A Christian Survey of World History

Roman Republic and Empire, II


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R. J. Rushdoony: 00:01 … the last there were some who were dreaming of restoring the old republic and its constitution. And that was centuries old, and the empire far beyond that in its development. On occasion, an emperor who was stymied and didn’t know what to do turned the government over to the Senate and said, “You run the country. I’m a military man, I don’t know what to do.” And the Senate pondered and pondered and pondered for a while, and they said, “Well, you take it over and we’ll investigate you.” That’s about all the Senate had become, an investigating body documenting all the horrible things the emperor and various people were doing. That was their idea of things. There was nothing they couldn’t see.

R. J. Rushdoony: 00:58 More than anyone else, it was one of the church fathers, the presbyter of Salvian, who saw the issue. And his book, The Governance of God, is almost terrifying reading, because he says, “There must be judgment, because there is a God.” And he said, “Rome is dying, but it continues to laugh.” And he is the one who wrote … And I have cited this a number of times at different meetings, but some of you, I’m sure, have not heard it. He was in Trier, when Trier was overcome by the fire barbarians, and the games were going on in the circus, and the barbarians entered Trier. And he wrote that, “The city was noisy with both the shout of the raped and the dying and the shout of the people cheering in the Colosseum.” And when the city was raised and burned to the ground, the survivors in the City Council wrote to the emperor, asking him to rebuild the Colosseum and start up the circus and the games to improve public morale. And so, they said, “Thus it is in Rome.” Should they survive. Should they survive.

R. J. Rushdoony: 02:36 One of the interesting sidelights is that over the generations, it has become increasingly easy to chart the course of the various barbarian bands as they moved into the empire. They were just a few thousand. There were tens of millions of Romans, and a few thousand wandering barbarians destroyed it all, because there was nobody to take a stand and fight, and too many who thought, “Oh, let it go. What’s the use?” So you can’t talk about it as a war in which Rome fell. Just wandering bands of barbarians. It would be like saying that five years from now, the American Indians are going to take over the United States. It would be comparable. Percentage-wise, it would be about the same. Maybe the Indians would have an edge by a considerable margin, because there are several hundred thousand Indians, about half a million, and the barbarians, all told, numbered in the tens of thousands only.

R. J. Rushdoony: 04:04 It collapsed. No one thought there was anything to defend. And these bands of barbarians, as they would go through an area, people would hide their gold. They would bury it, figuring, “We’ll come back to it after it’s over.” And sometimes they did, and sometimes they were all wiped out. They didn’t. And every now and then, somebody in Europe will dig up a hoard of ancient gold, and historians will immediately put it down on their maps. Another pin flag on a map. And with these pinpoints, they can trace, really accurately now, just where these different bands went, because the route of their travel is the route of the gold discoveries. Rome, at the same time, was decimated by plagues and epidemics. It was not for lack of sanitary facilities. Bathing, health, hygiene, everything was at an all-time high. But the will to live was gone. There was no meaning, no purpose to life. And so Rome fell.

R. J. Rushdoony: 05:37 The tragedy, I think, can best be accented by a fact I referred to in a [Cal Seton 00:05:45] report of about a year ago. Rome, with a population going into the millions, finally had a population, generations after its fall, as it declined, of only 500. There were only 500. That’s how radical the breakdown was. Farmers and peasants in the area would move into the palaces and the baths and the public buildings and dismantle them and take the rocks for fencing and for building farms and corrals. Rome was finished. Sidonius did not believe that any such thing could happen. “Oh, God wouldn’t let all this wonderful work of man disappear.” But God did, because it was His work that was going to stand. And stand it did. That’s another story, and we’ll come to that in subsequent weeks. Let’s bow our heads in prayer before we go on to the question period.

R. J. Rushdoony: 07:13 Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give thanks unto thee that it is not the government of men which finally rules us, but thy government and thine alone. The very hairs of our head are all numbered. With the smallest detail of all creation, thy providence rules and overrules. And so, our Father, in this confidence, we commit ourselves into thy keeping and dedicate ourselves to thy service, that we might reconstruct all things in terms of thy sovereign will. In Jesus’ name, amen. Any questions now?

R. J. Rushdoony: 08:00 Yes?

Speaker 2: 08:00 [inaudible 00:08:00] that our circus is our television [inaudible 00:08:20]?

