The Western Roman Emperor Theodoric, in a letter to his Praefectus Urbis, the official in charge of the needs of the city of Rome and it’s environs, on the occasion of some disquiet caused by public insults, wrote, by the hand of the Christian civil-servant Cassiodorus, “Your highest praise is a quiet people.” [Book 1, letter 32] Theodoric exemplified this belief in his various letters of instruction, writing to keep officials from oppressing the citizens by injustice, oppressive taxes, undue burdens, and so on. Citizens who are content give rulers little cause for alarm and demonstrate their just sovereignty.
From the viewpoint of the governed, Christians in general are commanded to pray for their governing officials in order that the Christians may be able to live quiet lives. This is contained in the Apostle Paul’s instructions in his first letter to his young protege Timothy.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1Timothy 2:1-2).
The Church took this to heart in it’s various writings. For example, in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, twice in prayers in Book VIII, Section II, this passage is referenced. Once, so that the quietness might enable Believers to glorify God through Jesus Christ (p. 489), and once, that the rulers themselves might be peaceable towards the Believers (p. 490). It is also present, in the same volume, in an early liturgy prayer to God on behalf of the king that the king may subdue all his adversaries and enemies so that there may be peace for his subjects to enjoy “a calm and tranquil life in all reverence and godly fear …” (p. 551). Of course, this carries the assumption that Christians are not among the adversaries and enemies. We are to “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1Peter 2:13-14).
Athenagorus, writing A Plea for the Christians to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, also referenced Paul’s instructions in his concluding plea for Believers to be fairly judged.
For who are more deserving to obtain the things they ask, than those who, like us, pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway? And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us (p. 148).
In each case, the just actions of the ruler is desired so that the governed are able to lead “a tranquil and quiet life.” This, in turn, reflects favorably on the ruler. His or her just rule brings the citizens to praise their ruler. The justice meted out restrains evil. The fairness of taxes enables the laborers to enjoy the fruit of their labors. The fair treatment of all demonstrates that all have equal value and worth.
And for Believers, this enables them to focus on obedience, not only to their earthly sovereign, but also to their ultimate sovereign, God. For Christians, this quietness is also important in our dealings with our fellow man. The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians at Rome, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). In regards to Believers with Believers, Paul also wrote “Live in peace with one another” (1Thessalonians 5:13). If we want peace, we must ourselves be peaceable.
But, if Theodoric’s statement is true about a governing official, would it not also be true about the ultimate official, God Himself? As citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, we Christians serve under a holy God. He has given us a handbook of behavior to which He has asked us to voluntarily submit. The question for us is, do we regard these instructions as onerous, too difficult to live by? Are we at peace with the way our Sovereign governs? Is it too difficult to be loving towards all? Is it unreasonable to ask us to live at peace with all men? Are we at peace with God when He allows things into our lives which are difficult to bear? Have we, like Paul, “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” we are. Do we “know how to get along with humble means, and … how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance” have we “learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12)? After all, didn’t Paul write “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13)? Is that true of us with our sovereign? Are we truly at peace with how He governs our lives? Does our attitude under our Sovereign reflect favorably upon His rule? Are we at peace with God? For those outside the Kingdom looking in, does our attitude towards our Sovereign cause them to want to become citizens as well? In regards to God Himself and our attitude towards the way He governs our lives, is it not perfectly true that His highest praise is His quiet people? Do we truly believe what one author wrote?
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Psalm 84:10-12)
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if our attitude in any and all circumstances does reflect favorably on our Sovereign’s rule. Do we glorify our King by our peaceable and quiet behavior, by our contentment with His rule?
Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, vol. 2) Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012
Bible, New American Standard, 1995 ed. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, The Letters of Cassiodorus. Teddington, Middlesex, England: The Echo Library, 2006.
Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, vol. 7) Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012