1. The philosophic debate on the Supreme Good and Evil
IT is clear to me that my next task is to discuss the appointed ends of these two cities, the earthly and the heavenly. Hence I must first explain, as far as is allowed by the limits I have designed for this work, the arguments advanced by mortal men in their endeavour to create happiness for themselves amidst the unhappiness of this life. My purpose is to make clear the great difference between their hollow realities and our hope, the hope given us by God, together with the realization – that is, the true bliss – which he will give us; and to do this not merely by appealing to divine authority but also by employing such powers of reason as we can apply for the benefit of unbelievers. Now the philosophers have engaged in a great deal of complicated debate about the supreme ends of good and evil; and by concentrating their attention on this question they have tried to discover what it is that makes a man’happy. For our Final Good is that for which other things are to be desired, while it is itself to be desired for its own sake. The Final Evil is that for which other things are to be shunned, while it is itself to be shunned on its own account. Thus when we now speak of the Final Good we do not mean the end of good whereby good is finished so that it does not exist, but the end where by it is brought to final perfection and fulfilment. And by the Final Evil we do not mean the finish of evil whereby it ceases to be, but the final end to which its harmful effects eventually lead. These two ends, then, are the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil. The search to discover these, and the quest for the attainment of the Supreme Good in this life and the avoidance of the Supreme Evil has been the object of the labours of those who have made the pursuit of wisdom their profession, amid the follies of this world. And although they have gone astray in different ways, the limits imposed by nature set bounds to their deviation from the path of truth, so that there were none who did not set the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil in one of three locations: in the soul, or in the body, or in both. On the basis of this threefold classification into what we may call the genera of philosophic schools, Marcus Varro by careful and minute examination noted such a wide variety of opinions, in his book On Philosophy1, that by the application of certain criteria of differentiation he easily arrived at a total of 288 sects, not sects already in existence but possible schools of thought.
To demonstrate this briefly, I have to begin with the point he made in the book above mentioned, that there are four objects which men ‘naturally’ seek, without the help of a teacher, without the assistance of any teaching, without conscious effort, and without acquiring the art of living (we call it ‘virtue’, and, without any doubt, it is something which is learned2). Men may long for pleasure, which is a stimulation of the bodily senses that gives delight; or for repose, the state in which the person suffers no bodily distress; or for a combination of these two (which Epicurus3 lumps together under the one name of pleasure); or, comprehensively, for the primary natural blessings4 (among which these Epicurean pleasures are included). These last may be concerned with the body – for example, the wholeness and health of its parts and the sound condition of the whole organism; or with the mind – for example, the abilities, small or great, which are to be found among the innate endowments of human beings. Now these four – pleasure, repose, the combination of these, and the primary natural blessings – are desiderata for us in respect that either virtue (which is to be implanted later by teaching) is desirable for their sake, or they are desirable for the sake of virtue; or else both are to be desired for their own sake. Thus twelve sects are produced, since on this method of classification each of the desiderata is multiplied by three. I shall demonstrate this in one case, and then there will be no difficulty in finding it to hold good for the rest. Well then, since physical pleasure may be subordinated to virtue of mind, or preferred to it, or bracketed equal, there is threefold division of schools of thought. Now physical pleasure is subordinated to virtue when it is brought into the service of virtue. For example, it is part of the obligation involved in virtue to live for one’s country and to produce sons for the sake of one’s country; and neither of those duties can be fulfilled without bodily pleasure. For such pleasure is a necessary accompaniment of eating and drinking in order to live, and of sexual intercourse with a view to procreation. On the other hand, when sensual pleasure is put above virtue, it is sought for its own sake, and it is believed that virtue should be brought into its service – that is, that the only purpose of virtue should be the achievement or maintenance of sensual pleasure. Now this is certainly an ugly way of life – it must be so when virtue is the slave of tyrant pleasure, although in this situation it is not to be called virtue. And yet this horrible degradation has some philosophers as its advocates and defenders. Again, pleasure is bracketed equal with virtue when neither is sought for the sake of the other, but both for their own sake. Hence, pleasure produces three sects, since it may be subordinated or preferred to virtue, or bracketed with it. The same holds good of repose, the combination of repose and pleasure, and the primary blessings of nature; each of those, it will be seen, gives rise to three sects. In accordance with the variations of human opinion, those three desiderata are each of them sometimes subordinated to virtue, sometimes preferred, and sometimes bracketed with it. Thus we arrive at a total of twelve sects. But this number in its turn is doubled on the application of one more differentia, namely that of social life, since any adherent of any of these sects adopts its principles either for his own sake or for the sake of his fellow-man as well, for whom he is bound to wish the same as he wishes for himself. It follows that there are twelve sects of those who suppose that some particular view should be held solely for one’s own sake, and twelve others of those who decide that they should take this or that philosophical position not simply for their own sake but for the sake of others also, whose good they aim at, as well as their own. These twenty-four sects are doubled again when another differentia is brought in from the New Academy; and so we get forty-eight. For obviously each individual can hold and defend the views of any one of those schools of thought as being certain, in the same way as the Stoics defended their view that the good of man, which is to bring him happiness, consists solely in virtue of character; while another may hold any one of them, but as being uncertain, in the same way as the New Academics defended views which to them seemed not certain, indeed, but probable.5 Thus there are twenty-four sects made up of those who consider that their views are to be adopted as certain, on account of their truth, and another twenty-four composed of those who hold that the same views should be held, though uncertain, on account of their probability. Again one adherent of any of those forty-eight sects may adopt the fashions of the general run of philosophers, while another may adopt the fashions of the Cynics,6 and this differentia also doubles the total, giving us ninety-six. Moreover, each philosophical theory can be upheld and followed in one way by men who love a life of leisure, like those who neither would nor could have time for anything but the study of theoretical doctrines; in another way by those who prefer a life of business, like those who engaged in philosophizing but at the same time were concerned in national politics and the affairs of government; in yet another by those who chose a life in which the two concerns were equally combined, like those who have devoted their time alternately to learned leisure and to pressing business. On the ground of those differences the number of sects may again be trebled, to reach the total of two hundred and eighty-eight.
I have set out these points from Varro’s book as briefly and clearly as I can, explaining his reasoning in my own words. Varro offers a refutation of all philosophies except one, which is the sect of his choice. He claims that this sect is the Old Academy, established by Plato and persisting down to the time of Polemo, who was, after Plato, the fourth head of the school called the Academy. This school, as Varro wants to make out, held its doctrines as certain; and by this mark he distinguishes it from that of the school of philosophy for whom everything is uncertain, the New Academy, that is, which started with Arcesilaus, the successor of Polemo. The sect of the Old Academy, in Varro’s judgement, was as free from error as from doubt Now to show in detail how the historian reaches his conclusion would take too long. Nevertheless the argument must not be completely omitted.
