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Valentinian I

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Emperor of the West, 364-75. Born at Cibalis (probably Mikanovici), Pannonia, Hungary, of humble parents, in 321; d. at Bregetio, near Pressburg, 17 Nov., 375. He entered the army early, became a tribune of the scutarii about 360, and accompanied Julian the Apostate to Antioch, whence in 464 he was exiled to Gaul for refusing to honour idols. On Jovian's death Valentinian was proclaimed emperor (26 Feb., 364), and at once he appointed his brother Valens ruler of the East. In 265 he went again to Gaul to stop the inroads of the Alammani and Burgundians; the former were defeated at Charpeigne and Châlons-sur-Marne, but in 367 captured Mainz. A little later they were overthrown by Valentinian at Solicinium, but with heavy Roman losses. In 374 Valentinian concluded a treaty with their king Macrianus. In 368 the Picts and Scots were driven back from Britain, and the province of Valentia formed. While in Gaul Valentinian repudiated his first wife Valeria Severa, or at least he married a Sicilian, Justina, who became the mother of Valentinian II. In June, 374, the emperor was called to Illyricum by the incursions of the Quadi and Sarmatians; he made his headquarters at Bregetio, where during the negotiations with the Quadi he died from apoplexy. He was buried at Constantinople.

Though a sincere Christian, Valentinian generally abstained from interfering in religious questions, unless public interests forced him to act; probably in his endeavours to observe impartiality, he bestowed more favours on the Arians and heathens; his conduct contrasted strongly with that of Valens who ardently supported the Arians. Valentinian revoked Julian's edict, which forbade Christians to teach. He prohibited nocturnal sacrificial practices and magic, probably because they were causes of public disorder, for at the request of Praetextatus, proconsul of Achaia, he tolerated the mysteries of Eleusis and in 371 declared haruspicia legal. Constantius had formerly applied the property of the pagan temples to Christian churches, and Julian had given the church property to the temples, but Valentinian claimed all this transferred property, possibly from a desire of wealth, as well as from a wish to be impartial to all religions and also to reduce public taxation. He restored the cross and the name of Christ to the labarum from which Julian had removed them, supported Pope Damasus against Ursinus in the dispute concerning the papal election, forbade judicial proceedings on Sundays, exempted Christian soldiers from guarding pagan temples, or Christians from being made gladiators. On the other hand, he increased the privileges of the provincial priests of paganism (as the old Roman religion now began to be called), restricted the right of asylum, forbade the Christian clergy to receive legacies from Christian women unless they were their heirs; though no corresponding restriction was placed on pagan priests. Moreover, lest the wealthy should become clerics to enjoy clerical immunity, he prohibited them form receiving orders unless they first renounced their patrimony; but he ordered bishops to be tried by their peers. The Manichæans he considered political disturbers and in 372 forbade their meetings at Rome, confiscated their houses, and punished their teachers. He supported the Arian Bishop of Milan, Auxentius, when excommunicated, believing him to be orthodox; however, he confirmed the decrees of the Synod of Illyria (375) against the Pneumatomachians and addressed a special letter to the bishops of Asia, ordering the homousian doctrine of the Trinity to be taught, notwithstanding, as he said, the example and practice of Valens; but his untimely end prevented him from enforcing his instructions on this point. Valentinian was affable and kind, but vain; he was a courageous, skilful soldier, and was ready to profess his faith openly when called upon; he wished to restore matters to the condition in which Constantine had left them, but in doing so abstained from emphasizing his own views; his legislative activity was very great, not the least interesting of his edicts being one in 368, by which he appointed fourteen physicians at rome to care for the poor at the public expense.


ALLARD, Le christianisme et l'empire romain (Paris, 1897); DE BROGLIE, L'église et l'empire romain; TILLEMONT, Hist. des empereurs, V; HODGKIN, Italy and Her Invaders, I (London, 1880); SOCRATES, Church History IV.

About this page

APA citation. MacErlean, A. (1912). Valentinian I. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. MacErlean, Andrew. "Valentinian I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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