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The Final Pagan Generation Transformation of the Classical Heritage

Free download The Final Pagan Generation Transformation of the Classical Heritage

The Final Pagan Generation recounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity Edward J Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century’s dramatic religious and political changes when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and tem. This is similar to recent books I've read on the Reformation which showed that the situation on the ground was complicated than we're Catholic; now we're Protestant Watts' aim is to show that this final generation lived in a world that though there might be seemingly anti pagan laws mostly went on as usual Watts feels that many laws were put forward as a way of showing the anti Pagan or anti Christian beliefs of the law giver but were not really meant to be enforced in fact were often unenforceable Pagans and Christians were family were friends worked together The book could be a bit dry at times and I confess to getting lost between the handful of lives he covered but the book was short much shorter than apparent since the actual text took up only 52% of the book ah the pleasures of digital reading

Free download ¶ PDF, DOC, TXT, eBook or Kindle ePUB free é Edward J. Watts

The final pagan generation born to the old ways and the old world in which it seemed to everyone that religious practices would continue as they had for the past two thousand years proved both unable to anticipate the changes that imperially sponsored Christianity produced and unwilling to resist them A compelling and provocative read suitable for the general reader as well as students and scholars of the ancient worl. The Final Pagan Generation takes a close look at Rome's 4th century transformation from a world where elite Romans both pagan and Christianbelieved that the pagan public religious order of the past few millennia would continue indefinitely into a Roman world dominated by a Christian majority 6 This story is very much an elite tale as Watts explores this failure of imagination among four Roman elites who left abundant epistolary evidence about their evolving views throughout the 4th century yet died falsely believing that the religious order of the past would continue as it always hadBy focusing on these four elites personal stories Watts is able to tell a chronological tale that begins in the 310s and ends in the 390s The book is full of biographical detail and where information is scant about his main characters Watts is able to zoom out and describe the Roman experience during the 4th century generally He covers birth and early childhood the education system elite social networks family dynamics economic changes in the monetary system the mostly non meritocratic imperial system and dynastic struggles both pre and post Constantine Such broad range gives you a feel for life in the 4th century that made the book intriguing and about far than just the evolution of religious policy However Watt's main focus is describing how a slate of Christian emperors beginning with Constantine started to chip away at state support of pagan religion and how this final pagan generation responded In short they didn't do a whole lot in response Watt's basic argument is that in the relatively stable imperial system of the 4th century their was abundant incentive to go along with the gradual erosion of state support for pagan religion Most members of this generation pursued their personal and professional interests and advocated for those of their friends much freuently and with much greater vigor than they fought for their God or gods 7 The final pagan generation's complacency was largely due to how gradual and non threatening the changes in state policy seemed Despite the histrionics many anti Christian writers use in describing iconoclastic Christian attacks on pagan religion harshly written anti pagan laws were rarely enforced and were mostly symbolic Watts describes how Constantine passed laws to remove pagan statues destroy temples and ban sacrifices but explains that these were statements of legal principlethey were deliberately left without enforcement mechanismswhile Constantine opposed much of traditional worship on principle he apparently did nothing to deter its practice than to suggest that he found it distasteful 43 Constantine's laws were off putting to the final pagan generation no doubt but these privileged men had too much to lose and little sense that resistance was necessary Even after Constantine's son and successor Constantius imposed harsher laws against pagan religion in 356 the gods remained present everywhere in forms that could be seen heard smelled and touched in every city across the empire Constantius' policies may have been disagreeable but they hardly seemed to be a pressing or universal threat 89 For the final pagan generation it made much sense to swallow one's discomfort with a set of largely symbolic policies and work with the emperor and his administration 102Even as the final pagan generation aged and a new and increasingly influential generation of zealous Christian bishops and ascetics emerged these men continued to work within the imperial system to protect their traditional religions Watts outlines several efforts of the pagan official Libanius to halt anti pagan violence that worked in the early 390s As ground level Christian violence periodically flared up against traditional religion Libanius effectively petitioned the emperor for relief Watts explains that Libanius certainly noticed the new direction in which imperial policy had moved in 391 and 392But he also lived in an empire that still had hundreds of thousands of open temples a city that had tens of thousands of images of the gods publicly displayed and at a time when the streets regularly filled with processions and festivals honoring the traditional gods Traditional religion remained very much alive throughout the empire Once can then understand why Libanius's concern about having law restricting traditional religion was only one among may things that demanded his attention in his last year 209 It's striking how little had changed in Libanius' long public career with regard to traditional religion Many emperors had instituted harsh sounding anti pagan laws and despite an uptick in sporadic violence led by Christians the overall pagan world seemed uite healthy Libanius and his final generation of pagans would be shocked to read histories of the 4th century as the period when Christianity eclipsed paganism 220 For these men it was a time of opulence career success and friendship with emperors that occurred in cities absolutely teeming with pagan religious practice The final pagan generation was ultimately too old to experience the steady tightening of restrictions on traditional religious practice in the early fifth century All of them died too soon to appreciate that these fifth century policies grew out of fourth century trends 6 7 Trends they did so little to curbWatt's book has several important takeaways for those who are concerned with the current standing of our own age's traditional religion Christianity For one revolutionary ages are not always visible to those living through them While initial glances make it seem like the final pagan generation was asleep at the wheel what really occurred was an extremely gradual change that was only implemented slowly and at first symbolically The final pagan generation lived and moved in a world that still felt profoundly pagan even as laws and the growth of a new Christian generation was sowing the seeds for its downfall A man