Friday, May 17, 2019

The Purpose of Opinion Polls is to Influence Public Opinion, Not to Measure It.

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I created the above graphic four years ago as the presidential election cycle was just ramping up. As we approach election year 2020, it is even more critical to make American citizens aware of this. Public opinion polls, especially this far out from an election, are not about gauging your opinion about a particular candidate. Honestly, the pollsters don't much care what you think.

The true purpose of most opinion polls is to influence public opinion, not to measure it. 

This is especially true the farther from the election you are. Why? Because the election is the only real test of how accurate the pollsters are. A poll taken six months, a year, or eighteen months before an election will not be tested for a long time. By the time of the election, such erroneous or fraudulent polls will be long forgotten.

Pollsters seek to create an illusion of viability in some candidates or issues because they know that many low-information voters will simply glom onto whoever the perceived front-runner is as the election approaches. Rather than allowing this sleight-of-hand to influence your opinion, don’t let the polls determine which candidates are viable for you. Rather, do the research and find out which candidates are on record as having views that mirror your own, and vote for that person, particularly in the primaries.

In short, don't be a low-information voter. Ignore the polls completely, not just because they are inaccurate but because they are purposefully manipulative.

If everyone did that, we wouldn’t be stuck with media-approved “lesser of two evils” candidates in every single election.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Noble in person and excellent in royal manners" ~ Baptism of Desire and the suspicious death of Valentinian II

Potrait of Valentinian II from a statue originally found in Aphrodisias. 
On May 15, anno domini 392, the young Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II was found dead in the imperial residence at Vienne in southern Gaul. It is said he was hanged using his own handkerchief.

Son of the great warrior emperor, Valentinian I, the younger Valentinian had been declared emperor when he was only four years old upon the premature death of is father in AD 375, even though his half-brother, Gratian, already ruled as co-emperor in the West. Under the regency of his mother, the forceful Empress Justina, and the protection of the army, Valentinian II came to an uneasy accommodation with his brother, Gratian. An Arian, Justina dominated the early years of her son's reign while he was still a small child, and is most commonly remembered today as a bitter opponent of Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan.

Just as Valentinian II was coming of age, however, a rebellion arose in Britain and the usurper Maximus defeated and killed Gratian. By AD 387, Valentinian II and Justina were forced to flee to the East and seek the protection of the emperor Theodosius in Constantinople. A year later, Theodosius invaded the West and put down the rebellion, re-establishing the now 18 year old Valentinian II on the Western throne and providing him with a powerful guardian — Arbogast.

A Frankish general, Arbogast had little loyalty to Valentinian II and viewed him as an impediment to his own ambitions. The two soon came into conflict and Valentinian, to his chagrin, discovered who truly held the power in the West when his magister militum treated him contemptuously in public and refused to obey orders. The early 6th century pagan historian Zosimus provides a dramatic description of one such incident between the two men:
At length Valentinian, no longer able to submit to his correction, when Arbogastes was approaching him as he sat on the imperial throne, looked sternly upon him, and presented him with a writing, by which he dismissed him from his command. Arbogastes, having read it, replied, "You neither gave me the command, nor can deprive me of it;" and having said this, tore the writing to pieces, threw it down, and retired. From that period their hatred was no longer kept to themselves, but appeared in public. [Zosimus, New History, Book IV]
Such a situation could not long endure without a violent break. Writing about fifty years after the fact, the historian Hermias Sozomen provides the following summary of the events surrounding Valentinian’s death:
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While Theodosius was thus occupied in the wise and peaceful government of his subjects in the East, and in the service of God, intelligence was brought that Valentinian had been strangled. Some say that he was put to death by the eunuchs of the bedchamber, at the solicitation of Arbogastes, a military chief, and of certain courtiers, who were displeased because the young prince had begun to walk in the footsteps of his father, concerning the government, and contrary to the opinions approved by them. Others assert, however, that Valentinian committed the fatal deed with his own hands, because he found himself impeded in attempting deeds which are not lawful in one of his years; and on this account he did not deem it worth while to live; for although an emperor, he was not allowed to do what he wished. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
Socrates Scholasticus, writing at about the same time, provides similar testimony [see Book V, Chapter 25].

