1055 BARBARIAN ASCENDENCY-KINGDOMS IN ITALY
was marked with a spirit of tolerance and
moderation. The old theory of the Roman
law that every citizen might choose his own
religion was adopted as best suited to the condition of the people.
It would, however, be far from the truth
to suppose that the government of Theodoric
was above reproach or his times without their
vices. In the beginning of his reign the Heruli were unjustly oppressed with taxation,
and several of the economic projects of the
king would, but for the opposition of Boethius,
have greatly injured the industrial interests
of the kingdom. The nobles and friends of
the monarch were in some instances permitted
to wrest estates from others and to hold their
unjust acquisitions. Nor was it possible that
the two hundred thousand Gothic warriors, by
whose barbaric valor Theodoric had conquered
an empire, could be, even in the midst of
peaceful surroundings, converted at once from
savagery to civilization.
It appears that the religious toleration introduced into the state by Theodoric, though
outwardly accepted by the Catholics, was
exceedingly distasteful to their orthodoxy.
Without the power to reverse or resent the
policy of the king, the Italian zealots turned
their animosity upon the Jews and made that
persecuted race the object of their scorn and
persecution. Many rich but defenseless Israelites-traders and merchants living at Rome,
Naples, Ravenna, Milan, and Genoa-were
deprived of their property and turned adrift
as so many paupers. Their synagogues were
despoiled and then burned, their homes pillaged, and their persons outraged. To the
credit of Theodoric, he set himself against
these manifestations of rapacious bigotry, and
some of the chief leaders of the tumult Were
obliged to make restitution to their victims,
and were then condemned to be publicly
whipped in the streets by the executioner.
Then it was that the Italian Catholics set
up a cry against the persecution of the Church.
The clemency and good deeds of the king
were forgotten by those who were opposed to
martyrdom when themselves were the martyrs.
The later years of the king's life were clouded
with these religious disturbances in his kingdom. Nor did the conduct of his Italian
subjects fail to excite in the mind of the sovereign the small vices of jealousy and bitterness. It is alleged that he secured the services
of informers against the malcontent but noble
bigots of the kingdom, whom he suspected,
not without cause, of a secret and treasonable
correspondence with the Emperor of the East.
Certain it is that Justinian, who had now
succeeded to power at Constantinople, resolved to purge the Church of heresy as well
in the West as in his paternal dominions.
An edict was issued from Constantinople
against the Arian Christians in all the Mediterranean states. Those who refused to accept the established creed of the Church were
to suffer the penalty of excommunication.
This course was indignantly resented by Theodoric, who justly reasoned that the same toleration shown by himself to his Catholic
subjects in the West should of right be extended to the Arian Christians in the Empire
of the Greeks. Theodoric accordingly ordered
the Roman pontiff and four distinguished
senators to go on an embassy to Constantinople, and there demand of Justinian the rights
of religious freedom. They were commanded
in their instructions to urge upon that monarch
that any pretense to a dominion over the conscience of man is a usurpation of the divine
prerogative, that the power of the earthly
sovereign is limited to earthly things, and
that the most dangerous heresy in a state is
that of a ruler who puts from himself and
his protection a part of his subjects on account of their religious faith. The rejection
by Justinian of this appeal furnished, so far
as any act could furnish, to Theodoric good
ground for issuing an edict that, after a certain day, the orthodox religion should be
prohibited throughout Italy.
It was in the midst of the bitterness excited by this schismatic broil that the virtuous
and philosophic Boethius, who had so long
been the greatest and best of the king's counselors, was accused of treason, imprisoned in
the tower of Pavia, and then subjected to an
ignominious execution. As Theodoric became
more gloomy in his old age, Boethius soared
into a clearer atmosphere. In the practical