People You've Never Heard Of

Julian the Apostate

Welcome to our new Thursday posts – People You’ve Never Heard of Who Changed the World.

History is an interesting study. Since it is often written by the victorious party, the losers are rarely known. Cumulatively, this means that hundreds of major historical people are almost completely unknown. These characters are the subjects of this series.

This morning, I want to tell you about Julian the Apostate. He was the great nephew of Constantine the Great and the successor of Constantius II whom he succeeded as emperor of the Roman Empire.

Unlike Constantine and Constantius, Julian was a pagan. He was enamored with the neoplatonic philosophy and worshiped the old Roman gods. His rule was unpopular, but his persecution of the Christians, particularly in the west, did a lot to make them realize they could not always rely on the emperor for support and created the seeds of church organization that would later carry the Western Church through the medieval period.

Constantine had sponsored the Council of Nicaea, and was a trinitarian. Constantius had been an Arian and had sponsored a counter-council. Julian was completely disinterested, and his attacks against Christianity actually strengthened the religion, which had begun to evolve immensely under Constantine. Under his rule, Nicaean Christianity developed private catechisms and even paraphrases of the Scriptures meant to clone Roman literary forms which established the form in the West.

Julian’s reign was mercifully short – only eight years compared to Constantine’s nearly thirty years (it depends when you calculate it since he was co-emperor for some of the time) and Constantius’ twenty four years. And when he died in battle in 363, he was only in his thirties, so he could have easily ruled for decades.

Although you may have never heard of Julian, if you are of European extraction and have a belief in the Trinity (even if you don’t go to church or accept it), then you have been influenced by Julian. He was not a reformer or a zealot like Constantine or Constantius. He was a persecutor; and yet his persecution still moved the Church toward beliefs that shaped much of the next thousand years.

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