Chapter XVII.—In Order that he might not be thought Tyrannical, Julian proceeds artfully against the Christians. Abolition of the Sign of the Cross. He makes the Soldiery sacrifice, although they were Unwilling.
When Julian acted and wrote in the manner aforesaid, he expected that he would by these means easily induce his subjects to change their religious opinions. 1406 Although he earnestly desired to abolish the Christian religion, yet he plainly was ashamed to employ violent measures, lest he should be accounted tyrannical. He used every means, however, that could possibly be devised to lead his subjects back to paganism; and he was more especially urgent with the soldiery, whom he sometimes addressed individually and sometimes through the medium of their officers. To habituate them in all things to the worship of the gods, he restored the ancient form of the standard of the Roman armies, 1407 which, as we have already stated, Constantine had, at the command of God, converted into the sign of the cross. Julian also 1408 caused to be painted, in juxtaposition with his own figure, on the public pictures, a representation either of Jupiter coming out of heaven and presenting to him the symbols of imperial power, a crown or a purple robe, or else of Mars, or of Mercury, with their eyes intently fixed upon him, as if to express their admiration of his eloquence and military skill. He placed the pictures of the gods in juxtaposition with his own, in order that the people might secretly be led to worship them under the pretext of rendering due honor to him; he abused ancient usages, and endeavored to conceal his purpose from his subjects. He considered that if they would yield obedience on this point, they would be the more ready to obey him on every other occasion; but that if they ventured to refuse obedience, he would have reason to punish them, as infringers of the Roman customs and offenders against the emperor and the state. There were but very few (and the law had its course against them) who, seeing through his designs, refused to render the customary homage to his pictures; but the multitude, through ignorance or simplicity, conformed as usual to the ancient regulation, and thoughtlessly paid homage to his image. The emperor derived but little advantage from this artifice; yet he did not cease from his efforts to effect a change in religion.
The next machination to which he had recourse was less subtle and more violent than the former one; and the fortitude of many soldiers attached to the court was thereby tested. When the stated day came round for giving money to the troops, 1409 which day generally fell upon the anniversary of some festival among the Romans, such as that of the birth of the emperor, or the foundation of some royal city, Julian reflected that soldiers are naturally thoughtless and simple, and disposed to be covetous of money, and therefore concluded that it would be a favorable opportunity to seduce them to the worship of the gods. Accordingly, as each soldier approached to receive the money, he was commanded to offer sacrifice, fire and incense having been previously placed for this purpose near the emperor, according to an ancient Roman custom. Some of the soldiers had the courage to refuse to offer sacrifice and receive the gold; others were so habituated to the observance of the law and custom that they conformed to it, without imagining that they were committing sin. Others, again, deluded by the luster of the gold, or compelled by fear and consideration on account of the test which was immediately in sight, complied with the pagan rite, and suffered themselves to fall into the temptation from which they ought to have fled.
It is related that, as some of them who had ignorantly fallen into this sin were seated at table, and drinking to each other, one among them happened to mention the name of Christ over the cups. Another of the guests immediately exclaimed: “It is extraordinary that you should call upon Christ, when, but a short time ago, you denied him for the sake of the emperors gift, by throwing incense into the fire.” On hearing this observation, they all became suddenly conscious of the sin they had committed; they rose from table and rushed into the public streets, where they screamed and wept and called upon all men to witness that they were and would remain Christians, and that they had offered incense unawares, and with the hand alone, and not with the assent of the judgment. They then presented themselves before the emperor, threw back his gold, and courageously asked him to take back his own gift, and besought him to put them to death, protesting that they would never renounce their sentiments, p. 340 whatever torments might, in consequence of the sin committed by their hand, be inflicted on the other parts of their body for the sake of Christ.
Whatever displeasure the emperor might have felt against them, he refrained from slaying them, lest they should enjoy the honor of martyrdom; he therefore merely deprived them of their military commission and dismissed them from the palace.
Soc. iii. 13; Ruf. H. E. i. 32; Greg. Naz. cont. Jul. i. 66, 80, 84; Theodoret, H. E. iii. 16, 17.339:1407
Greg. Naz. Or. cont. Jul. i. 66.339:1408
Greg. Naz. Or. cont. Jul. i. 82–84; Theodoret, H. E. iii. 17; the variations.