Please Help New English Review
For our donors from the UK:
New English Review
New English Review Facebook Group
Follow New English Review On Twitter
Recent Publications by New English Review Authors
The Real Nature of Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
As Far As The Eye Can See
by Moshe Dann
Threats of Pain and Ruin
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Impact of Islam
by Emmet Scott
Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies
by Ibn Warraq
Fighting the Retreat from Arabia and the Gulf: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly. Vol. 1
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Literary Culture of France
by J. E. G. Dixon
Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays
by David P. Gontar
Farewell Fear
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Eagle and The Bible: Lessons in Liberty from Holy Writ
by Kenneth Hanson
The West Speaks
interviews by Jerry Gordon
Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy
Emmet Scott
Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy
Ibn Warraq
Anything Goes
by Theodore Dalrymple
Karimi Hotel
De Nidra Poller
The Left is Seldom Right
by Norman Berdichevsky
Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
Virgins? What Virgins?: And Other Essays
by Ibn Warraq
An Introduction to Danish Culture
by Norman Berdichevsky
The New Vichy Syndrome:
by Theodore Dalrymple
Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky
















clear
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Julian Our Contemporary
clear

David Bentley Hart writes:

When he died from a spear wound in June 363 AD, while on campaign in Persia, the Emperor Julian was only thirty-two years old. His reign as Augustus had lasted just nineteen months. His great project to restore the ancient faith of the “Hellenes” and to turn back the inexorable advance of the “Galilean” religion perished with him; what some had briefly hoped might be the first stirrings of a glorious revival of perennial truth now turned out to have been only the last spasm of a dying age. If anything, his reforms only hastened the Christianization of imperial culture, by inaugurating a new and anxious epoch of politically imposed religious uniformity.

Objectively speaking, then, Julian’s reign was at most a minor episode, poignantly and flickeringly ephemeral, leaving nothing of permanent significance behind—a momentary stammer in history’s verdict, meriting little attention. And yet, perhaps precisely because he stands out as so fruitless an anomaly in the narrative of Western history, he continues to exercise a rare fascination over historians, philosophers, theologians, and artists (to take nothing away from his considerable personal gifts).

For the Christians of late antiquity and the middles ages, of course, he was the great “Apostate,” a sort of vicar of Satan on earth. The sort of restrained admiration for him one finds in a few antique Christian writers was soon swept away by lurid legends of Julian the Sorcerer, who tore out children’s hearts or ripped fetuses from their mothers’ wombs in order to perform feats of black magic; or of Julian the demoniac, who pledged himself to the devil in exchange for worldly dominion; or of Julian the persecutor, steeped in the blood of the martyrs.

For certain Renaissance humanists, on the other hand—Lorenzo de Medici in particular—Julian’s enmity to the church was only the unfortunate consequence of those virtues that made him so intelligent, forceful, and estimable a prince. For various playwrights of the Golden Age theater of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, as well as some of the playwrights in the Jesuit colleges of Germany, he was a kind of tragic hero, deeply deceived of course, but destroyed more by the susceptibilities of a noble nature than by any inclination towards evil.

To certain rationalists, Aufklärer, and philosophes of the eighteenth century, he was philosophy’s lonely champion, defiantly raising the torch of reason one last time amid the gathering gloom of the Christian “dark ages.” To a few Romantics, he was a proud rebel against the morbid tyrannies of religion. And, in the twentieth century, he became whatever took a writer’s fancy: for Nikos Kazantzakis an existentialist knight of the absurd, for Gore Vidal a deeply introspective and sexually adventurous enemy of Christianity’s rigors and repressions, and so on.

Of course, Julian did not kill babies or practice goetic magic. Neither was he on speaking terms with the devil. Christians under his reign generally had little cause to fear for their lives. On the other hand, while he was a gifted ruler, his errors of judgment were legion, his hatred of the Christians often degenerated into childish spite, and he was destroyed more by callow egotism than by tragic hubris.

Far from being any sort of rationalist, he was a particularly credulous religious enthusiast, who delighted in blood sacrifice, magic, astrology, and mystery; when he tried his hand at philosophy, the results were embarrassing. Not only was he not a rebel against religion’s chilly moralism; the faith he preached was notable principally for its joyless austerity. If anything, his sense of the absurd was dangerously underdeveloped. And there is a great likelihood that he died a virgin.

Of course, had he lived longer, time’s slow levigations might have burnished his virtues and worn away at his vices; but the record is not encouraging on that score. During his year and a half in power, his malice towards the “Galilaeans” increased the more his pagan revival faltered, and his measures against the younger faith, official and unofficial, became increasingly vindictive; he even had two soldiers executed for refusing to remove the Christian labarum from their standards.

His treatment of cities that did not, to his mind, appreciate him adequately—such as Caesarea and Antioch—were marked by petulance and cruelty. In his final months, moreover, deluding himself that he was a second Alexander, he rejected Persia’s embassy of peace and led an invasion that was as pointless as it was unwinnable. By the end, despair had made him capriciously cruel; he even ordered the decimation of three cavalry squadrons whose only crime was that they had lost a few men in an ambush.

Having said all of this, however, I find Julian is an utterly absorbing, and even oddly attractive, personality—for any number of reasons. Chief among them, I suppose, is his sheer naïveté, his obviously earnest belief that he could communicate his deep spiritual fervor to his contemporaries, his certainty that the fire of general pagan devotion could be rekindled with only a little effort. I find it oddly moving.

Continue reading here.

clear
Posted on 08/08/2010 10:36 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Comments
No comments yet.


Guns, Germs and Steel in Tanzania
The Thinking Person's Safari
Led by Geoffrey Clarfield
Most Recent Posts at The Iconoclast
Search The Iconoclast
Enter text, Go to search:
clear
The Iconoclast Posts by Author
The Iconoclast Archives
sun mon tue wed thu fri sat
       1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30       
clear

Subscribe