Varro, then, begins by setting aside all the differentiae which have multiplied the number of sects; and the reason why he holds that they should be set aside is that no difference about the Final Good is involved in them. For he considers that no sect of philosophy deserves that name unless it is distinct from the others in holding a different view of the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil. For indeed the only purpose man has in philosophizing is the attainment of happiness; but that which makes him happy is the Supreme Good itself. Therefore the only purpose of philosophizing is the Supreme Good. It follows that a sect which has not, as a sect, its own view of the Supreme Good does not deserve the name of a sect of philosophy. Consequently, when it is asked whether a wise man should be so concerned with social life that he wants the Supreme Good, which brings man happiness, for his friend as much as for himself, and is concerned to ensure it for his friend, or whether a wise man acts as he does solely for his own happiness, then the question is not about the Ultimate Good, but about taking or not taking a partner to share in this good, and that not for the philosopher’s own sake but for the sake of that partner, so that the wise man may rejoice in his companion’s good as in his own. Similarly when it is asked, in connection with the New Academics, to whom everything is uncertain, whether this is the right way to regard matters which are the proper subjects of philosophy, or whether we should regard philosophical doctrines as capable of certainty – which is the conviction of other philosophers – then the question is not about what should be pursued as the Ultimate Good, but whether we should have any doubts about the truth of the very good which, as it seems, we have to pursue – or, to put it more plainly, whether the pursuit of the Ultimate Good entails the assertion by the pursuer that it is the true Ultimate Good, or the assertion that it seems true to him, although it may be false; yet in either case the object of the pursuit is precisely the same good. Then again, in the application of the differentia derived from the fashions and habits of the Cynics, the question is not about the Ultimate Good, but whether anyone who pursues what seems to him the true good, whatever it may be, which seems to him the right object of pursuit, should adopt the fashions and habits of the Cynics in his life. In actual fact there were men who won the appellation of ‘Cynics’ by adhering to the same fashions and habits, though they pursued different objects as Final Goods, some pursuing virtue, others pleasure. Thus whatever it is that makes the distinction between Cynics and all other philosophers, it has had no influence on the choice of the good that is to bring them happiness, and on the adherence to it. For if it did in fact make any difference in this matter, then the same kind of behaviour would necessitate the pursuit of the same end and a different way of behaving would preclude it.
2. By this elimination Varro reaches a definition of three kinds of Ultimate Good
Then there are the three kinds of life: the first, without being slothful, is still a life of leisure passed in the consideration of truth or the quest for it; the second is busily engaged in the world’s affairs; the third is a balanced combination of the other two. Now when it is asked which of these is to be chosen for preference, here too there is involved no dispute about the Ultimate Good; the question at issue is which of those three entails difficulty in the attainment or conservation of the Supreme Good, and which assists it. For when anyone reaches the Ultimate Good it immediately brings him happiness; this is not the direct result of a life of learned leisure, or a life of public business, or a life which is an alternation of both. Certainly there can be many people living any one of those three lives and yet losing their way in the search for the Ultimate Good which brings men happiness.
Thus the question about the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil, which is the differentiating factor in philosophical sects, is something quite different from the questions about social life, the philosophic doubt of the Academics, the clothing and feeding habits of the Cynics; or the question about the three kinds of life, the leisured, the active, and the amalgam of the two. None of those questions entails any dispute about the Ultimate Good and Evil. Accordingly, since it is by application of those four differentiae (arising from social life, from the New Academy, from the Cynics, and from the triple classification of lives) that Marcus Varros arrived at the total of 288 sects (with the possible addition of others on the same principle), he then puts aside all those, since they do not involve any question about the pursuit of the Supreme Good. For this, he says, implies that they are not genuine sects and should not be so called. Thus he returns to those twelve schools of thought which are based on the question of man’s Supreme Good, whose attainment brings him happiness. Varro’s purpose is to demonstrate that only one of those has the truth while all the rest are mistaken. By the elimination of the differentia based on the three types of life two-thirds of the total are subtracted, leaving ninety-six. By elimination of the differentia introduced from the Cynics the number is brought down by one half, making forty-eight. If we exclude the differentia arising from the New Academics, we are again left with one half, namely twenty-four. If we also exclude the point introduced about social life, then twelve remain, the number doubled by that differentia to make twenty-four.
Now in respect of those twelve, no reason can be advanced why they are not to be regarded as genuine sects; for it is certain that the only object of their quest is the discovery of the Ultimate Good and the Ultimate Evil (though, in fact, the discovery of the Ultimate Good immediately discloses the Ultimate Evil as its contrary). These twelve sects are produced by multiplying by three of those four desiderata of ours: pleasure, repose, the two combined, and the primary natural blessings – Varro calls these primigenia. The four, as we know, are sometimes each of them subordinated to virtue, so that they are considered worth aiming at not on their own account but as instrumental to virtue; sometimes they are ranked above virtue, so that virtue is supposed to be essential not on its own account, but only with a view to the attainment or conservation of those desiderata; sometimes they are bracketed equal, so that these four, as well as virtue, are believed to be proper objects of desire for their own sakes. Thus the number four is multiplied by three, and we arrive at twelve sects. Varro, however, eliminates three of the four desiderata, namely, pleasure, repose, and their combination. This is not because he disapproves of those, but because pleasure and repose are included in the primigenia. What need, then, is there to produce three things out of these two – two things when pleasure and repose are separate objects of pursuit, and a third by the addition of the combined pursuit? For the primary natural blessings include these, besides many other things. Thus we have three sects that, in Varro’s judgement, demand careful examination, so that we may make our choice. For right reason will not allow more than one sect to be right, whether it is one of these, or is to be found elsewhere, as we shall see later. Meanwhile we must explain, as briefly and clearly as possible, how Varro selects one of these three. We must remember that these three sects arise from three views about the primary blessings of nature: that they are to be sought for the sake of virtue; that virtue is to be sought for their sake; that both virtue and the primary blessings are to be sought for their own sake.
3. Varro’s preference among the philosophical sects, based on the teaching of the Old Academy
Varro’s attempt to establish which of these three views is the true one, and the one to be adopted, proceeds as follows. To begin with, since the Ultimate Good sought for in philosophy is not the good of a tree, or a beast, or of God, but of man, he concludes that we must first ask: What is man? And in answer he gives his firm opinion that there are two elements in man’s nature, body and soul; and he has not the slightest doubt that of these two constituents the soul is the better and by far the more important. But is the soul by itself the man, so that the body stands to the man as the horse to the horseman? For a horseman is not a man and a horse, but only a man; and the reason why he is called a horseman is because of a certain relation to a horse. Or is the body by itself the man, standing in some such relation to the soul as that of the cup to the drink? For it is not the cup and the drink contained in it that are together called the cup, but the cup by itself; and yet the reason for that name is the fact that it is designed to contain the drink. Or again, is it neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself that constitutes the man, but the two combined, the soul and the body being each a part of him, but the whole man consisting of both? This would be analogous to applying the term ‘pair’ to two horses yoked together. The offside and the nearside horse are each of them parts of the pair, but we do not call either of them, however related to the other, a pair, but only use that term of the two in combination.
