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Libanius, Oration 30: For the temples (Pro templis) (1830) pp.72-96.

[From Dr. Lardner's Heathen Testimonies]

[The occasion of the oration was this. In the reign of Theodosius several heathen temples, some of them very magnificent, were pulled down and destroyed in the cities, and especially in country-places, by the monks, with the consent and connivance, as Libanius intimates, of the bishops, and without express order of the Emperor to that purpose. Of this Libanius complains, and implores the Emperor's protection, that the temples may be preserved.]

Having already, O Emperor, often offered advice which has been approved by you, even when others have advised contrary things, I come to you now upon the same design, and with the same hopes, that now especially you will be persuaded by me. But if not, do not judge the speaker an |73 enemy to your interests, considering, beside other things, the great honour 1 which you have conferred upon me, and that it is not likely that he who is under so great obligations should not love his benefactor. And, for that very reason, I think it my duty to advise, where I apprehend I have somewhat to offer which may be of advantage; for I have no other way of showing my gratitude to the Emperor but by orations, and the counsel delivered in them.

I shall, indeed, appear to many to undertake a matter full of danger in pleading with you for the temples, that they may suffer no injury, as they now do. But they who have such apprehensions seem to me to be very ignorant of your true character. For I esteem it the part of an angry and severe disposition, for any one to resent the proposal of counsel which he does not approve of: but the part of a mild and gentle and equitable disposition, such as yours is, barely to reject counsel not approved of, For when it is in the power of him to whom the address is made to embrace any counsel or not, it is not reasonable to refuse a hearing which can do no harm; nor yet to resent and punish the proposal of counsel, if it appear contrary to his own judgment; |74 when the only thing that induced the adviser to mention it, was a persuasion of its usefulness.

I entreat you, therefore, O Emperor, to turn your countenance to me while I am speaking, and not to cast your eyes upon those who in many things aim to molest both you and me; forasmuch as oftentimes a look is of greater effect than all the force of truth. I would further insist, that they ought to permit me to deliver my discourse quietly and with. out interruption; and then, afterwards, they may do their best to confute us by what they have to say, ...

[Here is a small breach in the Oration. But he seems to have begun his argument with an account of the origin of temples, that they were first of all erected in country places.

