This article investigates the ideological dimensions of an expressly spatialized discourse of Christian heresy in late antiquity as articulated in the laws of the Theodosian Code. It argues that efforts to legislate heresy in spatial terms served both to reify its seemingly uncontrollable, protean nature, while also distinguishing heresy as a dangerous social contagion from heresy as a cognitive condition. To legislate heresy in the language of space and place was an attempt to regularize it, to subject it to conditions that could be usefully legislated against, maybe even with a modicum of tolerance in a narrowly defined spaced. The laws within the Code deployed different rhetorics and logics to describe and regulate the spaces of the heretics. The heretics were denied space altogether and thus exposed, permitted secluded spaces and contained, and pushed out of the world altogether and thus made oblivious. In these different rhetorical maneuvers, the Code produced a protracted struggle to define the very terms of its heretical control. In codifying efforts to manage such a diverse and diffuse mass of heretics, the Code produced not a singular orthodoxy, but various orthodoxies or strategies of heretical containment. Efforts to control the heretics, in short, produced competing and complementary orthodoxies.
THEODOSIAN CODE AS CREATIVE IDEOLOGY 1
By the time of the Theodosian Code's promulgation in 438 C.E., heresy had been fully criminalized within the Roman Empire.2 Accusations of heresy were no longer simply theological contraventions within the domain of the bishop and thus subject to ecclesiastical judgment; rather they were now criminal acts, subject to the juridical procedures and punishment of the state.3 The Theodosian Code (Codex Theodosianus or CTh) regulated heresy—and religious conformity more broadly—by outlawing names, spaces, spaces associated with particular names, behaviors, mentalities, and ritual practices.4 One of the last entries in the fifth title of the Code's sixteenth book conveys this prosecutorial zeal: “We pursue all heresies and all perfidies, all schisms, and superstitions of the gentiles and all false doctrines (errores) which are enemies of the catholic faith…and they shall know that, as authors, participants, and accomplices of sacrilegious superstition, they will be punished with proscription, so that if they cannot be drawn back by reason from their perfidious false doctrine, at least they may be restrained by terror.”5 This imperial constitution, delivered at the Italian city of Aquileia in 425 C.E. to Georgius, Proconsul of Africa, coalesced five distinct groups as manifestations of a single criminal behavior, “sacrilegious superstition.” It was the expansive Christian conceptualization of superstitio that demarcated this class as religiously and now criminally illicit vis-à-vis the true religion (vera religio) of the catholic church.6 At the core of this discursive complex—the axis mundi, if you will, of the distinction between licit (religio) and illicit religion (superstitio)—were the heretics, who persisted as the theological, communal, and criminal counter-term to the Code's professed orthodoxy.7
As the bureaucratic institutions of the Roman Empire became increasingly involved in theological regulation and ecclesiastical politics, the heretics emerged as a legal category that reinforced the terms of orthodoxy as public, institutional, and imperial.8 Heresy and orthodoxy formed a discursive pair that operated to perpetuate the idea that religious deviation both disturbed and sustained the public order precisely because superstitio, in its reimagined Christian sense, no longer connoted “‘irregular’ religious practices (‘not following the customs of the state’) and excessive commitment, an excessive commitment to the gods.”9 Rather, it now signified the doctrinal and theological falsity of counter-institutions and communities. The Code promulgated a regulatory discourse between orthodoxy and heresy encapsulated in its proclamation that the heretics, if they refused “to be drawn back by reason” (ratione retrahi), would be “restrained by terror” (terrore revocentur).10 The impulse to restrain the heretics and also expose them, to erase them altogether and yet make examples of them, captures the core of correlative but often competing heresiological discourses within the Code.
