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A 3-year-old child attended the local hospital, with her parents, complaining of abdominal pain. This had been ongoing for 2.5 weeks. She had seen her general practitioner on more than one occasion, where the abdominal pain had been managed as constipation. Her parents reported no improvement. Parents had brought her into hospital on this occasion because she had become increasingly sleepy and lethargic. They had also noticed her breathing had changed. On arrival in A&E she was noticed to have severe respiratory distress with clinical observations recorded in Table 10.1.
Homoian Christianity was part of the fabric of the barbarian kingdoms that emerged inside the western Roman Empire in the fifth century. For ambitious rulers of these kingdoms, however, it also developed significant disadvantages. Initially, it tied Vandal, Sueve, and Burgundian leaders into external alliances with the Aquitanian Visigoths. When the Aquitanian state vanished, Homoianism upheld the network of alliances that Theoderic the Great attempted to create with the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Thuringians – though he may have found himself the junior partner to the Vandals under Thrasamund. Viewed in a wider perspective, Homoianism could be an impediment to becoming major players in world of the Roman Empire. At home, it meant that rulers did not have a fully functioning relationship with their Nicene bishops, who occupied positions of major influence in the indigenous communities, even if they were on relatively good terms with them. Many rulers looked outwards from the microcosm of the religion and politics of the Homoian world, aspiring to enter the macrocosm of the Roman Empire irrespective of the fall of its western half in 476 and the shift of focus to the East Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople. But a move too far in the direction of Romanitas or of the Nicene Church could appear as a potential threat to their warrior class for whom Homoianism was interlinked with the fundamentals of military service, reward, and landholding. So Homoian Christianity was not to be easily shaken off and aspiring rulers could find themselves forced to demonstrate their commitment to it as a sign of their reciprocal relationship with their élites. This chapter investigates the way these dynamics played out in the individual Homoian kingdoms.
The Visigothic rulers of Aquitaine show fewest signs of aspirations to Romanitas. As a result of their leading role in ending the advance of the Huns in 451, they were major players in western Europe and used Homoianism to help establish hegemony over the Burgundes and Sueves. Euric (466–84) was able to take advantage of the weakness of the western emperors to acquire most of southern Gaul and extend his rule into Spain. But this period also saw the murder of two rulers by their successors and expeditions into Spain were headed by prominent members of the military élite.
The Lombards, who entered Italy from Pannonia in 568, have traditionally been thought of as the last barbarian people to become Arians. The concept of Lombard Arianism owes much to older and misleading ideas of what Arianism actually was— the core assumptions against which this book is directed. For example: historians formerly discussed the Lombards’ acceptance of Homoian Christianity before they entered Italy, visualizing its spread along the Danube to Herules, Pannonian Suevi, and Rugi and the incorporation of many Arians from these groups amongst the Lombards prior to their move into Italy. Such viewpoints are based on notions of the wholesale conversion of entire peoples to Christianity and the absorption of Homoianism simply as a result of contact. But we have seen that conversions were much more complex and fragmented, with warrior groups coalescing and dissolving and Homoianism being imposed on leaders by others as a token of hegemony or allegiance. The dispersal of the Rugi and the defeat of the Pannonian Sueves argues against their being able to compel Lombard leaders to convert; and while one Lombard ruler married the daughter of a Herule king, this was only after subjugating him.
Another factor contributing to the illusion of Lombard Arianism is the assumption that—if Lombards had converted after entering Italy—the choice they faced was one between Arianism or Nicene Christianity—or, strictly speaking, Nicene– Tricapitoline Christianity, because much of the Northern Italian Church had been estranged from the popes (in the “Three Chapters” or Tricapitoline Schism) since the mid 550s. But the evidence of other conversions demonstrates that for groups entering the Roman Empire the options were the status quo—paganism—or Nicene Christianity. Before their move into Italy, the Lombards’ pagan leader Alboin received a Homoian delegation: but he also put out feelers to Nicene Christianity—although, tellingly, his first approach seems to have been to the potent relics of the saints that rested in the Roman basilicas rather than to the pope.
By the time the Lombards entered Italy, Homoianism was the religion of the losers and rapidly fading from memory. In 551, the church of St. Anastasia in Ravenna was selling off land and Ravenna's remaining Homoian assets passed to the Nicene bishop by 565. Homoians did not control Italy's major relic shrines.
