LETTER TO A PRIEST
Julian the Apostate
. . .Only that they chastise, then and there, any whom they see rebelling against their king. And the tribe of evil demons is appointed to punish those who do not worship the gods, and stung to madness by them many atheists are induced to court death in the belief that they will fly up to heaven when they have brought their lives to a violent end. Some men there are also who, though man is naturally a social and civilized being, seek out desert places instead of cities, since they have been given over to evil demons and are led by them into this hatred of their kind. And many of them have even devised fetters and stocks to wear; to such a degree does the evil demon to whom they have of their own accord given themselves abet them in all ways, after they have rebelled against the everlasting and saving gods. But on this subject what I have said is enough, and I will go back to the point at which I digressed.
Though just conduct in accordance with the laws of the state will evidently be the concern of the governors of cities, you in your turn will properly take care to exhort men not to transgress the laws of the gods, since those are sacred. Moreover, inasmuch as the life of a priest ought to be more holy than the political life, you must guide and instruct men to adopt it. And the better sort will naturally follow your guidance. Nay I pray that all men may, but at any rate I hope that those who are naturally good and upright will do so; for they will recognize that your teachings are peculiarly adapted to them.
You must above all exercise philanthropy, for from it result many other blessings, and moreover that choicest and greatest blessing of all, the good will of the gods. For just as those who are in agreement with their masters about their friendships and ambitions and loves are more kindly treated than their fellow slaves, so we must suppose that God, who naturally loves human beings, has more kindness for those men who love their fellows. Now philanthropy has many divisions and is of many kinds. For instance it is shown when men are punished in moderation with a view to the betterment of those punished, as schoolmasters punish children; and again in ministering to men's needs, even as the gods minister to our own. You see all the blessings of the earth that they have granted to us, food of all sorts, and in an abundance that they have not granted to all other creatures put together. And since we were born naked they covered us with the hair of animals, and with things that grow in the ground and on trees. Nor were they content to do this simply or off-hand, as Moses bade men take coats of skins, but you see how numerous are the gifts of Athene the Craftswoman. What other animals use wine, or olive oil? Except indeed in cases where we let them share in these things, even though we do not share them with our fellowmen. What creature of the sea uses corn, what land animal uses things that grow in the sea? And I have not yet mentioned gold and bronze and iron, though in all these the gods have made us very rich; yet not to the end that we may bring reproach on them by disregarding the poor who go about in our midst, especially when they happen to be of good character -- men for instance who have inherited no paternal estate, and are poor because in the greatness of their souls they have no desire for money. Now the crowd when they see such men blame the gods. However it is not the gods who are to blame for their poverty, but rather the insatiate greed of us men of property becomes the cause of this false conception of the gods among men, and besides of unjust blame of the gods. Of what use, I ask, is it for us to pray that God will rain gold on the poor as he did on the people of Rhodes? For even though this should come to pass, we should forthwith set our slaves underneath to catch it, and put out vessels everywhere, and drive off all comers so that we alone might seize upon the gifts of the gods meant for all in common. And anyone would naturally think it strange if we should ask for this, which is not in the nature of things, and is in every way unprofitable, while we do not do what is in our power. Who, I ask, ever became poor by giving to his neighbors? Indeed I myself, who have often given lavishly to those in need, have recovered my gifts again many times over at the hands of the gods, though I am a poor man of business; nor have I ever repented of that lavish giving. And of the present time I will say nothing, for it would be altogether irrational of me to compare the expenditure of private persons with that of an Emperor; but when I was myself still a private person I know that this happened to me many times. My grandmother's estate for instance was kept for me untouched, though others had taken possession of it by violence, because from the little that I had I spent money on those in need and gave them a share.
