When Family Falls, Society Falls

The Romans thrived as long as they cherished marriage and family, and degenerated when they stopped. We are following their path to ruin.

History shows that the strength of any nation depends on the strength of its families. Family is the rock-solid foundation on which a country’s superstructure is erected. That was the case for both America and Britain in their rise to greatness.

Rome in its heyday was affluent and had the mightiest army on Earth, just like America today. Back then, when people talked about Rome falling, they were scoffed at and scorned. When Seneca, the famous statesman and philosopher who served the early Roman Empire, warned that Rome would fall—even telling people why it would fall—people ignored him.

In the words of Seneca, one of the foundational reasons Rome would fall was the fact that “they divorce in order to remarry. They marry in order to divorce” (emphasis mine throughout).

Seneca warned that family breakdown would destroy the empire!

This warning could just as easily apply to America and Britain today! Strong marriages have grown all too rare. Fewer people are even marrying at all. Same-sex “marriage” is now federally mandated in America—redefining the very definition of this fundamental institution (article, page 21). Four in 10 children are born outside of marriage. Many more grow up in neglectful homes. Family disintegration is rampant in these nations.

The decline of the family in our society is clearly having the same devastating effect on us that it did in ancient Rome.

Father-Led Families

Under the direction of Plain Truth publisher Herbert W. Armstrong, Ambassador College Press published a booklet in 1971 called The Modern Romans. Drawing upon the parallels between ancient Roman civilization and the modern powers of America and Britain, this booklet devoted a chapter to “The Home: Foundation of Greatness or Decadence.” That chapter said: “Largely forgotten today is the fact that the home is the basic foundation of any society. It is the most influential element in national character. It lays the first groundwork for learning individual character, values, goals, morality, self-control and loyalty.

“The early Romans basically understood this. And it was a force that helped Rome grow in power and stature.”

In his book Rome: Its Rise and Fall, Philip Van Ness Myers wrote, “First, at the bottom as it were of Roman society and forming its ultimate unit, was the family. … The most important feature or element of this family group was the authority of the father.”

Rome, like the United States, was built on a foundation of strong, stable families in which the father was embraced as the chief authority!

The father was the nucleus of the early Roman family. He led his sons and daughters and was an example of the virtues they were to develop.

Myers continued, “It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of this group [father-led family] upon the history and destiny of Rome. It was the cradle of at least some of those splendid virtues of the early Romans that contributed so much to the strength and greatness of Rome, and that helped to give her dominion of the world.”

Children who grow up in strong families learn respect for authority and obedience. This naturally produces law-abiding, productive citizens, and nurtures virtues of leadership in that upcoming generation. This was certainly the case in early Rome. Myers wrote, “[T]he exercise of the parental authority in the family taught the Roman how to command as well as how to obey—how to exercise authority with wisdom, moderation and justice.”

Yes, family provides training in leadership and in how to work fruitfully within larger groups such as a church, a company and society. It is easy to see how strong nations are underpinned by strong families.

In his 1961 book Ancient Education and Today, E. B. Castle wrote about the change in educational standards over the course of Roman history. “The [early Roman] boy’s upbringing was founded on a profound conviction of the power of example, first of the father himself as a representative of virtues peculiarly Roman, but also of the great prototypes of Roman valor in the boy’s family and national history who were presented to him as men worthy of admiration,” he wrote.

What a difference it makes in the life of a young person to have an involved father who provides a strong personal example of virtue! A youth who grows up in a home with a man who exemplifies manliness, valor and courage is far likelier to take on these qualities himself.

Tacitus, a Roman historian of the early empire, wrote, “In the good old days [of the Roman Republic], every man’s son, born in wedlock, was brought up not in the chamber of some hireling nurse, but in his mother’s lap and at her knee. And that mother could have no higher praise than that she managed the house and gave herself to her children ….” These are the words of a Roman historian on the woman’s role. Note that: Society valued women for rearing, educating and loving the children, and giving those young people the time and tender care they needed.

“Religiously and with the utmost delicacy she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but their recreations also and their games,” Tacitus continued (Dialogue on Oratory).

“The idea of entrusting the training of a future Roman citizen to the incompetent guidance of a slave was repellent to the Roman mind at this time,” Castle wrote.

God says that is the way it ought to be: Families need to stick together (Matthew 19:4-5). Husbands and wives must work to bind their marriages together. God said they ought to cleave to one another and become one flesh.

Fracturing Families

Rome never had a biblical family model near as strong as early America’s biblical family model. But the family was the self-sufficient unit that undergirded society. The republic grew in power when fathers fed and educated their own children.

Sadly, however, the Romans, like Americans today, began to turn to a new morality that no longer valued marriage and the family. This caused them to neglect and disrespect this institution that had undergirded the Republic at its peak in the second century b.c.

That was when Rome successfully destroyed its commercial competitor, Carthage, in a 17-year war. After that war, the Roman Republic controlled a strongly united Italy and gained mastery of the western Mediterranean, which provided it funds to conquer the Greeks in the east. Historian Will Durant wrote about the long-lasting consequences of that victory: “It began the transformation of Roman life and morals by hurting agriculture and helping trade; by taking men from the countryside and teaching them the violence of battle and the promiscuity of the camp. … It was a pivotal event for almost every phase of Roman history.” The breakdown in family continued unabated after the Republic was transformed into Empire.