like Libanius could live a full extremely successful life as a pagan politician and go to his death bed oblivious to how uickly religious changes would unfold in the near future Watts describes his book as in a sense the history of the people who spent the fourth century doing the euivalent of going to work washing their cars and mowing the lawn while their children participated in the unfolding of a revolutionary age 9 The fact that the time leading up to a momentous change can be totally invisible to so many including the smartest and best educated should be humbling for those of us trying to make predictions on the future Most Christians today seem to sense that society is turning away from traditional religious institutions but Christianity remains very powerful Perhaps like 4th century paganism 21st Christianity is even vulnerable than most realize Courts and political decisions that go against traditional Christian beliefs may be largely symbolic today in a country where a majority at least claim Christian belief but this detente may not hold foreverSecondly this book shows how key generational dynamics are in fueling social change Watts describes how the final pagan generation was fading out and the empire was steadily passing into the hands of a younger generation that had less faith in and ties to the social and political regime of their parents 189 Sound familiar A brief look at pew statistics on any socially conservative belief will show how applicable this dynamic is in 21st century America Church attendance will also show this trend in stark relief If a generation fails to transmit it's faith in and ties to an institution then that institution can shrink shockingly fast Christians should take notOverall this book made me somewhat sympathetic to the alarmist warnings about a post Christian West that you hear from the likes of Rod Dreher it's not coincidence that I learned about this book from his blog A traditional religion can seem safe and secure right up until it is not Social movements are dynamic unexpected and extremely sudden but if you study a period like the 4th century you can see parallels to American society today The old regime of American Christianity still has a lot of accrued power and capital from its historical prominence but both legally and generationally it is vulnerable Elites increasingly dismiss traditional religous beliefs as incomprehendible nonsense in an age of science and legal protections for beliefs based on traditional faith are increasingly undermined The up and coming generation is far socially liberal and disengaged from institutional religion than any other cohort in American history America could very well be in the process of a radical religious transformation analogous to the Roman world of the 4th century Those living through it just don't noticeThat said is their a good counter argument to Dreher's take away What about current American culture differs from the 4th century Roman empire I can think of a few salient differences1 Christianity as an opponent to traditional Roman paganism was likely organized than the rising religious nones that are so often remarked upon as a threat to Christianity today Watts describes the rise of the church as a powerful institution that managed to lure in many disaffected elites by offering them participation in a new status hierarchy Likewise the ascetic Christian youth culture that formed super tight communities of the faithful and supported them in their rebellion agains the imperial system sounds very much like the Benedict Option that Dreher advocates 164 Do we have good indications that the religiously disaffected have found any kind of alternative institution that would be a secure base for their efforts to replace or oppose Christianity in a sustained way Sure church attendance may drop and skepticism may rise and wane but could this just be the natural order or things and Christianity's staying power will remain as it has for 2000 years While much debated by historians the low level of piety in the past among the common folk is often uite shocking Many people in the middle ages for example were only loosely tied to any kind of sustained Christian practice2 Christianity in the 4th century had a big advantage over paganism because it was an exclusive and missionary faith unlike paganism Christians viewed paganism as idolatry and increasingly wanted to remove it from the public sphere and choke off paganism's state funding Watts describes how Ambrose intervened to have the Altar of Victory removed from the Roman curia Ambrose did this because paganism was a threat and an affront and had to be resisted and removed by a Christian emperor It's hard to imagine a pagan emperor having the same mindset Paganism worshiped a panoply of god's and was not exclusive in the sense that Christianity was While paganism was not always tolerant see it's sporadic persecution of Christianity the final pagan generation generally shared neither their juniors' interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their tendency toward violent religious confrontation 4 Bart Ehrman in his book The Triumph of Christianity uotes the Roman statesmen Themistius one of the pagans profile by Watts as arguing Thus you realize that while there exists only one Judge mighty and true there is not one road leading to him 272 Themistius sounds like a 21st century pluralist and pleads for toleration of the pagan gods alongside the Christian one For Christians there was just one road to God and accepting him meant rejecting the pagan gods Ehrman writes For most of those who came to this belief Christianity it meant abandoning the worship of other gods As we have begun to see this made converting to the Christian faith different from anything else in the pagan worldit is this difference I will be arguing that ultimately mattered for the Christian mission 114 Ehrman also writes how the Christianity had a uniue advantage because it actively sought converts In fact we don't know of any missionary religions in the ancient world 116 Alternatives to Christianity today may be missionary at times and some of them are exclusive in some respects but they are facing and exclusive and missionary belief system itself in Christianity Paganism was especially vulnerable to a belief system that was both compelling and exclusive Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity lists the myriad reasons Christianity was appealing and Ehrman documents its exclusivity Watts also shows how the final pagan generation didn't understand the impacts of Christian exclusivity in depth Modern ideologies lack this advantage 3 Birth rates Sociology continues to find again and again that those with traditional religious belief out reproduce secular folks see the secular stagnation thesis Rodney Stark in the The Rise of Christianity makes a strong case that this sociological phenomenon held true in the Roman empire as well 116 Society may be trending to be post Christian but higher birth rates among the faithful could lessen this trend or even reverse it over time Sociologist Eric Kaufmann spoke of this connection between religious belief and fertility in his conversation with Tyler Cowen If you look worldwide next to women’s education religiosity is the next strongest predictor of total fertility rate There’s almost no country in the world where committed religious women have a below replacement fertility The difference in Western developed countries — the religiosity actually matters than women’s education So I don’t see that factor going away I think it’s going to be a key factor driving fertility differences going forward Christianity's opponents will certainly not out