F.F. Bruce’s “New Testament History” (required reading by Dr. David Chapman in this free course, for example), notes that “The reputation of the Romans for rapacity had preceded them in the new areas which they now occupied” in the century prior to Christ’s birth. He cites a couple of ancient authors in this respect:
Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (d. 63 B.C.):
The Romans have from of old known but one ground for waging war with all nations, peoples, and kings—inveterate lust of empire and wealth. . . . Do you not realize that they leave nothing that they do not lay their hands on—homes, wives, land, power? that they are a gang of men with no fatherland or ancestry of their own, swept together of old to be a plague to the whole world? No law, human or divine, can stand in their way; they uproot and drag off their ‘friends’ and ‘allies’, whether they live near at hand or far away, whether they are weak or strong; they treat as their enemies all men, and especially all kingdoms, that refuse to serve them as slaves. (Letter to Arsaces XII, king of Parthia (c. 69 B.C.).Cicero (whom Bruce describes as a “public-spirited” Roman citizen):
It is difficult to convey to you, gentlemen, the bitter hatred felt for us among foreign nations because of the unbridled and outrageous behavior of the men whom we have sent to govern them during these past years. What temple in those lands do you think has had its sanctity respected by our magistrates? What state has been free from their aggression? What home has been adequately closed and protected against them? They actually look around for wealthy and flourishing cities in order to find an occasion of waging war against them and thus gratify their lust for plunder. . . . Do you suppose that when you send an army you are defending your allies against their enemies? No, you are using these enemies as a pretext for attacking your friends and allies. What state in Asia is sufficient to contain the arrogance and insolence of one ordinary military tribune—not to speak of a general or his second-in-command? (Cicero, Pro Lege Manilia,, 65f (66 B.C.).Everett Ferguson describes further the Roman Military of the first century A.D.:
Military power had brought the various provinces under Roman rule. Not only did the Roman army create the empire but it was also one of the most important cultural factors. The army made possible social advancement, was an influence for Romanization, and provided an economic stimulus. The military safeguarded Roman peace and so made possible social and cultural developments, and provided mobility both geographically and socially for its members. The army was important in the spread of various eastern religions and observed its own official religious ceremonies. Although most military personnel were on the frontier, knowledge of them provided an ever present frame of reference from which writers could draw illustrations (e.g., 2 Tim. 2:3-4) (Everett Ferguson, “Backgrounds of Early Christianity,” Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, © 1987, 1993, 2003, pg 49).Raymond Brown on 1 Clement (c. 96 A.D.):
The sense of the sacred with which 1 Clement describes the divine order (tagma) of God, Christ, apostles, and bishops and deacons challenges Christians to unshakable allegiance to their presbyter-bishops in difficult times and so will enable the church to face two hundred years of Roman persecution.This understanding of how the Roman mindset and the Roman military shaped what was known as “early Catholicism”. The fact that Rome was the capital of the empire was the compelling force behind this development. Some Roman Catholic writers today want to say that not only did the papacy have some kind of “divine institution,” but that God intended “the see of Rome” to have some sort of “divine institution.” But those who think that have got it precisely backwards. Roman influence is not to be embraced in the church; syncretism with (and even worship of) things Roman is a factor that was perhaps used in a utilitarian sort of way. Roman influence in the church was an accident of history, not the divine substance of it.
