Political power, spiritual authority, divine law, sin, divination, totalitarianism and freedom in Ancient Rome.
In the order of the structural element, there is a specific element in the “civilization” of Rome, i.e., a hierarchy, in which the preeminence is reserved to political values: everything is assumed and organized in the operation of the State. But we were pleased to see that De Francisci avoided a double false turn in which, in this regard, he finishes the greatest part of the modern interpretations of Romanity. In fact, in the first place, such a preeminence of the political element is not at all to be understood according to certain modern political pretensions to the primacy of a temporal power over any spiritual authority. The political and religious elements in ancient Rome were in an indissoluble union. The starting point of the Roman was the awareness that divine and transcendent forces exist and act behind human and historical forces. So the highest principle of Roman “politics”, and consequently of every determination of will and action, was that of conforming individual and collective life to the fas [divine law],
The revealed divine will, which is the supreme law against which it is not possible to revel without committing a nefas [sin], i.e., not just a reproachable act but having mortal consequences.
After all, De Francisci had already mentioned the religious base of the first Roman law in his earlier History of Roman Law. In the new book he recalls the profound significance relative to the fact of the inseparable connection of the imperium of the Roman political leaders, with the auspicium [divination], that is to say, with a discipline having as a presupposition the possibility of coming into relationship with the divine forces and of presenting the directions, along which they were able to confirm and empower human forces and actions. Even if De Francisci doesn’t go beyond an examination deeper into the meaning of the rite in the ancient world, but in that there is quite enough to clearly distance it from those, in this regard, who see only “superstitions” and “obtuse fatalism” in order to appreciate, in the Roman ius [law], only its positive juridical cadaver.
The other prejudice, which is often fostered in relation to the totalitarianism of Roman political civilization, relates to libertas [civil liberty]. But, again, it is impossible to judge the ancient world with modern measures, which then are simply false and misleading. De Francisci clearly points out all the respect that ancient Rome attributed to libertas: but it is a concrete libertas, comprising in itself the concept of limits: it is freedom as the faculty and the legitimate right of movement, of acting, of disposing oneself, and even within a well-defined space, within a positive hierarchy, where each recognizes his own: suum cuique. So the Roman would know an exemplary balance of auctoritas [responsibility] or lex [law] and libertas while disregarding the democratic concept of equality characteristic of Hellenic decadence, in the surpassing individualism with a determination of limits, with an obsession with hierarchy, with a coordination of activity. And this is another of the aspects, according to which Romanity remains, for centuries, the sign and symbol of a higher political and traditional ideal.
⇐ Part II Part IV ⇒