“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”
—Julian, addressing the Christians
Libanius to Priscus
Antioch, April 380
You cannot imagine the pleasure I experienced when your letter was brought to me this evening.
Since I wrote you, I have not been idle. Through the office of the praetorian prefect at Constantinople, I have proposed myself for an audience with the Emperor. Theodosius has met very few people of our set, coming as he does from Spain, a country not noted for culture.
How often in the past we have been horrified by princes reputed to be good who, when raised to the throne of the world, have turned monstrous before our eyes? The late Valens for example, or Julian’s own brother, Caesar Gallus, a charming youth who brought terror to the East. We must be on guard, as always.
The question that now faces us is this: how seriously will Theodosius enforce the edict? It is customary for emperors who listen to the bishops to hurl insults at the very civilization that created them. They are inconsistent, but then logic has never been a strong point of the Christian faith.
The extraordinary paradox is the collusion of our princes with the bishops. The emperors pride themselves on being first magistrates of the Roman imperium, through whose senate they exercise their power; and though in reality we have not been Roman for a century, nevertheless, the form persists, making it impossible, one would think, for any prince who calls himself August to be Christian, certainly not as long as the Altar of Victory remains in the senate house at Rome. But confusion of this sort are inconsequential to the Christian mind as clouds to a day in summer, and as a teacher I no longer try to refute them; since most of my students are Christian, I suppose I ought to be grateful that they have chosen to come to me to be taught the very philosophy their faith subverts. It is a comedy, Priscus! It is tragedy!
Meanwhile, we can only wait and see what happens. The Emperor grows stronger in health every day, and it is thought that later this spring he may take the field against the Goths, who as usual are threatening the marches of Macedonia. If he decides to go north, this means he will not return to Constantinople till late summer or autumn, in which case I will have to attend him at Thessalonica or, worse, in the field. If so, I am confident the journey will be my last. For my health, unlike yours, continues to deteriorate.
Over the years I have made a number of notes for a biography of Julian. I have them before me now. All that remains is the final organization of the material—and of course the memoir. Please send it to me as soon as the copy is ready. I shall work on it this summer, as I am no longer lecturing. I thought it wise to go into seclusion until we know which way the wind blows.
There have been no incidents so far. My Christian friends come to see me as usual (rather a large number of my old students are now bishops, a peculiar irony). Colleagues who are still lecturing tell me that their classes are much as usual. The next move is up to Theodosius, or, to be exact, up to the bishops. Luckily for us, they have been so busy for so long persecuting one another that we have been able to survive. But reading between the lines of the edict, I suspect a bloodbath. Theodosius has outlawed with particular venom the party of the late Presbyter Arius on the grounds that Galileans must now have a church with a single doctrine to be called universal… a catholic church, no less!
To balance this, we must compose a true life of Julian. So let us together fashion one last wreath of Apollonian laurel to place upon the brow of philosophy, as a brave sign against the winter that threatens this stormy late season of the world. I want those who come after us to realize what hopes we had for life, and I want to see how close our Julian came to arresting the disease of Galilee.
Again, my best wishes to the admirable Hippia, and to you, my old friend and fellow soldier in the wars of philosophy.