Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ

There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 410
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ
    Book Description:

    "There is no crime for those who have Christ," claimed a fifth-century zealot, neatly expressing the belief of religious extremists that righteous zeal for God trumps worldly law. This book provides an in-depth and penetrating look at religious violence and the attitudes that drove it in the Christian Roman Empire of the fourth and fifth centuries, a unique period shaped by the marriage of Christian ideology and Roman imperial power. Drawing together materials spanning a wide chronological and geographical range, Gaddis asks what religious conflict meant to those involved, both perpetrators and victims, and how violence was experienced, represented, justified, or contested. His innovative analysis reveals how various groups employed the language of religious violence to construct their own identities, to undermine the legitimacy of their rivals, and to advance themselves in the competitive and high-stakes process of Christianizing the Roman Empire. Gaddis pursues case studies and themes including martyrdom and persecution, the Donatist controversy and other sectarian conflicts, zealous monks' assaults on pagan temples, the tyrannical behavior of powerful bishops, and the intrigues of church councils. In addition to illuminating a core issue of late antiquity, this book also sheds light on thematic and comparative dimensions of religious violence in other times, including our own.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93090-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    In the early fifth century, the Egyptian monk Shenoute issued an open letter containing a thundering denunciation of a local pagan magnate. Shenoute and his followers had taken the law into their own hands, ransacked the pagan’s house, and smashed his idols.¹ In response to the magnate’s accusation oflesteia—banditry, crime, illegal violence—against him, Shenoute proclaimed that “there is no crime for those who have Christ.”² The statement neatly expresses a paradigm of religious extremism, a belief that righteous zeal for God transcended considerations of worldly law and order. Religious conflict, and the attitudes that drove it, form...

  6. 1. “What Has the Emperor to Do with the Church?” Persecution and Martyrdom from Diocletian to Constantine
    (pp. 29-67)

    In late February of 303, the emperor Diocletian and his imperial colleagues issued an edict ordering churches to be destroyed, scriptures to be burned, and Christians to be dismissed from government service and stripped of civil rights. Diocletian, Galerius, and the rest of the imperial court in Nicomedia had lately celebrated the festival of the god Terminus—a fitting occasion, they thought, to undertake a campaign of repression that would put an end to the Christian religion once and for all.¹ This marked the formal opening of the Great Persecution, the last and most brutal assault on Christians by the...

  7. 2. “The God of the Martyrs Refuses You” Religious Violence, Political Discourse, and Christian Identity in the Century after Constantine
    (pp. 68-102)

    In the year 355, the emperor Constantius applied heavy pressure to a group of pro-Nicene western bishops in order to persuade them to assent to a creed that avoided the controversial Nicene wordhomoousios, and to condemn the troublesome Athanasius of Alexandria. Constantius sought above all else to bring peace and consensus to a divided church, and was willing to use any means necessary, including violent force, to achieve that end. Pope Liberius of Rome, himself threatened by the emperor’s representatives, praised the firm resistance of fellow bishops who had already been sent into exile: “Although under the guise of...

  8. 3. An Eye for an Eye Religious Violence in Donatist Africa
    (pp. 103-130)

    Isaac, a Christian of Carthage, had publicly confessed his faith and defied the authority of the persecuting magistrates. The enraged proconsul immediately had him seized and put to the torture. Scourged, beaten, his joints broken, his sides torn by iron claws, Isaac wore down the strength of the torturers with the endurance given him by Christ. His spirit rejoiced even as his body suffered. Isaac had seen all of this, we are told, in a vision that had come to him the previous night as he lay in prison:

    Now when he had been held for a little while by...

  9. 4. Temperata Severitas Augustine, the State, and Disciplinary Violence
    (pp. 131-150)

    This was the answer Augustine offered in 408 to the Donatist bishop Vincentius of Cartenna, who had spoken in opposition to the new imperial crackdown on religious dissent.Vincentius was the leader of the Rogatists, a small group of bishops who a few decades earlier had split from the larger Donatist church, apparently in protest against the forceful tactics of Parmenian and other Donatist leaders.³ A minority of a minority, the Rogatists un-surprisingly advocated toleration: “no one should be compelled to follow righteousness.” Augustine was quick to accuse Vincentius of self-serving hypocrisy: “No wild beast is said to be gentle if,...

  10. 5. “There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ” Holy Men and Holy Violence in the Late Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries
    (pp. 151-207)

    These words from the fifth-century Egyptian abbot Shenoute neatly express the relationship between violence and religious authority that forms the theme of this chapter. They articulate a claim to legitimacy, the idea that personal holiness can justify and even sanctify an action that under other circumstances would be regarded as criminal, that zeal for God outweighs respect for worldly law and order.¹ An investigation of the ways in which Christian zealots understood and justified “holy violence” is a study of extremism in religion, exploring the connection between sanctity and violence. The figures of holy men served to articulate the values...

  11. 6. “The Monks Commit Many Crimes” Holy Violence Contested
    (pp. 208-250)

    “The monks commit many crimes.” This remark, by that most Christian emperor Theodosius I, testifies to the difficulties faced by the practitioners of holy violence when they sought to convince the world of the legitimacy of their actions.¹ Central to their justification was the belief that godly zeal overrode secular law, that they themselves possessed this zeal, and that God would lend sanction to their deeds by miraculous demonstrations. Holy men, as presented by hagiography, embodied the values and fulfilled the expectations of the idealized Christian community. Their acts of righteous violence helped to define that community by marking its...

  12. 7. “Sanctify Thy Hand by the Blow” Problematizing Episcopal Power
    (pp. 251-282)

    This chapter examines how Christians sought to regulate power within the church, the right and wrong ways in which violence might be used, and the proper relation between religious authority and secular power. Where chapter 2 saw Christians using the interpretive framework of martyrdom and persecution to try to define a proper role for the Christian emperor within the church, this chapter treats the opposite problem: the assumption of secular power by leaders of the church. Over the course of the fourth century, Christian bishops came more and more to exercise varieties of power—political, economic, judicial, even on occasion...

  13. 8. Non Iudicium sed Latrocinium Of Holy Synods and Robber Councils
    (pp. 283-322)

    In late 428 or 429, just as Nestorius’ pronouncements on theTheotokoswere beginning to stir controversy, an ominous event befell the church of Constantinople. Several slaves, fleeing from an abusive master, sought protection in the sanctuary of the Great Church. But their claim to refuge was tarnished by the fact that they had seized the altar with drawn swords. For several days they remained there, threatening all who approached, so that the sacraments could not be performed. Finally the standoff ended in a bloodbath, when the fugitives first murdered a priest and then slew themselves. Although the slaves’ quarrel...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 323-342)

    “We are not deceived by the name of ‘Council.’”¹ This verdict—pronounced by the exiled Nestorius upon hearing of the “Robber Council” held at Ephesus—could just as easily have captured the Monophysite indictment of Chalcedon.² Nestorius claimed that theTome of Leo, which subsequently formed the basis for the council’s own definition, vindicated his own beliefs.³ It was an endorsement the council’s architects would not have appreciated.4Chalcedon, intending to unite the church, had instead produced divisions that would eventually harden into permanent schism. To its opponents, Chalcedon represented an unacceptable innovation upon a faith that had been defined...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 343-368)
  16. Index
    (pp. 369-396)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 397-398)