We ought then to share our money with all men, but more generously with the good, and with the helpless and poor so as to suffice for their need. And I will assert, even though it be paradoxical to say so, that it would be a pious act to share our clothes and food even with the wicked. For it is to the humanity in a man that we give, and not to his moral character. Hence I think that even those who are shut up in prison have a right to the same sort of care; since this kind of philanthropy will not hinder justice. For when many have been shut up in prison to await trial, of whom some will be found guilty, while others will prove to be innocent, it would be harsh indeed if out of regard for the guiltless we should not bestow some pity on the guilty also, or again, if on account of the guilty we should behave ruthlessly and inhumanly to those also who have done no wrong. This too, when I consider it, seems to me altogether wrong; I mean that we call Zeus by the title "God of Strangers," while we show ourselves more inhospitable to strangers than are the very Scythians. How, I ask, can one who wishes to sacrifice to Zeus, the God of Strangers, even approach his temple? With what conscience can he do so, when he has forgotten the saying "From Zeus come all beggars and strangers; and a gift is precious though small"?
Again, the man who worships Zeus, the God of Comrades, and who, though he sees his neighbors in need of money, does not give them even so much as a drachma, how, I say, can he think that he is worshipping Zeus aright? When I observe this I am wholly amazed, since I see that these titles of the gods are from the beginning of the world their express images, yet in our practice we pay no attention to anything of the sort. The gods are called by us "gods of kindred," and Zeus the "God of Kindred," but we treat our kinsmen as though they were strangers. I say "kinsmen" because every man, whether he will or no, is akin to every other man, whether it be true, as some say, that we are all descended from one man and one woman, or whether it came about in some other way, and the gods created us all together, at the first when the world began, not one man and one woman only, but many men and many women at once. For they who had the power to create one man and one woman, were able to create many men and women at once; since the manner of creating one man and one woman is the same as that of creating many men and many women. And one must have regard to the differences in our habits and laws, or still more to that which is higher and more precious and more authoritative, I mean the sacred tradition of the gods which has been handed down to us by the theurgists of earlier days, namely that when Zeus was setting all things in order there fell from him drops of sacred blood, and from them, as they say, arose the race of men. It follows therefore that we are all kinsmen, whether, many men and women as we are, we come from two human beings, or whether, as the gods tell us, and as we ought to believe, since facts bear witness thereto, we are all descended from the gods. And that facts bear witness that many men came into the world at once, I shall maintain elsewhere, and precisely, but for the moment it will be enough to say this much, that if we were descended from one man and one woman, it is not likely that our laws would show such great divergence; nor in any case is it likely that the whole earth was filled with people by one man; nay, not even if the women used to bear many children at a time to their husbands, like swine. But when the gods all together had given birth to men, just as one man came forth, so in like manner came forth many men who had been allotted to the gods who rule over births; and they brought them forth, receiving their souls from the Demiurge from eternity.
It is proper also to bear in mind how many discourses have been devoted by men in the past to show that man is by nature a social animal. And shall we, after asserting this and enjoining it, bear ourselves unsociably to our neighbors? Then let everyone make the basis of his conduct moral virtues, and actions like these, namely reverence towards the gods, benevolence towards men, personal chastity; and thus let him abound in pious acts, I mean by endeavoring always to have pious thoughts about the gods, and by regarding the temples and images of the gods with due honor and veneration, and by worshipping the gods as though he saw them actually present. For our fathers established images and altars, and the maintenance of undying fire, and, generally speaking, everything of the sort, as symbols of the presence of the gods, not that we may regard such things as gods, but that we may worship the gods through them. For since being in the body it was in bodily wise that we must needs perform our service to the gods also, though they are themselves without bodies; they therefore revealed to us in the earliest images the class of gods next in rank to the first, even those that revolve in a circle about the whole heavens. But since not even to these can due worship be offered in bodily wise -- for they are by nature not in need of anything -- another class of images was invented on the earth, and by performing our worship to them we shall make the gods propitious to ourselves. For just as those who make offerings to the statues of the emperors, who are in need of nothing, nevertheless induce goodwill towards them- selves thereby, so too those who make offerings to the images of the gods, though the gods need nothing, do nevertheless thereby persuade them to help and to care for them. For zeal to do all that is in one's power is, in truth, a proof of piety, and it is evident that he who abounds in such zeal thereby displays a higher degree of piety; whereas he who neglects what is possible, and then pretends to aim at what is impossible, evidently does not strive after the impossible, since he overlooks the possible. For even though God stands in need of nothing, it does not follow that on that account nothing ought to be offered to him. He does not need the reverence that is paid in words. What then? Is it rational to deprive him of this also? By no means. It follows then that one ought not to deprive him either of the honor that is paid to him through deeds, an honor which not three years or three thousand years have ordained, but all past time among all the nations of the earth.
