Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Honorius, Flavius Augustus, emperor
Honorius (1), Flavius Augustus, emperor, b. 384, d. 423. A full account of him is given in the Dict. of Classical Biogr. He was declared emperor of the West in 394 at Milan, where he remained almost uninterruptedly till 399. He and his brother Arcadius seem to have been only ill-informed spectators of the tremendous events passing around them.
There is an important enactment against paganism in the first year of Honorius's reign (Cod. Theod. XVI. x. 13) which forbids all sacrifices and apparently all public assemblage for pagan worship. The legislation against heresy is varied and stringent. In XVI. v. 25 of the Theodosian Code all Theodosius's coercive edicts were re-enacted in their sharpest form and all concessions revoked. The Eunomians in particular were excluded from rights of military service, legal testimony and inheritance, though this special severity was relaxed soon after (v. 27), in accordance with Theodosius's edicts (XVI. v. 22–24). All heretical congregations were forbidden, and their celebration of the holy mysteries, with ordination either of bishops or presbyters, altogether interdicted. Two more of the five
severe edicts of this year provided that slight error or deviation ("vel levi argumento a tramite Catholica") shall be unsparingly crushed. Penalties for neglect of statutes on heresy are made capital (XVI. v. 28), and c. 29 is inquisitorial and applies to all employés and officials, civil or military. All found to be "culpae hujus affines" are to be expelled from the service and the city. This is dated Nov. 23, Constantinople, so that Arcadius, or rather Eutropius, may be its author.
It is difficult to say how strictly the Honorian edicts against heresy were carried out, but no such persecution as that of St. Chrysostom is laid to the account of the emperor of the West. There is doubt, however, that the ecclesiastical legislation of 396 and following years was very severe. On March 2, 396 (T. C. XVI. v. 30), all heretical places of assemblage were confiscated and all meetings interdicted. By edicts 31 and 32 the Eunomian clergy were banished and inquiries were directed to be made after their leaders. XVI. vii. 6 deprived all apostates of testamentary power, their property was to go to their natural heirs; and by XVI. x. 14 all privileges of pagan priesthood or ministry were done away. The Jews were protected by three edicts (XVI. viii. 11–13).
The following edicts on church matters extend over 397 and 398. The Apollinarians were banished from Constantinople (T. C. XVI. v. 33) on Apr. 1, which was the only coercive measure of the year, and does not belong to Honorius. By XVI. ii. 30, Jan. 31, all ancient privileges were confined to bishops and clergy, with the proviso "Nihil extraordinarii muneris ecclesiae, vel sordidae functionis agnoscatur," repeated in XI. xvi. 22 (June 4). The Jews were protected from popular tumults (XVI. viii. 12, 13), and equal privileges and respect shewn to high-priests and patriarchs as to the higher Christian clergy. In 398 there were severe statutes on heresy. By T. C. XVI. v. 34 (Constantinople, but in Honorius's fourth consulship) Eunomian and Montanist clergy were banished from all cities and deprived of civic rights. If detected performing their rites in the country they were to be banished and the building confiscated, their books seized and burned, and keeping them was a capital offence. The Manicheans were specially attacked a.d. 399 (c. 35), and those who harboured them were threatened. C. 36 allowed testamentary rights to the Eunomians, but forbad them to assemble or to celebrate the mysteries. Their clergy ("ministri sceleris, quos falso nomine antistites vocant) were to be banished. Clerical rights of sanctuary for criminals were formally refused (de Poenis, ix. xl. 16), but intercession was permitted. This claim seems to have been pressed by the clerical and monastic body by violent means, which the authorities had difficulty in restraining. Cases in which "tanta clericorum ac monachorum audacia est, ut bellum velint potius quam judicium" were to be referred to the emperor for severer adjudication. Bishops were to punish the offences of monks. Debtors, public and private, including some unhappy curiales, had claimed sanctuary in churches (IX. xlv. 3). They were to be removed "manu mox injecta." No cleric or monk was to assert sanctuary by forcible defence for condemned criminals (XI. xxx. 7). Bishops were recommended to ordain clergy from the monastic orders (VI. ii. 32).
