“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”
—Julian, addressing the Christians
The malice of a true Christian attempting to destroy an opponent is something unique in the world. No other religion even considered it necessary to destroy others because they did not share the same beliefs. At worst, another man’s belief might inspire amusement or contempt—the Egyptians and their animal gods, for instance. Yet those who worshiped the Bull did not try to murder those who worshiped the Snake, or to convert them by force from Snake to Bull. No evil entered the world quite so vividly or on such a vast scale as Christianity did.
The memoir of Julian Augustus
“Fire? The sun’s? The earth’s?”
Prohaeresius smiled. “Neither. Nor hell’s fire, as the Christians say.”
“As you believe?” I was not certain to what extent he was a Galilean; even now, I don’t know. He has always been evasive. I cannot believe such a fine teacher and Hellenist could be one of them, but anything is possible, as the gods daily demonstrate.
“We are not ready for that dialogue just yet,” he said. He gestured toward the swift shrunken river at our feet. “There, by the way, is where Plato’s Phaidros is set. They had good talk that day, and on this same bank. Why do you call them Galileans?” he asked.
“Because Galilee was where he came from!”
Prohaeresius saw through me. “You fear the word Christian,” he said, “for it suggest that those who call themselves that are indeed followers of a king, a great lord.”
“A mere name cannot affect what they are,” I evaded him. But he was right. The name is a danger to us.
I resumed my argument: most of the civilized world is neither Hellenist nor Galilean, but suspended in between. With good reason, a majority of the people hate the Galileans. Too many innocents have been slaughtered in their mindless doctrinal quarrels. I need only to mention the murder of Bishop George at Alexandria to recall vividly to those who read this the savagery of that religion not only toward its enemies (whom they term “impious”) but also toward its own fallen followers.
Prohaeresius tried to argue with me, but though he is the world’s most eloquent man, I would not listen to him. Also, he was uncharacteristically artless in defense of the Galileans, which made me suspect he was not one of them. Like so many, he is in a limbo between Hellenism and the new death cult. Nor do I think he is merely playing it safe. He is truly puzzled. The old gods do seem to have failed us, and I have always accepted the possibility that they have withdrawn from human affairs, terrible as that is to contemplate. But mind has not failed us. Philosophy has not failed us.
I realized that I was making a speech to a master of eloquence, but I could not stop myself. Dozing students sat up and looked at me curiously, convinced I was mad, for I was waving my arms on great arcs as I am prone to do when passionate. Prohaeresius took it all in good heart.
“Believe what you must,” he said at last.
“But you believe, too! You believe in what I believe. You must or you could not teach as you do.”
“I see it differently. That is all. But try to be practical. The thing has taken hold. The Christians govern the world through Constantius. They have had almost thirty years of wealth and power. They will not surrender easily. You come too late, Julian. Of course if you were Constantine and this were forty years ago and we were pondering these same problems, then I might say to you: ‘Strike! Outlaw them! Rebuild the temples!’ But now is not then. You are not Constantine. They have the world. The best one can hope to do is civilize them. That is why I teach. That is why I can never help you.”