Therefore, when we look at the images of the gods, let us not indeed think they are stones or wood, but neither let us think they are the gods themselves; and indeed we do not say that the statues of the emperors are mere wood and stone and bronze, but still less do we say they are the emperors themselves. He therefore who loves the emperor delights to see the emperor's statue, and he who loves his son delights to see his son's statue, and he who loves his father delights to see his father's statue. It follows that he who loves the gods delights to gaze on the images of the gods, and their likenesses, and he feels reverence and shudders with awe of the gods who look at him from the unseen world. Therefore if any man thinks that because they have once been called likenesses of the gods, they are incapable of being destroyed, he is, it seems to me, altogether foolish; for surely in that case they were incapable of being made by men's hands. But what has been made by a wise and good man can be destroyed by a bad and ignorant man. But those beings which were fashioned by the gods as the living images of their invisible nature, I mean the gods who revolve in a circle in the heavens, abide imperishable for all time. Therefore let no man disbelieve in gods because he sees and hears that certain persons have profaned their images and temples. Have they not in many cases put good men to death, like Socrates and Dio and the great Empedotimus? And yet I am very sure that the gods cared more for these men than for the temples. But observe that since they knew that the bodies even of these men were destructible, they allowed them to yield to nature and to submit, but later on they exacted punishment from their slayers; and this has happened in the sight of all, in our own day also, in the case of all who have profaned the temples.
Therefore let no man deceive us with his sayings or trouble our faith in a divine providence. For as for those who make such profanation a reproach against us, I mean the prophets of the Jews, what have they to say about their own temple, which was overthrown three times and even now is not being raised up again? This I mention not as a reproach against them, for I myself, after so great a lapse of time, intended to restore it, in honor of the god whose name has been associated with it. But in the present case I have used this instance because I wish to prove that nothing made by man can be indestructible, and that those prophets who wrote such statements were uttering nonsense, due to their gossipping with silly old women. In my opinion there is no reason why their god should not be a mighty god, even though he does not happen to have wise prophets or interpreters. But the real reason why they are not wise is that they have not submitted their souls to be cleansed by the regular course of study, nor have they allowed those studies to open their tightly closed eyes, and to clear away the mist that hangs over them. But since these men see as it were a great light through a fog, not plainly or clearly, and since they think that what they see is not a pure light but a fire, and they fail to discern all that surrounds it, they cry with a loud voice: "Tremble, be afraid, fire, flame, death, a dagger, a broad-sword!" thus describing under many names the harmful might of fire. But on this subject it will be better to demonstrate separately how much inferior to our own poets are these teachers of tales about the gods.
It is our duty to adore not only the images of the gods, but also their temples and sacred precincts and altars. And it is reasonable to honor the priests also as officials and servants of the gods; and because they minister to us what concerns the gods, and they lend strength to the gods' gift of good things to us; for they sacrifice and pray on behalf of all men. It it therefore right that we should pay them all not less, if not indeed more, than the honors that we pay to the magistrates of the state. And if any one thinks that we ought to assign equal honors to them and to the magistrates of the state, since the latter also are in some sort dedicated to the service of the gods, as being guardians of the laws, nevertheless we ought at any rate to give the priests a far greater share of our good will. The Achaeans, for instance, enjoined on their king to reverence the priest, though he was one of the enemy, whereas we do not even reverence the priests who are our friends, and who pray and sacrifice on our behalf.
