Monday, June 26, 2023

Today on the Almanac, we look to the early church and tell the story of Julian the Apostate, Rome’s last pagan emperor, who died on this day in 363.

It is the 26th of June 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.


Thank you, Dan, for having me back to host. It’s always a pleasure. I hope that after today’s topic, this won’t be my last time hosting on the almanac.

It did feel a bit odd choosing to talk about a notorious apostate on the Christian History Almanac, but the story of Julian the Apostate, Rome’s last pagan emperor, who died on this day in 363, is an important story in the history of the Christian church and its establishment in the West as a dominant religion.

Born Flavius Iulianus Augustus in 332 to Basilina and Julius Constantius, half-brother of Constantine, Julian’s early life could be called tumultuous at best. Constantine’s death in 337 brought about a violent struggle among potential heirs to the throne, which resulted in the massacre of most of Julian’s family, leaving Julian and his older brother Gallus as some of the last surviving members of the Constantinian dynasty.

At the top, Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II shared power until Constantius II emerged as the sole ruling figure in the 350s.

Julian was carted around the empire for his education, even studying under the church historian Eusebius for a short time. He was baptized, even flirting with the idea of ecclesiastical orders, but his attraction to Neoplatonism and proximity to the imperial throne kept him from this path.

In 351, his older brother was declared co-ruler but was executed in just three years on charges of despotism. Under suspicion himself, Julian was removed to Athens, where he ran into the who’s who of the early church, including Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea.

These contacts meant little to Julian, who had by this point, decisively dissolved his connection to the Christian church. Instead of fellowshipping with the saints, Julian visited the notable pagan sites of Greece.

At this point, the empire was in a period of decline, with invaders to the north and the east, leading Constantius to recall Julian to imperial politics.

In quick succession, Julian married the emperor’s sister-in-law and hightailed it to Gaul, where he won important military victories against invading Germanic tribes.

While on the outskirts of the empire, Julian was unofficially chosen as Caesar by the military, who rejected Constantius II for his military failures against the Persian Sassanids. Like most Roman imperial successions, civil war loomed on the horizon but was ultimately avoided when Constantius died in 361, making Julian the sole emperor in Constantinople.

Despite enjoying the luxuries and powers of his uncle, Julian set to work undoing the Christianization of the empire Constantine pursued in the early 300s, which Julian saw as the source of the decline in the once-great Roman empire.

With decades of legalized Christianity behind him, Julian faced a difficult task. The customs and spirit of the Hellenic age had been absorbed into the burgeoning Christian tradition, though that tradition was still figuring itself out in the age of formative church councils, such as Nicea and Constantinople.

Nevertheless, Julian did write openly against Christians in 362 in an essay called Against the Galileans. The work comes down to us through its refutation in the works of Cyril of Alexandria, who bundles Julian in with the false teachers of the epistles, “[shaking] many spirits and [causing] them uncommon wrongs,” rendering the weaker members “welcome amusements for the demonic powers.”

The nineteenth-century historian Philip Schaff observed that despite Julian’s bitterness for the Christian religion, he presented valuable arguments for its veracity as he admitted the facts of the New Testament, such as the timing of Jesus’s birth, the genuineness of his miracles, and the authenticity of the Gospel writings that he considered to be worthless compared to pagan philosophy.

For all of Julian’s literary efforts, his attention on the frontiers of the empire never allowed the more intense forms of Christian persecution to start up. His untimely death on this day in 363 on a campaign in Persia ended the last stroke of opposition to Christianity as a whole in the Roman empire.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from Revelation 2:

To the angel[a] of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of June 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

This show was produced by Christopher Gillespie.

This show has been written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz, who will never apostatize against her faith in In-n-Out. Whataburger isn’t enough to tempt me.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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