R. J. Rushdoony: 08:20 Very good analogy. And well put. Incidentally, before I forget, a couple of little things I’d like to add. We are now self-consciously in a period of Roman revival. Have you every noticed Roman spas that are advertised, and so on? There’s a self-conscious turning to things Roman in the worst period of Rome. Do you know where the bikini came from? From Rome! The bikini appeared first in civilization as a Roman style, and it was self-consciously adopted from Roman murals and fashion. I’ll show you a picture of Roman bikinis from the mosaic floor of a Roman villa in Sicily. And it’ll give you an idea of just where they got their idea. In case you didn’t notice a while back, one fashion designer tried to introduce togas for men.

R. J. Rushdoony: 09:48 It didn’t catch on, yes.

R. J. Rushdoony: 09:52 Yes. Well put.

Speaker 4: 09:55 You’ve got to know how it would look, right?

R. J. Rushdoony: 09:55 Oh, yes. That’s true.

Speaker 4: 10:08 Especially [inaudible 00:10:08]

R. J. Rushdoony: 10:24 They were copied directly from this mural, in particular.

R. J. Rushdoony: 10:26 While I’m at it, there are a couple of other pictures I’d like to show you, because I think they’re very revealing. These will be of some of the emperors, and it shows how progressively the impossibility of ruling Rome began to leave its mark on the emperors. The first pictures will be of some of early emperors, beginning with Octavian, the young man who is portrayed … To us, it seems a little of a fixed state, but that fixed stare was the idea of the Romans, that you were looking off into eternity. Now, these emperors are the early ones, and you can see that there’s a self-assurance and a self-confidence. But then when I turn over the page, you’ll see the difference, because then come these two at the top of the page, and then at the bottom down here, one of the later emperors. A worried, worried man. And all the later emperors look sick.

R. J. Rushdoony: 11:54 Just know that there was a lot of self-satisfaction there. And now … This one, up at the top, is Commodus. Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius the philosopher. Here is … Look at that face. He’s not a happy man.

R. J. Rushdoony: 12:19 That’s Caracalla … No. Yes. That’s Caracalla.

R. J. Rushdoony: 12:33 Well, Commodus, his dates are 180 to 192. Caracalla, 211 to 217. But Aetius comes 249 to 251. And he’s the one who looks [grave 00:12:47]. And from that time on, they were. Now, Commodus was the son of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher. And with Commodus, you have a son who was trained to be the ideal emperor after Plato’s Republic.

Speaker 5: 13:08 [inaudible 00:13:08]. Almost like LBJ!

R. J. Rushdoony: 13:07 Yes, he does. Now, Commodus realized that if nothing really exists in the way of a God, then all philosophy is ridiculous. So he became the total sensualist. He had a double harem of 300 girls and 300 boys. This was Commodus. [inaudible 00:13:47]. And the double harem included a Christian girl who was the one who assassinated him, finally, but he was so popular in Rome because of his total contempt of all law, of all meaning. This is [inaudible 00:14:08].

Speaker 2: 14:26 [inaudible 00:14:26]?

R. J. Rushdoony: 14:27 It’s Michael Grant, The World of Rome.

Speaker 2: 14:28 And what was the name of that first one? [inaudible 00:14:33]

Speaker 3: 14:29 The Romans.

R. J. Rushdoony: 14:33 Let’s see. The Romans, by … I forget the … Kitto, I believe.

Speaker 2: 14:37 Oh. [inaudible 00:14:39]

Speaker 5: 14:39 R. H. Barrow.

Speaker 2: 14:40 Barrow. Yes. The companion book on [crosstalk 00:14:42]

R. J. Rushdoony: 14:41 `Yeah. The question is, why do so many conservatives idealize Rome, and present Rome and Cicero as though the ideals of Cicero and Christianity were one and the same. The answer is, of course, these people are humanists, and the one and the many ideal, at some length, with Cicero. Now, Cicero was thoroughly a humanist. He was a conservative. The leading conservative of the day. He was very much for religion and for the old Roman gods. He didn’t believe in a one of them, but if you insist on doing away with them, he felt, what are the people going to believe, then? Then they will steal from us. So keep them in line. Keep them believing that the gods are gonna punish them if they steal. Course, that was the position similar to Voltaire’s. Voltaire wanted to retain Christianity for the common people.