But since my discourse has come back again to the beginning as I have so long wished, I think it is worth while for me to describe next in order what sort of man a priest ought to be, in order that he may justly be honored himself and may cause the gods to be honored. For as for us, we ought not to investigate or enquire as to his conduct, but so long as a man is called a priest we ought to honor and cherish him, but if he prove to be wicked we ought to allow his priestly office to be taken away from him, since he has shown himself unworthy of it. But so long as he sacrifices for us and makes offerings and stands in the presence of the gods, we must regard him with respect and reverence as the most highly honored chattel of the gods. For it would be absurd for us to pay respect to the very stones of which the altars are made, on account of their being dedicated to the gods, because they have a certain shape and form suited to the ritual for which they have been fashioned, and then not to think that we ought to honor a man who has been dedicated to the gods. Perhaps someone will object -- "But suppose he does wrong and often fails to offer to the gods their sacred rites?" Then indeed I answer that we ought to convict a man of that sort, so that he may not by his wickedness offend the gods; but that we ought not to dishonor him until he has been convicted. Nor indeed is it reasonable that when we have set our hands to this business, we should take away their honor not only from these offenders but also from those who are worthy to be honored. Then let every priest, like every magistrate, be treated with respect, since there is also an oracle to that effect from the Didymaean god: "As for men who with reckless minds work wickedness against the priests of the deathless gods and plot against their privileges with plans that fear not the gods, never shall such men travel life's path to the end, men who have sinned against the blessed gods whose honor and holy service those priests have in charge." And again in another oracle the god says: "All my servants from harmful mischief--;" and he says that on their behalf he will inflict punishment on the aggressors.
Now though there are many utterances of the god to the same effect, by means of which we may learn to honor and cherish priests as we ought, I shall speak on this subject elsewhere at greater length. But for the present it is enough to point out that I am not inventing anything offhand, since I think that the declaration made by the god and the injunction expressed in his own words are sufficient. Therefore let any man who considers that as a teacher of such matters I am worthy to be believed show due respect to the god and obey him, and honor the priests of the gods above all other men. And now I will try to describe what sort of man a priest himself ought to be, though not for your especial benefit. For if I did not already know from the evidence both of the high priest and of the most mighty gods that you administer this priestly office aright -- at least all matters that come under your management -- I should not have ventured to confide to you a matter so important. But I do so in order that you may be able from what I say to instruct the other priests, not only in the cities but in the country districts also, more convincingly and with complete freedom; since not of your own self do you alone devise these precepts and practice them, but you have me also to give you support, who by the grace of the gods am known as sovereign pontiff, though I am indeed by no means worthy of so high an office; though I desire, and moreover constantly pray to the gods that I may be worthy. For the gods, you must know, hold out great hopes for us after death; and we must believe them absolutely. For they are always truthful, not only about the future life, but about the affairs of this life also. And since in the super-abundance of their power they are able both to overcome the confusion that exists in this life and to regulate its disorders and irregularities, will they not all the more in that other life where conflicting things are reconciled, after the immortal soul has been separated from the body and the lifeless body has turned to earth, be able to bestow all those things for which they have held out hopes to mankind? Therefore since we know that the gods have granted to their priests a great recompense, let us make them responsible in all things for men's esteem of the gods, displaying their own lives as an example of what they ought to preach to the people.
The first thing we ought to preach is reverence towards the gods. For it is fitting that we should perform our service to the gods as though they were themselves present with us and beheld us, and though not seen by us could direct their gaze, which is more powerful than any light, even as far as our hidden thoughts. And this saying is not my own but the god's, and has been declared in many utterances, but for me surely it is sufficient, by bringing forth one such utterance, to illustrate two things in one, namely how the gods see all things and how they rejoice in god-fearing men: "On all sides extend the far-seeing rays of Phoebus. His swift gaze pierces even through sturdy rocks, and travels through the dark blue sea, nor is he unaware of the starry multitude that passes in returning circuit through the unwearied heavens for ever by the statutes of necessity; nor of all the tribes of the dead in the underworld whom Tartarus has admitted within the misty dwelling of Hades, beneath the western darkness. And I delight in god-fearing men as much even as in Olympus."
