Julian the Apostate
JULIAN THE APOSTATE
Roman Emperor (361–363); b. c. 331; d. June 26,363. He was the son of Julius Constantius, the half brother of Constantine the Great. His mother Basilina died shortly after his birth in 331; his father perished in 337 in the slaughter that brought into power the illegitimate branch of Constantine's descendants. The fraternal rivalries within the family shaped Julian's whole life. With his brother Gallus, Julian lived precariously and in obscurity, chiefly at Macellum in Asia Minor. His tutor Mardonius, probably a pagan, introduced him to the best aspects of Hellenistic culture. At Macellum Julian also read extensively in Christian literature, received baptism, and even served as lector in church. Most of the Christian clergy he knew, such as Eusebius of Nicomedia and George of Cappadocia, for example, were Arians.
When Gallus became Caesar in 351, Julian was allowed to travel and study. Libanius and other teachers strengthened his love of Greek culture. Contact with the theurgist Neoplatonist, Maximus of Ephesus, led to Julian's secret apostasy from Christianity c. 351; he was
also initiated into the cult of Mithra. The fall of Gallus in 354 endangered Julian, who was summoned by Constantius II to the West, where he lived under surveillance. In 355 Constantius, with no sons of his own, appointed Julian Caesar with jurisdiction over the West. In battles against the Germans during the next five years Julian showed true military skill. In 360 his soldiers proclaimed him Augustus, in a mutiny. Constantius died in 361, with civil war imminent and Julian was accepted as sole emperor. He spent his reign in the East. Except for minor administrative measures, he concerned himself with religion and the war that he waged against the Persians and in which he eventually died.
The mainspring of Julian's abhorrence of Christianity was his cultural conservatism. He was completely devoted to Greco-Roman civilization and thought he was mystically called to rescue it from an alien, uncouth Christianity. Disinclined to persecution by force, he proclaimed toleration for all Christian sects, revoked all special privileges, removed Christians from political office, and forbade them to teach the classical curriculum of the schools. He exiled St. athanasius and refused to come to the defense of nisibis because of its Christian population. In his work, Against the Galileans, he expounds his anti-Christian position. Positively, his religious program envisioned a rejuvenated paganism with Neoplatonism as an intellectual base and a reformed priesthood modeled on the Christian clergy. His efforts met with complete apathy, however. He wrote four minor philosophical works. His letters and the satirical Misopogon offer additional insights into a noble but erratic character.
Bibliography: k. gross, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 5:1195–96. h. dÖrrie, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3:1060–61. e. stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire, tr. j. r. palanque, 2 v. in 3 (Paris 1949–59). g. ricciotti, Julian the Apostate (Milwaukee 1960).
[r. h. schmandt]