Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | May 24, 2008

The Greco-Roman cultures from which the Church emerges – Part 2

The Greco-Roman cultures from which the Church emerges – Part 2


The language of Rome relative to the imperial cult includes the term for loyalty known as pietas.  In this term the notion of piety is embedded within its meaning.  Thus, the loyalty that is manifested through the worship of the emperor by colonial Rome is really seen as a pious act of religious observance.  Sacramentum is another important term that will cast a long shadow on the emerging Church, which was the oath of loyalty pledged by Roman soldiers to the Roman republic and gods.  This term is later introduced into the language of the Church and is where the word “Sacrament” is derived.  It is interesting that during the time of the Reformation when Luther and Zwingli were debating there views over the sacraments, the etymology of this word entered into the discussion.  Zwingli, who was a great humanist scholar, when debating the meaning of this word appealed back to the origin of its meaning, which was a pledge of loyalty.  Thus, he argued that the meaning of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was more appropriately a memorial.  It is a memorial where the believer is remembering and pledging their loyalty to Christ rather than its being a gift of Christ.  As we can see, the church moving into this world is moving into a world of language, thought and practice that will have a particular significance on how the Church comes understand itself and comes to live.


The Roman Empire encountered many great accomplishments under the reign of Augustus  that some have argued are indicative of the fact that it was the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4).  This time of great prosperity and stability within the empire did not cease, but continued with Augustus’ successor Tiberius.  Robert Graves points out that although Rome is achieving its goal of establishing order and liberty, at the same time in the heart of the Roman world it was plagued with scandal and indiscretion.  Those who possessed the power and authority of the empire were clearly morally corrupt and amazingly decadent.  This was especially evident with Tiberius’ successor, Caligula, who emerges to power and was revealed as an incredibly depraved person who was probably insane.  He was notorious for his outlandish behavior as an emperor most egregiously demonstrated in his desire to murder many people, allegedly including his own mother.  Eventually with an attempted coup, that sought to restore Senate rule over Rome, resulted in the assassination of Caligula and his uncle Claudius succeeding him to the throne.  By Roman standards, Claudius was a relatively descent emperor who did not continue the morally corrupt ways of his nephew.  This, however did not last long in Nero succeeding to the throne who was also a man of astounding wickedness. 

This Caesarean bloodline ends with Nero, which reveals a problem that remains unresolved throughout the Roman Empire.  This problem revolves around the topic of succession to the imperial throne.  Since Rome adamantly opposed the idea of a monarchy there emerges different methods of arriving at a successor.  For a time this was resolved by this task being assigned to the Senate to elect or appoint successors.  Nonetheless, this leads to the second unresolved problem in the Roman Empire, which is how to you prevent the military from utilizing its powers of persuasion to influence the choice of the Senate.  Later in Roman history this is exactly how succession to the throne occurred.  Those who gained control of the military, invariably were the one who also attained power.



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