Continuing with Philip Schaff’s description of Julian’s ruthless attempt to destroy Christianity, we quote the following, Vol. III, 52, ff.
“This appears in his open partiality and injustice against the Christians. His liberal patronage of heathenism was in itself an injury to Christianity. Nothing gave him greater joy than an apostasy, and he held out the temptation of splendid reward; thus himself, employing the impure means of proselyting, for which he reproached the Christians. Once he even advocated conversion by violent measures. While he called heathens to all the higher offices, and, in case of their palpable disobedience, inflicted very mild punishment, if any at all, the Christians came to be everywhere disregarded, and their complaints dismissed from the tribunal with a mocking reference to their master’s precept, to give their enemy their cloak also with their coat, and turn the other cheek to his blows. They were removed from military and civil office, deprived of all their former privileges, oppressed with taxes, and compelled to restore without indemnity the temple property, with all their own improvements on it, and to contribute to the support of the public idolatry. Upon occasion of a controversy between the Arians and the orthodox at Edessa, Julian confiscated the church property and distributed it among his soldiers, under the sarcastic pretense of facilitating the Christians” entrance into the kingdom of heaven, from which, according to the doctrine of their religion (compare Matt. 19:23, 24), riches might exclude them.
Equally unjust and tyrannical was the law, which placed all the state schools under the direction of heathens, and prohibited the Christians teaching the sciences and the arts. Julian would thus deny Christian youth the advantage of education, and compel them either to sink in ignorance and barbarism, or to imbibe with the study of the classics in the heathen schools the principle of idolatry. In his view the Hellenic writings, especially the works of the poets, were not only literary, but also religious documents to which the heathens had an exclusive claim, and he regarded Christianity irreconcilable with genuine human culture. The Galileans, says he in ridicule, should content themselves with expounding Matthew and Luke in their churches, instead of profaning the glorious Greek authors. For it is preposterous and ungrateful, that they should study the writings of the classics, and yet despise the gods, whom the authors revered; since the gods were in fact the authors and guides of the minds of a Homer, a Hesiod, a Demosthenes, a Thucydides, an Isocrates, and a Lysias, and these writers consecrated their works to Mercury or the muses. Hence, he hated especially the learned church teachers, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen, Apollinaris of Laodicea, who applied the classical culture to the refutation of heathenism and the defense of Christianity. To evade his interdict, the two Apollinaris produced with all haste Christian imitations of Homer, Pindar, Euripides, and Menander, which were considered by Sozomen equal to the originals, but soon passed into oblivion. Gregory also wrote the tragedy of “The Suffering Christ,” and several hymns, which still exist. Thus these fathers bore: witness to the indispensableness of classical literature for a higher Christian education, and the church has ever since maintained the same view.
Julian further sought to promote his cause by literary assaults upon the Christian religion; himself writing, shortly before his death, and in the midst of his preparations for the Persian campaign, a bitter work against it, of which we shall speak more fully in a subsequent section.
3. To the same hostile design against Christianity is to be referred the favor of Julian to its old hereditary enemy, Judaism.
The emperor, in an official document, affected reverence for that ancient popular religion, and sympathy with its adherents, praised their firmness under misfortune, and condemned their oppressors. He exempted the Jews from burdensome taxation, and encouraged them even to return to the holy land and to rebuild the temple on Moriah in its original splendor. He appropriated considerable sums to this object from the public treasury, entrusted his accomplished minister Alypius with the supervision of the building, and promised, if he should return victorious from the Persian War, to honor with his own presence the solemnities of reconsecration and the restoration of the Mosaic sacrificial worship.
His real purpose in this undertaking was certainly not to advance the Jewish religion; for in his work against the Christians he speaks with great contempt of the Old Testament, and ranks Moses and Solomon far below the pagan lawgivers and philosophers. His object in the rebuilding of the temple was rather in the first place, to enhance the splendor of his reign, and thus gratify his personal vanity; and then most probably to put to shame the prophecy of Jesus respecting the destruction of the temple (which, however, was actually fulfilled three hundred years before once for all), to deprive the Christians of their most popular argument against the Jews, arid to break the power of the new religion in Jerusalem.