Now in so far as all soul, but in a much higher degree the soul of man, is akin to and related to the gods, so much the more is it likely that the gaze of the gods should penetrate through his soul easily and effectively. And observe the love of the god for mankind when he says that he delights in the disposition of god-fearing men as much as in Olympus most pure and bright. How then shall he not lead up our souls from the darkness and from Tartarus, if we approach him with pious awe? And indeed he has knowledge even of those who have been imprisoned in Tartarus -- for not even that region falls outside the power of the gods,-- and to the god-fearing he promises Olympus instead of Tartarus. Wherefore we ought by all means to hold fast to deeds of piety, approaching the gods with reverence, and neither saying nor listening to anything base. And the priests ought to keep themselves pure not only from impure or shameful acts, but also from uttering words and hearing speeches of that character. Accordingly we must banish all offensive jests and all licentious intercourse. And that you may understand what I mean by this, let no one who has been consecrated a priest read either Archilochus or Hipponax or anyone else who writes such poems as theirs. And in Old Comedy let him avoid everything of that type -- for it is better so -- and indeed on all accounts philosophy alone will be appropriate for us priests; and of philosophers only those who chose the gods as guides of their mental discipline, like Pythagoras and Plato and Aristotle, and the school of Chrysippus and Zeno. For we ought not to give heed to them all nor to the doctrines of all, but only to those philosophers and those of their doctrines that make men god-fearing, and teach concerning the gods, first that they exist, secondly that they concern themselves with the things of this world, and further that they do no injury at all either to mankind or to one another, out of jealousy or envy or enmity. I mean the sort of thing our poets in the first place have brought themselves into disrepute by writing, and in the second place such tales as the prophets of the Jews take pains to invent, and are admired for so doing by those miserable men who have attached themselves to the Galilaeans.
But for us it will be appropriate to read such narratives as have been composed about deeds that have actually been done; but we must avoid all fictions in the form of narrative such as were circulated among men in the past, for instance tales whose theme is love, and generally speaking everything of that sort. For just as not every road is suitable for consecrated priests, but the roads they travel ought to be duly assigned, so not every sort of reading is suitable for a priest. For words breed a certain sort of disposition in the soul, and little by little it arouses desires, and then on a sudden kindles a terrible blaze, against which one ought, in my opinion, to arm oneself well in advance.
Let us not admit discourses by Epicurus or Pyrrho; but indeed the gods have already in their wisdom destroyed their works, so that most of their books have ceased to be. Nevertheless there is no reason why I should not, by way of example, mention these works too, to show what sort of discourses priests must especially avoid; and if such discourses, then much more must they avoid such thoughts. For an error of speech is, in my opinion, by no means the same as an error of the mind, but we ought to give heed to the mind first of all, since the tongue sins in company with it. We ought to learn by heart the hymns in honor of the gods -- and many and beautiful they are, composed by men of old and of our own time -- though indeed we ought to try to know also those which are being sung in the temples. For the greater number were bestowed on us by the gods themselves, in answer to prayer, though some few also were written by men, and were composed in honor of the gods by the aid of divine inspiration and a soul inaccessible to things evil.
All this, at least, we ought to study to do, and we ought also to pray often to the gods, both in private and in public, if possible three times a day, but if not so often, certainly at dawn and in the evening. For it is not meet that a consecrated priest should pass a day or a night without sacrifice; and dawn is the beginning of the day as twilight is of the night. And it is proper to begin both periods with sacrifice to the gods, even when we happen not to be assigned to perform the service. For it is our duty to maintain all the ritual of the temples that the law of our fathers prescribes, and we ought to perform neither more nor less than that ritual; for eternal are the gods, so that we too ought to imitate their essential nature in order that thereby we may make them propitious.