Ambrose had successfully resisted the reintroduction of the altar or statue of Victory into the senate-house in 384; and by 399 it may have appeared to Honorius's advisers that the time was come when paganism might be hastened out of existence. The paganism of the Roman senate and people was connected with the proudest associations of their public and domestic history, and it lingered long in the old patrician houses of the metropolis and among the rustic population. This was a source of weakness in keeping Christian emperors away from Rome. It may have been intended to end this division by direct attempts at suppressing paganism. The death-struggle of a paganism long fostered, and quite without real devotion, contributed to the final overthrow of Rome. Its immediate result in the life of Honorius seems to have been the undermining of Stilicho. The eunuch influence in both Eastern and Western courts had always been against him. There seems no doubt that Stilicho was opposed to anything which thinned his muster-rolls and weakened the hearts of his followers. Athanasius had advised Jovian (Broglie, L᾿Eglise et l᾿Empire romain, vol. v. p. 362) to bear with error; to bear witness to truth as emperor, but trust for its victory to the God of truth. Stilicho hardly reached this, as is proved by the many laws against heretics and idolaters in the code; but the accusations of Orosius (vi. 37) and the hostility of Zosimus on the pagan side seem to justify Gibbon's honourable estimate of him. In any case he had a few years of glory to come, and his great enemy was preparing for the defeats of Pollentia and Verona. In 398–399 Alaric was declared master-general of Eastern Illyricum by Arcadius, and raised on barbarian bucklers as king of Visigoths, with one man only between him and Rome (de Bello Getico, 503). Between 400 and 403 he had crossed Pannonia to the Julian Alps, taken Aquileia, subdued Istria and Venetia, and was threatening Milan. Honorius, now in his 15th year, thought only of flight into Gaul; but Alaric, overthrown by Stilicho at Pollentia and Verona, was allowed or compelled to retreat, and Honorius went with Stilicho to Rome to celebrate the last triumph of the empire (a.d. 404). The customary games took place with great magnificence, and on this occasion St. Telemachus sacrificed himself by attempting to separate the gladiators. Honorius seems not to have prevented their exhibition, though there are traces of an attempt to substitute hunting scenes, races, and grand cavalry displays, among which seems to have been the ancient game of Troy. After a stay of some months at Rome, during which he appears to have honestly done all in his power to conciliate the senate, clergy, and people, Honorius determined (a.d. 404) to fix his residence in the fortress of Ravenna, which was almost impregnable on the land side and afforded easy escape by sea. The Milanese entertained an affection for Honorius, and desired his return; but he had soon good reason to feel that his
choice of residence had been a wise one, both strategically and for his own comfort.
The anti-pagan legislation of 399–400 prepared for the consummating decree of confiscation in 408. T. C. XVI. x. 15 prohibited sacrifice, but restrained the destruction of temples, as monumental public works. In July there was an edict (c. 16) for the destruction of rural temples ("sine turba ac tumultu"). Some concession was found necessary, for, in Sept., Tit. x. 17 allowed the usual civic festivals and days of enjoyment ("festoset communem laetitiam"), but strictly without sacrifice. This is commented on by Gibbon in his 23rd chap., on the "Decay of Paganism," vol. iii. p. 16, where he points out how offerings of produce without sacrifice might be used, and the various evasions by which absolutely pagan celebration might elude Christian rule. Such usages might remain for ages, and be carried bodily into Christian country life by popular custom. This is matter of historical experience in all countries; and the May or Beltane, and other strange rites of the Teutonic races, bear witness to it in our own day. There was a final injunction this year (c. 18) against destroying temples, if sacrifices in them had been thoroughly discontinued. XVI. v. 35 was a severe edict against the Manicheans and their harbourers in Africa (June). In July (c. 36) the Eunomians were released from intestacy and allowed freedom of movement. Their meetings were still forbidden and their profane mysteries made a capital offence. As the crudest form of Arianism, this heresy seems to have specially vexed Honorius and his advisers. An edict (de Religione, XVI. xi. 1) gave bishops a claim to special authority in causes involving religious questions. "Quoties de religione agitur episcopos convenit agitare." Ecclesiastics were to find substitutes in the curiae, appeals being allowed (XI. xxx. 58, 59).
In a.d. 400 the games were forbidden during Lent and the week before Easter, also on Christmas Day and Epiphany. Civic banishment and exclusion from society was decreed on bishops and clergy deprived or degraded by their fellow-clergy for seditious conduct (XVI. ii. 35). Sons of priests were not to be forced into the ministry (XII. i. 166).