We know very little about Arius: he was apparently a Libyan by origin and a priest of the Baucalis district in Alexandria. Only fragments of his writings survive, some deliberately lifted out of context by his opponents. Crucially, however, we have the complete text of a letter which he and other Alexandrian clerics sent to their bishop, Alexander, after he had excommunicated them at some point before 318. In it they express their opposition to the idea that the Son is consubstantial with—of the same substance as—the Father. They also explain their opposition to this idea, stating that the Son of God is not “as Valentinus has laid down an emanation nor as the Maniacheans taught a one-in-essence portion (alternatively, consubstantial part, in Greek meros homoousion) of the Father.” These important statements have been dismissed as heresiological rhetoric—or ignored. But they reveal that Arius and associates were opposed to the idea that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, because it seemed to them too close to the teaching of two forms of Christianity, Valentinian Gnosticism and Manichaeism, both powerful rivals to the “mainstream” church in the early fourth century.
In the second century, Valentinus, an Alexandrian teacher in Rome, had founded a type of Christian Gnosticism that continued to evolve long after his death. Gnostics saw the human soul as a fragment of a good God, and the present world as the creation of a lower creator god, an evil demiurge. Salvation would be attained through the gnosis—literally, knowledge—that would guide the intellect, the highest part of the soul, out of this evil world, re-integrating it with its original source, the good God. Manichaeism had originated in third-century Iran: its founder, Mani, envisaged a cosmic struggle between the forces of darkness and light and taught that human beings were composed of a mingling of particles of the divine light with malign darkness and matter.
However esoteric these ideas might seem now, Manichaeans and Valentinians both regarded themselves as Christians. Mani proclaimed himself “the apostle of Jesus Christ,” claiming to complete the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and Zoro-aster: Gospel sayings and references to the writings of St. Paul are scattered throughout his writings.
In this chapter I want to show how new creeds, statements of belief, were formulated in the context of Gothic tribes entering the Roman Empire in an attempt to offer an “entry-level Christianity” that would make sense to them in terms both of their intuitions of divinity and of their relationship with their ancestors. I examine the way in which the “Homoian” Creed of Constantinople (360) emerged as an imperial solution not only to the problem of the Goths on the Danube frontier but also to the theological wrangling which had been taking place since the 340s over the problems created by the Nicene Creed. Moving on from the activities of Ulfila, the creator of a Gothic alphabet and Gothic Bible, the chapter then focuses on the misleading identification of the Creed of Constantinople as Arian and the way in which Homoianism was defeated in 381, to live on in pockets of the Roman Empire.
The Homoian Creed of Constantinople, 360
In 360, a new creed replaced the Nicene Creed of 325 as the official creed of the Empire. According to the Athanasian narrative this was an Arian creed, produced by two Arian bishops, with the backing of the Emperor Constantius II, who had been his enemy since the 340s. Despite considerable opposition from churchmen in both Eastern and Western Empire, the creed of 360 survived as the imperial creed—the Western Emperor Valentinian (364–75) and his brother Valens (Eastern Emperor 364–78) were both Arians. It is often assumed that Arianism spread to the Goths because large numbers of Tervingi Goths—some of whom may already been Christians—took the emperor's religion when Valens permitted them to cross the Danube and settle inside the Empire in 376.
Not only does this traditionally accepted outline build on Athanasius's highly unreliable and ever-evolving version of events, but it also treats the Christianization of the Goths as an essentially top-down process, with no reference to their previous beliefs or possible reactions to attempts to present the Christian God to them. There are other ways of understanding the creed of 360. In part, it was framed to provide a replacement for the problematic universal creed produced at Nicæa in 325—and its replacements—by getting rid altogether of discussions of “substance” in relation to the Trinity.