In Rome, divorce grew increasingly common. E.B. Castle wrote how burgeoning trade, wealth and prosperity pulled husbands out of the home on business trips for long periods. “Added to this initial cause of family disruption,” he wrote, “was the consequent easy attitude to the marriage tie, the increasing frequency of divorce, and growing freedom and laxity in women’s morals, all of which ended in a loosening of the old family unit in which the best in Roman character had its roots” (op cit).

History shows clearly that this was a foundational reason for the end of the Republic and the later fall of the mighty Roman Empire. We ignore this history at our peril.

Today, divorces are stunningly easy to get. Yet most people have rejected the law of cause and effect. We think we can discard marriage and family and suffer no consequences. The history of Rome ought to be a shrill warning about the inevitable fruits of such family breakdown!

In Rome, as marriage fell out of favor, prostitution and homosexuality became more widely practiced. Affluence and materialism made people less interested in even having children. Starting with the educated classes, who saw the young as a burden, more and more people couldn’t be bothered with family life. Motherhood became devalued; women wanted independence.

Leaders tried to reverse the trend. Caesar Augustus passed a set of laws encouraging marriage and punishing celibacy and adultery. In a.d. 9, he asked the forum, “How can the commonwealth be preserved if we neither marry nor produce children?” Yet the people were too attached to their hedonistic lifestyles to want children getting in their way. Thus, Tacitus wrote in his Annals, “Childlessness prevailed.”

Throughout human history, declining fertility has been a glaring sign of cultural collapse. If people lack purpose in life, they have no motivation to perpetuate it by creating more life.

Rome also became well known for how cheaply it valued the life of its little ones. A society coarsened by violence widely practiced abortion, even infanticide. Sadly, this has become a rallying cry for the left in America: People demand the right to kill their own unwanted babies—even after birth! In America’s 2022 midterm elections, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many states passed laws guaranteeing legal abortion. Voters in Montana even rejected a bill that, in the words of the state representative who introduced it, was intended “to protect infants who have survived abortions from being denied medical care and being left to die.” Daily Wire senior editor Cabot Phillips wrote, “Montana has voted to let babies die on operating tables if they survive an abortion attempt. We deserve the judgment we will face for our wickedness.”

In Rome, those families that did have children stopped rearing them. In his book Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Jérôme Carcopino wrote that by the beginning of the second century a.d., Roman fathers had “yielded to the impulse to become far too complaisant. Having given up the habit of controlling their children, they let the children govern them, and took pleasure in bleeding themselves white [financially] to gratify the expensive whims of their offspring. The result was that they were succeeded by a generation of idlers and wastrels.” It is no surprise then that the Roman Empire peaked in power and might in the second century a.d.

Look honestly at Western societies today: Our parenting is exactly the same!

In Isaiah 3, the ancient prophet warned that family breakdown would be a defining feature in America and Britain before the return of Christ. He also explained how this would come about: “For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counseller, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour …” (Isaiah 3:1-5).

God said strong leaders, including strong fathers, would be rare, and that children and teenagers would rule the family and dominate the culture. Does that sound like America and Britain today?

“[T]he child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable” (verse 5). Look around you! Is there any doubt children and teenagers rule over adults and dominate society and culture?

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (verse 12).

This is a towering lesson of history: A nation’s success or failure hinges on the strength or weakness of its families. That is what ancient Rome teaches us, and that is what God is telling us in Isaiah 3.

In Isaiah’s prophecy, the family is so upside down and the father is so anemic that he’s not even mentioned. Where are the fathers that God says should be leading their families—the type of fathers that helped make Rome great? In this prophecy, the women are ruling, although even they are being oppressed by the children. In reality, the children are leading, just as they were in ancient Rome before its monstrous collapse!

The history of Rome confirms what the Bible teaches about marriage and family!

The Need for Fathers

God created human reproduction so that every child has a father and a mother. Both roles are crucial, and they are different. The two-parent household—children growing up in a home with their own two biological parents, who are married—has been the best way to rear children all over the world, for all of man’s history! This is irrefutable.

But in our “enlightened” thinking today, people want to pretend that this isn’t true. They insist that divorce doesn’t hurt children, or that it’s perfectly normal to have two mommies or two daddies. The transgender movement talks about “pregnant people” rather than mothers, because they insist women who think they are men are in fact men! Some birth certificates now read “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” rather than father and mother! This is how insane our thinking has become.

We live in a culture that constantly undermines the role of the father. (You can learn more about the attack on fatherhood by requesting a free copy of Conspiracy Against Fatherhood.) Throughout history, mankind understood that children need fathers—but now psychologists are trying to tell us that the father is unnecessary for rearing healthy children. The history of Rome teaches that these people have no idea what they’re talking about!

Actually what these studies and the pervasive anti-father movement are telling you is how to DESTROY families and destroy nations.

What does the Bible say about the critical role of the father? “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:5-9).

That passage, among many others, tells us that God is a Father!

In fact, one of the greatest truths taught in the Bible is that God is a Family! The Bible teaches that marriage and family are God-ordained institutions, created for a divine and spectacular purpose. Some people understand the importance of family, but even they (in almost all cases) don’t really understand the incredible human potential of a person to be born into the very Family of God!

You can learn about the spiritual dimension of marriage and family by requesting free copies of The Missing Dimension in Sex and God Is a Family.

Family and marriage have such inspiring meaning. We must understand it if we are ever to have strong families and strong nations!