Valentinian’s death was deeply lamented by his former opponent, Ambrose, the great champion of orthodoxy at Milan. This was because Valentinian had recently corresponded with the bishop and declared himself willing to throw off Arianism and accept baptism at his hands. Ambrose was preparing to journey to Vienne to accomplish this theological coup when news arrived that Valentinian was dead. Ambrose has left at least two testimonials of his grief in the form of a letter to Theodosius and a funeral oration which he offered in honor of the deceased young emperor. In his letter to the emperor, Ambrose writes:
I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. [Ambrose of Milan, Letter 51]
Sozomen’s account also includes praise of the young emperor’s character as follows:
It is said that the boy was noble in person, and excellent in royal manners; and that, had he lived to the age of manhood, he would have shown himself worthy of holding the reins of empire, and would have surpassed his father in magnanimity and justice. But though endowed with these promising qualities, he died in the manner above related. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
But perhaps most interesting aspect is Ambrose’s funeral oration for Valentinian II and the role it has played over the succeeding centuries in forming Catholic doctrine on the concept known as Baptism of Desire. This notion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, means that those who perish prior to baptism, like Valentinian II, may receive the efficacy of the sacrament if they profess an explicit desire to receive it together with penitence for their sins and charity. In his funeral oration in honor of Valentinian II, Saint Ambrose says:
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But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: What else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: 'By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ (Wisdom 4:7) [Taken from Deferrari: "On Emperor Valentinian" in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose of Milan]
Though accepted as a dogma of the Catholic Church, the concept of Baptism of Desire remains controversial among Christians to this day. Thus we may see the relevance of Valentinian II’s death reflected in theological debates that carry on even to the present time.

Arbogast would eventually get his comeuppance at the hands of Theodosius at the Battle of the River Frigidus a mere two years later.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

"We are to be thrown overboard by the Empire" ~ The short reign of the last western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos

A gold solidus of Julius Nepos minted in Thessalonica.
May 9 is one of several possible dates given for the death of the last Western Roman emperor, Julius Nepos, in the year AD 480.

“Wait,” you say. “I thought the last Western Emperor was Romulus Augustulus who was deposed by Odoacer the Scirian in AD 476.” Well, about that…

Julius Nepos was named Western Emperor by the ailing Eastern Roman emperor Leo in AD 473. Leo did this because he opposed the puppet emperor Glycerius who had been raised by the Burgundian general Gundobad. According to the Chronicle of John of Antioch, this Gundobad had personally beheaded the Western emperor Anthemius the previous year in the service of uncle, the treacherous generalissimo, Ricimer. According to the Fragmentary History of Priscus:
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When the Eastern emperor Leo learned of Glycerius’s accession, he marshaled an army against him under the command of Nepos, who when he captured Rome subdued Glycerius without a fight. He drove him out of the palace and appointed him bishop of Salon [that is, Salona in Dalmatia across the Adriatic]. Glycerius made a mockery of the office for eight months. Nepos was immediately proclaimed emperor and began to rule Rome. [Taken from Given: Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 171]
The contemporary poet Apollinaris Sidonius described Julius Nepos as: “a man whose character, no less than the success of his arms, entitles us to hail him as Supreme Augustus.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 346]

Unfortunately for Nepos, he possessed neither sufficient military strength nor support in Italy to establish a lasting reign. The only accomplishment Nepos could claim during the 14 months he held the imperial authority in Italy was the ceding of practically all of Gaul to Euric, king of the Visigoths in exchange for peace. Sidonius, who had been an early supporter of Nepos, laments this shameful negotiation and the subsequent quitting of his homeland by the Romans, saying: “For all these daring experiments of our devotion our reward, as I hear, is that we are to be thrown overboard by the Empire. Oh! blush, I pray you, for this peace which is neither expedient nor honorable.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 493]

