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‘The Crown of Martyrdom’
Chapter 16 of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
© 2023 James LaFond
JUL/2/24
“It is difficult to attain and dangerous to publish knowledge of the true God.”
-Plato
Gibbon defines himself as a devote Christian, noting the “purity of Christian doctrine,” “its humble origin,” and its unquestionable “truth.” He reads as no humanist and does admit to having to set aside faith in order to conduct history. He is impatient with pagan inability to fathom “the inscrutable nature of the Divine Perfection,” and dismisses a lack of pagan understanding for “the birth and character of Our Savior.” He does note, that Christianity did “dissolve the ties of custom and tradition,” forming a counter tradition in which “every Christian rejects with contempt the superstitions of his family.”
Born as a negation of most of all of human religion, irony seems to have been reserved a judgment seat at the terminus of Western Civilization. [0] It is this reader’s opinion that Gibbon was no civic humanist, but a Christian civics investigator, as he names history as the process of examining the past for the benefit of the future.
The Judaic Connection
Two generations after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 71-72, Cyrene, Alexandria and Cypress saw hundreds of thousands of gentiles slaughtered by displaced Jews in ethnic cleansings. 220,000 gentiles in Cyrene and 240,000 gentiles in Cyprus were murdered. Egypt was also a bloody scene, with “great multitudes slain.” It was said that many of the victims were sawed in half and then eaten. A two year insurrection was successful at holding back the power of Rome, until it was not. Then 580,000 Jews were put to the sword under Hadrian and used as filler in his famous wall, apparently marched there and thrown in.
Afterward this harsh punishment, by the famed civic engineer who broke his own slave teacher’s leg [1], the still thriving population of Jews adopted the merchant life as a niche under the mild tolerance of Antonius Pious, who re-extended the hand of “tolerant polytheism” to that intractable nation. Gibbon, describes the ancient Jews as “dwelling in treacherous friendship,” among other races under Rome and that their
“irreconcilable hatred of mankind” could now be expressed in “trade.” New Synagogues were constructed under Roman protection. Jews were permitted their own police force, and were enabled to maintain a parallel government within Rome, taxing their own. The Jews must have expressed a higher birthrate than other Roman subjects. [2]
One must recall that the first 15 bishops of the Christian Church were Jews, and that the condition for religious tolerance of the Jewish nation within Rome extended by Antonius Pious, was that Jews refrained from practicing circumcision on non Jews. This marked a problem with any exclusive faith, such as the Hebrew or Christian doctrine that declared lone possession of the knowledge of divinity and cursed all other faiths as devil worship, that Jews and Christians held slaves of other faiths. These might turn on their masters as government informers, as the gentile slaves of the Christian martyrs of Leon did.
After the Atonines, persecution shifted to Christians, but mostly the political class. Pliny, under Trajan, had distrusted the Christians, not due to any criminal behavior, but to their steadfast refusal to engage in the common pagan religion. He was confused at the difference between Christian and Epicurians.
Gibbon finds that the best, most educated and most prolific Roman historians who lived alongside “the primitive Christian church” before Constantine, knew little or nothing about Christianity. He describes this as fate having placed a veil over the face of the early church to maintain its flame in secrecy. Even the Augustinian Christian history, composed in part under Constantine, had very scant mentions of the early Christian church, to include scant mention of persecution.
Circa 180, the Whore of Comodos who had him killed by a wrestler, was a Christian.
Circa 200 to 230, Mamia and her son and nephew emperors sponsored Christians.
The First Cause sought by the philosophers, particularly the Neo-Platonists, was equated by these elite academics with the Christian God. But such a vague notion was too impersonal for the common rustics, particularly rural folks who saw evidence of divinity all around. The urban and suburban Philosophers and Christians spent their lives predominantly in man made environs. Saint Augustine, whose On Christian Doctrine I have listened to alongside of Gibbon, was a highly sensual, very urban, former Neo-Platonist and Gnostic, of, I think, the Mannicean sect. His view seems very modern, very Epicurian and is based on self-love, particularly of the body.
Night Mass
Gibbon marks the adoption of nighttime worship as an attempt to bring converts by gaining respect from pagans in imitation of the Elusynian mysteries, as an initial disaster. This left Christians open to charges of child sacrifice, orgies and even incest, very similar to the charges of cannibalism and blood drinking leveled at the Jews under Hadrian, carrying an echo of the charges by Romans of 200 B.C. that the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice. This seems to have no end as propaganda in the West, such as the Iraqi-Kuwaiti incubator executions that were manufactured as a fable by USG to convince Americans to back a petro-dollar war in Iraq in 1991.
Cyprian, an author and actual martyr, emerges as a true imitator of Christ, from what Gibbon describes as “a mass of undigested fiction and error.” In his execution in North Africa, the official charged with this duty by the emperor of forcing Christians to recognize the imperial cult, pleads with Cyprian to save himself, even suggesting after the sentence is withdrawn that he can go back to teaching Christianity. Cyprian insist on being beheaded, lays out his own cloth, pays the executioner and forgives him. At his death his flock clamored to be martyred as well wanting to flee the tumultuous hell of collapsing Rome for eternal bliss.
