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  • Hello, and welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 20. John’s Prophecy
  • Before going on this week episode, I wanted to sort of give you guys idea on what is to come
  • The bonus episode about monasticism will be done once we finish the narrative of Pope Theophilus, which should be in a week or two, after that we will get to Pope Cyril, his narrative will be quite long and take us multiple episodes to go through
  • When that finishes, I will do another bonus episode about everyday life in Byzantine Egypt
  • Now that’s a big topic, so if there is a specific thing you want to hear about, reach out to me either by email at jonathan@historyofthecopts.com or through Twitter
  • A History of the Copt Podcast search would easily lead you there
  • Potential topics I am thinking about are things like education, law, economy, and Gender relations
  • Now, last week we have finished going through the geopolitical and the social background of the start of the reign of Pope Theophilus
  • In the period post the massacre of Thassolinca, Theodosius edicts progressively become anti-pagan
  • He was reaccepted to the church by St. Ambrose in the Christmas of 390 AD and by February 391 AD, he was leaving Milan and on his way back to Constantinople
  • The west was left to Valententian to rule as a figurehead with power resting in a pagan barbarian general name Arbogast
  • Arbogast was a Frank, as in the people who eventually inherited western Europe from Rome, and whom modern-day France is named after them
  • Arbogast would be with us for a while, so he is important. Just keep in mind that Theodosius is becoming increasingly anti-pagan while the West is essentially ruled by a Pagan
  • Before leaving the West, Theodosius issued his first anti-pagan edict, a ban on all sacrifice, public or private, with all access to temples now prohibited. The edict was followed by further laws with detailed prohibitions of private pagan rituals
  • It’s not clear what effect did the edict have in Egypt, where Paganism wasn’t traditionally expressed by animal sacrifices, nonetheless, it did send a signal about the imperial policy toward Pagans
  • As a result of those signals, Pope Theophilus requested to convert an abandoned temple into a Church, and his request was approved readily
  • As mentioned last week, the Church as an institution was relatively poor and there was a demand for churches as the number of converts increased daily
  • The abandoned temple of Dionysius was then taken over, and similar to what George did almost 30 years ago, Pope Theophilus took the pagan relics and mockingly paraded them through the street of Alexandria
  • And just like last time, a riot broke out, and this was a serious riot with lots of causalities on both side
  • Eventually, the pagan mob were cornered, so they took Christian hostages and barricaded themselves in the temple of Serapis which was essentially a fortress  
  • The Prefect and the Dux of Egypt eventually showed up, but they realized that they are in a tough spot
  • They either have to protect the pagans from the mob, which would be obviously difficult and the optics of the government protecting pagans who had just killed Christians is not great, especially given Theodosius new policy
  • Or participate with the mob in evicting the Pagans from the temple, which will lead to a massacre of those pagans as the rioters couldn’t restrained
  • A message was then sent to Theodosius inquiring on what to do
  • Theodosius replied that the rioters should be pardoned and protected from the mob, the Christians who died in the riot be declared martyrs and the temple of Serapis be destroyed
  • Then, and I am going to quote Sozoemen, one of the sources for that event - “when this imperial edict was read in public, the Christians uttered loud shouts of joy, because the emperor laid the abomination of what had occurred upon the pagans. The people who were guarding the Serapion were so terrified at hearing these shouts, that they took to flight, and the Christians immediately obtained possession of the spot, which they have retained ever since.”
  • The next day, The Prefect and the Pope rode side by side followed by soldiers and monks
  • Almost in complete silence, the procession went up the great flight of one hundred steps which led to the temple
  • This was one of the greatest symbol of paganism not only in Egypt, but in the whole Greek world
  • Serapis was the god of Alexandria for almost six hundred years, remember, this was the highly superstitious 4th century
  • Almost everyone truly believed that the Nile rose because of the gods, plagues and wars were signs of their displeasure, and even the most devout Christian had enough superstition to pause before disrespecting the pagan gods
  • Would the wrath of Serapis be poured on them when they finally enter the temple? Who would deliver the first strike?
