The Roman Empire and Freedom of Movement

The feature of EU membership which more than any other seems to have contributed to Britain’s exit from that institution is freedom of movement. Yet, as explained in a recent article in the Catholic Herald, there is nothing particularly innovative about this concept as is demonstrated by a look at several early Christians. St Paul, St Augustine and several others (including St Helena) are examples of the free movement that existed within the Roman Empire where subjects considered being Roman more important than belonging to a more narrow ethnic or linguistic group into which they were born. The article offers this by way of discussion:

You may recall Evelyn Waugh’s wonderful novel Helena, where the heroine, daughter of Old King Coel, born in Colchester, sees Rome for the first time as an old lady. Of course, we know very little for sure about the origins of the Empress Helen, but one thing is for sure, she travelled widely all over the Empire, as did her son, and considered herself Roman, an identity that transcended birthplace and ethnicity.

Similarly, St Augustine was likely a dark-skinned Berber and St Paul was a Jew and a Pharisee but these were details as opposed to the importance of their Roman citizenship which allowed them to move freely from place to place. While it is not spelled out in the article, the implication is that this freedom of movement was important to the spread of early Christianity. The historic concept has been popularized recently in writings of historian Mary Beard but these have come too late to be of any use in the campaign against Brexit.

Another Roman Catholic source, this one an apparently unofficial weblog called The Rad Trad, has published an article on the ever-vexing topic of birth control (referred to in religious circles as “Natural Family Planning” or “NFP”). In the course of the discussion, published during NFP Awareness Week, it quotes Evelyn Waugh at some length:

“Evelyn Waugh mocked the rise of the birth control movement in his 1932 novel Black Mischief, when the Minister of Modernization in a small African nation attempted to spread propaganda to the uneducated masses by means of a colorful poster design:

It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity — crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single, healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?

Interest in the pictures was unbounded; all over the island woolly heads were nodding, black hands pointing, tongues clicking against filed teeth in unsyntactical dialects. Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.

See: on right hand: there is rich man: smoke pipe like big chief: but his wife she no good: sit eating meat: and rich man no good: he only one son.

See: on left hand: poor man: not much to eat: but his wife she very good, work hard in field: man he good too: eleven children: one very mad, very holy. And in the middle: Emperor’s juju. Make you like that good man with eleven children.

And as a result, despite admonitions from squire and vicar, the peasantry began pouring into town for the gala, eagerly awaiting initiation to the fine new magic of virility and fecundity.”

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