Rushdoony on Salvian the Presbyter

Salvian says, “Rome is dying, but she continues to laugh.

The early church because it believed in the resurrection faced the world with confidence, it was not afraid of change and decay. Others as they saw Rome fall were filled with horror, to them there was no future, no hope. But men like Salvian the presbyter could see the fall of Rome coming and say it has to come, and let us welcome it.

One of the neglected books of the fall of Rome is Salvian, the governance of God. And what Salvion did when the first major bastion, Trier, fell to the barbarians and he lived there and he saw that very soon Rome would fall because there was no resistance, nobody was ready to fight, and he indicted first of all the Christians. He said that now you are successful and have been for a century, you have picked up all the traits of the Romans, all their moral evils and therefore you are no longer the salt that should preserve the empire but you have become a part of the problem. And this is an aspect of the fall of Rome that we don’t hear about.

Well, on a … the way people react, of course, has a great deal to do with their faith. One of the most memorable books I have ever read was the book by Salvian the Presbyter, S A L V I A N, The Governance of God. It was an account of the fall of the Roman Empire. It is not well known like Augustine’s work, but in some respects it is the greater work as far as a description of what happened is concerned, because Salvian describes the horrors that ensued, the unwillingness of people to face them, how when Trier was destroyed the people were in the coliseum for the games unwilling to defend the city and the survivors petitioned the emperor to rebuild the coliseum to improve their morale.

And Salvian’s whole point was that the horrors, grim as they were—and he was an eye witness to them—were better than the alternative. Rome had to fall, he said. And the judgment on Rome was a demonstration of the grace of God.

The presbyter Salvian wrote in the last days of Rome and before the barbarian invasions saying, “If Rome does not fall then we will know there is no God.” And we can say the same today.

Salvian gives us a grim account of the fall of Trier when he said the cries of the raped and the dying mingled with the cheers of the people who would not leave the arena. And when it was over and the city had been burned to the ground the survivors of the city council met together to petition the emperor. Rebuild the arena to improve the moral of the people. Salvian said, “Rome is dying but it continues to laugh.”

Read Salvian sometime or other, on the governance of God. Salvian welcomes the Fall of Rome. He said it was an evidence of the righteousness and holiness of God that Rome fell. He was a resident, at the time, of the barbarian invasions of Trier in what is now northern France, and he describes what happened as the barbarians took over the city. Most of the people were at the Arena watching the games. They couldn’t be bothered with defending the city, and he said the shouts of the raped and the dying mingled with those of the cheering crowds in the Arena, and after the barbarians passed through and left a burnt out city, the survivors of the city council met and petitioned the Emperor for funds to rebuild the Arena in order to improve the morale of the people, and Salvian described the insanity of man for more and more amusement and said, Rome dies but she continues to laugh as she is dying.” Salvian welcomed the fall of Rome.

In this respect he (Augustine) was a world apart from Salvian the Presbyter. Salvian wrote that, “Because God is, therefore Rome must fall,” and he looked to Rome as a vindication of God and the vindication of the Christian. He knew the habits it would create. He saw it before Augustine ever did, because he was in Treves, right on the border of Germany. When the Barbarians came, Treves was one of the first cities to be burned to the ground, and Salvian saw all the horrors that went with it, but Salvian said, emphatically as he wrote, “After Treves had burned, it is the governance of God, that this was the righteous judgment of God, and had to be welcomed by the believers, and it had to be seen as something that was necessary,”

Salvian gives us a vivid picture of the new morality of his day of the impurities of the theatre and of the circus. William Carol Bark, a Stanford historian, calls attention to Salvian’s observations and he comments: “Few observers of this period of history can have failed to ponder the fact that millions of Romans were vanquished by scores of thousands of Germans. According to Salvian it was not by the natural strength of their bodies that the barbarians conquered nor by the weakness of their nature that the Romans were defeated. It was the Romans’ moral vices that alone that overcame them. Narrow as it is, this judgment by one very close to the events remains respectable. As for the men of more exalted positions, the well educated noble men who fled to the barbarians in order to escape the persecution and injustice that prevailed among the Romans, it is clear that they like their poor compatriots had given up hope of obtaining justice and protection from the Roman state and its law. Their flight confirms the fact that in large areas of the western empire, public spirit and public justice had disappeared and that men were obliged to act privately and locally in matters that had formerly been regulated by central governmental authority.”