The single edict of a.d. 401 on ecclesiastical matters, addressed to Pompeianus, proconsul of Africa, excepted bishops and clergy actively employed in sacred duties from the "auraria pensio," apparently (see Brissonus, Dict.) a tax on commercial men.
In 404 there were 14 decrees, chiefly on religious matters. Of XVI. viii. 15, 16, 17, de Judaeis, 15 renews the general privileges of their patriarchs; 16 deprives or exempts Samaritans from military responsibilities; 17 withdraws the prohibition of a.d. 400 as to collections in the synagogues. XVI. ii. (37 Aug.) releases from prison various clerical persons concerned in popular tumults in Constantinople, but expels them, with all other foreign bishops and clergy, from the city. XVI. iv. 4, 5 (De his qui super Religione contendunt) coerces "the orthodox, who now forsake the holy churches, and assemble elsewhere ('alio convenire conantur'), and venture to dissent from the religion of Acacius, Theophilus, and Porphyrius," now dominant in Constantinople—Nov. Tillemont considers that all these edicts refer to the tumults which took place in 404 on the persecution of St. Chrysostom, except that which refers to officials, issued in Jan. The saint was not exiled till June.
There were 5 religious decrees out of 18 in 405. Two related to the Manichean and Donatist heresies, former statutes being put in force or threatened: "Una sit catholica veneratio, una Salus sit, Trinitatis par sibique congruens Sanctitas expetatur." XVI. vi. 3, 14 were against the repetition of baptism; which some persons seem to have thought might be repeated not only after heresy, but for forgiveness of repeated sins. Persons guilty of rebaptizing others were deprived of all their property, which was, however, secured to their heirs if orthodox. The contumacious were threatened with loss of all civil rights, and there was a heavy fine for connivance.
The irruption of the pagan and ferocious Radagaisus is dated by Gibbon 406, by Tillemont 405. He had to capitulate and was beheaded, and so many of his Germans were sold as slaves that their price fell to a single gold piece. After this invasion and in his desperate circumstances as the last general of Italy's last army, Stilicho apparently turned towards his worthiest enemy and felt the necessity of making terms with Alaric. Stilicho was slain at Ravenna Aug. 23, 408.
Alaric now (Oct. 408) crossed the Alps on pretence of a large claim of money. Honorius fled to Ravenna, and Alaxic besieged Rome for the first time, but accepted a large ransom in 409 and withdrew into Tuscany. He renewed the siege in the same year, and Rome submitted. Attalus was proclaimed emperor by him. In 410 the capture and sack of Rome followed. Alaric died before the end of the year, and in 412 the Goths under Adolf withdrew into Gaul, where Adolf remained until driven into Spain about 3 years after.
a.d. 407, 408. T .C. XVI. v. 40, 41 included the Manichean, Phrygian, and Priscillianist sects in the liabilities of the Donatists, i.e. loss of rights of property and succession, gift, sale, contract, will, and right to restrain orthodox slaves from worship. Heresy was expressly made a public offence, because crimen in religione divina in omnium fertur injuriam, but by c. 41 simple "confessio" or acknowledgment of error and return to orthodox service sufficed for restoration to all rights, and Honorius shewed genuine anxiety to recall his people to the right path on easy terms. XVI. ii. 38 enacted clerical immunities for Africa.
In 408, XVI. viii. 18 stated that at the feast of Purim ("Aman ad recordationem") the Jews were accustomed to burn or insult the cross. This was to cease, their other ceremonies were "infra contemptum Christianae legis," and might continue. There were 6 statutes on heretics and pagans—XVI. v. 42–45, with XVI. x. 19, and V. xiv. 7—and XVI. ii. 36, de Episcopis. Enemies to the Catholic faith were forbidden to serve in the emperor's palace guard. All statutes against Donatists, Manicheans, and Priscillianists were to be fully enforced, and a new sect called Caelicolae were, with them, to be deprived of all buildings for public assemblage. Donatists who had not yet confessed
their heresy, but only withdrawn from Catholic service ("saevae religionis obtentu") were included. Certain Jews and Donatists had insulted the Sacraments, and were to be punished; illegal assemblage for heretical worship was again prohibited. XVI. ii. 39 provided that a degraded cleric who had renounced clerical office should be at once made a curialis and forbidden to resume his orders.
a.d. 409. De Haereticis, XVI. v. 46, Jan., 47, June. Two edicts to enforce laws on Jews, Gentiles, or pagans, and heretics. Tillemont says that the death of Stilicho caused a general outbreak of heretics, the Donatists of Africa in particular asserting that his laws against them were now abrogated. Two edicts in March and July forbad amusements ("voluptates") on Sunday and exempted Jews from public calls on their Sabbath (II. viii. 25, 26).
