City of God
SC94BAbridged edition of St Augustines timeless classicphilosophizes history and the struggle between good and evil.
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SC94BAbridged edition of St Augustines timeless classicphilosophizes history and the struggle between good and evil.
No book except the Bible itself had a greater influence on the Middle Ages than City of God. Since medieval Europe was the cradle of today’s Western civilization, this work by consequence is vital for understanding our world and how it came into being.
Saint Augustine is often regardarded as the most influential Christian thinker after Saint Paul, and City of God is his materpiece, a cast synthesis of religious and secular knowledge. It began as a reply to the charge that Christian otherworldiness was causing the decline of the Roman Empire. Augustine produced a wealth of evidence to prove that paganism bore within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Then he proceeded to his larger theme, a cosmic interpretation of in terms of the struggle between good and evilL the City of God in conflict with the Earthly City or the City of the Devil. This, the first serious attempt at a philosophy of history, was to have incalculable influence in forming the Western mind on the relations of church and state, and on the Christian’s place in the temporal order.
The original City of God contained twenty-two books and filles three regular-sized volumes. This edition has been skillfully abridged for the intelligent general reader by Vernon J. Bourke, author of Augustine’s Quest for Wisdom, making the heart of this monumental work available to a wide audience.
Saint Augustine was born to a Catholic mother and a pagan father on November 13, 354, at Tagasta, near Algiers. He studied Latin literature and later taught rhetoric in Rome and Milan. He originally joined the Manicheans, a religious sect, but grew unhappy with some of their philosophies. He soon turned to Christianity and was baptized in 386. One of Augustine's major goals was a single, unified church. He was ordained a priest in 391 and appointed Bishop of Hippo, in Roman Africa, in 396, His writings and arguments with other sects include the Donatists and the Pelagians. On the Trinity, The City of God, and On Nature and Grace are some of his important writings. Confessions, which is considered his masterpiece, is an autobiographical work that recounts his restless youth and details the spiritual experiences that led him to Christianity. Many of Augustine's ideas, such as those concerning sin and predestination, became integral to the doctrines of the Church. Augustine died on August 28, 430AD.
The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness
Christianity Did Not Cause the Fall of Rome
M y dear marcellinus:1 This work which I have begun makes good my promise to you. In it I am undertaking noth-ing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder. I shall consider it both in its temporal stage here below (where it journeys as a pilgrim among sinners and lives by faith) and as solidly established in its eternal abode—that blessed goal for which we patiently hope ‘until justice
1 Marcellinus, fervent Christian and, until his death in Septem-ber, 413, close friend of St. Augustine, was appointed by the Emperor Honoring (395–423) as a Commissioner to deal with the dispute between Catholics and Donatists in North Africa. Eager for the conversion of the pagan but well-disposed imperial pro-consul, Volusianus, he sought the help of Augustine and was thus the occasion for the correspondence between the proconsul and the saint which still survives and throws much light on the begin-nings of the City of God. St. Augustine began in 412 ( and finished in 415) the first five Books which, as he tells us in his Retractations (chap. 69), were meant as a refutation of the pagan position that polytheism is necessary for social prosperity and that the prohibi-tion of pagan worship ‘is the source of many calamities.’
be turned into judgment,’2 but which, one day, is to be the reward of excellence in a final victory and a perfect peace. The task, I realize, is a high and hard one, but God will help me.3
I know, of course, what ingenuity and force of arguments are needed to convince proud men of the power of humility. Its loftiness is above the pinnacles of earthly greatness which are shaken by the shifting winds of time—not by reason of hu-man arrogance, but only by the grace of God. For, in Holy Scripture, the King and Founder of the City of which I have undertaken to speak revealed to His people the judgment of divine law: ‘God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.’4 Unfortunately the swollen spirit of human pride claims for itself this high prerogative, which belongs to God alone, and longs and loves to hear repeated in its own praise the line: ‘To be merciful to the conquered and beat the haughty down.’5
Hence, in so far as the general plan of the treatise demands and my ability permits, I must speak also of the earthly city—of that city which lusts to dominate the world and which, though nations bend to its yoke, is itself dominated by its pas-sion for dominion.
From this earthly city issue the enemies against whom the City of God must be defended. Some of them, it is true, abjure their worldly error and become worthy members in God’s City. But many others, alas, break out in blazing hatred against it and are utterly ungrateful, notwithstanding its Re-deemer’s signal gifts. For, they would no longer have a voice to raise against it, had not its sanctuaries given them asylum as they fled before the invaders’ swords, and made it possible for them to save that life of which they are so proud.