Of these three possibilities Varro chooses the third; man is neither the soul alone nor the body alone, in his view; he is soul and body in combination. It follows, he says, that the Supreme Good of man, which brings him happiness, consists in the combination of goods of both his elements, of soul, that is, and body. Accordingly, he holds that the primary blessings of nature are to be desired for their own sake, as also is virtue (which is implanted by teaching), as being the art of living, the most excellent among the goods of the soul. And therefore, when this virtue (the art of the conduct of life) has received the primary natural gifts which existed without virtue, in fact were there even when as yet they were without any instruction, she herself desires all these blessings for their own sake and at the same time aims at her own increase; thus she employs them and herself at the same time, in order that she may delight in all of them and enjoy them all. This enjoyment may be greater or less in proportion as each of these goods is of greater or lesser value. Nevertheless, she rejoices in all of them, although, if necessity requires, she may scorn some of the less important with a view to the attainment or conservation of those more valuable.
Of all these goods, however, whether of soul or body, there is none at all that virtue puts above herself. For virtue makes good use both of herself and of all the other goods which bring man happiness. But if she herself is not there, then, however many goods there are, they do the possessor no good, and so are not to be called his ‘goods’; for he uses these goods ill, and they cannot be of use to him. This is then the life of man which is rightly called happy – a life which enjoys virtue and the other goods of soul and body without which virtue cannot exist. But if a life enjoys any of the gifts, or many of them, which virtue can be without and still exist, it is called happier. And happiest of all if it enjoys all gifts without exception, so as to lack not even a single blessing of soul or body. Life, to be sure, is not the same thing as virtue, since not every kind of life, but only the wise conduct of life, is virtue. There can, indeed, be some sort of life without virtue; but there can be no virtue without any life at all. I could say the same of memory and reason, and any other such human characteristics. These exist before any teaching; in fact without them teaching would be quite impossible, and consequently virtue also would be impossible, since virtue is certainly developed by teaching. On the other hand, ability in running, beauty of body, outstanding physical strength and the like, can exist without virtue, just as virtue can exist without them. They are goods, for all that, and, according to these thinkers, even these goods are esteemed by virtue for their own sake, and she uses and enjoys them in a way appropriate for virtue.
The philosophers say also that this happy life is social, and for its own sake values the good of friends as its own, just as it wishes for them, for their own sake, what it wishes for itself. And ‘friends’ here may mean those in the same house, such as a man’s wife or children, or any other members of the household; or it can mean all those in the place where a man has his home, a city, for example, and a man’s friends are thus his fellow-citizens; or it can extend to the whole world, and include the nations with whom a man is joined by membership of the human society; or even to the whole universe, ‘heaven and earth’ as we term it, and to those whom the philosophers call gods, whom they hold to be a wise man’s friends – our more familiar name for them is ‘angels’. These philosophers assert that there can be no possibility of doubt about the nature of the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil, its opposite. This, they maintain, marks the difference between themselves and those of the New Academy. And it is not of the least importance to them whether anyone who engages in philosophy adopts the Cynic dress and eating habits, or any other fashion whatsoever, in his pursuit of those ends which they hold to be the true ends. Furthermore, of the three kinds of life, the leisured, the active, and the compound of these two, they declare that they approve the third. The members of the Old Academy held and taught these views; so Varro asserts on the authority of Antiochus,7 Cicero’s master and his own, though Cicero makes out that on many points Antiochus had more in common with the Stoics than with the Old Academy. But what does that matter to us? For we ought to form our judgement on the actual facts of the case, instead of attaching importance to knowing what any particular individual thought about them.
4. The Christian view of the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil, contrasted with that of the philosophers who found the Supreme Good in themselves
If, therefore, we are asked what reply the City of God gives when asked about each of these points, and first what view it holds about the Ultimate Good and the Ultimate Evil, the reply will be that eternal life is the Supreme Good, and eternal death the Supreme Evil, and that to achieve the one and escape the other, we must live rightly. That is why the Scripture says, ‘The just man lives on the basis of faith.’8 For we do not yet see our good, and hence we have to seek it by believing; and it is not in our power to live rightly, unless while we believe and pray we receive help from him who has given us the faith to believe that we must be helped by him. Whereas those who have supposed that the Ultimate Good and the Ultimate Evil are to be found in this life, placing the Supreme Good in the body, or in the soul, or in both (to put it more explicitly, in pleasure, or in virtue, or in both); in repose, or in virtue, or in both; in the combination of pleasure and repose, or in virtue, or in both; in the primary gifts of nature, or in virtue, or in both – all these philosophers have wished, with amazing folly, to be happy here on earth and to achieve bliss by their own efforts. The Truth ridiculed such people through the words of the prophet: ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of men’9 – or, as the apostle Paul quotes the passage, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of wise men are foolish.’10
For who is competent, however torrential the flow of his eloquence, to unfold all the miseries of this life? Cicero lamented them, as best he could, in his Consolation on the death of his daughter.11 But what did his best amount to? For, to tell the truth, when, where, how can the ‘primary gifts of nature’, so called, be in so flourishing a state in this life that they escape being tossed about at the mercy of chance and accident? For is there any pain, the opposite of pleasure, any disturbance, the contrary of repose, that cannot befall a wise man’s body? Certainly the amputation or enfeeblement of a man’s limbs makes havoc of his bodily soundness; ugliness despoils his beauty, sickness his health; weakness subdues his strength, lassitude or lethargy his mobility. And is there any of these which may not assault the wise man’s physical frame? The attitudes and movements of the body, when they are graceful and harmonious, are reckoned among primary gifts of nature. But what if some illness makes the limbs shake and tremble? What if a man’s spine is so curved as to bring his hands to the ground, turning the man into a virtual quadruped? Will not this destroy all beauty and grace of body whether in repose or in motion?
Then what about the primary goods, so called, of the mind itself? The two ranked first are sensation and understanding, because they lead to the apprehension and awareness of truth. But what kind of sensation is left, and how much of it, if a man becomes blind and deaf, not to mention other disabilities? And whither will reason and intelligence retire, where will they slumber, if a man is rendered insane by some disease? Crazy people say and do many incongruous things, things for the most part alien to their intentions and their characters, certainly contrary to their good intentions and characters; and when we think about their words and actions, or see them with our eyes, we can scarcely – or possibly we cannot at all – restrain our tears, if we consider their situation as it deserves to be considered. And what am I to say of those subjected to the attacks of demons? Where is their intellect hidden away under cover, while the malignant spirit employs their soul and body to work his own will? Yet is anyone quite confident that such a disaster cannot happen to a wise man in this life? Again, what sort of awareness of truth is there, how much awareness is there when we are in this material flesh, when, as we read in the truth-telling Book of Wisdom, ‘The perishable body weighs down the soul, and the earthly habitation presses down the mind as it ponders many questions’?12 Moreover, the impulse or urge towards action (if this is the right way to express what the Greeks call hormê), which is also counted among the primary gifts of nature, is not this impulse responsible for the gestures and actions of the insane that move our pity, that make us shudder, when sensation is perverted and reason is asleep?
