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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen.: The Wooden Tripod and the Succession of the Emperor, through a Knowledge of its Letters. Destruction of the Philosophers; Astronomy.

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Chapter XXXV.—The Wooden Tripod and the Succession of the Emperor, through a Knowledge of its Letters. Destruction of the Philosophers; Astronomy.

Such is the information which I have been enabled to collect concerning the ecclesiastical philosophers of that time. As to the pagans, they were nearly all exterminated about the period to which we have been referring. 1506 Some among them, who were reputed to excel in philosophy, and who viewed with extreme displeasure the progress of the Christian religion, were devising who would be the successor of Valens on the throne of the Roman Empire, and resorted to every variety of mantic art for the purpose of attaining this insight into futurity. After various incantations, they constructed a tripod of laurel wood, and they wound up with the invocations and words to which they are accustomed; so that the name of the emperor might be shown by the collection of letters which were indicated, letter by letter, through the machinery of the tripod and the prophecy. They were gaping with open mouth for Theodore, a man who held a distinguished military appointment in the palace. He was a pagan and a learned man. The disposition of the letters, coming as far as the delta of his name, deceived the philosophers. They hence expected that Theodore would very soon be the emperor. When their undertaking was informed upon, Valens was as unbearably incensed, as if a conspiracy had been formed against his safety. p. 372 Therefore all were arrested; Theodore and the constructors of the tripod were commanded to be put to death, some with fire, others with the sword. Likewise for the same reason the most brilliant philosophers of the empire were slain; since the wrath of the emperor was unchecked, the death penalty advanced even to those who were not philosophers, but who wore garments similar to theirs; hence those who applied themselves to other pursuits would not clothe themselves with the crocotium or tribonium, on account of the suspicion and fear of danger, so that they might not seem to be pursuing magic and sorcery. I do not in the least think that the emperor will be more blamed by right-thinking people for such wrath and cruelty than the philosophers, for their rashness and their unphilosophical undertaking. The emperor, absurdly supposing that he could put his successor to death, spared neither those who had prophesied nor the subject of their prophecy, as they say he did not spare those who bore the same name of Theodore,—and some were men of distinction,—whether they were precisely the same or similar in beginning with θ and ending with δ. The philosophers, on the other hand, acted as if the deposition and restoration of emperors had depended solely on them; for if the imperial succession was to be considered dependent on the arrangement of the stars, what was requisite but to await the accession of the future emperor, whoever he might be? or if the succession was regarded as dependent on the will of God, what right had man to meddle? For it is not the function of human foreknowledge or zeal to understand God’s thought; nor if it were right, would it be well for men, even if they be the wisest of all, to think that they can plan better than God. If it were merely from rash curiosity to discern the things of futurity that they showed such lack of judgment as to be ready to be caught in danger, and to despise the laws anciently established among the Romans, and at a time when it was not dangerous to conduct pagan worship and to sacrifice; in this they thought differently from Socrates; for when unjustly condemned to drink poison, he refused to save himself by violating the laws in which he had been born and educated, nor would he escape from prison, although it was in his power to do so.



Philost. ix. 15; Eunap. Fragm. ii. 32, 33; Am. Marcel. xxix. 1. 29–44; Zos. iv. 13; Soc. iv. 19.

Next: Expedition against the Sarmatians; Death of Valentinian in Rome; Valentinian the Younger proclaimed; Persecution of the Priests; Oration of the Philosopher Themistius, on account of which Valens was disposed to treat those who differed from him more Humanely.

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