The rise of the imperial church radically altered how heretics were both constituted and managed in late antique texts. The heretics were bound by and caught up in an ideological effort to establish theological orthodoxy—to write orthodoxy onto the very fabric of the empire—via legal prohibitions and penalties concerning spaces and places. As Christine Shepardson has observed, “the number of laws issued regarding religious places, who was allowed to use them, and in which ways grew exponentially in the late fourth and early fifth centuries under Gratian, Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius.”11 Insofar as heretics inhabited the theological terrain of the empire, their very existence coupled with their way of life contaminated and destabilized, both literally and metaphorically, the spaces that were held to be distinctively orthodox. A law from 428, issued to Flavius Florentius, Praetorian Prefect of Illyricum, articulates the danger of the heretics as an insanity manifested in spatial practices: “The madness of the heretics must be restrained so that they shall have no doubt, before all else, that the churches which they have taken from the orthodox, wherever they are held, must be surrendered immediately to the catholic church, because it cannot be permitted that those who ought not to have their own churches should be able to further detain those possessed or built by the orthodox and invaded by the rashness of the heretics.”12 As the embodiment of a theological and behavioral madness, the heretics were forbidden not only from possessing the churches of orthodox Christians, but also from ownership of any type of ecclesiastical space.13 To permit the heretics to possess churches was to permit them to mirror the terms of orthodoxy as a public, legitimate, and sanctioned religio.14
In this article, I argue that the Code's discourse of heresy tracks an oscillating regulatory and spatial dialectic, organized around the contradictory and complementary discourses of exposure and de-spatialization, confinement and re-spatialization, and oblivion and a-spatialization. This dialectic was a circuitous endeavor to administer the heretics' space as both a legal and theological object. Undergirding the laws against the heretics is a simple question, both ideological and practical: how should the state regulate the conceptual and physical space of the heretics within a Christian imperial world? Indeed, late antique laws profess an experience of the heretics that is not singular but diverse and evolving. At certain times laws confined heretics to specific places, while at other times laws banned them from cities and towns altogether. The construction and regulation of the spaces of the heretics was a process defined not simply by enactment on the ground—that is, policies regulating physical spaces—but by the development of rhetorical conceptualizations and implications of space itself. Insofar as this process of spatializing heresy was marked by tactical shifts and discursive variation, the Code reveals to us that the mechanisms for advancing orthodoxy, vis-à-vis its theological counter-term, were not fixed and stable but rather protean and adaptive. The Code does not articulate a singular orthodox attitude toward the heretics, but rather it conveys a series of distinct orthodox strategies and ideologies for containing them.
Spread across sixteen books, the completed Code contained nearly twenty-seven hundred laws and covered a wide-range of subjects, including commerce, civil procedure, civil service, tax policy, and heresy, among myriad others. More to the point, the overarching aim of the Code was to bring order to the legal system by creating uniform knowledge of the law itself.15 The legal constitutions that I discuss below—all of which were collected in the Code's sixteenth book—were edited and excerpted by early fifth-century bureaucrats working in Constantinople.16 These compilers made choices not only about which juristic material to include, but also about how to organize and arrange it. And in the very act of editing and relocating pre-existing juristic material into a highly structured, taxonomic codex, the Code's compilers advanced a Theodosian ideology.17 The significance of the legal regime ushered in by Theodosius II was about both process—the collection and standardization of legal knowledge—and content—the inclusion of Christian doctrinal and theological precepts as a codified component of the legal discourse of the state. Not only had the notion of theological orthodoxy been fully incorporated into the legal apparatus of the state, but the Code also solidified an orthodox imperial Christianity as the metric against which Roman religious order as well as both its ecclesiastical defenders and detractors would be judged.
The Code's ideology with respect to heresy constructs this legal and theological category as a state or class of being: as a legal or, rather, illegal mode of existence within a Christianizing world.18 Heresy within the Code, just as in heresiological catalogues, was defined not simply by erroneous doctrines and practices, but by an expansive polemical language: a language of secrecy, madness, perversity, pestilence, shamefulness, insanity, monstrosity, sacrilege, and contagion.19 While the Code's redactors used polemical regulatory discourses to create, test, and refine an ideology of heresy in explicitly spatial terms, their diverse and capacious rhetoric actually reveals a plurality of legal prescriptions for containment.20 And in preserving a diversity of strategies for regulating the heretics, the Code discloses that the contours of its heresiological discourse are not only elastic but at times even logically and ideologically opposed.
