09 December 2011

Did the church Christianise society in the fourth century, or was it merely compromised by its alliance with the state?

The fourth century was a time of political and social unrest, as the western Roman Empire was taken over by a quick succession of military leaders (one of the better-known being Constantine). In those politically tumultuous times, there was additionally a very important social change going on – the change from a largely pagan society with a small minority of Christians to a society in which the mandatory state religion was Christianity and paganism was being persecuted by the Christians who had so lately been the ones being persecuted. However, the Christianity of the late fourth century had not transformed the Roman culture; instead it had adapted itself to fit the mold of Roman society. This had required some change in Roman doctrine (such as moving from a pantheon of gods to a monotheistic religion), but the greater change was in Christian theology.
Christian philosophy adopted Greek methods of thought and explanations of doctrine through the rise of the apologists. “The Christian Apologists were a new breed of converts … [who] had known the advantages and privileges of citizenship, even of power, in the empire. They were well-educated, professional, acquainted with the subtleties of Greek philosophy.”[1] The Christianity developing in the fourth century was not the Christianity of the Early Church but instead a new kind of Christianity: one that had adapted to the culture it found itself so unexpectedly ruling. The Roman Empire was a culture in which newly converted pagans were attempting to fit their lifestyles into their new religion; a culture that for centuries had placed reliance on virtue and thought and tradition, and was now being heavily influenced by a monotheistic religion. Instead of transforming every aspect of their lives, these pagans – some of the most influential being Roman aristocrats who just wanted to keep the Emperor’s favor and their wealthy lifestyle – adapted those parts of their life which were absolutely necessary for conversion to the accepted religion, went through a hasty catechumenate, and stepped into their new religion to keep the peace just as Romans had done for the last thousand years. At all costs, the Pax Romana must be kept – and if this involved an allegiance to a new god, it certainly was not the first time Romans had done such a thing. The fact that this time it was Christianity did not mean that the nature of Roman society had changed all that much.
Christian and Roman societies
The early Christian church, beginning in a provincial part of the Roman Empire and quickly spreading throughout the Mediterranean world, did not at first glance have much to set it apart from any number of other mystery cults which were currently flourishing in the Empire. Pagans viewed these mystery cults with suspicion on account of their closed-door practices, but the idea of Pax Deorum – the peace of the gods – was enough for most Romans to simply ignore other religions. There were notable exceptions, and the names of some of the emperors who did execute heavy persecutions are well known. For the most part, though, the attitude of the Roman government and people can be summarized in Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan and the emperor’s reply: essentially, so long as the Christians were not causing trouble and threatening a disturbance of the peace, there was no need to actively hunt them down. Peace was the main concern, not any kind of ideological warfare against a certain belief.[2]
Christianity’s monotheism was viewed with suspicion and fear of danger that this religion would break down the standards of civilization and push for something that was not only unhealthy for society but would also harm the structure established in tradition and excite the wrath of the gods. “The old polytheism was somehow built into the fabric of society, and to challenge it could sound dangerously like revolution and a loosening of the bonds of custom and morality.”[3] The fact that Roman society was pagan should not be taken in any way to mean that they were non-religious; on the contrary the Romans were deeply religious and took the utmost care that they not anger the gods or do anything that might cause the breakdown of the success of Rome – believed by many to be a sign of the favor of the gods.
The culture even during the reign of Diocletian was becoming infiltrated with Christians: “the traditional pagan governing class … [was] in danger of being outbid by the new, ‘middle-brow’ culture of the Christian bishops, whose organizing power and adaptability had been proved conclusively in the previously generation [during the persecutions]”.[4] Yet even in at this time, before Christianity was legalized, the focus was still on keeping peace – the emperor Diocletian, for instance, was a “sincere … Roman traditionalist; yet he ruled for nineteen years without giving a thought to the Christians”[5] The philosophy of the Greek world was finding ways to express itself that were compatible with the new religion that was slowly taking root.[6] The laid back attitude of this culture allowed Christianity to take root and flourish, since it was not a society that strongly held to a certain exclusive ideology. So long as one group’s religion did not threaten another, there was not a problem and certainly no need to cause a fuss that might disturb the gods. “In the fourth century, there were many families … for whom the ‘crisis’ of the third century had meant little, and the conversion of Constantine nothing.”[7]
Christianity was legalized in the Empire under Constantine, who had found “a new and powerful God, who had favoured him [;]… at all costs Constantine [believed he] must keep on the right side of Him. Anything which would upset the proper worship of this ultra-powerful deity could not be tolerated.”[8] Later, in the Theodosian Code, the Emperor Theodosius shows this lingering mentality, even in a society where Christianity was being made the only, compulsory religion: “There shall be no opportunity for any man to go out to the public and to argue about religion or to discuss it or to give any counsel. If any person hereafter, with flagrant and damnable audacity, should suppose that he may contravene any law of this kind or if he should dare to persist in his action of ruinous obstinacy, he shall be restrained with a due penalty and proper punishment.”[9] And so the pagans, while objecting to the things about Christianity that they thought would cause the gods to be angry with them and therefore sporadically persecuting the Christians, did it not out of a certain malice but instead for a measure of protection, as if to prove that they really were trying to keep the peace.  “One of Constantine’s main aims [after his conversion] was to see that the Empire and the imperial dynasty continued to receive God’s blessing”[10] –a clear continuation of Roman tradition and not specifically Christian as much as it was a play for military success, which success was imperative if Constantine was to keep his throne.
Beginnings of absorption of culture
