Tuesday, July 18, 2017
I’ve been reading classicist popularizer Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright, 2015). In her discussion of Roman religion she confirms the point that Roman religion was less about personal belief and conviction and more about civic duty. Her comments:
In Rome there was no doctrine as such, no holy book and hardly even what we would call a belief system. Romans knew the gods existed; they did not believe in them in the internalized sense familiar from most modern world religions. Nor was ancient Roman religion particularly concerned with personal salvation or morality. Instead it focused more on the performance of rituals that were intended to keep the relationship between Rome and the gods in good order, and to insure Roman success and prosperity. The sacrifice of animals was a central element in most of these rituals, which otherwise were extraordinarily varied…. In general, it was a religion of doing, not believing (pp. 102-103).
Two interesting points to consider: (1) We do not even have the modern Western concept of religion as personal faith until the rise of Judaism and Christianity; and (2) Given this spiritual environment, we can see how the early Christian movement was so appealing to many when, in the providence of God, it broke onto the scene in the first century.