Deliriant isti Romani

Those who read my journal are aware that I’ve been discussing Nova Roma’s role in the religio with various folks. The question that has really bothered me is whether having a state of some sort is a sine qua non of restoring the religio. I don’t think it is.

In Roma Antiqua, worship was both public and private. In the words of my new friend Ursus77, the public religio “was nothing less than a contract between the entire family of the Roman people and the gods . . . .” Today many people practice the religio privately, but the city of Roma practices Christianity not the religio romana. Vedius Germanicus and Iulianus Cassius founded Nova Roma as a way to restore the public religio. They defined Nova Roma as a virtual nation (“micronation”) and gave it the full panoply of Roman magistrates and priests, including censors, consuls, tribunes and pontifices. Their idea was that they could use Nova Roma as a base to restore the public rites, which could now be conducted on behalf of a modern Roman state. Cassius, as Nova Roma’s Pontifex Maximus, said recently, “The Collegium Pontificum [of Nova Roma] is responsible solely for the State Cults, and the rebuilding of the official rites that were part of the official infrastructure of the Roman State.” Further, “The Priesthood is sanctioned to do rites on behalf of the State” and “the most important duty of the Nova Roman priesthood should be the maintaining of the State rituals . . . .”

I think I could understand the founders’ reasoning if they had formed a sodalitas, or even a virtual oppidum. I think the gods would have been pleased to accept communal rites offered to them on behalf of a group of New Romans who didn’t pretend more. But, try as I might, I can’t rationalize the founding of a fake Rome to replace the real city on the Tiber. I’m an attorney, used to splitting hairs in order to make a case for a questionable proposition, but I haven’t been able to find even a tortuous path to make this one work.

It seems to me that what the founders have created is a government simulation game. A recent discussion on the main list should dispel any notion that being a micronation is just a convenient fiction to further the religio. Recently, when some citizens questioned the need to keep an old lex authorizing the Senate to give diplomatic recognition to other micronations, Vedius defended the practice and the granting of recognition to Corvinus. Moreover, citizens regularly launch discussions about how to make Nova Roma’s claim of sovereignity a reality.

I also think that the infighting for which the main Nova Roma list is famous bears out its essentially political nature. There has been a constant grumbling about a blasphemy decretum that “interferes with freedom of speech” by forbidding attacks on the religio. A Buddhist became a priest, then was outraged when the pontifices demanded that she respect the religio. A consul has proposed that pontifices be elected by Christian citizens in order to ensure a better balance of power between Christians and practitioners of the religio. It’s nuts.

Now, we find that Cassius has been working on a rival religio list since last May, finally going public with it last night. He seems to be having doubts about the validity of reconstruction, as the new list “is not specifically a reconstructionist list.” Announcing the list, Cassius articulated his vision for the religio in Nova Roma as “an organized, moral, and inclusive, and non dogmatic system that was and could be again respectful to all deities, able to grow and change, able to understand other systems, live along side them in peace, and even incorporate them without losing its unique identity.” Elaborating, he said, “Surely such a religion could be shared peacefully by everyone that had even a tangental interest in the ancient Gods, or even in ancient philosophies or ancient Virtues. It would be the cement that would bind a new sovereign community together. It would help bridge gaps of nationality and ‘modern’ heritage, and create tolerance and understanding.”

Even a casual reading of Cassius’ vision shows that he wants to restore and expand the Greco-Roman syncretism of the ancient world. And, if there were any doubt about the scope of his vision, Cassius himself has been talking about charting Nova Roma’s turmoil using astrology to track retrogrades of Mercury. Pretty cool, but it’s not the antique religio. His vision doesn’t require a Roman state, and never did. I think Cassius himself must belatedly realize this, else why start a rival list for his version of the religio?

I hesitate to say more, because a good friend of mine turns out to be a long-standing member of this rival list. But, frankly, I’m disappointed. I came to Nova Roma through the Julian Society, another of Cassius’ creations. Nova Roma was supposed to be a more serious reconstruction project, but it’s turned out to be something quite different. Its fundamental premise is illegitimate, shrugging off, as it does, the continued existence of the real city of Rome.

How can a fake country uphold a real contract with the gods? It can’t. All discussion aside, I might have finally been convinced — or at least willing to indulge the point — if Nova Roma had been blessed by the gods. I see no indication that it has. Instead, Nova Roma is a very turbulent and dysfunctional community. Not even the exceptional efforts of my chum Athanasios have been able to make a dent in the politics.

I’m out of arguments in favor of Nova Roma. So, today I withdrew my application to become a sacerdos of Neptunus and resigned as Flamen Volturnalis. In coming to this decision, I have no doubt offended some very good friends, both those conservative reconstructionists who choose to honor the religio through formal positions in Nova Roma, and those who follow Cassius’ dream of a new syncretic religion. But, I would be false to myself if I continued to serve as a priest in a simulation game. No doubt, the gods are pleased to accept the honors paid them by devout worshipers, but I believe they are accepting the devotion of individuals, as they did in my case during the Volturnalia, not the devotions of the priests and pontifices of a fake Rome.

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