But 1 Clement’s insight has an origin and implications that go beyond the Jewish heritage. The author’s admiration for military discipline betrays, however inchoatively, the understanding that the Roman empire would never be Christianized unless Christianity could understand and take advantage of the strength of its adversary. Rome was reasonably tolerant of private cults provided that they were not immoral and did not challenge the demand for conformity to the religious and social order. Christianity was not going to be another Oriental mystery religion with pious devotees; it was going to be a society with exclusive claims that were antithetical to those of the empire—a recognition that every absolute state has arrived at ever since! It has been shrewdly observed, “Christians were constantly amazed to find themselves cast as enemies of the Roman order, but in retrospect we must admit that it was the Romans who had the realistic insight.” Earlier Christian works pertinent to the Roman church had demanded obedience to the Roman government; 1 Clement goes further in inculcating similar obedience to church authorities. Christianity would succeed because its communities were well structured and because its institutions effectively held on to converts. It would shape an organization as tight as (or tighter than) that of the empire and would offer better motivation for adherence. Thus 1 Clement is offering a formula not only for surviving persecution but also for overcoming the persecutor. The ultimate victory of Clement’s insight would not be when Constantine ceased to persecute Christianity; it would be when a half-century later Christianity became the official religion of the empire (Raymond E. Brown, John P. Meier, “Antioch And Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity,” Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press ©1983, pgs 180-181).
C.C. Caragounis, in a work that a Roman Catholic defender recently cited, explains the transition from the New Testament church structure that Paul left behind, and the adoption of the Roman mindset in 1 Clement:
The great difference between the model passage (Titus 1:5-7) and 1 Clement is that the former says nothing about any succession. Titus is merely to appoint presbyters or bishops, but they are not taking Paul’s place in any way. In fact, they cannot. In the 1 Clement passage, however, the thus appointed bishops “succeed to their” [i.e., the apostles’] ministry. There is thus an inconsistency in 1 Clement . On the one hand the writer—assuming him to be Clement, the third bishop of Rome—totally effaces himself, the letter being sent by and having the authority of the whole church, while on the other hand he seeks here to establish an apostolic succession between the apostles and his own office!Caragounis here takes the position that “Clement” was a bishop of the church of Rome. That’s a minority position today; as I noted in a previous comment, many historians believe that “Pope St. Clement”could very well have been the Roman church secretary. But even if Caragounis is correct, what follows will be the best, most authoritative position that can be attributed to the Roman bishop early in the second century:
This he does, however, only indirectly. For his apparently primary reason for positing this apostolic succession is to establish the God-given right of the old presbyters of Corinth and thus show the heinous action of the rebels in deposing them. Thus, although the bishop still does not have monarchical powers but functions simply as the mouthpiece of the whole church, 1 Clement lays the foundation for such a development.And here, Caragounis confirms: whatever position Clement occupies, whether a kind of “monarchical bishop” or not, his only function is as “the mouthpiece” of the church.
And in either case, this corresponds with what other writers have written. 1 Clement does not have any genuine authority; the letter even refers to itself as “symboule”, a letter of persuasion, a well-established ancient letter form whereby politicians persuade for their case. Continuing with Caragounis:
Whence, then, does this imperious tone come in addressing a sister church, which could make an even greater claim to apostolic foundation and contact than Rome? The answer must be sought not in apostolic succession – this was put forth for Corinthian consumption – but within the church of Rome itself. One factor must be that the Roman church had emerged victorious from “the sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities” (1.1) which it had experienced under Nero an Domitian. This “victory” had no doubt boosted Roman confidence and given it a sense of strength. But another and even more potent factor seems to have been its being the church of the capital. Living in the most important city of the empire, it was easy for the Roman Christians to exchange the principles at working the kingdom of God for the principles at work in the kingdom of the Romans.One might even say, in this case, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,” (Romans 1:23). Caragounis concludes:
If Paul had counseled “submission” to the authorities on account of conscience (Romans 13:1-7), 1 Clement shows a harmonious relationship to the Roman imperium: Thus in 37:1 “the soldiers under our generals” are an example of obedience and order to be emulated by the Christians, while in the liturgical prayer God’s help is petitioned in order to “do the things that are good and pleasing before . . . our rulers” (60.2), “that we may be obedient . . . to our rulers and governers on earth” (60.4). It is thus obvious that for 1 Clement the glory, honor, and dominion of the empire are God-given (61.1-2) (Caragounis, “The Development of the Roman Church between Romans and 1 Clement,” in “Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome,” Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson, Eds., Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©1998, pgs 274-277)..