Pax Christiana

Rome, which eventually would become the greatest power of the ancient world, originated as a small city-state. In the wake of the Second Punic War, however, tremendous inequities in land and wealth developed, creating substantial tensions. What Sir Ronald Syme dubbed the “Roman Revolution” began in earnest in 133 B.C., as Tiberius Gracchus, who had been elected a Tribune of the Assembly, proposed a reform that would limit land ownership to no more than 640 acres, any excess to be distributed by the state to the poor. Riots were accompanied by the assassination of Tiberius and his reform failed, but a new style of politics had been born: appealing directly to the interests of the people for popular support (the populares, as against the optimates or “best” who continued to appeal to traditional structures).

(BTW, I named my daughter Emily for one of the patrician clans that was related to the Grachi, the Aemilii.)

This was followed by tensions between Marius, a novus homo (“new man”) and Sulla, who came from an old, established patrician family. (The aristocracy bitterly resented, these new, selfmade men rising to the consulship.) In a civil war Sulla defeated Marius, and then, for fear of the people, Sulla was appointed dictator, with all imperium resting in his hands. This was a constitutional office, meant to be a temporary measure during emergencies, but once Pandora’s Box was opened, it wasn’t so easy to close it again. Sulla set a dangerous precedent by using his army to kill his opponents.

in 70 BC, the highly ambitious Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls. Crassus feared Pompey and allied himself with successful generals, including one Julius Caesar. When Caesar returned from Spain he demanded a triumph (a victory parade through Rome), which the Senate denied him for fear of his popularity with the people. Caesar managed to reconcile Pompey and Crassus, and together they formed the first Triumvirate (rule of three men) in 59 BC when Caesar was elected consul, which would be the beginning of the end for the Roman Republic.

Caesar’s power derived from military conquest, which gave him a loyal army, wealth and prestige at home in Rome. The Triumvirate disssolved, and Pompey turned against Caesar and allied with the Senate. In 49 BC Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon River in an act of Civil War, saying iacta alea est “the die is cast.” Caesar defeated Pompey, and in 46 had the Senate appoint him dictator for ten years. Two years later he was appointed dictator for life, and having the imperium for life (with the title imperator, whence we get English “emperor”). This put him above the law and looked suspiciously like a monarchy, which was an abhorrent form of rule among traditional Romans. So on the Ides of March (March 15) in 44 BC, a conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius assassinated Caesar as he entered the Senate. They believed the Republic could be saved, but such was not the case. Rather, these events led to a brutal 13-year civil war, at the conclusion of which an Empire would emerge from the ashes of the Republic.

As viewers of HBO’s wonderful series Rome know, it was Caesar’s nephew Octavian (Augustus), who would emerge victorious from this war. Augustus sought to restore order and equity to Rome; he reformed the government to curb corruption and ambition; he extended citizenship to all Italians. He allowed elections to occur, but rigged them so that the best candidates would win, allowing many members of the lower classes to finally enter government. He put a halt to aggressive militarist expansion beyond existing borders, and he resettled his soldiers on farmland, leading to the agricultural equity that had been sought by the Grachi in the first place two generations before. This control of Rome, both military and political, led to a time of peace, known as the Age of Augustus, a sort of golden age in which Roman language and culture swept through Europe.

The Age of Augustus was the earnest of what historian Edward Gibbon, in his classic The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, would dub the Pax Romana, a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity that would last 200 years, from the accession of Augustus to the death of Aurelius. This was a sort of secular version of the 200 years of peace following the appearance of Christ among the Nephites, as recounted in 4 Nephi. The peace wasn’t perfect by any means, but by the standards of the ancient world it was remarkable.

Approximately halfway into the amazing 40-year rule of Augustus, a babe was born under mean circumstances in Bethlehem of Judea, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. At the conclusion of his short life, executed for treason, a movement would start to grow based on his teachings, at first but a Jewish sect but quickly emerging into a religion in its own right. Despite its reputation, Rome was actually very tolerant of foreign religions. Christianity was birthed in a place and a time of world peace and prosperity, a world in which it actually had the chance to bud and flower and grow and eventually prosper. It almost seems as if cosmic forces set the stage for the first Christmas.

It almost seems as if the whole drama of world events over the preceding century was placed in motion to establish the conditions that would lead to the birth of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate one week from today. Augustus syled himself salvator mundi “the savior of the world,” princeps (“first” among equals). But it would be the Christ child, born at the midpoint of his reign, who would be the true Savior of the World (John 4:42) and Prince of Peace. And the peace of Jesus Christ is a peace that exists within us, even when the world is embroiled in war and political intrigues on a par with those of first century BC Rome. We, all of us, have the opportunity to live in the age of the Pax Christiana and be the recipients of the peace he leaves with us, the peace he gives unto us.


