Saturday, January 30, 2016

Latin Worth Knowing: When in Rome, do as the Romans do...

If you search online for the Latin original of this well-known adage, you will find it rendered as:


si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre; si fueris alibī, vīvitō sicut ibi.
"If you are at Rome, live in the Roman style; if you are elsewhere, live as they live there."

This quote is attributed to St. Ambrose, but this particular Latin formulation is of early modern origin (vid. Ductor Dubitantium, Jeremy Taylor [1660].

The actual authentic Latin language antecedent of the sentiment is what is most worth knowing.

St. Augustine, with his mother St. Monica, was visiting Rome. The Roman Christians fasted on Saturday. That was not the custom elsewhere. His scrupulous mother wanted to know what they should do. So Augustine asked his mentor St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. His response was:

Cum Romam venio, ienuno Sabbato. Cum hic sum, non ienuno; Sic etiam tu, ad quam forte Ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalo, nec quemquam tibi. (Epistle to Januarius 2.3)
When I come to Rome, I fast on the Sabbath. When I am here (in Milan), I don't fast; Thus also (should) you (do), to what Church, by chance, you come, observe its custom, if you want to neither be a scandal to someone, nor someone (give scandal) to you.

I'm an Eastern Orthodox Christian of Lutheran heritage and nurture, married to a New Calendar Romanian Orthodox, communing in an Old Calendar (12 day tardy) Russian Orthodox Church.  

I joke, therefore, that I start the fasts with the Russians, and I end them with the Romanians.

But seriously, then as now, St. Ambrose points out that the fasts, as with the Sabbaths, were made for Man, not Man for them. Serve God to the best of your ability. Give no one offense. 

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