290 AD to 310 AD, Psalm 62: The split of the Roman Empire.

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1024px-Prima_tetrarchia_DiocletianusThis generation is that of the 290s and 300s.

This generation sees the end of Diocletian’s reign and a new political division of the world, at least of the known world, of the Roman world. This will be especially the starting point of the ascent of Constantine the future emperor of the new Eastern Roman Empire:
  • Young_Folks'_History_of_Rome_illus342In 293 [1], the emperor Diocletian decided to share the imperial power in four, keeping the East for himself and confiding the other three regions to an old soldier-friend, Maximian, to a hard and brutal professional soldier from Thrace which was called Galère, and Constance Chlore (father of Constantine). Even then, the pitfalls of such an organization had to be obvious. Although Diocletian insisted that the empire remained one and indivisible, sooner or later fractures would be inevitable. For a few years everything was going well enough – years that young Constantine passed to Diocletian’s court. But in 305 there was an event without equal in the history of the Roman Empire: the voluntary abdication of the emperor. After twenty years on the imperial throne, Diocletian withdrew from Constantine_-_geograph.org.uk_-_609228the world, forcing a furious Maximian to abdicate with him.

Galley and Constance Chlorine are proclaimed Augustes. On July 25, 306, on the death of Constance his father, Constantine was named « emperor » by his men in York. But he stays in Gaul and Britain for six years or so until the end of this generation.

This generation marks the end of the Roman Empire as it has existed for centuries.
What sums up the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 62 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 4 )

  • For the conductor, on jeduthun, a song of David.
  • Only to God does my soul hope for silently; from Him is my salvation.
  • Only He is my Rock and my salvation, my stronghold so that I shall not falter greatly.
    • While a new empire that in its time was an enemy of the people of Israel disappears, David recalls the solidity of the Jewish people who without land, and holding only by divine alliance still survives this new empire in decline, despite the many attacks recalled in the previous psalms.
  • How long will you plan destruction to man? You shall be murdered, all of you, as a leaning wall, a tottering fence.
    • The image represents Rome, who wounded Jerusalem by destroying its walls, killing its population and burning the Temple. But by likening the murderer (Rome) to a wall that collapses, the psalmist evokes the fall of Rome that is being realized. Rome bruised the Jewish people, but collapsed to this generation as the Jewish people rebuilt themselves.
This empire is split and soon will emerge two entities, the Roman Empire of the West with Rome still as capital and the Eastern Roman Empire with Byzantium, the future Constantinople for capital.
In addition to the birth of these new entities, Christianity is gaining more and more foothold in both empires. Diocletian’s attempt to fight this new force will be in vain, soon the religion will become the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire before becoming also that of the empire of the West and finally of all Europe.
The resistance of the partisans of the ancient Roman cults will not be able to stem the rise of Christianity which is propagated not by the elites but by the base of the Roman society:
  • The success of Christianity in Rome does not prevent the long persistence of traditional religions. The calendar of pagan festivals remains in force, the temples are still maintained in the fourth century – some even even are built -, the Eastern cults (Mithra, Cybele) are still practiced. It is especially in the senatorial aristocracy that traditional religion keeps its most active supporters. At the beginning of the sixth century, only a few families are Christian (the Anicii, the Probi), and the senators are reluctant to do this little Roman thing, which is the adoption of the Christian novelty. Augustine’s sermon also notes the class motive of their reluctance: « I will adopt the religion of my concierge instead of Plato’s? « .

1024px-St._Benedict_Parish_(Terre_Haute,_Indiana),_interior,_detail_of_apse_mural,_the_Trinity_and_the_Heavenly_Court

The Jews who had assimilated the pagan Roman Empire to Edom the hereditary enemy because they had destroyed the second temple and caused the ruin of Judea must go to the obvious, Christianity, successor of Rome is much more formidable . The empire that is forming in his name will bring even more troubles to the Jewish nation.
From the initial message of Jesus, there will not be much left, the official doctrine will turn Jesus, the pious Jewish man, into a complex deity that will establish a certain power in the world.
It is this perspective that David denounces in the next verse of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 62 associated to this generation, verse 5 )

  • Only because of his loftiness have they plotted to topple him; they delight in lies; with his mouth they bless, but inwardly they curse forever.
Confronted with this new geopolitical datum that will reshape the world, David on behalf of his people reaffirms his faith in God and his firm determination not to give up the covenant.
This is expressed in the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 62 associated to this generation, verses 6 to 8 )

  • Only to God should you hope, my soul, for my hope is from Him.
  • Only He is my Rock and my salvation; my stronghold, I shall not falter.
  • Upon God rests my salvation and my honor; [He is] the Rock of my strength, my shelter is in God.

the magnificent masterpiece golden mosaics from the domed ceiling of the ancient byzantine church of Saint Chora showing scenes from the nativity, peacocks and the virgin mary

By the advent of Constantine will emerge the empire of the East with Constantinople, new name of Byzantium. This advent will also be that of Christianity as a power that will be born in purple:
  • At [2] beginning was … the name – certainly one of the most magical that has resonated in history. Even if the empire had never existed, Byzantium would certainly have remained impressed in the minds and memories by the mere music of its name – visions of gold, malachite and porphyry, grandiose and solemn ceremonies, heavy brocades decorated with rubies and emeralds, sumptuous mosaics shining in rooms misted with incense.
It is against this pomp, of which Byzantium will be the synonym, to come which will not stop accompanying the Christian expansion that David reacts in the continuation of the psalm. David, in the continuation of the psalm, if he accepts that other peoples, through Christianity, come closer to God warns them by inviting them not to forget the essence of the divine message that can not be replaced by these splendor:

(extract of the psalm 62 associated to this generation, verses 9 to 11 )

  • Trust in Him at all times; people, pour out your hearts before Him. God is our shelter forever.
  • The sons of men are but vanity, and men of distinction are deceitful; were they to be put on a scale, together they would equal vanity.
  • Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
To conclude, David reminds us that only God has a divine nature and that no one can be associated with him thus giving limits to the Christian doctrine which will soon be really constructed.

Thus, parodying the future Christian Trinitarian formula (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) David recalls the fundamental creed of Judaism (God is One):

(extract of the psalm 62 associated to this generation, verses 12 and 13 )

  • God spoke one thing, I heard two, for God has strength.
  • And You, O Lord, have kindness, for You repay a man according to his deed.

 

 

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[1] John Julius Norwich: « History of Byzantium ». Chapter: « the first centuries / Constantine the Great ». (French: « Histoire de Byzance ». Chapitre : les premiers siècles/Constantin le Grand. (p. 18) ).

[2] John Julius Norwich: « History of Byzantium » / Chapter I: Constantine the Great; (French: « Histoire de Byzance »/Chapitre I: Constantin le Grand/p.17 ).