Men then having at first secured themselves in dens and cottages, and having there experienced the protection of the gods, they soon perceived how beneficial to mankind their favour must be: they therefore, as may be supposed, erected to them statues and temples, such as they could in those early times. And when they began to build cities, upon the increase of arts and sciences, there were many temples on the sides of mountains and in plains: and in every city [as they built it] next to the walls were temples and sacred edifices raised, as the beginning of the rest of the body. For from such governors they expected the |75 greatest security: and, if you survey the whole Roman empire, you will find this to be the case every where. For in the city next to the greatest 2 there are still some temples 3, though they are deprived of their honours, a few indeed out of many, but yet it is not quite destitute. And with the aid of these gods the Romans fought and conquered their enemies; and having conquered them, they improved their condition, and made them happier than they were, before their defeat; lessening their fears and making them partners in the privileges of the commonwealth. And when I was a child, he 4 who led the Gallic army overthrew him that had affronted him; they having first prayed to the gods for success before they engaged. But having prevailed over him who at that time gave prosperity to the cities, judging it for his advantage to have another deity, for the building of the city which he then designed he made use of the sacred money, but made no alteration in the legal worship. The temples indeed were impoverished, but the rites were still performed there. But when the empire came to his son 5, or rather the form of empire, for the government was really in the hands of others, who |76 from the beginning had been his masters, and to whom he vouchsafed equal power with himself: he therefore being governed by them, even when he was Emperor, was led into many wrong actions, and among others to forbid sacrifices. These his cousin 6, possessed of every virtue, restored: what he did otherwise, or intended to do, I omit at present. After his death in Persia, the liberty of sacrificing remained for some time: but at the instigation of some innovators, sacrifices were forbidden by the two brothers 7, but not incense;----which state of things your law has ratified. So that we have not more reason to be uneasy for what is denied us, than to be thankful for what is allowed. You, therefore, have not ordered the temples to be shut up, nor forbidden any to frequent them: nor have you driven from the temples or the altars, fire or frankincense, or other honours of incense. But those black-garbed people 8, who eat more than elephants, and demand a large quantity of liquor from the people who send them drink for their chantings, but who hide their luxury by their pale artificial countenances,----these men, O Emperor, even whilst your law is in force, run to the temples, bringing with them wood, and stones, and iron, and |77 when they have not these, hands and feet. Then follows a Mysian prey 9, the roofs are uncovered, walls are pulled down, images are carried off, and altars are overturned: the priests all the while must be silent upon pain of death. When they have destroyed one temple they run to another, and a third, and trophies are erected upon trophies: which are all contrary to [your] law. This is the practice in cities, but especially in the countries. And there are many enemies every where. After innumerable mischiefs have been perpetrated, the scattered multitude unites and comes together, and they require of each other an account of what they have done; and he is ashamed who cannot tell of some great injury which he has been guilty of. They, therefore, spread themselves over the country like torrents, wasting the countries together with the temples: for wherever they demolish the temple of a country, at the same time the country itself is blinded, declines, and dies. For, O Emperor, the temples are the soul of the country; they have been the first original of the buildings in the country, and they have subsisted for many ages to this time; and in |78 them are all the husbandman's hopes, concerning men, and women, and children, and oxen, and the seeds and the plants of the ground. Wherever any country has lost its temples, that country is lost, and the hopes of the husbandmen, and with them all their alacrity: for they suppose they shall labour in vain, when they are deprived of the gods who should bless their labours; and the country not being cultivated as usual, the tribute is diminished. This being the state of things, the husbandman is impoverished, and the revenue suffers. For, be the will ever so good, impossibilities are not to be surmounted. Of such mischievous consequence are the arbitrary proceedings of those persons in the country, who say, 'they fight with the temples.' But that war is the gain of those who oppress the inhabitants: and robbing these miserable people of their goods, and what they had laid up of the fruits of the earth for their sustenance, they go off as with the spoils of those whom they have conquered. Nor are they satisfied with this, for they also seize the lands of some, saying it is sacred: and many are deprived of their paternal inheritance upon a false pretence. Thus these men riot upon other people's misfortunes, who say they worship God with fasting. And if they who are abused come to the pastor in the city, (for so they call a man who is not one of the meekest,) complaining of the injustice that has been done |79 them, this pastor commends these, but rejects the others, as if they ought to think themselves happy that they have suffered no more. Although, O Emperor, these also are your subjects, and so much more profitable than those who injure them, as laborious men are than the idle: for they are like bees, these like drones. Moreover, if they hear of any land which has any thing that can be plundered, they cry presently, 'Such an one sacrificeth, and does abominable things, and an army ought to be sent against him.' And presently the reformers are there: for by this name they call their depredators, if I have not used too soft a word. Some of these strive to conceal themselves and deny their proceedings; and if you call them robbers, you affront them. Others glory and boast, and tell their exploits to those who are ignorant of them, and say they are more deserving than the husbandmen. Nevertheless, what is this but in time of peace to wage war with the husbandmen? For it by no means lessens these evils that they suffer from their countrymen. But it is really more grievous to suffer the things which I have mentioned in a time of quiet, from those who ought to assist them in a time of trouble. For you, O Emperor, in case of a war collect an army, give out orders, and do everything suitable to the emergency. And the new works which you now carry on are designed as a further |80 security against our enemies, that all may be safe in their habitations, both in the cities and in the country: and then if any enemies should attempt inroads, they may be sensible they roust suffer loss rather than gain any advantage. How is it, then, that some under your government disturb others equally under your government, and permit then not to enjoy the common benefits of it? How do they not defeat your own care and providence and labours, O Emperor? How do they not fight against your law by what they do?

