Friday, September 30, 2011

How the Emperors Upgraded the Office of Bishop

We have seen how the bishops tweaked the Christian message to make it coincide with the value components of the Roman aristocrats and thereby make it attractive to those aristocrats.

Now let’s look at how the Emperors aided this process of converting aristocrats.

The emperors promulgated laws that:

1. Decreed that bishops could not be accused in secular courts.
2. Gave bishops judicial authority that could not be challenged. We might call this “aristocratic justice,” justice meted out by the Lord of an area. If the Lord’s son raped your daughter, where were you?
3. Gave clerics tax exemption like the rest of the aristocracy.

Conclusion: By the middle of the 5th century, the office of bishop was sufficiently loaded with status to attract aristocrats. 

In fact, within a single century, aristocratic status became a virtual qualification to become a bishop in much of the western world. Christianity was now a caste system for all practical purposes. The original egalitarian essence of “The Way” was lost. Public honor, the sought-after goal for an aristocrat, came with the office of bishop. And being a bishop became for the first time a full-time job, leaving plenty of time for leisure. In my book I have called this new episcopal culture, The Purple Culture. Born in the fourth century, it will strengthen and become pervasive over the coming centuries.

The life of a Roman aristocrat was centered on leisure and leisure activities: “writing poetry, letters and orations; hunting, dining, socializing, sailing, traveling, arranging marriages, and attending horse races and circus games.” (Salzman, p.44)

Next week we will begin to examine this purple culture in detail.


See also:

The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire

 The Making of A Christian Aristocracy, by Michelle Renee Salzman.  Harvard University Press, 2002.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Romancing the Aristocracy by Tweaking the Christian Message

We are looking at how the Church lost its egalitarian foundation, and we are still looking at the fourth and fifth centuries.  Bishops and emperors worked together to convert the Roman Senatorial Aristocracy.

We will look first at how the bishops responded to the task.  

In short, they shaped the Christian message to appeal to aristocrats and their status concerns. Honor is the key element. Honor derives from leading the Christian life, and the Bishops claimed that ecclesiastical offices bring greater status and honor than do secular offices. 

Friendship was brought into the Christian context.  Friendship furthered spirituality.  However, they did not make friendship a relationship that went beyond the status group.  It was confined to the group and fostered honor as always.  It was not preached as an egalitarian relationship.  It was not exhibited as a friend is a friend for the sake of a friend as Socrates defined it.  It was not Jesus saying, “I call you friends because I have taught you all that the Father has taught me.”  It remained a self-directed honor that flowed from the quality of one’s friends.

Wealth was also defended from the vantage point of the honor it could bring. We hear St. Ambrose saying, “There is no crime in being rich, only in not employing one’s wealth in proper fashion.” Wealth could be used in charitable causes and thereby bring honor to the donor.  Patronage brought honor, whether from representing notable clients in the Senate or from efforts such as building a church.  Paulinus of Nola, a bishop, preached that the poor “will place you above their own children, they pray for you, in all of the public places they acclaim you.”

Being recognized for possessing an intellectual culture conveyed honor to an aristocrat.  Christian preachers boasted that their literary culture was as old and as prestigious as any of their pagan contemporaries.  After all, they possessed a religion of the Word. 

Pagan Priesthood was often sought for by members of the aristocracy for the honor it brought.  Bishops touted the superiority of the Christian priesthood.  Nobility, which came with high office or from high birth, brought honor.  Christian leaders pointed to Christian piety as providing greater nobility.  However, the examples they pointed to were men and women of the aristocracy.

In brief, all of the cultural value components of the aristocracy became part of the Christian vocabulary. The Christian message had been tweaked to lure aristocrats into the Church.

Next week, we look at the contributions of the emperors in attracting aristocrats to Christianity.

See also:

The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire
 The Making of A Christian Aristocracy, by Michelle Renee Salzman.  Harvard University Press, 2002.

