Where Romans Monotheists before Christianity?

The purpose of this collegium is to establish a group for those interested in ancient philosophy and a place where philosophical discussion and study may take place. Join at: http://romanrepublic.org/civitas/joint_ ... sophiae/42

Moderators: Marca Marcia, Gaius Flavius Aetius, Paullus Aemilius Gallus, Aula Flavia Philippa

Where Romans Monotheists before Christianity?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Thu May 09, 2019 5:51 pm

Salvete, amici!

So far I pictured ancient Rome as be a polytheist society, which since the time of Nero fought against the increasing Christian influence, until Constantine became Emperor and together with his followers violently suppressed the old religion until everybody converted to the new faith. I could never understand how the Christians could be so successful and how the old religion could so utterly be defeated. But maybe I was all wrong.

I am currently reading Seneca’s Epistulae Morales in the original version, and what I so far believed to be a mistranslation by later Christian translators can actually be found in the exact same words in the Latin text.
The picture that Seneca is painting us of the early imperial Rome (He lived in the time of Nero.) is a society, where the Religio Romana is long dead and nothing but collection of children’s fables. It had become state sanctioned folklore just like Shintoism is today in Japan, where most people follow Buddhism.

Here is one quote from Seneca’s Letter LXXXII (16) about the concept of the dead existing in the Underworld:
Etiam cum persuaseris istas fabulas esse nec quic quicquam defunctis superesse quod timeant subit alius metus: aeque enim timent ne apud inferos sint quam ne nusquam.
(Even if you can persuade that these are fables and that nothing remains for the dead, which they should fear, another fear rises: They equally fear that they may not be among the dead but nowhere.)
Apparently an atheistic world view was quite common in imperial Rome. People did not really believe in the Underworld and considered these stories to be obsolete fables, but thought they would simply cease to exist after death. This is probably a view that is shared by many modern people in the West, too.

Another quote from Seneca’s Letter LXXXIII (1):
Quid enim prodest ab homine aliquid esse secretum? Nihil Deo clusum est, interest animis nostris et cogitationibus medius intervenit.
(What use is it to keep something secret from a human? Nothing is hidden to God, he is present within our minds and is in our thoughts.)
Indeed Seneca uses the term »god« in singular, and he gives him the attribute of omniscience, being able to read and judge our thoughts. This is as Christian as it could possibly be. This is the principle assumption, on which the Christian faith is built upon.
Now Seneca calls himself a Stoic, and this must have been the general Stoic belief. Seneca was not influenced by Christianity, which in this time had for the first time reached Roman attention, but was understood as a Jewish sect.

If Stoicism in the time of Seneca was indistinguishable from later Christian beliefs, we have to assume that the Christian faith is older than Christianity itself. Stoicism was together with Platonism and Epicureanism the main philosophy in Rome. And even Platonism assumed the existence of one creator god, the Demiurge.

The gospel of John, which is assume to be written some time after Nero, completes the unification of Stoicism and Christianity:
It begins with:
En arkhêi ên ho lógos, kaì ho lógos ên pròs tòn theón, kaì theòs ên ho lógos. (In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.)
Logos was the term, by which the Stoics described the ordering principle of the world, which they adhered to. The gospel of John seems to be a Stoic scripture.

So what happened between Constantine and Theodosius, when Christianity became state religion of the Empire? – It seems that nothing at all happened. It was no religious revolution. It was just the formalization of what had been fact since the earliest time of imperial Rome. Rome had already been monotheist for centuries. The ancient gods were nothing but fables to the people, just as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus today, obsolete mythology that was irrelevant for their faith.

I have to admit that I am quite shocked, disappointed, and more than all disillusioned by this picture of ancient Rome, but it would explain a lot. The old religion had died long before, and this had nothing to do with the rise of Christianity. The people of Rome had long become monotheist without Christianity. And even without Christianity the Middle Ages would have looked the same. People would have believed the same, but they would have called it Logos instead of Christ and Stoicism instead of Christianity. Imperial Rome was polytheist only on the surface, just like Japan is only Shinto on the surface, but the Japanese people are actually Buddhists.

Valete!
Florius Lupus
User avatar
Gaius Florius Lupus
 
Posts: 590
Joined: Tue Feb 16, 2016 11:33 am
Location: Africa Magna

Return to Collegium Philosophicum

cron