  • A soldier was ordered by the Pope to strike the first blow, a Soldier is trained to obey.. With a bit of hesitation he did
  • A piece of the statue was chipped… Nothing happened
  • The crowds cheered in Joy and rushed to take part
  • Piece by piece, the temple of Serapis was levelled to the ground
  • In the meantime, many of the pagans of the city, who wished to stay pagans, escaped Alexandria
  • The chief leading man of the group that barricaded themselves in the temple, a philosopher named Olymbias travelled to Italy
  • Another prominent pagan ended up in the Court of Arbogast as his poet
  • The destruction extended from Serapis to many other pagan temples in Alexandria and the rest of Egypt
  • Paganism, for all practical purposes was dead in Egypt
  • Pagans were still be around, in a bit, a famous one named hypatia would come to our narrative
  • But, as a significant spiritual and a philosophical movement, it has ended
  • Now, the Temple of Serapis had a library attached to it, so some confuse this episode and that library with the destruction of the library of Alexandria
  • But there are completely two different events about two different buildings, at least that’s the mainstream historical view with some historians even speculating that the library attached to the temple may have survived, as the destruction was somewhat orderly and contained
  • There are brief and confused mentions in the account of one pagan source about the transfer of books from the main library to the temple of Serapis about 10 years before the destruction of the temple, but no context or reason is given
  • Whatever the case, the educational scene of Alexandria will continue with the expected ebbs and flow until the Arabs arrive in the 7th century and even for a brief time after
  • The Nil-o-meter, an instrument that measures the level of the Nile rising and with huge religious symbolism for the Egyptians were transferred to a Church
  • The Nile rose to expected levels to everyone relief which was taken as a sign of divine pleasure
  • After things calmed down, Pope Theophilus transferred a group of monks into the site, added the relics of St. John the Baptist and Elijah thus, transforming the site into a church or more accurately, an urban monastery
  • That was one of the many ways he maintained his relationship with the monks.. He became a hero to a significant portion of the monastic community for transforming a pagan site to a Church or a Monastery
  • Further cementing his relationship with the Monks, also around this time, he started ordaining Monks as bishops – Which was a new trend that will stick.
  • The monks were as reliable as anyone could be to enforce Pope Theophilus will, especially the ones from the lower socioeconomic status, however some of the more prominent ones had an independent streak which, in next week episode will come into our narrative
  • But for now, it was time for Pope Theophilus to resolve international disputes and asserts the Church of Alexandria leading role
  • First, was the Church in Antioch..
  • The church in Antioch was split into two factions for two generations now
  • The theology of the two factions wasn’t that much different, especially after the Council of Constantinople
  • Theodosius tried to resolve it, but as a layman, one of the factions just refused to participate and foiled his efforts
  • Thus, Pope Theophilus was recruited to try to resolve the difficult dispute
  • This was the same dispute that St. Athanasius failed to resolve some 20 years earlier.. So, it was a diplomatic mission of the highest order
  • Prior to getting involved, two council in Capua and Rome have pronounced two different results
  • Pope Theophilus then convened his own council of Alexandria, where a party of the dispute refused to attend, so Theophilus gave strong hints that he may depose both bishops
  • A fourth council then took place in Ceaserea but Pope Theophilus couldn’t attend as this was the time he converted the temple of Serapis to a church and he couldn’t leave at this critical time
  • Luckily, one of the bishops died naturally, and Pope Theophilus took the opportunity to strike a compromise and build an alliance with the Church of Antioch
  • He then used his influence to get the Church in Rome to recognize that bishop as the only bishop of Antioch, thus ending the split
  • The alliance between Antioch and Alexandria would be extremely vital as we move to our narrative and it all started with Theophilus
  • Pope Theophilus’ diplomatic effort would pay dividens even to this day, and it is a shame, that he is only remembered in the context of controversial issues he was part of.. His skills as a diplomat in the treacherous world of the 4th century is mostly forgotten about