As is the case with all humans, the people who lived in the fourth century Roman world and their religious convictions were a part of their culture. “The ruler worship of the ancient world did not cease with Constantine’s conversion. It was transmuted into the liturgical homage the Church accorded Christian emperors. If Christ became an Emperor, emperors and kings were invested with divine Grace. There was no clear separation of the divine and human spheres.”[11] Constantine set the trend for Christianity to be the replacing religion, giving the traditional religious gifts to Christian basilicas instead of pagan temples, gifts to bishops instead of priests, etc[12] – and accepting Christianity, at least as a religion, if not necessarily the only one. This integration of Christianity into everyday life – not a transformation or conquest, but a morphing of culture into a Romanized Christianity – was a new practice adopted by Constantine and copied widely after him by those who wanted to maintain his favor. Christianity was incorporated all throughout the society and into the upper classes in ways that looked strikingly Roman; by the late fourth century “the Catholic Church had taken on the sharp contours of a closed aristocracy … treating themselves as a superior elite”[13] just as the church under Constantine and afterwards was increasingly an experiment to see what happened when a religion that was not set up to lead a government, much less an empire, was suddenly the predominant (and later compulsory) religion.[14]
Integration of theology and philosophy
One of the first things that had to happen in order for this development to take place was that the basics of philosophy had to match up with the theology of the accepted religion. “Many of the existing cultural and social forms and customs had to be adapted, and they transformed only very gradually.”[15] It would not do to have the majority of the people believing that there was a pantheon of gods who were looking after them (or out to get them) while citing a religion that had only one God. Philosophers set to work tweaking philosophy to fit this new religion – again, making the entire transition as smooth as possible; no need to be complicated and disturb social order.[16]
With state favor on the Christian religion, the people who still wanted government handouts were increasingly drawn to this new religion – but they were still Romans too. There was a rise of Christian thinkers for the purpose of holding the civilization and theology together, modification of Christian thought by influence of Greek philosophy, and a general metamorphosis of the Mediterranean culture from a pagan culture dominating and an underground Christian culture spreading to one civilized culture that could take the elements of classical philosophy and combine them with Christian thought.
Resulting culture
The culture that sprang from this kind of thought was one that had not fused two distinct lines of thought together, but one that had drawn on the cultural, political, religious, and social factors present in the fourth century and created a new culture. This new combination was Christian in name and individually had many sincere believers, but as a whole consisted of people who only knew Roman culture as a culture and who had no concept of what kind of life they would have if it wasn’t for being Roman and Christian together. Even before Christianity was legalized, the ‘Great Persecution’ starting in 302 was a ‘brutal shock’ to Christians who suddenly “found themselves officially outcastes in the society with which they had so strenuously identified themselves”.[17] The thought of discontinuing being Roman on account of becoming a Christian was a preposterous idea – unlike the Early Church, which saw Rome as being the center of all evils, the fourth-century Christians simply saw Rome as being the capital of their citizenship, the historic place where the center of the world had stood for a thousand years.[18] The Christian bishops had had an aristocratic education – indeed, many were of the senatorial class or other wealthy, and elite people[19] – and reasoned both their faith and their giving like Romans. It would be a great injustice to the culture and beliefs of the people involved to claim that the fact that these converts were Roman did not influence the way they practiced and lived out their faith. On the other hand, the influence that Christianity had on the culture was more a redirection of wealth than a cultural revolution.[20]
While there certainly were concessions that were made from the Romans, the major differences that came about were changes on the side of the Christians. An important one was on the issue of military violence – Christians initially “were not allowed to shed blood or torture anyone even when under orders. The same held true for Christians in the position of judges…. when society became almost wholly Christianized on the surface, it became inevitable and acceptable that Christians should assume all the burdens of law-and-order enforcement, including the use of violence on behalf of the safety of the empire, as long as the war could be considered morally justified and was conducted without barbarism”.[21] In a culture that consisted increasingly of professing Christians, something had to change in either governmental structure or else religious practice – and in a situation concerning military and judicial rule, it was religion that changed.
The Greco-Roman culture in which Christianity originated was a pagan society accustomed to adapting to whatever the most acceptable, profitable religion was as a  part of civilized life (since this was during the period of the end of the Empire and the early Roman virtues were waning). Once the emperor Constantine began showing particular favor to Christians, it was in the best interests of the rest of the aristocrats in power to follow along with the religion to get the benefits. The changes that were made in fourth-century Rome toward Christianity had threads of Christianizing society, but were primarily social forms. The pagans became Christians, but the church changed. Originally, there were small churches with closed congregations that met to strengthen and support one another. Now, floods of pagans came to large state basilicas led by bishops (aristocrats) who were looking for state approval from the rest of their culture, just as they always had. The changes in appearance of Christian philosophy in the fourth century reflects this transition, as converted philosophers attempted to justify the transition of Roma Aeterna into a Christian society. It was imperative for public image that it not appear that Rome had been wrong all along, and the issue of the favor of the gods had to be worked out and smoothed over. Therefore, while some of the vocabulary of the fourth century was Christianized, the major influence was in the other direction as the Christian-State alliance changed the way the Church functioned in society. As far as society was concerned, the vocabulary and some traditions changed – but the church as a state religion looked very different than the church as a persecuted religion, and thus Christianity was more compromised by the merging of societies than the Roman state.