Then again, what of virtue itself, which is not one of the primary gifts, since it supervenes on them later, introduced by teaching? Although it claims the topmost place among human goods, what is its activity in this world but unceasing warfare with vices, and those not external vices but internal, not other people’s vices but quite clearly our own, our very own? And this is the particular struggle of that virtue called in Greek sôphrosynê, which is translated ‘temperance’ – the virtue which bridles the lusts of the flesh to prevent their gaining the consent of the mind and dragging it into every kind of immorality. For it is never true, in this life, that vice does not exist, when, as the Apostle says, ‘the desires of the flesh oppose the spirit’; but to this vice there is an opposing virtue, when, as the same Apostle says, ‘the desires of the spirit oppose the flesh. For these two are in mutual opposition, so that you do not achieve what you want to achieve.’13 But what in fact, do we want to achieve, when we desire to be made perfect by the Highest Good? It can, surely, only be a situation where the desires of the flesh do not oppose the spirit, and where there is in us no vice for the spirit to oppose with its desires. Now we cannot achieve this in our present life, for all our wishing. But we can at least, with God’s help, see to it that we do not give way to the desires of the flesh which oppose the spirit by allowing our spirit to be overcome, and that we are not dragged to the perpetration of sin with our own consent. God forbid, then, that, so long as we are engaged in this internal strife, we should believe ourselves to have already attained that happiness, the end we desire to reach by our victory. And who has reached such a height of wisdom as to have no struggle to maintain against his lusts?
And what of that virtue called prudence? Does she not employ all her vigilance in distinguishing good from evil, so that in our pursuit of the good and our endeavour to shun the evil, no mistakes may creep in? And does not she herself thus testify that we are in the midst of evils, or rather that evils are in us? For she teachers us that it is an evil to consent in sinning, and a good to refuse to consent. But although prudence teachers us not to consent to that evil, and self-control causes us not to consent, neither prudence nor self-control removes that evil from this life. Consider the virtue of justice. The function of justice is to assign to each his due; and hence there is established in man himself a certain just order of nature, by which the soul is subordinated to God, and the body to the soul, and thus both body and soul are subordinated to God. Does not justice demonstrate, in performing this function, that she is still labouring at her task rather than resting after reaching its completion? For, we may be sure, the less the soul has God in mind in all its thinking, the less it is subordinated to God; and the more the desires of the flesh oppose the spirit, the less subordinate is the body to the soul. So long, therefore, as there is in us this weakness, this disease, this lethargy, how shall we dare to claim that we are saved? And if not saved, how shall we dare to assert that we are already blest with that final bliss? And then again, that virtue whose name is fortitude, however great the wisdom with which she is accompanied, bears most unmistakable witness to the fact of human ills; for it is just those ills that she is compelled to bear with patient endurance.
I am astounded at the effrontery of the Stoics in their contention that those ills are not ills at all, when they admit that if they should be so great that a wise man cannot or ought not to endure them, he is forced to put himself to death and to depart from this life.14 Yet so great is the stupefying arrogance of those people who imagine that they find the Ultimate Good in this life and that they can attain happiness by their own efforts, that their ‘wise man’ (that is, the wise man as described by them in their amazing idiocy), even if he goes blind, deaf, and dumb, even if enfeebled in limb and tormented with pain, and the victim of every other kind of ill that could be mentioned orimagined, and thus is driven to do himself to death – that such a man would not blush to call that life of his, in the setting of all those ills, a life of happiness! What a life of bliss, that seeks the aid of death to end it! If this is happiness, let him continue in it! How can these circumstances fail to be evil which overcome the good of fortitude, and not only compel that same fortitude to give way to them, but to reach such a pitch of delirium as to call a life happy and in the same breath persuade a man that he should make his escape from it? Is anyone so blind as to fail to see that if it were a happy life it would not be a life to seek escape from? In fact the admission that it is a life to be escaped from is an open confession of weakness. Then what keeps the Stoics from humbling their stiff-necked pride and admitting that it is a life of misery? Was it by patient endurance that Cato took his own life?15 Was it not rather through a lack of it? For he would not have so acted had he not been unable to endure Caesar’s victory. What happened, then, to his fortitude? Why, it yielded; it succumbed. It was so thoroughly defeated that it abandoned this ‘happy life’; it deserted and fled. Or was it a happy life no longer? If so, it was a wretched life. Then how can it be that those circumstances were not evil, if they made life a misery from which a man should escape?
This shows that those who acknowledged such things to be evils are talking in a more tolerable fashion; the Peripatetics, for example, and the members of the Old Academy – the sect supported by Varro. Even so, they also are guilty of a remarkable error, in contending that amid those evils, even if they are so grievous that a man who suffers them is right to seek escape by self-inflicted death, life is nevertheless happy. ‘Bodily torments and agonies’ says Varro ‘are evils, and their evil increases in proportion to their severity. And to get free of them a man should escape from this life.’ What life, pray? ‘This life’, he replies, ‘which is burdened with such great evils.’ It is certainly happy, I take it, amid those same evils which lead you to say that one should escape from it? Or is your reason for calling it happy the very fact that you have permission to withdraw from these evils by death? Then what if by some divine judgement you were beset by such evils and not permitted either to the or ever to be exempt from them? Surely in that case, at any rate, you would call such a life wretched? That implies that it does not fail to be wretched simply because it is quickly abandoned, seeing that, if it were everlasting, it would be wretched, even in your judgement. And so it ought not to be regarded as free from any misery, simply because the misery is short-lived; nor – for this would be even more nonsensical – should it be called a state of bliss, simply because of the brevity of the wretchedness.
There is a mighty force in the evils which compel a man, and, according to those philosophers, even a wise man, to rob himself of his existence as a man; although they say, and say with truth, that the first and greatest utterance of nature, as we may call it, is that a man should be reconciled to himself and for that reason should naturally shun death – that he should be his own friend, in that he should emphatically desire to continue as a living being and to remain alive in this combination of body and soul, and that this should be his aim. There is a mighty force in those evils which overpower this natural feeling which makes us employ all our strength in our endeavour to avoid death – which defeat this feeling so utterly that what was shunned is now wished and longed for, and, if it cannot come to him from some other source, is inflicted on a man by himself. There is a mighty force in those evils which make Fortitude a murderer – if indeed she is still to be called fortitude when she is so utterly vanquished by those evils that she not only cannot by her endurance keep guard over the man she has undertaken to govern and protect, but is herself compelled to go so far as to kill him. The wise man ought, indeed, to endure even death with a stead fastness, but a death that comes to him from outside himself. Whereas if he is compelled, as those philosophers say, to inflict it on himself, they must surely admit that these are not only evils, but intolerable evils, when they compel him to commit this crime.