reproduce themNow just because modern Christianity doesn't share all of paganism's vulnerabilities does not negate that there are new modern challenges that it has to confront Being seen on the wrong side of social liberalism with regard to gender and sexuality massive increases in economic affluence and comfort new scientific challenges the rise of textual criticism and other issues confront Christianity with a whole host of new challenges in this crucial moment There are not necessarily lessons to be learned from the final pagan generation in these new arenas The future is of course as always far from clear W cieniu prawa / Czarna Madonna / Świt, który nie nadejdzie very much an elite tale as Watts explores this failure of imagination among four Roman elites who left abundant epistolary evidence about their evolving Ajax the Warrior views throughout the 4th century yet died falsely believing that the religious order of the past would continue as it always hadBy focusing on these four elites personal stories Watts is able to tell a chronological tale that begins in the 310s and ends in the 390s The book is full of biographical detail and where information is scant about his main characters Watts is able to zoom out and describe the Roman experience during the 4th century generally He covers birth and early childhood the education system elite social networks family dynamics economic changes in the monetary system the mostly non meritocratic imperial system and dynastic struggles both pre and post Constantine Such broad range gives you a feel for life in the 4th century that made the book intriguing and about far than just the evolution of religious policy However Watt's main focus is describing how a slate of Christian emperors beginning with Constantine started to chip away at state support of pagan religion and how this final pagan generation responded In short they didn't do a whole lot in response Watt's basic argument is that in the relatively stable imperial system of the 4th century their was abundant incentive to go along with the gradual erosion of state support for pagan religion Most members of this generation pursued their personal and professional interests and advocated for those of their friends much freuently and with much greater Becoming Victoria vigor than they fought for their God or gods 7 The final pagan generation's complacency was largely due to how gradual and non threatening the changes in state policy seemed Despite the histrionics many anti Christian writers use in describing iconoclastic Christian attacks on pagan religion harshly written anti pagan laws were rarely enforced and were mostly symbolic Watts describes how Constantine passed laws to remove pagan statues destroy temples and ban sacrifices but explains that these were statements of legal principlethey were deliberately left without enforcement mechanismswhile Constantine opposed much of traditional worship on principle he apparently did nothing to deter its practice than to suggest that he found it distasteful 43 Constantine's laws were off putting to the final pagan generation no doubt but these privileged men had too much to lose and little sense that resistance was necessary Even after Constantine's son and successor Constantius imposed harsher laws against pagan religion in 356 the gods remained present everywhere in forms that could be seen heard smelled and touched in every city across the empire Constantius' policies may have been disagreeable but they hardly seemed to be a pressing or universal threat 89 For the final pagan generation it made much sense to swallow one's discomfort with a set of largely symbolic policies and work with the emperor and his administration 102Even as the final pagan generation aged and a new and increasingly influential generation of zealous Christian bishops and ascetics emerged these men continued to work within the imperial system to protect their traditional religions Watts outlines several efforts of the pagan official Libanius to halt anti pagan The Picture of Dorian Gray violence that worked in the early 390s As ground level Christian Karatay Diyetiyle Beslenme Tuzaklarından Kurtuluş Rehberi violence periodically flared up against traditional religion Libanius effectively petitioned the emperor for relief Watts explains that Libanius certainly noticed the new direction in which imperial policy had moved in 391 and 392But he also lived in an empire that still had hundreds of thousands of open temples a city that had tens of thousands of images of the gods publicly displayed and at a time when the streets regularly filled with processions and festivals honoring the traditional gods Traditional religion remained Afterlife very much alive throughout the empire Once can then understand why Libanius's concern about having law restricting traditional religion was only one among may things that demanded his attention in his last year 209 It's striking how little had changed in Libanius' long public career with regard to traditional religion Many emperors had instituted harsh sounding anti pagan laws and despite an uptick in sporadic Estructura Economica Mundial (Spanish Edition) violence led by Christians the overall pagan world seemed uite healthy Libanius and his final generation of pagans would be shocked to read histories of the 4th century as the period when Christianity eclipsed paganism 220 For these men it was a time of opulence career success and friendship with emperors that occurred in cities absolutely teeming with pagan religious practice The final pagan generation was ultimately too old to experience the steady tightening of restrictions on traditional religious practice in the early fifth century All of them died too soon to appreciate that these fifth century policies grew out of fourth century trends 6 7 Trends they did so little to curbWatt's book has several important takeaways for those who are concerned with the current standing of our own age's traditional religion Christianity For one revolutionary ages are not always ほんと野獣 7 [Honto Yajuu 7] visible to those living through them While initial glances make it seem like the final pagan generation was asleep at the wheel what really occurred was an extremely gradual change that was only implemented slowly and at first symbolically The final pagan generation lived and moved in a world that still felt profoundly pagan even as laws and the growth of a new Christian generation was sowing the seeds for its downfall A man like Libanius could live a full extremely successful life as a pagan politician and go to his death bed oblivious to how uickly religious changes would unfold in the near future Watts describes his book as in a sense the history of the people who spent the fourth century doing the euivalent of going to work washing their cars and mowing the lawn while their children participated in the unfolding of a revolutionary age 9 The fact that the time leading up to a momentous change can be totally invisible to so many including the smartest and best educated should be humbling for those of us trying to make predictions on the future Most Christians today seem to sense that society is turning away from traditional religious institutions but Christianity remains Chopin: Mazurkas for the Piano, Complete, Alfred Masterwork Edition, Practical Performing Edition very powerful Perhaps like 4th century paganism 21st Christianity is even Scalped, Vol. 6: The Gnawing vulnerable than most realize Courts and political decisions that go against traditional Christian beliefs may be largely symbolic today in a country where a majority at least claim Christian belief but this detente may not hold foreverSecondly this book