Rome died. Why? Rome had become humanistic to the core. This is implicit in a philosophy of Rome from the very beginning. The one basic law in Rome which progressively took action was this: the health or the welfare of the people is the highest law. Now over the centuries this law was implied, was applied more and more systematically. So that the republic gave way to the empire and the empire progressively did that which the republic had not done: catered to the mob. A welfare mob was created. Release was not enough. It had to be bred and serviced. So they were given free housing. Apartment houses were built for them; they were given food and they were given free tickets to the circus so they could go to the arena and see the Christians thrown to the lions. They were given free wine. But of course they always wanted more and Aurelius in 274 AD it gave way to another demand. The mob was becoming concerned it was traumatic for their young people when they became old enough to marry to have to go down on and apply for relief, it really hurt their feelings. And so what was the demand of the mob? They had cradle to grave security, they wanted welfare for their children without application and so Aurelian and the government said that every child born to every welfare family will have welfare as his birthright. He won’t have to apply and answer a lot of nosy questions from our officials. And his children and his children’s children will all have welfare as a birthright. Of course the mob was happy and the coins of that year 274 AD celebrated Aurelian as “our savior and our god.” But the poor man had nothing to deliver the next year so they killed him. All this sounds familiar does it not?

Gregory I and the Burden of Leadership in Dark Times

Pope Gregory I lived in unstable times that found plague, pestilence, floods, and marauding armies (Lombards) being visited upon the domain of his rule. Serving as both Pope and de-facto Civil Magistrate Gregory I was tasked with trying to hold together Rome during dark times. A motif in his life might be found in his own words,

“In the midst of the unsteady flow of time, the man of God knows how to keep steady the steps of his mind.”

His sense of anguish and yet hope in the times he was ordained to live in can be heard in a sermon he gave on Ezekiel,

“Where, I pray you, is any delight to be found in this world? Mourning meets us everywhere; groans surround us. Ruined cities, fortresses overthrown, lands laid waste, the earth reduced to a desert. The fields have none to till them. There is scarcely a dweller in the cities. Yet even these poor remnants of the human race are smitten daily and without ceasing. The scourge of heaven’s justice strikes without end, because even under its strokes our bad actions are not corrected. We see men led into captivity, beheaded, slain before our eyes. What pleasure, then, does life retain, my brethren? If yet we are fond of such a world, it is not joys but wounds which we love. We see the condition of that Rome which anon seemed to be mistress of the world: worn down by sorrows which have no measure, desolate of inhabitants, assaulted by enemies, filled with ruins…. So far, dear brethren, by the gift of God, we have searched out hidden meanings for you. Let no man blame me if I close them here, because, as you all witness, our sufferings have grown enormous. On every side we are encircled with swords: on every side we are in imminent peril of death. Some return to us maimed of their hands; of others we hear that they are captured; of others, again, that they are slain. My tongue can no longer expound, when my spirit is weary of my life. Let no one ask me to unfold the Scriptures; for my harp is turned to mourning, and my voice to the cry of the weeper. The eye of my heart no longer keeps its watch in the discussion of mysteries; my soul droops for weariness. Study has lost its charm for me. I have forgotten to eat my bread for the voice of my groaning. How can one who is not allowed to live take pleasure in the mystical sense of Scripture? How can one whose daily chalice is bitterness present sweets for others to drink? What remains for us but while we weep to give thanks for the strokes of the scourge which we suffer for our iniquities. Our Creator is become our Father by the Spirit of adoption whom He has given to us: sometimes He feeds His sons with bread; sometimes He corrects them with the scourge; because He schools us by sorrows and by gifts for the unending inheritance.”