The ideology of heresy within the Theodosian Code was doubly articulated insofar as it existed both as a whole and in various parts: there is a title on the heretics (De haereticis) and yet that title is comprised of sixty-six individual constitutions, many of which argue against each other through their distinct logics of regulation. The Code, then, is not simply a collection of laws about the heretics, but rather it is an ideological compilation that operates, by virtue of its organizational form, to render individual heresies into a single category of heresy. As a law from 423, delivered to the Praetorian Prefect Asclepiodotus, declares: “We execrate, namely, the Eunomians, the Arians, the Macedonians, and all others whose sects it disgusts us to insert in our most pious sanction, all of whom have different names but the same perfidy (una perfidia).”21 To naturalize the heretics onto the landscape of the Christian empire was to blur the distinction between heresy as a macroscopic category and heretics as microscopic phenomena. Thus the Code captures the strategic relationship between the idea of heresy and specific heretics.22 And if ideology operates “in terms of strategies of containment,” it grafts itself on the world by stereotyping, concretizing, dominating, and universalizing subjects.23 At the core of ideology is a tension or disjuncture, one that pervades the Code's title on the heretics, between discursive dissonance and incompletion, on the one hand, and coherence and epistemological totalization, on the other. Ideology, Frederick Jameson explains, emanates from the need for conceptual closure even as the objects of its creation and the subjects of its domination remain, to some extent, inexpressible and beyond delimitation. And so while there was general agreement across the laws of the Code that the heretics of various different names and types must be contained, laws did not express uniform agreement on how best to enact such a regulatory program. In that sense, the severity of the heretics' danger to orthodoxy was never entirely fixed within the Code. In debating how to regulate the heretics, legal opinions became efforts to construct the very terms of heresy itself, including the idea, danger, and existence of heretical space. To regulate the space of the heretics was, ultimately, to construct an orthodox Christian topography that was mapped both materially and conceptually. My interest, thus, is not in the social, political, or even theological background to these laws; rather, I am interested in these legal pronouncements as ideological efforts to contain and regulate heresy and heretical space in intricate yet incongruous ways. It is the spatial disruptions, challenges, and hazards created by the heretics, and how the Code both articulated and handled them, that I discuss below.
Insofar as the Theodosian Code was defining heresy and heretical actors as a legal class, its editors were preoccupied by the geographical and spatial dynamics of heresy. With the Theodosian Code, late antique society witnessed a legal formalization of a way of thinking about particular kinds of religious actors and the problems that their activities posed (a way of thinking that, it must be noted, had already been in effect for centuries).24 Now, however, the tools for managing these religious actors were codified in a systematic way. Most of the laws within the Code were written in response to particular issues in particular places at particular times.25 They were directed at the heretics of specific geographical places, such as Pontus, Milan, Carthage, Rome, Constantinople, and Antioch. What these exchanges between provincial officials and the imperial consistory demonstrate is a protracted effort to clarify the spatial dimensions of both orthodoxy and heresy.26 These imperial constitutions27 include scores of commands that outlawed or confiscated the religious spaces of the heretics. Laws prohibited the heretics from building their own churches;28 from establishing tombs in small towns or cities;29 from holding any form of assembly;30 from crossing the threshold of a church;31 from residing within a city;32 from transmitting property via inheritance;33 and from performing imperial service within imperial spaces.34 Moreover, heretics were not just subject to a long list of prohibitions, but they were also subject to active displacement. The houses and habitations in which the heretics taught their doctrines, ordained a priest, or secretly met could be confiscated and transferred to the fiscus, the imperial treasury.35 Rather than list all the ways in which the Code regulated heresy via spatial confiscation and prohibition, I will focus instead on the logic and rhetorical maneuvers of some of these spatial regulations. I argue that the Code is not simply engineering policies and procedures for the regulation of heretical space, but rather that it preserves a negotiation with itself (as a compilation) as to how heresy could be conceptualized as part of the spatial discourse of orthodoxy. The Code's distinct rhetorics of de-spatialization (exposure), re-spatialization (enclosure), and a-spatialization (banishment) map this ideological process.
DISCOURSE I: DENIAL, EXPOSURE, AND DE-SPATIALIZING HERESY
It is manifestly true that the Code specifically ties heresy to various types of space, including visible churches and secretive domestic spaces.36 The heretics, a law from 383 decrees, “shall not take for themselves the right of assembling congregations or establishing churches, either by public or private undertakings, in the localities of the cities and of the fields and of the small towns.”37 Numerous laws within the Code expressly denied the heretics the legal right to any type of space. While several laws invoke a distinction between the heretics' use of public and private spatial entities38—the latter of which Kim Bowes defines as “any buildings, streets, and lands outside institutional church buildings”—others collapse it entirely.39 These laws, then, seek to deny the heretics private space precisely so that the Code (in the aggregate) covered all manner of religious space.40 Private space, like public space, required persistent, all-encompassing regulation so as to be protected from the contagion of the heretics. Within the Code's heresiological discourse, the politics of regulating heresy reveal a process of trial and error; within the ideology of orthodoxy, heresy and secrecy remain firmly coupled even as the precise meaning and implication of this religious-spatial correlation changed.