Brown, P. (1971). The World of Late Antiquity. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Chadwick, H. (1993). The Early Church. London: Penguin Books.
Cunningham, A. (1982). The Early Church and the State. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Fousek, M.S. (1971). The Church in a Changing World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Hillgarth, J.N. (1986). Christianity and Paganism, 350-750. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.
Smith, M.A. (1976). The Church Under Siege. Leicester: Intervarsity Press.
Westcott, B.F. (1909). The Two Empires. London: MacMillan and Co.

[1] A. Cunningham, The Early Church and the State, p. 9.
[2] B.F. Westcott, The Two Empires, pp. 56-57.
[3] H. Chadwick, The Early Church, p. 152.
[4] P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity. p. 86.
[5] ibid..
[6] ibid., p. 21.
[7] ibid., pp. 115-116.
[8] M.A. Smith, The Church Under Siege, pp. 23-24.
[9] Qtd. J.N. Hillgarth, Christianity and Paganism, 350-750, p. 47.
[10] M.A. Smith, p. 24.
[11] J.N. Hillgarth, p. 89.
[12] M.S. Fousek, The Church in a Changing World, p. 14.
[13] P. Brown, p. 116.
[14] M.S. Fousek, p. 13.
[15] ibid., p. 16.
[16] ibid., p. 17.
[17] P. Brown, p. 86.
[18] M.S. Fousek, p. 18.
[19] H. Chadwick, p. 154.
[20] P. Brown, p. 44.
[21] M.S. Fousek, p. 22. 

Something different! {but still a paper, of course}

The major paper for my History of Rome class was a comparative book review, so I'm posting it with some reservations since I am quite certain that everyone who checks this blog will not have recently read the three books that I discuss in this paper. However, because of the structure of the paper, it may be somewhat interesting to read even if the books are not fresh in mind - if only for people who are obsessed with Roman history :-) [I'm pretty sure I'm not the only history nerd out there, hmm?]

I titled it "World Drama" which probably wasn't the best title, but the topic was broad enough I wasn't sure what else to do ... also, note that this is not a research paper, so there are no footnotes, and since it's a different professor, the formatting is different.

And ... after I blog this, I have to finish up my final major paper for the semester (I have one due a week from today, but it's one of the shorter political science papers, and as opposed to this week's craziness, I have a week to write it!)

