"One could not find more anti-Christian circles than these .... The most cultured men of the age [5th and 6th centuries] ... should now be classified as non-Christian."
[Anthony Kaldellis, The Religion of Ioannes Lydos]
Part One: A little background
John Lydos was born in 490 AD and lived at least into the 550s, and probably into the 560s. His first name is given variously as John, Ioannes, Ἰωάννης, or even Johannes. His last name varies between Lydos (the Greek form, or, even more properly: Λυδός), and Lydus, the latinized form.
By the time he was born, the old religion of Paganism, which Lydos would have referred to as Hellenism, had been subjected to violent suppression for almost two centuries. And yet the old Gods continued to be worshipped by some, and there is very good reason to suspect that one of these die-hard Hellenes was John Lydos. But how does one properly investigate such a suspicion, and what might constitute reasonable cause for giving rise to the suspicion in the first place?
No one has given more thought to the subject of religious identity in general and religious conversion in particular than that professional harvester of human souls, the Christian missionary. A while ago I posted a long excerpt from a contemporary textbook on the science of "missiology" (Confessions of a Christian Missionary), in which the author (Alan Tippett) lays bear the religious realities of coerced conversion.
Tippett makes the painfully obvious observation that when religious conversion is imposed by force, the result is that people do not undergo genuine conversion of the heart. Instead, one finds that people who are forced to convert do so only "nominally", in Tippett's words. While going through the motions of the officially approved religion, victims of forced conversion have a tendency to nevertheless persist in covertly practicing their old religion, which Tippett refers to as their "latent" or "submerged" religion. And Tippett makes a point of adding this: "It will be this latent religion that speaks to their deepest feelings."
Tippett's focus is on the indigenous populations of the Americas, Africa and Asia whose forced conversion to Christianity took place hand-in-hand with their conquest and colonization by European nation-states during the modern era (going back to the late 15th century). As a Christian missionary, Tippett is troubled by the realization that these populations have not undergone genuine conversion because of the coercive manner in which Christianity was imposed upon them. It must be stipulated that Tippet never questions the agenda of his missionary predecessors, rather, his only problem lies with what he sees as the inartfullness of their methods.
Of great interest, and as noted in that earlier post, is the fact that Tippett draws the reader's attention to the obvious parallel between the more recent (historically speaking) examples of forced conversion (in the Americas, Africa and Asia) that he, as a modern missionary is mostly concerned with in practical terms, and the forced Christianization of the peoples of Europe during the Middle Ages. The violent and coercive Christianization of Europe, in turn, was itself nothing new, but was rather a seamless continuation of how Christianization had been accomplished going all the way back to the reigns of Constantius and Constantine in the fourth century (a small detail that Tippett does not address). Therefore, in my opinion, it is justifiable to extend Tippett's concept of "submerged" Paganism (which he himself extends to the 8th century in Northern Europe) all the way back to the sixth and fifth centuries and, in particular, to the case of John Lydos and like-minded contemporaries. [For more on the "liberal use of the sword" as a constant feature of Christianization from the 4th century forward, see Lawrence G. Duggan 1997 paper "Compulsion and Conversion from Yahweh to Charlemagne", which appears as the third chapter in the anthology The Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle Ages, edited by James Muldoon and published by the University Press of Florida.]
In subsequent posts, in addition to delving more deeply into Tippett's concept of "submerged" Paganism in the wake of forced conversion, I will be drawing upon three different works by Byzantine scholar Anthony Kaldellis (also see Kaldellis' list of publications here) listed below. These works by Kaldellis have a great deal to say about "The Religion of Ioannes Lydos", which is the title of the third work. What I will be attempting to do is to show how the evidence presented by Kaldellis concerning Lydos (& Co.) fits nicely into Tippett's conceptual framework of "submerged" Paganism:
- Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
- Identifying Dissident Circles in Sixth-Century Byzantium: The Friendship of Prokopios and loannes Lydos, Florilegium 21 (2004) 1-17.
- The Religion of Ioannes Lydos, Phoenix 57 (2003) 300-316.