St. Paul and Roman Statism

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For
rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou
then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou
shalt have praise of the same:

For
he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that
which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain:
for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon
him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only
for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

For
this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending
continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their
dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear
to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

So
writes Saint Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the
Christians in first century Rome. Sounds words, and, to Christians,
divinely inspired words. Like his Saviour's weighty reply to the
Herodian Statists some twenty years earlier on the matter of taxation,
he balances his discourse between duties to God and duties to Man
in a world altogether different from our own and yet so familiar
in the outworking of fallible human nature.

Truly,
it was a world of hurt and pain, yet the Pax Romana continued to
rule over millions. A state of the art communications infrastructure
meant efficient Roman roads and seaways free from piracy. The pro-choice
brigade had their way, as today, with new born babes being left
to die of exposure on refuse heaps and the local sports stadia offered
the latest in base savagery as men fought to the death and wild
animals ripped apart State offenders.

The
Empire ruled with an iron hand and gained vast revenues from fields
afar off to indulge itself in the glory and grandeur that was Rome.
Caesar Augustus had said that he found Rome stone and left it marble,
he was also a shrewd tax strategist who exacted what he wanted as
absolute monarch but knew the destabilising effect of tax revolts
by subjugated provinces.

Paul,
himself, writes in an uncertain period for Jews exemplified by their
recent expulsion in AD 51 by Claudius for Messianic agitations.
This leaves him treading carefully on the matter of obligations
to the State. With the emperor carefully watching any cult of Jewish
origin, it is not so much what Paul says on the State, as what he
does not say, despite every incentive to speak well of it that should
interest us. With this in mind, Paul exhorts his readers to pay
their taxes in due submission to the State. What were these taxes?

Finding
information on specific state taxation policy for a narrow time
range is a difficult task. We can make various assumptions; since
changes to taxation policy were not as volatile as today, being
rather influenced by the last major war or the last corrupt emperor
to plunder the aerarium (the treasury).

There
was the decumae, or 10% tax paid by all who occupied
State owned land. The scriptura tax paid by all who kept
their cattle on public pasture land. The portorium tax paid
on all imported and exported goods from harbours. The occasional
tributum, which Romans paid from 0.1% to 0.3% of their total
assets in times of war.

We
have the salinae revenues gained from salt mines as well
as the metalla revenues from the various metal mines. Unsurprisingly,
there was the centesimal rerum venalium or sales tax which
extracted 1% from the sale of all goods.

The
vicesima manumissionis tax was 5% on the freedom of any slave
whilst the quinqagesima tax took 2% on their sale. This was
a considerable instrument of revenue in an Empire whose economy
was so dependent on slave labour.

The
State, presuming itself to be an heir, demanded the vicesima
hereditatium, or 5% on certain inheritances gained by a Roman
citizen.

As
an example of Statist attempts to encourage population growth and
discourage over building in Rome, we had the aes uxorium tax
on those who reached old age without marrying and the ostiarium
and columnarium taxes on doors and columns. Some things
never change.

Property
tax has an antiquarian pedigree in the octavae, which was
an Italian 12.5% tax on any property valued above 200 sestertia.

Finally,
and more importantly to Paul and others of Jewish origin, were the
tributum soli and tributum capitis paid by conquered
nations to Rome. These land and head taxes were paid from the tribute
penny (or denarius) of the gospels and was levied on all
adults up to the age of 65 years. The denarius was probably equivalent
to the average daily wage and was paid on top of some of the indirect
taxes (or vectigalia) mentioned above.

However,
what is important to this present discourse is not so much where
the revenues came from but the expenditure to which they were committed.
Socialist commentators on Romans 13 see in it nothing but a blanket
obligation on subjects to pay their taxes and an endorsement to
let government do as it pleases with the revenues (except, of course,
when abortion funding is withdrawn).

On
the matter of Imperial expenditure, there were three treasuries.

The
public aerarium was devoted to the administration of the
senatorial provinces in and around Rome. To this would be added
the supply of water and grain to the city, maintenance of the roads
and public buildings (such as bath houses and games stadia). The
education system was primarily voluntary, but under state supervision.
Nevertheless, the aristocratic oligarchy would undertake for the
maintenance of poor children in their native towns in an embryonic
form of State education.

Particular
mention must be made of the massive welfare state system of Rome
so clearly demonstrated in the free grain that all 200,000 Roman
male citizens enjoyed and the subsidised prices that others also
took advantage of. Most of this grain came from Sicily and the fertile
banks of the Nile in Egypt as direct taxation paid in kind.

