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Les Romains Chretiens face a l'Histoire de Rome: Histoire, Christianisme et Romanites en Occident dans l'Antiquite tardive (IIIe-Ve siecles) (review)

From: Journal of Early Christian Studies
Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1998
pp. 144-147 | 10.1353/earl.1998.0006

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Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.1 (1998) 144-147

Book Review

Les Romains Chrétiens face à l'Histoire de Rome: Histoire, Christianisme et Romanités en Occident dans l'Antiquité tardive (IIIe-Ve siècles)

Hervé Inglebert. Les Romains Chrétiens face à l'Histoire de Rome: Histoire, Christianisme et Romanités en Occident dans l'Antiquité tardive (IIIe-Ve siècles). Collection des Études Augustiniennes, Série Antiquité 145. Paris: Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 1996. Pp. 744.

If "history was the privileged terrain of intellectual combat between pagans and Christians" (p. 53), then this book directly engages a fundamental problem of late antiquity. Conflict is central to Inglebert's account of the conversion of late ancient Rome and the "Latinization" of Christianity, but the Christian side in this conflict struggles not to reject the Roman past but to wrest from pagans (and sometimes other Christians) the right to interpret it. Here christianitas is not opposed to romanitas, and Christians naturally see themselves as Roman while accepting Roman history as divinely ordained. After Eusebius the question is not whether but how the destinies of Rome and Christianity are linked. Thus the debate in Inglebert's pages is as much about what it means to be Roman as what it means to be Christian. This debate necessarily entails the reinterpretation of Roman history in the light of contemporary events, particularly the doctrinal controversies and military crises of the fourth and fifth centuries. Especially after Adrianople and the sack of Rome in 410, it was imperative to control the past in order to justify the present; Christians had to explain why an empire become Christian was subject to apparent misfortune. The theme leads naturally to Augustine, but the path winds considerably and proceeds beyond the City of God. The greatest misfortune for us is that so many pagan voices have not survived the journey in their own right, and for Inglebert the imbalance means that only one side in these debates is truly audible.

Inglebert's thirty-two chapters divided among four parts replay three-quarters of a doctoral thesis written under the direction of Claude Lepelley. Inglebert's focus is western, Latin, and post-Constantinian, but Part One reviews classical historiography, examines the image of Rome in Jewish and early Greek Christian writing, and surveys Tertullian, Minucius Felix, and Lactantius. The pivotal thinkers in Inglebert's study are Eusebius and Augustine, and Part Two opens with a critical chapter on Eusebius that establishes the analytical framework for assessing a list of authors that will run from Firmicus Maternus to Sidonius. Inglebert summarizes Eusebius' contributions to western thought under four rubrics (p. 173): historical, the information that permitted western Christians to conceive of a universal history that awarded Rome a privileged place; ideological, the conception that the Roman Empire was established by God to serve Christian evangelization; political, the correlation of monarchy and monotheism that emerges from the synchronism of Augustus and Christ and proceeds to see the emperor as protector of the faith and the Christian empire of Constantine as the fulfllment of history; and theological, the notion of the emperor as an intermediary between God and men.

Employing these heuristic categories Inglebert first dissects the Latin "Eusebian" tradition manifest for him between 325 and 410. Incidental familiarity with Eusebian concepts evident in the partisan writings of the Arian and Donatist controversies yields to a flurry of more systematic activity after Jerome's translation and continuation of the second part of Eusebius' Chronicle "put human history at the center of Latin Christian discourse" (p. 205). Thus Inglebert's lengthy treatment of Jerome anticipates detailed consideration of the "Eusebianism" of Ambrose, Prudentius, and Rufinus. Notably, Inglebert sees Ambrose's treatment of Roman history as "incomplete and incoherent," and views Prudentius' Contra Symmachum as the first "continuous and coherent history of Rome from Romulus to the Theodosian dynasty" (p. 316). Herein the wars of the Republic and the peace of the empire are the divinely ordained preparation for the fulfllment of human history whose end is Christian Rome idealized as a terrestrial city of God. For Inglebert, Prudentius represents the "highest development of l'eusébianisme latin" (p. 318...


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