Gratian and Theodosius I Deny Wills to Christians who Convert to Paganism

Gratian and Theodosius I Deny Wills to Christians who Convert to Paganism

Emperor Theodosius I
Source: turtle5001tw

Roman emperors Gratian and Theodosius I clarify an earlier decree forbidding Christians who have converted to paganism from making out wills. In addition to this prohibition, Christian catechumens are not allowed to will property to anyone other than natural heirs, i.e., children and siblings.

According to this decree:

"Any Christians who have adopted pagan rites and cults are prohibited from making a testament in favor of any person and they are to be outside Roman law. But if someone is Christian and only catechumen neglects the true religion in favor of pagan altars and temples, they will be deprived of the right to make a testament in favor of anyone other than brother and children The same applies to anyone receiving property under a will, except for good from parents or brothers. ...." [CTh 16.7.2]

Catechumen are people receiving instruction in what it means to be a Christian. Pagans may not simply convert and be baptised: instead, they must go through a period of discipleship and education designed to ensure they can live according to strict Christian rules without backsliding. That this is standard is demonstrated by the fact that baptism into the Christian religion only occurs a few times a year.

This new Roman law reinforces the need to "test" potential converts by denying them the ability to leave property to non-Christians outside their immediate family. It is possible that some wealthy aristocrats, considering conversion to Christianity for political and social reasons, might try to hedge their bets by leaving substantial parts of their personal wealth to pagan institutions or pagan friends.


Emperors of Rome: Gratian

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