2 Ps. 93.15.
3 Ps. 61.9.
4 James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5.
5 Virgil, Aeneid 6.853.
Have not even those very Romans whom the barbarians spared for the sake of Christ assailed His Name? To this both the shrines of the martyrs and the basilicas of the Apostles bear witness: amid the city’s devastation, these buildings gave refuge not only to the faithful but even to infidels. Up to the sacred threshold raged the murderous enemy, but the slayers’ fury went no farther. The merciful among the enemy con-ducted to the churches those whom they had spared even outside the holy precincts, to save them from others who lacked such mercy. Even these ruthless men, who in other places cus-tomarily indulged their ferocity against enemies, put a rein to their murderous fury and curbed their mania for taking cap-tives, the moment they reached the holy places. Here, the law of sanctuary forbade what the law of war elsewhere permitted. Thus were saved many of those who now cry down Christian culture and who blame Christ for the calamities that befell the city. Indeed, that very mercy to which they owe their lives and which was exercised in Christ’s Name they ascribe not to our Christ but to their Fate. Yet, if they only had sense, they would see that the hardships and cruelties they suffered from the enemy came from that Divine Providence who makes use of war to reform the corrupt lives of men. They ought to see that it is the way of Providence to test by such afflictions men of virtuous and exemplary life, and to call them, once tried, to a better world, or to keep them for a while on earth for the accomplishment of other purposes. As for the fact that the fierce barbarians, contrary to the usage of war, generally spared their lives for Christ’s sake and, in particular, in places dedicated to Christ’s Name—which by a merciful Providence were spacious enough to afford refuge to large numbers—this they should have credited to Christian culture. They should thank God and, if they would escape the pains of eternal fire, should turn to His Name with all sincerity—as many have, without sincerity, in order to escape the results of the present ruin.
For, many of those whom you see heaping impudent abuse on the servants of Christ would not have escaped the ruin and massacre had they not falsely paraded as servants of Christ. Now, with ungrateful pride, impious madness, and perversity of heart, they work against that Name. They who turned to that Name with a lying tongue, in order to enjoy this tempo-ral light, deserve the penalty of eternal darkness.
The chronicles are filled with wars waged before Rome was founded, and since it rose and grew to be an empire. Let the pagans read these chronicles, and then adduce one single instance of a city falling into the hands of a foe disposed to spare men seeking refuge in the temples of their gods. Or let them even point to a single barbarian chieftain who captured a town and then ordered his soldiers not to kill those caught in any of the temples. Did not Aeneas see Priam cut down before the altar, ‘polluting with his blood the altar fires of his own consecration’?1 And did not Diomedes and Ulysses ‘cut down the sentries in the towered height; since they grasped the holy image and dared with bloody hands to touch the maiden chaplets of the goddess’?2 Nor did that which follows come true: ‘Since
then the hope of Greece ebbed and slid away.’3 For, after this, they conquered; after this, they wiped out Troy with fire and sword; after this, they cut off Priam’s head before the altar to which he fled. Nor did Troy perish because it lost its Palladium—Minerva. And what had Minerva herself first lost that she should perish? The guardians of her statue? To be sure, once they were slain, Minerva could be taken away. It was not the effigy that guarded the men, but the men who guarded the effigy. For what earthly reason was Minerva worshiped as the protector of the land and people, when she could not even protect the guards of her temple?
1 Aeneid 2.501.
2 Ibid. 2.166ff.
Just think of the kind of gods to whose protection the Ro-mans were content to entrust their city! No more pathetic il-lusion could be imagined. Yet, the pagans are angry with us because we speak so frankly of their divinities. However, they feel no anger against their own writers. They even pay them a fee to teach such nonsense, and think such teachers worthy of public salary and honors. Take Virgil. Children must read this greatest and best of all poets in order to impress their tender minds so deeply that he may never be easily forgotten, much as the well-known words of Horace suggest:
The liquors that new vessel first contains
Behind them leave a taste that long remains.1
Now, in Virgil, Juno is pictured as the foe of the Trojans and as saying, while she goads Aeolus, King of the Winds, against them:
The nation that I hate in peace sails by,
With Troy and Troy’s fallen gods to Italy.2
Did they act wisely in placing Rome’s immunity from defeat in the hands of such vanquished deities? Even assuming that Juno spoke these words in a fit of feminine anger, not knowing what she said, does not Aeneas himself, so often styled ‘the pious,’ relate how
Panthus, a priest of Phoebus and the Tower,
Rushed with his nephew and the conquered gods
And, frantic, sought for shelter at my door.3
Does he not admit that the very gods, whom he declares ‘con-quered’ are entrusted to his protection rather than he to theirs, when he is
1 Horace, Epistles 1.2.69.
2 Virgil, Aeneid 1.67.
3 Ibid. 2.319ff.
given the charge, ‘To thee doth Troy commend her gods, her all’?4 If, then, Virgil describes such gods as van-quished, and, because vanquished, needing a man’s help even to escape, surely it is folly to believe that it was wise to entrust Rome to the safe-keeping of such divinities, and to believe that Rome could never be destroyed unless it lost its gods. In fact, to worship fallen gods as patrons and defenders is more like having poor odds5 than good gods. It is much more sensible to believe, not so much that Rome would have been saved from destruction had not the gods perished, but rather that the gods would have perished long ago had not Rome made every effort to save them.