It follows from this that the life weighed down by such great and grievous ills, or at the mercy of such chances, would never be called happy, if the men who so term it, and who, when overcome by the growing weight of ills, surrender to adversity in compassing their own death – if these people would bring themselves to surrender to the truth, when overcome by sound reasoning, in their quest for the happy life, and would give up supposing that the ultimate, Supreme Good is something to be enjoyed by them in this condition of mortality. For in this state the very virtues, which are certainly the best and most useful of man’s endowments here below, bear reliable witness to man’s miseries in proportion to their powerful support against man’s perils, hardships and sorrows. In fact, if they are genuine virtues (and genuine virtues can exist only in those in whom true godliness is present) they do not profess to have the power to ensure that the people in whom they exist will not suffer any miseries; genuine virtues are not such liars as to advance such claims. But they do claim that though human life is compelled to be wretched by all the grievous evils of this world, it is happy in the expectation of the world to come, just as, in expectation, it is saved. For how can it be happy, if it is not yet saved? This point is also made by the apostle Paul. He is speaking not about men without prudence, without stead-fastness, without self-control, without justice, but about those who lived by the standards of genuine godliness, whose virtues were therefore genuine virtues, and he says, ‘It is in hope that we are saved. But when hope is seen fulfilled it is hope no longer: why should a man hope for what he already sees? But if we are hoping for something we do not yet see, then it is with steadfast endurance that we await it.’16 As, therefore, we are saved in hope, it is in hope that we have been made happy; and as we do not yet possess a present salvation, but await salvation in the future, so we do not enjoy a present happiness, but look forward to happiness in the future, and we look forward ‘with steadfast endurance’. We are beset by evils, and we have to endure them steadfastly until we reach those goods where there will be everything to supply us with delight beyond the telling, and there will be nothing any longer that we are bound to endure. Such is the salvation which in the world to come will also be itself the ultimate bliss. Yet these philosophersrefuse to believe in this blessedness because they do not see it; and so they attempt to fabricate for themselves an utterly delusive happiness by means of a virtue whose falsity is in proportion to its arrogance.
5. Social life; its value and its dangers
The philosophies hold the view that the life of the wise man should be social; and in this we support them much more heartily. For here we are, with the nineteenth book in hand on the subject of the City of God; and how could that City have made its first start, how could it have advanced along its course, how could it attain its appointed goal, if the life of the saints were not social? And yet, who would be capable of listing the number and the gravity of the ills which abound in human society amid the distresses of our mortal condition? Who would be competent to assess them? Our philosophers should listen to a character in one of their own comedies, voicing a sentiment with which all mankind agrees:
I married a wife; and misery I found!
Children were born; and they increased my cares.17
Again, think of the disorders of love, as listed in another quotation from Terence:
Wrongs and suspicions, enmities and war–
Then, peace again!18
Have they not everywhere filled up the story of human experience? Are they not of frequent occurrence, even in the honourable love of friends? The story of mankind is full of them at every point; for in that story we are aware of wrongs, suspicions, enmities and war –undoubted evils, these. And even peace is a doubtful good, since we do not know the hearts of those with whom we wish to maintain peace, and even if we could know them today, we should not know what they might be like tomorrow. In fact, who are, in general, more friendly, or at any rate ought to be, than those within the walls of the same home? And yet, is anyone perfectly serene in that situation, when such grievous ills have so often arisen from the secret treachery of people within those walls? And the bitterness of these ills matches the sweetness of the peace that was reckoned genuine, when it was in fact only a very clever pretence.
This explains why some words of Cicero come so close to our hearts that we cannot but sigh when we read:
No treachery is more insidious than that which is hidden under a pretence of loyalty, or under the name of kinship. For against an open adversary you could be on your guard and thus easily avoid him; but this hidden evil, within the-house and family, not only arises before you are aware but even overwhelms you can catch sight of it and investigate it.19
Hence also that inspired utterance, ‘A man’s enemies are those of his own household’,20 is heard with deep sorrow of heart. For even if anyone is strong enough to bear these ills with equanimity, or watchful enough to guard with foresight and discretion against the contrivances of pretended friendship, nevertheless he cannot but feel grievous anguish, if he himself is a good man, at the wickedness of the traitors, when by experience he knows their utter viciousness, whether they were always evil and their goodness was a sham, or whether they suffered a change from good-nature to the malice that they now display. If, then, safety is not to be found in the home, the common refuge from the evils that befall mankind, what shall we say of the city? The larger the city, the more is its forum filled with civil lawsuits and criminal trials, even if that city be at peace, free from the alarms or – what is more frequent – the bloodshed, of sedition and civil war. It is true that cities are at times exempt from those occurrences; they are never free from the danger of them.
6. The mistakes of human judgement, when the truth is hidden
What of those judgements passed by men on their fellow-men, which cannot be dispensed with in cities, however much peace they enjoy? What is our feeling about them? How pitiable, how lamentable do we find them! For indeed those who pronounce judgement cannot see into the consciences of those on whom they pronounce it. And so they are often compelled to seek the truth by torturing innocent witnesses in a case which is no concern of theirs. And what about torture employed on a man in his own case? The question is whether he is guilty. He is tortured, and, even if innocent, he suffers, for a doubtful crime, a punishment about which there is no shadow of doubt and not because he is discovered to have committed it, but because it is not certain that he did not commit it. This means that the ignorance of the judge is often a calamity for the innocent. And there is something yet more intolerable, something to be bewailed, and, if it were possible, washed away by floods of tears. It is the fact that the judge tortures the accused for the sole purpose of avoiding the execution, in ignorance, of an innocent man; while his pitiable lack of knowledge leads him to put to death, tortured and innocent, the very person whom he had tortured to avoid putting the innocent to death.
Now if this accused has followed the wisdom of our philosopher friends in choosing to escape from this life rather than endure those tortures any longer, he confesses to a crime he has not committed. Then after his condemnation and execution the judge still does not know whether it was a guilty or an innocent person he has executed, after torturing him to avoid executing the innocent in ignorance. Consequently, he has tortured an innocent man to get to the truth and has killed him while still in ignorance. In view of this darkness that attends the life of human society, will our wise man take his seat on the judge’s bench, or will he not have the heart to do so? Obviously, he will sit; for the claims of human society constrain him and draw him to this duty; and it is unthinkable to him that he should shirk it.
