Incerti in Between


Maijastina Kahlos

Published in La Parola del Passato 59 (2004), p. 5-24.



In their apologetic writings Christian writers structured their surrounding world through binary oppositions such as light and darkness, good and evil, Christians and pagans. However, binary oppositions are by no means a Christian innovation. There have – of course – always existed antitheses between good and bad people, between us and them, us and the others, us and our opponents. One of the most famous binary oppositions is found in Augustine’s De civitate Dei where humanity is divided into two distinct entities, which he calls the city of God (civitas Dei) and the terrestrial city (terrena civitas).[1] These civitates are separated by their differing ethical and religious orientations, two states of spirit; the terrestrial city consists of those who live by human standards, ‘according to man’ (secundum hominem) and the city of god of those who live ‘according to God’ (secundum Deum). The humans divided into these two societies are predestined, the one to reign with god for all eternity, the other to undergo eternal punishment with the Devil.[2] The antithesis between the civitates here is clear and even cosmic, since not only humans but also angels are divided into the good and the evil, the light and the darkness, from the beginning of the world.[3] However, the people of the heavenly city are at present, during the course of time in this world, living intermingled (permixtae) in the midst of the people of the terrestrial city. The two civitates are destined to be separated (separandae) only at the Last Judgment, at the end of the world.[4] Thus, Augustine makes a clear and sharp division but emphasizes the confusion, inseparability and interwovenness of the antithesis in this life. I will return this interwovenness later in this article and discuss it more thoroughly.



This binary opposition elaborated by Augustine illustrates the strong polarizations common in Late Antiquity – between Christians and pagans, or between orthodox Christian and heretics, or between Christians and Jews – in any case between ‘us’ and ‘others’. In their division into pagans and Christians, Christian writers (‘we’) invented the terminology to mark the others (‘they’). Christian writers diminished a vast variety of (non-Christian) individuals by forcing them into collective conceptions such as pagani, gentes, gentiles in the Latin West, ethnikoi, Hellenes in the Greek East.[5] Ever since the term paganus has represented the otherness in a Western culture dominated by Christianity.

Christian apologists – partly for practical reasons and partly for reasons of polemics and propaganda – labelled a vast variety of systems of belief and practice as one recognizable entity, ‘paganism’or ‘pagan’ cults.[6] It was more convenient and practical for Christian writers to group others, their ‘opponents’, ‘adversaries’ (or whatever) together as ‘pagans’ and sharpen the division. This was necessary in order to clarify their own self-identity, their own self-consciousness in order to define what or who ‘we’ are.[7] Consequently, the history of the term ‘pagan’ illustrates the evolving Christian self-consciousness: Christian eagerness to become separate and different from other (non-Christian) people, ‘others’.

The concepts of self and other are interdependent. The example of the concept ‘Christian’ shows how the knowledge of oneself is necessary for understanding the other and vice versa. The other provides a medium through which the self can see and test its limits. One begins to wonder if it will ever be possible to escape from such dichotomies, if ‘we’ will be capable of defining our selves without ‘them’, the otherness. Is binary thinking necessarily negative, hierarchical or oppressive? In the Christian-pagan case, it is more than obvious that one of the two terms governs the other, has the upper hand. The otherness, the pagans were condemned with derogatory terms such as superstition (superstitio) and idolatry (idolatria).

Similarly to Augustine, the Christian apologists Cyprian, Tertullian and Lactance had polarized the difference between Christians and their pagan opponents and persecutors. Tertullian’s De spectaculis is an illustrative example of this Christian exclusivity as he emphasizes that Christians should abstain from the feasts, spectacles and games of the ‘pagan’ environment and that Christians could not have anything in common with pagans: “We cannot recline with them at the table, as they cannot with us. Things in this manner run their course in succession. Now they rejoice, and we are afflicted.”[8]



In a deconstructive reading of texts, dichotomies such as the dichotomies between Christian and pagan, light and darkness, city of god and terrestrial city, will deconstruct themselves, and the (supposed) differences begin to glide and become dissolved. A deconstructive reading continues (up to a certain point) to respect the rules of the text, which it deconstructs, that is, it plays with the concepts of the traditional discourse.[9] The (often hidden) presumptions of the text as well as the manner in which the text contradicts its own presumptions are uncovered und questioned. It is important to call forth the inner inconsistency of the text and to let hierarchical binary oppositions begin to fracture within the text itself.

Within this deconstructive reading, the hierarchical oppositions – in which one of the two terms governs the other, “has the upper hand” – are reversed.  However, this mere subversion is not enough as the example of Emperor Julian shows. He was intent on subverting the hierarchical opposition Christians – pagans. He introduced just another hierarchical opposition pagans – Christians but he could not exceed the horizon of the hierarchical dichotomical structure.

In Julian’s case we can see that the mere subversion of the binary opposition is not enough because it leaves the hierarchical basic structure (e.g. Christians – pagans or pagans – Christians) unchanged. Therefore, it is important to realize that the parts of a binary opposition need each other, in fact, they are one. The one side needs and includes its opposite side. The self cannot be conceptually defined without the other.[10] In a similar way, the concepts of Christian and pagan are interdependent. Christian includes non-Christian (pagan); Christians cannot be defined without a conceptual opposite, non-Christians (pagans). As Christians construed themselves as Christians, they also had to create pagans. Both parts of a binary opposition have been fundamentally contaminated by each other; thus, the Christian is always infected by the ‘pagan’. In a deconstructive reading, a new concept is construed in order to cancel the previous conceptual hierarchy; hence, a resemblance is created.[11]



What is questioned here is the clear demarcation line between pagans and Christians sharpened by Christian apologists and which is still influencing our modern thinking and worldviews particularly behind our backs.

