Tag Archives: Islam

Good and bad polytheists (Parts 15-16)

Towards the end of the 4th century, after the death of Emperor Julian (who had renounced Christianity), there was little hope for polytheism to be restored to its former position, and Christianity was now gaining permanent ground. The Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Byzantium (renamed Constantinople after the first Christian Emperor discussed before), was the strongest seat of Christianity; in the west, even though Rome held sway, there was more toleration for polytheism and hopes for keeping it alive. In 392 CE, Eugenius, though a Christian, became a usurper in the west and was the last emperor to support polytheists, but his ambition was cut short two years later when he was defeated and killed in battle by the armies of Theodosius I. This Theodosius was the same emperor who declared Christianity the only legal religion of the empire. However, as evidence of the continuance of polytheism in the west, his successors afterwards passed harsh laws that outlawed polytheism altogether and often prescribed capital punishment for not only those who practised its rituals, but also the magistrates who failed to destroy religious sanctuaries and carry out the laws. The Roman Empire was now in effect a theocracy, particularly in 457 CE, when Leo I was the first to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople, as if in acknowledgement (or rivalry) of the Pope’s miraculous intervention against Attila the Hun. Historians disagree whether Illus tried to re-establish toleration for polytheism in his support for usurpation as late as the end of the fifth century. In any case, polytheism was to decline afterwards by force, fear, or treason, both by Christianity and Islam, but it was too beautiful and precious to be entirely destroyed, or indeed abandoned by the brave and righteous.

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