The local officers declined most common requests to be martyred. Christians of the early church thirsted to be killed in imitation of The Savior and to join him. They did successfully defend themselves against charges of nocturnal perversions and orgies before pagan officials. Within Rome, capital punishment was reserved first for slaves [the bulk of humanity] and second for displaced politicians and their families. There was a reluctance to slaughter ordinary citizens.
The early orthodox church had an implacable problem as “an incorporation,” which churches remain to this day. Rome, as an entity, distrusted corporations. The Sacred Synod of Heracles was one of few, as these men served the power structure as religious combatants and diversionary celebrities as well as body guards. In Nicomedia a company of firemen wanted to form and were not granted a charter by Trajan. The Romans, had a keen instinct for power, and knew that companies would eventually exceed and destroy the nations who granted them power in their infancy. This was reflected in their creation mythology. They proved right, as American Independence, founded on company charters granted by the Crown, would turn the mother country into its slave within 130 years of separation.
Another aspect of Christianity that disturbed the pagans, was its apparent atheist quality, denying all but a few iterations of divinity. It is a fact, that atheism, in history has three sources:
-the Hellenic schools of philosophy: Cynic, Epicurian and Academic, with the later two providing many converts to Christianity
-Judaism, with men such as Marx the sons of rabbis
-Christianity, with the gradual expansion of early Christian divinity to conclude in the distillations of deism [3] secular humanism [4] and currently transhumanism and the cult of science. [5]
The Meeting of the Co-Emperors Galerius and Diocletion, in which the former pointed out that the women and eunuchs sabotaging their government were Christians, resulted in the burning of Diocletion’s palace by his Eunuchs and wives who had been spying upon them, resulted in the most infamous persecutions of Christians.
Under Diocletion’s purge, 9 bishops in 92 martyrs met their end. He and even the brutal Galerius were reluctant to kill too many Christians as they so infested the government that it would weaken their administration.
The great strength of the Christians was that they had, like the Jews, a parallel government. [2] This gave Christians experience in governance, especially as they were nearly all residents of provincial and imperial capitals, with very few, if any rural Christians. Pagan is a term that means rural person of the village. The key to the success of Christianity, in conquering Rome from within were:
-1. intolerance of other beliefs, encouraging fanaticism
-2. secrecy of worship, encouraging conspiracy, which is the internal function of government
-3. parallel taxation and government, preparing the faithful to rule the non faithful
-4. urban position in administrative hubs, placing the faithful in the geography of rule, for the origin of the city, to tax and rule outlying communities, remains a function of its continuing structure
-5. willingness to adopt Roman military methods and civic cruelty in suppressing internal dissent and expanding external submission. [6]
In this latter category, Gibbon notes that modern Christian monarchs such as Charles 5 and Louis 14, conducted more brutal persecutions of dissenting Christians than any pagan emperor had under Rome. Indeed, Constantine, who seems to have not been a Christian, made Christianity the state religion on his ascension, after the Christian wife and daughter of the pagan Diocletion were butchered by Lucinius, a pro-Christian co emperor of Constantine.
In the end, Christians, when persecuted, were treated less harshly than slaves, barbarians or displaced political families, who were exterminated wholesale. Christians were only slain for their insistence that their faith exceeded their loyalty to the State. The answer, to harness this Christian genius for civic craft and solidarity, was to combine the Faith with the State.
Ironically, most Christian denominations today mark the combination of Church and State under Constantine, as the end of the Age of Miracles. Once in political power, few church leaders of any nation or state, were willing to recognize the miraculous in their own time, under their own stewardship.
Notes
-0. Pagan and heathen life was relatively timeless in the respect of faith and tradition. It is the signature of Western Civilization since Constantine to erase its own past and indict its founders, ancestors and forefathers as ignorant and evil, either childishly or maliciously so.
-1. Epictetus, a practitioner of the divinity based school of Stoicism, the only philosophy that does not tend towards atheism, was the slave and teacher of Hadrian, who seems to have broken his leg. Alternatively, the teacher is thought to have been lame at his birth to a slave girl.
-2. This makes of a religion a government in waiting, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints declares itself to be, ironically the only major protestant denomination with a positive birthrate as the rest drift towards a sterile atheism.
-3. See The Jefferson Bible
-4. The acquisition of tax based military force
-5. Humanism was pioneered by the catholic church, who used trained academics among the clergy as missionaries to heathen tribes in Prussia, Latvia and Estonia, and later in North and South America, targeting “the might makes right” nature of pagan religions in favor of quality of life, the center piece of current Christian missionary activity. See The Teutonic Knights: A Military History, William Urban. The humanistic stage from 900 to 1800 saw the conversion of many times more souls across many times more lands than it did under its salvation phase. Salvation worked within the Roman system. In traditional tribal settings, salvation was purely a secondary mode of conversion, with military force #1 and humanism #2, these working like the jab and the straight rear hand in boxing as a knockout combination.
-6. To “follow” a system of thought is an explicitly religious act.
-7. Here I disagree with Gibbon, who places the truth of Christianity as the prime cause.
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