Tuesday, October 09, 2018


Tres Faciunt Collegium

John Scheid, The Gods, the State, and the Individual: Reflections on Civic Religion in Rome, tr. Clifford Ando (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), pp. 67-68, with notes on p. 157:
Who says that all the people or even a large part of them ought to attend the thousand and one rites of public religion? Tres faciunt collegium: three people make a college. This Roman principle establishes that it sufficed that three persons be present in order for the collectivity concerned to have been represented, in the same way that the Jewish minyan constitutes a community empowered to act collectively. Literally meaning "number," the minyan is the quorum of ten adult males required to hold a public service.22 The Roman pontifex maximus, for his part, could not decide alone; two other pontiffs had to express the same opinion in order for his view to be valid. As Cicero explains in his speech On the Responses of the Haruspices, "what three pontiffs have decided has always seemed to the Roman people, always to the Senate, always to the immortal gods themselves sufficiently sacred, sufficiently august, sufficiently attentive to religious scruple."23 The protocols of cult celebrated at Rome and in the Roman suburbs reveal that the twelve Arval Brethren were generally not all present, though they were charged with public sacrifice. We know as well that a number of ordinary citizens were present for the rites. But if it was necessary that a minimal number of celebrants be present in order for the cultic act to be valid, the addition of a fourth or a twelfth priest mattered not at all. This point deserves emphasis. In public cult, there was no need to judge the quality of a religious act by the number of celebrants present, and no further benefit derived in proportion to the number of citizens attending a cultic act, as if there were some necessary relation between the conviction and fervor of individuals and the size of the audience. In a religion that granted primacy to the obligation and the exactitude of ritual performance, piety consisted above all in observing ritual requirements, not in going beyond them. A Roman would have been tempted to describe as superstitious any superfluity of fervor.

22. Jean-Christophe Attias and Esther Benbassa, Dictionnaire de civilisation juive (Paris: Larousse, 1997).

23. Cicero, De haruspicum responsis 12.

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