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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Julian the Apostate

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emperor of Rome A.D. 361-363, is especially celebrated by his able and vigorous, but vain attempt to dethrone Christianity, and to restore the ancient Graeco-Roman paganism in the Roman Empire to its former power and glory. He was the nephew of Constantine the Great, the first Christian on the throne of the Caesars, and was educated under the restraining influence of the court Christianity of his cousin, the Arian emperor Constantius. The austere, monastic, intolerant, tyrannical, and hypocritical form of this belief repelled the independent youth, and made him a bitter enemy of Christianity, and an enthusiastic admirer of the heathen poets and philosophers, whose writings, in spite of the severe prohibition, he managed secretly to procure and to study, especially during his sojourn at the University of Athens. "The Arian pseudo-Christianity of Constantius produced the heathen anti-Christianity of Julian, and the latter was a well deserved punishment of the former." But he shrewdly concealed his real convictions. and hypocritically conformed to all the outward rites of Christianity till the death of the emperor. His heathenism was not a simple, spontaneous growth, but an artificial and morbid production. It was the heathenism of pantheistic eclecticism and Neo-Platonism, a strange, mixture of philosophy, poesy, and superstition, and, in Julian at least, in great part an imitation or caricature of Christianity.

With all his philosophical intelligence, he credited the most insipid legends of the gods, or gave them a deeper mystic meaning by the most arbitrary allegorical interpretation. He was in intimate personal intercourse with Jupiter, Minerva, Apollo, Hercules, who paid their nocturnal visits to his heated fancy, and assured him of their special favor and protection. His moral character corresponded to this pseudo-philosophy. He was full of affectation, vanity, sophistry, loquacity, and dissimulation, Everything he said, or wrote, or did was studied and calculated for effect. His apostasy from Christianity Julian dates from his twentieth year, A.D. 351. But while Constantius lived he concealed his pagan sympathies with consummate hypocrisy for ten years, and outwardly conformed to all the rites of the Church. After December, 355, he suddenly surprised the world with brilliant military successes and executive powers as Caesar in Gaul, which was at that time threatened by barbarians, and won the enthusiastic love of his soldiers. Now he raised the standard of rebellion against his imperial cousin, and in 361 openly declared himself a friend of the gods. By the sudden death of Constantius in the same year he became sole emperor, and made his triumphal entry into Constantinople. He immediately set to work with the utmost zeal to reorganize all departments of the government on the former heathen basis. He displayed extraordinary talent, industry, and executive tact. The eighteen short months of his reign (Dec. 361-June 363) comprehend the plans of life long administration. He was the most gifted, the most learned and most active, and yet the least successful of Roman emperors. His reign was an utter failure, teaching the important lesson that it is useless to swim against the stream of history and to impede the Onward march of Christianity. He proved beyond the possibility of doubt, that paganism had outlived itself, and that Christianity was the only living religion which had truly conquered the world, and carried all the hopes of humanity. He died in the midst of his plans in a campaign against Persia, characteristically exclaiming (according to later tradition), "Galilaean, thou hast conquered!"

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Julian the Apostate'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/j/julian-the-apostate.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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