Revista Studii Teologice


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Autoritatea imperială în problematica religioasă şi convertirea funcţiei de pontifex maximus în pontificat imperial

Imperial authority and religious matters. Converting the office of pontifex maximus into imperial pontificate

Autor(i): Dragoş BOICU

The overlapping of religious and political realms was a matter of course in an-cient civilizations. The phenomenon became so deeply rooted in collective conscious-ness that, after centuries of political experiments bringing about a first secularization process, and operating the separation of the two realms, so that public life dissociated from any religious grounds, Late Antiquity society opted for the type of monarch who also held sacerdotal prerogatives, at least nominally. The Roman world knew such a time under emperor Octavian Augustus, who assumed the prerogatives of supreme pontiff of all religions within the Empire (13 B.C.), to supervise personally, as ponti-fex maximus, the administration and enforcement of the prescriptions of the so-called „jus divinum”, which dictated the sacrifices and expiatory rituals for epidemics and cataclysms, the consecration of temples, the updating and re-calculation of the calendar, as well as the observance of public ethical norms. Thus the monarch beca-me a referee and a guarantor of morality, achieving a quasi-divine status consolida-ting his political authority.
Although it provides important answers concerning the ideological and political context in which the Church’s teachings of faith developed, the issue of pagan ponti-ficate (pontifex maximus) is often given scant attention by Romanian ecclesiastical historiography, being cursorily mentioned only in relation to the religious policy of emperor Constantine the Great (†337) or in the ambiguous context of the rejection of this office by Theodosius the Great (†395). However, the only historical source attesting such refusal (Historia Nova authored by Zosimus) is so controversial that one can hardly reconstruct the actual historical context, the original significance of this act, or the author’s intention in narrating the event. According to the pagan author, it was not Theodosius, but Gratian who declined the prerogatives of pontifex maximus. The text contains a number of questionable elements, such as the pagan author’s digression attempting to provide an etymological explanation for the term pontifex and its Greek counterpart γεφυραίος. In the past, Zosimus’ statements and puns, either intentional or not, enjoyed undeserved appreciation, while today they are deemed to be at most post factum inventions or rhetorical aberrations.
An important aspect is the dating of the event described in Historia Nova: the proposed interval is relatively long (375-383), and the expression κατὰ τὸ συνηθές (according to the custom) has caused confusion among scholars. Even if the arrival of the senatorial commission before Gratian is placed in late 382, or even early 383, this does not suffice to rule out the hypotheses of Karl Leo Noethlichs and Jean Rémy Palanque, adopted by rev. professors Ioan Rămureanu and Vasile Munteanu, who claim that pagan pontificate was turned down by the emperor of the West only after he was persuaded by the similar gesture of Theodosius, most likely upon his enthronement (January 19, 379).
The manner of this rejection raises even more questions than its dating. A number of documents authored by Pierre Batiffol almost a century ago were dis-cussed by Alan Cameron, who launched a new theory concerning the rejection of pagan pontificate. The reputed British scholar denies the abolition of the pontifex maximus office and postulates a transformation of this pontificate into a political sacerdotium, as attest the full titles of emperors Valentinian III († 455), Marcian († 457) and Anasthasios († 518), which included the term pontifex inclitus [inclutus]. Most likely, as early as the first half of the 5th century, the adjective maximus (the greatest/ very great) was gradually replaced by the term inclitus (famous, re-nowned), and thus the phrase pontifex inclitus supplanted the traditional title of pontifex maximus. This fact, corroborated by an 8th-century text of a Byzantine fake, ascribed to pope Gregory II (713-731), and mentioning the pontificate of Con-stantine the Great, Theodosius the Great, Valentinian the Great (the IIIrd) and Con-stantine, the father of Justinian II, seems to support this theory of conversion and survival of the pontifex office among imperial attributes.
Mentioning Theodosius in this document among the emperors who stood out for their „priestly” or „pontifical” activity indicates that he also held such a political sacerdotium. Even though there is no explicit evidence of Theodosius’ pontificate, it may be inferred from the monarch’s involvement in issuing a very detailed Christian legislation, regulating various aspects of religious life. Most likely, one may speak of a interpretatio christiana of the dignity of pontifex maximus, lending it a Christian character. In this sense we may assert that supreme pontificate was refused by Grati-an and even by Theodosius, however not by rejecting it, but rather by redefining it.

Pagini: 201-211