R. J. Rushdoony: 15:51 When he had a group of philosophers in his room once, ridiculing Christianity, he silenced them when his servant came into the room to serve them, because, as he sold them when the servant left, he said, “I don’t want him to hear this kind of talk, because if doesn’t believe there’s a God, he’ll steal from me.” Now, this was Cicero. What could Cicero give to anybody? He had no faith to give to anyone. But it’s not surprising that so many conservatives have glorified Cicero. They go to what he says, and sometimes Cicero said some very fine things. But he also said some very scoundrel-y things. Cicero was an attorney who defended a client once in court who had been accused of rape, and his attitude was, “Well, that girl doesn’t come from any family of any consequence. She’s a nobody. She should have been flattered that my client raped her.” That was the kind of man Cicero was, this great hero.

Speaker 2: 17:02 I’m a little [inaudible 00:17:02] talking about how [inaudible 00:17:04] … [inaudible 00:17:13]?

R. J. Rushdoony: 17:02 Yes.

Speaker 2: 17:15 [inaudible 00:17:15], or how … Who was there in the first place?

R. J. Rushdoony: 17:15 Right. A very good question. How do powers like Rome arise? Well, first of all, there was a kind of a military discipline to begin with, and this [horror 00:17:27] of the flesh they had led them to be disciplined in the early period. Then, at the same time, they were able to take advantage of the fact that the other powers roundabout were in their decline. The Etruscans, whom they destroyed in Italy as the rival power, were an old power that was declining that was becoming corrupt and very, very decadent. Then in the Greeks, who they also overthrew, they had a similar thing. People would become degenerate and soft, and therefore were easily overthrown. The Carthaginians were a little harder to overthrow. So the Carthaginians were the one major power until they ran across Mithridates, whom [idea-wise 00:18:22], he was quite a character. Wild, wild sort of character, you’ll recall from reading about him. But I think one of the most interesting in history.

R. J. Rushdoony: 18:35 Somebody ought to do a life of Mithridates someday, because in terms of an old-fashioned Romantic character, but a scoundrel-y one, Mithridates was it. He was, as I point out, I believe, 11 years old when his father died, and he became king. And he knew that there were too many out to kill him and gain power, so he just ran for his life, and he lived for seven years as a fugitive among the common people. He learned 21 languages of the people in his realm, and when he was 17 and he was a giant of a man, just enormous … The stories of his physical strength are staggering. He came back and cleaned house at the palace and took over the country.

R. J. Rushdoony: 19:33 And he was enormously popular with the people because he had lived among them, he spoke their language, he had their tastes. Once, some years after, he just dropped out of sight for a time and wandered around to see what the people were thinking. For months. He was somewhat irresponsible, but he was a very popular leader. If he had been a better disciplined and organized man, Rome could never have taken him. He was quite a character.

Speaker 5: 20:04 Who ruled during those seven years he was gone?

R. J. Rushdoony: 20:11 Oh, relatives and other military leaders had a working alliance and were jockeying for power, but they were hoping they could catch up with him and eliminate him, you see, but … Because as long as he was alive, nobody had power securely. He wandered everywhere and lived the life of a bum and a ragamuffin, lived by his wits. Quite a man. Yes?

Speaker 4: 20:48 Most of my friends are Burke Society members, and I find them to be very [descriptive 00:20:48]

R. J. Rushdoony: 20:51 Yes. Very … I would say the majority of them are. But they’re under an illusion when they think Cicero was someone to idealize.

Speaker 4: 21:00 Well, I’ve never heard anyone in the Burke … My personal friends that I know, that are Christians. They never talk about [inaudible 00:21:12].

R. J. Rushdoony: 21:13 The average one doesn’t. Now, Taylor Caldwell, who’s a very fine woman and a very superior writer, nevertheless has written a book glorifying Cicero. And this has been very popular with many conservatives in and out of the Burke society. And I think to glorify Cicero is certainly a sad mistake. A sad mistake. With so many great Christians that deserve treatment, to go to Cicero … I just can’t see it.

Speaker 4: 21:42 Because I’ve never seen anyone ever mention Cicero. [inaudible 00:21:43]. So I don’t know what this [inaudible 00:21:49] means.

R. J. Rushdoony: 21:49 Oh, well, I have seen many … I didn’t refer to the society, if you’ll recall. But there are many people in and out of the Burke Society, conservatives of every stripe, who very commonly will cite Cicero as a great conservative hero. There have been several books written lately in which this keynote is mentioned. But Cicero is no sound hero. He was not a conservative in any sense that would be acceptable to a Christian. Yes?

