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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Valentinianus (1)


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Valentinianus (1) I., emperor a.d. 364–375, a native of Cibalis in Pannonia. Having served in the army with distinction, he was captain of the guards during the reign of Julian, when he boldly confessed Christ. Theodoret tells us ( H. E. iii. 16) that when Julian was one day entering the temple of Fortune with great pomp, Valentinian was marching in the procession before him. Two priests were at the gate to sprinkle all who entered with lustral water. Some fell upon Valentinian's robe, whereupon, crying out that he was defiled, not purified, he struck the priest and banished him to a desert fortress. When Jovian died, Valentinian was elected, Feb. 26, 364, and reigned till his death, Nov. 17, 375. For an account of his civil history see D. of G. and R. Biogr. He presents the rare phenomenon of an emperor who, sincerely attached to orthodoxy, was yet tolerant of the Arians and other heretical sects. He published an edict at the very beginning of his reign, giving complete toleration in religious opinion. To this fact we have the most opposite testimonies. The emperor refers to it in Cod. Theod. ix. 16. 9, in a law directed against the practices of the haruspices. Ammianus Marcellinus (xxx. 9) praises him for it, and St. Ambrose, in his oration de Obitu Valent. Junioris , implicitly censures him (cf. Hilar. Pictav. Cont. Auxent. Opp. t. iii. p. 64). His toleration did not, however, extend to practices. Thus in Sept. 364 he issued a law ( Cod. Theod. ix. 16. 7) prohibiting nocturnal sacrifices and magical incantations, and further enforced it by legg. viii. and ix. of the same title. These edicts seem to have been issued more from a moral and social than religious point of view. They were directed against immorality, not paganism, as is evident from the fact, which Ambrose ( l.c. ) laments, that he tolerated the public profession and practices of paganism in the Roman senate-house. One circumstance demonstrates his tolerance towards the followers of the ancient religion. There is not a single edict in the Theodosian code, lib. xvi. tit. x.—the celebrated title de Paganis , which is filled with persecuting laws—dating from any year between 356 and 381; while the same remark will also apply with one exception to the titles de Haeretici and de Judaeis , lib. xvi. tit. v. and viii. The one exception is the Manichean heresy, which he strictly prohibited by a law of 372 (Cod. Theod. xvi. v. 3) ordering the punishment of their teachers and the confiscation of the houses where they instructed their pupils in Rome; for Manicheism seems at that time to have assumed the character of a philosophy rather than of a religion. That this tolerant spirit of the emperor was helpful to true religion appears from the fact that, under Valentinian heathenism began first to be called the peasant's religion ("religio paganorum"), a name first so applied in a law of 368 ( ib. xvi. ii. 18). Valentinian legislated also for the clergy ( ib. xv. ii. 17–22), restraining the tendency of rich men to take holy orders to escape civil duties (legg. 17, 18, 19); and rendering illegal the bequests to clergy and monks from widows and virgins by a celebrated law (leg. 20) addressed in 370 to Damasus, bp. of Rome, under the description "De Vita, Honestate, Conversatione Ecclesiasticorum et Continentium," which was the model for much subsequent legislation. (Cf. the commentary of Godefroy, Theod. Cod. t. vi. p. 54, where all contemporary notices of this law are collected.) The legislative activity of Valentinian in every direction was very great, as shewn by the Theodosian Code.

Other modern authorities are Clinton's Fasti , i. 460, and appendix, pp. 110–119, where is an exhaustive statement of all his legislation, together with notices of medals, coins, etc., bearing on his reign, and De Broglie's L’Egdise et l’Empire Romain , pt. iii. c. i.

[G.T.S.]


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Valentinianus (1)'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hwd/v/valentinianus-1.html. 1911.

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