shows how key generational dynamics are in fueling social change Watts describes how the final pagan generation was fading out and the empire was steadily passing into the hands of a younger generation that had less faith in and ties to the social and political regime of their parents 189 Sound familiar A brief look at pew statistics on any socially conservative belief will show how applicable this dynamic is in 21st century America Church attendance will also show this trend in stark relief If a generation fails to transmit it's faith in and ties to an institution then that institution can shrink shockingly fast Christians should take notOverall this book made me somewhat sympathetic to the alarmist warnings about a post Christian West that you hear from the likes of Rod Dreher it's not coincidence that I learned about this book from his blog A traditional religion can seem safe and secure right up until it is not Social movements are dynamic unexpected and extremely sudden but if you study a period like the 4th century you can see parallels to American society today The old regime of American Christianity still has a lot of accrued power and capital from its historical prominence but both legally and generationally it is Abuse of Power - Revenge of the Karinovs vulnerable Elites increasingly dismiss traditional religous beliefs as incomprehendible nonsense in an age of science and legal protections for beliefs based on traditional faith are increasingly undermined The up and coming generation is far socially liberal and disengaged from institutional religion than any other cohort in American history America could CLANS AND CHIEFS - Celtic Tribalism in Scotland very well be in the process of a radical religious transformation analogous to the Roman world of the 4th century Those living through it just don't noticeThat said is their a good counter argument to Dreher's take away What about current American culture differs from the 4th century Roman empire I can think of a few salient differences1 Christianity as an opponent to traditional Roman paganism was likely organized than the rising religious nones that are so often remarked upon as a threat to Christianity today Watts describes the rise of the church as a powerful institution that managed to lure in many disaffected elites by offering them participation in a new status hierarchy Likewise the ascetic Christian youth culture that formed super tight communities of the faithful and supported them in their rebellion agains the imperial system sounds Strapdown Inertial Navigation Technology, 2nd Edition (IEE Radar, Sonar, Navigation and Avionics Series) very much like the Benedict Option that Dreher advocates 164 Do we have good indications that the religiously disaffected have found any kind of alternative institution that would be a secure base for their efforts to replace or oppose Christianity in a sustained way Sure church attendance may drop and skepticism may rise and wane but could this just be the natural order or things and Christianity's staying power will remain as it has for 2000 years While much debated by historians the low level of piety in the past among the common folk is often uite shocking Many people in the middle ages for example were only loosely tied to any kind of sustained Christian practice2 Christianity in the 4th century had a big advantage over paganism because it was an exclusive and missionary faith unlike paganism Christians The Basics of Public Budgeting and Financial Management: A Handbook for Academics and Practitioners viewed paganism as idolatry and increasingly wanted to remove it from the public sphere and choke off paganism's state funding Watts describes how Ambrose intervened to have the Altar of Victory removed from the Roman curia Ambrose did this because paganism was a threat and an affront and had to be resisted and removed by a Christian emperor It's hard to imagine a pagan emperor having the same mindset Paganism worshiped a panoply of god's and was not exclusive in the sense that Christianity was While paganism was not always tolerant see it's sporadic persecution of Christianity the final pagan generation generally shared neither their juniors' interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their tendency toward FSOT Study Guide Review: Test Prep & Practice Test Questions for the Written Exam & Oral Assessment on the Foreign Service Officer Test (English Edition) violent religious confrontation 4 Bart Ehrman in his book The Triumph of Christianity uotes the Roman statesmen Themistius one of the pagans profile by Watts as arguing Thus you realize that while there exists only one Judge mighty and true there is not one road leading to him 272 Themistius sounds like a 21st century pluralist and pleads for toleration of the pagan gods alongside the Christian one For Christians there was just one road to God and accepting him meant rejecting the pagan gods Ehrman writes For most of those who came to this belief Christianity it meant abandoning the worship of other gods As we have begun to see this made converting to the Christian faith different from anything else in the pagan worldit is this difference I will be arguing that ultimately mattered for the Christian mission 114 Ehrman also writes how the Christianity had a uniue advantage because it actively sought converts In fact we don't know of any missionary religions in the ancient world 116 Alternatives to Christianity today may be missionary at times and some of them are exclusive in some respects but they are facing and exclusive and missionary belief system itself in Christianity Paganism was especially Sutters Glück vulnerable to a belief system that was both compelling and exclusive Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity lists the myriad reasons Christianity was appealing and Ehrman documents its exclusivity Watts also shows how the final pagan generation didn't understand the impacts of Christian exclusivity in depth Modern ideologies lack this advantage 3 Birth rates Sociology continues to find again and again that those with traditional religious belief out reproduce secular folks see the secular stagnation thesis Rodney Stark in the The Rise of Christianity makes a strong case that this sociological phenomenon held true in the Roman empire as well 116 Society may be trending to be post Christian but higher birth rates among the faithful could lessen this trend or even reverse it over time Sociologist Eric Kaufmann spoke of this connection between religious belief and fertility in his conversation with Tyler Cowen If you look worldwide next to women’s education religiosity is the next strongest predictor of total fertility rate There’s almost no country in the world where committed religious women have a below replacement fertility The difference in Western developed countries — the religiosity actually matters than women’s education So I don’t see that factor going away I think it’s going to be a key factor driving fertility differences going forward Christianity's opponents will certainly not out reproduce themNow just because modern Christianity doesn't share all of paganism's Néa: roman vulnerabilities does not negate that there are new modern challenges that it has to confront Being seen on the wrong side of social liberalism with regard to gender and sexuality massive increases in economic affluence and comfort new scientific challenges the rise of textual criticism and other issues confront Christianity with a whole host of new challenges in this crucial moment There are not necessarily lessons to be learned from the final pagan generation in these new arenas The future is of course as always far from clear