The history written about how Rome fell varies widely depending on the perspective of the author: Was it the barbarians? The Christians? Did Rome actually fall? The analysis of the three books compared in this paper, The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather, The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown, and Are We Rome? by Cullen Murphy, will discuss these questions and compare and contrast opinions. While there has been varied research done on the topic of the fall of Rome, the story takes a great deal to unravel and as of yet, the evidence is inconclusive. Therefore, this paper will not attempt to determine conclusively what really did happen to the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, but will instead focus on the different views presented by the three books mentioned above, analyze the things they have in common, determine what is incompatible, and gather some options for what may have happened in the fifth century.
In The Fall of the Roman Empire, Peter Heather argues that the reason Rome fell – he believes it did – was because of the influence of the barbarian armies invading the Empire. To his research, the problems lay not with the Roman people but with the inevitability of the barbarians. The attack of the Huns, specifically the Hunnic Empire under Attila the Hun, followed after the barbarians who pressed across the Danube seeking safety from these Huns. These barbarians were the Goths (joined later by the Visigoths and Ostrogoths), who would attack Rome on many strategic points across the perimeter of the Empire until it disintegrated from the pressure. The reason for Rome’s downfall, Heather concluded, was the military aspect of the Gothic tribes which Rome allowed into her Empire and incorporated into her auxiliary armies. By training the barbarians to work as a Roman legion – how to fight, how to win – the Romans had, in effect, signed and sealed their own death warrant. Instead of being able to effectively counter their foes, the Roman legions found their ranks infiltrated – and then deserted – by Gothic tribesman who reverted in loyalty back to their native tribe and fought against the Roman army when battle approached. The result was that not only did the barbarian enemy have a significant force of well-trained soldiers but also that the Romans were missing much-needed men from their ranks during crucial battles.  
These people who were changing sides were, according to Heather, the driving force between what he saw as a rather decisive (not to say spectacular) fall of Rome in 467 AD. The transition from having a Western Empire (Emperor of Rome) to not having one (ceding imperial power to the Eastern Empire in Constantinople and establishment of barbarian kingdoms) was the defined breaking point that changed the whole structure of power in the West. From being an Empire with power to have an army, make decisions, and form treaties with other kingdoms, Western Rome was now just another client kingdom of the Eastern Roman Empire – much as Rome had had client kingdoms for centuries. The Emperors of Rome, which for so long had been the powerful force behind the Empire and later powerful military faction leaders, ceased to exist. The army (that part of it which had not already defaulted back to the barbarian hoards) was dissolved.  The purple and scepter were sent to Constantinople, in acknowledgment that there was no longer an emperor in Rome, and the Western Roman Empire came to an end.  
Peter Brown takes a different view of the Mediterranean world in the fifth century.  In the West as in the East, a new well of power had been filling – that of the sect of the Christians. Although the Christian movement began with humble origins, it had been carried to Rome at the very height of the Empire and was firmly entrenched by the time the Emperors (and the Empire) became Christian (in name, at least,) and long before the Empire began to have serious problems and crumble. The so-called “fall” of Rome, Brown argues, was not so much a fall as a transition. The power of rulers may have been taken out of Rome in 467, but the last emperors of Rome, the military kings, had not been Roman for some time. As such, the loss of them to another barbarian king was scarcely more shock, if at all, then the perpetual upheaval and transfer of powers that had been going on for the last forty years of the Empire. The main difference was that the legions in control were no longer Roman: (and as Brown points out, agreeing with Heather, even the legions were not the best example of Roman civilization by this time).
The real source of direction for the majority of Roman citizens was in the local counties. The Roman Senators, the aristocratic elite, had long since withdrawn from Rome as the center of all activity and retired to live in as much peace as they could manage in their home estates, ruling local districts. These estates developed a degree of autonomy in the politically tumultuous times; in the ‘end’ as the emperors changed places with alarming frequency, any stability and structure in society was compliments of the landed elite. These wealthy landowners, finding the Roman Senate to be a non-entity, managed to integrate themselves into the new power that was rising all throughout the Empire – the Christian Church. The greatest danger for the senators lay not in losing the Emperor’s support, but in losing the public image that was so necessary for them to maintain in order to convince those of a lower social station that they were still in charge. In tumultuous times, there were all manner of social handouts and benefits designed to remind the people who their benefactors were, and remind that all the things which consisted of stability, prosperity, and well-being came from having the landed class there to take care of the situation. There was a great need to court favors with the people, and as the population grew increasingly Christian, those favors took on an increasingly Christian slant. Instead of building amphitheatres, the wealthy now built basilicas for church services and donated wealth. Roman culture had long been established with the wealthy providing public funding; the difference in the culture from Constantine through the Late Antique period was, to Brown’s perspective, simply a transition in who received the wealth.
According to Heather, the Roman Empire fell when the barbarians became too strong for the military power of Rome to hold out and Romulus (the last emperor of western Rome) mailed the imperial purple to Constantinople. The decisive moment was when the military might of Rome was not sufficient to keep on winning battles, and the barbarians set up kingdoms – the Goths in western Gaul and parts of Spain, the Franks in north-eastern Gaul. Britain, which had been invaded by the Saxons as early as 410, was not a loss factor since Roman troops had pulled out instead of being conquered. ‘Fall’ for Heather is a very simple, clear term (although the factors that go into this fall he does not pretend are as simple): The western Empire fell when it was no longer holding its own against those forces that wanted the same territory it wanted.
To Brown, the fall of the Roman Empire was more complex – unlike Heather, he continues his book further than the fall of the Western Empire and examines the Eastern Empire as well – which militarily survived considerably longer, arguably until the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453. Certainly Brown did not think that the Roman Empire had survived until that time – much more realistically, he realized that the Late Antique period and onward had a different culture than the one that had been governed by any Roman ideals at all, much less ones from the Western part of the Empire. But since the Eastern side of the Empire was not captured by barbarians or any other factor that might be considered the end of the Western Empire, then how did the Eastern Empire also cease to be Roman? The focus of Brown on both sides of the Empire caused him to view the fall of the Western side as only a part of the changes that were occurring instead of the end of Rome altogether as was Heather’s focus.
The argument presented by Brown was two-fold: firstly, that the fall of the Western Empire was not the end of Roman civilization but merely the loss of the historic capital (which hadn’t been the center of the Empire for quite some time at that point, Ravenna having been the center of operations in the latter part of the Western Empire at the end). Civilization, Brown thought, was carried on by the residents (note that this is not restricted to citizens) of the Empire, and that the Empire could not fairly have been said to have fallen until Roman civilization had been replaced. Even if the physical, military fall of Rome preceded that of Constantinople by a thousand years, the fall of Roman culture marked the end of the two parts of the Empire much differently.
The mode of this replacement was Brown’s second focus. The civilization that hung on in the Roman Empire, particularly in the East, was not the same kind of civilization that had characterized Rome over the centuries. Roman civilization had certainly changed, from the early virtues of dignitas, pietas, and gravitas. The original meanings of these virtues had been replaced as early as the beginning of the Empire with new ideas of loyalty and what it meant to be Roman as the Republic ended and a new system to balance society had to be found. These views were again changing, and just as Rome changed from Republic to Empire at the time of Caesar Augustus, the Western Empire changed again from Empire to a Christian-pagan collection of city-state-like bishoprics. For Brown, it can be argued that the Republic ended when Caesar was claimed to be god; the Empire ended when Christ became its God.
