Saturday, August 29, 2020

Eusebius, EH.9.2-4: Paganism Strikes Back

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 9, chapter 2-4.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe a renewal of persecution which took place at the instigation of Maximin, the tyrant of the East.

Chapter 2 reports that Maximin, hater of the good and plotter against virtuous men, attempted various devises to overturn the peace and tolerance extended to the Christians. He attempted to bar Christians from gathering in cemeteries, where they were apparently assembling to commemorate the martyrs. He also tried to stir up resistance to Christians in Antioch, along with the curator Theotecnus (whose name ironically means “child of God”). Eusebius describes him as “a clever cheat, and an evil man, quite unlike his name.”

Chapter 3 describes Theoctenus’s anti-Christian efforts in Antioch. He erected there a statue to Zeus, “the Befriender”, in an apparent effort to defend or restore paganism, as well as to court the favor of Maximin, and made use of various occult means to declare that this god had ordered the removal of Christians from the city and its borders.

Chapter 4 adds that when other governors saw that this was pleasing to the tyrant, they followed suit, and persecution was rekindled. Maximin appointed priests to and high priests to serve with great zeal the images erected in each city.


These chapters tell us how resistance to the Christian movement continued under the tyrant Maximin and under local rulers, like Theotecnus of Antioch, even after the official end of the Diocletian persecution.  These descriptions are particularly interesting in that they seem to reflect an effort by the devotees of the pagan religions to reassert their dominance and win back the populace from the appeal of the Christian sect.


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