Including
families, this swept about 40% of the Roman population into the
role of welfare dependants who idly passed their times eating their
free grain and attending the free games laid on by their Statist
hosts. Predictably, the free imported grain was the ruin of local
farmers who gave up and headed for the good times in Rome.

The
emperor had his own budget devoted to maintaining Rome's great legions
and fleets, administering the provinces and whatever project of
largesse the imperial ego turned to. This last expenditure led to
the erection of many a fine building, statue and bust. The State,
via the emperor, was a great patron of the arts.

Finally,
the military aerarium introduces us to the Roman State's
welfare pensions scheme, which was paid out to retired soldiers
as parcels of land or money. Heroic tributes were likewise financed
from this budget, which drew on revenues from inheritance and sales
tax plus any booty of the day.

So,
as to the context of Saint Paul's letter, we find a Rome, which
funded a benefits system, a pensions system, venues for public relaxation
and entertainment, patronised the arts, maintained the roads and
water supplies and had a primitive education system.

To
this we can add the support of the state pagan religion and even
a fire service in Rome.

We
can understand why Paul may be reticent to name gladiatorial events
and public temples devoted to false gods as a reason to pay taxes.
But, why be silent on the matter of safe roads and water or free
grain to the readers of his epistle?

As
I said, with the current agitation amongst his fellow Jews, now
is a time to write a treatise on the State which bends over backwards.
Now is the time to praise the Roman aqueducts and straight roads,
now is the time to endorse the fine public amenities and provision
for battle-weary soldiers (especially Christian ones!).

Not
a word of it, not so much as a syllable which may give credence
to the socialist mantra that the State can interfere in all and
any affair of men so long as it benefits the public good. With that
in mind, we may attempt to answer some objections on this point.

First,
the charge may be made that Paul was silent on these matters because
they all involved corrupt, unchristian practises. One may wonder
at this in connection with roads and water, especially since these
peaceful roads were indispensable to the propagation of the gospel.

I
would rather say that the penal system which Paul alone endorses
in the passage to maintain the public peace was also corrupt insomuch
that the cruellest of punishments could be exacted for the least
crimes. If Paul can be pragmatic with that, he can also be with
the others.

Secondly,
it may be said that a lot of the State expenditures may not have
been relevant to Paul's readership. Admittedly, it is not likely
that there were many Christians who took advantage of the State-funded
pagan festivals.

However,
the bulk of Romans were the plebeians (who only paid indirect taxes),
slaves (who paid no taxes), non-citizens and travellers (who paid
the full taxes exacted in their home provinces). To this, it is
not unreasonable to add the odd retired Roman soldier living off
his State pension.

Based
on a population of a million and a half, of which 200,000 males
received the free grain (13% of the population), it is safe to assume
that a fair number of these people attended the Christian meetings.
They regarded this state benefit as an important aspect of their
lives.

Paul
ignores them all and says, "For this cause pay ye tribute,"
that is, to pay the State to repress evildoers. The Sicilians amongst
them must have wondered why their relatives were paying tax in kind
as myriad bushels of grain.

Finally,
as a last resort, our socialist interpreters may reply that Paul
does not say, "For this cause only pay ye tribute."
I admit that, at a logical extreme, I cannot prove beyond doubt
that Paul intended the world only to be implicitly understood.
Indeed, no more that they can prove beyond doubt that the words
amongst others should be implicitly understood either.

The
mere grammatical or semantic form of the phrase offers us no direction
either way. For this cause, I appeal to the fiscal and political
context of the day to understand why Paul did and did not say certain
things.

But,
I would say that Paul also binds the conscience of his readers in
this respect of penal authority ("ye must be subject … for
conscience sake") and yet deems it not fit enough to bind their
conscience on other matters of Imperial expenditure.

In
other words, whatever else the State does with your taxes, it certainly
has no moral compulsion upon any of us to obey it or agree with
it!

And,
if I may be so bold as to answer why Paul does not hold up the Roman
Welfare State as a reason for taxation. He says only a few verses
earlier, "Distribute to the necessity of the saints and be
given to hospitality." Observe that Christian and private welfare
is the mandate of Paul, not the inefficient, politicized, and impersonal
way of the Statists!

Personal
duty and personal responsibility. Paul brings in the State because
he previously exhorted Christians not to seek vengeance. They are
commanded to do what many a State has sought to monopolize and control,
but to the State alone belongs the power of the sword and nothing
else.

Bibliography

September
3,
2001

Roland
Watson [send him
mail
] writes from Edinburgh, Scotland.

©
2001 LewRockwell.com

Roland
Watson Archives

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