In the West, the military takeover of the barbarians did not inhibit Christianity, but endorsed it (with the brief interlude that was the reign of Julian the Apostate). In the East, the military did not fall at the same time as the Western Empire, (indeed, held out rather successfully against the Persian Empire), but the cultural transition was in effect in the East just as in the West – the crucial difference. The difference was largely in philosophy and thought; the East had always been more cultured and the example to the West. Eastern theology looked a lot like Greek philosophy; indeed the changes went both ways, creating a new Greco-Christian culture. Greek religious philosophy had to be modified to fit a mono-theistic religion instead of the traditional Roman and Greek gods, and Christianity explained its principles using the language of Greek philosophy.
The fact that there was not an entire cultural revolution and a discarding of all things Roman and Greek should not be taken to mean that there was no change. Just as in the transition from Republic to Empire the people were still the same people and kept much of their culture intact, the end of the Empire as seen by Brown is not a brutal severing of all things Roman to become all things Christian, but instead a cultural melding and transition from being either pagan or Christian into a new kind of civilization, the culture of Late Antiquity, where bishops and monks set the standard for Christianity and pagans still existed. The difference was that the elite were now largely Christian, and so the trend of society was set in a Christian direction. The fall of Rome for Brown was the change of Roman civilization as it was known into something else that contained elements of that same civilization by a rising faction of society. Rome (western or eastern) did not fall, it morphed.        
Cullen Murphy takes a still less severe outlook on the so-called ‘fall of Rome’, arguing instead that Rome did not really fall. It is difficult to compare his writing with that of Heather and Brown, since his point is different. However, it is possible to look at what he says about Rome and America, evaluate the strength of his arguments, and relate the ones that have to do with the ending (or continuation) of the Empire with Heather and Brown.
Roman civilization still lived on under the barbarians; changing rulers did not fundamentally change the society. In this argument Murphy is joined by Heather, who pointed out similarly that the later Roman emperors were themselves non-Roman if not actually barbarians. Roman society changed with the remarkable influence of Christianity in the Empire; societies change over time, as Brown showed. Murphy did not see any decisive ending to Rome as it was known; it simply progressed as cultures will and therefore did not fall. To prove its continued existence, he pointed briefly to the British Empire and in mere passing to the Holy Roman Empire, then focused mainly on the United States – which he clearly believes to be the American Empire. He argues that the similarities between the Roman Empire and the United States are such that even though the societies are not identical (after 1500 years that could scarcely be expected of any civilization), there are enough commonalities to make the United States worthy (or perhaps condemned) to be the descendent of the Roman Empire. In order for Rome to fall, for Murphy there would have had to be an end Roman military power (which, according to Heather, there was) and also an end to Roman culture (which Brown says happened through metamorphosis into Christianity). However, by citing aspects of modern American culture, Murphy says that Rome (Roman civilization, to be more precise) is still in existence. Regardless of what Mediterranean culture looked like after the fifth century, Murphy points to American culture and says that Rome did not actually fall.
The arguments that Murphy makes are not entirely irrelevant: he points specifically to the inwardness of American culture, which is largely mono-lingual and cares an astonishingly small amount about what is happening in the rest of the world. This parallel with Rome is not a stretch of the imagination. He also points to feelings of superiority in civilization, which Americans and Romans alike suffer from – but Rome was not the only ancient civilization that had this issue; recall Antony living in Alexandria and the inferiority complex the Romans had to the Egyptians. The imperious cultural persuasion that America suffers from is certainly not new, nor was it new to Rome – so does the fact that America possesses a superiority complex similar to the Romans necessitate that we are a descendent of Roman civilization, or merely show that civilizations with much power tend to think highly of themselves? As proof that America is a present-day Rome, the argument is incomplete.  
Murphy’s argument is also unconvincing in the area of a central capitol. While it is true that both Rome and Washington DC have similarities (he points to isolation from the rest of the culture and heavy reliance on importation), it would be narrow-sighted to think of one city as the basis of all society in either civilization. While America has its large cities (those named include New York, Boston, and San Francisco) as did Rome (Constantinople, Alexandria, and Milan), to say that the culture revolves around them in the same way would be a mistake. Washington DC, without doubt, makes a major impact on America, and its sack would be a huge blow. If America and Rome have the same essential civilization, as Murphy is attempting to prove, then the sack of Rome by the Visigoth king Alaric in 410 would have had a similarly enormous impact. However, according to Heather (who did focus on the military issues in the end of the Western Empire), the city’s moveable treasures were taken, but the Roman society itself was not devastated. Rome as a city was a major sink-hole in the economics of the empire, the aristocracy (which was no longer in Rome) was the important part. By the time Rome fell (by Heather’s standards), Rome was important mainly for morale and prestige – the emperors no longer even lived there.
Washington DC is a different story – it may be modeled after a part of Roman culture, but it looks more like the Rome of the latter Republic than the Rome of the fifth century, and its importance has a lot to do with the place. The impact on the national economy after the 2001 terrorist attacks is just one example of the importance of a place: the deaths of the people, while tragic, were not the impacting factor; it was the destruction of the technology and information that struck the heaviest blow. This is very different than the Roman Empire at any point in its history.
Were Murphy to be making an argument that America has characteristics of the Roman Republic, his argument would be more understandable – from the argument over the importance of the capitol to the similarity of an inward-looking culture, Americans and Romans have many similarities. However, Murphy is aiming for a conclusion that America is a continuation of Rome so that Rome would not have had to fall – which would require a reversal in culture. For this reason, the argument of the importance of the capitol is unconvincing. That the men who wrote the American constitution were drawing upon the Roman republic is well known; that America is following the course of the Roman Empire is not so easily proved. It may well be obvious five hundred years from now, but to draw a parallel of continuation instead of being content with similar themes is more like prophecy than history.
The conclusion that the United States bears resemblance to the Roman Empire, if not actually being a latter-day Empire itself, is not so hard to imagine. The small beginnings, fierce loyalty and patriotism, fighting to protect the country (or city), and determination to preserve freedom are commonalities of both early America and early Rome. The move to a greater dependence on government handouts (grain in Rome, welfare checks in the United States), more power handed to the government, inflated bureaucracy, and meddling abroad came with time to both civilizations. Like the Romans to the Greeks, Americans still have a proud sense of being the best country in the world while feeling the cultural inferiority of having very little history and wishing they had British accents.
Had Murphy made the argument that there were many similarities in American and Roman culture (which he seemed to do for a large portion of the book), that would not have been so much of an issue. The societies have enough in common that it is relatively easy to finish the comparison and say that there is a strong resemblance between cultures. However the claim central to Murphy’s book is that we as Americans are the modern-day Rome. A culture with many similarities to the early Roman Empire we may well be, but to say that these similarities exist and therefore Roman culture did not end but lives on in the American Empire is quite different. Murphy’s central question (unsurprisingly) ‘are we Rome?’ is answered by him in the positive, which conclusion makes sense in the light of the research done by Heather and Brown. American society, as shown above, does indeed show common traits with Roman society. The idea of ‘are we still Rome’, or perhaps ‘is Rome us’ is more problematic. In this, Murphy does not have support from either Heather or Brown, who both argue that Roman civilization and society did end, even if they have different ideas about how this occurred.
Ultimately, Heather argues for a decisive fall of the (Western) Roman Empire at the defeat of the legions and cessation of the office of Western Roman Emperor. Brown sees the change as softer and more natural, a morphing of the pagan cultures and Christian culture into a new Greco-Christian culture that flourished in Late Antiquity and developed throughout the Middle Ages. Murphy clings to American culture as a remnant of Roman culture to show that Rome did not fall. It would be most enjoyable to put them all in a coffee shop together and watch Heather pull out his sword, Brown his Bible, and Murphy his toga and iPod. 