But they say, 'We have only punished those who sacrifice, and thereby transgress the law, which forbids sacrifices.' O Emperor, when they say this they lie. For no one is so audacious, and so ignorant of the proceedings of the courts, as to think himself more powerful than the law. When I say the law, I mean the law against sacrificers. Can it be thought, that they who are not able to bear the sight of a collector's cloak, should despise the power of your government? This is what they say for themselves. And they have been often alleged to Flavian 10 himself, and never have been confuted, no not yet. For I appeal to the guardians of this law: Who has known any of those whom you have |81 plundered to have sacrificed upon the altars, so as the law does not permit? What young or old person, what man, what woman? Who of those inhabiting the same country, and not agreeing with the sacrificers in the worship of the gods? Who of their neighbours? For envy and jealousy are common in neighbourhoods. Whence some would gladly come as an evidence if any such thing had been done: and yet no one has appeared, neither from the one nor from the other: [that is, neither from the country, nor from the neighbourhood.] Nor will there ever appear, for fear of perjury, not to say the punishment of it. Where then is the truth of this charge, when they accuse those men of sacrificing contrary to law?

But this shall not suffice for an excuse to the Emperor. Some one therefore may say: 'They have not sacrificed.' Let it be granted. But oxen have been killed at feasts and entertainments and merry meetings. Still there is no altar to receive the blood, nor a part burned, nor do salt-cakes precede, nor any libation follow. But if some persons meeting together in some pleasant field kill a calf, or a sheep, or both, and roasting part and broiling the rest, have eat it under a shade upon the ground, I do not know that they have acted contrary to any laws. For neither have you, O Emperor, forbid |82 these things by your law; but mentioning one thing, which ought not to be done, you have permitted every thing else. So that though they should have feasted together with all sorts of incense, they have not transgressed the law, even though in that feast they should all have sung and invoked the gods. Unless you think fit to accuse even their private method of eating, by which it has been customary for the inhabitants of several places in the country to assemble together in those [places] which are the more considerable, on holidays, and having sacrificed, to feast together. This they did whilst the law permitted them to do it. Since that, the liberty has continued for all the rest except sacrificing. When, therefore, a festival day invited them, they accepted the invitation, and with those things which might be done without offence or danger, they have honoured both the day and the place. But that they ventured to sacrifice, no one has said, nor heard, nor proved, nor been credited: nor have any of their enemies pretended to affirm it upon the ground of his own sight, nor any credible account he has received of it.

They will further say: 'By this means some have been converted, and brought to embrace the same religious sentiments with themselves.' Be not deceived by what they say; they only pretend it, but are not convinced: for they are averse to |83 nothing more than this, though they say the contrary. For the truth is, they have not changed the objects of their worship, but only appear to have done so. They join themselves with them in appearance, and outwardly perform the same things that they do: but when they are in a praying posture, they address to no one, or else they invoke the gods; not rightly indeed in such a place, but yet they invoke them. Wherefore as in a tragedy he who acts the part of a king is not a king, but the same person he was before he assumed the character, so every one of these keeps himself the same he was, though he seems to them to be changed. And what advantage have they by this, when the profession only is the same with theirs, but a real agreement with them is wanting? for these are things to which men ought to be persuaded, not compelled. And when a man cannot accomplish that, and yet will practise this, nothing is effected, and he may perceive the weakness of the attempt. It is said that this is not permitted by their own laws, which commend persuasion, and condemn compulsion. Why then do you run mad against the temples? When you cannot persuade, you use force. In this you evidently transgress your own laws.

But they say: 'It is for the good of the world, and the men in it, that there should be no temples.' |84 Here, O Emperor, I need freedom of speech; for I fear lest I should offend. Let then any of them tell me, who have left the tongs and the hammer and the anvil, and pretend to talk of the heavens, and of them that dwell there, what rites the Romans followed, who arose from small and mean beginnings, and went on prevailing, and grew great; theirs, or these, whose are the temples and the altars, from whom they knew by the soothsayers, what they ought to do, or not to do? 

[Here Libanius instances the successes of Agamemnon against Troy; and of Hercules before, against the same place; and some other things.

