on June 20, 2012
Because Paul's Greek meter in Ephesians 1:10 focuses on Diocletian as the cause of Constantine and Constantine as the cause of Roman Catholicism (long story why, I did Youtube and now vimeo videos on it, ggs11 channel nickname brainout) -- in December 2010 I suddenly had to get into post-Commodus Roman history. WHY was Paul focusing his TIME meter on that period? I didn't know.
No excuse for me not being interested in that period of Roman history, but I wasn't. So I didn't know basics like who was Emperor post-Commodus (other than Constantine, who interested me not at all), nor about the Crisis of the Third Century, etc. This, despite having an original 1776 Gibbon, and the 1876 edition, AND Gibbon on 3.5" floppies (so you know how long I've had them) AND abridged Mommsen AND Cary, etc. for lo 20 years+. And, the Military Encyclopedia by Dupuy and Dupuy. To make my wilfull ignorance worse, I HEARD about SPQR for over 30 years from my pastor exegeting Ephesians. Yikes. End Confession.
Big mistake. Now corrected, by surfing and surfing Google Books for the scholarship reading and reading and reading the books I have, and also getting this book by Williams, plus Bill Leadbetter's "Galerius and the Will of Diocletian", happily available on Kindle for rent or purchase.
What does Williams bring to the table, since so much (mostly not in English) has been written on Diocletian, both in the past, and now?
1. Williams is big-picture. He weaves together all the megatrends leading up to Diocletian, with a focus on the psychological impact the tumultous Crisis of the Third Century had on 'making' Diocletian.
2. Williams avoids the pedantic trap of getting all wound up with the ongoing scholarly debates over the facts, personalities, and who-did-what-when, and instead just presents an overview.
3. His overview is extremely incisive and insightful.
4. Writing flow and focus on the psychological impact of the period on pagans and Christians alike, is tight, easy to follow and understand.
In short, if you want ONE book to read on Diocletian and his times -- and you should, because doggone near everything about the Catholic Church is 'imported' from Diocletian -- pick this book. Then you can get into the windy tomes of the classic authors, for you will have the big picture, with all the right pieces to analyze in more detail. (There's another book printed in 1876, "The Persecution of Diocletian" by Arthur James Mason (available here at Amazon or Google Books), which is also helpful, but less so.)
Williams' Chapters 12 and 13 help you see the reason for the Great Persecution of 303. As you might expect, there are always two sides to the story, and unfortunately my fellow Christians of the third and fourth century were a scurrilious lot, never above lying -- and of course THEIR version of the story is mainly what survives. So you have to look elsewhere for a balanced picture. Williams provides that balance. So on the one hand, the pagans themselves were tiring of a too-superficial relationship to 'the gods', so gradually came to seek a 'universal' God idea above the centuries of warring, capricious 'gods'. Even the philosophers got religious that way. On the other hand, some of this 'universal' move (really, toward the henotes of Plato's Philebus), was more pragmatically designed to compete with the in-your-face, hate-the-establishment apostate 'Christianity' (not much different from its counterparts today), where everyone else was somehow an untermensch.
The Christians, for their part, were also coalescing, the centuries of schismatic warring gradually giving way to a very eclectic ROMAN STYLE (Diocletian-style) ecclesiastical expression. Williams thinks that ecclesiasm got underway in 200, but if you also buy Robert Lee Williams' "Bishop Lists" (no relation to Stephen, book is also here at Amazon, a gripping read, surprising for a doctoral thesis) -- you'll see that it was more a product of the 250's, aftermath of the Severans and persecution.
THAT is why Paul's meter wryly says (direct trans from the Greek), 'to result in the Filling-Up-of-Times Dispensation; to sum up under One Head, All (trial) matters in Christ; all (trial) matters in heaven, and [all matters] on earth, via Him;' That last "Him" is syllable=AD 283, advent of Diocletian. Now I know why, from the pagan end: they were COALESCING. I didn't know that, before. (To see why from the Christian end, get the Robert Lee Williams Bishop Lists Book. Caution: neither Williams advocates anything about Bible or Paul. I'm drawing those conclusions from their books.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Everything Diocletian crafted was adopted lock stock and barrel, right down to the terms, costuming, colors, and ceremonies -- by Constantine and the then-emergent, Catholic Church. The word 'catholic' wasn't used until the Severans, see the Robert Lee Williams 'Bishop Lists' book for that story. Stephen and Robert are not related, so far as I know.
Stephen Williams explains that parallel in his penultimate chapter, 'Constantine's Completion'. Suggest you get both Williams' books, to see import; or, at least see my review of Robert Williams' 'Bishop Lists', here in Amazon, maybe to save time. Truly, so much of modern Western history derives from this changeover; and especially, Roman Catholic dogmas, institutions, and .. ahem, persecutions.
Now, there are many points of contention about this period, still debated by scholars. When did Constantius and Galerius marry the Augusti daughters? Was Valeria Maximila really Diocletian's DAUGHTER's child? Why did Diocletian abdicate.. was it illness, part of a longstanding plan, or illness which occurred when he planned to retire anyway? And how strong was he, at that point? When did he really die? Was Galerius really as anti-Christian as painted, or was it more Diocletian? Did Galerius force Diocles to sponsor the persecutions, and then retire? Not to mention, the conflicting stories among the pagan or Christian writers of that distant time, re Maxentius, Maximinian, the marriage of Licinius and Constantia, Constantine's sister, and the aftermath of wars between the two new Augusti. Most perplexing still, is the account of what happened to Galerius' widow, Diocles' daughter, after Galerius died in 311. WHEN was the START of the '15 months' in Lactantius? Gibbon wondered about it, and so too everyone since.
Stephen Williams navigates between the contentions, comes up with his own conclusions, provides good footnotes to show why. Leadbetter's 'Galerius and the Will of Diocletian', available here in Amazon, complains that Williams' book is not 'satisfactory'. I couldn't disagree more. Leadbetter's book reads like dissertation draft notes; he contradicts himself after presenting strawmen 'scholars' who he seeks to refute; read five pages of his writing, and you have to walk away from his book in frustration. Frankly, Leadbetter makes many unfounded assumptions which trail off into nowhere land, never presents a comprehensive picture of the time. But Williams DOES create a comprehensive sensible picture from the same data. Sure, you can quibble about some of the details, but you know where he gets them. That IS satisfactory.
My quibbles are date corrections about when ecumenism got off the ground (should be the 250's), when Diocletian died (should be AD 316, see my Appendix II of my Ephesians1REPARSED.doc or htm, or its pdf version Eph1DecreeSyllables.pdf, all from brainout.net); also, Williams' book has annoying end notes, rather than the more convenient, footnotes; so you must flip pages back and forth to read. Footnotes are far easier on the reader. These are all minor complaints; sure wish my complaints about my own stuff, were so minor. :)
And I sure wish Williams' book were on Kindle. It's worth reading, over and over, because his big-picture approach helps you realize that we learn nothing from history, so are condemned to repeat it. This period is indicative of a recurring trend in history, and its lessons go unlearnt.
So yessiree, I'd heartily recommend Williams' book. Worth several times the price. I'll seek other stuff he's written, as a result!