I have developed a new concept incerti in order to illustrate the impossibility of strict dichotomies, that is, the grey area between hard-line polytheism and hard-line Christianity in Late Antiquity. The Latin term incerti is a double entendre and refers to unclassifiable and indefinable individuals in the space between pagans and Christians. First, the term incertus describes the feeling or state of uncertainty on the mental level of late antique individuals. Second, on the scholarly level, it calls categorizing and defining into question as well as draws attention to the violence of classifications.

After having developed this concept incertus, I found – or should I say the same word incertus emerged from a text, in a polemical poem by Pseudo-Paulinus – just describing the feeling of uncertainty or indecisiveness. The author of the Carmen ad Antonium confesses that he was uncertain for a long time and was tossed by many a storm, before he saw the clear light and was saved in the harbour of the holy church:

Haec ego cuncta prius, clarum quam lumen adeptus,
meque diu incertum et tot tempestatibus actum
sancta salutari suscepit eclesia portu
It has often been emphasized in recent late antique studies that there was ‘a wide no-man’s land’ and ample room for uncertainty between explicit pagans and uncompromising Christians.[13] Several scholars have underlined the common late antique culture of ideas, values and conventions[14] that both pagans and Christians shared.[15] It was particularly difficult for intellectuals to draw clear demarcation lines between pagan and Christian because they both recognized the cosmic order based on the supernatural will and mainly articulated in Platonic terminology,[16] as the works of authors such as Synesius of Cyrene, Marius Victorinus and Augustine reveal.[17] Several letters and sermons of church fathers indicate how people in the fourth and fifth centuries made compromises in their everyday life, particularly in family life.[18]



Public festivals, spectacles and various rites of communities also formed a vague and problematic borderland for Christians. It was not self-evident at all in which feasts and ceremonies Christians were allowed to participate, and bishops and church councils had to take a stand and define what was allowed as a proper Christian thing and what was forbidden as idolatry.

One example of an ancient ritual is Augustine’s mother Monica who had revered Christian martyrs according to North African traditions. In Milan she gave up these practices because Bishop Ambrose forbade them as similar to ‘pagan superstition’, quasi parentalia superstitioni gentilium … simillima.[19] Gregory of Nazianzus reports on similar celebrations in honour of Christian saints in some of his epigrams, complaining that his fellow Christians feasted too luxuriously in martyrs’ tombs and even that recently converted pagans celebrated impure banquets in honour of the demons, i.e. persisted in their old funerary customs.[20] The celebration of the ancient ‘pagan’ (i.e. urban) festivals seems to have continued and have remained popular throughout the fourth century because they played an important role in the social life of late antique cities and communities.[21]

Incerti might be described by an irresoluteness or an openness. Not everyone in Late Antiquity regarded it as necessary to choose either Christianity or ‘paganism’. People certainly reacted in a different manner in different circumstances. Some (Christian) people were troubled by such a thing as participating in urban ‘pagan’ festivals, but some of them saw no connection between ‘pagan’ celebrations and the Christian religion.[22] Not everyone considered pagans and Christians as opponents in a bipolarized conflict. For example, Libanius tells us of a ‘pagan’ rhetorician Bemarchius who gave a speech at a dedication ceremony of a Christian church; I dare claim that he did not necessarily regard his oration as being contradictory to his ‘paganism’.[23]

We scholars of Late Antiquity often base our studies on the presumption that historical subjects fit into a model of anachronistic limited rationality (un modèle de rationalité anachronique et limité)[24] where we search for and create coherent narratives of stable personalities without any uncertainty or hesitation. Should not we instead begin to try to understand a late antique individual, not as a single fixed unity, but as a figure seen through a prism and in the process of change. Are we moderners ourselves coherent persons with a plausible story?

Some late antique individuals seem to lead a double life or they can be called half-Christians or luke-warm Christians. I prefer to call them incerti, those who elude the violent classification of the binary opposition pagans – Christians. Another example of an incertus is Pegasius, Bishop of Troia, whom Emperor Julian met in 354 and who turned out to be – as it is often said – a ‘cryptopagan’ or at least a sympathizer of local polytheistic cults.[25] Christians could hold traditional civic priesthoods; for instance, Astius Vindicianus and Astius Mustelus, Christians from North Africa, functioned as flamines perpetui of the traditional Roman religion.[26] It was such a double life that the Christian synod in Elvira in 311 had forbidden, referring to ‘pagan’ priests, flamines, who had been baptized and nonetheless took part in ‘pagan’ rituals.[27]

Several church fathers probably refer to these incerti as they complain of opportunists, especially when they are writing of their own personal ecclesiastical or political opponents.[28] There certainly were opportunists, too (as in all historical eras) who were converted to Christianity only because of economic interests and social prestige and still clung to polytheistic cults; however, in my opinion, remarkably many individuals persisted in both ways of life because they did not see them as contradictory, i.e. these people were simply incerti.



After we have discussed these ‘unbearable’ incerti, the antithesis of civitas Dei and terrena civitas elaborated by Augustine would sound more secure and more comfortable. However, this dichotomy of two bipolarised worlds in the De civitate Dei begins to break down and dissolves. The antithetical civitates are interdependent since each part cannot be understood independently without its counterpart; thus, there is no civitas Dei without terrena civitas.

