History: Valens Persecutions of Christians - Free Paper

Published: 2023-12-25
History: Valens Persecutions of Christians - Free Paper
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  History Christianity
Pages: 6
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Under his leadership, Valens oversaw numerous persecutions that were either directly or indirectly related to religious faith. Valens had set out to persecute the Christians who were in denial of the Arian creed. Arianism or homoeism was a doctrine that rejected the holy trinity held by other Christians. The Arians viewed Jesus as a creation of God and therefore rejected his eternality (Mikolaski, 1978, p.67). Unfortunately for the Christians who rejected Arianism, Emperor Valens favored the doctrine of homoeism (Shaibu, 2013, p.51). It is because of that reason that the rise of Arianism or homoeism is solely attributed to the imperial favor that it received, especially in the Eastern part of the empire (Harnack, 1997, p.103). On the Western side, Bishop Ambrose of Milan was on offense with the Nicene Creed, a move that would pit him against Valens and lead to the persecution of many people because of their religious doctrine, particularly the Nicenes (Shaibu, 2013, p.51).

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The Nicene Creed is a philosophy that believes in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. That is the belief that there is one God in the three states God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (MacGregor, 2011, p. 519). According to MacGregor (2011, p. 519), the Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted doctrine among the Christian community since its inception. However, that was not the case for a brief period when Valens was in charge of the Eastern section of the Roman Empire. According to Snee (1985, p.401), that brief period of the reign of Emperor Valens was devoted solely to his persecutions of the Nicenes, the Chronicle states. However, Valens’ actions of persecution were not just limited to the Nicenes. There was also persecution of the Macedonians, Homoiousians, Anomoians, Novatians, and the Pneumatomachi. He showed tolerance towards Jewish doctrines by allowing them to retain perpetuity of the same privileges that had been given to the foremost priests (Seaver, 1952, p.67). However, the Nicenes and the Homoiousians were the primary targets because of their dominance (Snee, 1985, p. 414).

After his ascension to power, Valens set out in pursuit of religious unity. According to Fournier (2019, p. 11), Valens was performing a delicate balancing act within the complicated ecclesiastical rivalries between his eastern bishops and his desire to obtain religious unity. Snee (1985, p.413) indicates that the goals of Valens for carrying out such persecutions were to restore the Eastern church on the course established by Constantius II. That is why he moved to edict and exile Bishops who opposed the Constantius and Homoian parties. He moved to banish troublesome Bishops and confiscate their properties, hence leading him to be labeled persecutor. Valens began to fulfill his oath and granted to Arian’s favors that aroused violent reactions from the Orthodox because they began to maltreat the catholic, whose power had increased in the East. According to Fournier (2019, p.11), persecution was a blend of religious and political factors.

Some of Valen's tendencies were driven by his leadership inexperience and timidness. Snee (1985, p. 414) describes him as being irresolute and susceptible to the influence of others. Figures such as the Arian Bishop Euzoius were able to bring him under their influence. There is also Modestes, who under the instructions of Valens, instituted harsh persecutions of various religious and political figures in Antioch especially the Catholics (St. Alphonsus, 2005, p. 55). According to St. Alphonsus (2005, p. 41), he put many to the torture, ordered a great many to be drowned, and sent off a very great multitude into exile, into Palestine, Arabia, Lybia, and many other provinces. Valens commanded Modestes to put the catholic beliefs to death. He obeyed him, Modestes claimed that he was taking them to banishment as that was the punishment for troublemakers, he put them on the ship, and sailors were told to set the vessel on fire when there are at a distance from the land and leave them to perish. Valens’ plan to burn the ship failed as the wind blew the vessel offshore on fire (St. Alphonsus, 2005, p. 55).

While Valens’s persecutions seemed to have been based on religious and political policies, others indicated personal motivations. According to Snee (1985, p.415), the death of his elder brother Valentinian was marked by an increase in Valen’s persecution. Valens was different from his brother in various sectors except in the matter of religious policies. However, his brother’s death prevented a clash between the Eastern and the Western emperors, primarily due to Valen’s pursuit of Homoianism implementation. The Nicene doctrine did not allow for the persecution and even forbade the same against Nicenes, and the interference of Valentinian in religious affairs is attributed to have contributed to his brother’s decisions to recall the exiles (Snee, 1985, p. 415).

Valens had sent many ecclesiastics of the Church of Edessa into the west, and when he was about to banish at basil, the pen broke, and his arm was miraculously paralyzed when he was about to sign a sentence (St. Alphonsus, 2005, p. 41). According to St. Alphonsus (2005, p. 41), he persecuted the Catholic followers of St. Meletius, and banished them from the churches, he also issued a decree directed to those who championed the faith that obliged them to enroll themselves among his troops, intending to punish them severely in case of disobedience, and knowing well that they would not do as he ordered (St. Alphonsus, 2005 p.41). St. Alphonsus (2005, p.41) reveals that Valen's reign led to the murder of Catholic priests and the torture of many followers, some were forced to join his troops to be punished if they made mistakes, he also disagreed with those who sympathized with the faith. However, in as much he was more authoritarian, he is brother was off more and more tremendous success than he was. In the West, where Valentinian ruled, there was peace and less dispute to be solved than in the East where Valens ruled (Day et al., 2016, p.28). The Eastern side had more conflict, persecution problems to be solved, and no peace.

Valens’ war with the Goths had caused him to move into Antioch, accompanied by increased persecution. However, this trend also reversed as he neared the end of his time. Several factors seemed to have contributed to the reduction of Nicenes’ persecutions. Snee (1985, p.416) notes that there were no more exiles in the year after 376. It represented a change in strategy for Valens, who was also dealing with a renewed Gothic war. There was also the death of Euzoius, who was an influential Arian figure (Snee, 1985, p.416). There is evidence to suggest that Valens was starting to adopt a more liberal religious policy, due to the advice he was receiving from Themistius. Themistius had used logic to appeal to Valens regarding the persecutions. Themistius used the example of Pagan tolerance of diversity in religious beliefs as a model that should be adopted by Christians. The Bishops’ claims of persecution kept reducing as Valens’ stay in Antioch seemed to have allowed Themistius to convince him to abandon his policy of religious persecution.

Valens is one of the rarely discussed Roman emperors because of his short relative rule. He lived at a time of religious extremism, and his preference for the Arian creed made him persecute those who dissented from homoeism. He was responsible for various kinds of persecutions ranging from human means such as exile to crude methods such as torture and beheadings. These persecutions profoundly impacted Christianity as it allowed Arianism to thrive for a while, especially in the eastern part of the Roman empire. However, they also ensured that people were quick to abandon it after his death, not only because of the crude methods that he had used to promote it but also because most people did not subscribe to it in the first place.


Day, J., Hakola, R., Kahlos, M., & Tervahauta, U. (Eds.). (2016). Spaces in late antiquity: cultural, theological and archaeological perspectives. Routledge.

Fournier, É. (2019). The Christian discourse of persecution in Late Antiquity. Heirs of Roman Persecution: Studies on a Christian and Para-Christian Discourse in Late Antiquity.

Harnack, A. (1997). History of Dogma, 7 Volumes (Vol. 1). Wipf and Stock Publishers.

MacGregor, K. (2011). Reference Article - Nicene Creed. Milestone Documents of World Religions.

Mikolaski, S. J. (1978). Arianism. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. JD Douglas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. p.67. http://www.drsamstheology.com/historical/early_christian_theology.pdfSeaver, J. E. (1952). Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire. University of Kansas Publications.

Shaibu, I. A. (2013). The Arian Controversy, its Ramifications, and Lessons for the Ghanaian Church. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention. 2(11), 48-54. http://www.academia.edu/download/32903434/I021101048054-Publication_November_2013.doc

Snee, R. (1985). Valens’ Recall of the Nicene Exiles and Anti-Arian Propaganda. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 26(4), 395-419. https://grbs.library.duke.edu/article/download/5171/5377

St Alphonsus, M. L. (2005). The history of heresies and their refutation. St Athanasius Press.

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