The Ambitions of Octavian

Ronald Syme describes the future Augustus Caesar (Octavian) as a young man in a hurry:

The rhetoric of the ancients and the parliamentary theories of the moderns sometimes obscure the nature and sources of political power at Rome. They were patent to contemporaries. For the ambitious Octavianus, the gradual advancement of a Roman noble through the consecrated order of magistracies to the consulate, the command of an army, the auctoritas of a senior statesman, all that was too long and too slow. He would have to wait until middle age: his laurels would repose on grey hairs or none remaining. Legitimate primacy, it is true, could only be attained at Rome through many extra-constitutional resources, bribery, intrigue, and even violence; for the short and perilous path that Octavianus intended to tread, such resources would have to be doubled and redoubled.

(The Roman Revolution, page 119)

Funding the Clergy

Robin Lane Fox addresses how the early church funded its clergy:

…both the bishop and the clergy depended on the good will of the laity for funds in the first place. At first, they were supported by a “dividend system,” financed by the total of their Christians’ offerings: the sum seems to have been paid monthly, and a bishop’s share was probably twice as big as an Elder’s. The offerings included first fruits from crops and produce: Christian polemic against the letter of the Mosaic law did not extend to its rules on first fruits and tithes: tithes, on one view, were payable to the minor clerics, widows, paupers and virgins. The notion of fixed clerical salaries was considered an outrage as late as c. 200, in both Rome and Asia. It was the shocking practice of Christian sectarians and heretics. In the Christian Empire, however, it became the orthodox system in the East. Salaries are the heretics’ one lasting legacy to Christian life.


Robin Lane Fox provides an interesting take on the addressee of Luke and Acts:

Acts and its companion volume, the third Gospel, were dedicated to “most excellent” Theophilus, who wished to “know more exactly” about the faith “of which he had heard.” Only one other type of person is called “most excellent” in the two books: a Roman provincial governor. The usage of contemporary Emperors and the incidence of the title in inscriptions and the papyri confirm that “most excellent” people were people of very considerable rank and position: Theophilus, then, is the cover name for a highly placed figure in Roman circles. Acts’ abrupt ending is explained if “Theophilus” knew the sequel to Paul’s years of arrest. “Theophilus” had heard of Paul’s trial and execution: perhaps he had attended both. He wished to know the truth of a faith which had interested him but now lay under this recent cloud. Acts and the third Gospel are the first, and greatest, of Christian apologies to be addressed to highly placed pagans.

Stellman and Hahn

Jason Stellman’s notice of conversion has been the topic of the week in certain Reformed circles. A lot of good commentary has been offered on why this conversion happened and what was wrong about it. Peter Leithart, in particular, has penned several great entries on the subject.

Stellman’s trajectory matches Scott Hahn’s in many regards, with the exception of Hahn being into theonomy for about ten seconds before he jumped. This reminds me of a post I wrote seven years ago, which said in part:

So under Hahn’s linear view, when one linchpin was pulled out of his system, the entire thing collapsed. Sola Scriptura was not taught in the Bible, therefore his Protestant apologetic was made of straw.

Opposed to this viewpoint is a web based, nonlinear, postmodern epistemology. This type of thinking has been described as “all of the beliefs in the system standing in relations of mutual support, but none being epistemically prior to the others.” (Greco and Sosa) My pastor said that Hahn could have started from the fact that angels exist, and built upon that, for example, rather than Sola Scriptura.

I’m more of a critical realist, so I’m not sure that I totally agree with this approach, but I do think it has merit. In my view, the historical record does not support the outlandish claims of apologists for Rome and the Eastern Orthodox. St. Luke painting icons of Mary anyone?

Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:


1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized


The Barbarian Conversion

Richard Fletcher [The Barbarian Conversion] notes that ancient Christendom was not monolithic:

In terms of custom and practice there were many churches in sixth- and seventh-century Europe, not One Church. Christendom was many-mansioned.

Fletcher talks about the motif of exile in the monastic expansion. Christians, following the writing of Augustine, saw themselves as exiles and pilgrims and then the monastics took this exile literally. They often left their homeland and people to found monastic missions amongst others. Fletcher says:

Pilgrimage, in the sense of ascetic renunciation of homeland and kinsfolk, is of special importance in our understanding of the phenomenon of conversion in the early Middle Ages. Pilgrimage merged insensibly into mission. The monasteries that were founded by the exiled holy men had something of the character of mission stations. It was not that they were established primarily among pagans; indeed, they could not have been, dependent as they were on wealthy patrons, necessarily Christian…for their endowments…But their monastic communities were situated on the margins of Christendom, and had what might be called “diffusive potential” among nearby laity who were Christian only in the most nominal of senses.