What was Arianism? Most people will only ever hear the word if they visit Ravenna in northeastern Italy and go into two of its stunning UNESCO world heritage sites: the church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, originally the palace church of Theoderic the Great, the Ostrogothic leader who was de facto ruler of Italy from 493 to 526; and its contemporary, the Arian Bap-tistry. Thanks to the internet, you can now visit them from the comfort of your armchair and marvel at the beauty of their mosaics. On the Baptistry ceiling, a youthful and naked Christ stands in the River Jordan, flanked by John the Baptist on one side and on the other by a figure personifying the river; a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit pours light from its beak on to his head. Here are two persons of the Christian Trinity, Son and Holy Ghost: by implication the third, God the Father, is also present, as a voice declaring that Jesus is his beloved son in whom he is well pleased (Matt. 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23). Guides, guidebooks, and websites all note that Theoderic and the Goths were Arian heretics: Arius, the heresy's founder, had denied the divine nature of Christ and thus the equality of God the Son with God the Father.
Arianism is commonly summed up in two or three phrases: “Arius denied the divinity of Christ” (or “the unity of the Trinity”); “Arianism was subordinationist: it made the Son a lesser God than the Father.” But anyone attempting to dig deeper will swiftly become aware of the subject's complexity and breadth.
Modern approaches fall into three broad areas. The first covers Arianism's origins and emergence. This hinges on a basic narrative in which Arius, a priest of Alexandria in Egypt in the early fourth century, proposed a radical theology in which the Son was “not part of God and could never have been ‘within’ the life of God” but was “dependent and subordinate” (Williams, Arius, 177). He was condemned at the Council of Nicæa, called by the Emperor Constantine in 325, where the Nicene Creed, which said that Father and Son were “of the same substance,” was proclaimed as the universal creed of the Empire. However, Arius's condemnation was swiftly followed by the removal of many of his opponents, in a conspiracy masterminded by his supporter, Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia.
This chapter deals with the entry of barbarian groups into the Roman Empire in the early fifth century and the evolution of Homoianism (i.e., what opponents called “Arianism”) in the emergent barbarian kingdoms. It examines the way in which barbarian Homoianism developed socio-political dimensions as it was used to signify hegemony, military service and reward, and ties of loyalty, considering both its relationship to the practice of re-baptism of Nicene Christians (i.e., those who followed the Nicene Creed and are conventionally considered “Catholic”) and to gender. Then it focuses on what we know of the barbarian Homoian Churches: their language, liturgy, way of dating Easter, relic cult, funerary rituals and finally their organization.
Who Were the Barbarians?
In 381 Goths in the empire were permitted to follow their own form of Christianity and in 382 they were formally settled by treaty in imperial territory. But in 395 the Gothic leader Alaric rebelled against the Empire, harassing the Balkans in the late 390s, and sacking Rome in 410. In 406/7, large groups of barbarians—Vandals, Alans, Sueves, and (possibly) Burgundes— breached the Rhine frontier and headed across Gaul into Hispania. After Alaric's death in Italy, his forces turned northwards and also entered Gaul. Under the leadership of Wallia, they became imperial agents, inflicting a massive defeat on the Siling Vandals and Alans in 418. The Sueves retreated to Gallæcia in northwestern Iberia and the Alans, after the death of their leader Addax, allied themselves with the Hasding Vandals. The Goths were rewarded with federate status by the Empire: settled in southwestern Gaul in the 420s they gradually created what became the Visigothic kingdom, centred on Toulouse and the Garonne valley. Later in the fifth century the Visigoths staged military interventions in the Iberian Peninsula, before the Franks inflicted a crushing defeat on Alaric II at the battle of Vouillé in 507. Visigoths had already begun to settle in Spain in the fifth century; and after Vouillé, a Visigothic state centred on Spain and the southern Gallic province of Septimania began to take shape. Meanwhile, in 429, Hasding Vandals and Alans under Geiseric, along with some Sueves, Goths, and Hispano-Romans, crossed from southern Spain to North Africa.
This book surveys Arianism, a Christian creed of tremendous historical importance that once served as the faith of Roman emperors and the barbarians on the frontiers alike, while it simultaneously advances existing scholarship by integrating the approaches of history and theology with those drawn from the cognitive science of religion. This paradigm shift allows us to understand the initial support for the Arian creed and its eventual rejection by Roman emperors; to recognize the nature of intuitions of divinity amongst Germanic peoples before their conversion; to discern the way in which these were translated into Christian belief; and to differentiate the beliefs of Arius from those called 'Arians' by their opponents.