Emperor Julian presiding at a conference of sectarians, oil painting on canvas by Edward Armitage (1875), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England.
The generality of princes, if they were stripped of their purple and cast naked into the world, would immediately sink to the lowest rank of society, without a hope of emerging from their obscurity. But the personal merit of Julian was, in some measure, independent of his fortune. Whatever had been his choice of life, by the force of intrepid courage, lively wit, and intense application, he would have obtained, or at least he would have deserved, the highest honours of his profession; and Julian might have raised himself to the rank of minister, or general, of the state in which he was born a private citizen. If the jealous caprice of power had disappointed his expectations; if he had prudently declined the paths of greatness, the employment of the same talents in studious solitude would have placed, beyond the reach of kings, his present happiness and his immortal fame. When we inspect, with minute or perhaps malevolent attention, the portrait of Julian, something seems wanting to the grace and perfection of the whole figure. His genius was less powerful and sublime than that of Cæsar; nor did he possess the consummate prudence of Augustus. The virtues of Trajan appear more steady and natural, and the philosophy of Marcus is more simple and consistent. Yet Julian sustained adversity with firmness, and prosperity with moderation. After an interval of one hundred and twenty years from the death of Alexander Severus, the Romans beheld an emperor who made no distinction between his duties and his pleasures; who laboured to relieve the distress, and to revive the spirit, of his subjects; and who endeavoured always to connect authority with merit, and happiness with virtue. Even faction, and religious faction, was constrained to acknowledge the superiority of his genius, in peace as well as in war; and to confess, with a sigh, that the apostate Julian was a lover of his country, and that he deserved the empire of the world.
Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XXII.
... Julian was a Neoplatonist, a pupil of Aedesius, who had in turn been taught by Iamblichus. Julian was initiated at Ephesus when he was only twenty years old, and later was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
When Julian came to power the whole Christian world was thrown into a state of perturbation. How would this Neoplatonist, this Initiate, act toward Christianity? Would he retaliate with some new and still more cruel refinement of death and torture? Julian answered these questions in a truly Christ like manner. He at once extended free and equal rights to all the inhabitants of the Empire, irrespective of their religious beliefs. He invited all those Christian Bishops who had been excommunicated and exiled on account of their unorthodox views, to return to their posts. At the same time he urged the pagan teachers who had been driven out of Alexandria by Constantine to return to their philosophical pursuits. He invited the opposing Christian factions to meet in his palace, where he advised them to give up their differences and try to live in concord. But at the same time he gave his pagan subjects permission to re-open their temples and continue their own form of worship. Because of this fair and impartial treatment of his subjects, Julian has come down in Christian history under the ignominious title of "the Apostate."
The knowledge that Julian had gained in his initiations made him a menace to orthodox Christianity. He was urged to make his knowledge public so that the Christian Church could refute his statements. To this Julian replied:
"Were I to touch upon the initiation into the Sacred Mysteries respecting the "seven-rayed God" . . . I should say things unknown to the rabble, very unknown, but well known to the Blessed Theurgists."
This "greatest enemy of Christianity," ... came to an untimely end through ... a spear-thrust received in battle with the soldiers of the Persian King.
... With the death of Julian the Christian Church regained its power, and the doom of the old religions, sciences and philosophies was sealed. The Church had borrowed too much from them for her own safety. Every event in the life of Jesus, from his virgin birth to his final crucifixion and resurrection, had been copied from the stories of the pagan gods. Every dogma and ritual in the Christian Church had its pagan counterpart. These facts were known to the entire pagan world and as the Church continued to borrow from the pagans in an ever-increasing measure, it became more and more difficult for her to maintain her claim of uniqueness. So long as pagan schools existed, the Church could not without contradiction represent herself as the sole repository of knowledge. So long as pagan books existed, the Bible would not be accepted as the only revelation of God. So long as pagan philosophers lived and taught, the dogmatic assertions of the Church Fathers would be questioned. There was but one course for the Church -- to destroy all the evidences of her plagiarisms by wiping out the pagan schools, the pagan records, even the pagan philosophers themselves.
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 5, March, 1937.
Julian changed the religion of the Empire, and diverted the revenues of the church. Whoever steps between a priest and his salary, will find that he has committed every crime. No matter how often the slanders may be refuted, they will be repeated until the last priest has lost his body and found his wings. These falsehoods about Julian were invented some fifteen hundred years ago, and they are repeated to-day by just as honest and just as respectable people as these who told them at first. Whenever the church cannot answer the arguments of an opponent, she attacks his character. She resorts to falsehood, and in the domain of calumny she has stood for fifteen hundred years without a rival.
The great Empire was crumbling to its fall. The literature of the world was being destroyed by priests. The gods and goddesses were driven from the earth and sky. The paintings were torn and defaced. The statues were broken. The walls were left desolate, and the niches empty. Art, like Rachel, wept for her children, and would not be comforted. The streams and forests were deserted by the children of the imagination, and the whole earth was barren, poor and mean.
Christian ignorance, bigotry and hatred, in blind unreasoning zeal, had destroyed the treasures of our race. Art was abhorred, Knowledge was despised, Reason was an outcast. The sun was blotted from the intellectual heaven, every star extinguished, and there fell upon the world that shadow -- that midnight, known as "The Dark Ages." This night lasted for a thousand years ...
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), Great Infidels, first published in 1881.