As for “high level generalizations”, Russ, it’s hard for me to understand why you don’t want me to state the theoretical presuppositions I’m working with. Historical facts abstracted from a historiographical approach are meaningless. Generalizations are not only inescapable but absolutely essential to the acquisition of knowledge. Otherwise, all that’s left is an undifferentiated mass of uncoordinated data.
Being perfectly willing to submit my presuppositions to analysis, I’m interested in hearing from you how they make sense—or not—of the broad sweep of historical events. Biblical grounds are also important because the divine interpretations of events have been revealed. Since we both recognize Scripture’s authority in these matters we will in time be able to discuss what can be validly inferred from revelation.
What I want from you, Russ, is the biblical rationale for why the ideal of self rule in personal affairs derogates from the ideal of a hierarchically ordered society. Also, why does the sin involved in Israel’s desire for a king take priority over the sanctification of kingship in Christ’s messianic office, a kingship, I emphasize, that is not reserved to Christ alone but shared with his people.
What are you trying to say or imply, Russ, when you argue about the historical context for Constantine’s reign? It’s all very well to point out that Diocletian reorganized the empire and that Constantine didn’t forge a completely new order. I never said nor implied differently. What was new about Constantine’s reign was his reliance on the Christian God’s favor for the establishing of his office and the peace of his realm.
So, Constantine didn’t make Christianity the official religion of Rome. So what? Forty years after his death Theodosius did. What benefit can you gain by denying that Constantine accomplished much foundational to the establishment of Christianity in the empire, not to mention ignoring what he accomplished for the Church merely by calling the first ecumenical council?
The facts of Roman History can, I believe, be best incorporated into a historical account that compares the relative stability under monarchical rule with the confusion that obtained under popular rule. Allow me to quote the great Robert Filmer to this effect:
A little to manifest the imperfection of popular government, let us but examine the most flourishing democracy that the world hath ever known — I mean that of Rome. First, for the durability: at the most it lasted but four hundred and eighty years; for so long it was from the expulsion of Tarquin to Julius Caesar, whereas both the Assyrian monarchy lasted without interruption at the least twelve hundred years, and the empire of the East continued one thousand four hundred and ninety-five years.
Secondly, For the order of it, during these four hundred and eighty years, there was not any one settled form of government in Rome; for after they had once lost the natural power of kings, they could not find upon what form of government to rest. Their fickleness is an evidence that they found things amiss in every change. At the first they chose two annual consuls instead of kings. Secondly, those did not please them long, but they must have tribunes of the people to defend their liberty. Thirdly, they leave tribunes and consuls, and choose them ten men to make them laws. Fourthly, they call for consuls and tribunes again, sometimes they choose dictators, which were temporary kings, and sometimes military tribunes, who had consular power. All these shiftings caused such notable alteration in the government, as it passeth historians to find out any perfect form of regimen in so much confusion; one while the Senate made laws, another while the people. The dissensions which were daily between the Nobles and the Commons bred those memorable seditions about usury, about marriages, and about magistracy. Also the Grecian, the Apulian, and the Drusian seditions filled the market places, the temples, and the Capitol itself, with blood of the citizens; the Social War was plainly civil; the wars of the slaves, and the other of the fencers; the civil wars of Marius and Sylla, of Cataline, of Cæsar, and Pompey the Triumvirate, of Augustus, Lepidus, and Antonius — all these shed an ocean of blood within Italy and the streets of Rome…
But you will say, yet the Roman empire grew all up under this kind of popular government, and the city became mistress of the world. It is not so; for Rome began her empire under kings, and did perfect it under emperors; it did only increase under that popularity. Her greatest exaltation was under Trajan, as her longest peace had been under Augustus. Even at those times when the Roman victories abroad did amaze the world, then the tragical slaughter of citizens at home deserved commiseration from their vanquished enemies. What though in that age of her popularity she bred many admired captains and commanders — each of which was able to lead an army, though many of them were but ill requited by the people — yet all of them were not able to support her in times of danger; but she was forced in her greatest troubles to create a dictator, who was a king for a time, thereby giving this honourable testimony of monarchy that the last refuge in perils of states is to fly to regal authority. And though Rome's popular estate for a while was miraculously upheld in glory by a greater prudence than her own, yet in a short time, after manifold alterations, she was ruined by her own hands: suis et ipsa Roma viribus mil; for the arms she had prepared to conquer other nations were turned upon herself, and civil contentions at last settled the government again into a monarchy.
(From Patriarcha, 2.11-12)
Please note, Russ, that this quotation from Filmer summarizes a response I would make to your argument that the empire was predicated on the republic's accomplishments, which is itself a generalization. On the contrary, I argue, the peace and longevity of her rule was obtained through the leadership of her emperors. If Rome had remained a republic she would have fallen prey to inward strife and foreign invasion during perilous times sooner rather than later.
What we have here is a contest between two theoretical systems. I regard royal sovereignty as a summum bonum. Alternatively, Russ, you offer popular sovereignty as the ideal. Fine. Let's compare our theories by examining first principles in light of Scripture. Along the way, we can indulge in some historical speculation and have fun while we're at it.
(To be continued…)