The abandonment of Gaul for a tenuous peace seemed an unpopular move in Italy as well. The history of what happened next is exceedingly hazy, but it appears that the Roman forces under a certain Ecdicius were recalled from Gaul, arrived in Italy, and were subsequently placed under the command of Orestes. This Orestes was a man with a long pedigree of service to the Roman empire, most memorably as an ambassador to Attila in AD 449. Once named Magister Militum, Orestes quickly seized the opportunity to depose Nepos and install his own son as emperor—Romulus Augustulus.

As his support in Italy evaporated, Julius Nepos fled to Dalmatia to join his previous adversary, Glycerius, in exile. There he remained quiet as events unfolded in Italy. The barbarian warlord Odoacer deposed Augustulus and declared himself king of Italy in AD 476. Writing to Constantinople in AD 477, the Roman Senate, no doubt as a mouthpiece for Odoacer, declared that they no longer needed an emperor—that the emperor of the East was sufficient for them with Odoacer as their protector—and they returned the imperial insignia of the west to Zeno.

To this embassy, Zeno replied (as per the near-contemporary historian, Malchus):
The western Romans had received two men from the eastern Empire and had driven one out, Nepos, and killed the other, Anthemius. Now, he said, they knew what ought to be done. While their emperor was still alive, they should hold no other thought than to receive him back on his return. [taken from the De Imperatoribus Romanis website ~ Julius Nepos by Ralph W. Mathisen]
Needless to say, Odoacer had no interest in re-instating Nepos, though he seems to have tolerated his presence in nearby Salona for a few more years. In AD 480, however, things suddenly came to a head. Some of the sources claim that Nepos was in the process of gathering resources for an attempt to retake his throne in Italy when he was suddenly slain by two retainers. One source (Photius, writing a summary of the lost history of Malchus) claims that the assassination of Nepos was instigated by none other than Glycerius himself.

Taking advantage of the situation, Odoacer used the assassination as an excuse to invade Dalmatia, thereby extending his rule over the region and establishing the boundaries of the barbarian kingdom of Italy. Odoacer would rule this kingdom until until AD 493 when he was slain by Theodoric the Ostrogoth.

Meanwhile, in the farther reaches of Gaul, a Roman rump state—the so-called "kingdom" of Soissons, survived until AD 486 under the leadership of the general Syagrius.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

“O Athanasius, you think to escape, but you will not escape” ~ May 2, Feast day of Saint Athanasius the Great

Saint Athanasius is exiled from Alexandria.
Today is the feast of Saint Athanasius, 4th century patriarch of Alexandria, and a doctor of the universal Church. Athanasius has been revered through the ages primarily for his Holy Spirit-inspired steadfastness in defending orthodoxy of doctrine, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He served as patriarch of Alexandria for nearly fifty years, though with frequent interruptions due to his being exiled by Arian heretics during the intervals when they attained political supremacy. In all, Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria five separate times.

