When you think of Rome, most likely you see images of the Colosseum, busts of ancient rulers, the Roman Catholic Church or perhaps fountains. Whatever you think of, chances are you are surrounded by the effects of the Romans. Our governmental system can certainly be traced to that of the Romans. While their influence is everywhere, perhaps one of the most profound effects is on our language. English is Germanic in its origin, but we also have a heavy Latin influence.
We use words like bona fide, alibi, et cetera, de facto, bonus…on and on the list goes. Many in our American culture may not realize that the word Caesar is a part of our colloquium. I’m not speaking of the pizza place. This is especially true for students of history. Caesar was the surname of one Gaius Julius. You know him, “Et tu Brute.” (The Ides of March, March 15) Now that we are on the same page I will move on.
Following the Gallic Wars, the conquest of Gaul, Julius paraded through the streets dressed as a God. One thing led to another and the Emperor became a dictator. Of course we know how that ended. Yet the Roman Senate recognized Julius as a deity upon his death. Giving him the title of “Divus Iulius”, the divine Julius.
From that point forward dictators and rulers sought to capture the same power and prestige of the Caesars. Certainly we can point to Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. His coronation alone reflected his hope for ultimate power. As the Pope read the charge, Napoleon removed his laurel wreath and crowned himself Emperor of France. Essentially placing himself above the church.
The etymology of the titles “Kaiser” in German and “Czar” or “Tsar” in Russian points back to the Latin word Caesar. These lines of rulers sought to cement their political power but also to capture the divine anointing as rulers. We see this come full circle in the argument of the “Divine Right of Kings” which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Throughout the late 1700’s (France) through the early 1900’s (Russia), the divine right of Kings was an argument used to reinforce the power of the crown. To put this another way, their goal was to show that they served as monarch not according to the will of the people, but at the will of God. This is all well and good if you treat your people with respect. As an example, see the rise of the British Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell and the reestablishment of the monarchy under Charles II. It seems that man has always tried to gain the power of God without going to God for said power.
As we look around our world it is difficult to separate the influences of Rome even now 2,000 years since the time of Julius Caesar. While we could quibble over their lasting influence and the divine right of kings, we cannot deny humanities insatiable desire for power. Unfortunately, that has not lead us to God, but all too often the desire to be God. Perhaps this is the most tragic effect of the Roman Empire. Instead of saying “praise God” we say “Hail Caesar”. Which is essentially singing the song from “The Producers”, “Heil Myself”.
Our culture and secular humanism have taught us to be self-centric. This is a corruption of who we are intended to be. We are to focus on others, not ourselves. We are to live lives that bless, honor, give grace and mercy, as well as provide for needs of others. Submitting to the Lordship of Christ calls us to live lives of service. Truly it is not about us. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28 (NLT) Jesus is our example in faith and Godliness, surely we must emulate the master. Rather than saying “Hail myself” we need to proclaim “Hail Jesus, you’re my King”.