Two millennia ago in ancient Rome, one of the gravest punishments the Senate was empowered to hand down was the damnatio memoriae – literally damning the memory of a failed leader by erasing them, as completely as possible, from the historical record.

It’s an official forgetting. It’s a bold statement that some people, some actions, are unworthy to even serve as a warning to others. Some people can best serve history by being exiled from it.

I have no idea at all what pulled that little nugget of information to mind this afternoon. Yep. No idea at all. 

Lifetime appointment…

Aside from the celibacy thing, I’ve always thought being Pope would be a pretty good gig. You get to live in one of the world’s best and largest museums, you’re the absolute monarch of your own sovereign country, your personal bodyguard has those snappy uniforms, you’re head of the only organization I can think of that dates back to the time when a Caesar ruled the known world, and about a billion people go along (more or less) with whatever you tell them because you theoretically speak with the voice of God.Slide1 Let’s be real honest, even for a non-practicing Protestant like me, that sounds like a pretty sweet job. Plus, it’s a lifetime appointment, so it’s not like you’ve got some wackadoodle member of a House of Representatives running around trying to impeach you.

I’m not making light of Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. I think it shows a remarkable degree of self discipline to walk away from the kind of temporal authority that goes along with the fancy hats and armored thrones of his office. The guy was basically elected king at 78 – an age by which I plan to be either retired for over a decade, dead, or possibly both. By 85, I don’t think I can fault him for wanting a little down time before going off for a more personal and very final introduction to his maker.

Of course there’s more to the story than has come out in the media. Over two millennia the Catholic Church has gotten very skilled at guarding its secrets, so we may or may not ever really know what was going on inside the Vatican when the decision was made. I guess one of the perks of being the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter is you really don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.

If the princes of the church are looking for an unorthodox candidate, I’m happy to throw my hat, as it were, in the ring. My Latin is a little rusty, but pope-ing it seems like good work if you can get it.

Seven Hills…

Note: This post is based on notes I made on Wednesday, April 4. 2007 in Rome.

What we had was more an assault on the Eternal City than a tour… a nine hour mad dash across the city that took us from the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel and Mass in St. Peter’s Square, and to the Coliseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. There is so much history here… Where republican values were institutionalized in the West as well as where those ideals were lost for a millennium. Where empire was born out of civil war and the words of Cicero moved the world. Into the Forum Romanum, where victorious commanders were awarded their triumph down the Sacred Way into the Forum to the Capitoline. 2500 years of human history have passed this single spot.

The feeling one gets standing at the steps of the Curia, the old Senate house, or under the Arch of Titus looking down over the Forum are simply indescribable. Perhaps it’s simply my abject love of all things old, but it’s something like standing on a beach at night looking out at the dark sky bleeding into the even darker water and seeing the stars. You realize your own smallness against the backdrop of the universe. It’s an overwhelming feeling of awe and mixed with profound sadness at standing on the ruined remains of the ancient world’s sole superpower. It’s a striking reminder that all things pass in their time. Still, there is something overwhelmingly grand about Rome. Eternal City just about covers it.