07 December 2011

Groaning is Justified

Alternatively, "Was mid-seventeenth-century opinion in England justified in seeing Quakerism as threatening social revolution?"

I will say right up front that this post is my final paper for Tudor and Stuart England, and if you don't want to read 2,776 words on the topic, feel free to not bother ;)

In the interregnum instability of mid-seventeenth-century England, the Quakers’ individualistic, inward-looking theology, egalitarian beliefs, and political doctrine combined to form a social radicalism that, regardless of motive, was enough of a threat to justify suspicion and distrust among those not in the movement. The prejudices against the Quakers were confirmed by actual Quaker practice, but were also derived from the reputation of the people who converted to Quaker belief. The diverse dissenters and dissenting churches who converted brought their own backgrounds and practices into the Quaker meeting, and their influence strongly colored Quaker practice. This similarity caused the Quakers to be viewed with many of the same prejudices as those with which the Baptists, Ranters, and Seekers who were joining (comprising?) them had been viewed. The doctrines set out by the Quaker founder, George Fox, generated additional suspicion – particularly that the movement would break down social structure and create more social revolution in an already unstable England. In 1660, when Charles II took back the English throne in the Restoration, these suspicions were proved grounded.
People of the Quaker movement
The Quaker movement brought together people who “were for the most part ordinary men and women who had spurned the wishes of their betters and who had already rejected much of the ideology and organization of orthodox Puritanism”.[1] From the very beginning, the Quakers were different than other separatist groups, since they united protesters. This was the first thing that made them appear dangerous to the social order of Interregnum England. Instead of being just one more radical group to dissent from the Church of England (which was adopting Presbyterian viewpoints at the time), the Quakers converted large numbers of these dissenters to their own doctrine, thus creating a group ‘as numerous as Catholics’[2] and very noticeable in society. Quaker doctrine did not focus solely on theology, but “was a movement of political and social as well as religious protest”.[3] As a result, the Quakers did not only threaten the Church of England as purely religious protesters, but also spread the tentacles of their influence into the very structure of society. The reason they were so influential and therefore so dangerous is that they were able to bring together many people (thought to be as many as sixty thousand within fifteen years)[4] who were already practiced in dissent and social unrest and unite them under a common belief.   
The groups from which the Quakers derived the majority of their constituency were a part of the reason that the English people (and more specifically the Anglican Church and Cromwell’s government) feared that they would bring about social revolution. Instead of having a clear reputation from the first, the Quakers drew from dissenting groups that had previously established negative reputations of their own. Having incorporated into their midst names, congregations, and theology that were already viewed with suspicion (if not outright hostility), Quaker views would have had to strongly break away from the past of these groups in order to even hope for a completely separate identity. Instead, they incorporated considerable amounts of doctrine and practice from those who joined them, and the influence of these groups – notably the Baptists, Seekers, and Ranters – can be seen in later Quaker doctrine.
Since the early 1640’s, the Baptists had developed a reputation for being a part of a “separatists tradition which saw little prospect of Christian reformation in a national church tainted with relics of popery and too lax in its admission of the ungodly to communion”.[5] The Quaker emphasis on being led by an inner light or spirit surfaced and received criticisms not unlike the description by Daniel Featley, a moderate Anglican, who in 1645 described the Baptists “as a pack of ‘mechanick’ artisans”, further calling them “‘Russet Rabbies, and Mechanick Enthusiasts, and profound Watermen, and Sublime Coachmen, and illuminated Tradesmen’”.[6]  The very name Quaker, coming from a physical quaking when being moved in spirit during meetings, was nothing new either: Thomas Lambe, the Baptist’s “most celebrated evangelist” was to employ “theatrical methods” in his attempt to win converts.[7]
Perhaps the most important (at least the most influential) factor in the pre-conceived notions about the Quakers was the converts themselves – Samuel Fisher, who started his career as a Presbyterian clergyman, converted to Baptist views and became an outspoken Baptist debater and pamphleteer before converting to Quakerism and being an equally vocal proponent of Quaker doctrine.[8] With individuals who were well known becoming a part of the Society of Friends (as the Quakers called themselves), the connection between dissenters such as the Baptists and the Quakers was only reinforced.
The Seekers were “defectors from the Puritan churches”, as were the Quakers, and the later theme of clerical disestablishment seen in Quakerism can be found in the Seeker position of being “an opponent of all [the Puritan church’s] claims to be the true church”.[9] The Seekers were not so much a sect as a “personification of a point of religious debate”,[10] which makes sense in the context of their later conversions to Quakerism. The Seekers who had similar beliefs (thus causing them to be categorized together under the name of one sect) did not identify themselves with a dissenting church as much as with dissenting points. Therefore, when George Fox began preaching Quaker doctrine that was a part of an organized dissent from the established church, conversion was not leaving the Seeker church but joining a church from not having one. ‘Autobiographies and testimonials’ written by such converts describe themselves as having “a period of fruitless seeking after true religion before a final submission to the light within”.[11] Furthermore, “the first Quaker recruits are generally described in such terms as ‘a people that was then seeking after ye Lord’.”[12] None of this gives any evidence that there was an organized Seeker movement; rather there were people who were seeking for something different in their spiritual life and were ready to join a group that was offering what they thought they were looking for – the same as conversions happen today. The difficulty with having these people who were self-identified Seekers joining the Quakers was that they shared the belief in a very ‘personal Christianity’ and in Puritan churches, the “typical Seeker position” was “that there was no absolute divine truth, no true visible church, no confidence of sainthood”.[13] When Seekers converted to Quakerism and Quaker doctrine also emphasized an inward-looking, private Christianity, the plausible connection to a heretical Seeker position could not be ignored.
Ranters, the third common association with Quaker conversions, brought in the thread of the mystic. Ranter prophets were “mystical in their claim to have become one with God; antinomian in denying the reality of sin to the believer”.[14] The Quaker doctrine of an Inward Millennium and a theoretical Heaven, Judgment, and Hell went along the same lines, if they didn’t go so far as to agree that “the spiritual man’s freedom from the carnal world extended to a moral indifference to his behavior since all human acts were inspired by God”.[15] Quakers instead tended to view the physical reality as highly symbolic of the spiritual reality, an example being George Emmot, who “tore off his fine clothes and ribbons and dressed himself in plain garb and a hat with a piece of string in place of a hatband” to show himself “not worldly, but all spiritual”.[16] Despite these differences, however, Quakers did venture into symbolic actions that were ‘clearly intended to shock’ and the connection between the mystic antinomianism of the Ranters and the symbolism of the Quakers along the same lines was not missed by those in the church and government.
These three religious groups had commonalities; the doctrine of enthusiasm, alluded to in the Baptist minister’s evangelism above, was embraced by Baptists, Seekers, Ranters, and Quakers.[17] Quaker enthusiasm was a key component of the ‘doctrine of the indwelling light’, which was one of the primary doctrines the Quaker founder George Fox propounded and became an issue of much suspicion as the Quaker movement spread and this idea became more known.
