Part 1 The Ship of State
The Roman Empire was in an almost constant state of decline, with one economic recession after another, to say nothing of the crime, political corruption, moral breakdown, and even rebellious uprisings. The succession of Emperors beginning with Augustus, had been a travesty from the beginning, but now the wolves, vying for power, were threatening to tear the remainder of the Roman order apart. The Pax Romana, “the Roman Peace”, had been held together with an iron fist of control.
Originally, Rome’s prosperity was born out of a patriarchal society that had driven out the last of the Etruscan kings in 506 BC. The Etruscans had established “Rome as a city-state” and the natives had found the kings’ benevolence intolerable.
In its stead, they established a republic, much like early Israel, with a council of Tribal elders as the leaders of the “Senate”. The word “Senate” was from the Latin word senex, meaning “an old man” or “elder”. Because of their ‘aversion to the idea of being ruled by a king,’ this Roman Republic lasted about as long as the original Hebrew Republic of Israel.
“That public virtue, which among the ancients, was denominated patriotism” was a voluntary loyalty born from mutual sacrifice. The unbridled sacrifice of those fellow comrades suffering near- by or those who are loved and tending the homefires is the root of all courage and not the distant leaders whose names are only remembered in their own record of history. “Such a sentiment, which had rendered the legions of the republic almost invincible, could make but a very feeble impression on the mercenary servants of a despotic prince; and it became necessary to supply that defect by other motives, of a different, but not less forcible nature; honor and religion.”1
Rome was in a desperate state. It was sinking in the mire of its own creation. Its own population had become dissolute and idle, amoral and without the virtue of a people bound by love and the choice of daily sacrifice. Their families no longer produced the sons and daughters of home and hearth from which their invincible armies were assembled. They were forced to rely on mercenaries, soldiers who fought for national patriotism, pay, and profit.
Rome had long realized its need to command loyalty by mixing the activities of charity with those of power and control. Benefaction had been the realm of the philanthropic temples. Rome, the State, had concerned itself with the order and protection of law, both foreign and domestic. Originally, the “imperium”2 of the State remained in the individual families. The offerings of the families fostered the charity of the temples through voluntary contributions. As the individual imperium became more centralized, contributions were often compelled, first, from the militarily defeated and, then, from the socially enfranchised.
The state grew in importance and, of course, in self-importance. The more power the chosen rulers obtained, the more corrupt they became, and the more they needed codified statutes to exercise that rising power with exclusive control. Tacitus summed up the Roman government with this: “When the state is most corrupt, then the laws are most multiplied.”
Tacitus lived during the first century of the Church and the decline of Rome. He stated that, “Prosperity is the measure or touchstone of virtue, for it is less difficult to bear misfortune than to remain uncorrupted by pleasure.” Tacitus realized that the people often fail to realize that, “Many who seem to be struggling with adversity are happy; many, amid great affluence, are utterly miserable.” Christians were taught this as a common theme of their faith.
The great social experiment of the Roman welfare state, with its “free bread and circuses”, brought in a wave of corruption that has not been surpassed until modern times. Tacitus also knew that the power vested in the emperor corrupted every man who held that office.3 He knew “The Romans brought devastation, but they called it peace.” The state became lawless under a mass of ever-changing statutes and regulations. Something needed to be done to distract, if not deceive, the people in order to keep them faithful, because, “A desire to resist oppression is implanted in the nature of man.”
In the late 1700’s, Edward Gibbon explains that Rome knew that, to mix the left hand of government with the right, it would require the use of mysteries and superstition, sometimes found in religious practices. Edward, failing to realize the character and restrictions of God’s kingdom preached in the Gospel, wrote, “The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”4
Of what Church is Gibbon speaking ? True Christians would have nothing to do with the Roman altars of civic “charity”. Although the charity, discipline, independence, and liberty of the early Church were often admired, their refusal to ‘pay nominal cult services to civic deities such as the emperor, or to the old gods’ often brought them into conflict with the authoritarian aspect of Roman religious taxation.
Christians knew that the contributions of charity, given by the people in the form of freewill offerings, were extracted by the ruling judges in other nations, called gods.
And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people... they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. 1Sa 8:7-8
The Romans had been no different. As power centralized, the needs of the government soon outweighed the rights of the people. First, the people were seduced into accepting schemes that compelled the contributions of the rich. As always, the rich quickly turned this infringement against the middle class. As public power grew in the hands of the state, before long, rich and poor all fell under the demands of despots, which their own greed and avarice had created. Christ returned the free choice of contribution, and its power, to the people.
Celsus, a Platonist, writing during the term of Marcus Aurelius, “opposed the ‘sectarian’ tendencies at work in the Christian movement because he saw in Christianity a ‘privitizing’ of religion, the transferal of religious values from the public sphere to a private association.”5 He did not believe that freedom is only enjoyed if it is privately maintained.
Vigellius Saturninus, proconsul of Africa in 180 CE, addressed the seeming antisocial behavior of the Scillitan martyrs with the statement, “We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the Genius of our lord the emperor, and we apply for his benefits, as you also ought to do.” The true Christians like Speratus could and would not apply to that Emperor for he claimed Christ as “my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations”. As a Christian, he relied upon the Genius of God the Father through the individual leading of the Holy Spirit and the freewill offerings of his Christian brothers in congregation.
In the Kingdom of God, there is a separation of Church and State. Since, the Kingdom of God is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then the people are the State. Each husband and wife share the royal throne within their own household. The intimate connection between the kings and the altars of charity or the Church is found in the hearts of the people, who are the princes of God’s Kingdom. The people are the State and the Church is the ministers of those people in service to God by serving the people as Christ served his disciples, as the Levites were to serve the tents, or homes, of the congregations.
It was commonly understood that excise taxes were a patrimonial right demanded by the father of his children. The original chain of the patriarchal society of Rome had been replaced by a centralized power, converged around the Emperor and his bureaucracy. Rome had followed in the erroneous footsteps of the apostasy of Israel and had suffered the resulting civil wars, out of which had come a centralized ruling power backed by force and violence, often under the color of law. Charity was wounded to the heart.
The role of the Church was abated by a government which tended to a daily ministration with an exercising authority of imposed taxes. Rome, like many modern governments, blurred the divine separation of church and state, charity and power. By redefining the character of the Church, they supplanted it with their own apostasy.
Jesus had made it clear that we were to call no man earth father, yet the city-state and its altars, in collusion with each other, often assumed the role of father. Written historical accounts tell us that the Patristic Age of the Church was the formulation of the nature of the Church by its “forefathers”. But there are no forefathers of the Church, for One is your Father. Shouldn’t the Church simply manifest the character of Christ Jesus, Yeshua the anointed, King of the Kingdom of God on earth?
1The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire - Vol 1, by Edward Gibbon ,Chapter 1
2The imperium was the responsibility and right of defending individual sovereignty from both foreign and domestic attacks. It originally was invested by Natural Law in the hands of the individual freeman before the decay of the Republic and the rise of centralized power in the hands of the legal State.
3“No one would have doubted his ability to reign had he never been emperor.”
4The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire - Vol 1, by Edward Gibbon , Chapter 3
5 Christians As The Romans Saw Them, by Robert Wilken page 125