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During the formative period of disputation over the theology of Arius, the emperor Licinius ruled over the eastern Roman provinces. The emperor Constantine was directly involved in the doctrinal controversy only after his victory over Licinius in 324. But Constantine’s engagement in imperial politics had already shaped his thinking about theology. In imperial successions sons were sometimes promoted but also sometimes overlooked. Emperors introduced a new five-year cycle for calculating taxes and often held annual consulships. Emperors identified with deities such as Jupiter and Hercules. At the Council of Nicaea, Constantine was hence ready to debate with bishops over the theology of Father and Son, the annual date of Easter, and the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. One bishop who attended the council was Eusebius of Caesarea, whose panegyric equated the emperor with the Son of God. Constantine himself strengthened the association by funding churches in honor of Jesus’s nativity and resurrection in the Holy Land and by publicizing a story about his own vision of a cross in the sky. The Council of Nicaea had been a crucible for the formation of both a theology of God and a political philosophy of a Christian emperor.
This chapter looks at the ways in which Hellenisms are constructed, specifically with reference to the language of religion and divinity. It poses the question: how Christian is the determinedly nostalgic late-ancient Hellenism of the emperor known as Julian the Apostate (ruled 361-363)? If the emperor continued to be considered as a god, how did that inflect the understanding of Christ’s incarnation—and vice versa? The very language of the divine becomes fraught with ambiguity, and the distinctions imposed by interpreters between philology and theology seem increasingly tendentious. Ultimately it shows show how the dynamic interaction of theology and classical antiquity can produce an almost unthinkable collocation of ideas: that an ensouled statue of the emperor should provide some sort of model for comprehending the incarnation of Christ.
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