The Dangerous Inner Light
            One of the most disconcerting beliefs of the Quakers was their doctrine of the Inward Millennium – that the second coming of Christ was happening, and happened inside the individual. “‘The coming of Christ in the flesh … was one coming … and his appearance in Spirit to save his people from sin; is another coming’”,[18] George Whitehead, a prominent Quaker explained. This emphasis on the inner transformation, completely separate by nature from the Church of England, was seen – with reason – to be dangerous. By breaking away from the established church, the Quakers threatened social order and the established hierarchy. What is not so facially obvious is the reason for this perceived threat. However, in the context of the unrest and civil wars of the mid-seventeenth-century, a group claiming that the second coming of Christ was happening within them at the moment was, ipso facto, saying that the Church of England was wrong by not saying the same and therefore dangerous to keeping order through undermining the church.
The rejection of the Church of England continued past the belief of an Inner Millennium with the Quakers’ insistence that the guidance of the spirit – the Holy Spirit moving directly to their spirit – was more authoritative than the Scriptures, and certainly over whatever the clergy and learned elite might say.[19] This rejection of the standard structure of religious order was deeply disconcerting. Not only did the Quakers defy religious order, they were also a threat to the social order that was currently in power, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government.
            The Quaker movement brought together multiple sectarian groups, which unification (as seen above) was dangerous to social order. However, there was another thing that made them dangerous, more so than sheer numbers of dissenters. The belief that the Church of England should be overthrown as a state church and that mandatory tithes should be discontinued made them more than just religiously out of order, but a threat to society. The idea that the church would be overthrown wasn’t simply an issue to the church leaders, but to everyone. Since the Church of England was a state church, its disestablishment would mean the denial of a part of the government’s authority – a concession that Cromwell’s England could ill-afford. The goal was to move from a ‘university-bred, privileged clergy towards a ministry of simple men and women’.[20] In addition to pushing for the clergy to be replaced, “during the Revolution the Quakers became a pressure group campaigning for the overthrow of tithes … supporting parliamentary candidates who were likely to be sympathetic to their cause, and, above all, refusing to pay tithes and inciting others to resist”.[21] This attitude towards the government was, unsurprisingly, not looked upon with favor by those in authority. The payment of tithes was not only an acknowledgment of the church as a religious authority; it also stretched into the structure of society as a whole through fund support of the property system. Therefore, the “Quaker denunciation of tithes … marked them out as subversives”[22] in an already-unstable political situation. This perceived threat to the structure of society was more than even the tolerance of Oliver Cromwell’s government could handle, and consequently the Quakers were persecuted even when those in authority were attempting to usher in a new religious tolerance.
Threat of Egalitarianism
The threat that the Quakers presented to Parliament and the other authorities was not simply a religious one; they also had a non-pacifist social agenda that gave pause to those with whom they disagreed. Anyone listed in the categories of ‘lawyers, trial by jury, Anglicization and codification of the law’ might reasonably be concerned by the proclamation: “let all be drawn up in a little short Volumn, and all the rest burnt’.[23] A group with such beliefs could scarcely reassure those whom they were talking about. They additionally “told those in power in 1659 that if they would ‘establish Righteousnesse’ they were assured of Quaker support: ‘Oh then we should rejoyce, and our lives would not bee Deare to lay downe’”.[24] If this was calculated to make friends and convey a position of cooperation, it could not have been imagined to be successful. The Quaker sect was not primarily a militaristic or political one, but it is important to realize that before the Restoration of the monarchy it also was not pacifist.[25] Rather, it stressed “the peaceful nature of the movement rather than the sect’s opposition to the use of force under any circumstances”.[26]
The motives and intentions of the Quakers, however, appear to have been of less concern to those not in the movement than the way it actually looked. The threat of military action was not one of the main Quaker tenets, and therefore not a primary concern. Instead, “it was probably fear of ideological contamination rather than a few sporadic outbursts of disorder”[27] that caused the primary concern. The potential social consequences of Quaker philosophy were so dangerous to the established social order that tolerance was not a very popular path. Whether or not the Quakers were being disruptive was not the issue – it was the potential social fallout of having them as a part of society, and neither their beliefs nor their practices encouraged trust from those around them.
Cromwell’s government must not be mistaken to be an egalitarian government. Elimination of the monarchy should not be equated with equality for all. One of the reasons the Quakers were so feared was their egalitarian practices among themselves. This was the social disturbance that was so feared. Going so far as to allow women to have active participation in their worship services,[28] men refusing to remove their hats in the presence of their superiors,[29] and general usage of the informal personal pronouns ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ instead of the more formal ‘you’ “caused great anger and offense to non-Quakers”.[30] Without proper respect for social status, the very hierarchy of society was at risk and it caused great concern among the social elite. Making the social elite happy was not, however, the goal of the Quakers, who “rejected the hegemony of the elite”.[31] Instead, “They questioned the primacy of the Scriptures, rejected the need for an established church or ministry and challenged the rigid hierarchical structure of society”[32] – all of which caused substantial alarm.
In the end, the Quakers really were a threat to the seventeenth-century social order – not only the order of classes through their egalitarian policies, but Cromwell’s government as a whole. By 1659, “hostility towards Quakerism led many to look to the monarchy as the only salvation from social and religious anarchy”[33]– directly in contradiction to the Puritan government in power. Since “hostility towards Quakers contributed to the restoration of the Stuarts”,[34] fears that the Quakers would bring about social revolution were entirely justified.
The Quaker movement in mid-seventeenth-century England was a serious threat to the social revolution; see the Restoration of Charles II, which was in part a product of the nervousness and suspicion with which non-Quakers viewed their Quaker counterparts. Larger revolution aside, to which the Quakers only presented a threat as a secondary source, Quaker doctrine and practice also presented the threat of a primary social revolution. Regardless of what kind of revolution was feared, the fear was justified by those outside the sect. Even if the revolution that was the more obvious threat under Cromwell’s government – breakdown of the social order – was not a result of Quaker practice, the return of the monarchy can be traced in part to fear of the Quakers. The consequent completion of an entire revolution – bringing the political situation full circle back to a monarchy – therefore is the reality of history and looking back, the threat of the Quakers felt by mid-seventeenth-century English is justified. 
Braithwaiter, W.C. (1912). The Beginnings of Quakerism. London: MacMillan and Co.
McGregor, J.F. and Reay, B. (1984). Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Oxford: University Press.
Pearse, M.T. (1998). The Great Restoration. Cumbria: Paternoster Press.
Poole, K. (2000). Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton. Cambridge: University Press.
Reay, B. (1985). The Quakers and the English Revolution. London: Temple Smith.