As shown above, Augustine states in several instances that at present the two civitates are intermingled in a certain manner, in hoc interim saeculo perplexas quodam modo diximus invicemque permixtas.[29] The citizens of the both civitates must live permixtae and perplexae in this world. Thus, the hierarchical pattern of the oppositional turns into a thinking of the lateral.[30] The Augustinian antithesis is irresolute and inseparable in this era, in hoc saeculo, as long as it exists[31] The interwoven opposites will only be separated somewhere on a cosmic eschatological level, at the Last Judgment.[32] Only then will the absolute resolution take place. Therefore, the civitas Dei – in its clarity – is always to come.

The laterality and indeterminacy in Augustine’s text appears particularly when he himself admits that even among the most open enemies of the Christian community there are hidden some predestined citizens of the civitas Dei (in ipsis inimicis latere cives futuros), even though they did not yet know it themselves (si apud apertissimos adversios praedestinati amici latitant, adhuc ignoti etiam sibi).[33] That is, they were incerti. Similarly, there were false Christians within the Church, who “are united with her in participation in the sacraments, but who will not join with her in the eternal destiny of saints. Some of these people are hidden, some are well known, for they do not hesitate to murmur against God, whose sacramental sign they bear, even in the company of his acknowledged enemies.” These people took part in the spectacles in the theatre ‘with them’ (i.e. pagans) as well as in Christian rituals in the church ‘with us’ (i.e. Christians), modo cum illis theatra, modo ecclesias nobiscum replentes.[34] Thus, we also find a play of differences (between pagans and Christians) in Augustine’s text.



There is also an incertus or there are some incerti in the historical background of the composition of the De civitate Dei. In 411-412 – one or two years after the notorious sack of Rome – a learned ‘pagan’ senator Volusianus[35] wrote a letter to Augustine, questioning the Christian dogma of Incarnation.[36]

Volusianus wrote politely that he would voluntarily let Augustine teach him, telling Augustine of a learned discussion among his friends.[37] They had debated various themes, including the Christian doctrine; his friends had wondered at the Incarnation and virginal birth as well as at Christian miracles, whether the pagan miracles were greater than the Christian ones, whether the pagan miracles were authentic. Volusianus expresses the uncertainty, incertitudo in the circle of his friends, citing the words of one of his friends, who was groping in uncertainty and in doubt: “… who can solve the doubts in which I am entangled; who can enlighten my doubting faculties and strengthen them with true or probable systems of belief?” It is possible that Volusianus refers here to himself, and his words may of course be interpreted as hidden irony by which he provoked Augustine to a learned debate.[38]

The dialogue and debate between Augustine and incerti continued when a Christian official Marcellinus,[39] who had followed the discussion reported by Volusianus, wrote a letter to Augustine asking for further explanations. He wished that other people could also read Augustine’s clarifications and arguments because pagan intellectuals with their annoying questions disturbed the peace of mind of Christians.[40] Marcellinus repeats the debate on miracles and then reports on a discussion of sacrifice. Volusianus’ friends had asked why God in the Old Testament was pleased with sacrifices but God in the New Testament no longer accepted them. Should not the Christian God be unchanging? Moreover, it had been claimed that the Christian doctrine contradicted the Roman morality and the Roman state. Why, then, did the Roman Empire seem to suffer from all kinds of great disasters after the emperors had abandoned the old Roman civic religion?[41]

Augustine replied with two letters to Volusianus and Marcellinus, explaining the doctrinal problems. Augustine admits to Marcellinus that his teaching may suffice neither for souls with a slower intelligence (tardiore ingenio) nor for those souls who cling to long-standing (sc. pagan) errors (contentiosum studium, praeoccupatio diuturni erroris). Here Augustine certainly refers to Volusianus and other intellectual pagans. Augustine recognizes Marcellinus’ anxieties – as Christian doctrine is ridiculed in the intellectual circle – and here I would describe the Christian Marcellinus as a kind of incertus, too, but he still persuades him to stay in touch with the circle of Volusianus.[42] Augustine clearly wants to catch a big fish here since he knows that the conversion of a notable intellectual aristocrat would be a great triumph that might attract other incerti to the Christian faith. The baptism of the Roman philosopher Marius Victorinus had been such symbolically remarkable conversion.[43] Augustine writes to Volusianus that it was a matter not only of this life but also of the salvation of Volusianus’ soul and, moreover, of other people. Volusianus, who would hopefully soon be converted, could – thanks to his excellent intelligence and eloquence – illuminate his fellows: … ad salutem non huius vitae … sed illam salutem propter quam adipiscendam et aeternum obtinendam Christiani sumus?… Ingenium quippe et eloquium tuum tam excellens tamque luculentum prodesse debet etiam ceteris …[44] An influential aristocratic landowner who was converted to Christianity often drew the whole enormous household and dependants with him/her into Christianity.[45]



It is well known that Augustine continued the argumentation that he introduced in his letters to Volusianus and Marcellinus in his De civitate Dei. As a matter of fact, the first books of the City of God are dedicated to this Marcellinus.[46] At the beginning of the work (and passim) Augustine refers to the debates in which some pagans accused Christians of every adversity and particularly ascribed the sack of Rome to the triumph of Christianity because Christians did not make offerings to the gods of the Roman state.[47]

Omitting the details, I propose here that the title often in lengthened form De civitate Dei – contra paganos should rather be called De civitate Dei – per incertos because the work is an answer targeted at intellectual incerti such as Volusianus. This is also clear from the very structure of the work:[48] The first part (books 1-10) is a learned apologetic refutation (refutatio) of the false opiniones of pagans and the second part (books 11-22) is a demonstration (demonstratio) of the true Christian doctrine. It was Augustine’s aim not only to refute the pagans, but also to convince the incerti and to support the hesitating individuals. He wants to argue with pagans in their terms on their ground and that is why he makes use of the common terminology, methods and argumentation (operating with Roman history, Stoic and Platonic philosophy, references to literature etc). In a way he turns his profane erudition upside down in order to have a dialogue with pagan incerti and thus also to impress them.

