The Pokey Finger of God

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The State Cult Hypothesis

January 21st, 2009 · No Comments · christianity, history

The State Cult Hypothesis: “Christianity was primarily the result of a competition between the state cults of Diocletian and . It was the efforts of Constantine to defeat Diocletian’s Tetrarchy, co-opt the Persian cultural invasion, and subsequently unify the that resulted in the creation of Christianity.”

Constantine was a keen student of history, and notably concerned with the major problems the Empire faced. The primary issue was the Greek/Latin split within the Empire — which is visible as the East and West divisions of the Empire. Rome respected Hellenistic culture and had thoughtfully appropriated and co-opted whatever She felt relevant and palatable. Consequently, the Greek language, not Latin, remained the predominant tongue of the western-most Alexandrian conquests. Rome provided the military might, and the provided the culture. At the same time, the linguistic split revealed a stress within the Empire that Constantine was delighted to exploit.

The second major issue was the economy had been devastated by a century of usurpers, invaders, and currency inflation. The inflation was deliberate, at it had originally seemed to be a good way to pay the army. After a while, the trick stopped working so well and the entire currency system was shattered. After some experimentation, they finally stumbled upon an idea of stamping a value directly upon the coins. At least this way, they became representative of value: like money from a board game.

The third major issue was the size of the Empire. It made it impossible to face every invader at once, and difficult to get accurate information on anything. Since armies were expensive, and it was a serious threat to any Emperor if anyone else had one, there was only one army in the Roman Empire. The Emperor had to choose which threat was most pressing and confront it, while trying to bribe or otherwise forestall the others.

Which brings us to usurpers. The fourth issue was that the Emperors had long ceased to have a legitimate claim to power. It was unclear how the successor to a fallen Emperor should be chosen, so the result was frequently civil war between competing Generals. Originally, it was the Roman Senate with the right to confirm the title upon someone of their choosing, but since the person they chose had to lead the army and poor leaders usually got killed rather quickly, the army ultimately dictated selection. This worked well so long as the army was united, but when they weren’t, there was civil war. And that was expensive, too.

Representing smaller problems, but ones that added to the diversity within the Empire, were the Eastern mystery and healer cults. Through the growth of the Empire, a number of cults had been accreted into accepted practice. There was no limitation to how many different cults one could participate in, and many people toured the temple precincts the way people today might go to movies. The problem was that after all this exposure to engaging religious practices that emphasized personal spirituality and gnostic understanding, it was very difficult to get people to participate in the dreary processions, the stoic self-sacrifice, and stiff ritual of the state cult.

A more insidious problem was Manicheism. When the Sassanids took power in Persia, they revived the Zoroastrianism that had been the traditional faith of their lands prior to the arrival of the Greeks. An updated version was contrived, and missionaries for this new faith were sent throughout the Roman Empire to win converts. There were many successes, and the impact of Manicheism on the Empire was notable. Some of the earliest reports we have of Christian was actually against the followers of Mani.

By the time of Diocletian, previous emperors had conjured up a number of justifications for their rule. Among them: blood relations to a previous emperor, divinity in family line, and, previous divine emperors in family line. Diocletian had a good shtick — he was the Savior of Rome. And he had been, in several ways.

Big D had been a personal guard for an emperor who had been assassinated by the guy who became the next emperor. When Diocletian killed the assassin, he not only became the next Emperor, he could say that he was meting out justice by taking on the post in the name of his late employer. Diocletian was a very clever man and he had a wide vision. He taught everything he knew to Constantine: this, more than anything, made Constantine a dangerous man.

Three times Diocletian doubled the size of government. It was all in the name of increasing regulation of all aspects of life, and it resulted in enough resources to run a couple of armies for the Empire. The improvements in tax receipts garnered through centralized control enabled Diocletian to mitigate the damage to the currency market and provided a relatively fair, if outrageously totalitarian, way of life for average citizen.

To solve the problem of both invasions and civil war, Diocletian created the Imperial franchise. Each Caesar got an army, scribes, support of the Imperial legal and tax systems, and their own corner of the Empire to run. To back it up, he retooled and re-invigorated the state cult as the means to unify the Empire. The franchise was set up to provide a long-term framework for the future development and selection of caesars.

When Constantine was declared Augustus by his father’s troops upon the elder’s death, he did so outside of the Imperial franchise. Although he was eventually accepted as legitimate, he was ultimately in the unenviable position of having to defend his claim to the title through the defeat of the legitimate caesars. He also needed to win the support of the people and the Senate. Taking a cue from Diocletian, he presented himself as the Savior of Rome, only this time from the evils of the Tetrarchy.

In the interest of promoting this perspective, Constantine created a competing state cult to rival Diocletian’s and subvert the Persian cultural invasion. Constantine was the hero and king in his own state cult: he was both the son of Sun, and a living god. He was the Savior come to rescue Rome from — namely the state cult promoted by Diocletian. His cult had missionaries that would invade the Greek side of the Empire, and  further into Persia, in order to win converts to his cult at the expense of both the Tetrarchy and Persia.The missionaries also acted as spies, sending information back to Constantine.

Christianity thus began in the West — in Latin! Thus explaining why Britain and the Gothic tribes had such surprisingly old Christian traditions, especially in relation to the history of the lands in the East. After Constantine took power in Rome, he instituted his new cult throughout Italy and Africa. Soon, his new cult sprang up in cities in the East, like a virus, and soon spread to every port. The virulent persecution exacted by Galarius, then the leader of the Tetrarchy, against Christianity was an attempt to shut down the cultural revolution being formented by Constantine via a competing state cult that claimed to be more ancient and more Roman.

The most significant cultural populations within the Roman Empire were the Greeks and the Jews. Both populations were widely spread throughout the Eastern half of the Empire, concentrated in the cities. Both were centers of the cultural miasma that shuddered through the Empire on some regular basis. By taking on aspects of both cultures in his novel cult, he was able to play upon existing tensions in a way that was far more devastating in the Eastern lands he did not control than in the Western ones he did.

Immediately after taking power in the East, Constantine invoked the first ecumenical council at Nicea. The Bishops attending at Nicea would have largely been the leadership of the Tetrarchy’s cult, attending for indoctrination into the new universal cult under threat of death. The bishops began as civilian overseers that reported directly to the Emperor, and their use began under Diocletian. By the time Constantine assembled his convocation of bishops in 325, bishops had become a signficant feature of the political structure, and most were happy to stay in power under the new Emperor.

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