R. J. Rushdoony: 22:29 That race …

R. J. Rushdoony: 22:31 Oh, yes. The ancient Egyptians were Hamitic, but they were very, definitely, a white people. The Assyrians were also. There are, as I indicated, many Assyrians to this day. There are a fair number of them in California of the 70 to 100 thousand Assyrians still living. And by and large, they are a mild-mannered, a little to the tall side, and more a light complexion than most Middle Eastern people. Yes?

Speaker 5: 23:18 [inaudible 00:23:18] and European [inaudible 00:23:18] Godly reconstruction based in Jesus Christ. [inaudible 00:23:40]

R. J. Rushdoony: 23:44 Yes.

R. J. Rushdoony: 23:45 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

R. J. Rushdoony: 23:50 The statement was that at the dinner last month, I had stated that the purpose of Cal Seton and of the Cal Seton guild is Godly reconstruction through Jesus Christ. And this is our purpose. This is why we cannot waste our time with humanists like Cicero or Emerson, or anyone else whose answer leads in the wrong direction. Now, tonight I was working on a lesson for a couple of weeks hence Sunday morning on patience. And we shall see how, when we talk about patience and when ministers talk about it from the pulpit, they’re talking about something that is a completely pagan, Stoic idea, one which Cicero would understand far better than Jesus Christ.

R. J. Rushdoony: 24:45 Well, I don’t want to get ahead on that, but you see, we have been so brainwashed. So brainwashed by generations of compromise between Christianity and humanism that by and large, we have to work to separate ourselves from these things and to eliminate them from our own thinking. Sunday morning, we dealt with the Biblical meaning of hope, for example, and how hope, as the Bible means it, is something different from what the world means by that word. Yes?

Speaker 6: 25:25 [inaudible 00:25:25] many people who mention [inaudible 00:25:34] after their change, and I think [inaudible 00:25:50].

R. J. Rushdoony: 25:49 Yes. First of all, we have to say that at the beginning, all the potentialities of all races were present in Adam and Eve. So the potentiality of all races was present in Adam and Eve, which meant that their children were less related to each other because of the tremendous genetic potential than, say, two Englishmen are related to each other. Now, as various peoples went to different parts of the world and became separated, they would begin to emphasize certain qualities that they regarded as desirable. For example, in China, way, way back, the idea of a barbarian was of a hairy man. You can see what this did. If somebody who was bearded and hairy was a barbarian, the man who had a heavy beard was not likely to find a wife very readily, you see. So you bred out people. So the Chinese … The orientals tended, progressively, to breed towards a certain standard of beauty. Then, for example, in many parts of Europe … Well, the Indo-European peoples generally, up until about a century ago, the standard of beauty was a big nose.

Speaker 6: 27:25 Indo …

R. J. Rushdoony: 27:28 Indo-European, yes. And this was important. If you go back, for example, to some of the great men of England of the Middle Ages and look at their pictures, it’ll surprise you how the big nose, the eagle beak, you see, that was the standard. The eagle, among the Indo-European peoples, appears on their standards again and again, and the eagle beak very prominently. And as a result, the big nose was very popular until the last century, when it suddenly began to be unpopular, and it is being bred out. There was a good reason for its popularity, incidentally. The eagle beak, the large nose, is a very good health factor in that it does eliminate many infections. The Negro peoples, with a flat nose, carry air into their lungs before it is properly warmed up by the large nose of the Indo-European peoples, and therefore they more readily contract respiratory ailments. Now, you see, these changes have occurred. You can go back from the old plates, the pictures, the drawings, and see the difference in some of the European peoples in terms of what became their standard of beauty. Just in the past two or three hundred years, you can see it. To make a point.

R. J. Rushdoony: 29:10 Now, one of the interesting things is to see what photographers in the United States … Photography is a century or so old, and before that, the daguerreotype considered was feminine beauty. Well, what the photographers chose as the standard of beauty in the last century almost to World War I was still the old-fashioned standard of the Greek statuary of a woman with a very large nose and much heavier than the average American woman was. Because when you get to the pictures, you find that the average American woman in the last century was quite slim. Quite slim. You might say fashionably slim, in terms of today’s standards. And one reason was because we worked hard. In those days, she chopped wood, she baked, she was on the go. She didn’t put on weight very readily. So what they considered beautiful and what the average American woman was were two different things, you see. But the standard of beauty was still the old-fashioned standard.

