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For [Ammianus, and others of his mind], much more was at stake than the acceptance of military defeat. The death of Julian was nothing less than the death of their hero, and a fatal blow to their hopes that the Roman empire might be renewed upon the principles of an earlier age.
[I]t is hard to imagine a writer more responsive to the issues and personalities of his time, and hard to think of a topic on which, however peripheral to his own preoccupations, he does not make some contribution to our understanding.
John Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, x
On 11 December 361 CE Flavius Claudius Julianus, aged twenty-nine, arrived in Constantinople as sole ruler of the Roman empire. A few months later an equally young man from a small city in Cappadocia apologized to his family and friends for a choice that few had anticipated: he wished henceforth to lead “the true philosophical life.” Two men, two signal events in their personal lives that stand paradigmatic for a phenomenon central to John Matthews's work: the later Roman empire, seen either as a “new age” described with “more or less traditional way[s]” or as a period, as once again argued, of decline and fall.
The fate of the late Roman empire has captured the imagination of historians for a very long time (as the introduction suggests, John Matthews's more or less explicit interlocutions with Gibbon merit a study in themselves), and much of that fascination found focus and drama in the person of Emperor Julian.
“I attest before God and the elected angels” that you will be baptized with this faith. If one has written in you something other than my sermon has set out, come here, so what has been written in you will be modified. I am not without talent to write that into you; I write what has been written into me.
(Gregory of Nazianzus, On Baptism 40.44)
In thinking about the theme of this volume, it has been my principal interest to investigate how men who belonged to the Greek-speaking elites of the later Roman Empire, such as Gregory of Nazianzus, understood and expressed notions of “heavenly realms and earthly realities.” Specifically, how did Gregory of Nazianzus conceptualize instances in which the two realms met, and how did he perceive his role in bringing about such “meetings”? The answer to these questions points to a larger issue: How did Gregory and others like him understand salvation and the mechanisms by which it was achieved? For Gregory, a proper understanding of the manner in which the imagined realms of the (Neo-)Platonic cosmic spheres could intersect with the material realm below them was essential for attaining salvation. Each individual could actualize this process of salvation within himself or herself, but only by fully comprehending the mystery exemplified in the unprecedented merging of the two realms in the Incarnation.