July 11, 2009

Princeps, Domine, Kurios

To a large degree, Gaius Octavius Caesar, The August One, absolutely was a responsible altruist who believed he was serving the common good. Even Tacitus, who is hyper critical of Emperors in general, says of Augustus, “He had put the commonwealth in order not to make himself king or dictator, but under the title of princeps” (Annals 3.28). And there is no denying he seized peace for the earth, even though conquering and uprisings went on throughout his rule.

But I came across this gem searching the OCD today: “both Augustus and Tiberius took pains to suppress the use of the title dominus, though it remained a conventional form of polite address within Roman society.” The article also quotes the Princeps himself, who said, “I excelled in all influence, although I possessed no more official power than others who were my colleagues in the various magistracies.” (Res Gestae 34)

From this, I make the following observations: first, I think the Emperor’s political humility is something different from the false humility Paul decries in his letters. But I also notice Jesus did not eschew the title domine in its greek equivalent, kurios, right from the very beginning. “Many will say to me Lord, Lord…” shows an absolute lack of political humility. He’s entirely open about the fact that He’s the one who’s going to be in charge. I can’t help contrast that with professional ministers who insist on more comfortable titles like “Brother”, because they know they’re not supposed to be in charge, even though they are.

Of course, the honorary title Augustus can also be translated as Reverend. Some things to think about…

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