Now if we were pure soul alone, and our bodies did not hinder us in any respect, it would be well to prescribe one sort of life for priests. But since what he should practice when on duty concerns the individual priest alone, not priests absolutely, what should we concede to a man who has received the office of priest, on occasions when he is not actually engaged in service in the temples? I think that a priest ought to keep himself pure from all contamination, for a night and a day, and then after purifying himself for another night following on the first, with such rites of purification as the sacred laws prescribe, he should under these conditions enter the temple and remain there for as many days as the law commands. (Thirty is the number with us at Rome, but in other places the number varies.) It is proper then, I think, that he should remain throughout all these days in the sacred precincts, devoting himself to philosophy, and that he should not enter a house or a market-place, or see even a magistrate, except in the precincts, but should concern himself with his service to the god, overseeing and arranging everything in person; and then, when he has completed the term of days, he should retire from his office in favor of another. And when he turns again to the ordinary life of mankind, he may be allowed to visit a friend's house, and, when invited, to attend a feast, but not on the invitation of all but only of persons of the highest character. And at this time there would be nothing out of the way in his going occasionally to the market-place and conversing with the governor or the chief magistrate of his tribe, and giving aid, as far as lies in his power, to those who have a good reason for needing it.
And it is in my opinion fitting for priests to wear the most magnificent dress when they are within the temple performing the services, but when they are outside the sacred precincts to wear ordinary dress, without any extravagance. For it is not rational that we should misuse, in empty conceit and vain ostentation, what has been given to us for the honor of the gods. And for this reason we ought in the market-place to abstain from too costly dress and from outward show, and in a word from every sort of pretentiousness. For consider how the gods, because they admired the perfect moderation of Amphiaraus, after they had decreed the destruction of that famous army -- and he, though he knew that it would be so, went with the expedition and therefore did not escape his fated end,-- the gods I say transformed him completely from what he had been, and removed him to the sphere of the gods. For all the others who were in the expedition against Thebes engraved a device on their shields before they had conquered the enemy, and erected trophies to celebrate the downfall of the Cadmeans; but he, the associate of the gods, when he went to war had arms with no device; but gentleness he had, and moderation, as even the enemy bore witness. Hence I think that we priests ought to show moderation in our dress, in order that we may win the goodwill of the gods, since it is no slight offence that we commit against them when we wear in public the sacred dress and make it public property, and in a word give all men an opportunity to stare at it as though it were something marvellous. For whenever this happens, many who are not purified come near us, and by this means the symbols of the gods are polluted. Moreover what lawlessness it is, what arrogance towards the gods for us ourselves when we are not living the priestly life to wear the priestly dress! However, of this too I shall speak more particularly in another place; and what I am writing to you at the moment is only a mere outline of the subject.
No priest must anywhere be present at the licentious theatrical shows of the present day, nor introduce one into his own house; for that is altogether unfitting. Indeed if it were possible to banish such shows absolutely from the theatres so as to restore to Dionysus those theatres pure as of old, I should certainly have endeavored with all my heart to bring this about; but as it is, since I thought that this is impossible, and that even if it should prove to be possible it would not on other accounts be expedient, I forebore entirely from this ambition. But I do demand that priests should withdraw themselves from the licentiousness of the theatres and leave them to the crowd. Therefore let no priest enter a theatre or have an actor or a chariot-driver for his friend; and let no dancer or mime even approach his door. And as for the sacred games, I permit anyone who will to attend those only in which women are forbidden not only to compete but even to be spectators. With regard to the hunting shows with dogs which are performed in the cities inside the theatres, need I say that not only priests but even the sons of priests must keep away from them?
Now it would perhaps have been well to say earlier from what class of men and by what method priests must be appointed; but it is quite appropriate that my remarks should end with this. I say that the most upright men in every city, by preference those who show most love for the gods, and next those who show most love for their fellow men, must be appointed, whether they be poor or rich. And in this matter let there be no distinction whatever whether they are unknown or well known. For the man who by reason of his gentleness has not won notice ought not to be barred by reason of his want of fame. Even though he be poor and a man of the people, if he possess within himself these two things, love for God and love for his fellow men, let him be appointed priest. And a proof of his love for God is his inducing his own people to show reverence to the gods; a proof of his love for his fellows is his sharing cheerfully, even from a small store, with those in need, and his giving willingly thereof, and trying to do good to as many men as he is able.
We must pay especial attention to this point, and by this means effect a cure. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves, and that which for the moment seemed sweet, proves to be bitter for all the rest of their lives -- by the same method, I say, the Galilaeans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables,-- for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names,-- and the result is that they have led very many into atheism. . . .
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