A law delivered in 383 refines the spatial constraints upon the heretics. The heretics—the law names nine different sects41—“shall not assemble in groups, shall not collect a multitude of people, shall not attract any people to themselves, nor shall they show any the private walls after the likeness of churches, and they shall practice nothing publicly or privately (nihil vel publice vel privatim), which could hinder catholic sanctity.”42 Put simply, private space, whatever its exact contours, did not shield one from the crime of heresy.43 This particular law focuses rather precisely on the act of doing—the verb it uses is exerceant—regardless of whether such action was open or secretive. And across the Code, the heretics were described as secretive peoples who used “alternative worship spaces” to hide their rituals and doctrines.44 As Bowes observes, “private cult is listed time and again as being actually intrinsic to the heresy itself. The edicts that mention private worship in the context of heresy do so for two reasons: to eliminate all possible venues for heretical gatherings, including private houses, and to provide a further means of identifying heretical behavior.”45 The Code cemented through its juridical ideology the relationship between heresy and secrecy, and, by extension, the need for the relentless investigation and exposure of all manner of space.46 And because it constructed the core of the heretics' way of life as a distinctly secretive form of worship, the logical next step was to deny the heretics the right to such spaces altogether.
The Code's discourse about uncovering the secretive ways and ritualized meetings of the heretics was an ambiguous project of defining heresy both in relation to and apart from concepts of space altogether. A great many of the laws in the Theodosian Code were arguing that heretics could not be permitted the refuge of secretive spaces, either in practice or in theory. And insofar as these laws deployed the language of secrecy and domesticity, their overarching logic was that to be a heretic was to be revealed and to be made known. The entire orthodox project was committed to the exposure of the heretics and heretical error, and so the Code promulgated an ideology that all space occupied by heretics was violable, subject to an imperial, orthodox gaze. Certain actions and ideas transformed domestic habitations into profane, impious, and therefore criminal spaces. There could be no distinction between the heretics' public and private spaces because heresy was, as a legal class, denied the right to space writ large. An imperial constitution from 408 C.E. makes this precise point: all heretics, it says, “shall be driven from all the hiding places of this city (Constantinople)…which shall be looked into with careful investigation.”47 For, as much as heresy had become spatialized—that is, mapped across spaces and places—space, too, had become hereticized. The proscriptions of the Theodosian Code worked to set the heretics apart from the notion of legally protected or even acknowledged space.
An imperial constitution delivered in Constantinople in 381, addressed to the Praetorian Prefect Eutropius, begins with a spatial prohibition, which in turn becomes a prohibition on mental activity and finally aural experience: “no place for the mysteries shall be available to the heretics, nor the opportunity to exercise the madness of their very obstinate minds…Crowds shall be protected from (i.e. kept away) from the illicit congregation of the heretics.”48 The law presumes a connection between space and thought: space provides not just a physical environment in which social communion or ritual can occur, but also a mental environment, in which doctrines, born of obstinate minds, are exercised and systematized.49 Space is both where and how doctrine becomes observable behavior: it nourished and facilitated the process by which mental madness was projected as ritual practice into everyday life. Tellingly, a slightly later law explicitly defined doctrine as a form of practice: “And so those persons who aim to practice either the doctrines or the mysteries of such assemblages shall be sought out from all cities and places.”50 It is heretical doing or heretical performance—even when the performance is doctrine—that so disturbs the Code's redactors. Affixing thought to practice, and by extension space, quite obviously rendered heresy less abstract and more tangible. The idea of doctrine as practice was an attempt to convey the unobservable minds of the heretics—their interiority—into spatially grounded exteriority. The legal opinions of the Code thus described heresy in both specific and general geographical terms. The discursive choice to present thoughts as practices rendered the ideas of the heretics vulnerable to regulation, even if only notionally.