It seems to me that we could apply this same method to the diffusion of the faith in our day. Establishing tightly-focused communities at the margins of our society, for example in rural areas and urban areas that aren’t glamorous. Communities devoted to Biblical saturation, mission and learning which could aim to gradually convert the surrounding area.

Byzantine Baptism

I am excited about the Justinian Code being online. Check out the following laws and commentary and see how seriously re-baptism was taken by the Church. And then think about how trivial rebaptism is in our day where people get baptized 2,3 or multiple times since we have lost the wicket on what the teaching of the Church is on the matter.

That the Holy Baptism be not Repeated. 

(Ne sanctum baptisma iteretur). 

1.6.1. Emperors Valens, Gratian and Valentinian to Florianus, Vicar of Asia. 

 We deem unworthy of the priesthood the priest who unlawfully repeats the holy  rite of baptism.  For we condemn the error of those who, despising the precepts of the  apostles, by rebaptising those who have already  received the Christian sacraments, do not purify them but defile and pollute them under pretense of cleaning them.

Given at Constantinople October 17 (377). 

See C. Th. 

Note. Baptism was believed to purify the recipient from guilt of previous sin.  The  Donatists held that this sacrament administered by polluted hands was inefficacious.   Hence when anyone was received into their fold, they rebaptized him though already  baptized by the priests of the orthodox church.  The Eunomians and Novations, too, rebaptized converts to their faith.  This was considered sacrilegious.  Boyd, The Ecc. 

Edicts of the Theod. Code 61, 62. Gothofredus on C. Th., 16.6. 

1.6.2. Emperor Honorius and Theodosius to Anthemius, Praetorian Prefect. 

 If any person shall be discovered to rebaptize anyone imbued with the mysteries of the Catholic faith, he, together with him who has permitted this infamous crime provided the person persuaded to be rebaptized be of an age capable of crime shall be punished by death. 

C. Th. 16.6.6. 

1.6.3. Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian to Florentius, Praetorian Prefect. 

 No heretic must be permitted to rebaptize, either free persons or their own slaves who have been initiated into the mysteries of the orthodox, nor forbid those (slaves) whom he has bought or whom he has in any manner, and who have not yet joined his superstition, to adhere to the religion of the Catholic Church.   

 1. If anyone does so, or if a free man permits himself to be rebaptized, or if asks to repeat it, he shall be condemned to a fine of ten pounds of gold.  Neither of them shall have power to make a testament or a gift.

The Collapse of Rome

We aren’t there yet, and it gets a little old hearing every other person in America comparing us to Rome, and yet

An Encyclopedia of World History says this of the third century:

The third century is characterized by the complete collapse of government and economics throughout the Mediterranean. Upon the death of Commodus, the armies asserted themselves against the Senate as they had in 68. The ultimate victor, Septimius, finally and frankly unmasked the military basis of the imperial power. After an attempted revival of “constitutional” government under Alexander, the imperial position became the reward of successful generals of increasingly provincial and uncultured origins. The one ideal which still dominated the armies was the preservation of the frontiers against the Germans and the Persians {something we don’t do right nowJoel}. Even the separatist movements were aimed, not at independence, but at the preservation of the imperium Romanum. To secure this end and their own support, the troops made and unmade emperors and drained the scanty resources of the civilians by taxation, depreciation of coinage, and exactions of food, quarters, etc. The military wholly absorbed the civil administration. Intellectual life ceased, inscriptions became rare, and archaeological finds show a rapid decline in skill and taste.

On Rome and the East

Peter Leithart’s church has put out an excellent statement on Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy that includes the following:

With the Reformers, we insist that liturgical idolatry is a most dangerous temptation and sin for many within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This includes the veneration of man-made images, statues, relics, Eucharistic elements, the invocation of the saints, as well as other practices and traditions which are not according to Scripture. Likewise, we warn all the faithful to flee those doctrines or practices which, whether in doctrine or in practice, undermine the fundamental and sovereign graciousness of God in salvation. 

Finally, while we consider divisions in the body of Christ most grievous to the calling of the Church, and we confess that the Reformed tradition has contributed its own failures to this state of affairs, we do not believe that abstract considerations of church polity, apostolic succession, or institutional unity rise to the level of weightier matters of the law. Therefore, however helpful the study of those issues may be, they must not jeopardize genuine Christian fellowship, justify the denunciation of the least in the kingdom of God, or result in disparaging the validity of the ordinations or sacraments of other churches that worship our Triune God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Individuals who join communions that effectively excommunicate their Protestant brothers and sisters contradict their search for catholicity, and ironically, the goal of unity comes at the expense of further divisions in the body of Christ. We desire to be of one mind with all the saints, not by coercion, but by the same patient love of our brothers and sisters shown by Christ in His patient love for His Bride, the Church.