Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Latin Quotes Worth Knowing: Vitae Necisque Potestas (The Authority of the Pater Familias)

The Pater Familias

In ancient Rome, the oldest living male in one's paternal family was known as your Pater Familias, "The Father of the Family."

And the power the Pater Familias wielded was absolute and severe within the family.

It was described, in Roman custom as Vitae Necisque Potestas, The Power of Life and Death. And by death, we mean the right to kill.

Vitae Necisque Potestas

The power of life and death. The grammar of this is simple enough:

Grammar Points
of life
gen. sing. fem. noun
vita, vitae
and of death
gen.sing. fem. noun
nex, necis
The power
nom. sing. fem. noun
potestas, potestatis

There is an important legal distinction between the terms potestas (power), facultas (faculty) and auctoritas (authority). The fact that this is a potestas implies that it can be done, even irrationally, but is still legal. 

An interesting comparison is that, in Catholic Theology, a priest as the potestas to consecrate the Eucharist. He can do so, validly, even when it might be inappropriate and unseemly to do so. A priest has the facultas to hear confessions in more limited settings. Without permission to be hearing confessions in a specific time and place, and not in the danger of death, a priest's absolution after hearing a confession in a Church could be invalid.

I wrote a short story in which the phrase Vitae Necisque Potestas plays a key role. Click to read and I hope you enjoy it.

No comments:

Post a Comment