against of the ancient cults under Theodosius I (b. 347, d. 395; ruled 379-395 CE) enacted from 389-392:

"(Cod. Theod. xvi. ro . 4, 6), forbidding all sacrifices on pain of death, and still more by the statutes of Theodosius (Cod . Theod. xvi . 10 . 12) enacted in 392, in which sacrifice and divination were declared treasonable and punish-able with death; the use of lights, incense, garlands and libations was to involve the forfeiture of house and land where they were used; and all who entered heathen temples were to be fined." [2]

Even if an individual was willing to become a martyr for Ællinismόs, one's heirs would be ruined because your property and wealth was confiscated, forcing the ancient religion underground or to be abandoned altogether.

In 392 CE the great sanctuary of Ælefsís (Eleusis; Gr. Ἐλευσίς) was closed, its demise being a powerful symbol of the state-run Christian era that had begun, and this commenced a new era of persecutions, now against the pagans.  

One significant way in which these persecutions differed from their predecessors is that the Christian Church itself was heavily involved, a fact which can be firmly substantiated. The Church encouraged the Empire to persecute, usually at the instigation of the local bishop. It is as though a pent up fury of vengeance was now exacted upon the ancient establishments and populace. In addition to legislation, these powerful bishops would at times act independent of the state and order local monastics to destroy and sack the ancestral temples. The sacred artwork was laid to waste, disfigured, and desecrated. Typically, a group of monks and Christian ascetics would enter a temple and publicly ask the Gods to prove themselves. Many of the ascetics were notorious for their fearsome appearance, some with beards straggling down to their legs, who lived in total poverty, and, having absolutely nothing to lose, would arrive like a torrent in the temples, wild and glaring, so the accounts say. 

One description is given by the rhetorician Livánios (Libanius; Gr. Λιβάνιος. 314-392 CE) of Antiókheia (Antioch; Gr. Ἀντιόχεια) in a plea to the emperor Theodosius I:

"(ed. the monks)...hasten to attack the temples with sticks and stones and bars of iron, and in some cases, disdaining these, with hands and feet. Then utter desolation follows, with the stripping of roofs, demolition of walls, the tearing down of statues and the overthrow of altars, demolishing one, they scurry to another, and to a third, and trophy is piled on trophy...and they are in disgrace unless they have committed the foulest outrage. So they sweep across the countryside like rivers in spate, and by ravaging the temples, they ravage the estates, for wherever they tear out a temple from an estate, that estate is blinded and lies murdered. Temples, Sire, are the soul of the countryside: they mark the beginning of its settlement , and have been passed down through many generations to the men of today. In them the farming communities rest their hopes for husbands, wives, children, for their oxen and the soil they sow and plant. An estate that has suffered so has lost the inspiration of the peasantry together with their hopes, for they believe that their labour will be in vain once they are robbed of the Gods who direct their labours to their due end." [3]

The monks would proceed to pull down the cult statues, desecrate them, and hurl the priests into a mighty fire. Once this had been accomplished, they would declare to the stupefied populace, to great effect, that their Gods must be false since they were unable to defend their own statues or exact revenge on those who laid to waste their sanctuaries. Let this be a powerful warning to those in our contemporary communities who embrace superstition, who ignore the logic of the philosophers, and who accept the superficial interpretation of myth, that such beliefs rest on a worthless foundation that can be easily overturned by a skillful individual who sees the flaw in such thinking and takes advantage of it. Superstition has no place in the genuine Ællinismόs and superstition places our communities at great risk, as history has proven definitively.

A century later, the situation for the public practice of Ællinismόs had become largely demoralized:

"Already the mysteries of philosophy were turned into objects of mirth and great laughter by some of those people whose ears are shattered and perception destroyed, says Damascius about the fact that some people divulged (ed. under coercion) the mysteries of philosophy." [4]

When Christians acquired political power, they created a world of intolerance consistent with initial impressions of the religion since its emergence in antique times. At the beginning of this discourse, we stated that Christianity was something new in the ancient world, a religion that claimed absolute and sole legitimacy. Now that it possessed political power, the Christian church very quickly acted on their convictions with complete impunity, tolerating no other religions. Within a very short time they persecuted even Judaism, a religion with which they had roots, and within the Christian churches themselves, forbidding deviations of doctrine, which they declared to be heresies. The justification for persecution was given by Augustine, bishop of Hippo, a response to his observation that when the heretical Donatists were punished, most of them aligned with the church and abandoned the beliefs which the church found objectionable. Since Augustine was highly influential in the early church, his arguments condoning compulsion were expanded. These early actions of the church created a pattern which continued for a millennium and beyond until the church lost the power to enforce its will.