While heretics resided in particular cities, heresy itself was trans-spatial; it was neither conceptually nor practically confined to particular locations or ecclesiastical spaces. And with new heretics continually sprouting, controlling heresy was a constant challenge for an imperial church desperate to maintain the appearance of unity. The confiscation and prohibition of heretical spaces was an obvious tool for marginalizing and, quite explicitly, delegitimizing heresy. A host of laws articulate the desire to deny the heretics any form of space: “All heretics shall know without doubt that they shall be deprived of all places in this city;”51 “no person shall convoke such secret and hidden assemblies; they shall be forbidden in the country, they shall be prohibited within the walls, they shall be condemned in public and private habitations;”52 “the polluted contagions of the heretics shall be expelled from the cities and driven forth from the villages.”53 To deny the heretics space within the Christian empire was not to deny their existence; rather, legally depriving the heretics of the spaces they had used “to survive and assemble when faced with hostility” functioned as a tool of coercion and repentance.54 Exposed, with no place to hide, the heretics were compelled to proclaim orthodoxy; and if they refused, they were summarily punished.55 Exposing the ideas of the heretics to communal scrutiny facilitated their effective dismantlement. As an ideological desire for complete exposure, the denial of the heretics' space was the necessary and tactical precursor to the confession or suppression of the heretic. For, as laws routinely insisted, “the name of the one supreme God shall be celebrated everywhere.”56
DISCOURSE II: CONTAINMENT, REPRESSION, AND RE-SPATIALIZING HERESY
There is one law early in the Code's title on the heretics that stands in marked contrast to the regulatory discourse of spatial denial and exposure. Delivered to the Praetorian Prefect Hesperius, the law denounces heretical thinking and yet protects the right to do just that. I quote the first half of law in its entirety:
All heresies are forbidden by both divine and imperial laws and shall cease in perpetuity. If any profane person by his punishable attempts should threaten the concept of God, he shall have the right to know such harmful things (opinions/doctrines) only for himself and shall not reveal them to others to their hurt. If any person by a renewed death should corrupt bodies that have been redeemed by the venerable baptismal font, by taking away the effect of that ceremony which he repeats, he shall know such things for himself alone, and he shall not ruin others by his nefarious teaching. All teachers and ministers alike of this perverse superstition shall abstain from the gathering places of a doctrine already condemned.57
The law is striking insofar as it tolerates heresy by decoupling heretical thinking from heretical action. It suggests that people are free to think as heretics within the confines of their own mind. But why would a law permit heresy—which this law explicitly describes as injurious—even if it was tightly enclosed, at least in theory, within the mind? Caroline Humfress has argued that this imperial constitution affirmed, by logical inversion, that the true danger of heresy was not its simple existence but rather its diffusion and proliferation.58 Insofar as “the late Roman imperial authorities were primarily interested in the social reproduction of deviant beliefs and its effects,” thoughts that remained within the mind of a lone believer posed no expressly social and thus dangerous effect.59 The law of the state prohibited disorders of the heart and/or head to enter into popular discourse so as to ensure the orthodoxy of the social order. For, as Peter Brown has argued, “what was most private in the individual, his or her hidden feelings and motivations…‘the thoughts of the heart,’ were looked at with particular attention as the possible source of tensions that threatened to cause fissures in the ideal solidarity of the religious community.”60 And to that point, the law of 379 was explicit that expressing or performing internal heretical thoughts was a criminal act. Because heretical thoughts were regulated as a matter of potential contagion, the Code's strategy here was one of “preventative repression.”61
In contrast to the secretive practices or customs of the heretics, which were prohibited across the Code, 16.5.5 permits there to be secluded, heretical thought in order, I would argue, to make the heretics seem invisible. The law, in effect, solidified the binary between secretive practice and secretive thought even as it challenged the idea, present in other laws of the Code, that the heretics possessed no right to exist apart from the coercive needs and desires of the state. Insofar as the mind could be conceptualized as a domain of confinement, its regulation served to imprison thoughts and ideas. Permitting heresy in purely cognitive form communicated a regulatory theory that conceptualized mental confinement as a type of spatial oblivion—an abstraction that was grounded in the tangibility of a spatial discourse. Spatial seclusion was a regulatory solution to the persistent and pervasive threat of heretics in public and sacred spaces. As a later law proclaimed, the heretics “shall go to places which will seclude them most effectively, as if by a wall, from human association.”62 The spatialization of heresy, via the discourse of seclusion and oblivion, operated as a way to concretize abstraction and, in turn, to regulate it aggressively. As long as heresy remained a mental condition, its existence could be permitted precisely because it was isolated and unknown.
The legal theory of heretical confinement, however, is remarkable insofar as it concedes the impossibility of regulating heresy out of existence. A law that permits individual heretical thinking assumes the continued survival of the heretics; it seeks not to eradicate heresy but only to contain it (and expose it when contained). But this concession, striking and optimistic as it is, is only one piece of the Code's larger discourse about the heretical mind. Two laws, one delivered in 395 and the other in 407, proclaimed the deleterious, transmissible effects of the heretical mind. The first proclaimed that “none of the heretics, who are now restrained by innumerable laws of our father, shall dare to assemble illicit gatherings and to contaminate with profane mind the mystery of almighty God, either publicly or privately, secretly or openly.”63 It is the performance of thought—the capacity of thoughts to defile God and God's earthly institution—that lingers dangerously and disruptively: the mind was hardly a domain of oblivion and seclusion. The second law emphasized the destructive capacity of the mind as a way to contrast the legal protection afforded to those who came to orthodox Christianity even if late in life: “therefore, just as we order that the previous laws which we have issued for the destruction of sacrilegious minds shall be pushed to the full effect of their execution, in this way we decree that those who have preferred the faith of pure religion, even if by late confession, shall not be held to the laws which have been issued.”64 Insofar as thought itself was a mode of action and the seat of practice, the confinement of heresy to the mind proved an inadequate instrument of regulation. Each law recognized the naiveté of permitting heretical thought because thought itself had enormous destructive power; thoughts all too easily developed into expressive and thus contagious practices.