Edward J. Watts é 2 Characters

Ples The emperors who issued these laws the imperial officials charged with implementing them and the Christian perpetrators of religious violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation who shared neither their juniors’ interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for violent conflict Watts examines why. The Final Pagan Generation covers the 310s – 390s CE It looks at four elites of the Roman social world — Libanius Themistius Praetextatus and Ausonius Three were traditional religionists and one was Christian Watts follows this cohort’s lives to answer the uestions of how the radical social political and religious transformations would have been perceived by people living through them I valued The Final Pagan Generation most for how it took a complex and fast moving century and broke it out into pieces that were easy to digest while not sacrificing the period’s complexities As a non historian I can’t really speak to the narrative’s historical approach It was coherent well researched and engaging I think it’s a useful read for anyone in modern polytheisms centered around Mediterranean pantheons for thinking about modern conversions and religious intimidation worldwide or for anyone interested in this historical periodComparing the anxieties of growing up Neopagan and not being treated like a serious intellectual to an environment where texts written by and about polytheism and its philosophical schools were the core educational material is an important mental exercise I engaged in while reading the book I'm a Hellenic polytheist so it does have a lot of relevancy to that Men on the Edge violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation who shared neither their juniors’ interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for Nikhil violent conflict Watts examines why. The Final Pagan Generation covers the 310s – 390s CE It looks at four elites of the Roman social world — Libanius Themistius Praetextatus and Ausonius Three were traditional religionists and one was Christian Watts follows this cohort’s lives to answer the uestions of how the radical social political and religious transformations would have been perceived by people living through them I Visual Communication: Images with Messages 7th Edition valued The Final Pagan Generation most for how it took a complex and fast moving century and broke it out into pieces that were easy to digest while not sacrificing the period’s complexities As a non historian I can’t really speak to the narrative’s historical approach It was coherent well researched and engaging I think it’s a useful read for anyone in modern polytheisms centered around Mediterranean pantheons for thinking about modern conversions and religious intimidation worldwide or for anyone interested in this historical periodComparing the anxieties of growing up Neopagan and not being treated like a serious intellectual to an environment where texts written by and about polytheism and its philosophical schools were the core educational material is an important mental exercise I engaged in while reading the book I'm a Hellenic polytheist so it does have a lot of relevancy to that


10 thoughts on “The Final Pagan Generation Transformation of the Classical Heritage

  1. says:

    Watts surveys the transition from traditional religion to Christianity in the fourth century by following the careers of four influential members of the final pagan generation Praetextatus Libanius Ausonius and Themistius These men born in the 310s were participants at various times and in various ways in the imperial governmental system as it was in transition to becoming a Christian dominated bureaucracy He contrasts the lives and careers of these men who worked within the system to those of younger men born in the 330s such as Chrysostom Basil and Paulinus who dropped out in the 360s and 370s and became part of a Christian counterculture The techniue functions well to give a sense of how gradual and yet dramatic were the changes confronting the final pagan generation as they moved through the stages of education employment and retirement At the same time these men so far removed from us in time and culture dealt with all of the human concerns with which we deal today advancing their careers raising families caring for aging parents administering family lands mourning the deaths of family members and friends and finding meaning in retirement That they engaged in these common human activities while the worldview of those around them was changing in ways they could not have imagined in their youth gives us a real sense of what the swerve the Roman Empire took between the reigns of Constantine and Theodosius meant for the professional classes Extensive notes accompany this fine contribution to our understanding of the end of traditional religion and the rise of Christianity in late antiuity


  2. says:

    This is similar to recent books I've read on the Reformation which showed that the situation on the ground was complicated than we're Catholic; now we're Protestant Watts' aim is to show that this final generation lived in a world that though there might be seemingly anti pagan laws mostly went on as usual Watts feels that many laws were put forward as a way of showing the anti Pagan or anti Christian beliefs of the law giver but were not really meant to be enforced in fact were often unenforceable Pagans and Christians were family were friends worked together The book could be a bit dry at times and I confess to getting lost between the handful of lives he covered but the book was short much shorter than apparent since the actual text took up only 52% of the book ah the pleasures of digital reading