And many other wars might be mentioned, which have been successfully conducted, and after that peace obtained, by the favour and under the direction of the gods. But, what is the most considerable of all, they who seemed to despise this way of worship, have honoured it against their will. Who are they? They who have not ventured to forbid sacrifices at Rome. But if all this affair of sacrifices be a vain thing, why has not this vain thing been prohibited? And if it be hurtful likewise, why not much more? But if in the sacrifices there performed consists the stability of the empire, it ought to be reckoned beneficial to sacrifice every where; and to be allowed that the daemons at Rome confer greater benefits, these in the country and other cities less. This is |85 what may be reasonably granted: for in an army all are not equal; yet in a battle the help of each one is of use: the like may be said of rowers in a vessel. So one [daemon] defends the sceptre of Rome, another protects a city subject to it, another preserves the country and gives it felicity. Let there then be temples every where. Or let those men confess, that you are not well affected to Rome in permitting her to do things by which she suffers damage. But neither is it at Rome only that the liberty of sacrificing remains, but also in the city of Serapis 11, that great and populous city, which has a multitude of temples, by which it renders the plenty of Egypt common to all men. This [plenty] is the work of the Nile. It therefore celebrates the Nile, and persuades him to rise and overflow the fields. If those rites were not performed, when and by whom they ought, he would not do so. Which they themselves seem to be sensible of, who willingly enough abolish such things, but do not abolish these; but permit the river to enjoy his ancient rites, for the sake of the benefit he affords.

'What then,' some will say: 'Since there is not in every country a river to do what the Nile does |86 for the earth, there is no reason for temples in those places. Let them therefore suffer what these good people think fit.' Whom I would willingly ask this question: Whether, changing their mind, they will dare to say, Let there be an end of these things done by [or for] the Nile: let not the earth partake of his waters: let nothing be sown nor reaped: let him afford no corn, nor any other product, nor let the mud overflow the whole land, as at present. If they dare not own this, by what they forbear to say they confute what they do say: for they who do not affirm that the Nile ought to be deprived of his honours, confess that the honours paid to the temples are useful.

And since they mention him 12 who spoiled the temples [of their revenues and gifts], we shall omit observing that he did not proceed to the taking away the sacrifices. But who ever suffered a greater punishment for taking away the sacred money [out of the temples], partly in what he brought upon himself; partly in what he suffered after his death, insomuch that his family destroyed one another, till there were none left? And it had been much better for him that some of his posterity should reign, than to enlarge with buildings a city of |87 his own name: for the sake of which city itself all men still curse his memory, except those who live there in wicked luxury, because by their poverty these have their abundance.

And since next to him they mention his son 13, and how he destroyed the temples, when they who pulled them down took no less pains in destroying them, than the builders had done in raising them,----so laborious a work was it to separate the stones cemented by the strongest bands;----since, I say, they mention these things I will mention somewhat yet more considerable. That he indeed made presents of the temples to those who were about him, just as he might give a horse, or a slave, or a dog, or a golden cup; but they were unhappy presents to both the giver and the receivers of them: for he spent all his life in fear of the Persians, dreading all their motions as children do bugbears. Of whom, some were childless, and died miserably intestate; and others had better never have had children: with such infamy and mutual discord do they live together who descend from them, whilst they dwell among sacred pillars taken from the temples. To whom I think these things are owing, who knowing how to enrich themselves, have taught |88 their children this way to happiness! And at this time their distempers carry some of them to Cilicia, needing the help of Aesculapius. But instead of obtaining relief, they meet with affronts only for the injury done to the place. How can such return without cursing the author of these evils? But let the conduct of this Emperor be such as to deserve praises living and dead; such as we know he 14 was who succeeded him; who had overturned the Persian empire if treachery had not prevented it. Nevertheless he was great in his death, for he was killed by treachery, as Achilles also was; and is applauded for that, as well as for what he did before his death. This has he from the gods, to whom he restored their rites, and honours, and temples, and altars, and blood: from whom having heard, 'that he should humble the pride of Persia, and then die,' he purchased the glory of his life, taking many cities, subduing a large tract of land, teaching his pursuers to fly; and was about to receive, as all know, an embassy which would have brought the submission of the enemy. Wherefore he was pleased with his wound, and looking upon it rejoiced, and without any tears rebuked those who wept, for not thinking that a wound was better to him than any old age. So that the embassies sent after his death were all |89 his right. And the reason why the Achemenidae 15 for the future made use of entreaties instead of arms, was that the fear of him still possessed their minds. Such an one was he who restored to us the temples of the gods, who did things too good to be forgotten, himself above all oblivion.

