do as the Romans do. Yeah, yeah, a common phrase, whyrya posting about that?
what? This often heard and used phrase actually first came from a
resolution to a controversy over proper observances in the Christian
church. Yeah, really.
About "Saint" Ambrose, the Guy Who Said It.
the deal. The guy who first said it was "Saint" Ambrose, Bishop of
Milan. Ambrose lived from about 337 AD or a little later until 4 April
397. He was born in Augusta Treverorum, Praefectura Praetorio
Galliarum. What in the hell is that, and where? These days it's called
Trier, in Germany.
But in those days a prefecture
(praefectura) was one of four large administrative areas set up in the
Roman Empire on the death of Constantine the Great on 22 May in 337,
the same year Ambrose was likely born. So a prefecture is the highest
unit under the Empire itself, and it is governed by a prefect
(praefectus). Galliarum means "of the Gauls", and the Praetorian
Prefecture of Gaul included basically what is now England, France, the
western part of Germany, Spain, and Mauritania in Africa. What's this
Praetorio thing? A Praetorian Prefect (Praefectus praetorio) was
originally the commander of the Praetorian Guard, an elite military
special forces unit that guarded the Emperor, but Constantine disbanded
the Guard, and the adjective "praetorian" was applied to the four
prefects who as it were guarded the four prefectures of the Empire for
OK, takes care of Praefectura Praetorio
Galliarum, it's the Praetorian Prefecture of Gaul. And Ambrose's
father was the Praetorian Prefect of the Praetorian Prefecture of Gaul.
One of the four top officers of the Empire. A major player. Which
is also why Ambrose was born in Trier -- that was the capital of the
prefecture, and also by that time an Imperial residence in the West and
a functional capital of the Western Roman Empire rather than Rome
I gotta digress here a minute. I've been to a
hell of a lot of places, but Trier is absolutely the most captivating,
enchanting and wonderful place of them all, and maybe one day again I
will have dinner outside the Porta Nigra, the "Black Gate", the only
surviving of the four gates the Romans built to guard each side of the
city, against most likely some of my ancestors before we moved to
England. I have never felt like I felt in Trier anywhere else, and
that was over forty years ago.
The Governor Of The Imperial Diocese of Milan Becomes Its "Bishop".
back to the story. Ambrose's father was a Roman bigwig and Ambrose
was sent to Rome for his education. He rose through the governmental
and political ranks to become what we would call Governor (but they
called vicarius, vicar, meaning representative, and he represented the
Praetorian Prefect who represented the Emperor) of the diocese of
Milan. Hey, aren't diocese run by bishops? No they're not. A diocese
is an administrative unit of the Roman Empire set up by Diocletian and
named diocese after himself. And Milan was also by then the official
capital of the Empire.
The same Diocletian, ruling from
Milan, in July 285 had split the unwieldy Empire in two, to try to
hold it-together, and set up a system where each half would have its
"Augustus" and its "Caesar", a system called the Tetrarchy. Diocletian
was the last Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire. Nicomedia, in
modern Turkey, he designated the Eastern capitol in 286, and Milan,
then called Mediolanum, a functional capital as was Trier, the official
Western capital in 293.
Diocletian became the
Augustus in the East with his fellow general officer Maximian the
Augustus in the West. The Romans themselves weren't real happy with
the Empire no longer seated at Rome btw. And also btw, been to Milan
and Rome too and beautiful as they are, give me Trier any day. Hell
yes. Diocletian then became the only Roman Emperor ever to retire from
office, on 1 May 305. Whereupon the Tetrarchy fell apart amid the
schemes of Maximian's kid Maxentius and a guy named Constantine, and
Diocletian, racked with despair at this and illness, died on 3 December
311, possibly by suicide.
Ambrose was the Governor of
the diocese of Milan for a couple years when in 374 the "bishop",
Auxentius, head religious figure of the diocese and an Arian Christian,
died and a great uproar ensued over whether the next "bishop" would be
an Arian or a Trinitarian Christian. When Governor Ambrose intervened
to calm things down, everybody said Hey, YOU be the bishop. He fled
but the guy hiding him got a letter from the Emperor (Gratian) saying
is was OK for Ambrose to be "bishop" so he was turned in.
problem here though. Ambrose was not only not clergy, not trained in
the faith, he wasn't even baptised. Not a problem when the Empire says
OK. Within a week he was baptised, ordained, and made bishop. I'm
not making this up! And we bitch about SMP being a fast track! Think
that's wild, hell, six years later when the "Catholic Church" was
defined by the co-Emperors (Gratian again, Valentinian II and
Theodosius), and became the state religion for the whole Roman Empire
on 27 February 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica, you got a state
church so entrenched that it's still around over 1500 years after the
Roman empire collapsed in the West (476) and over 500 years after it
collapsed in the East (1453).
Yup, the RC and the EO.
Who still maintain the name for their administrative units that they
had when their "bishops" were the chief religious figures of the
Imperial units the diocese.