R. J. Rushdoony: 30:22 So the ideal people have of beauty is very different. Now, in Japan, you’re seeing a very marked change in the appearance of the Japanese girls, especially the girls. First, through eating different foods, drinking a lot of milk, they’re getting much larger in size. And second, there’s a different standard. The old-fashioned type Japanese girl is finding it difficult to marry. She’s winding up the secretary, and the girl who looks more American is winding up with a husband. So the Japanese are changing in their appearance very drastically.

R. J. Rushdoony: 31:12 Right.

Speaker 5: 31:14 [inaudible 00:31:14] idolize. And they [inaudible 00:31:29] that whoever … [inaudible 00:31:37] the internet. Sure enough, the Greeks and Romans didn’t have one.

R. J. Rushdoony: 31:44 That’s … Individuals have influenced standards, too.

Speaker 5: 31:53 My original question, I was [inaudible 00:31:54] … Which isn’t too large, geographically. There are so many different people within that particular area over the years, and why are they so different from [inaudible 00:32:03].

R. J. Rushdoony: 32:06 Oh. Well, the near East has always been, through the centuries, until fairly recent times, the target of many peoples. And you had, for example, Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Who are the Galatians? They were Celts. They would say Scotch or Irish. What were they doing down there? Well, they were doing what just about everybody else at that time was trying to do, horn in on the area that had the best climate, that was beautifully wooded, that had nice greens, that had a lot of very desirable features, you see. So the … Just as since World War II everybody’s been heading for California, which has helped ruin California, for centuries, everybody was heading for the Middle East, which ruined that area. It’s no longer what it was in those days.

R. J. Rushdoony: 32:59 So you had all kinds of peoples. So you had the Gauls, who went down and founded an area, Galatia. And the Scythians, S-C-Y-T-H-I-A-N, who were there and got shoved out, and they wound up in Scotland, finally. So you see, there were tremendous migrations of people heading for that area from all over the world.

R. J. Rushdoony: 33:28 Yes. It was … As I point out, it was a center in terms of the fact that three continents made that their highway. So the trade of the world went through the Middle East. It made it a tremendously wealthy area and a very desirable area. Yes?

Speaker 5: 33:51 There was a story on television this week about a lady that went into the beauty shop. She called told the operator she wanted to look like Barbara Streisand, so the operator took her brush and broke the lady’s nose.

R. J. Rushdoony: 34:12 Yes. Yes. Either one.

Speaker 7: 34:16 The Indo-European [inaudible 00:34:17], why is that? Because …

R. J. Rushdoony: 34:24 The Indo-European peoples were a group of peoples speaking a common language who perhaps originated in what is now Lithuania, and spread over a vast territory and conquered it, not as a unity but as just differing bands. In Asia, they were once very extensive, and the Brahmins of India today and some of the members of the upper classes are … castes … are descendants of the Indo-Europeans, and their old language is an Indo-European language. The Persians are an Indo-European people speaking an Indo-European language. The Armenians. Then, in Europe, of course, the various European peoples, except the Basques and the Gauls or Celts. They are survivors of a people who previously … Well, first you had the Basque people, apparently, in Western Europe. And then they were wiped out, and the survivors pushed up into the Pyrenees.

R. J. Rushdoony: 35:35 Then the Galatians, or Gauls, or Celts, and they were crowded out by the Indo-European peoples, and the Gauls were overcome by the Romans in what is now France, and they survive today in the Bretons and Brittany branch, the Irish, the Welsh, and the Scots. So, the Indo-European peoples took over most of these areas, and at one time, you could say their stronghold was the Middle East, Persia, and portions of India. That was the center, really, for a long, long time, of the Indo-European peoples.

R. J. Rushdoony: 36:21 By these Indo-Europeans?

Speaker 2: 36:21 Yeah.

R. J. Rushdoony: 36:34 Yes. Wherever they went, they assimilated a great many. In Europe, for example, there’s a great deal of assimilation there of the old Basque and Celtic population, as well as of Mongols. You see, to this day you have two groups in Europe who speak Mongol tongues. Anyone know who they are?

R. J. Rushdoony: 37:02 No, the Russians speak Slavic, which is an Indo-European language.

Speaker 4: 37:06 Hungaria?

R. J. Rushdoony: 37:08 The Hungarians are one, yes. And the other?

R. J. Rushdoony: 37:12 No. Theirs is a Slavic language. The Finns.

R. J. Rushdoony: 37:15 The Finns. Yes. But, you see, all you can find in them of their Mongol background is the high cheekbone. Sometimes the eyes, yes. Well, our time really is up now, so-

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder