JOVIAN (c. 332-364)
The Roman emperor who restored orthodox Christianity to its official status after its deposition by JULIAN THE APOSTATE. Jovian was born in Moesia, Illyria, in the Balkans, to a military officer, Count Varronius. Jovian was an officer in Julian’s army when Julian died fighting the Persians in 363 and the troops hailed him as emperor. The situation of the Roman army in Persia was perilous, and Jovian was forced to conclude a disastrous peace with Shapur II in order to save his forces from destruction. On July 1, 363, he surrendered the five provinces east of the Tigris River that Galerius had captured in 298, the frontier cities of Nisibis and Singara, and all Roman influence in Armenia. It was a “necessary but ignoble peace” (Eutropius Breviarium 10. 17).
Jovian restored Christianity as the official religion of the empire, but he seems also to have issued an edict allowing all his subjects freedom of conscience except for practices of magic (Themistius Oratio V). The chi-rho symbol, a stylized, abbreviated form of the name “Christ” in Greek, was restored to the coinage, and some of the privileges taken away by Julian were restored to the church. In particular, immunities from taxation were restored to the clergy, as well as their allowances in kind (annona), and stipends were to be paid once more to widows and virgins.
On his way to Antioch in September, Jovian met ATHANASIUS, exiled bishop of Alexandria, and together they rode into Antioch. It was one of Athanasius’ great triumphs. The angry critic of the emperor Constantius, who had deposed him, became a loyal imperial subject once more. Jovian formally restored him to his bishopric and, equally important, invited him to draw up a statement of the faith. This is preserved as Athanasius’ Letter 56. Petitions by Athanasius’ opponents in Alexandria were dismissed by the emperor with indignation.
While the Nicene Creed was now established as orthodox and Athanasius’ tenacity had been vindicated, it was not possible to bridge the differences between him and Melitius, bishop of Antioch, who represented the “New Nicene” party (see MELITIAN SCHISM). Melitius agreed with the HOMOOUSION position on the nature of Christ, but a council over which he presided on 5 October 363 added the gloss “the Son is born of the substance of the Father, and in respect of substance is like him” (Socrates Scholasticus Historia ecclesiastica 3. 25; cf. Sozomen Historia ecclesiastica 6. 4). Melitius and Athanasius remained out of communion with each other.
Jovian left Antioch in November and progressed slowly toward Constantinople. He stopped at Tarsus, where he paid his respects at Julian’s tomb, before moving north to Ancyra, where on 11 January 364 he promulgated an edict abrogating Julian’s restrictions on Christian teachers of the classics (Codex Theodosianus 13. 3. 6). Thence he reached Dadastana, on the borders of Bithynia and Galatia, on 16 February. The night was cold, and a charcoal brazier was brought into the emperor’s room. Next morning he was found dead, suffocated by its fumes.
Socrates had a high opinion of Jovian and believed that in his good sense and moderation his reign showed the highest promise. His contemporary Ammianus is more noncommittal. Jovian appears to have been a competent rather than an inspired soldier, moderately educated, and a convinced Christian. A bluff good humor and general goodwill carried him through the crises of his short reign. His reign is important in the history of Egyptian Christianity for its unequivocal support for the theology of Athanasius. It assured the bishop of Alexandria’s prestige and authority as spokesman for orthodoxy and enhanced the standing of Alexandria as “the city of the orthodox.”
- Wirth, G. “Jovian, Kaiser und Karikatur.” In Vivarium. Festschrift Theodor Klauser zum 90. Geburtstag, pp. 353-84. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Ergänzungsband 11. Münster, 1984.
- Wordsworth, J. “Jovian.” In DCB 2, pp. 460-65. Repr. New York, 1974.