In 410 there were 4 decrees (out of 19) on heresy. The Montanists, Priscillianists, and others were forbidden military service, and other means of exemption from curial burdens (XVI. v. 48). To the intestacy of the Eunomians was added the reversion of bequests to the fisc, if no orthodox heir survive; c. 51 altogether abrogated a former imperial oraculum or rescript, by which certain heretics had been allowed to meet in secret. XVI. xi. 3 confirmed all existing religious statutes.
a.d. 411, 412. XVI. v. 52, Jan. Heavy fines, or total confiscation of property, on obstinate Donatists. Pressure was to be exercised by masters on their slaves, and by the local authorities on coloni. Heretical clergy banished from Africa (c. 53). Jovinian and others, his followers, to be corporally punished and banished to island of Boas, on coast of Dalmatia. XVI. ii. 40, 41, de Episcopis. Church properties exempted from fugatio (a kind of land-tax by acreage, Brisson), also from repairs of public roads and bridges. By c. 41 clergy were to be tried only before their bishops and unnecessary scandal avoided by only bringing accusations which could be definitely proved. For perfect tolerance towards the Jews, XVI. viii. 20, 21.
In 418 Wallia and his Visigoths were settled in the S.W. of France with Toulouse for their capital. Britain was entirely lost, and the Armoricans were maintaining themselves in independence. A fresh revolt under another Maximus seems not to have been suppressed till 422. Wallia, however, acted in Spain as a feudal ally of the empire, won a succession of victories over the Alani, Vandals, and Suevi, and restored great part of the peninsula to Honorius, who is said by Prosper's Chronicle to have entered Rome in triumph a second time. The Burgundians occupied the two provinces which still bear their name, and the Franks were settled on the Rhine. All continued to acknowledge the title of Honorius, and to hold titles from the empire; and all accepted the civil law and magistracy of Rome. Honorius himself had confirmed the independence of Britain and Armorica c. 410, and died of dropsy in his 40th year (423), Aug. 27.
His later legislation has little historical interest, but the enactments on paganism and heresy from 413 to 423 were as follows: Two against repetition of baptism, a.d. 413; two against Donatists, v. 54, 55. These comprise (XVI. vi. 6, 7) the settlement effected by Marcellinus on Honorius's part at Carthage, between the orthodox and the Donatists, which, Tillemont says, brought the heresy to an end. Against any public assemblage for heretical purposes, v. 56. By v. 57 Montanist congregations were forbidden; their clergy to be banished if they attempted to ordain others. Harbourers to be deprived of the house or property where the heretic remained. Their places of meeting, if any were left standing, to be the property of the church. By c. 58 houses of Eunomian clergy were confiscated to the fisc; or any in which second baptism has been administered. Their clergy were exiled, and they were again deprived of testamentary and military rights. All these, except the last, were addressed to Africa. By III. xii. 4 marriage with a deceased wife's sister or husband's brother was forbidden. XVI. x. 20. All pagan priests were required to return to their native place. Confiscation to the church or the emperor of lands and grounds used for pagan purposes. To become a pagan was now a capital offence. In 416 Gentiles, or persons guilty of participation in pagan rites, were excluded from the army and from official or judicial positions. In 423 Honorius renewed all his edicts against heresy, with special mention of Manicheans, Phrygians, Priscillianists, Arians, Macedonians, Eunomians, Novatianists, and Sabbatiani. XVI. v. 59, 60. He was able to say that he believed there were very few pagans remaining, and so far his persecution may seem to have been successful, as with the Donatists and others. Other and more powerful causes were at work, and error and idolatry were taking other forms. The remarkable statute (XVI. x. 22 and 23) ran thus: "Paganos, si qui supersunt, quanquam jam nullos esse credamus, promulgatorum legum jam dudum praescripta compescant." The next (c. 23) stated that pagans caught in acts of idolatrous ceremonial ought to be capitally punished, but are only subject to loss of property and exile. He denounced the same sentence in c. 24 on Manicheans and Pepuzitae, who were worse than all other heretics, saying, "quod in venerabili die Paschatis ab omnibus dissentiant." He ended with a strong caution against any violence on Christian pretences to pagans or Jews leading quiet and legal lives, with penalty of triple or fourfold f restitution. Two more decrees this year restored all fabrics taken from the Jews, even for church purposes; or, in case the holy mysteries had been celebrated in such buildings, equal accommodation should be provided for the former holders.
