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114. dear brothers and sisters, the lord’s prayer offers us the wisdom and help we need in confronting the problems of our age, the immoderate and proliferating threats of natural devastation. it has the courage to speak of the spiritual dangers we face: the danger of growing indifference, the danger of falling into despair in the face of growing inequality and injustice, the danger of indifference to the gifts and the riches of all creation, the danger of the violation of all kinds of human dignity, the danger of destruction by those who know not god and yet pretend to be spiritual masters, the danger of growing indifference to the dignity of the human person. and in this prayer, silently, we must learn to humbly seek the help we need to overcome these dangers and avoid their consequences.
in our research, we consistently tried to discover the main reasons why the roman empire lost its way. the problems were so numerous and, for the most part, so deeply rooted, that it was not easy to make a study of them even within the framework of a given approach. not only were the ancient authors not always clear in their explanations, but the problems they referred to were usually combined in such a way as to require patience and perseverance on our part in order to make sense of them. for example, it was assumed that the roman empire did not evolve on solid foundations, and that it is better to recognize the causes of its downfall: a lack of virtue, errors committed by rulers, or the decline of roman virtue in the period of freedom. but there are major difficulties in all of these hypotheses, and we found that the problem was not as simple as it seemed.
the latter two statements, which state that what made the end of the roman empire inevitable was the lack of virtue and the decline of virtue in the period of freedom, seem to be false, however attractive they may be. the problem was not that the empire did not have enough virtue, because rome was morally and spiritually highly developed: rather, it was that while rome remained internally intact and capable of exerting its power with energy, the empire lacked a very fundamental substance, precisely internal cohesion. in fact, the only lasting virtue of the later period of freedom was the military value of the roman army, but in this respect rome itself was no longer capable of keeping its barbarian opponents in check. the real reason for the empire’s downfall, and its fall into total disorder, was that there was no way for the empire to maintain itself as an organic whole without destroying its unity.
the fact is that the only way to maintain and to conserve an organic unity was the same as the only way to preserve the empire: through paternal authority, and this meant centralization, the dissolution of local autonomy, a reduction of free space, and the subordination of the individual to the power of the state. this was the key to the roman success and to the effectiveness of its military apparatus. it was only through a centralization based on the system of patrimonial rule that the empire could remain unified and strong, and this centralization, in turn, could only be achieved through the system of autocratic leadership.
the collapse of the roman empire involved no fewer than five factors, and it is not possible to reduce them to a single one. in the first place, there was the impact of the barbarian invasions and, in particular, the fifth century crisis. not only did they cause the collapse of the social and economic system, but in the midst of the chaos they filled the whole of the empire with the dust of the barbarian invasion. there was also the loss of rome’s military power. the army that left the empire after the fifth century crisis could no longer sustain the empire’s defences: the fifth century crisis led to the collapse of the military system. and finally, there was the collapse of the administrative and judicial system, which deprived the empire of its effective control over both society and its own territory. from this crisis only a short time could elapse before collapse occurred. the empire of rome crumbled in less than a century and a half: this was a result which history had not seen since the fall of the city-state of rome two thousand years previously.