My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
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I recently found a fascinating quote on the restoring of public virtues in chapter eight of Edward Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The context was Emperor Decius’ (201-251AD) desire to restore the ancient virtues that made the empire so powerful and public support for the emperor so vital. One of his solutions was to appoint a “censor” – a long neglected political office that had once been entrusted with promoting public virtues.
Yet, as Gibbon notes, Decius was to find that public morals, once lost, were not easily restored. And that had grim consequences for the state (and for Christians):
“A censor may maintain, he can never restore, the morals of a state. It is impossible for such a magistrate to exert his authority with benefit, or even with effect, unless he is supported by a quick sense of honor and virtue in the minds of the people, by decent reverence for public opinion, and by a train of useful prejudices combating on the side of national manners. In a period when these principles are annihilated, the censorial jurisdiction must either sink into empty pageantry, or be converted into a partial instrument of vexatious oppression. It was easier to vanquish the Goths than to eradicate the public vices…”
Decius was known for his brutal oppression to bring about a restoration of Rome’s past glory. He died on the battlefield fighting the Goths.
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