Why is a Christian organization named after a pagan, Roman statesman?
This is a fair question, and we sometimes answer by saying, half-jokingly, that “we had to since the ‘Augustinians’ was already taken.”
Taking the name of Cicero, though, is far from an empty signal to the world of public intellectuals and classicists. Cicero lived at a time when much of what made the Roman Republic great and successful was being either forgotten or deliberately rejected. Ambitious and vindictive men like Marius, Sulla, Clodius Pulcher, and Crassus exploited class warfare to their advantage with considerable violence, and the precarious order of Roman life was being threatened by internal divisions and power struggles.
Cicero and others, like Cato, fought to preserve Roman peace and prosperity. At times, they compromised their principles and beliefs, but they also possessed an insightful perspective on what was necessary for Rome to avoid descending into chaos, tyranny, and empire. Cicero ultimately failed in his task and was tragically flawed in important ways. But his writings and teachings would endure for millennia after his death, shaping education, philosophy, rhetoric, politics, and much more. His love of tradition, beauty, and place, and his appreciation for the role of the sacred in human life, make him an exemplary and influential figure in the history of the Western world.
The Ciceronian Society is not, then, an organization dedicated to Ciceronian scholarship – though we enthusiastically encourage it. We also do not, necessarily, seek to imitate Cicero’s life except in one crucial sense: his love of humor. Like Cicero (most of the time), we take our work and our faith very seriously. We try not to always take ourselves too seriously.
Cicero does, though, represent a crucial parallel to our own time. By mentoring younger generations and through his writings and speeches he was trying to preserve the traditions, places, stories, teachings, and faith that kept his country alive for hundreds of years. He fought to preserve the rule of law and the art of rhetoric especially, and is one of the classical world’s greatest apologists for the importance of friendship. In the face of considerable violence, division, and distrust, Cicero courageously defended Roman law and tradition, even at the cost of his life.
In a world where variations of Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Clodius, Pompey, and Antony reappear with alarming regularity, we may do well to start with Cicero’s example and end with the infinitely greater life of Jesus Christ.
**The literature on Cicero’s life and work spans two millennia, but here are some places to start
- Marcus Tullius Cicero. Works. Loeb Editions. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1913-2010)
- Anthony Everitt. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. (Penguin Random House, 2003)
- Matthew Fox. Cicero’s Philosophy of History. (Oxford Univ., 2007)
- Michael C. Hawley. Natural Law Republicanism: Cicero’s Liberal Legacy. (Oxford Univ., 2022)
- Cary J. Nederman. The Bonds of Humanity: Cicero’s Legacies in European Social and Political Thought, ca. 1100–ca. 1550 (Penn State Univ., 2019)
- Walter Nicgorski. Cicero’s Skepticism and His Recovery of Political Philosophy. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
- ——. Cicero’s Practical Philosophy. (Univ. of Notre Dame, 2022)
- Catherine Steel. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Cicero (Cambridge Univ., 2013)
- Neal Wood. Cicero’s Social and Political Thought. (Univ. of California Press, 1988)
- Cicero (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Cicero | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Cicero Homepage (Univ. of Texas – Austin)
- Biographical Sketch of Cicero by Suzanne Cross
- Marcus Tullius Cicero (Online Library of Liberty)
- Cicero Works at Librivox
- Online Books by Cicero – UPenn
- Project Gutenberg Collection of Cicero Books
- Perseus Digital Library – Cicero