So here's Ambrose, from an
imperial residence and functional Roman capital in Trier, "bishop" in
Milan, the official Western capital of the Roman Empire since Emperor
Diocletian made it so in 293, and guess what, he gets the holder of the
most prestigious professorship in the world of its time, guy named
Augustine from Carthage who got the gig in Milan, as a convert and
baptises him seven years on into the "Catholic Church" in 387!
ain't getting into Augustine's career here, that's in another post in
the Past Elder Blogoral Calendar, but he ends up in this new state
religion basically morphing the neoPlatonism dominant in philosophy at
the time into Christianity, and ends up back in North Africa and ends
up as, you guessed it, "bishop" in Roman Imperial diocese of Hippo
Regius (now Annaba, Algeria).
How the Phrase Came About.
here it is. Amid all the turmoil of the age -- which again, I ain't
getting into here, it's in that same post, "Eastern Church/Empire,
Western Church Empire", revised and posted each year on 16 January,
founding day of the Roman Empire -- there's a controversy about what are
the correct days on which to fast. None, if you ask me. Anyway,
fasting was done on different days in different places, so Augustine
asks Ambrose for his advice on settling the matter.
Ambrose was known to be, as we put it in SEPs for call candidates now,
flexible in his worship preferences. So he writes to Augustine:
"When I'm in Rome I fast on Saturdays (the local Roman custom) and when
I'm in Milan I don't. Follow the custom where you are."
his advice eventually crystallised as a proverb in mediaeval Latin as
si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi.
OK OK, I'll translate -- if you are in Rome, live in the Roman way;
if you are elsewhere, live as they do there. Which has come into
English, though only the first half of it, as "When in Rome, do as the
So there, now you can impress the hell out
of people at your next cocktail party, fund raiser, reception, winkel,
or whatever the case may be. But that was not my point in going
through all this stuff. The reason I bother with and bother you with
this kind of stuff at all, this stuff now and in all of the stuff I
write here, is what does it show us about things now.
Guess What? We Ain't In Rome!
So what does the advice of Ambrose to Augustine about the correct days to fast show us about things now?
we saw, our modern English descendant of that advice leaves out half
of it. It's not just when in Rome do as the Romans do, but also when
someplace else do as they do there. Which means, the Roman way does not
have to be imposed on anywhere else and how they do it in other places
is just as fine too.
What does this mean? Or for our non-Lutheran readers, what does that mean?
are the right days to fast is not a question on the same level as what
is the right way to celebrate the Divine Service. IOW, "Christian
Freedom" does not mean "Do What You Want" and "adiaphora" is not Greek
Note this: Ambrose is not telling
Augustine to chose what seems right to him, but to choose between
existing customs. Nor is he telling him hey, why not put a synthesis
to-gether from both customs thus presenting the wider rich heritage to
everyone. IOW, he is not telling him to act as our "liturgical
movement" scholars, or is it liturgical movement "scholars", do.
this: there's the part we leave out in English but Ambrose did not
leave out -- when you are someplace else, do as they do there, not as
they do in Rome. Didn't I just say that? No. A couple three
paragraphs above, I said the Roman way does not have to be imposed
anywhere else, which was a reference to the validity of Lutheran
liturgical reform, that Rome does not have to authorise and control
liturgy and impose its way throughout the church.
was a major issue in the Reformation. Yet now, having established
that, and, having later come here to escape not a church but a
government imposed synthesis of Lutheran worship with other worship,
what do we do -- turn around and impose Roman and other worship on
ourselves. We escape the Prussian Union of Lutheran and other German
Protestant worship to seek to combine Lutheran and other American
Protestant worship. And when we are not doing that, we seek to combine
Lutheran worship with Rome's latest, the novus ordo of Vatican II.
Si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi.
as the Romans do when in Rome. We are not in Rome any more than we
are in Willow Creek. Walther knew this, and in his day founded LCMS
with like minded pastors to counter the efforts to recast Lutheran
worship with what were called "new measures" drawn from churches with
big attendance, supposedly taking forms that address people now better
and endowing them with Lutheran content, never mind that the forms are
as they are precisely so as to not have the beliefs we have about
Yet over a century later so many of us fall
for the same siren call of the new measures of our day, trying to adopt
them but with a Lutheran content. And so many others try to counter
it with a tradition that is no tradition at all but simply taking
another non-Lutheran new measure, the novus ordo of Vatican II, and
make it our own, joining the bandwagon of liturgical heterodox churches
whose common property such adaptaions have become.
in neither case remaining true to what our Confessions say -- "nearly
all the usual ceremonies are also preserved", "we keep many traditions
that are leading to good order (1Cor. 14:40) in the Church, such as
the order of Scripture lessons in the Mass and the chief holy days."
Not revised, not adapted, not recast as soon as Rome makes a move, not
to locate ourselves within developments in the wider Christian
community, but to PRESERVE, to KEEP, except only that which, not is not
found in the Gospel, but contradicts it.
In these two
equal but opposite departures from the basis of our liturgical reform
we find the greatest challenge, which is not external but internal, to
the presentation of the faith of the Augsburg Confession now.
is a prolegomenon, an introduction, and after the post for the Feast
of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, we shall take this up in more
detail in the post for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.
Si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi. We are not in Rome, we are elsewhere, let us live like where we are.
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