Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tim Enloe on the development of the Papacy

"The word 'pope' comes from the Latin papa, which of course, means 'father.' To understand the cultural world of Romanitas, which deeply undergirds papal theory and assumptions about reality, we must understand about father is the concept of paterfamilias...

"One of the most important things to understand here is the concept of 'power,' or potestas. 'Power,' like the related concept of imperium which we will cover in a future post, signified for the Ancient Romans 'force, strength, and ability to rule.' In the Ancient world, power to rule was wielded most often by males, and so, profoundly alive to legal and practical realities, the Romans described the paterfamilias--the father, the head of the house--as possessing patria potestas, or, "fatherly power."

Tim continues his excellent study by delineating the scope of "nearly absolute power" Roman fathers exercised over their households.

Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films have always struck me as a portrayal of ancient family practice clashing with the realities of modern social life. Certainly, Coppola and author Mario Puzo intended to show the destructive psychological and social costs of the old ways. It's almost as they are saying that the full attempt to exercise fatherhood--classically understood--necessarily leads to criminality.

We would do well to remember this when we observe legislators systematically and incrementally framing laws to outlaw corporal punishment in the home. It seems to be the natural tendency and goal of the modern state to utterly abolish patria potestas. For, Leviathan will brook no competitors to its bid for absolute power.


Mark said...

Hey Andrew. This is a cool post. Not to take anything away from the main point, nor to get away from the focus of the post, but i can't resist seeing the following corollary:

If 'this' (the post's content)was the conception and practice of fatherhood in first century Rome, then 'this' could also provide a good understanding of Paul in relationship to such issues as women in the church, including "keep quiet in church" passages and even women's ordination.


Andrew Matthews said...

Perhaps you could explain a little more of what you mean, Mark.

Mark said...

well, perhaps this notion of fatherhood provides more of a face to the often heard excuse "Paul was culturally biased".

how? I was hoping you'd immediately see something, but perhaps i was thinking too fast.

maybe what i'm seeing is something like this:

"Paul was a man of his day. Paul was culturally biased. Paul lived in the first century that is very different from the 21st.."

but when we get a read on what was going on in Paul's day, we possibly see what he was up against or with what he used and played with.

If fatherhood in ancient Rome is as advertised, then it isn't any wonder that Paul would have some harsh sounding things to say about women. The real wonder would be, how come he isnt more severe?

I guess i'm thinking of this notion of fatherhood to be in some way relevant to women, either as wives or older daughters; not of course to the exclusion of children or any other familial concept.

i recognize this is not the intention of the writer. he wants to take our attention to R__e sweet Home with developing an analysis of fatherhood and the papacy.

sorry for the detour. or perhaps, i just wanted to make a pit stop.

Viva la 'Cudhy.