Augustine’s eloquent appeals to incerti belong to his skilful methods of persuasion. In the end of the fifth book of the De civitate Dei, for example, Augustine refers to some unnamed individuals who, after the publication of the first three books, had written some kind of a reply (audivi quosdam nescio quam adversus eos responsionem scribendo praeparare) but had not yet published it. They were waiting for a suitable occasion to publish their opinions without danger to themselves (sed tempus quaerant, quo sine periculo possint edere) – that is, they were perhaps waiting for more tolerant imperial politics. Augustine warns them not to wish something that is not for their own good (Quos admoneo, non optent quod eis non expedit). However, it is unclear, in what sense he patronizes these people: whether he is concerned for their immortal souls or more concrete terrestrial punishments.

Instead, Augustine invites his opponents, incerti as well as uncompromised pagans, to a dialogue with himself. They should consider all his arguments carefully and then they should weigh things with an unprejudiced mind (sine studio partium) that there were some arguments, which could be attacked, but not refuted (quae potius exagitari quam convelli possint) by brash garrulity and theatrical flippancy (garrulitate impudentissima et quasi satyrica vel mimica levitate). If they realized this, they would give up their nonsense (cohibeant suas nugas) and let the wise (i.e. Augustine) to correct their views. Here he summons his opponents to a friendly dispute (amica disputatio) and asks his opponents to put aside their baseless boasting (deposita inanitate iactantiae). Then, they could question any point they want and listen frankly, seriously and politely (consulit amica disputatione honeste graviter libere quod oportet audire).[49] Nevertheless, it is clear from the tone of his words that this friendly discussion is held on the conditions made by Augustine himself.

At the beginning of the sixth book, Augustine writes that he has done his very best to refute the pagan errors. However, if the disease of paganism turns out to be invincible, despite all efforts to treat it, it is not the fault of the physician but the patient is himself incurable (Nam et contra omnem curantis industriam non malo medici, sed aegroti insanabilis morbus invictus est). He hopes that “those who understand what they have read” would “reflect upon it and weigh the arguments without any obstinate adherence to their old errors (i.e. ‘paganism’) or at least without excessive and exaggerated attachment to them” (Hi vero, qui ea quae legunt vel sine ulla vel non cum magna ac nimia veteris erroris obstinatione intellecta et considerata perpendunt).[50]



I have introduced examples of incerti and passages from Augustine’s City of God in order to illustrate some moments of transition in Late Antiquity, individuals on the threshold or – it has sometimes been called – in a limbo-area. In this in-between area, the fixed antithesis of the two civitates in the City of God as well as the hierarchical dichotomy between pagans and Christians begin to fracture. As Augustine’s civitates cannot be understood without each other, Christian and pagan cannot exist independently without each other. In other words, they presuppose each other; paradoxically, they are one and the same. However, the differences between the other and the same are never resolved by an ultimate synthesis. They always keep a certain indeterminacy in a play of differences. Thus, Augustine’s two civitates are always unseparated and the citizens of both communities live intermingled, permixtae in this era. Similarly, Christian and pagan are inseparable in an individual in this world, and Augustine is also forced to bear the Christian and the pagan interwoven, permixta in himself during his lifetime – to be an incertus himself. The absolute separation is always to come – by definition – somewhere in the transcendence, at the end of time.


[1] E.g. Aug. civ. 15.1: … ipsius generis humani, quod in duo genera distribuimus, unum eorum qui secundum hominem, alterum eorum, qui secundum deum vivunt; quas etiam mystice appellamus civitates duas, hoc est duas societates hominum, quarum est una, quae praedestinata est in aeternum regnare cum Deo, altera aeternum supplicium subire cum diabolo. Aug. civ. 14:28: ‘… two kinds of love (amores duo) constitute the two cities. The earthly by self-love, even to the contempt of god; the heavenly by the love of god, even to the contempt of self.’ I have translated the concept civitas as ‘city’ because civitas as well as the Greek polis is to be understood mainly as a community of citizens, a city or a group of people, etc. but not simply as a state or an empire. For the concept civitas in Augustine, see J. van Oort, Jerusalem and Babylon, Leiden 1991, 102-108; J. van Oort, ‘Civitas dei – terrena civitas: The Concept of the Two Antithetical Cities and Its Sources (Books XI-XIV), Augustinus De civitate dei, hrsg. C. Horn, Berlin 1997, 157-170: 158, 160-161, 168; C. Horn, ‘Einleitung’, Augustinus De civitate dei, hrsg. C. Horn, Berlin 1997, 1-24: 9; K. Flasch, Augustin. Einführung in sein Denken, 19942, 385, 388.

[2] Aug. civ. 15.1. The antithesis of civitas Dei and terrena civitas was also developed by Augustine elsewhere: as early as 388 he (Aug. lib. arbitr. 1.15.(31)) divided people into those who cherished eternal things and those who loved temporal things; in 390 he (ver. relig. 27.(50)) claimed that in humankind from Adam onwards until the very end of this world there were two kinds  (duo genera hominum) of people, the wicked and the god-fearing.

[3] Aug. civ. 11.33: … nos ergo has duas societates angelicas inter se dispares atque contrarias, unam et natura bonam et voluntate rectam, aliam vero natura bonam, sed voluntate perversam, … existimavimus.