  3. says:

    The book analogizes the cultural transformation and generation gap of the 1960s and 70s and uses it to describe the Christian transformation of 360s and 70s which extirpated the old pagan ways and the younger generation rejected the religion of their elders and the kids took on this kooky new religion of Christianity While one is always tempted to take analogies of Rome you should always be careful with taking them too far Rome of 360s and 370s has similarities to 1960s and 70s America if you suint Mature superpower a break with the old traditions for a new outlook but the declining Roman empire wasn't Age of Auarius America But it is an interesting analogy


  4. says:

    Generation Gap in 4th century Rome with the Establishment in this case being the old pagan elite The author compares the younger generation of Christian leaders who rebelled against them to hippies In fact they closely resembled Bolsheviks Their aims certainly were totalitarian Everyone had to be Christian and Christianity had to rule every aspect of life That's ironic of course since Bolsheviks were officially atheist But the important distinction here isn't between Godno God; it's between allowing diverse views versus uashing themThe old elite didn't recognize the threat to their traditions because they couldn't imagine a world in which the ancient gods would disappear Even after the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity around 312 CE traditional religion remained dominant Some elites did begin to convert to Christianity often to court imperial favor But the majority of the Empire's upper class remained pagan And paganism was pluralistic with hundreds of gods The monotheistic absolutism of Christian leaders was something the old pagan elites could not understand After Constantine converted he began directing funds away from traditional religions toward Christian churches Within a few decades the resources of the church had grown substantially This burgeoning wealth attracted the attention of some Christian elites who began to realize that it could allow the church to create its own separate power base outside of imperial control One of the earliest Christian elites to recognize this was Ambrose a former Roman governor who became bishop of Milan in 374 Ambrose was a savvy political operator who understood how to manage large properties and schmooze with the imperial court As such he became far powerful than the less socially connected bishops who had dominated the church up to that point Ambrose also typified the extreme positions that Christian leaders were beginning to take toward non Christians He argued that merely allowing the continued existence of pagan religious practices amounted to persecution of Christians and he even demanded a church veto over imperial policies he didn't get itInterestingly like later Communists early Christian leaders spent as much time purging heresy from their own ranks as they did persecuting those outside their party Jews and pagans Ambrose gained episcopal power in large part because of a conflict between Nicene Christians and Arians who followed another then widespread variant of Christianity Once he became bishop Ambrose worked industriously to suppress Arians and other non Nicene Christians along with anyone else who didn't buy his religious brand Christian leaders of the late Roman Empire didn't have the technological reach of 20th century authoritarians of course So it took them a long time to smother dissent and establish themselves as the only acceptable religion But the outlines of their eventual takeover were already becoming visible by the end of the 4th century


  5. says:

    The Final Pagan Generation covers the 310s – 390s CE It looks at four elites of the Roman social world — Libanius Themistius Praetextatus and Ausonius Three were traditional religionists and one was Christian Watts follows this cohort’s lives to answer the uestions of how the radical social political and religious transformations would have been perceived by people living through them I valued The Final Pagan Generation most for how it took a complex and fast moving century and broke it out into pieces that were easy to digest while not sacrificing the period’s complexities As a non historian I can’t really speak to the narrative’s historical approach It was coherent well researched and engaging I think it’s a useful read for anyone in modern polytheisms centered around Mediterranean pantheons for thinking about modern conversions and religious intimidation worldwide or for anyone interested in this historical periodComparing the anxieties of growing up Neopagan and not being treated like a serious intellectual to an environment where texts written by and about polytheism and its philosophical schools were the core educational material is an important mental exercise I engaged in while reading the book I'm a Hellenic polytheist so it does have a lot of relevancy to that


  6. says:

    Brilliant example of how to write a biography of multiple people and a period and get everything right I loved this book It focuses on a generation and a transition and it does it very well in depth close up well presented and well written


  7. says:

    Watts spends a great deal of time on the role of networking and social positioning for the generation that chose a traditional path in the imperial Roman world of the 300s More interesting was his presentation of how the political environment allowed those outside of this structure those of the new sect called Christian taking the roles of bishops and ascetics to gain power and influence I appreciated this window into an important turn of history and the author’s knowledge of the period The notes section which is comprehensive contributes to the work In fact many of the notes should have been incorporated into the body of the book itself For example defining the term “pagan” and pointing out that no non Christian Roman of the period would have considered themselves part of an defined religious sect adds incite to the period


  8. says:

    The Final Pagan Generation takes a close look at Rome's 4th century transformation from a world where elite Romans both pagan and Christianbelieved that the pagan public religious order of the past few millennia would continue indefinitely into a Roman world dominated by a Christian majority 6 This story is very much an elite tale as Watts explores this failure of imagination among four Roman elites who left abundant epistolary evidence about their evolving views throughout the 4th century yet died falsely believing that the religious order of the past would continue as it always hadBy focusing on these four elites personal stories Watts is able to tell a chronological tale that begins in the 310s and ends in the 390s The book is full of biographical detail and where information is scant about his main characters Watts is able to zoom out and describe the Roman experience during the 4th century generally He covers birth and early childhood the education system elite social networks family dynamics economic changes in the monetary system the mostly non meritocratic imperial system and dynastic struggles both pre and post Constantine Such broad range gives you a feel for life in the 4th century that made the book intriguing and about far than just the evolution of religious policy However Watt's main focus is describing how a slate of Christian emperors beginning with Constantine started to chip away at state support of pagan religion and how this final pagan generation responded In short they didn't do a whole lot in response Watt's basic argument is that in the relatively stable imperial system of the 4th century their was abundant incentive to go along with the gradual erosion of state support for pagan religion Most members of this generation pursued their personal and professional interests and advocated for those of their friends much freuently and with much greater vigor than they fought for their God or gods 7 The final pagan generation's complacency was largely due to how gradual and non threatening the changes in state policy seemed Despite the histrionics many anti Christian writers use in describing iconoclastic Christian attacks on pagan religion harshly written anti pagan laws were rarely enforced and were mostly symbolic Watts describes how Constantine passed laws to remove pagan statues destroy temples and ban sacrifices but explains that these were statements of legal principlethey were deliberately left without enforcement mechanismswhile Constantine opposed much of traditional worship on principle he apparently did nothing to deter its practice than to suggest that he found it distasteful 43 Constantine's laws were off putting to the final pagan generation no doubt but these privileged men had too much to lose and little sense that resistance was necessary Even after Constantine's son and successor Constantius imposed harsher laws against pagan religion in 356 the gods remained present everywhere in forms that could be seen heard smelled and touched in every city across the empire Constantius' policies may have been disagreeable but they hardly seemed to be a pressing or universal threat 89 For the final pagan generation it made much sense to swallow one's discomfort with a set of largely symbolic policies and work with the emperor and his administration 102Even as the final pagan generation aged and a new and increasingly influential generation of zealous Christian bishops and ascetics emerged these men continued to work within the imperial system to protect their traditional religions Watts outlines several efforts of the pagan official Libanius to halt anti pagan violence that worked in the early 390s As ground level Christian violence periodically flared up against traditional religion Libanius effectively petitioned the emperor for relief Watts explains that Libanius certainly noticed the new direction in which imperial policy had moved in 391 and 392But he also lived in an empire that still had hundreds of thousands of open temples a city that had tens of thousands of images of the gods publicly displayed and at a time when the streets regularly filled with processions and festivals honoring the traditional gods Traditional religion remained very much alive throughout the empire Once can then understand why Libanius's concern about having law restricting traditional religion was only one among may things that demanded his attention in his last year 209 It's striking how little had changed in Libanius' long public career with regard to traditional religion Many emperors had instituted harsh sounding anti pagan laws and despite an uptick in sporadic violence led by Christians the overall pagan world seemed uite healthy Libanius and his final generation of pagans would be shocked to read histories of the 4th century as the period when Christianity eclipsed paganism 220 For these men it was a time of opulence career success and friendship with emperors that occurred in cities absolutely teeming with pagan religious practice The final pagan generation was ultimately too old to experience the steady tightening of restrictions on traditional religious practice in the early fifth century All of them died too soon to appreciate that these fifth century policies grew out of fourth century trends 6 7 Trends they did so little to curbWatt's book has several important takeaways for those who are concerned with the current standing of our own age's traditional religion Christianity For one revolutionary ages are not always visible to those living through them While initial glances make it seem like the final pagan generation was asleep at the wheel what really occurred was an extremely gradual change that was only implemented slowly and at first symbolically The final pagan generation lived and moved in a world that still felt profoundly pagan even as laws and the growth of a new Christian generation was sowing the seeds for its downfall A man like Libanius could live a full extremely successful life as a pagan politician and go to his death bed oblivious to how uickly religious changes would unfold in the near future Watts describes his book as in a sense the history of the people who spent the fourth century doing the euivalent of going to work washing their cars and mowing the lawn while their children participated in the unfolding of a revolutionary age 9 The fact that the time leading up to a momentous change can be totally invisible to so many including the smartest and best educated should be humbling for those of us trying to make predictions on the future Most Christians today seem to sense that society is turning away from traditional religious institutions but Christianity remains very powerful Perhaps like 4th century paganism 21st Christianity is even vulnerable than most realize Courts and political decisions that go against traditional Christian beliefs may be largely symbolic today in a country where a majority at least claim Christian belief but this detente may not hold foreverSecondly this book shows how key generational dynamics are in fueling social change Watts describes how the final pagan generation was fading out and the empire was steadily passing into the hands of a younger generation that had less faith in and ties to the social and political regime of their parents 189 Sound familiar? A brief look at pew statistics on any socially conservative belief will show how applicable this dynamic is in 21st century America Church attendance will also show this trend in stark relief If a generation fails to transmit it's faith in and ties to an institution then that institution can shrink shockingly fast Christians should take notOverall this book made me somewhat sympathetic to the alarmist warnings about a post Christian West that you hear from the likes of Rod Dreher it's not coincidence that I learned about this book from his blog A traditional religion can seem safe and secure right up until it is not Social movements are