Remember those who died for the Gods and Truth

But part of why I had such a visceral reaction to the man’s dishonest appropriation is because this is the exact tactic that the Christians took in antiquity:

If those who are called philosophers, especially the Platonists, have said things which are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather, what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Just as the Egyptians had not only idols and grave burdens which the people of Israel detested and avoided, so also they had vases and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which the Israelites took with them secretly when they fled, as if to put them to a better use. (Augustine, On Christian Teaching)

And that ain’t cool.

Especially since they were only able to do so after centuries of bitter conflict with the disciples of Plato, who were some of the strongest critics of the militant monotheism of the church and actively engaged in the preservation and restoration of traditional cults (see, for instance, Marinos of Samaria’s Life of Proklos, Iamblichos’ De Mysteriis, Porphyry’s Against the Christians and Julian’s Contra Galileos) and then only after the might of the Roman empire was brought to bear against them, as for instance when Justinian forcibly closed the Academy in Athens:

We wish to widen the law once made by us and by our father of blessed memory against all remaining heresies (we call heresies those faiths which hold and believe things otherwise than the catholic and apostolic orthodox church), so that it ought to apply not only to them but also to Samaritans and Pagans. Thus, since they have had such an ill effect, they should have no influence nor enjoy any dignity, nor acting as teachers of any subjects, should they drag the minds of the simple to their errors and, in this way, turn the more ignorant of them against the pure and true orthodox faith; so we permit only those who are of the orthodox faith to teach and accept a public stipend.

Justinian enforced this edict with torture and murder on a grand scale, as we see, for instance in Prokopios:

Justinian then carried the persecution to the Hellenes as they are called, maltreating their bodies and plundering their properties. But even those among them who had decided to espouse in word the name of Christians, seeking thus to avert their present misfortunes, these not much later were generally seized at their libations and sacrifices and other unholy acts. And the prosecution of these cases was carried out in reckless fashion, since the penalty was exacted even without an accuser, for the word of a single man or boy, and even, if it so happened, of a slave compelled against his will to give evidence against his owner, was considered definite proof. Those who were thus convicted had their privates removed and were paraded through the streets. (The Secret History 11.24-36)

Or the third book of the Chronicle of Zuqnin, which quotes John of Ephesos who was directly involved in the persecutions:

In the nineteenth year of the Emperor Justinian, they were busy, thanks to my zeal, with the matter of the Pagans who were discovered in Constantinople. These were illustrious and noble men, with a host of grammarians, sophists, scholastics and physicians. When they were discovered and, thanks to torture, denounced themselves, they were seized, flogged, imprisoned, and sent to the churches so that they might learn the Christian faith as was appropriate for Pagans. There were among them patricians and nobles. Then a powerful and wealthy Pagan named Phocas, who was a patrician, saw the harshness of the inquisition and knowing that those arrested had denounced him as a Pagan, and that a severe sentence had been given against him because of the zeal of the emperor, that night took deadly poison and so left this earthly life. When the emperor heard this, he ordered with justice that he should be interred like an ass, that there should be no cortege or prayer for him. So his family during the night put him on a litter, carried him, made an open grave and threw him in it like a dead animal. Thanks to this the Pagans were afraid for some time. Later on the goodness of god visited Asia, Caria, Lydia and Phrygia, thanks to the zeal of the victorious Justinian and by the efforts of his humble servant. So by the power of the holy spirit, 70,000 souls were instructed, and left behind the errors of Paganism, the worship of idols and the temples of the demons for the knowledge of the truth. All were converted, disavowed the errors of their ancestors, were baptized in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, and were added to the number of Christians. The victorious Justinian paid the expenses and clothing for baptism; he also took care to give three gold pieces to each of them. When god had opened their minds and had made known the truth, they helped us with their own hands to destroy their temples, to overthrow their idols, to extirpate the sacrifices that were offered everywhere, to cut down their altars, soiled with the blood of sacrifices offered to demons, and to cut down countless trees that they worshipped because they were leaving all the errors of their ancestors. The salutary sign of the cross was planted everywhere among them, and churches of god were founded everywhere. They were built and erected, to the number of eighty-six, with great diligence and zeal, in the high mountains and steep and in the plains, in all the places where there was Paganism. Twelve monasteries were also founded in places which were Pagan, and where the name of Christ had never been heard from the beginning of the world until this time. Fifty-five churches were founded at public expense and forty-one at the expense of the new Christians. The victorious emperor gave them willingly, by our hands, the sacred vessels, clothes, books and brass items.

Or in the Life of the Younger Saint Symeon the Stylite:

On his way to the city of Antioch he destroyed many of the unrighteous found en route, so that men shuddered with fear at his countenance. For everywhere he suppressed all evil-doing whether in word or deed, inflicting punishment, including death, on those who had gone astray, so that from then on even those living a blameless life feared his presence. He claimed that what he did was in response to an oracle from god which appeared to him in a dream, namely that the lord was angry with the Hellenes and heretics and he should reveal the idolatrous errors of the atheists and gather together all their books and burn them. After some investigation he discovered that the majority of the leaders of the city and many of its inhabitants were preoccupied with Hellenismos, Manichaeism, astrological practices, automatism and other hateful heresies. He arrested them and put them in prison, and after gathering together all of their books – a huge number – he burned them in the middle of the stadium. He brought out their idols and their polluted accoutrements and hung them along the streets of the city, and their wealth was expended on numerous fines. (161)

So if I’m a little resentful of people attempting to turn our polytheist martyrs into spokepersons for the ideology that almost succeeded in wiping them out, understand that there is good reason for that.

6 thoughts on “Remember those who died for the Gods and Truth

  1. I’m confused. Who is the man to whose appropriation this is a visceral reaction? I feel like I came in on the middle of something.


    1. This is excerpted from a stupid argument that was circulating a couple years back. I didn’t want to reopen that can of worms or garner any attention for the participants on the other side, but instead to preserve some quotes I’d dug up on the final generation of Platonists who were stalwart defenders of traditional polytheists in the waning days of the Western Roman empire.


  2. One thing I’ve been hearing a lot lately is how Christians are the most persecuted Religion in the world right now. It’s hard for me to have an opinion on this because, on the one hand, I feel that whatever you believe is whatever you believe and should be respected across the board provided you respect other’s difference of belief. Yet, on the other hand, I think of the religions that were destroyed and cannibalized by Christianity and say, “Karma’s a Bitch, ain’t it?”


    1. Karma is a bitch, and there’s a certain appropriateness to one expression of monotheism being eradicated by another – except those Christians tend to be a buffer between us and Islam, and once Islam succeeds in taking out the Christians the West will fall, and they’ll simply pick us off next, and we’re a hell of a lot less organized and capable of staging a defense than even the most beat down tribal Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Ergo I stand in solidarity with them against Muslim incursion, whatever I may personally think of their beliefs, traditions and culture.


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