Purple Culture

The Purple Culture, by Stephen Boehrer

Friday, September 16, 2011

When in Rome. . . Appealing to the Roman Aristocracy

We are dealing with the questions:
  • How and when did Christianity lose its egalitarian structure? 
  • How did the masses lose their ability to have input into matters of administrative, doctrinal, disciplinary and devotional practice in the Church? 
  • How did “pray, pay and obey” come to define the role of the laity?

We return to the fourth century. As we all know, the Emperor Constantine brought legitimacy to the Christian religion early in that century. He and subsequent emperors favored Christianity in many ways, but they did not have the power to impose this new religion on a population immersed in paganism

This imperial lack of power was especially true in regard to the Roman aristocracy who possessed power and wealth that was critical for the support of the emperors. Realizing that the way to conversion of the masses was through the conversion of the aristocracy, emperors and bishops united in a two-pronged effort.

What united the aristocracy was the "status" culture they shared. The deepest concern of aristocrats was their status in the world. Max Weber, the noted sociologist, makes these distinctions: Class is based on wealth; e.g. middle class, upper class. Party is based on power; e.g. Democrat, Republican. Status groups are based on honor, however honor is conceived. 

The Roman aristocracy was a status group for whom honor was everything. And honor for them was aristocratic standing, and aristocratic standing came from peer recognition. Only by meeting the expectations of their peers would anyone gain acceptance, the guarantee of aristocratic standing. So to be in the group, you had to play to one another within the confines of the group.

While both the emperors and bishops wanted to convert this group to Christianity--and with aristocratic help and example, convert the masses--the conversion could not be forced. And there was no way that this status group was going to relinquish the status center of its culture. Consequently, the emperors and bishops had to use terms and concepts that were attractive to and consistent with traditional senatorial values. In short, they had to appeal to and not threaten the status concerns of the aristocracy.

Bishops were able to make headway in converting aristocrats because they found ways to assure them that this new religion was not a threat to their status concerns, but in fact supported their status concerns.
What were those status concerns? Above all, of course was honor. Acceptance and recognition by peers, other aristocrats, was the most basic component of the aristocratic status culture. What brought them this acceptance and recognition? Social conventions such as friendship (one received honor from the number and prestige of one’s friends); family networks; nobility (nobility was an attribute derived from either noble birth or high office); the correct religion (aristocrats often sought a pagan priesthood for the honor it brought); patronage (honor that came from the status of clients they represented in the Senate and from construction of temples, etc.); recognition for high moral character; recognition for having an intellectual life; and wealth.
Next week we will look at how both emperors and bishops met these status concerns.

See also:

The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman EmpirePrimary Resource for this section: The Making of A Christian Aristocracy, by Michelle Renee Salzman.  Harvard University Press, 2002.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Way We Were: The Lost Partnership Between the Laity and Church Leaders

e begin with a bit of history.  In the early days of Christianity there existed a genuine partnership between what we now call the laity and the Church leaders. The Church was a combination of the two groups. And the partnership extended to all Church matters. The laity had equal voices in matters of administration, doctrine, discipline and all expressions of piety. The following two examples, one regarding discipline and the other doctrine, illustrate this historical fact: 

1.  In Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles we are told that some Jewish Christians came to Antioch and began telling the Gentile Christians they were required to observe all the prescriptions of the Torah, including the practice of circumcision and the food restrictions. The Gentile Christians reacted strongly, asking in effect, what do circumcision and those other laws have to do with what Jesus taught?   

The Church--those Gentile Christians--sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (the Vatican of that time) with their complaint and their wisdom, and their voice prevailed. It is worth noting here that Church Leaders in these early centuries worked full time jobs to support themselves.  

2.  The Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D., condemned a heresy, Arianism, which stated that Jesus was not quite God. He was the highest of all creatures but still a creature. 

Arianism, however, did not die with the condemnation. The Emperor, Constantius II, favored it and exiled Pope Liberius for his refusal to support it. Eventually, Liberius, in exile, gave in to the Emperor and was returned to Rome. 