In fact, it is not to him an unthinkable horror that innocent witnesses should be tortured in cases which are no concern of theirs; or that the accused are frequently overcome by the anguish of their pain and so make false confessions and are punished despite their innocence; or that, even if not suffering capital punishment, they very often die under torture or as a result of torture; or that the prosecutors, whose motive may be a desire to benefit human society by ensuring that crimes do not go unpunished, are at times themselves condemned. The witnesses may give false evidence, the defendant himself may hold out under torture with savage resistance and refuse to confess, and the accusers may be incapable of proving the truth of their charges, however true those charges may be; and the judge, in his ignorance, may condemn them. All these serious evils our philosopher does not reckon as sins; for the wise judge does not act in this way through a will to do harm, but because ignorance is unavoidable – and yet the exigences of human society make judgement also unavoidable. Here we have what I call the wretchedness of man’s situation, at any rate, even if it is not to be called the wickedness of the wise man, in his judicial capacity. Yet if it is through unavoidable ignorance and the unavoidable duty of judging that he tortures the innocent, are we to be told that it is not enough to acquit him? Must we grant him happiness as a bonus? How much more mature reflection it shows, how much more worthy of a human being it is when a man acknowledges this necessity as a mark of human wretchedness, when he hates that necessity in his own actions and when, if he has the wisdom of devotion, he cries out to God, ‘Deliver me from my necessities!’21
7. Human society divided by differences of language. The misery of war, even when just
After the city or town comes the world, which the philosophers reckon as the third level of human society. They begin with the household, proceed to the city, and then arrive at the world. Now the world, being like a confluence of waters, is obviously more full of danger than the other communities by reason of its greater size. To begin with, on this level the diversity of languages separates man from man. For if two men meet, and are forced by some compelling reason not to pass on but to stay in company, then if neither knows the other’s language, it is easier for dumb animals, even of different kinds, to associate together than these men, although both are human beings. For when men cannot communicate their thoughts to each other, simply because of difference of language, all the similarity of their common human nature is of no avail to unite them in fellowship. So true is this that a man would be more cheerful with his dog for company than with a foreigner. I shall be told that the Imperial City has been at pains to impose on conquered peoples not only her yoke but her language also, as a bond of peace and fellowship, so that there should be no lack of interpreters but even a profusion of them. True; but think of the cost of this achievement! Consider the scale of those wars, with all that slaughter of human beings, all the human blood that was shed!
Those wars are now past history; and yet the misery of these evils is not yet ended. For although there has been, and still is, no lack of enemies among foreign nations, against whom wars have always been waged, and are still being waged, yet the very extent of the Empire has given rise to wars of a worse kind, namely, social and civil wars, by which mankind is more lamentably disquieted either when fighting is going on in the hope of bringing hostilities eventually to a peaceful end, or when there are fears that hostilities will break out again. If I were to try to describe, with an eloquence worthy of the subject, the many and multifarious disasters, the dour and dire necessities, I could not possibly be adequate to the theme, and there would be no end to this protracted discussion. But the wise man, they say, will wage just wars. Surely, if he remembers that he is a human being, he will rather lament the fact that he is faced with the necessity of waging just wars; for if they were not just, he would not have to engage in them, and consequently there would be no wars for a wise man. For it is the injustice of the opposing side that lays on the wise man the duty of waging wars; and this injustice is assuredly to be deplored by a human being, since it is the injustice of human beings, even though no necessity for war should arise from it. And so everyone who reflects with sorrow on such grievous evils, in all their horror and cruelty, must acknowledge the misery of them. And yet a man who experiences such evils, or even thinks about them, without heartfelt grief, is assuredly in a far more pitiable condition, if he thinks himself happy simply because he has lost all human feeling.
8. The friendship of good men can never be carefree, because of this life’s dangers
If we are spared that kind of ignorance, akin to madness, which is a common affliction in the wretched condition of this life, an ignorance which leads men to believe an enemy to be a friend, or a friend an enemy, what consolation have we in this human society, so replete with mistaken notions and distressing anxieties, except the unfeigned faith and mutual affections of genuine, loyal friends? Yet the more friends we have and the more dispersed they are in different places, the further and more widely extend our fears that some evil may befall them from among all the mass of evils of this present world. For not only are we troubled and anxious because they may be afflicted by famine, war, disease, or captivity, fearing that in slavery they may suffer evils beyond our powers of imagination; there is the much more bitter fear, that their friendship be changed into treachery, malice and baseness. And when such things do happen (and the more numerous our friends, the more often they happen) and the news is brought to our ears, who, except one who has this experience, can be aware of the burning sorrow that ravages our hearts? Certainly we would rather hear that our friends were dead, although this also we could not hear without grief.
For if their life brought us the consoling delights of friendship, how could it be that their death should bring us no sadness? Anyone who forbids such sadness must forbid, if he can, all friendly conversation, must lay a ban on all friendly feeling or put a stop to it, must with a ruthless insensibility break the ties of all human relationships, or else decree that they must only be engaged upon so long as they inspire no delight in a man’s soul. But if this is beyond all possibility, how can it be that a man’s death should not be bitter if his life is sweet to us? For this is why the grief of a heart that has not lost human feeling is a thing like some wound or ulcer, and our friendly words of consolation are the healing application. And it does not follow that there is nothing to be healed simply because the nobler a man’s spirit the quicker and easier the cure.
It is true, then, that the life of mortals is afflicted, sometimes more gently, sometimes more harshly, by the death of those most dear to us, and especially the death of those whose functions are necessary for human society; and yet we should prefer to hear, or even to witness, the death of those we love, than to become aware that they have fallen from faith or from moral conflict – that is, that they have died in their very soul. The earth is full of this vast mass of evils; that is why we find this in Scripture: ‘Is man’s life on earth anything but temptation?’22 And why the Lord himself says, ‘Alas for the world, because of these obstacles’;23 and again, ‘Because iniquity will increase beyond measure, the love of many will grow cold.’24 The result of this situation is that when good men the who are our friends we rejoice for them; and though their death brings us sadness, we find our surer consolation in this, that they have been spared those evils by which in this life even good men are crushed or corrupted, or at least are in danger of both these disasters.
9. The friendship of the holy angels, obscured by the deceit of demons
Our relationship with the society of the holy angels is quite another matter. Those philosophers, we observe, who insisted that the gods are our friends25 placed this angelic fellowship on the fourth level, as they proceeded in their scheme from the earth to the universe, intending by this method to include, in some fashion, even heaven itself. Now, with regard to the angels, we have, it is true, no manner of fear that such friends may bring us sorrow, either by their death or by their degradation. But they do not mix with us on the same familiar footing as do men – and this in itself is one of the disappointments involved in this life – and Satan, as Scripture tells us, transforms himself at times to masquerade as an angel of light,26 to tempt those men who are in need of this kind of training, or men who deserve to be thus deluded. Hence God’s great mercy is needed to prevent anyone from supposing that he is enjoying the friendship of good angels when in fact it is evil demons that he has as his false friends, and when he thus suffers from the enmity of those whose harmfulness is in proportion to their cunning and deceit. In fact, where is God’s great mercy needed if not by men in their most pitiable state, where they are so weighed down by ignorance that they are readily deluded by the pretences of those spirits? Now those philosophers in the ungodly city alleged that the gods were their friends; but it is quite certain that they had fallen in with these malignant demons, the powers to whom that city itself is wholly subjected, and in whose company it will suffer everlasting punishment. This is made quite clear by those beings who are worshipped in that city. It is revealed unmistakably by the sacred, or rather sacrilegious, rites by which the pagans think it right to worship them, and by the filthy shows by which they think those demons must be propitiated; and it is the demons themselves who suggest, and indeed demand, the performance of such vile obscenities.