 We can see how this works in a small and bizarre example; in 662 CE, Maximus the Confessor (Gr. Μάξιμος ὁ Ὁμολογητής), a highly learned monk, was tried, imprisoned, and tortured for his acceptance of the dyophysite theological position, the doctrine that Jesus had two natures, divine and human, and both a human and divine will. This was thought to be a heresy. He would not recant his beliefs, so his tongue was cut out and his writing-hand chopped off, to prevent him from spreading his ideas, and he died shortly thereafter. After his death, the dyophysite position became the accepted doctrine, and he was declared a saint due to his having died and suffered for the church, but they could not call him a martyr, for the Christians themselves had done this to him. One has to wonder if they then went on a witch-hunt and cut out the tongues of those who held the previously accepted position. And this is just one of so many examples which could be offered of Christian intolerance within the church itself.

In the end, there was one religion and only one way to understand this religion, as all those who disagreed were treated severely or fled to safer areas outside the reach of the church. And thus we have here the prototype exclusivistic religion in its most pristine form and a long historical record to demonstrate the results of such exclusivism. 

It must be clearly understood that the old religion...our religion...did not slowly "fade away" as has been stated in so many books; our ancestors were forced to abandon their religion. Our religion did not fade away, it was systematically destroyed. Of course this is not actually true because there were some who hid the religion and kept it. And our religion ultimately cannot be destroyed in any case, because it reflects the truth, and in the end we will prevail because we possess a true religion which is an expression of the phenomenal world. How do tolerant people in a civilized society deal with a world-view which is inherently intolerant? This problem has yet to be resolved but perhaps we are participating in the process of working out its solution, a process which may require several painful millenia.

 

The Dark Age

The term Dark Age, coined by the Italian scholar Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, 1304-1374 CE), refers to the period commencing with the "fall of Rome" [5] and ending with the dawn of the Renaissance. There are contemporary scholars who take the position that the idea of a dark age during this time period is a fantasy. We will generalize the position thus: being that a more-or-less civilized world continued through to the Renaissance, accompanied by some intellectual growth, one cannot point to this period and call it a period of 'darkness' and collapse. This website maintains a different and older position. We will generalize also: the Dark Age began in 381 CE with the edicts of Theodosius I. These decrees prohibited the practice of the ancient Ællinismόs and gave Nicean Christianity the backing of imperial law, followed by the rule of various Christian kingdoms. Why does this deserve the title of a 'dark age?' Not because it forced the old religion into obscurity, but because these edicts made freedom-of-thought a crime, which had the same effect. From this point forward, all scientific, religious, and philosophical thought was required to filter through the eyes and growing power of Christianity, a religion which, working closely together with government, began a policy of intellectual censorship.

 

Entering the Modern Era

The Christian Church underwent three historical events which had far-reaching effects over time:

1. The split between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches in 1054 CE,

2. The humiliation of Pope Boniface VIII under Philip the Fourth of France in 1303 at Anagni, which marked the beginning of the independence of political institutions from the church.

3. The Protestant Reformation begun in 1517.

These three were signposts of a new era very slowly emerging, due to the fact that Christianity lost control of consistency of doctrine; in particular following the Reformation, numerous forms of Christianity began to emerge, some of which would have been previously condemned as heretical. These three events also led to a great loss of the political power held by the church. 

The Renaissance, from the 14th through the 17th centuries, marked a great rebirth of interest in the classical world and an effort to re-claim the achievements of antiquity. This paved the way for enormous gains in the field of science which blossomed with the Enlightenment, commencing in the late 17th century, which gave birth to open skepticism of Christian beliefs. 

Thus, as the centuries progressed, the situation of tolerance began to very gradually improve, a major force being the power of the writings of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and many others. With the appearance of Deism in the 17th and 18th centuries, we have the first non-Christian religion that was being practiced openly in Europe and America. 

It is only in the 20th century, however, that significant tolerance of non-Christian religions and philosophies began to appear in the West. Although persecution of Ællinismόs and other non-Christian religions continues, freedom of religion has blossomed throughout the world, a major force being the United Nations; to be a charter member of the United Nations, a country must enact legislation that guarantees freedom of religion, whether or not such legislation is entirely effective.  

Without legal coercion on behalf of religious liberty, the threat of persecution against minority religions and beliefs remains a reality, and even in modern Greece itself, those who follow the old religion still largely practice in considerable secrecy. [6] Christian leaders throughout the world continue to act with impunity, preaching against non-Christian belief-systems and, particularly in the United States, they have, in recent decades, gained political power, inroads which are worrisome to those who are not Christian, regardless of one's religious tradition. During the administration of George W. Bush, it became very difficult for non-Christian politicians to exercise any power, even if they were of Mr. Bush's Republican party; there existed the so-called "litmus test" which was uncovered during his presidency, although denied by the administration. 