[4] Aug. civ. 11.33; 12.1; 12.9; 12.10; 12.28; 14.4; 14.28; 15.1; 15.8; 15.21; 15.22 etc; Aug. cat. rud. 19.31; 21.37. In De genesi ad litteram 11.15.20 (in 411) two kinds of love – love of god and love of self – separated the two civitates and the two groups of people. The idea of the two loves reappears also in De civitate Dei (e.g. civ. 14.28).

[5] The Latin concept paganus (literally ‘villager’) that had previously included connotations such as ‘peasant’, ‘rustic’, ‘unlearned’  as opposed to sophisticated city dwellers emerges as the opposition of ‘Christian’ in Christian apologetics and in legislation for the first time in  370 (CTh 16.2.18) and is commonly used in texts in this sense from the fifth century onwards. The Greek ethnikoi and the Latin gentilis correspond to the Hebrew terms used in the Old Testament to refer to nations other than god’s chosen people. The Greek term Hellenes became commonly used by Christian apologists in the sense of ‘pagans’ and with strong negative connotations (e.g. in Tatian’s Ad Graecos). For the development of the concepts, see e.g. H. Grégoire – P. Orgels, ‘Paganus, Étude de sémantique et d’histoire’, Mélanges Georges Smets, Bruxelles 1952, 363-400; E. Demougeot,  ‘Remarques sur l’emploi de paganus’, Studi in onore di A. Calderini e R. Paribeni, Milano 1956-1957, 337-350; E. Demougeot, ‘Paganus, Mithra et Tertullien’, Studia Patristica 3 (1961), 354-365; J.-C. Fredouille, ‘Heiden’, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum XIII, Stuttgart 1986, 1113-1149; L. Cracco Ruggini, ‘Pubblicistica e storiografia bizantine di fronte alla crisi dell’impero romano’, Athenaeum 51 (1973), 161-167.

[6] Greek and Roman cults, beliefs and practices vary so in time and area that any attempt to telescope them into a single ‘pagan’ pattern necessarily distorts them. It is important to keep the same phenomenon in mind when discussing beliefs and practices we group – for reasons of convenience – in one ‘Christian’ category: eastern, western, Roman, Syrian, Egyptian, Nicean, Arian, Pelagian, Donatian, Nestorian, Manichaean etc. branches of Christianity.

[7] The diversity of polytheistic cults has been emphasized by, e.g., J.J. O’Donnell, ‘The Demise of Paganism’, Traditio 35 (1979), 45-88; W.E. Kaegi, ‘The Fifth Century Twilight of Byzantine Paganism’, Classica et Mediaevalia 27 (1966), 243-275 and M.R. Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban life in Late Antiquity, Berkeley & Los Angeles & Oxford 1990, 223.

[8] Tert. spect. 28.1: Non possumus cum illis discumbere, quia nec illi nobiscum: vicibus disposita res est. Nunc illi laetantur, nos conflictamur.

[9] Jacques Derrida discussed binary oppositions and the possibility of deconstructing them (stratégie générale de la déconstruction), e.g., Derrida, Positions, Paris 1972, 56-58; Derrida,  ‘Lettre à un ami japonais’, Psyché. Inventions de l’autre, Paris 1987, 387-393: 390: “La déconstruction n’est pas une méthode et ne peut être transformée en méthode”; Derrida, Marges de la philosophie, 1972, 75: “Deux textes, deux mains, deux regards, deux écoutes. Ensemble à la fois et séparément.”

[10] Cf. e.g. J. Derrida, L’écriture et la différance, Paris 1967, 431: “L’autre est dans le même”.

[11] It must be emphasized here that this does not lead to any synthesis of the preceding moments.

[12] Carmen ad Antonium v.152-154 (CSEL 30, carm. 32, p. 335).

[13] Markus 1990, 33; also Fowden 1998, 542.

[14] Pagans and Christians made used of a common classical repertory of forms and themes in the decoration of their tombs, sarcophagi and other objects: P.A. Février, ‘Une approche de la conversion des élites au 4e siècle. Le décor de la mort’, Les transformations dans la société chrétienne au 4e siècle, Warszawa 1978, Bruxelles 1983, 22-46, esp. 31-32, 37 and J.B. Ward-Perkins, ‘The Role of the Craftmanship in the formation of Early Christian Art’, Atti del IX congresso internazionale di archeologia cristiana, Roma 21-27 sett. 1975, Vol. I,1, Monumenti cristiani precostantiniani, Studi di antichità cristiana 32, Città del Vaticano 1978, 637-652. The Esquiline treasure: Kathleen Shelton, ‘Roman Aristocrats, Christian Commissions: the Carrand Diptych’, Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity, ed. F.M. Clover & R.S. Humphreys, Madison Wisc. 1989, 105-127, esp. 105-108.

[15] E.g. R.A. Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity, Cambridge 1990, 33; P. Barcelò, ‘Zur Begegnung, Konfrontation und Symbiose von religio Romana und Christentum’, Christen und Heiden in Staat und Gesellschaft des zweiten bis vierten Jahrhunderts, hrsg. G.Gottlieb & P.Barcelò, Schriften der Philosophischen Fakultäten der Universität Augsburg 44, München 1992, 151-189; M.R. Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban life in Late Antiquity, Berkeley – Los Angeles – Oxford 1990, 193-231; G. Fowden 1998, ‘Polytheist Religion and Philosophy’, The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. XIII, The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425, ed. Averil Cameron & P. Garnsey, Cambridge 1998, 538-560: 542, 556.