For, who does not see, if only he stops to consider, how futile it is to presume that Rome could not be conquered when protected by conquered custodians, and that the reason it fell was that it lost its tutelary deities? Surely, the only possible reason why Rome should fall was that it wanted vincible pro-tectors. Hence, when all these things were written and sung about the fallen gods, it was not because the poets took pleas-ure in lying, but because truth compelled intelligent men to avow them. However, this matter will be more fitly and more fully treated in subsequent chapters. Here I shall do my best to wind up in few words what I began to say about men’s ingratitude.
These men, I say, hold Christ responsible for the evils which they deservedly suffer for their wicked lives. They have not the slightest appreciation of the fact, that, when they deserved to be punished, they were spared for Christ’s sake. On the con-trary, with impious perversity and bitterness, they attack His Name with those very tongues which falsely invoked that Name to save them. The very tongues which, like cowards, they held in check in the
4 Ibid. 2.293.
5 . . . tenere non numina bona, sed nomina mala. Nomina mala (if that is the correct reading and not omina mala) should be translated as ‘bad debtors,’ in the sense that the pagan gods do not pay back salvation in return for the worship given them; but for the sake of imitating the paronomasia, numina . . . nomina, ‘gods’ and ‘odds’ have been used. See note in De civitate Dei, ed. Emanuel Hoffman, CSEL XXXX (Vienna 1899) 8.
sacred places when safe, protected and unharmed by the enemy for Christ’s sake, they now use to hurl malicious curses against Him.
References to Virgil, Sallust, and Livy indicate that it was never customary for the temples or statues of the gods, in an-cient Greece and Rome, to be spared in time of war.
All the destruction, slaughter, plundering, burning, and dis-tress visited upon Rome in its latest calamity were but the normal aftermath of war. It was something entirely new that fierce barbarians, by an unprecedented turn of events, showed such clemency that vast basilicas were designated as places where refugees might assemble with assurance of immunity. There, no one was to be slain or raped; many destined for liberation were to be led there by the compassionate enemy; from there, none was to be dragged away into captivity by a cruel foe. That this was in honor of the Name of Christ and to the credit of Christian civilization is manifest to all. To see this and not acknowledge it with praise is ingratitude. To im-pugn those who give us credit is utterly unreasonable. Let no man with sense ascribe this to the savage ways of the bar-barians. It was God who struck awe into ruthless and blood-thirsty hearts, who curbed and wondrously tamed them. God who long ago spoke these words by the mouth of the Prophet; ‘I will visit their iniquities with a rod: and their sins with stripes. But My mercy I will not take away from them.’1
1 Ps. 88.33,34.
But, someone will say: ‘How, then, is it that this divine mercy was bestowed on impious and ungrateful man?’ Surely, the answer is that mercy was shown by the One who, day by day, ‘maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and rain-eth upon the just and the unjust.’1 For, although some who reflect on these truths repent and are converted from their wickedness, others, according to the words of the Apostle, de-spise ‘the riches of His goodness and long-suffering, in the hardness of their heart and impenitence’ and treasure up to themselves ‘wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God Who will render to every man ac-cording to his works.’2 Nevertheless, God’s patience is an in-vitation to the wicked to do penance, just as God’s scourge is a school of patience for the good. In like manner, God’s mercy embraces the good with love, just as His severity corrects the wicked with punishment. It has pleased Divine Providence to prepare for the just joys in the world to come in which the unjust will have no part; and for the impious, pains which will not afflict the virtuous. But, as for the paltry goods and evils of this transitory world, these He allotted alike to just and unjust, in order that men might not seek too eagerly after those goods which they see even the wicked to possess, or shrink too readily from those ills which commonly afflict the just.
However, there is a vast difference between the manner in which men use what we call prosperity and adversity. A good man is neither puffed up by fleeting success nor broken by adversity; whereas, a bad man is chastised by failure of this sort because he is corrupted by success. God often shows His intervention more clearly by the way He apportions the sweet and the bitter. For, if He visited every sin here below with manifest penalty, it might be thought that no score remained to be settled at the Last Judgment. On the other hand, if God did not plainly enough punish sin on earth, people might con-
1 Matt. 5.45.
2 Rom. 2.4ff.
clude that there is no such thing as Divine Providence. So, too, in regard to the good things of life. If God did not bestow them with patent liberality on some who ask Him, we could possibly argue that such things did not depend on His power. On the other hand, if He lavished them on all who asked, we might have the impression that God is to be served only for the gifts He bestows. In that case, the service of God would not make us religious, but rather covetous and greedy. In view of all that, when good and bad men suffer alike, they are not, for that reason indistinguishable because what they suffer is similar. The sufferers are different even though the sufferings are the same trials; though what they endure is the same, their virtue and vice are different.
For, in the same fire, gold gleams and straw smokes; under the same flail the stalk is crushed and the grain threshed; the lees are not mistaken for oil because they have issued from the same press. So, too, the tide of trouble will test, purify, and improve the good, but beat, crush, and wash away the wicked. So it is that, under the weight of the same affliction, the wicked deny and blaspheme God, and the good pray to Him and praise Him. The difference is not in what people suf-fer but in the way they suffer. The same shaking that makes fetid water stink makes perfume issue a more pleasant odor.