  • He followed his success in Antioch, with intervening in another disputed see in Palestine
  • Again, he intervened successfully, and his reputation grew as a problem solver and a church cannon expert
  • While things were going swimmingly for Theophilus, Theodosius was starting to have problems ruling a unified Eastern and Western empire
  • While his anti-paganism edicts made him a hero in Christian circles, the largely pagan Italian aristocrats and western officials were becoming resentful
  • Added to that tension is a struggle between Valentianian the second who wanted to assert himself and move beyond being a figure head emperor and Arbogast, who didn’t feel like giving away his power
  • By 392 AD, Valentinian handed Arbogat a letter essentially firing him, to which Arbogast responded by ignoring him and informing him that he can’t fire him, as he didn’t appoint him in the first place
  • Shortly after, Valentinian was found hanging in his room. Arbogast told everyone who would listen that he didn’t do, and it was a suicide
  • And, many historians actually believe him.. Arbogast legitimacy was tied to Valentinian, if Valentinian died, Arbogast position would be in danger
  • He knew that he would never be accepted as a ruler by the Romans because he was a barbarian, thus, he needed a Roman to rule through him
  • Theodosius initially tried to make an effort to know what happened but through the notorious palace intrigue and constant power struggles in Constantinople, mixed signals were being sent to Arbogast
  • Arbogast in response, not wanting to get outmaneuvered by Theodosius, appointed a second-rank civil officer as another figure head emperor
  • The appointment was a clearly an effort on the part of Arbogast to get the Italian aristocrats on his side
  • He needed them to have any chance of success when Theodosius moves against him
  • The figure-head emperor was nominally a Christian, but really, everyone who mattered in Arbogast government was a pagan
  • By 393 AD, Arbogast moved into Italy, and quickly, political and religious motives aligned and the west rebellion became a pagan revival
  • temples were rapidly restored and rededicated, festivals celebrated, sacrifices performed and the mystery cults revived
  • Theodosius still, stayed at Constantinople, perhaps isolated at his palace and not knowing the extend of the problems at the west
  • Or more likely, making extensive preparation toward the eventual civil war
  • By 394 AD, the split became clearly religious, and holy war was on the horizon
  • As part of his preparation, Theodosius asked an Egyptian hermit, a monk named John about whether he should pursue his war or not
  • John of Lycopolis was based in upper Egypt, as the name implies, he made his dwelling in a cave in the desert around the city of Lycopolis, modern day Asiuyt
  • By 394 AD, he was 90 years, forty of which, he has spent in seclusion
  • He had the gift of prophecy, which naturally Theodosius employed
  • John responded to Theodosius inquiry with something along the lines that Theodosius will achieve victory, with much bloodshed and his own death
  • John then died a few months after
  • The Christian Theodosius then proceeded to confront the pagan arbogast in a battle that is to decided who and what should the empire worship
  • Now, a lot of that religious overtones were propaganda, as both armies were made up of Goth and other Germanic tribes, who were either Arians, or Pagans
  • But outside the rank and file soldiers, for the average citizen of the empire, it was to be a battle of Good v. Evil.. Light v. Darkness – True God or gods v. false one, or ones
  • Both sides truly believe that they have divine blessings and as such, no clever tactics or strategic maneuvers were applied
  • On the descend from the Alpine passes, on the afternoon of September  5th, 394 AD.. The banners of Christ met the banners of Jupiter
  • Theodosius forces were routed and his mostly Gothic army was decimated.. fortunately, night fell, and the armies were separated before a complete defeat
  • Celebrations and partying took over Arbogast camp, while Theodosius spent the night in prayers and despair
  • In preparation for the next day, Arbogast sent a significant contingent of his Army to try and outflank Theodoius at night, to prevent his escape when he is eventually defeated at the day break
  • But then, Theodosius prayers paid off, first he was visited by two heavenly riders all in white, Saint John and Saint Philip, who told him to take courage.