In the case of permitting heretical thinking, the regulatory logic was simple: if heretical thoughts remained entirely within an individual's mind, they posed no direct threat to social orthodoxy and could thus be benignly neglected. But such a regulatory logic, later laws implied, ignored not only the inherent contagiousness of heresy—that belief was a dangerous thing in and of itself and that belief was all too easily socialized—but also that the history of heresy was defined by the persistent growth and proliferation of the heretics. To allow the heretic to think heretically was both far too naïve and far too lenient. Read together, this small set of laws about heretical thoughts indicates that the Code's strategies of containment could be aggregative in their effect. Here, the Code proffered two competing but also complementary orthodoxies that worked cumulatively by trying first to suppress heretical thoughts and then, if that failed, by destroying them altogether. The Code was, we might say, strategically covering its regulatory bases by gradually building up a comprehensive legal apparatus directed at the heretics.
DISCOURSE III: A-SPATIALIZING HERESY AND THE EXILE TO NOWHERE
Thus far, I have outlined two positions within the Code for managing the spaces and spatial claims of the heretics. And while each reflects a similar end—a desire for orthodox supremacy via spatial order—they fundamentally diverge in their administrative methods. Their methods, I would suggest, reflect distinctive logics of administrative power. The first position, the outright prohibition of heretical space, was organized around the logic of exposure and elimination. Denying the heretics space, whether public or private, secretive or open, was a way to leave them exposed and unprotected and, consequently, subject to correction, repentance, and, if necessary, punishment. Laws in this category strove to eliminate the heretics through the denial of space. The second regulatory mechanism was constructed around the principle of confinement. Pushing heretics into a restricted space, whether mental or physical, functioned to delimit them, to render them powerless beyond the walls of their confinement. The heretics would be permitted to live or think within a very limited space, but without any social effect; their contagion had been neutralized through obsolescence. But just as the heretics could be sequestered within the mind or exposed via a comprehensive spatial discourse, a late fourth-century law suggested a third possibility: the heretics could be exiled from the known world. A law from June of 389 C.E., directed against the Manichaeans, offers a more decisive solution to the spatial problems posed by the heretics. It is a solution that, in its severity, critiques (knowingly or not) the inadequacy of both the exposure and confinement models: “If any person whatever should disturb the world [mundum] under the name of Manichaeans, they shall indeed be expelled from the whole world [orbis terrarum] but especially from this city [Rome], under threat of judgment.”65
The law's invocation of expulsion or exile from the known world connects to the wider ancient discourse surrounding the unknown world and the people who supposedly lived there.66 Precisely because the antipodes—the region opposite our own—and its people (the antipodeans) had never been seen by human eyes, they could not “be described by first-hand experience.”67 And while the antipodeans were beyond human experience and knowledge, they were not beyond human invention or fantasy. To that end, ancient and medieval authors routinely speculated about both their habits and environs. The antipodes symbolized an inverted world, which signified, on the one hand, barbarity and monstrosity (the reversal or denial of civilization) or, on the other, a moralizing corrective for decay brought about by greed, hubris, and extravagance.68 As Valerie Flint explains, the antipodes was a place of imaginative geography, ethnography, and climatology:
Even for those most passionate in the defense of their existence [including Ktesias, Megasthenes, Pliny, Solinus, among others], the people of the antipodes were odd. The best that could be said of them was that they were upside down, and experienced, for example, the heat and cold of the seasons at different times of the year, and saw different stars. From this, however, more elaborate fantasies could be invented and much stranger features added…The upside down people have turned into a kind of monster, with feet turned backwards and an excessive number of toes.69
And while there was clearly an association between the antipodes and barbarism, marshaled through the discourse of cultural, physiological, and climatological inversion, there was also an association between the antipodes and communication across space, both real and imagined. Why had the antipodes remained unknown and the antipodeans unheard? What accounted for this failure of communication? And what did the silence of the antipodeans imply?
