One of the lessons of Peter Brown’s new book, about which I posted last week, is that Constantine’s conversion had only a limited effect on Roman society. For decades afterwards, Christianity and Paganism squared off as intellectual and political adversaries; Christianity’s triumph took time. A recent book by Berkeley historian Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church (University of California Press 2012) describes the conflict between Julian the Apostate, the Emperor who tried to restore Paganism, and his chief rival, Gregory of Nazianzus, the Archbishop of Constantinople. She argues that their debate obscures the fact they they shared a common intellectual and social grounding. The publisher’s description follows:
This groundbreaking study brings into dialogue for the first time the writings of Julian, the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, and his most outspoken critic, Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, a central figure of Christianity. Susanna Elm compares these two men not to draw out the obvious contrast between the Church and the Emperor’s neo-Paganism, but rather to find their common intellectual and social grounding. Her insightful analysis, supplemented by her magisterial command of sources, demonstrates the ways in which both men were part of the same dialectical whole. Elm recasts both Julian and Gregory as men entirely of their times, showing how the Roman Empire in fact provided Christianity with the ideological and social matrix without which its longevity and dynamism would have been inconceivable.