10. The reward of victory over temptation
However, not even the saints and the faithful worshippers of the one true and supreme God enjoy exemption from the deceptions of the demons and from their multifarious temptations. In fact, in this situation of weakness and in these times of evil such anxiety is even not without its use in leading them to seek, with more fervent longing, that state of serenity where peace is utterly complete and assured. For there the gifts of nature, that is, the gifts bestowed on our nature by the Creator of all natures, will be not only good but also everlasting; and this applies not only to the spirit, which is healed by wisdom, but also to the body, which will be renewed by resurrection. There the virtues will not be engaged in conflict with any kind of vice or evil; they will be possessed of the reward of victory, the everlasting peace which no adversary can disturb. This is indeed the ultimate bliss, the end of ultimate fulfilment that knows no destructive end. Here in this world we are called blessed, it is true, when we enjoy peace, however little may be the peace – the peace of a good life –which can be enjoyed here. And yet such blessedness as this life affords proves to be utter misery when compared with that final bliss. And so, when we enjoy here, if we live rightly, such peace as can be the portion of mortal men under the conditions of mortality, virtue rightly uses the blessings of peace, and even when we do not possess that peace, virtue turns to a good use even the ills that man endures. But virtue is truly virtue when it refers all the good things of which it makes good use, all its achievements in making good use of good things and evil things, and when it refers itself also, to that end where our peace shall be so perfect and so great as to admit of neither improvement nor increase.
11. The bliss of everlasting peace, which is the fulfilment of the saints
It follows that we could say of peace, as we have said of eternal life, that it is the final fulfilment of all our goods; especially in view of what is said in a holy psalm about the City of God, the subject of this laborious discussion. These are the words: ‘Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Sion: for he has strengthened the bolts of your gates; he has blessed your sons within your walls; he has made your frontiers peace.’27 Now when the bolts of her gates have been strengthened, that means that no one will any more enter or leave that City. And this implies that we must take her ‘frontiers’ (or ‘ends’) to stand here for the peace whose finality I am trying to establish. In fact, the name of the City itself has a mystic significance, for ‘Jerusalem’, as I have said already, means ‘vision of peace’.28
But the word ‘peace’ is freely used in application to the events of this mortal state, where there is certainly no enternal life; and so I have preferred to use the term ‘eternal life’ instead of ‘peace’ in describing the end of this City, where its Ultimate Good will be found. About this end the Apostle says, ‘But now you have been set free from sin and have become the servants of God; and so you have your profit, a profit leading to sanctification, and the end is everlasting life.’29 On the other hand, the life of the wicked may also be taken to be eternal life by those who have no familiarity with the holy Scriptures. They may follow some of the philosophers in thinking in terms of the immortality of the soul, or they may be influenced by our Christian belief in the endless punishment of the ungodly, who obviously cannot be tortured for ever without also living for ever. Consequently, in order to make it easier for everyone to understand our meaning, we have to say that the end of this City, whereby it will possess its Supreme Good, may be called either ‘peace in life everlasting’ or ‘life everlasting in peace’. For peace is so great a good that even in relation to the affairs of earth and of our mortal state no word ever falls more gratefully upon the ear, nothing is desired with greater longing, in fact, nothing better can be found. So if I decide to discourse about it at somewhat greater length, I shall not, I think, impose a burden on my readers, not only because I shall be speaking of the end of the City which is the subject of this work, but also because of the delightfulness of peace, which is dear to the heart of all mankind.
12. Peace is the instinctive aim of all creatures, and is even the ultimate purpose of war
Anyone who joins me in an examination, however slight, of human affairs, and the human nature we all share, recognizes that just as there is no man who does not wish for joy, so there is no man who does not wish for peace. Indeed, even when men choose war, their only wish is for victory; which shows that their desire in fighting is for peace with glory. For what is victory but the conquest of the opposing side? And when this is achieved, there will be peace. Even wars, then, are waged with peace as their object, even when they are waged by those who are concerned to exercise their warlike prowess, either in command or in the actual fighting. Hence it is an established fact that peace is the desired end of war. For every man is in quest of peace, even in waging war, whereas no one is in quest of war when making peace. In fact, even when men wish a present state of peace to be disturbed they do so not because they hate peace, but because they desire the present peace to be exchanged for one that suits their wishes. Thus their desire is not that there should not be peace but that it should be the kind of peace they wish for. Even in the extreme case when they have separated themselves from others by sedition, they cannot achieve their aim unless they maintain some sort of semblance of peace with their confederates in conspiracy. Moreover, even robbers, to ensure greater efficiency and security in their assaults on the peace of the rest of mankind, desire to preserve peace with their associates.
Indeed, one robber may be so unequalled in strength and so wary of having anyone to share his plans that he does not trust any associate, but plots his crimes and achieves his successes by himself, carrying off his booty after overcoming and dispatching such as he can; yet even so he maintains some kind of shadow of peace, at least with those whom he cannot kill, and from whom he wishes to conceal his activities. At the same time, he is anxious, of course, to be at peace in his own home, with his wife and children and any other members of his household; without doubt he is delighted to have them obedient to his beck and call. Por if this does not happen, he is indignant; he scolds and punishes; and, if need be, he employs savage measures to impose on his household a peace which, he feels, cannot exist unless all the other elements in the same domestic society are subject to one head; and this head, in his own home, is himself. Thus, if he were offered the servitude of a larger number, of a city, maybe, or a whole nation, on the condition that they should all show the same subservience he had demanded from his household, then he would no longer lurk like a brigand in his hide-out; he would raise himself on high as a king for all to see – although the same greed and malignity would persist in him.
We see, then, that all men desire to be at peace with their own people, while wishing to impose their will upon those people’s lives. For even when they wage war on others, their wish is to make those opponents their own people, if they can – to subject them, and to impose on them their own conditions of peace.
