Trier—Melting Pot of Religions
By “Awake!” correspondent in the Federal Republic of Germany
WOULD you like to join me on a tour of the city of Trier? I have been told that there are some interesting—even revealing—things to be learned here. Our group is ready to go.
“Hello, my name is Peter,” our tour guide begins. “I hope you will enjoy your tour of Germany’s oldest city.”
Before us is the Porta Nigra, meaning “black gate,” a huge, coal-black sandstone monument. It was constructed here in Trier, near the Luxembourg border, in the fourth century and well depicts the influence that the Roman Empire had upon Trier, its culture, its language, its architecture and its religion. Trier is named for the Treveri, a people of ancient Gaul, who were conquered by Julius Caesar.
How old is Trier? Legend has it that a stepson of Queen Semiramis named Trebeta founded the city. There is no definite proof of that. Nevertheless, on a house at the Grand Market, in golden letters, is an inscription that proclaims: “Ante Romam treviris stetit annis mille trecentis perstet et aeterna pace fruatur,” meaning, “Trier existed 1,300 years before Rome. May it continue to exist and to enjoy eternal peace.”
Not only is Trier Germany’s oldest city, but during the third century it served, along with Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople, as one of the capitals of the world. Constantine the Great began ruling there in 306 C.E., after which the city grew in importance. During his reign of 31 years—he is said to have resided in Trier until 312—it experienced a tremendous building program. Probably nowhere north of the Alps can so many Roman buildings be found as in Trier, nicknamed “Roma Secunda,” the second Rome; and the poet Ausonius called it “Rome beyond the Alps.”
When the Romans came, some of the names of the gods of the Gallo-Celtic people here were combined with the names of the gods of Rome, creating such joint designations as Mars-Jovantucarus and Apollo-Grannus. The Treveri tribal god Lenus was combined with Mars, the Roman god of nature and war, and an unusually large temple was erected in honor of this “double god.” An altar inscribed with this name still exists. Statues also indicate that Roman and Gallic depictions of their gods and of their characteristics were gradually merging during the first and second centuries C.E. Gallic paganism and Roman paganism were becoming fused into a new religion. My thoughts are interrupted when someone asks:
“But didn’t the Romans bring Christianity to these people?”
“Well, not actually,” our guide replies, “because, you see, the Romans were not really Christians themselves. In fact, in 303 C.E. Emperor Diocletian began a savage persecution of Christians. Earlier, however, he paved the way for a significant religious change that involved the Christian religion. He divided his empire into four parts. After 285 C.E. he made Trier the capital of the Western Empire, which included Gaul (France), Spain, Britain and the two Germanic provinces. Diocletian abdicated in 305 C.E., and the next year Constantine the Great took up residence in Trier.”
As Peter explains the part that Constantine the Great had played in merging the already pagan mixture of Gallo-Roman religion with apostate Christianity, I listen carefully:
“Constantine quickly came to realize that the various peoples and interest groups in his empire needed something to unite them. He decided the Christian religion might serve to do this. So he extended recognition to the Christian religion in an edict issued at Nicomedia in 313 C.E. This did not mean that he had been converted to Christianity. Many authorities argue that his motives were chiefly political, and that he simply used the Christian religion as a tool to achieve stability for his empire. As an individual he remained unchanged by the Bible’s teachings, resorting to treachery, trickery, even murder, to achieve his aims. He was superstitious and constantly on the lookout for portents and omens. So in the true sense of the word he never became a Christian.
“By the fourth century Christians were themselves at disagreement on various points, however; so Constantine first of all had to try to unite them. In an attempt to allay their differences, he convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., where the Nicene Creed spelling out the Trinity doctrine was adopted.”
I wonder how many Catholics and Protestants know that this doctrine can be traced back to a pagan emperor who, for political ends, had used it to merge a twofold Roman-Gallo pagan religion with apostate Christianity.
Ahead of us is an imposing brick building at least 30 m (98 feet) high, its walls full of large arched windows. Peter is already explaining: “ . . . the basilica, part of Constantine the Great’s imperial palace, where he, sitting under a canopy, received guests for his festive and political gatherings. This canopy was later used as the architectural pattern for the triumphal arch, the symbol of majesty, which was incorporated into many Christian churches. Since 1856 the basilica has been used as a Protestant church.”
When we stop to rest for a few minutes in the gardens, one member of our group debates whether to go on to the museum or to wait for us here, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air. “I am not much for museums,” he explains. “Is that where they have the ‘holy tunic’?”
So-called Christian Relics
I had read that over 1,700,000 pilgrims had come to Trier during special festivities in 1959 to see this “holy tunic,” or robe. It is displayed only on special occasions so I was quite sure it would not be in the museum for us to see.
Peter overheard my neighbor’s question and verifies what I thought. “No, Christian artifacts or relics are kept elsewhere. But Trier does have them. Constantine’s mother, Empress Helene, took a special liking to relics. Tradition has it that she arranged for the first shipment of them to Trier during the fourth century; it included one of Peter’s teeth, apostle Andreas’ sandals, apostle Matthias’ remains, a nail used to fasten Jesus to the stake and Jesus’ seamless robe, called the ‘holy tunic.’”
A man in our group is not hesitant in expressing disbelief. “Why, churches around the world display more relics than ever existed.” He, of course, is not far wrong. I remember having read in the book Der Heilige Rock in Trier—Geschichte und Religiöse Bedeutung des heiligen Gewandes Christi (The Holy Tunic in Trier—History and Religious Significance of Christ’s Holy Tunic) that Jesus’ tunics, or parts of them, are to be found not only in Trier, but also in Aachen, Bamberg, Bremen, Lokkum, Abbeville, Constantinople, London, Moscow and in more than 30 other churches and monasteries around the world. Really, how likely is it that any of Jesus’ original robes have survived until our day? And it surely is not reasonable to believe that so many of them have. Early Christians were opposed to keeping relics, since the practice runs counter to the Christian injunction of walking, not by sight, but by faith. (2 Cor. 5:7) And if the Christians did not keep them, would we expect their opposers to have done so, holding on to them as though they were something to be viewed as “extremely holy”?
The museum turns out to be highly interesting and revealing, rich in ancient sculptures and early Roman artifacts. Among other things, we see the torso of a pagan goddess. Peter explains the reason for her disfigurement: “For centuries pilgrims have been throwing stones at her in a symbolic rejection of paganism.”
How strange, I think to myself, when in reality many of these pilgrims themselves were supporting the very doctrines and practices of paganism because of the fusion of Gallo-Celtic paganism with Roman paganism, followed later by a fusion of this resultant religion with the apostate Christianity of Constantine’s day! Truly, Trier had been a melting place of religions.
We retrace our steps through the gardens, past the basilica, and start down a busy city street named in honor of Constantine. On our way, Peter hesitates at a corner and points to the left: “By the way, several blocks right down that street is the house where Karl Marx was born in 1818. Since it was opened to the public in 1965, it has been visited by over 100,000 persons.”
It might seem paradoxical that Germany’s oldest city, “Roma Secunda,” with a population still over 85 percent Catholic, should be the birthplace of a forerunner of one of the Catholic Church’s greatest enemies, Communism. But then, on second thought, maybe not as paradoxical as one might think, for Communism is an outgrowth, not of true Christianity, but, rather, of the pagan-apostate Christianity mixture of fusion religion in which Trier played such an interesting part. What good could possibly come of such a mixture? Perhaps this fact of history nicely illustrates it.
We found the tour to be interesting and thought provoking. It is our hope that you did too.
[Picture on page 21]