  1. Pax tecum, Kev.

  2. Question — Pax Christiana, or Pax Christi?

  3. Gratiae exsisto vobis, amen.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Steve, Pax Christiana means “the Christian Peace,” which I used because the adjectival form is analogous to Romana. Pax Christi means “the Peace of Christ,” which I suppose would avoid all of the contemporary heartburn and angst over the word “Christian.”

  5. Another awesome post. Thanks, Kev.

  6. Along with this excellent post pointing out the historical conditions that nurtured the bith of our savior, and redeemer, the required historical conditions were also divinely set in place to usher in the restoration. Which will again set the historical stage for this same savior who was born to this earth in such humble circumstances to come once more, this time to truly bring peace, to those who can abide his glory. Lets learn to love one another by our works,as he has shown us his love by his works.

  7. Kevin: Wasn’t part of the pax romana idea the forced subjugation of “barbarian” peoples to Roman civilization? Where did that connotation come from?

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t know, David.

  9. (BTW, I named my daughter Emily for one of the patrician clans that was related to the Grachi, the Aemilii.)

    This is why we can’t help but love Kevin.

  10. Kevin,
    This is an interesting Roman/Christian analogue to the founding-of-America-as-prelude-to-the-restoration meme. I like it.

    Sadly, I watched one episode of Rome and didn’t like it. Too sexy for this British prude…

  11. It almost seems as if the whole drama of world events over the preceding century was placed in motion to establish the conditions that would lead to the birth of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate one week from today.

    Perhaps this is true for the birth of Christ, but I’m not sure these events aided in the ministry of Christ.

    For example, one of my favorite stories from this era is that when Pompey conquered Jerusalem, he confidently walked into the temple, fully expecting to find the God the Jews said lived there. The Jews, of course, were scandalized. Crassus did the same thing a few years later. In short, Rome’s power made it impossible for the Jews to enjoy the land of milk and honey, as promised. As a result, I think it’s easy to see why the Jews were looking for a military messiah who would free them from Rome. So while the events in Rome may have made it easier to grow a religion in Judea, they certainly made it harder for the Jews to accept a relatively pacifist Jesus. And this, of course, in no small part led to Christ’s death.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan, Rome is not for your average R-rated movie eschewing Mormon, that’s for sure. It is a very sexual show (but then the historical Rome was a very sexual place).

    You remind me of a story from my mission. We had an appointment to teach a guy, and he reluctantly let us in, but didn’t turn off the TV. He was watching “I, Claudius.” I suppose he was thinking we’d get frustrated by his not turning the TV off, give up and leave. But we sat down and tried to talk to him even with the TV on. Then a scene came on with the woman in the scene completely topless (I think this may have been edited out by some PBS affiliates, but not this one). This guy was obviously embarrassed by this, and I got some satisfaction from thinking that I bet he was sorry he hadn’t turned the TV off after all. (I wasn’t embarrassed by it; remember, I’m a Yank!)

  13. The Pax Romana was, like most times of peace, dependent on war at the borders of the empire to keep the supply of cheap labor, conquered resources, and a financed military. Though early Christians often adopted the language of the empire in their own self-conception (Augustus was divi filius, soter, and proclaimed an evangelium long before Jesus), I think that the revolutionary claim to another king, another empire, one which is justly ruled by God which is not at all like the brutality of the Roman “peace” witnessed in early Christianity is an impactful message.

    Consider Paul’s explicit condemnation of Roman authority when he mocks the imperial slogan “Peace and Security” (in Latin, Pax et Securitas) as exactly the wrong view in 1 Thess 5:3. Additionally, John the Revelator didn’t seem to have much positive to say about the real nature of this Pax Romana.

  14. I also have a concern with this kind of historiography. Though it seems pious to see history as working toward a particular telos such as the birth of Christ or the Restoration, it also makes God responsible for both the good and the bad in history. Did God really favor the systematic oppression, rape, and brutality against the Germanic tribes so that later on Caesar’s nephew Augustus could gain control of the empire with a bit of luck against his rivals, so that he would tax the world (this didn’t happen, of course) so that Jesus could be born?

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    TT, it was meant as a devotional essay, not as historiography. Of course it breaks down if you look at it too closely.

  16. Kevin,
    Granted, and I don’t mean to rake you over the coals on something like this, but shouldn’t devotional essays also be historiographically responsible and be aware of the theological implications of their pious musings?

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Did you note the “it almost seems as if” repeated twice near the end? I’m not actually a determinist.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    geez TT, relax!

