Why did Augustus become Pontifex Maximus

Pontifex maximus

When the title "Pontifex maximus" is used today, one usually thinks immediately of the Pope. But it wasn't always like that. Originally it was pontifex maximus the superior and representative of the collegium pontificum, the gathering of pagan high priests in ancient Rome. One of his most important tasks was the supervision of the Vestacult, which included, among other things, that he had to kill Vestal Virgins if they had violated their law of chastity. Caesar was pontifex maximus, and since Augustus the Roman emperors automatically carried this title.

The example of the North African church father Tertullian († after 220 AD) shows how little this title was initially at home in Christianity. He did not agree at all with the edict of a bishop who gave the church the right to renounce the sin of adultery. In his typically polemical way mocked Tertullian this bishop, who dared not follow his rigid views on sexual morality, as "bishop of bishops" and as "pontifex maximus" (De pudicitia 1). 1

When Augustine (354-430 AD) defended Christianity in his state of God against the pagan accusation that he was to blame for the fall of Rome, he speaks in the first book to the Gentiles of »yours Pontifex maximus ”(vester pontifex maximus) - the office was a pagan institution for him. (De Civitate Dei, I, 31,3)

The pagan In the fourth book of his "New History", the historian Zosimos describes how Emperor Gratianus renounced the title "Pontifex maximus" in 382 AD and returned the stole belonging to the office, because he was a Christian. And yet, until then, “All emperors were seen to be accepted with pleasure and to use this title, even Constantine, 2 when he came to the government, although he immediately deviated from the right path in worship, and accepted the faith of Christians. "(Neue Geschichte IV, 36)

But then the title moved on. While the Eastern Roman emperors continued to be called pontifex maximus until the 6th century, in the west: »After Pope Leo I, the term pontifex to an honorary title of the Popes, as can be seen from an inscription on the triumphal arch of the Basilica St. Paul Outside the Walls, built between 443-449: GAUDET PONTIFICIS STUDIO SPLENDORE LEONIS " 3

Author Oliver AchillesPosted on Categories Interpretation, TranslationTags Augustine, Gratianus, Constantine the Great, Pope Leo the Great, Pontifex maximus, Tertullian, Zosimos