Honorius possessed no character except a timid docility, but with some natural goodness of heart or gentleness, otherwise he could not have continued to reign so disastrously for 28 years. It must be remembered, in excuse of his coercive action, that persecution was no invention of his or Theodosius's, but an inheritance of the empire. Such questions as the expediency or the possibility of perfect toleration, the limits of pressure or coercion, and what body in the state is to exercise it, have been debated in theory and hewn out in practice, from the beginnings of
society, and are still unsettled. Nor can they be solved, unless the relation of the individual conscience to the public, and of the individual soul to the church, were accurately known and defined. That there is a point at which the church militant must cease to strive with invincible ignorance or determined error, leaving them to the civil power, as civil dangers or nuisances only, seems a rule which the sad experience of 1800 years has but imperfectly taught the Christian world. Only the great spirit of Athanasius seems to have anticipated it in his day, though he did not always act on it. The world knew no tolerance, and never had known it in Honorius's time; and his position as emperor compelled him to do as other emperors had done before him. The temptation to a Christian emperor to hold heresy or paganism an offence against the State, which he personified (at least on earth, and in heathen theory in heaven), was too much for man. Without asserting that all the faults of the Christian church may be traced to the fatal gift of Constantine, we cannot doubt that her alliance with the temporal power proved as dangerous as her investiture with temporal rule was fabulous. Pagan emperors had claimed to rule as personal and present divinity, and this claim had always specially embittered their persecution of the Christian faith. It was never, in fact, withdrawn; the ruler of Rome was invested with an awe beyond man, and that, in fact, descended to the mediaeval popedom. Constantine himself had allowed his statues to be worshipped with incense and lights, and so most unhappily encouraged the earlier iconodulism of half-Christianized Greeks. But the connexion he instituted between the temporal and spiritual power tempted a Christian despot like Theodosius, under guidance of a great representative of the church, to think that God was surely with them in whatever persecuting edict they set forth; and thus Justinian's words, "Sacrilegii instar est dubitare" (Cod. IX. xxix. 3), were literally meant, and logically, if not conscientiously, believed. The empire could not forget its traditions. Excuses which are admitted by Christians for Aurelius or Diocletian ought to be considered in behalf of Theodosius and his sons. The fierceness and necessities of their age must be allowed as palliations.
Theodosius's 15 edicts in 15 years, from 380–384, extend over the ministers, assemblies, and persons of heretics, and make not only the Manichean heresy punishable by death, but the Quartodeciman error as to keeping Easter. Ambrose, like other Churchmen, could not abstain from the use of the mighty arm of flesh at his command, and the institution of inquisitors must certainly have been an ecclesiastical measure. It should be remembered that the Christian faith had by its own influences so elevated and organized the influence of the human conscience as to have become a temporal power by the nature of things. The Christian spiritual power ruled men's persons and fortunes; the bishop was in fact obeyed by his large share of the population, and became a temporal magistrate because men made him arbitrate for them. (See Guizot, Civ. in Europe, lect. ii. p. 34, ed. Bohn.) He was consequently involved with the civil power in coercive measures of all kinds and in all directions.
Lastly, the empire was divided between Rome and Constantinople, but Italy between Rome and Milan or Ravenna. Ambrose must have felt that the remaining paganism of Rome was his chief difficulty, and his influence must have been accordingly exerted on Honorius in his first days. Hence, perhaps, his supineness and indifference to the fate of Rome, and perhaps, in a great degree, the paralysis of Italian defence as soon as the barbaric genius of Stilicho was withdrawn.
A coin of Honorius is figured in Smith's Dict. of G. and R. Biogr. s.v. The countenance has an inexpressiveness which may have belonged to him in a special degree, but extends to most portraiture after the 3rd cent. Another represents the emperor in the paludamentum, bearing a globe and the labarum. On another, with Vota Publica, are two emperors with nimbi, which is important evidence of the derivation of that symbol from imperial effigies (see Tyrwhitt, Art Teaching of Prim. Ch., Index "Nimbus").