  19. Steve,
    I am relaxed. I am trying to have a legitimate discussion. Contribute, keep up, or butt-out.

    I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but usually when people say “it almost seems as if,” they aren’t suggesting that “it is evidently not the case that…” I don’t think that I was reading too much in to your insinuation to have no grounds to make a point about it. In any case, it seems that you are willing to concede my arguments about the historiographical worth of this kind of story-telling. But I am not trying to just score cheap shots against a devotional piece. I really wanted to suggest an alternative devotional approach that is more representative of early Christian views about the empire instead of reproducing colonialist romanticizations about the Pax Romana from the perspective of the elites.

  20. TT, piss off. You are being silly about a nice little devotional essay. Write all you want at FPR about how wrong Kevin is, but when someone puts together something like this for Christmastime, it’s simply poor form to weep and wail over historiography WHEN NO-ONE CARES.

  21. If people don’t want to be disagreed with, they can close the comments on their posts.
    Maybe you’re right that no one cares about whether the gospel should be compared favorably to the Roman imperial machine or whether or not God guided Caesar’s destruction of the Republic so that the church could flourish, but I am sure that even less people care to be told that no one cares.

  22. Yep, Kevin is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this site. That and the boxers reviews.

    Merry Christmas, Kevin.

  23. I am just sitting here wondering why Steve hasnt banned TT already.

    TT, your personal brand of Truth© is pretty subjective, so flailing people for not being up on your view of the world is just an excercise in petty narcissism. You hate it when people come onto FPR and question you, then you go out and do the same and whine about it when people tell you to go away. Gee, isnt that exactly what you do there at FPR?

  24. Crap, all this time I should have been concerned about the historiography of what almost appears to have been. As a history teacher by training, I guess I should have realized that earlier. I’ll make sure to contact all my former professors and chew them out for not making me aware of that requirement.

    Back to the actual post: Wouldn’t it be less deterministic to believe that God didn’t pro-actively “destine” or “ordain” the circumstances that produced the possibility of Jesus’ ministry but, instead, simply chose that particular time and environment because it made the ministry possible – and then to make the same claim about the Restoration and early 19th Century America? Beside, that would decapitate the whole historiography hysterics – which wouldn’t be a bad thing, imo, and probably wouldn’t be labeled murder by anyone.

  25. Geez! I have no idea where this is coming from. I raise a pretty standard point of critique of the Pax Romana from an ancient Christian perspective, even citing scripture as an alternative view, and I offer a set of questions about a teleological historiography, and now I am threatened with being banned??? Have I done anything here to warrant being the object of personal insult? Whatever.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    TT, three points:

    1. The reason I was going for a more devotional approach with this post is that my last post was from a more critical perspective. See “O Little Town of…Nazareth?” As I indicated in that post, I try to balance critical perspectives on the details of Christmas with more devotional approaches. So that was my motivation for writing the essay. (As you’ll see from the other post, I doubt very much that

    2. In your first comment, you basically restate what I said, that notwithstanding the grandiose titles Augustus gave himself, Christ was the true King, and so forth. So I assume we’re in agreement there.

    3. I understand your concern that I was positing a kind of hard determinism, that God forced all of these developments to happen just this way to set the setting for the birth of the Christ child. My intent was rather to observe the remarkable circumstances in which Jesus was born and then leave the question open for people to ponder. I don’t believe in hard determinism, but it is interesting to think about. Might there have been some soft determinism, some shaping and influence without micromanaging the details? Or perhaps God just lay back and waited for propitious circumstances in which to place the Christ child (along the lines of Ray’s thought). Or perhaps God didn’t really care or have much to do with it, and it was all a crap shoot when Christ was born whether he would be allowed to minister for a time and whether his movement would be allowed to grow and become strong without being snuffed out in its infancy.

    I don’t profess to know the reason, but I do think that the success of fledgling Christianity owes quite a bit to the relative peace of the time in which Paul and others were traipsing about over a large region of the Empire spreading the Word. And I think it’s an interesting thing to ponder and reflect on.

  27. Ray (#24), you were a history teacher? I had no idea.

  28. Taylor, I dunno. Maybe it’s about saying the right things at the right time? When someone has essentially posted up a devotional/testimony, critiquing it is simply not a great idea, however standard your points may be.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops I got interrupted and posted without finishing my last thought in point 1 above. I meant to write that I am sceptical about the census decree of Augustus as recounted by Luke, as you’ll see from the other post.

  30. Kevin,
    Thanks for your clarifying comments. It definitely blunts some of my concerns.

    I think that we are in agreement on #1. I have nothing against devotional pieces whatsoever. That said, I disagree with some of your defenders here that simply because it is devotional it is therefore immune to criticism. If I argued that the Nazi regime set the stage for the growth of the LDS church in post-WWII Europe and said that “it is almost as if cosmic forces set it up that way,” I would expect people to say something, even if it was my testimony.