Pliny the Elder argued, in his encyclopedic Natural History, that nature had foreclosed access to the antipodes. Describing the overarching contours of the world, he writes that, “there are seas encircling half the globe on every side and dividing it in two, so robbing us of half the world, since there is no region affording a passage from there to here or from here to there.”70 The Roman orator, philosopher, and politician Cicero offered a simpler explanation.71 “You see that the inhabitants [of the world],” he writes, “are so widely separated that there can be no communication whatever among the different areas; and that some of the inhabitants live in parts of the earth that are oblique, transverse, and sometimes directly opposite your own.”72 The world was simply too diffuse to allow absolute exchange across the totality of the world. Cicero further mused on the spatial restrictions of knowledge: “What inhabitants of those distant lands of the rising or setting sun, or the extreme North or South, will ever hear your name?”73 The point, as Matthew Goldie observes, is that “for Cicero the antipodes…became the epitome of isolation.”74 It was impossible to come to know, meet, and communicate with the abundance of peoples who lived throughout the world, both known and unknown. The antipodeans were isolated both by the natural world and human nature. It is from this perspective that the spatial politics embedded within the law against the Manichaeans reveal themselves more fully.75
At its core, the law advances a regulatory strategy grounded in the obvious desire to counter the existential tumult of the heretics by means of an unequivocal type of isolation and exclusion.76 The law professes no aspirations to return the heretics to the orthodox fold, and no desire to convert or even correct the heretics. Its solution, instead, is as simple as it is absolute: exile the heretics from the face of the known world. The tactical shift embodied in the rhetoric of total expulsion crystallizes by way of comparison. An earlier law, from 383 C.E., posited a similar, though less drastic spatial regulation. It ordered that the heretics “shall be constrained by the vigor of the published law, expelled from their assemblies, and ordered to return to the countries of their origin, in order that none of them may have the power to go any place whatsoever or to wander away to any cities.”77 In this case, the law sought to repatriate the heretics so as to prevent them from aimlessly wandering and spreading their intransigence. That strategy, however, kept them within the realm of the known world. The law against the Manichaeans, by contrast, functioned as an effort not to analogize the heretics with the barbarians in terms of practices, customs, and way of life, but rather as a way to situate them in relation to the concept of exilic oblivion. The ideology behind this law hews closely to an observation Mircea Eliade famously made in The Sacred and the Profane that “everything that is not ‘our world’ is not yet a world. A territory can be made ours only by creating it anew, that is, by consecrating it.”78 To force the heretics into the unknown world was to isolate them, but also to confine them within a contradiction in terms: the unknown world was not yet a world. It was an ideologically imagined void of chaos and irreligion. The law of 389 aspired to neutralize the threat posted by the heretics by expelling them to a place that had not yet been made Christian—that was unconsecrated—and thus was no world at all. The ideology of expulsion served to make the heretics placeless and voiceless. They would become inaccessible, unknown, and altogether forgotten.
The law against the Manichaeans communicated a discourse of total seclusion. Further, to expel the heretics from the world was not simply to make them hidden, but, in a sense, to make them oblivious and thus deny their very existence. To separate the heretics from the Christian world was, as one law put it, “to segregate them from human gatherings” (humanis coetibus segregentur) and thus to reinforce the order supplied by orthodoxy.79 Insofar as Christianity “fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world,” the heretics symbolized an incompatible menace that threatened the cosmic, sacred order of Christian truth.80 To banish the heretics beyond the orbis terrarum—beyond the world of Christianity (the known world or oikoumene in Greek)—was an attempt to annul their presence and their chaos on the landscape of orthodoxy.81 At the same time, banishment of the heretics actualizes this imaginary orthodox landscape—banishing heresy from the landscape of orthodoxy both strengthens and naturalizes the latter concept in expressly spatial terms. If the heretics were expelled to the unknown, they would not be merely confined by mental or physical walls or exposed and induced to convert, but rather they would be made totally oblivious. Their corrosive chaos could, in short, be spatially and thus existentially neutralized within the orthodox world. The heretics, by antipodal association, became nothing. In suppressing heresy via expulsion, the Code made them truly a-spatial, profane, and non-existent.
CONCLUSION: LEGAL DISSONANCE AND SYNTHESIS
“We command,” a law of the emperors Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius states, “that those persons who follow this rule [the belief in the one God of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit as the holy Trinity] shall embrace the name of catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom we adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of our own initiative, which we shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment.”82 Promulgated in 380 C.E. in the midst of the Arian controversy (the Council of Constantinople would convene the following year), this imperial constitution demanded not simply adherence to the Nicene Creed, but also severe punishment for those who failed to conform to its terms of orthodoxy.83 The imperial church, this law indicates, was an extension of God's divine judgment. The agents of God on earth—both the empire and the church—were tasked with administering both ecclesiastical and criminal vengeance upon the heretics. Indeed, the Theodosian Code signaled the unification of religion, law, and state police powers, whereby the aspiration for theological order was realized, in large part, through spatial politics and policies. The laws of the late fourth and early fifth century present both individually and collectively elaborate sets of discursive languages and material and conceptual prohibitions, which were built around distinct mechanisms of spatial control. The differences between spatial denial and exposure, spatial confinement, and spatial oblivion reveal the competing logics by which heresy and heretical contagion were to be managed.
