Posts tagged with: Ancient Rome

The Apostle Peter and Cornelius the centurion

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1) features an updated translation of “The Moral Organization of Humanity as a Whole,” the last chapter of the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s major work on moral philosophy The Justification of the Good. Writing in 1899, Soloviev offers an insightful reflection on the centurion Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10), regarding the military vocation and the kingdom of God, appropriate to consider as we celebrate Veterans Day today:

Neither the angel of God nor the apostle Peter, the messenger of the peace of Christ, nor the voice of the Holy Spirit himself suddenly revealed in the ones converted, told the centurion of the Italian cohort that which was, according to the latest notions about Christianity, the most important and urgently necessary thing for this Roman warrior. They did not tell him that in becoming a Christian he must first of all cast away his weapons and without fail renounce military service. There is neither word nor allusion about this ostensibly indispensable condition of Christianity in the whole story, even though the point is precisely about a representative of the army. Renunciation of military service does not at all enter into the New Testament concept of what is required of a secular warrior in order that he become a citizen enjoying full rights in the kingdom of God.

While this may appear to be an argument from silence, Soloviev notes,

When Peter came, Cornelius said to him, “Now, therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things … commanded you by God” [10:33]. But in this all that God commands the apostle to communicate to the Roman warrior for his salvation, there is nothing about military service.

Taking seriously that the Apostle Peter did not leave anything out when he told Cornelius everything he needed to begin the Christian life, the omission of any command to renounce military service is a significant silence. (more…)

Lawrence W. Reed

Acton on Tap: Lawrence Reed at Speak EZ Lounge – 10.8.13

The Fall 2013 Acton On Tap series kicked off at Speak EZ Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., this evening with Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, who addressed gathered attendees on the lessons our society can learn from the history of Rome. In the interest of speedy delivery, you can listen to the raw audio of Reed’s presentation and the Q&A that followed using the audio player below.

For those not in the know, Acton On Tap is a great little periodic event that the Acton Institute presents in our hometown of Grand Rapids. It’s a free, informal gathering held at a local establishment where you can join us for a cold drink, some good conversation, and a talk on a topic of interest from a variety of interesting people. If you’re in West Michigan, you’re always welcome to join us! We’ll keep you updated as future AOT events are scheduled.

Distributism is not a new idea—it wasn’t conceived by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. As Belloc explains in The Servile State, their idea was a return to certain economic principles of medieval Europe—a guild system, wider ownership of the means of production, etc.—in order to right the injustices of capitalism. But distributism goes back further than that, to Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus in the second century B.C., and the theory’s proponents would do well to learn from the tragic failures of the Gracchi.

Plutarch tells us that the two brothers were among the most virtuous men of their day. Tiberius, ten years older than Gaius, served with great distinction in the army and showed himself not only an excellent tactician but, in his famous dealings with the Numantines, a peacemaker also. He then returned to civilian life and was elected a tribune—a representative of the interests of the common man and one of the highest offices in the Roman Republic.

As Rome grew the army was no longer made up of farmers who tilled their fields six or nine months out of the year, so that by the time of the Gracchi, the citizen farmer class upon which the Republic had been built was basically extinct. The rich could buy out the farms of whomever they wished, and more and more common families left their lands and moved to the capital, where they lived as dependents on the public.

In an attempt to save the Republic, Tiberius moved to redistribute the land and prevent the rich from buying it up in large tracts. Whatever Tiberius’s intentions—and they were certainly noble—this was revolution, and the Senate reacted. Tiberius, who had with such skill arranged peace between his army and a barbarian tribe, became swept up in the political repercussions of his attempt to return Rome to her former glory, and was assassinated.

Gaius tried to accomplish the leveling that his brother had not, but he too made an enemy of the Senate and died violently. Plutarch says of them in his account:

What could be more just and honorable than their first design, had not the power and the faction of the rich, by endeavoring to abrogate that law, engaged them both in those fatal quarrels?

In his defense of distributism for the journal Dappled Things, John C. Medaille argues that it is the only political-economic system capable of rendering distributive justice which is not a “cure worse than the disease.” Substantial government intervention or workforce unionization present dangers too “massive,” he says, to consider. But if there is anything to be learned from the failure of the Gracchi, it is that a distributist system is, if not totally impossible to implement, certainly a cure worse than the disease.