    With regard to #2, I may have misunderstood the degree to which you were making the contrast between Christ and Augustus. The early Christian usage of these imperial titles I think has the potential to be much more politically subversive than I saw your original post to be (there is beginning to be a great deal of post-colonial analysis of early Christianity which makes a number of these points). I don’t mean to contradict you on this point, it seems that we are in essential agreement, only the degree to which it is emphasized.

    As for #3, I certainly don’t think that the idea of God’s driving hand should not be suggested, but that this idea runs the risk of making God responsible for the good and the bad, as I suggested above. I suppose that the extent to which God is involved in history is a pretty complex subject. If God is involved at only the macro level, don’t tell that to my ward which keeps praying for their lost keys and miraculously finding them.
    I think that the idea of God’s involvement in history is easily separable from the question of whether or not the Roman empire created the possibilities for the spread of early Christianity, which is obviously true. But then do we say that God also created the possibilities for the spread of Islam? Buddhism throughout Asia? etc?
    I think that Ray suggests an interesting option which allows for relatively limited divine involvement in the course of human history.

    Take note on how a productive conversation works.

  31. TT,
    Kudos on conducting a substantive, productive conversation. Would that they occurred more often in the ‘naccle.

    In Steve’s defense, I think he would be the first to admit that the points you’ve made here were correct. But correct doesn’t always mean right. There’s a time and a place for everything, man. The nazi example is a propos, but also extreme. Just because it would be appropriate to voice concerns over seeing God’s hand in the workings of the Third Reich doesn’t mean that Steve doesn’t have valid concern for the direction this particular thread took. I know plenty of people who see the hand of God in Soviet Communism’s loosening of the grip of Russian Orthodoxy on the hearts of the Russian people. And I think you and I can both think of a source who sees the hand of Yahweh in the murderous plunderings of Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial expansion.

  32. Taylor, there’s no need for you to be snide. Brad’s got it right on — your ‘points’ were correct, even banal. You and I have gotten along in the past, there’s no reason that should not continue.

  33. TT – I think you’re forgetting that you told Steve to “butt-out”, to which he responded “piss off”. And you were coming across as attacking the post, which Steve thought was inappropriate.

    Steve, you implying that someone else shouldn’t be snide makes me laugh. :)

    Now both of you apologize, and say it like you mean it! :)

    Wow, my non-authority is going to my head.

    Anyway, I really did like Kevin’s post, and the connection that (the full?) Monty T. brought up. I think my parenthetical comment just destroyed any serious thing I had to say. Woops.

  34. a random John says:

    Merry Christmas everyone! Peace on earth! Goodwill towards men and all bloggers!

  35. Jacob, I heart you, and thanks for the comment.

  36. Did you mean “styled,” and not “syled”?

  37. Steve,
    Agreed. I see no reason to have a petty fight. I apologize for behaving rudely towards you at the end.

    I have no doubt that many people see the hand of God behind all sorts of terrible things. I would be happy to continue the discussion about whether or not it is appropriate to question those who suggest the hand of God lie behind a murderous regime that thrives on slavery and a massive rich/poor gap (even if those are scriptural texts). If you and Steve disagree with me that blogs are an appropriate forum in which to raise concerns about these theological positions, then I suppose that we just fundamentally disagree on that one.

    FWIW, I didn’t see any “Thou shalt not disagree with this post” warnings when I read it, hence my confusion about why I wasn’t allowed to raise such supposedly “banal ‘points'” (apparently my ‘points’ have to be put in quotes to indicate that they are not like regular points without quotes around them). In the future, I know that such a warning would help readers like me know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t.

    But as I said with Steve, I don’t see any reason for there to be hard feelings simply because we disagree.

  38. (shakes hands) Thanks. I apologize for telling you to “piss off,” which was completely out of line yet oddly satisfying. Next time let’s both save our zingers for a more deserving target (Frank?).

  39. No doubt!

  40. TT,
    fwiw, I agree with your substantive points–all of them. I served a mission in Russia and despise the logic that credits Stalinism with the Church’s current successes there. I’m more of a “God punishes the wicked with the wicked” kind of guy.

    Chalk up the tensions on this thread not to Steve’s hostility toward you or capriciousness, but to his fiercely protective, maternal instincts toward his fellow permas.

  41. Brad,
    Thanks again for your contributions and context setting. I really didn’t intend for this to come across as some sort of attack on Kevin, for whom I have nothing but respect. I hope that he didn’t take my comments as an assault on either his ability or character, and I appreciate his willingness to engage me substantively.

  42. Brad, just so. I am intensely protective of my fellow permas (except AB). Any perceived slight and I immediately reply with wrath. What can I say? I am weak.

  43. Swell post, including the TT/KB exchange. You don’t learn this stuff in class.

    Ray (#24), you were a history teacher? I had no idea.


  44. You do recognize that God had a hand in that spat, don’t you?

  45. Adam Greenwood says:

    Thanks, KB.

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