The Code's spatial conceptualization of heresy undergirded the legal-theological discourse that defined the very terms of heretical existence: to regulate heretical space was to regulate heretical ontology. Regulation and construction operated as mutually reinforcing and reinforced strategies of containment. Within the logic of the Code, to be a heretic was to be controlled. As a law issued to the Praetorian Prefect Trifolius stipulates, “all of the diverse and perfidious sects, who cultivate the madness of a miserable conspiracy against God, shall not be permitted to have an assembly anywhere, nor to participate in discussions, nor to hold secret meetings…nor to exhibit the false appearance of mysteries, to the injury of true religion (verae religionis).”84 The construction of heresy as a theological-legal category was fundamentally a regulatory process: to define heresy was to delimit its physical and conceptual contours. To regulate heresy spatially was to define it. The Code's discursive regime conceptualized both heretical thinking and heretical being through spatial policies and prohibitions. The imposition of an orthodox Christian ideology—the aspiration for a singular religious truth expressed and enforced by an imperial (bureaucratic) apparatus—extended to all manner of space and place.85 Ideology was written upon public and private space, architectural and mental space, communal as well as individualistic places, and real and conceptual terrains. And it was the regulatory reach of the Theodosian Code, delving into the world of both actual and “imagined” heretical spaces that resulted in a dissonant rhetoric of control. The Code, as a legal whole and as various individual parts, reveals and confronts the challenge of trying to regulate the nebulous concept of threatening or incorrect ideas. The formalization of religious regulation via law attempts to give contours to beliefs and thoughts in order to render these (seemingly) abstract ideas tangible and thus subject to spatial regulation.
But strategies of containment deployed to enact such ends, I have suggested, were neither consistent nor unchanging. The Code treated heresy as tolerable and illicit, controllable and unregulatable, real and imagined, physical and conceptual, and individual and communal. The laws of the Code did not articulate one coherent policy of the orthodox enclosure of the heretics: some laws advocated for a policy of contained marginalization (benign tolerance, we might say), others for conversion by way of exposure, and still others for complete erasure from the rhetorical landscape of the Empire. In preserving multiple rhetorics of spatial management, the Code accentuates a regulatory polyvocality that complicated the singularity of orthodoxy. To the extent that the Code's “official ideology” about heresy and heretics was marked by logical dissonance about the means for regulating heresy, it contained gradations of ecclesiastical, theological, and spatial domination. These gradations depict the mechanics of orthodoxy in ideological motion—as a system of regulations, the conceptual extent and spatial scope of which was never at rest. Efforts to oversee the actual spaces of the heretics (such as churches) and imagined spaces that could contain them (such as the unknown world) produced a discordant regulatory discourse that, as a result, produced ideologies of orthodoxy. These orthodoxies encompassed the full-range of techniques deployed to map truth onto imperial landscape, while also managing and, in some cases, erasing the counter-terms of orthodoxy. The heresies of the Code were ultimately reflections of the orthodoxies of the Code. And while these competing orthodoxies of the Theodosian Code were all, at their core, strategies of containment, their differences exhibit the fluctuations within the orthodox edifice of control, domination, and totalization. The Code, we might say, inconclusively enacted an ideology of orthodox control over and against the heretics precisely because there was no singular orthodoxy within it.
The synthesis of civil law and Christian theology oscillated uncomfortably between imaginative aspiration and physical realities. To regulate known and the unknown spaces exacerbated the inadequacies of the legal regulation of the insanity of the heretics: the laws of humans and their cities were inadequate remnants of a long since obliterated Edenic ideal. The Code did not settle the precise manner or strategy with which to restrain the “madness of the heretics” as a legal category in and on the world. And while the Code marked a new era of Christian theology enacted via civil law, it failed to enumerate a lone, consistent measure for controlling the heretics that matched the singular rule of orthodoxy. In the very effort to regulate the heretics, the orthodoxy of the Code had succumbed to the polyphonic terms that characterized the heretics.86 Within the Theodosian Code, spatial policies, then, solidified (even as they tried to mask) the limitations and impossibilities of orthodoxy as the human interpretation of a divinely promulgated truth. The uneven developments within the Code enable us to see ideological contours of an orthodox discourse about heresy take shape within and across a fixed text. What we see in the Code are ideologies in motion, very often working against each other.