But I thought that he 16 who reigned lately would pull down and burn the temples of those who were of the opposite sentiment, as he knew how to despise the gods. But he was better than expectation, sparing the temples of the enemies, and not disdaining to run some hazards for preserving those of his own dominions, which had long since been erected with much labour and at vast expense. For if cities are to be preserved every where, and some cities outshine others by means of their temples, and these are their chief ornaments, next to the Emperor's palaces,----how is it that no care must be taken of these, nor any endeavours used to preserve them in the body of the cities?

But it is said: 'There will be other edifices, though there should be no temples.' But I think tribute to be of importance to the treasury. Let |90 these stand then, and be taxed. Do we think it a cruel thing to cut off a man's hand, and a small matter to pluck out the eyes of cities? And do we not lament the ruins made by earthquakes? and when there are no earthquakes, nor other accidents, shall we ourselves do what they are wont to effect? Are not the temples the possession of the Emperors as well as other things? Is it the part of wise men to sink their own goods? Does not every one suppose him to be distracted, who throws his purse into the sea? Or if the master of the ship was to cut those ropes which are of use to the ship; or if any one should order a mariner to throw away his oar,----would you think it an absurdity? and yet think it proper for a magistrate to deprive a city of such a part of it? What reason is there for destroying that, the use of which may be changed? Would it not be shameful for an army to fight against its own walls? and for a general to excite them against what they have raised with great labour; the finishing of which was a festival for those who then reigned? Let no man think, Emperor, that this is a charge brought against you. For there lies in ruins, in the Persian borders, a temple 17, to which there is none like, as may be learned from those who saw it, so magnificent the stone work, and in |91 compass equal to the city. Therefore in time of war the citizens thought their enemies would gain nothing by taking the town, since they could not take that likewise, as the strength of its fortifications bid defiance to all their attacks. At length, however, it was attacked, and with a fury equal to the greatest enemies, animated by the hopes of the richest plunder. I have heard it disputed by some, in which state it was the greatest wonder;: whether now that it is no more, or when it had suffered nothing of this kind, like the temple of Serapis. But that temple, so magnificent and so large, not to mention the wonderful structure of the roof, and the many brass statues, now hid in darkness out of the light of the sun, is quite perished; a lamentation to them who have seen it, a pleasure to them who never saw it. For the eyes and ears are not alike affected with these things. Or rather to those who have not seen it, it is both sorrow and pleasure: the one because of its fall, the other because their eyes never saw it. Nevertheless, if it be rightly considered, this work is not yours, but the work of a man 18 who has deceived you; a profane wretch, an enemy of the gods, base, covetous, ungrateful to the earth that received him when born, advanced without merit, and abusing his greatness, when advanced; |92 a slave to his wife, gratifying her in any thing, and esteeming her all things, in perfect subjection to them 19 who direct these things, whose only virtue lies in wearing the habit of mourners; but especially to those of them who also weave coarse garments. This workhouse 20 deluded, imposed upon him, and misled him; [and it is said that many gods have been deceived by gods;] for they gave out, 'that the priests sacrificed, and so near them that the smoke reached their noses:' and after the manner of some simple people, they enlarge and heighten matters, and vaunt themselves as if they thought nothing was above their power. By such fiction, and contrivance, and artful stories, proper to excite displeasure, they persuaded the mildest father [of his people] among the Emperors 21. For these were really his virtues, humanity, tenderness, compassion, mildness, equity, who had rather save than destroy. But there were those who gave juster counsel; that if such a thing had been done, the attempt should be punished, and care taken to prevent the like for time to come. Yet he who thought he ought to have a Cadmean victory, carried on his conquest. But after he had taken his own pleasures, he should have provided for his |93 people, and not have desired to appear great to those who shun the labours of the country, and converse in the mountains 22, as they say, with the Maker of all things. But let your actions appear excellent and praiseworthy to all men. There are at this time many, so far friends as to receive and empty your treasures, and to whom your empire is dearer than their own souls; but when the time comes that good counsel and real services are wanted, they have no concern upon them but to take care of themselves; and if any one comes to them, and inquires what this means, they excuse themselves as free from all fault. They disown what they have done, or pretend 'that they have obeyed the Emperor's order; and if there is any blame, he must see to it.' Such things they say, when it is they who are found guilty, who can give no account of their actions. For what account can be given of such mischiefs? These men before others deny this to be their own work. But when they address you alone, without witnesses, they say, 'they have been in this war serving your family.' They would deliver your house from those who by land and sea endeavour to defend your person; than which there is nothing greater you can receive from them. For these men, under the name of friends and protectors, |94 telling stories of those by whom they say they have been injured, improve your credulity into an occasion of doing more mischief.

