|The School of Aetius - Report of the Year 2018
SCHOLA AETII·SATURDAY, 15 DECEMBER 2018
When I began the formation of the Schola Aetii, I was uncertain how far I would go with this idea, as the situation of our times is anything but easy. As now the first year of the opening of the Schola Aetii ends, let me take the opportunity to look back on the year and how I want to develop it further.
The first aim in the early days, when it still had neither a name nor was I sure to actually make it a thing, I merely wanted to teach Roman Priests, in the broadest sense. With two decades being Asatru Priest and Hierophant in a Hermetic Order, I had developed some experience in teaching and guiding rituals. But with the Roman Polytheist Religion, the case is especially complex. On the one hand, we have a certain amount of source material, but on the other hand also much of the classic writing is lost. Having a small window can distort the view on the case more than having none at all. Over time, my questions were essentially three, which formulated in my mind scanning the secondary texts as well as the sources, and being in conversation with my fellow Cultors:
I) How was the Roman Religion actually, in contrast to the image that exists widespread?
II) What are the needs for Roman Polytheism and Paganism in general in our time?
III) Which of the classic models of philosophy can help us find a “theology” or spiritual view which we can apply?
When I began reading sources, like Cicero and Plutarch, it became quite clear that the view of the Secondary Texts and the resulting view of a part of the Cultors, seemed lopsided. There had been a certain image been cultivated, which in part was very old, that the Roman Religion was a sort of orthopractic, bureaucratic religion, almost devoid of spirituality and any form of theology. Upon further study, like reading the life of King Numa, various writings of Plutarch on the Roman Religion and the religiosity of the people in the Roman Empire, it became clear this view was basically a fabrication. Or maybe a level of wishful thinking. With so few sources left, and mostly sources from the state-level, it also seems clear, that those employed in the government have of course a particular desire to control the religion, a notion quite dominant in the past, but one that made me question how the Romans actually regarded and practiced their religion. For instance, when I read that Emperor Augustus had destroyed about 2000 books about prophecy, astrology and spirituality, it becomes clear that such notions were widespread in Roman society. Here we get a hint of a topic that almost all religions face: the will of a clergy to control and limit and the desire of the people to extend religiosity and become independent. For example, the question whether only state sanctioned Augury should be a legitimate way to question the Gods or other methods, is after all also a question of power, the power to monopolize spirituality.
Now despite some undertakings to restore a quasi-government, I came to the view that such an attempt is not feasible in our time, since there is no Roman State anymore, and the only way ahead is by creating a Priesthood that is independent. Religion is a difficult topic anyway, without being burdened by the extra weight of group politics and other interests. All my conversations and observations with people in various groups had made that clear to me, that developing a restored Roman Religion can only be done by people who are led by religious motivations, and not cross-motivations with other spheres. Redeveloping our religion will be a matter of many years and decades to come, so despite the fact that people have great plans and ideas, I came to prefer a development of small step by step movement, and not creating grand utopias in your room, but instead focusing on the next steps. I came to understand, that my part can be less in creating any form of organization, so instead I decided to focus on what I believe is my strength: creating ideas and systems for Roman Priests and Cultors.
Following this idea, I began to write essays and texts, and publish them on the Facebook Site “Schola Aetii”, responding to various questions and writing my view on various topics, like “How to find your personal God”, “On Prophecy and Visions” or “Duties of the Priest”. As a student of Greek Philosophy however, I was always trying to see into which of the Classic Greek Schools I would belong in my views. Sometimes it were ideas of Plato, other times of the Stoa and then again of Aristotle. I had been asked this several times, which of the Greek Schools of Philosophy would I regard myself into. And the answer I have to give now is: my own.
Now such a claim is of course on a level hubris. I have no house and no ordinary place to teach, and I am by far not that educated in Greek thinking as any of the founders of Greek Philosophy Schools. And I am not even Greek. Still, I realized that my ideas where too much my own, based on experience as a Priest and as a spiritual Seeker of the modern era, as well as a Historian and Social Scientist, I came to the point where I had to say: these ideas are basically mine. I had to own my system, so to speak. Now none of these ideas are existing in the air, but of course there are ideas from the teachings of Plato, from Seneca, from Cicero, from Aristotle and Plutarch, to name the most important sources. But either School, Stoa, Platonism and Aristotle has limitations or complexities, which I did not agree to. So the only way I have is to use the material I have, and further develop my own School of Thought. I can say now, this is probably the first time since the Platonic Academy was forced to be closed so many centuries ago, that a New Classic (Pagan) School of Philosophic Thought is created. It was not easy for me to name it after myself. I had preferred a name less connected with myself. But then, since I am the inventor and the one furthering the concept, it is a matter of honesty, so to speak, to name the School of Philosophy only after myself. I am most aware that I can in my lifetime never compare myself to any of the great Philosophers, but as things are, we Roman Cultors are all forced to grow to the demands of the time, and so we all must to a degree become builders. This is my attempt, and I hope it contributes to restoring the Classic Spirit for Roman Cultors but also beyond.
The questions the Schola Aetii will face in future writings will give a more collected overview of the basic premises and ideas, like the nature of the Gods, the aim of Religion, and role of the Priests, the character of the human soul and the balance between private and public religiosity. While some of these issues have been addressed in various Essays, I will write a comprehensive guide to the basic ideas of the Schola Aetii and my philosophy in it. To be clear: the Schola Aetii remains also a School of Priests, and pupils are not obliged to share the view of the Schola Aetii as Philosophical School. Any pupil can be Stoic, Platonist or anything else. I will just suggest my view, teach it and then it is up to our disciples to decide for their own view in this. But I firmly believe that offering a more coherent philosophy, something akin to a “Roman Pagan Theology”, is something I feel the need to develop. This view will remain a work in progress, and something I offer to anyone interested, both disciples of the Priest Courses, and of course anyone who is interested, hence the broader aim to develop into a full School of Philosophy, which will tackle any issue the classic schools faced. Despite I had some leanings towards Plato, I also have enough elements where I disagree with Plato and each of the Platonic Schools who formed later, so while a lofty goal, I came to the point where I feel the necessity to develop the Schola Aetii not only as Course for Priests, but also as first new Classic School of Philosophy.
Let me take this opportunity to thank all those who as disciples and generally showed interest in what I have to say about being a Roman Priest or Cultor. I hope to hear from you in the new year and we can move ahead from there. I am aware my work has by now attracted many curious people, and I hope to add ideas to the debates, which inspire others, both the Roman Cultors, but also people outside of our religion. As such, the Schola Aetii remains open to debate, and I am looking forward to move on in the coming year.
C Florius Aetius
Magister Schola Aetii