Military Defeats and the Ascendancy of Christianity

#1
Scholars have noted that the defeat and death of Valens at Adrianople in 378 may have provided a major advantage to the homoousian/Nicene Christians in their struggle with the homoiousians, homoians, heteroousians and the like. As in, in the superstitious world of the Romans, the failure and death of the homoian emperor Valens against the Goths was interpreted as divine justice and vindication for the rightness of the homoousian position.

It occurred to me that this reasoning can be applied to the general rise of Christianity.

On the one hand, we have the supposed instances of divine punishment:

251: The persecuting emperor Decius is killed in battle against the Goths.
260: The persecuting emperor Valerian is captured in battle against the Persians.
275: The emperor Aurelian, on the verge of persecuting the Christians, is assassinated.
310: The persecuting emperor Maximian is defeated by Constantine and commits suicide.
311: The persecuting emperor Galerius dies after a long, excruciating illness involving the decay of his lower torso, but issues his edict of toleration on the verge of death.
324: The emperor Licinius is defeated by Constantine, and Christians present him as a persecutor as well, justly or unjustly.
363: Julian 'the Apostate' is killed in battle against the Persians after abandoning Christianity, attempting to revive the traditional polytheistic state religion and legislating against Christian teachers.

On the other hand, there are two key examples of pro-Christian emperors doing well:

306: Constantine's father Constantius, who supposedly went easy on the Christians whereas his fellow Tetrarchs did not, died a natural death and was succeeded by his son Constantine.
306-337: Constantine, the first Christian emperor, proves phenomenally successfully at knocking off his enemies and becoming sole ruler, and enjoys a long reign.

I'm an atheist, and so I'm not suggesting that divine justice is a thing. Indeed, there are emperors in this period who undermine any sense of rhyme or reason:
235: Julia Mamaea, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity, was assassinated along with her son, the emperor Severus Alexander, when the general Maximinus seized power.
244-249: Philip the Arab, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity and a friend of the Christians, was forced to agree to an embarrassing treaty with the Persians, and was eventually overthrown and killed in civil war with the persecutor Decius.
267-272: Zenobia, who was supposedly sympathetic to Christianity, was overthrown by the persecutor-in-planning Aurelian.
306-312: Maxentius, who ended the persecution in Italy and Africa and who ordered the restitution of church property, was defeated and killed fighting Constantine.
284-305: Diocletian, who began the Great Persecution, goes down in history as one of the few emperors to successfully retire, and died on his estate in Split, where he supposedly spent his last years in quiet comfort tending to cabbages.

Regardless, it's interesting to consider how military events may have fostered the rise of Christianity. It was of course not the only factor. The third and fourth centuries witnessed an increased interest in religious ideas that promised personal salvation. However, in the superstitious Roman world, one wonders what effect military matters therefore had on Christianity's ascendancy, when emperors who happened to be persecutors also happened to militarily fail in quite spectacular ways against Goths, Persians and fellow Romans (not to mention the matter of Galerius' illness).
 
Last edited:
May 2011
2,845
Rural Australia
#2
Scholars have noted that the defeat and death of Valens at Adrianople in 378 may have provided a major advantage to the homoousian/Nicene Christians in their struggle with the homoiousians, homoians, heteroousians and the like. As in, in the superstitious world of the Romans, the failure and death of the homoian emperor Valens against the Goths was interpreted as divine justice and vindication for the rightness of the homoousian position.

It occurred to me that this reasoning can be applied to the general rise of Christianity.

On the one hand, we have the supposed instances of divine punishment:

251: The persecuting emperor Decius is killed in battle against the Goths.
260: The persecuting emperor Valerian is captured in battle against the Persians.
275: The emperor Aurelian, on the verge of persecuting the Christians, is assassinated.
310: The persecuting emperor Maximian is defeated by Constantine and commits suicide.
311: The persecuting emperor Galerius dies after a long, excruciating illness involving the decay of his lower torso, but issues his edict of toleration on the verge of death.
324: The emperor Licinius is defeated by Constantine, and Christians present him as a persecutor as well, justly or unjustly.
363: Julian 'the Apostate' is killed in battle against the Persians after abandoning Christianity, attempting to revive the traditional polytheistic state religion and legislating against Christian teachers.

On the other hand, there are two key examples of pro-Christian emperors doing well:

306: Constantine's father Constantius, who supposedly went easy on the Christians whereas his fellow Tetrarchs did not, died a natural death and was succeeded by his son Constantine.
306-337: Constantine, the first Christian emperor, proves phenomenally successfully at knocking off his enemies and becoming sole ruler, and enjoys a long reign.