dynamic unexpected and extremely sudden but if you study a period like the 4th century you can see parallels to American society today The old regime of American Christianity still has a lot of accrued power and capital from its historical prominence but both legally and generationally it is vulnerable Elites increasingly dismiss traditional religous beliefs as incomprehendible nonsense in an age of science and legal protections for beliefs based on traditional faith are increasingly undermined The up and coming generation is far socially liberal and disengaged from institutional religion than any other cohort in American history America could very well be in the process of a radical religious transformation analogous to the Roman world of the 4th century Those living through it just don't noticeThat said is their a good counter argument to Dreher's take away? What about current American culture differs from the 4th century Roman empire? I can think of a few salient differences1 Christianity as an opponent to traditional Roman paganism was likely organized than the rising religious nones that are so often remarked upon as a threat to Christianity today Watts describes the rise of the church as a powerful institution that managed to lure in many disaffected elites by offering them participation in a new status hierarchy Likewise the ascetic Christian youth culture that formed super tight communities of the faithful and supported them in their rebellion agains the imperial system sounds very much like the Benedict Option that Dreher advocates 164 Do we have good indications that the religiously disaffected have found any kind of alternative institution that would be a secure base for their efforts to replace or oppose Christianity in a sustained way? Sure church attendance may drop and skepticism may rise and wane but could this just be the natural order or things and Christianity's staying power will remain as it has for 2000 years? While much debated by historians the low level of piety in the past among the common folk is often uite shocking Many people in the middle ages for example were only loosely tied to any kind of sustained Christian practice2 Christianity in the 4th century had a big advantage over paganism because it was an exclusive and missionary faith unlike paganism Christians viewed paganism as idolatry and increasingly wanted to remove it from the public sphere and choke off paganism's state funding Watts describes how Ambrose intervened to have the Altar of Victory removed from the Roman curia Ambrose did this because paganism was a threat and an affront and had to be resisted and removed by a Christian emperor It's hard to imagine a pagan emperor having the same mindset Paganism worshiped a panoply of god's and was not exclusive in the sense that Christianity was While paganism was not always tolerant see it's sporadic persecution of Christianity the final pagan generation generally shared neither their juniors' interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their tendency toward violent religious confrontation 4 Bart Ehrman in his book The Triumph of Christianity uotes the Roman statesmen Themistius one of the pagans profile by Watts as arguing Thus you realize that while there exists only one Judge mighty and true there is not one road leading to him 272 Themistius sounds like a 21st century pluralist and pleads for toleration of the pagan gods alongside the Christian one For Christians there was just one road to God and accepting him meant rejecting the pagan gods Ehrman writes For most of those who came to this belief Christianity it meant abandoning the worship of other gods As we have begun to see this made converting to the Christian faith different from anything else in the pagan worldit is this difference I will be arguing that ultimately mattered for the Christian mission 114 Ehrman also writes how the Christianity had a uniue advantage because it actively sought converts In fact we don't know of any missionary religions in the ancient world 116 Alternatives to Christianity today may be missionary at times and some of them are exclusive in some respects but they are facing and exclusive and missionary belief system itself in Christianity Paganism was especially vulnerable to a belief system that was both compelling and exclusive Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity lists the myriad reasons Christianity was appealing and Ehrman documents its exclusivity Watts also shows how the final pagan generation didn't understand the impacts of Christian exclusivity in depth Modern ideologies lack this advantage 3 Birth rates Sociology continues to find again and again that those with traditional religious belief out reproduce secular folks see the secular stagnation thesis Rodney Stark in the The Rise of Christianity makes a strong case that this sociological phenomenon held true in the Roman empire as well 116 Society may be trending to be post Christian but higher birth rates among the faithful could lessen this trend or even reverse it over time Sociologist Eric Kaufmann spoke of this connection between religious belief and fertility in his conversation with Tyler Cowen If you look worldwide next to women’s education religiosity is the next strongest predictor of total fertility rate There’s almost no country in the world where committed religious women have a below replacement fertility The difference in Western developed countries — the religiosity actually matters than women’s education So I don’t see that factor going away I think it’s going to be a key factor driving fertility differences going forward Christianity's opponents will certainly not out reproduce themNow just because modern Christianity doesn't share all of paganism's vulnerabilities does not negate that there are new modern challenges that it has to confront Being seen on the wrong side of social liberalism with regard to gender and sexuality massive increases in economic affluence and comfort new scientific challenges the rise of textual criticism and other issues confront Christianity with a whole host of new challenges in this crucial moment There are not necessarily lessons to be learned from the final pagan generation in these new arenas The future is of course as always far from clear


  9. says:

    I was really interested in the approach taken by Watts for this book looking at ancient history from a generational point of view something done all the time for recent history but very rarely almost never? for ancient history I thought it worked really well and allowed for a fresh approach I admit the transition from pagan to Christian Rome is far from my area of expertise but I found this very interesting Certain things always hold true the younger generation thinks the older is hidebound and the older thinks the younger is foolish and disrespectful In case you had any doubts about thatThis book focuses uite closely on four important cultural figures a mix of Christians and Pagans like a four part biography Fair enough you can't write about everything But I would have liked a little something a little broader maybe a little broader cultural context though this may be because I wasn't going in with the relevant background Watts does an excellent job though putting you on an intimate level with these men's lives and careers


  10. says:

    I think this book was very good but honestly it was out of my reach above my pay grade way way over my head lacking as I do much knowledge about antiuity or ancient Rome or Greece or Empire So I can't give it a ratingI did learn stuff though especially from a description toward the end as the elders of the last generation of pagans continued to work and opine and think as everything was shifting and changing He describes one of his focal characters as a Polaroid executive during the rise of smartphonesSo in summary please go elsewhere for a competent review I need to go back to the children's section maybe