Intolerance, Religious Violence, and Political Legitimacy in Late Antiquity

Intolerance, Religious Violence, and Political Legitimacy in Late Antiquity This article proposes an alternative way to think about the violence that swept the Roman Empire in the wake of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. Traditionally seen as the inevitable result of Christian intolerance, recent experience suggests that this violence can be better understood by casting a broader net and including political as well as theological issues. The result shows this violence to be the by-product of a struggle between emperors and bishops to control access to the divine. In an age of widespread belief in the active intervention of deity in human affairs, this religious prerogative was fraught with profound secular implications that make our distinction between Church and State meaningless. Martyrs play an important role in this process, but it is a symbolic one. Bishops use martyrs to control emperors. But, as a famous confrontation between Ambrose of Milan and the emperor Theodosius shows, bishops also relied on their new role as patrons of a large and volatile constituency. Their efforts were abetted by significant rethinking of the meaning of martyrdom and persecution that followed Julian the Apostate's ill-starred efforts to rein in Christianity without producing martyrs. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the American Academy of Religion Oxford University Press

Intolerance, Religious Violence, and Political Legitimacy in Late Antiquity

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press, on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissionsoup.com
Subject
ARTICLES
ISSN
0002-7189
eISSN
1477-4585
D.O.I.
10.1093/jaarel/lfq064
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This article proposes an alternative way to think about the violence that swept the Roman Empire in the wake of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. Traditionally seen as the inevitable result of Christian intolerance, recent experience suggests that this violence can be better understood by casting a broader net and including political as well as theological issues. The result shows this violence to be the by-product of a struggle between emperors and bishops to control access to the divine. In an age of widespread belief in the active intervention of deity in human affairs, this religious prerogative was fraught with profound secular implications that make our distinction between Church and State meaningless. Martyrs play an important role in this process, but it is a symbolic one. Bishops use martyrs to control emperors. But, as a famous confrontation between Ambrose of Milan and the emperor Theodosius shows, bishops also relied on their new role as patrons of a large and volatile constituency. Their efforts were abetted by significant rethinking of the meaning of martyrdom and persecution that followed Julian the Apostate's ill-starred efforts to rein in Christianity without producing martyrs.

Journal

Journal of the American Academy of ReligionOxford University Press

Published: Mar 25, 2011

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