An interesting account of Athanasius’s early life and testament of his many virtues may found in the Ecclesiastical History of Hermias Sozomen. Here, Sozomen tells the extraordinary story of how Athanasius first came to the attention of Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, while still a boy:
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[Alexander] chanced to cast his eyes towards the sea, and perceived some children playing on the shore, and amusing themselves by imitating the bishop and the ceremonies of the Church. At first he considered the mimicry as innocent, and took pleasure in witnessing it; but when they touched upon the unutterable [that is, the Holy Mass], he was troubled, and communicated the matter to the chief of the clergy. The children were called together and questioned as to the game at which they were playing, and as to what they did and said when engaged in this amusement. At first they through fear denied. But when Alexander threatened them with torture, they confessed that Athanasius was their bishop and leader, and that many children who had not been initiated had been baptized by him.
Alexander carefully inquired what the priest of their play was in the habit of saying or doing, and what they answered or were taught. On finding that the exact routine of the Church had been accurately observed by them, he consulted the priests around him on the subject, and decided that it would he unnecessary to rebaptize those who, in their simplicity, had been judged worthy of the Divine grace. He therefore merely performed for them such offices as it is lawful only for those who are consecrated to initiating the mysteries. He then took Athanasius and the other children, who had playfully acted as presbyters and deacons, to their own relations under God as a witness that they might be brought up for the Church, and for leadership in what they had imitated.
Alexander soon found Athanasius to be very well educated and wise beyond his years. He invited the young man to dine with him and eventually made him his secretary. When Alexander’s health began to decline, he sought to make Athanasius his successor as patriarch. According to Apolinarius the Syrian (as quoted by Sozomen), Athanasius had other ideas:
In all these matters much disturbance was excited by impiety, but its first effects were felt by the blessed teacher [that is, Alexander] of this man [that is, Athanasius], who was at hand as an assistant, and behaved as a son would to his father. Afterwards this holy man himself underwent the same experience, for when appointed to the episcopal succession he fled to escape the honor, but he was discovered in his place of concealment by the help of God, who had forecast by Divine manifestations to his blessed predecessor, that the succession was to devolve upon him. For when Alexander was on the point of death, he called upon Athanasius, who was then absent. One who bore the same name, and who happened to be present, on hearing him call this way, answered him; but to him Alexander was silent, since he was not summoning this man. Again he called, and as it often happens, the one present kept still, and so the absent one was disclosed. Moreover, the blessed Alexander prophetically exclaimed, "O Athanasius, you think to escape, but you will not escape," meaning that Athanasius would be called to the conflict.
Athanasius’s appointment would generate controversy almost immediately. For his part, Sozomen offered a testimonial in favor of Saint Athanasius in the following terms:
“For my part, I am convinced that it was by Divine appointment that Athanasius succeeded to the high-priesthood; for he was eloquent and intelligent, and capable of opposing plots, and of such a man the times had the greatest need. He displayed great aptitude in the exercise of the ecclesiastical functions and fitness for the priesthood, and was, so to speak, from his earliest years, self-taught.”
The above excerpts from Sozomen are all taken from his Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 17. Sozomen’s History follows the entire career of Athanasius through his various defeats and triumphs and is well worth reading in that regard. An excellent, detailed summary of Saint Athanasius's eventful life may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for him here.

To close, here is a quote from Saint Athanasius’s treatise On the Incarnation of the Word in which he argues that the mighty works accomplished in the name of Christ in the aftermath of the Great Persecution of Diocletian constitute ample proof that the resurrected Savior is indeed alive:
The Savior works so great things among men, and day by day is invisibly persuading so great a multitude from every side, both from them that dwell in Greece and in foreign lands, to come over to His faith, and all to obey His teaching, will anyone still hold his mind in doubt whether a Resurrection has been accomplished by the Savior, and whether Christ is alive, or rather is Himself the Life? Or is it like a dead man to be pricking the consciences of men, so that they deny their hereditary laws and bow before the teaching of Christ? Or how, if he is no longer active (for this is proper to one dead), does he stay from their activity those who are active and alive, so that the adulterer no longer commits adultery, and the murderer murders no more, nor is the inflicter of wrong any longer grasping, and the profane is henceforth religious? Or how, if He be not risen but is dead, does He drive away, and pursue, and cast down those false gods said by the unbelievers to be alive, and the demons they worship?
For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is deposed and all imposture of evil spirits is exposed, and any spirit is unable to endure even the name, nay even on barely hearing it flies and disappears. But this work is not that of one dead, but of one that lives — and especially of God. [Taken from On the Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 30]
These observations are even more remarkable in that they were ostensibly written about the year AD 318 when Christianity was less than a decade removed from outright government persecution.