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JOHN LYDUS—PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN* Anna Judit Tóth In the first part of The Last Pagans of Rome, Alan Cameron emphasizes how misleading it can be to divide the society of Late Antiquity into two easily separable categories , pagans and Christians—with a broad red line of demarcation between these hostile parties—while at the same time disregarding a great proportion of society, perhaps the majority, who cannot be classified unambiguously. He cites the famous story of Marius Victorinus in Augustine’s Confessions.1 Having read the Bible, Victorinus declared himself Christian, but his friend Simplicianus doubted his sincerity unless he came to the Church. This proved to be the most demanding task for the convert, but finally Victorinus gave in. Why was public confession of faith so crucially important? It made conversion irrevocable, demonstrating that the convert had burned his bridges. Simplicianus, however, might have had other considerations in mind in this particular case. He may have wondered what Victorinus or any other pagan intellectual understood and learned about Christianity merely out of their reading books alone in their studies. For converts with a philosophical background , joining a Christian community meant to accept the authority of the Church that fought against the danger of syncretism. It is hard to tell how effective the episcopal control of syncretism was, because over the centuries of Christianization it proved riskier to be too interested in theological finery than to be a bad Christian. In Late Antiquity, not only the clergy, but also laymen discussed with enthusiasm theological problems;2 circus factions * This research benefited from funding from OTKA project number K 101503. 1 Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 175; Augustine, Confessions VIII. 2. 3–6. 2  See Gregory of Nyssa, “De deitate filii,” Patrologia Graeca 46, col. 557 for shopkeepers on the homousion: “Everywhere , in the public squares, at crossroads, on the streets and lanes, people would stop you and discourse at random about the Trinity. If you asked something of a moneychanger, he would begin discussing the question of the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you questioned a baker about the price of bread, he would answer that the Father is greater and the Son is subordinate to Him. If you went to take a bath, the Anomoean bath attendant would tell you that in his opinion the Son simply comes from nothing.” Gregory of Nyssa : The Minor Treatises on Trinitarian Theology and Apollinarism. eds. V. H. Drecoll - M. Berghaus. (Leiden: Brill, 2011.) i6 p&c 00 book.indb 59 2017.09.20. 16:22 ANNA JUDIT TÓTH 60 supported theological trends and street fights broke out after the investiture of allegedly heterodox bishops. The people’s fervent interest in orthodoxy, however, does not betray the depth of their theological knowledge, unrelated with the outburst of emotional reactions. Marius Victorinus’ example may help explain the religious peculiarities of a sixth-century author, John Lydus. A century passed between Augustine and Lydus, during which fundamental changes occurred in society. The legal status of pagans or heterodox Christians gradually worsened and under the reign of Justinian the first persecutions took place.3 Under these circumstances, it is remarkable how many of the authors of the age are thought to have been pagans by modern philologists;4 one of these imputed pagans is John Lydus.5 Not counted among the most prominent authors of his time, he attracted relatively little scholarly attention until as recently as the last decades.6 What makes him and his religious views so arresting is the fact that he was not an independent scholar but a bureaucrat, a member of the imperial administration. Thus, his life and works give an insight into the life strategies of a social layer that completely depended on the Christian Empire but—because of their education, ancestry, and social class— traditionally tended to steer away from the Christian religion. 3 J. A. S. Evans, The Age of Justinian. The Circumstances of Imperial Power, (London and New York: Routledge, 2000) p. 249; Michael Maas, John Lydus and the Roman Past, (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) pp. 70–72. 4  Prokopios: J.A.S. Evans, ‘Christianity and Paganism in Procopius of Caesarea’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 12 (1971), 81–100, pp. 81–83.; Agathias: Anthony Kaldellis, ‘The Historical and Religious Views of Agathias: A Reinterpretation’, Byzantion, 69 (1999), 206–252. 5  Anthony Kaldellis, ‘The Religion of John Lydus’, Phoenix, 57 (2003), 300–316, p. 302.; cf. Maas...


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