[16] G.W. Bowersock, ‘I percorsi della politica’, Storia di Roma 3,1, Torino 1993, 527-549: 544, 546; Barcelò 177, 184, 189; G. Clemente, ‘Cristianesimo e classi dirigenti prima e dopo Costantino’, Mondo classico e cristianesimo, Atti del Convegno Roma 1980, Roma 1982, 51-64: 63; Markus 1990, 12, 22; P. Brown, ‘Christianization and religious conflict’, The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. XIII, The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425, ed. Averil Cameron & P. Garnsey, Cambridge 1998b, 632-664: 652 writes of “a vigorous public culture that polytheists, Jews and Christians alike could share.”

[17] For Synesios of Cyrene see H.-I. Marrou, ‘Synesius of Cyrene and Alexandrian Neoplatonism’, The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. A. Momigliano, Oxford 1963, 126-150; Tinnefeld, F., ‘Synesios von Kyrene: Philosophie der Freude und Leidensbewältigung. Zur Problematik einer spätantiken Persönlichkeit’, Studien zur Literatur der Spätantike, hrsg. Chr. Gnilka & Willy Schetter, Bonn 1975, 139-179: 141; Fowden 1998, 555. For Marius Victorinus see PLRE I, ‘C. Marius Victorinus 11’, 964; P. Hadot, Marius Victorinus, Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres, Paris 1971, esp. 248-250; Markus 1990, 28.

[18] Compromises in the family life the aristocratic Caeionii: Hier. Epist. 39; 107.1. Cf. Aug. de fide et operibus 19.35; 21.37 on mixed marriages. A. Chastagnol, ‘Le sénateur Volusien et la conversion d’une famille romaine au Bas-Empire’, REA 58 (1956), 251-262; S. Jannaccone, ’Roma 384 (Struttura sociale e spirituale del gruppo geronimiano’, Giornale italiano di filologia 19 (1966), 32-48: 39-42; J.J. O’Donnell, Traditio 35 (1979), 45-88: 62-63; Brown 1961, 1-11; A. Yarborough, ‘Christianization in the Fourth Century. The Example of Roman Women’, Church History 45 (1976), 149-165.

[19] Aug. conf. 6.2.

[20] Greg. Naz. epigr. 166-169 (Anthologia Graeca 8.166-169). In epigr. 8.175 Gregory refers to impure funerary banquets that are still celebrated in honour of demons (i.e. old gods) by newly converted polytheists. R. Lane Fox 22 sceptically calls the so called pagan survivals or pagan relics only a “neutral technology of life”. However, Christian bishops and church fathers did not regard rituals as neutral; these rituals rather were felt as painful and problematic.

[21] Urban ‘pagan’ festivals as well as Christian feasts are listed in Philocalus’ calendar of 354: Salzman, M.R., On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban life in Late Antiquity, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1990, esp. 21-22; M. Beard – J. North – S. Price, Religions of Rome I, Oxford 1998, 377-378. For the persistence of ‘pagan’ cults, see also Cracco Ruggini, L., ‘Un cinquantennio di polemica antipagana a Roma’, Studi patristici in onore di Giuseppe Lazzati, Paradoxos politeia, a cura di R.Cantalamessa e L.F.Pizzolato, Milano 1979, 119-144; Lizzi, R. – Consolino, F.E., ‘Le religioni nell’Impero tardo-antico: persistenze e mutamenti’, Storia di Roma, Torino 1993, 895-974; Lizzi, R., ‘Ambrose’s Contemporaries and the Christianization of Northern Italy’, JRS 80 (1990), 156-173;

[22] M. Beard – J. North – S. Price, Religions of Rome I, Oxford 1998, 377-378; Fowden 1998, 542; Shelton 1981, 65.

[23] Lib. Or. 1.39. PLRE I, Bemarchius, 160. Similarly a pagan philosopher and rhetor Themistius is known to have spoken for religious tolerance in a speech to the Arian emperor Valens and to have attempted to deflect Valens’ persecution of non-Arian Christians in the East; the speech is not extant but Socrat. 4.32 summarizes it. J. Vanderspoel, Themistius and the Imperial Court, Oratory, Civic Duty, and Paideia from Constantius and Theodosius, Ann Arbor 1995, 24, 178-179; Fowden 1998, 542.

[24] Levi, G., ‘Les usages de la biographie’, Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations 44, 1989, 1325-1336: 1326.

[25] Iul. ep. 79 Bidez-Cumont = ep. 78 Hertlein. Pegasius showed Julian all the sights (i.e. temples and shrines) of the city. When they visited Hector’s and Achilleus’ shrines, Pegasius showed great reverence and eagerness and said to Julian: ‘Is it not natural that they should worship a brave man (sc. Hector) who was their own citizen, just as we worship the martyrs.’ In his letter Julian characterizes Pegasius as “a man of culture, if you consider the times in which we then lived”. W. Ensslin, ‘Pegasius’, RE XIX, Stuttgart 1937, 56.

[26] Astius Vindicianus: CIL VIII 450. PLRE I, Vindicianus 3, 968; A. Chastagnol – N. Duval, ‘Les survivances du culte impérial dans l’Afrique du Nord à l’époque vandale’, Mélanges d’histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston, Paris 1974, 87-118: 95-97, N.2; Astius Mustelus: CIL VIII 10516 and 11528; Chastagnol – Duval 97-100, N.3. Andere Beispiele: Chastagnol – Duval 100-105. CTh 12.1.112 (June 16, 386) on Christians holding Roman civic priesthoods: In consequenda archierosyne ille sit potior, qui patriae plura praestiterit nec tamen a templorum cultu observatione Christianitas abscesserit. Quippe in decorum est, immo ut verius dicamus, inlicitum ad eorum curam templa et templorum sollemnia pertinere, quorum conscientiam vera ratio divinae religionis imbuerit et quos ipsos decebat tale munus, etiamsi non prohiberentur, effugere.