There has never been a public admission by Christian churches that a great wrong had been done to Ællinismόs; quite the contrary, many Christian preachers continue to condemn our beliefs and call our Gods false, or instruments of evil, and they continue to try to force their convictions on others through law (such as the effort to bring prayer into political meetings or in public schools). It must, however, be stated and applauded that Pope John-Paul II made a public admonition of the guilt of the church for the persecution of Jews and the church's silence during the Holocaust of WWII, and there were other admissions and apologies by this Pope for various similar sins of the church. It would be a great thing if Ællinismόs would receive such an apology, as our religious ancestors have the dubious distinction of being the very first recipients of the church's intolerance.

In conclusion, although this article is vastly too brief and hardly does justice to the complexity of these issues, the author hopes that at least some of the major points have been presented in a manner that would inspire the reader to further study.  

.

Recommended Reading: 

A Chronicle of the Last Pagans by Pierre Chuvin

 

NOTES:

[1] The reader may assume that Jews were also the victims of these laws but, in fact, they were exempted. Although this may seem strange to us today, because the Jews were a very ancient people with a religion of great antiquity, the Romans held them in some esteem. Great age was highly venerated in the ancient world and for this reason the Jews were not required to sacrifice to the emperor but were allowed a different means of sacrificing for the benefit of the state. The Christians, on the other hand, were viewed as a new sect and new things were seen with great suspicion in ancient times. Of course the Jews did have enormous problems with the empire, eventually resulting in the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, but the Romans did not exact this devastation because of the religion of the Jews, but rather on account of insurrection.

[2] Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1910, Vol. 14, Entry entitled: Idolatry, p. 288.

[3] Livánios (Libanius; Gr. Λιβάνιος. 314-392 CE) of Antiókheia (Antioch; Gr. Ἀντιόχεια) Oration XXX To the Emperor Theodosius, for the Temples, 8-10, trans. A. F. Norman,  © The President and Fellow of Harvard College 1977, as found in Libanius: Selected Works Vol. II Selected Orations, Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, MA) and William Heinemann LTD (London, England), on pp. 109-111.

[4] Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος) Philósophos Istoría (Philosophical History; Gr. Φιλόσοφος Ιστορία) I.58.A, trans. Polymnia Athanassiadi 1999 in Damascius: The Philosophical History 1999 Apamea Cultural Association [Athens Greece], Oxbow Books [Oxford UK], and The David Brown Book Co. [Oakville CT USA] p. 163.

[5] The "fall of Rome," traditionally given the date 476 CE, is in parenthesis because the Roman empire continued in the east with the Byzantine emperors ruling from Constantinople until its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

[6] In Greece during the Lenten season there is the yearly reading of Synodikón (Synodicon; Gr. Συνοδικόν) of Orthodoxy which includes a condemnation of ancient Greek philosophy and beliefs (largely in response to the teachings of Ioánnis Italós (Johannes Italus; Gr.  Ἰωάννης Ἰταλός) in the eleventh century CE) which declares the following anáthima (Gr. ἀνάθημα): those who introduce ancient Greek doctrines of the soul, heaven, and earth into the Church, Palingænæsía (Palingenesia or Reincarnation; Gr. Παλιγγενεσία) and those who believe in the preexistence of souls, that the forms and matter are eternal as is God (Mystic Materialism), those who believe and teach ancient Greek philosophy, including the ideas of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Ρλάτων).

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"No doubt this patience, when the world is damning us,

    Is philosophie in our former friends;

‘Tis also pleasant to be deem’d magnanimous,

    The more so in obtaining our own ends;

And what the lawyers call a ‘malus animus’

    Conduct like this by no means comprehends;

Revenge in person’s certainly no virtue,

But then ‘t is not my fault, if others hurt you.

 

And if your quarrels should rip up old stories,

    And help them with a lie or two additional,

I’m not to blame, as you well know—no more is

    Anyone else—they were become traditional;

Besides, their resurrection aids our glories

    By contrast, which is what we just were wishing all:

And science profits by this resurrection—

Dead scandals form good subjects for dissection."

 

Lord Byron Don Juan Canto the First XXX & XXXI

 

 

 

"But here are men who fought in gallant actions

   As gallantly as ever heroes fought,

But buried in the heap of such transactions

   Their names are rarely found, nor often sought.

Thus even good fame may suffer sad contractions,

   And is extinguish'd sooner than she ought..."

 

Lord Byron Don Juan Canto the Seventh XXXIV

 

 

 

" 'Let there be light! said God, and there was light!'

     'Let there be blood' says man, and there's a sea!

The fiat of this spoil'd child of the Night

     (For Day ne'er saw his merits) could decree

More evil in an hour, than thirty bright

     Summers could renovate, though they should be

Lovely as those which ripen'd Eden's fruits;

For war cuts up not only branch, but root."

 

Lord Byron Don Juan Canto the Seventh XLI

 



The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, 
i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kosmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 



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Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods.  These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes.  While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally.  A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result.  The meaning of the myths is concealed in code.  To understand them requires a key.  For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level.  Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

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