This week I’ll make a visit to the University of Granada, Spain. An international workshop ”Conflict and Compromise. The Role of the Bishop in Late Antiquity” will be organised there.
My paper deals with the role of bishops in Late Antique conflicts between polytheists (’pagans’) and Christians. Thus the paper is titled ”Pacifiers and Instigators: Bishops and Interreligious Conflicts in Late Antiquity”. I concentrate in a couple of notorious cases in which Augustine of Hippo was involved.
My contribution will deal with the dual role of bishops in religious conflicts in the late fourth and early fifth century. On the one hand, bishops and church councils were keen to ‘lobby’ their views of religious unity at the imperial courts. For example, the Council of Carthage in 401 requested the emperors to proceed towards harsher legislation against the ‘remnants of idols’ that should ‘be eliminated thoroughly all over Africa’. Furthermore, many bishops attempted (often in vain) to influence local landowners who in practice determined whether the imperial decrees were really applied or not. Some bishops were involved in organizing attacks against polytheistic cult places. The most notorious case was the destruction of the Canopus Serapeum in 391 that was machinated by Theophilus of Alexandria. On the other hand, bishops often found themselves in a tricky position between the claims of Christian hardliners and the limits of legality. In conflicts that repeatedly arose in the urban public space between polytheists and Christians, bishops tried to pacify situations that seemed to get out of hand. They attempted to keep situation in their control, restraining the excessive zeal, especially against private property. For instance, Augustine of Hippo had to defend the moderation of the ecclesiastical authorities against the demands of Christian hardliners. He used all his best diplomatic skill, trying to avoid blaming these hard-liners too much but still attempting to restrain excess in violence.

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