Henri Daniel-Rops, The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs 1948
Chapter: Rome and the Revolution of the Cross
The Cult of the State:
Thus at the very moment when the Empire was entering upon its Golden Age, the imperial religion was established- the cult of Rome and Augustus...had not the Egyptian Pharaohs accustomed their people to worshipping them as the incarnation of Amen-Rah for thousands of years past?
Even while Julius Caesar was alive he had been awarded quasi-divine honors under the name of Jupiter Julius, and his name is remembered in our modern month of July; on his death he was elevated to the rank of the heavenly gods. The same process occurred in Augustus’ case…
The Unintended Consequences of State Benefits:
As a result conquering other nations and bringing back booty "a large body of people of people sprang up in the great cities, particularly in Rome, who were largely unemployed all the time. They consisted of uprooted peasants, free workmen who could no longer find work, and foreigners from every corner of the Empire. This was an excellent breeding ground for all political cankers, and for all the forces of demoralization. The hard working Roman of olden days became the ‘client,’ the parasite, paid for his doubtful loyalty by the sportula [i.e. gift of food or money]. But a people cannot make a habit of beggary and idleness without tainting its soul. Cowardliness and cruelty speedily went hand in hand with the vice which, as the popular saying so rightly remarks, engenders all their soil; and, as a diversion, this idle crowd was to find in the circus a theatre for pleasure in which all vestige of human sensibility was finally degraded and destroyed."
The Family: A Vital Spot
But there was something even worse than this landside of society towards moral inertia; or, to put it more accurately, a second phenomenon existed alongside it, deriving from the same causes, and especially from the excessive enrichment of all sections of the population. Roman society was attacked in its most vital spot, at the source which sustains all societies; the structure of the family was shaken to its roots, and the birth-rate began to fall. The mother of the Gracchi had borne twelve children; and the beginning of the second century A.D. parents who had as many as three were to be praised as quite exceptional. Men shirked marriage and its obligations: had not the orbitas, the bachelor, all the advantages the principal being to assure the rich man of a permanently faithful following of expectant heirs? And, after all, he was depriving himself of nothing, since slavery provided him with bed companions who were more docile than any legal wife, and who, moreover, could be exchanged whenever he wanted. Abortion and the ‘exposing’ of the new-born babies(in other words in wanton abandonment0 acquiring terrifying proportions: in Trajan’s reign one inscription gives the precise information that, of 181 new-born infants, 179 were legitimate, and that the latter figure included only 35 girls. This proves how lightly people disposed of their daughters and their bastards. As for divorce, it became so common place that no one attempted to provide reasonable justification for it any more: the simple desire for change sufficed.
Insufficiency of Political Remedies:
Was there any attempt to halt this moral disintegration? States have always shown themselves completely incapable of restoring their moral foundations once they have allowed them to weaken. The Roman rulers were far from being unaware of the peril, but their good intentions were absurdly useless, in view of the strength of the forces which were driving their society on to ruin. Augustus’s example is cogent evidence of this. He promulgated countless laws with the loftiest of moral intentions, in an effort to fight the twin scourges of adultery and divorce…And in addition, was it not Augustus himself who, by creating the Annonan Prefecture, which was entrusted with the task of providing the people with free food, gave idleness official sanction?
At the beginning of the third century, when Dion Cassius took over the consulship, he was to find three thousand cases of adultery entered on the list of pleas, relating to Rome alone. When a crime becomes universal can it really go on being regarded as a crime?"
State Edict and Conscience:
The substitution of the State edict for the individual conscience is always a sure sign of decadence, in every country and in every age. A nation is indeed sick at heart if in order to live decently and to produce children it needs a series of subsidies and rules to enable it to do so…It was no longer for the emperor and his jurists to attempt to restore the healthy foundations of Roman society. Nothing less than a radical change in the very bases of morality itself, and in its effects upon the individual’s mind, would now suffice.