Friday, August 17, 2012

Theodosius II's Laws against non-Christian Religions and Heretical Sects (Theonomy Applied)

During his reign, Emperor Theodosius II
established a law in 439 to prevent non-
Christian religions and heretical sects
from subverting the Christian
social order.

Theodosius II (401-450) was the Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. During his reign, he convened councils to deal with both the Nestorian and Eutychian controversies (in the latter controversy, he unfortunately sided with the non-orthodox Christological position).

In addition, he commissioned the Codex Theodosianus, a law code based on edicts of professing Christian emperors from 312 through his own day in 438. 

Also during his reign, he enacted "A Law of Theodosius 11, January 31, 439--Novella III: Concerning Jews, Samaritans, Heretics, And Pagans."

This law set out to prevent non-Christian religions and heretical sects from subverting the Christian social order. 

We must note that although the law has to do with Jews and Samaritans, it does not oppose their race per se, but their religions (e.g., the religion of Judaism which Jews held to). Hence, for example, the law bans Jews and Samaritans from political office not because they are simply Jews and Samaritans, but because they are not Christians, and thus anti-Christian. 

(Note: this site opposes racism, and so if this law did advocate racism at any point, we would oppose it. As noted, this law concerns itself with the religion advocated by certain groups of people, not their race in and of itself.)

"Novella III: Concerning Jews, Samaritans, Heretics, And Pagans." 
(Note: bracketed quotes are from the cited source)

Wherefore, although according to an old saying ['of the Greek Hippocrates, the "father" of medicine'] "no cure is to be applied in desperate sicknesses," nevertheless, in order that these dangerous sects which are unmindful of our times may not spread into life the more freely, in indiscriminate disorder as it were, we ordain by this law to be valid for all time:
Ban on non-Christian Jews and Samaritans from Executing Laws:
No Jew - or no Samaritan who subscribes to neither ['the Jewish nor the Christian'] religion - shall obtain offices and dignities; to none shall the administration of city service be permitted; nor shall any one exercise the office of a defender ['that is, overseer'] of the city. Indeed, we believe it sinful that the enemies of the heavenly majesty and of the Roman laws should become the executors of our laws - the administration of which they have slyly obtained - and that they, fortified by the authority of the acquired rank, should have the power to judge or decide as they wish against Christians, yes, frequently even over bishops of our holy religion themselves, and thus, as it were, insult our faith.
Restrictions on Synagogues and Ban on Leading Christians Astray to non-Christian Religions:
Moreover, for the same reason, we forbid that any synagogue shall rise as a new building. ['Fewer synagogues meant less chance of Christians becoming Jews.'] However, the propping up of old synagogues which are now threatened with imminent ruin is permitted. To these things we add that he who misleads a slave or a freeman against his will or by punishable advice, from the service of the Christian religion to that of an abominable sect and ritual, is to be punished by loss of property and life. ['That is, the Jew who converts any one to Judaism loses life and property.']
On the one hand, whoever has built a synagogue must realize that he has worked to the advantage of the Catholic church ['which will confiscate the building']; on the other hand, whoever has already secured the badge of office shall not hold the dignities he has acquired. On the contrary, he who worms himself into office must remain, as before, in the lowest rank even though he will have already earned an honorary office. And as for him who begins the building of a synagogue and is not moved by the desire of repairing it, he shall be punished by a fine of fifty pounds gold for his daring. Moreover, if he will have prevailed with his evil teachings over the faith of another, he shall see his wealth confiscated and himself soon subjected to a death sentence.
Limitations on non-Christian Public Servants:
And since it behooves the imperial majesty to consider everything with such foresight that the general welfare does not suffer in the least, we ordain that the tax-paying officeholders of all towns as well as the provincial civil servants - who are obligated to employ their wealth and to make public gifts as part of their burdensome and diverse official and military duties - shall remain in their own classes, no matter what sect they belong to. Let it not appear as if we have accorded the benefit of exemption to those men, detestable in their insolent maneuvering, whom we wish to condemn by the authority of this law. ['Jews have to accept financially ruinous public offices without hope of exemption.']
This further limitation is to be observed, namely, that these public servants from these above mentioned sects shall never, as far as private affairs are concerned, carry out judicial sentences, nor be wardens of the jail. This is done in order that Christians, as it sometimes happens, may not be hidden away and suffer a double imprisonment through the hatred of the guards. ['Imprisonment is bad enough without having a Jewish jailer.'] And furthermore it may be doubted that they have been justly imprisoned.[1]

[1] Cited in Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315-1791, ed. Marc Saperstein (Hebrew Union College Press, 1999), 5-6.

photo credit: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5)

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 

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