“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”
—Julian, addressing the Christians
The Memoir of Julian Augustus
Suddenly the door to the charnel house was flung open and two old men ran out into the street, closely pursued by a dozen monks, armed with sticks. The old men got as far as the arcade where we were standing. Then the monks caught them, threw them to the ground, and beat them, shouting all the while, “Heretic! Heretic!”
I turned with amazement to Mardonius. “Why are they hurting those men?”
Mardonius sighed. “Because they are heretics.”
“Dirty Athanasians?” Gallus, older than I, was already acquainted with most of our new world’s superstitions.
“I am afraid so. We’d better go.”
But I was curious. I wanted to know what an Athanasian was.
“Misguided fools who believe that Jesus and God are exactly the same…”
“When everybody knows they are only similar,” said Gallus.
“Exactly. As Presbyter Arius—who was so much admired by your cousin the divine Emperor—taught us.”
“They poisoned Presbyter Arius,” said Gallus, already fiercely partisan. He picked up a rock. “Murdering heretics!” he yelled and hurled the stone with unfortunate accuracy at one of the old men. The monks paused in their congenial work to praise Gallus’s marksmanship. Mardonius was furious, but only on grounds of rectitude.
“Gallus!” He gave my brother a good shake. “You are a prince, not a street brawler!” Grabbing us each firmly by an arm, Mardonius hurried us away. Needless to say, I was fascinated by all this.
“But surely those old men are harmless.”
“Harmless? They murdered Presbyter Arius.” Gallus’s eyes shone with righteousness.
“Those two? They actually murdered him?”
“No,” said Mardonius. “But they are followers of Bishop Athanasius…”
“The worst heretic that ever lived!” Gallus was always ecstatic when his own need for violence coincided with what others believed to be right action.
“And it is thought that Athanasius ordered Arius poisoned at a church council, some seven years ago. As a result, Athanasius was sent into exile by our divine uncle. And now, Julian, I must remind you for what is the hundredth—or is it the thousandth?—time, not to bite your nails.”
I stopped biting my nails, a habit which I have not entirely broken myself of even today. “But aren’t they all Christians?” I asked. “Don’t they believe in Jesus and the gospels?”
“No!” said Gallus.
“Yes,” said Mardonius. “They are Christians too. But they are in error.”
Even as a child I had a reasonable logical mind. “But if they are Christians, like us, then we must not fight them but turn the other cheek, and certainly nobody must kill anybody, because Jesus tells us that…”
“I’m afraid it is not as simple as all that,” said Mardonius. But of course it was. Even a child could see the division between what the Galileans say they believe and what, in fact, they do believe, as demonstrated by their actions. A religion of brotherhood and mildness which daily murders those who disagree with its doctrines can only be thought as hypocrite, or worse. Now for the purposes of my memoir it would be convenient to say that at this moment I ceased to be a Galilean. But unfortunately that would not be true. Though I was puzzled by what I had seen, I still believed, and my liberation from the Nazarene was a long time coming.
But looking back, I suspect that the first chain was struck from my mind that day on the street when I saw two harmless old men set upon by monks.