In Rome, the Christians, who now considered Liberius to be a traitor, would have nothing to do with him and began turning to an anti-pope, Felix. “The people would not even go to the public baths lest they should bathe with the party of Liberius.” (“Arians of the Fourth Century” by Cardinal John Henry Newman). The Pope got the message and changed back to his original opposition to Arianism. Again from Cardinal Newman: “The Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not.”
# # #
Today we can’t imagine sending a bishop anywhere, much less with the mission of carrying the wisdom of the people to the Vatican. Nor can we imagine having a voice in the discipline of the Church. Nor does the laity have a voice in doctrinal matters today. Does anyone recall an instance where the bishops asked for an opinion on "infallible" definitions, or on the content of encyclicals? What happened to that partnership between laity and Church Leaders so pronounced in the early centuries?

We will continue our search for the answers in next week’s blog issue. When and how did Christianity lose its original egalitarian character? And what have been the consequences of that change?

See also:

The Arians of the Fourth Century 
 The Arians of the Fourth Century, by 
 John Henry Newman

History of Christianity


Friday, September 2, 2011

"Just Call Me Excellency!"


is Excellency, Urbane Angelus, has graciously consented to accompany us on this blog as we address multiple issues in the religious world today. His Excellency is the Titular Archbishop of Atoll #7 in the Pacific Ocean. He will help by way of commentary and illustration of what it is like to inhabit an elevated position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and on hierarchical interpretations of moral and doctrinal issues.


We begin with some of the problems for which we will seek causes. Having found the causes, the solutions will appear:

1.  A 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Policy found that adult Catholics in the United States who have exited the Catholic faith number 22.8 million. The study found that 68% of those raised as Catholics have stayed in the Church.

We ask: what could cause such an exodus?

2.  Over the past decade it was suggested at the United Nations that there should be one world religion. The Roman Catholic response by Cardinal Arinze amounted to “That’s fine, as long as the one is Roman Catholic.” Similar responses came from other world religions.

Twenty years ago, theologian Hans Kung wrote in his work “Global Responsibility” that the enmity between religions reaches into the political sphere and prevents people from coming together. “There will be no peace,” he said, “until there is peace between religions.” He proposed that the way to achieve that peace would be for those religions to come together and reach an agreement on a common or shared ethic.

We ask: why don’t they come together? Doesn’t the basis of a common ethic already exist in the shared belief in the golden rule: love your neighbor as you love yourself?

We ask: where are the bishops in the peace effort?

3.  In this century the time bomb of clergy sexual abuse exploded with nuclear force. Subsequent investigations have revealed the worldwide extent of the abuse. They also revealed the behavior of bishops in their handling of priest abusers and the scandal. Bishops routinely stonewalled victims and the victims’ parents. They used attorneys to play hardball with victims. They used the common lie that “this was the first complaint ever received against Father Pedophile.” They transferred pedophile priests from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, where other children awaited the horror to come.

We soon heard a litany of excuses from the bishops as they pointed the hierarchical finger: they said gays were responsible so they mounted a campaign against gays saying they should not be ordained; they said that children can be very seductive tempters and temptresses. It was the children’s fault. The abusers were the real victims; they implied that the victims want the money that would otherwise go to the poor, as if it’s okay to work an injustice on one group as long as charity prevails for another group.

We ask: What explains this behavior of the bishops? And why did the recent John Jay College of Criminal Justice study (commissioned by the bishops) fail to detail the bishops’ own behavior in the scandal?

4.  A number of issues have emerged that illustrate a growing dissidence between the Catholic laity and the hierarchy: the role of the laity, sexual morality, the rights and place of women, married and women priests, contraception, and divorce – to name only the more apparent.

We will begin to tackle all of the above in the next and subsequent issues. We believe that the ultimate answer lies with the clerical culture at the episcopal level, and we will begin with a history of that culture’s development. We plan to publish weekly – given the availability of Archbishop Angelus. Thanks for visiting. We hope you will follow us as we progress. 

See also:  
Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse 
Sex, Priests and Secret Codes by Doyle, Sipe and Hall

Purple Culture

The Purple Culture by Stephen Boehrer

Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic

Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic by Hans Kung