[27] Canon of Elvira in 306, II-IV: II. De sacerdotibus gentilium qui post baptismum immolaverunt: Flamines qui post fidem lavacri et regenerationis sacrificaverunt, eo quod geminaverint scelera accedente homicidio, vel triplicaverint facinus cohaerente moechia, placuit eos nec in finem accipere communionem. III. De eisdem si idolis munus tantum dederunt: Item flamines qui non immolaverint, sed munus tantum dederint, eo quod se a funestis abstinuerint sacrificiis, placuit in finem eis praestare communionem, acta tamen legitima poenitentia. Item ipsi si post poenitentiam fuerint moechati, placuit ulterius his non esse dandam communionem, ne illusisse de dominica communione videantur; IV. De eisdem si catechumeni adhuc immolant quando baptizentur: Item flamines si fuerint catechumeni et se a sacrificiis abstinuerint, post triennii tempora placuit ad baptismum admitti debere. Die Kanones der wichtigsten altkirchlichen Concilien nebst den apostolischen Kanones, hrsg. F. Lauchert. Bonn 1896, unveränd. Nachdr. Frankfurt am Main 1961, 13-14; see also C. Markschies, Zwischen den Welten wandern. Strukturen des antiken Christentums, Frankfurt am Main 1997, 67; A. Chastagnol – N. Duval, ‘Les survivances du culte impérial dans l’Afrique du Nord à l’époque vandale’, Mélanges d’histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston, Paris 1974, 87-118: 109.

[28] Opportunists and apostates e.g. in Ambr. epist. 17.4: nonnullos enim illis privilegiis partim per imprudentiam, partim propter publicarum necessitatum molestias declinandas inretire voluerunt, et quia non omnes fortes inveniuntur, etiam sub principibus Christianis plerique sunt lapsi. Carmen ad senat. v.49-50; Aug. epist. 258; Quaest. vet. et nov. test. 114.13: facile enim imitatores invenit dehonestata nobilitas; cf. Liban. or. 30.28.

[29] Passim, e.g. Aug. civ. 11.1: de duarum civitatum, terrenae scilicet et caelestis, quas in hoc interim saeculo perplexas quodam modo diximus invicemque permixtas, exortu et excursu et debitis finibus; cf. Aug. civ. 1.35 and passim; Aug. cat. rud. 19.31; Aug. gen. litt. 11.15.20.

[30] Cf. dissolution of antitheses also in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip 10 (53.15) where Light and Darkness, life and death, right and left are brothers for each other and cannot be distinguished from each other. Light and Darkness are unseparable brothers also in Mandaic texts. Die Gnosis. Koptische und mandäische Quellen, eingeleitet, übersetzt und erläutert von M. Krause – K. Rudolph, hrsg. W. Foerster, Düsseldorf & Zürich 1997, 96, 230-231.

[31] Saeculum as the secular context is theologically neutral, as R.A. Markus, Saeculum. History and Society in the Theology of Saint Augustine, Cambridge 1970, 54-55 has shown; see also H.-I. Marrou, ‘Civitas Dei, Civitas Terrena: num tertium quid?’, Studia Patristica 2 (1957), 342-350; Harrison 203; Flasch 384.

[32] Aug. civ. 1.35: Perplexae quippe sunt istae duae civitates in hoc saeculo invicemque permixtae, donec ultimo iudicio dirimantur; Aug. cat. rud. 19.31: in die vero iudicii etiam corpore separandae; gen. litt. 11.15.20. Cf. Allberry, A Manichaean Psalm-Book II, Psalm of Thomas 10.

[33]Aug. civ. 1.35: Meminerit sane in ipsis inimicis later cives futuros, … …, si apud apertissimos adversios praedestinati amici latitant, adhuc ignoti etiam sibi.

[34]Aug. civ. 1.35: sicut ex illorum numero etiam Dei civitas habet secum, quamdiu peregrinatur in mundo, conexos communione sacramentorum, nec secum futuros in aeterna sorte sanctorum, qui partim in occulto, partim in aperto sunt, qui etiam cum ipsis inimicis adversus Deum, cuius sacramentum gerunt, murmurare non dubitant, modo cum illis theatra, modo ecclesias nobiscum replentes.

[35] Rufius Antonius Agrypnius Volusianus (born c. 382, died in 437) praefectus urbis Romae, proconsul Africae belonged to the famous Caeionii. Several women of the Caeionii family were Christians such as Volusianus’ mother and sister Albina; some male members were pagans such as Volusianus’ father Rufius Albinus and grandfather C. Caeionius Rufius Volusianus. The Caeionii  were wealthy landowners who had enormous properties in North Africa. According to the Vita Melaniae Iunioris 55 (D. Gorce, Sources chrétiennes 90, Paris 1962, 236), Volusianus was finally converted on his deathbed by his niece Melania the Younger; Chastagnol, ‘Le sénateur Volusien et la conversion d’une famille romaine au Bas-Empire’, REA 58 (1956), 251-262; J. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court AD 364-425, Oxford 1975, 353; P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 1967, 300-301; P. Brown, ‘Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman Aristocracy’, JRS 51 (1961), 1-11: 7; PLRE II, ‘Volusianus 6′, 1184-1185; Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 2, Prosopographie de l’Italie chrétienne (313-604), par J. Desmulliez, C. Fraisse-Coué, E. Paoli-Lafaye, C. Pietri, L. Pietri, C. Sotinel, Rome 2000, ‘Volusianus I’, 2340-2341.