End of the Homilies on Ezechiel, tom. i.1430.

Note that even in the midst of unabating sorrow, Gregory I still recognized the hand of God in the suffering of the inhabitants of Rome. He refused to curse God or to charge God with mismanagement. Instead Gregory I confessed that God’s way are altogether just and saw all of God’s severe providence as training for the inheritance that was yet to come. Further, Gregory I refused to fault God because Gregory I understood that if man will sow the wind man will reap the whirlwind.

When Gregory I took office as Pope (or better, had office thrust upon him) he soon commented,

“Since, I submitted the shoulders of my spirit to this burden of the episcopal office, I can no longer collect my soul, distracted as it is on so many sides. At one time I have to consider the affairs of churches and monasteries, often taking into account the lives and actions of individuals. At another time I have to represent my fellow-citizens in their affairs. Again, I have to groan over the swords of barbarians advancing to storm us, and to dread the wolves which lie in wait for a flock huddled together in fear. Then, again, I must charge myself with the care of public affairs, to provide means even for those to whom the maintenance of order is entrusted, or I must patiently endure certain depredators, or take precautions against them, that tranquillity be not disturbed.”

In another place Gregory I says:

“Daily I feel what fulness of peace I have lost, to what fulness of cares I have been exalted. If you love me, weep for me, since so many temporal businesses press on me that I seem as if this dignity had almost excluded me from the love of God. Not of the Romans only am I bishop, but bishop of the Lombards, whose right is the right of the sword, whose favour is punishment. The billows of the world so surge upon me, that I despair of steering into harbour the frail vessel entrusted to me by God, while my hand holds the helm amid a thousand storms.”

And Again, in his synodical letter[179] announcing his accession to the patriarchs, he says:

“Especially, whoever bears the title of Pastor in this place is grievously occupied by external cares, so that he is often in doubt whether he is executing the work of a Pastor or that of an earthly lord”.

Gregory I teaches us that faithfulness does not always equate to glory, standing, and luxury. Too often today Pastors are in it for the adulation. There will be times when pillory is more the fare to be expected.

We remain confident in the ongoing flowering of the postmillennial Kingdom. Gregory I reminds us that through many trials we all must enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Athanasiaus … A Knight of the Rectangular Table

This sense of Victory that we find in Psalm 98 and in Watt’s Hymn was common place enough throughout Church History. Athanasius, who lived through some of the worst persecution that the early Church knew, and who knew the trials of being a wilderness voice for orthodoxy on the trinity for nigh unto 40 years – A man who was exiled 5 times and was often in danger of losing his life could still speak of this victory. Athanasius could be Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the World) because the man believed, that with Christ’s coming the Kingdom had come. Athanasius believed the “age to come” Kingdom that Christ established was overcoming this present wicked age. Athanasius wrote to that end,

“Since the Savior came to dwell among us, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, see, the Savior’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching. Similarly, if a king be reigning somewhere, but stays in his own house and does not let himself be seen, it often happens that some insubordinate fellows, taking advantage of his retirement, will have themselves proclaimed in his stead; and each of them, being invested with the semblance of kingship, misleads the simple who, because they cannot enter the palace and see the real king, are led astray by just hearing a king named. When the real king emerges, however, and appears to view, things stand differently. The insubordinate impostors areshown up by his presence, and men, seeing the real king, forsake those who previously misled them. In the same way the demons used formerly to impose on men, investing themselves with the honor due to God. But since the Word of God has been manifested in a body, and has made known to us His own Father, the fraud of the demons is stopped and made to disappear; and men, turning their eyes to the true God, Word of the Father, forsake the idols and come to know the true God.”