I'm an atheist, and so I'm not suggesting that divine justice is a thing. Indeed, there are emperors in this period who undermine any sense of rhyme or reason:
235: Julia Mamaea, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity, was assassinated along with her son, the emperor Severus Alexander, when the general Maximinus seized power.
244-249: Philip the Arab, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity and a friend of the Christians, was forced to agree to an embarrassing treaty with the Persians, and was eventually overthrown and killed in civil war with the persecutor Decius.
267-272: Zenobia, who was supposedly sympathetic to Christianity, was overthrown by the persecutor-in-planning Aurelian.
306-312: Maxentius, who ended the persecution in Italy and Africa and who ordered the restitution of church property, was defeated and killed fighting Constantine.
284-305: Diocletian, who began the Great Persecution, goes down in history as one of the few emperors to successfully retire, and died on his estate in Split, where he supposedly spent his last years in quiet comfort tending to cabbages.

Regardless, it's interesting to consider how military events may have fostered the rise of Christianity. It was of course not the only factor. The third and fourth centuries witnessed an increased interest in religious ideas that promised personal salvation. However, in the superstitious Roman world, one wonders what effect military matters therefore had on Christianity's ascendancy, when emperors who happened to be persecutors also happened to militarily fail in quite spectacular ways against Goths, Persians and fellow Romans (not to mention the matter of Galerius' illness).
The epoch between Augustus and Theodosius with respect to the military ascendancy of Christianity is naturally split by a boundary event. Constantine.

What was Christianity like prior to Constantine's involvement?
What was Christianity like when it was delivered by Constantine 325 CE at the Nicene council?
What was Christianity like in 337 CE when Constantine died 337 CE?
What was Christianity like in 381 CE when Theodisius codifed the 381 version of the 325 Nicene Creed?

RE: the homoiousians, homoians, heteroousians and the like

Why did Jerome write that "the world groaned to find itself Arian" and not that "the world groaned to find itself Christian"?
 
#4
The epoch between Augustus and Theodosius with respect to the military ascendancy of Christianity is naturally split by a boundary event. Constantine.

What was Christianity like prior to Constantine's involvement?
What was Christianity like when it was delivered by Constantine 325 CE at the Nicene council?
What was Christianity like in 337 CE when Constantine died 337 CE?
What was Christianity like in 381 CE when Theodisius codifed the 381 version of the 325 Nicene Creed?

RE: the homoiousians, homoians, heteroousians and the like

Why did Jerome write that "the world groaned to find itself Arian" and not that "the world groaned to find itself Christian"?
Certainly, the support of emperors from Constantine onwards was another major factor in the ascendancy of Christianity. No doubt about that.

What is the context of Jerome's quote? I imagine Jerome is referring to the rise of Eusebius of Nicomedia and his allies from the early 330s onwards, with Eusebius being the bishop to baptize Constantine in 337. Jerome would not have considered Eusebius and his ilk to be true Christians.
 
May 2011
2,845
Rural Australia
#6
#7
I'm an atheist, and so I'm not suggesting that divine justice is a thing. Indeed, there are emperors in this period who undermine any sense of rhyme or reason:
235: Julia Mamaea, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity, was assassinated along with her son, the emperor Severus Alexander, when the general Maximinus seized power.
244-249: Philip the Arab, who was supposedly sympathetic towards Christianity and a friend of the Christians, was forced to agree to an embarrassing treaty with the Persians, and was eventually overthrown and killed in civil war with the persecutor Decius.
267-272: Zenobia, who was supposedly sympathetic to Christianity, was overthrown by the persecutor-in-planning Aurelian.
306-312: Maxentius, who ended the persecution in Italy and Africa and who ordered the restitution of church property, was defeated and killed fighting Constantine.
284-305: Diocletian, who began the Great Persecution, goes down in history as one of the few emperors to successfully retire, and died on his estate in Split, where he supposedly spent his last years in quiet comfort tending to cabbages.
Incredibly, I forgot to mention the sole reign of Gallienus (260-268). The emperor ended his father Valerian's persecution and made Christianity legal soon after he came to power, but his sole rule was characterized by internal instability and barbarian invasions. The empire effectively became divided between Gallienus' centre, Palmyra's east and Postumus' west. And to top it all off, he was assassinated, albeit like most other emperors of the third century.
 

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