  • However, more concrete, the force sent to outflank his army signaled that they may be open to deserting Arbogast for the right price, which was naturally agreed to instantly
  • The next day, battle was joined once again, and again, Theodosius forces was having trouble until a miracle happen
  • It is hard to explain what happened in other words except bizarre and well, a miracle
  • Cyclonic wind over 60 miles an hour suddenly appeared and they were blowing toward the army of Arbogast
  • Shields were being blown off, and arrows shot in the direction of Theodosius’ army were turning back toward where they were shot from
  • Now, with all the religious overtones surrounding the battle, the appearance of this phenomena had a huge psychological effect on both armies
  • What better sign from the divine can one ask for?
  • To be fair, this weather phenomena, called “bora” happens every now and then around the Alps
  • It results from air pressure differences where the cold mountain air rushes downward to the warmer plains
  • But for the 4th century soldier in the midst of the battle, nothing could have been more convincing that the old gods couldn’t stand to the new religion
  • The figure head emperor was executed, Arbogast committed suicide, and Theodosius entered Italy as a victorious Christian hero for the second time
  • To put the battle impact into perspective, I am going to quote the 20th century historians Stephen Williams, Gerard Friell
  • “The moral impact of the Frigidus, with the miraculous intervention of the Divine Wind, was very damaging to paganism. Both sides had seen this battle as a contest between their respective gods, and the decision was unequivocal. Educated pagans, such as Claudian, acknowledged divine intervention on the Christian side, and Christian tradition naturally celebrated the great miracle thereafter”
  • The process started by Constantine at the battle of the Milvian bridge has symbolically ended with Theodosius’ battle of the Frigidus river
  • Again, Paganism didn’t die overnight, but the blow was huge and it was the beginning of the end
  • As John of Lycopolis predicted, within a couple of months of the battle, Theodosius have gotten really sick, and John’s prophecy seemed to be coming true
  • He called for his younger son, Honorius to come to Milan to present him as the Augstus for the west
  • Arcadius, his older, stayed in Constantinople under a complicated web of shifty advisers
  • He then, entrusted another barbarian general name Stilicho to protect the dynasty and passed away in January 395 AD
  • So now we have the 10 years old Honorius ruling the West as a figurehead under the protection of the general Stilicho
  • And the 18 years old Arcadius ruling the East, a little bit more assertively, but still a figure head, The palace in Constantinople was a vicious place filled with intrigue, so Power usually rested in one of his advisers until it finally rested with his wife, impress Eudoxia
  • Now, next week should be interesting, a new bishop of Constantinople named John Chrystom will come to be. Eudoxia and John wouldn’t get along and Pope Theophilus would get right in the middle of their dispute
  • Pope Theophilus gets a really bad rep in popular history
  • His involvement in the fall of Serapis earned his the scorn of the ancient pagan sources and the highly influential, more recent Enlightment historians, Gibbon being the prime example
  • But more importantly, his involvement in what happened to John Chrysostom earned him the scorn of the ancient Christian historians as well – thus, everywhere you look, you will find someone hating on Pope Theophilus
  • More recent scholarly work has balanced things a bit and hopefully, next week, his actions regarding John Chryosotom and his view about Origen would be better understood.
  • Farewell, and until next week.

References


  • The Story of the Church of Egypt by" E. L. Butcher
  • Socrates, Sozomenus: Church Histories by" Philip Schaff (Author), Henry Wace (Editor)
  • Theophilus of Alexandria and the First Origenist Controversy by" Krastu Banev
  • Theophilus of Alexandria by" Norman Russell
  • Theodosius: The Empire at Bay by" Stephen Williams, Gerard Friell
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