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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  November 1999

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION November 1999

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Subject:

Re: Arian Ostrogoths

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Date:

Sun, 28 Nov 1999 17:56:38 +0000

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Dear Mark,
This is a very interesting and unexpected reply.  It is not just that 
so many secondary sources mention the Ostrogoths' Arianism so 
unproblematically, but that I have always taken some of the mosaic 
decoration in Ravenna as holding traces of the "battle" there between 
Orthodoxy and Arianism.  For example, there are two baptistries in 
Ravenna.  The earlier one, built and decorated in the mid-5th 
century, while the city was still an occasional capital of the 
Western Empire, is now known as the Orthodox Baptistry, while the 
later one, from the beginning of the 6th century, was built under 
Theodoric the Great's rule and is known as the Arian Baptistry (I 
have to admit that I don't know when they acquired these names).  
Moreover, the mosaic decoration of the latter, although clearly 
inspired by that of the former, features some differences that I've 
always associated with Arian belief.  At the apex of the dome in the 
Orthodox Baptistry is a mosaic of the Baptism of Christ, in which St 
John holds a paten-like vessel above Christ's head and pours water on 
it.  The Baptism of Christ in the Arian Baptistry, although generally 
similar in composition, has repositioned Christ to the centre of the 
roundel, with the dove of the Holy Spirit immediately above his head, 
 pouring forth, well, probably Holy Spirit, onto it, while St John 
gingerly touches Christ's head, without any liturgical vessel.  The 
emphasis has shifted from the sacrament of baptism in the Orthodox 
Baptistry to the central action of the Holy Spirit in activating 
Christ's divinity in the Arian version, and the figure of Christ in 
the Arian Baptistry also has his genitalia more fully depicted than 
usual, once again, I've always taken it, on analogy with the Arian 
belief about the nature of Christ and his relation to God the Father. 
 Perhaps you or the Supple Doctor might comment on this distinction?  
There were also substantial changes made to the mosaic programme in 
the Church of S. Apollinare Nuovo in the mid-6th century, after 
Justinian's forces had taken Ravenna; these, I suppose, could have 
been motivated by solely political factors, but once again, it is at 
least possible that religious ones were involved. 
Cheers, 
Jim Bugslag


> In a message dated 99-11-28 11:32:30 EST, you write:
> 
> << I am perhaps anticipating somewhat, but was there any ascertainable 
>  reason why the Goths adopted Arianism?  In other respects, Theodoric, 
>   for example, seems to have gone out of his way to emulate the 
>  Orthodox emperors in Constantinople.  And it caused them no end of 
>  trouble.  >>
> 
> In the 350's or 60's a christian missionary of the arian persuasion named 
> Ulfila crossed the Danube to convert the Goths.  He was apparently working 
> with the blessings of the empire and achieved considerable success.  Part of 
> his success was that he translated the bible, or certain portions thereof, 
> into Gothic, fragments of which remain.  
> 
> After moving into the empire and establishing themselves as people of 
> importance it is assumed the Goths maintained their Arian position, but there 
> is little other than anti-Gothic propaganda to support that fact.  As the 
> term Arian was always used in association with Gothic or Germanic 
> institutions I believe it is quite possible the two became synonymous without 
> necessarily indicating a set of religious beliefs.
> 
> As for Theodoric, I'll assume you mean Theodoric the Great (491-526).  Since 
> the emperor Anastasius willingly gave Theodoric the imperial regalia in 
> 497/8, it would appear that it was more than emulation.  In fact, there is 
> much of that Gothic king's reign that appears imperial in every legal sense, 
> except that he never bore the title of emperor.  Anyway, as far as religious 
> positions are concerned it is impossible to tell what Theodoric believed.  He 
> didn't blink when the Franks became openly Catholic, in fact his daughter 
> married one of Clovis' children.  He didn't blink when the Burgundians and 
> Vandals followed suit.  He encouraged the pope and the emperor Justin to 
> build "bridges."   He certainly aided the building of a great many Catholic 
> churches.  Yet, the executions of Boethius and Symmachus and the imprisonment 
> of the pope John (which lead to the poor fellows death) has certainly painted 
> him out as anti-Catholic.  My gut feeling is that these late reign blemishes 
> were part of a difficult political situation and had nothing to do with 
> religion.  
> 
> mark
> 
> 


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