But I return to them, to demonstrate their injustice by what they have said: Say then, for what reason you destroyed that great temple? Not because the Emperor approved the doing it. They who pull down a temple have done no wrong if the Emperor has ordered it to be done. Therefore they who pulled it down did not do wrong by doing what the Emperor approved of. But he who does that which is not approved by the Emperor, does Wrong; does he not? You, then, are the men who have nothing of this to say for what you have done. Tell me why this temple of Fortune is safe? and the temple of Jupiter, and of Minerva, and of Bacchus? Is it because you would have them remain? No, but because no one has given you power over them; which, nevertheless, you have assumed against those which you have destroyed. How, then, are you not liable to punishment? or how can you pretend that what you have done is right, when the sufferers have done no wrong? Of which charge there would have been some appearance, if you, O Emperor, had published an edict to this purpose: 'Let no man within my empire believe in the gods, nor worship them, nor ask any |95 good thing of them, neither for himself, nor for his children, unless it be done in silence and privately; but let all present themselves at the places where I worship, and join in the rites there performed. And let them offer the same prayers which they do, and bow the head at the hand of him who directs the multitude. Whoever transgresses this law, shall be put to death.' It was easy for you to publish such a law as this; but you have not done it; nor have you in this matter laid a yoke upon the souls of men. But though you think one way better than the other, yet you do not judge that other to be an impiety, for which a man may be justly punished. Nor have you excluded those of that sentiment from honours, but have conferred upon them the highest offices, and have given them access to your table, to eat and drink with you. This you have done formerly, and at this time; beside others, you have associated to yourself (thinking it advantageous to your government) a man, who swears by the gods, both before others, and before yourself: and you are not offended at it; nor do you think yourself injured by those oaths: nor do you account him a wicked man who places his best hopes in the gods. When, therefore, you do not reject us, as neither did he who subdued the Persians by arms reject those of his subjects who differed from him in this matter, what pretence have these to reject us? |96 

How can these men reject their fellow-subjects, differing from them in this matter? By what right do they make these incursions? How do they seize other men's goods with the indignation of the countries? How do they destroy some things, and carry off others? adding to the injury of their actions the insolence of glorying in them. We, O Emperor, if you approve and permit these things, will bear them; not without grief indeed; but yet we will show that we have learned to obey. But if you give them no power, and yet they come and invade our small remaining substance, or our walls: Know, that the owners of the countries will defend themselves.

[Footnotes moved to the end and renumbered]

1. * The office of Praefectus Praetorio.

2. * He means Constantinople.

3. † He alludes to the ancient temples of Byzantium.

4. ‡ Constantine.                         

5. § Constantius.

6. * Julian.         

7. † Valentinian and Valens.

8. ‡ The monks.

9. * This proverbial expression took its rise from the Mysians, who, in the absence of their king Telepbus, being plundered by their neighbours, made no resistance. Hence it came to be applied to any persons who were passive under injuries.

10. * Bishop of Antioch.

11. * i. e. Alexandria. The temple of Serapis was destroyed in 391.

12. * Constantine.

13. * Constantius.

14. * Julian.

15. * Another name for the Persians. 

16. † Valens.

17. * Probably the temple at Odessa.

18. * Probably Cynegius, the Emperor's lieutenant.

19. * The monks.         

20. † The monastery.

21. ‡ Probably Valens.

22. * He refers to the monks near Antioch.

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This text comes from the anonymous Arguments of Celsus, Porphyry and the Emperor Julian Against the Christians... published by Thomas Rodd in London, 1830.  It may be found complete at Google books.

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