What We Can Learn from the Failures of Rome

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn (the columns date from 43 BCE) in the Roman Forum. Photo by Courtney Perry.

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn (the columns date from 42 BCE) in the Roman Forum. Photo by Courtney Perry.

As I expected, Christianity’s cultured despisers (many of them from within) took great offense at my daring to suggest that the Roman Empire was not unmitigated evil. Instead, I suggested that the legacy of Rome is ambivalent — good and bad. (As David Sessions brilliantly showed yesterday, hot-takes are swallowing the Christian blogosphere, on both left and right. Facebook and Twitter hot-takers gleefully troll me anytime I write a post that offends their sensibilities. This now comes with the territory of blogging.)

Nevertheless, anyone with a modicum of common sense cannot help but be impressed with the feats of the Romans, especially as you stroll through the modern city that is built upon the ruins of the empire.

And yes, they are ruins, because Rome fell, and it fell hard.

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In Praise of Empires

Courtney and I are in Rome this week, compliments of Focus Features and A Different Drummer, to visit the set of a movie based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. We are embargoed from writing anything about the movie (yet), but my fifteenth trip to the Eternal City has brought on some thoughts.

Among Christianity’s critics from within — especially my own tribe of progressive Protestants — it’s fashionable to disparage empire at every turn. Empire, it seems, is responsible for everything that ails our faith.

Oh, and Constantine was an asshat.

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true.

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The First Christmas Sermon Ever Preached

As a Christmas tradition, I repost this, the first Christmas sermon ever recorded:

John “Golden Mouth” Chrysostom preached the first known Christmas sermon in AD 386 (the same year that Augustine converted to Christianity — what a year!).  In this case, the first is the best.  It both beautifully written and theologically profound. How I would have loved to have heard him deliver it!  I commend it for your reading in the next couple of days.

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The Angels sing.  The Archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The Seraphim exalt His glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.  He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice.  And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.  For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.  This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not.  For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.  Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

Read the rest: The First Christmas Sermon.

Women Priests in the Early Church?

A fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla’a “Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman” room showing a woman with outstretched arms like those of a priest saying Mass. In Rome November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

From Reuters:

Proponents of a female priesthood say frescoes in the newly restored Catacombs of Priscilla prove there were women priests in early Christianity. The Vatican says such assertions are sensationalist “fairy tales”.

The catacombs, on Rome’s Via Salaria, have been fully reopened after a five-year project that included laser technology to clean some of the ancient frescoes and a new museum to house restored marble fragments of sarcophagi. Art lovers and the curious around the world who cannot get to Rome can join the debate by using a virtual visit to the underground labyrinth by Google Maps, a first-time venture mixing antiquity and modern high technology.

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