[36] Aug. epist. 135.

[37] Actually Augustine had started the dialogue and written a letter to Volusianus where he encouraged Volusianus to ask about all the questions and problems concerning the Christian doctrine that ever occurred to him; Augustine himself had been appealed to by Volusianus’ Christian mother who wanted her son to be converted to Christianity; Aug. Epist. 132: De salute tua, quam et in hoc saeculo et in Christo esse cupio, sanctae matris tuae votis sum fortasse etiam ipse non inpar. … Praecipue apostolorum linguas exhortor ut legas; … vel cum legis vel cum cogitas, tibi oritur quaestionis, in quo dissolvendo videar necessarius, scribe, ut rescribam. I follow the order of the letters set by M. Moreau, Le dossier Marcellinus dans la correspondance de saint Augustin, Paris 1973, 50-51.

[38] Volusianus ad Augustinum (Aug.) epist. 135.1: Quibusdam amicorum conventibus aderamus, frequentes proferebantur illic pro ingeniis studiisque sententiae. …; 135.2: Dum in his confabulatio nostra remoratur, unus e multis: ‘Et quis’, inquit, ‘est sapientia ad perfectum Christianitatis inbutus, qui ambigua, in quibus haereo, possit aperire dubiosque adsensus meos vera vel verisimili credulitate firmare?’ … Accepisti, vir totius gloriae capax, inperitiae confessionem.

[39] Flavius Marcellinus, tribunus and notarius, younger brother of Apringius, proconsul of  Africa was sent to Carthage to settle the conflict between Donatist Christians and mainstream Christians in 410. The correspondence between Augustine and Marcellinus reveals how closely connected they were, and therefore, it is hardly surprising that in the conference with the Donastist and Catholic bishops Marcellinus yielded to the Catholic side. Marcellinus and his brother were charged and sentenced to death during a revolt led by Heraclian in 413. Augustine dedicated him the two first book of De civitate Dei as well as the writings De peccatorum meritis et remissione and De spiritu et littera . PLRE II, ‘Fl. Marcellinus 10′, 711-712; J. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court AD 364-425, Oxford 1975, 353; W. Enßlin, ‘Marcellinus 23′, RE XIV, Stuttgart 1930, 1445-1446; P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, London 1967, 337.

[40] The letters epist. 135 and 136 are closely connected as are Augustine’s replies epist. 137 and 138 as M. Moreau 49-77 has  shown.

[41] Marcellinus ad Augustinum (Aug.) epist. 136.

[42] Aug. epist. 137 ad Volusianum, epist. 138 ad Marcellinum.

[43] Aug. Conf. 8.2.3. P. Hadot 1971, 248-250.

[44] Aug. epist. 137.1.1.

[45] E.g. Augustine states in enarr. in ps. 54.13 that if a certain North-African aristocrat were converted, there would be no pagans left: Ille nobilis, si Christianus esset, nemo remaneret paganus. R. Lizzi, ‘Ambrose’s Contemporaries and the Christianization of Northern Italy’, JRS 80 (1990), 156-173, esp. 164-168.

[46] Aug. civ. 1. praef: … hoc opere a te instituto promissione debito … fili carissime Marcelline, suscepi, magnum opus et arduum. He had promised to Marcellinus that he would explain these problematic issues more thoroughly in letters or in books, Aug. epist. 138: Verum tamen cognosce, quid eos contra moveat, atque rescribe, ut vel epistolis vel libris, si adiuverit Deus, ad omnia respondere curemus.

[47] Aug. civ. 1. praef. See also Aug. civ. 1.35; 1.36: Sed adhuc mihi quaedam dicenda sunt adversus eos, qui Romanae rei publicae clades in religionem nostram fecerunt, qua diis suis sacrificare prohibentur; 2.2: eis, qui haec bella, quibus mundus iste conteritur, maximeque Romanae urbis recentem a barbaris vastationem Christianae religioni tribuunt, qua prohibentur nefandis sacrificiis servire daemonibus. According to Augustine, pagans accused Christians of every calamity, and there was even a popular saying among pagans: “No rain! It’s all the fault of the Christians!” Aug. civ. 2.3: … ex quorum inperitia illud quoque ortum est vulgare proverbium: “Pluvia defit, causa Christiani sunt”. Cf. Aug. In Ps. 80.1.25 and Tert. apol. 40. P. Courcelle, ‘Propos antichrétiens rapportés par saint Augustin’, Recherches Augustiniennes 1 (1958), 149-186: 178-183; P. Courcelle, ‘Anti-Christian Arguments and Christian Platonism: from Arnobius to St. Ambrose’, The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. A. Momigliano, Oxford 1963, 151-192: 152.

[48] The work was written according to a carefully premeditated design: Aug. civ. 1.35; 2.2; 4.1-2; 5.26; 6.praef; 6.1; 10.32; 11.1; 15.1; 17.1; 18.1; 20.30). Guy, J.-C., Unité et structure logique de la “Cité de Dieu” de saint Augustin, Paris 1961; Oort 1991, 86-87; Oort 1997, 160.

[49] Aug. civ. 5.26.

[50] Aug. civ. 6.1. Other appeals to pagan incerti e.g. in Aug. civ. 2.29; 4.25; 7.22; 7.35.


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