do as the Romans do. Yeah, yeah, a common phrase, whyrya posting about that?
Here's why. Three reasons. First -- guess 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, it comes from the "worship wars" but hardly anyone even knows that. Second, it's only half of what was originally said, and once known, the other half puts a whole different meaning to both the first half and to the whole. Third, the whole matter leads nicely into the upcoming post on the commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession later this month, giving important lessons on confessing that confession now.
About "Saint" Ambrose, the Guy Who Said It.
Here's 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 the Emperor.
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 itself.
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 forty five years ago.
The Governor Of The Imperial Diocese of Milan Becomes Its "Bishop".
Well 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. He represented the Praetorian Prefect who in turn represented the Emperor to the diocese of Milan. Hey, aren't diocese run by bishops? No they're not originally and the church had nothing to do with it. A diocese is an administrative unit of the Roman Empire set up by Diocletian and which he 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 as the Augustus in the West. The Romans themselves weren't real happy with the Empire no longer seated at Rome btw. And also btw, I've 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.
Little 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!
I 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, then goes back to 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.
So 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.
Well, 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."
Anyway 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 Romans do".
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 on the blog, 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?
As 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?
What 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 for "whatever".
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.
And 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.
Which was a major issue in the Reformation. Yet now, having established that, and, having later come to the US to escape a government imposed synthesis of Lutheran worship with other worship, what do we do? We turn around and impose Roman and other worship on ourselves, that's what. We escape the Prussian Union of Lutheran and other German Protestant worship then here 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.
Do 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 -- hey, just what they do now -- never mind that those forms are as they are precisely so as to not have the beliefs we have about worship.
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 adaptations have become.
And 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 the Gospel.
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.
This 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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