[1] J.F. McGregor and B. Reay, Radical Religion in the English Revolution, p. 141.
[2] ibid..
[3] ibid..
[4] M.T. Pearse, The Great Restoration, p. 259.
[5] K. Poole, Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton, p. 26.
[6] ibid., p. 36.
[7] ibid., p. 30.
[8] ibid., p. 38.
[9] ibid., p. 123.
[10] ibid..
[11] ibid., p. 128.
[12] qtd. ibid..
[13] ibid. p. 126.
[14] ibid. p. 129.
[15] ibid., p. 129.
[16] B. Reay, The Quakers and the English Revolution, p. 36.
[17] K. Poole, p. 58.
[18] J.F. McGregor and B. Reay, p. 146.
[19] ibid., p. 146.
[20] ibid., p. 149.
[21] ibid., p. 150.
[22] M.T. Pearse, p. 273.
[23] J.F. McGregor and B. Reay, p. 150.
[24] ibid., p. 152.
[25] M.T. Pearse, p. 272.
[26] J.F. McGregor and B. Reay, p. 152.
[27] ibid., p. 155.
[28] W.C. Braithwaiter, The Beginnings of Quakerism, p. 12.
[29] M.T. Pearse, p. 271.
[30] ibid..
[31] J.F. McGregor and B. Reay, p. 162.
[32] ibid..
[33] ibid., p. 163.
[34] ibid..