Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums (Criminal History of Christianity)
A marble bust of Valens
Trembling and gnashing of teeth under the Arian Valens
Valentinian’s brother, Valens (364-378), was the last emperor who officially supported Arianism. He acted against the sects and other deviations, even against the semi-Arians who then, in order to thrive, made a shameful abjuration in Rome.
The Catholics were very harshly persecuted during the last years of the regime of this emperor, which met resistance and made even the exiled be considered martyrs. Among these were the bishops Athanasius of Alexandria, Meletius of Antioch, Pelagius of Laodicea, Eusebius of Samosata, Barses of Edessa and many others. Some Catholics were drowned in Antioch, and there were also martyrs in Constantinople. It is even said that in the year of the Lord 370, Valens sent secret letters to his prefect Modesto, arranging that eighty Catholic bishops and priests be led with deceit aboard a ship, which was burned with all its passengers on the high seas; it is also said that whole hosts of ‘true faith supporters’ were thrown into the Orontes.
‘A persecution has fallen upon us, my venerable brothers, the most bitter of all’, lamented, in 376, Basil, doctor of the Church, in a letter to the bishops of Italy and Gaul (although he personally had not been molested). Houses of prayer were closed, the service of the altars abandoned, the bishops imprisoned under any false pretext, and sent at night to exile and death. ‘It is well known’, continues Basil, ‘although we have preferred to silence it’, the desertion of priests and deacons, the dispersion of the clergy; in a word, ‘the mouth of the believers has been closed, while the blasphemous languages are loose and dare everything’.
Valens was so afraid of witchcraft that he punished it with the death penalty from the first year of his term. For this reason, he continued the persecution begun by Constantine against the followers of black magic, the clairvoyants, the interpreters of dreams, since the winter of 371 and for two years ‘like a beast in the amphitheatre; his fury was so great that he seemed to regret not being able to prolong the martyrdom of his victims after death’ (Amianus).
In the year 368, a senator lost his head because a lady with whom he was in relationships felt the victim of an enchantment. Prosecutor Marino suffered the death penalty because he had procured the hand of a certain Hispanila with magical arts. The coachman Athanasius died burned for exercising the arts of black magic.
Fear spread throughout the East; thousands were detained, tortured, liquidated, including high public officials and wise philosophers. Participants or simple witnesses were burned alive, strangled, beheaded, as in Ephesus, despite being ill, the philosopher Maximus, who had been friend and preceptor of Julian. Their property was confiscated, they were extorted with heavy fines; it was enough a reckless word, or have dared to make a scallop.
The demagoguery burned entire libraries, claiming that they were ‘magic books’. And since the machinery of justice was still too slow for Valens, beheadings and bonfires dispensed with judicial formalities; at the same time, he considered himself a merciful sovereign, like his brother Valentinian, as well as a faithful Christian, a good husband and a chaste man. No one denies that the ‘purity of manners’ prevailed in his court. An executioner who led to the execution of a naked adulteress was also burned alive in punishment for such shamelessness.
Procopius, forty years old and a relative of Julian, rose up in Constantinople, mainly with the support of the pagans. Valens had him beheaded without delay on May 27, 366 AD. Valens ‘lost all sense of the measure’ (Nagí). He persecuted even the women of the insurgents, burned countless books and continued to enrich himself along with his executioners. All this happened in the middle of almost a decade of conflicts with the Persians.
In the year 367, the emperor also began a campaign against the Ostrogoths, who had helped Procopius. The operations ran between peat bogs and swamps, and although a price was placed on the heads of the Goths, the war ended without success in 369. On August 9, 378, in Adrianople, Valens lost the battle and life.
We have seen, then, how that formidable empire was ruled by the first Christian majesties: Constantine, his sons, and the emperors Jovian, Valentinian I, Valens. Did they behave in a more benign, more humanitarian, more peaceful way than their predecessors, or Julian the Apostate?
Along with the constant massacres inside the empire, at the borders, in enemy territory, the eternal clerical quarrels intervened. The internal politics of the 4th century was determined by the struggle between the two main confessions, the Arians and the Orthodox. At the crucial point was Athanasius of Alexandria, the most prominent bishop straddling between Constantine and Valens and one of the most nefarious of all times, whose imprint would be noted in the days to come.