The Jews now poured from east and west into the holy city of their fathers, which from the time of Hadrian they had been forbidden to visit, and entered with fanatical zeal upon the great national religious work, in hope of the speedy irruption of the Messianic reign and the fulfillment of all the prophecies. Women, we are told, brought their costly ornaments, turned them into silver shovels and spades; and carried even the earth and stones of the holy spot in their silken aprons. But the united power of heathen emperor and Jewish nation was insufficient to restore a work which had been overthrown by the judgment of God. Repeated attempts at the building were utterly frustrated, as even a contemporary heathen historian of conceded credibility relates, by fiery eruptions from subterranean vaults; and, perhaps, as Christian writers add, by a violent whirlwind, lightning, earthquake, and miraculous signs, especially a luminous cross, in the heavens, so that the workmen either perished in the flames, or fled from the devoted spot in terror and despair. Thus, instead of depriving the Christians of a support of their faith, Julian only furnished them a new argument in the ruins of this fruitless labor.
The providential frustration of this project is a symbol of the whole reign of Julian, which soon afterward sank into an early grave. As Caesar he had conquered the barbarian enemies of the Roman empire in the West; and now he proposed, as ruler of the world, to humble its enemies, in the East, and by the conquest of Persia to win the renown of a second Alexander. He proudly rejected all proposals of peace; crossed the Tigris at the head of an army of sixty-five thousand men, after wintering in Antioch, and after solemn consultation of the oracle; took several fortified towns in Mesopotamia; exposed himself to every hardship and peril of war; restored at the same time, wherever he could, the worship of the heathen gods; but brought the army into a most critical position, and, in an unimportant nocturnal skirmish, received from a hostile arrow a mortal wound. He died soon after, on the 27th of June, 363, in the thirty-second year of his life; according to heathen testimony, in the proud repose and dignity of a Stoic philosopher, conversing of the glory of the soul (the immortality of which, however, he considered at best an uncertain opinion); but according to later and somewhat doubtful Christian accounts, with the hopeless exclamation: “Galilean, thou hast conquered!” The parting address to his friends, which Ammianus puts into his mouth, is altogether characteristic. It reminds one of the last hours of Socrates, without the natural simplicity of the original, and with a strong admixture of self-complacence and theatrical affectation. His body was taken, at his own direction, to Tarsus, the birthplace of the apostle Paul, whom he hated more than any other apostle, and a monument was erected to him there, with a simple inscription, which calls him a good’ ruler and a brave warrior, but says nothing of his religion.
So he died, in the prime of life: a prince, who darkened his brilliant, military, executive, and literary talents, and a rare energy, by fanatical zeal for a false religion and opposition to the true; perverted them to a useless and wicked end; and earned, instead of immortal honor, the same of an unsuccessful apostate (the reader will understand that when Philip Schaff uses the word “immortal” in these writings, he is using it in the current sense of “endless,” which is not the Scriptural significance of the term whatsoever; “immortality” in the Scriptures refers to the life of everlasting, heavenly perfection, and is therefore applicable only to the(church of God and the work of salvation—H.V.). Had he lived longer, he would probably have plunged the empire into the sad distraction of a religious Civil war. The Christians were generally expecting a bloody persecution in case of his successful return from the Persian war. We need, therefore, the less wonder that they abhorred his memory. At Antioch they celebrated his death by festal dancings in the churches and theatres. Even the celebrated divine and orator, Gregory Nazianzen, compared him to Pharaoh, Ahab, and Nebuchadnezzar. It has been reserved for the more impartial historiography of modern times to do justice to his nobler qualities, and to endeavor to excuse, or at least to account for his utterly false position toward Christianity, by his perverted education, the despotism of his predecessor, and the imperfections of the church in his day (when Philip Schaff speaks in the foregoing of Julian’s “nobler qualities” we may take that for. what it is worth—H.V.)
With Julian himself fell also his artificial, galvanized heathenism, “like the baseless fabric of a vision, leaving no wreck behind,” save the great doctrine, that it is impossible to swim against the stream of history or to stop the progress of Christianity. The heathen philosophers and soothsayers, who had basked in his favor, fell back into obscurity. In the dispersion of their dream they found no comfort from their superstition. Libanius charges the guilt upon his own gods, who suffered Constantius to reign twenty years, and Julian hardly twenty months. But the Christians could learn from it, what Gregory Nazianzen had said in the beginning of this reign, that the church had far more to fear from enemies within, than from without.”
This concludes our lengthy quotation from Philip Schaff in which he describes, vividly, the fanatical and desperate attempt of the able but also wicked Julian to destroy the religion of the Christ whom he hated with all his heart and mind and soul. It was surely a desperate effort. But, of course, it was a hopeless effort. This effort of Julian marks the final attempt of heathenism to crush Christianity. However, as Gregory once wrote: the church has more to fear from enemies within than from enemies without. How true this is!