Let us, however, suppose such a man as is described in the verse of epic legends, a creature so unsociable and savage that they perhaps preferred to call him a semi-human rather than a human being. Now although his kingdom was the solitude of a dreadful cavern, and although he was so unequalled in wickedness that a name was found for him derived from that quality (he was called Cacus,30 and kakos is the Greek word for ‘wicked’); although he had no wife with whom to exchange endearments, no children to play with when little or to give orders to when they were a little bigger, no friends with whom to enjoy a chat, not even his father, Vulcan (he was happier than his father only in this important respect – that he did not beget another such monster as himself); although he never gave anything to anyone, but took what he wanted from anyone he could and removed, when he could, anyone he wished to remove; despite all this, in the very solitude of his cave, the floor of which, in the poet’s description
reeked ever with the blood of recent slaughter31
his only desire was for a peace in which no one should disturb him, and no man’s violence, or the dread of it, should trouble his repose. Above all, he desired to be at peace with his own body; and in so far as he achieved this, all was well with him. He gave the orders and his limbs obeyed. But his mortal nature rebelled against him because of its insatiable desires, and stirred up the civil strife of hunger, intending to dissociate the soul from the body and to exclude it; and then he sought with all possible haste to pacify that mortal nature, and to that end he ravished, murdered, and devoured. And thus, for all his monstrous savagery, his aim was still to ensure peace, for the preservation of his life, by these monstrous and savage methods. Accordingly, if he had been willing to maintain, in relation to others also, the peace he was so busily concerned to preserve in his own case and in himself, he would not have been called wicked, or a monster, or semi-human. Or if it was his outward appearance and his belching of murky flames that frightened away human companions, it may be that it was not lust for inflicting injury but the necessity of preserving his life that made him so savage. Perhaps, after all, he never existed or, more probably, he was not like the description given by poetic fantasy; for if Cacus had not been excessively blamed, Hercules would have received inadequate praise. And therefore the existence of such a man, or rather semi-human, is discredited, as are many similar poetical fictions.
We observe, then, that even the most savage beasts, from whom Cacus derived the wild-beast side of his nature (he was in fact also called a semi-beast), safeguard their own species by a kind of peace, by coition, by begetting and bearing young, by cherishing them and rearing them; even though most of them are not gregarious but solitary – not, that is, like sheep, deer, doves, starlings, and bees, but like lions, wolves, foxes, eagles and owls. What tigress does not gently purr over her cubs, and subdue her fierceness to caress them? What kite, however solitary as he hovers over his prey, does not find a mate, build a nest, help to hatch the eggs, rear the young birds, and, as we may say, preserve with the mother of his family a domestic society as peaceful as he can make it? How much more strongly is a human being drawn by the laws of his nature, so to speak, to enter upon a fellowship with all his fellow-men and to keep peace with them, as far as lies in him. For even the wicked when they go to war do so to defend the peace of their own people, and desire to make all men their own people, if they can, so that all men and all things might together be subservient to one master. And how could that happen, unless they should consent to a peace of his dictation either through love or through fear? Thus pride is a perverted imitation of God. For pride hates a fellowship of equality under God, and seeks to impose its own dominion on fellow men, in place of God’s rule. This means that it hates the just peace of God, and loves its own peace of injustice. And yet it cannot help loving peace of some kind or other. For no creature’s perversion is so contrary to nature as to destroy the very last vestiges of its nature.
It comes to this, then; a man who has learnt to prefer right to wrong and the rightly ordered to the perverted, sees that the peace of the unjust, compared with the peace of the just, is not worthy even of the name of peace. Yet even what is perverted must of necessity be in, or derived from, or associated with – that is, in a sense, at peace with –some part of the order of things among which it has its being or of which it consists. Otherwise it would not exist at all. For instance if anyone were to hang upside-down, this position of the body and arrangement of the limbs is undoubtedly perverted, because what should be on top, according to the dictates of nature, is underneath, and what nature intends to be underneath is on top. This perverted attitude disturbs the peace of the flesh, and causes distress for that reason. For all that, the breath is at peace with its body and is busily engaged for its preservation; that is why there is something to endure the pain. And even if the breath is finally driven from the body by its distresses, still, as long as the framework of the limbs holds together, what remains retains a kind of peace among the bodily parts; hence there is still something to hang there. And in that the earthly body pulls towards the earth, and pulls against the binding rope that holds it suspended, it tends towards the position of its own peace, and by what might be called the appeal of its weight, it demands a place where it may rest. And so even when it is by now lifeless and devoid of all sensation it does not depart from the peace of its natural position, either while possessed of it or while tending towards it. Again, if treatment with embalming fluids is applied to prevent the dissolution and disintegration of the corpse in its present shape, a kind of peace still connects the parts with one another and keeps the whole mass fixed in its earthly condition, an appropriate, and therefore a peaceable state.
On the other hand, if no preservative treatment is given, and the body is left for nature to take its course, there is for a time a kind of tumult in the corpse of exhalations disagreeable and offensive to our senses (for that is what we smell in putrefaction), which lasts until the body unites with the elements of the world as, little by little, and particle by particle, it vanishes into their peace. Nevertheless, nothing is in any way removed, in this process, from the control of the laws of the supreme Creator and Ruler who directs the peace of the whole scheme of things. For although minute animals are produced in the corpse of a larger animal, those little bodies, each and all of them, by the same law of their Creator, are subservient to their little souls in the peace that preserves their lives. And even if the flesh of dead animals is devoured by other animals, in whatever direction it is taken, with whatever substances it is united, into whatever substances it is converted and transformed, it still finds itself subject to the same laws which are diffused throughout the whole of matter for the preservation of every mortal species, establishing peace by a harmony of congruous elements.
13. The peace of the universe maintained through all disturbances by a law of nature: the individual attains, by God’s ordinance, to the state he has deserved by his free choice
The peace of the body, we conclude, is a tempering of the component parts in duly ordered proportion; the peace of the irrational soul is a duly ordered repose of the appetites; the peace of the rational soul is the duly ordered agreement of cognition and action. The peace of body and soul is the duly ordered life and health of a living creature; peace between mortal man and God is an ordered obedience, in faith, in subjection to an everlasting law; peace between men is an ordered agreement of mind with mind; the peace of a home is the ordered agreement among those who live together about giving and obeying orders; the peace of the Heavenly City is a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and a mutual fellowship in God; the peace of the whole universe is the tranquillity of order – and order is the arrangement of things equal and unequal in a pattern which assigns to each its proper position.
It follows that the wretched, since, in so far as they are wretched, they are obviously not in a state of peace, lack the tranquillity of order, a state in which there is no disturbance of mind. In spite of that, because their wretchedness is deserved and just, they cannot be outside the scope of order. They are not, indeed, united with the blessed; yet it is by the law of order that they are sundered from them. And when they are free from disturbance of mind, they are adjusted to their situation, with however small a degree of harmony. Thus they have amongst them some tranquillity of order, and therefore some peace. But they are still wretched just because, although they enjoy some degree of serenity and freedom from suffering, they are not in a condition where they have the right to be serene and free from pain. They are yet more wretched, however, if they are not at peace with the law by which the natural order is governed. Now when they suffer, their peace is disturbed in the part where they suffer; and yet peace still continues in the part which feels no burning pain, and where the natural frame is not broken up. Just as there is life, then, without pain, whereas there can be no pain when there is no life, so there is peace without any war, but no war without some degree of peace. This is not a consequence of war as such, but of the fact that war is waged by or within persons who are in some sense natural beings – for they could have no kind of existence without some kind of peace as the condition of their being.
There exists, then, a nature in which there is no evil, in which, indeed, no evil can exist; but there cannot exist a nature in which there is no good. Hence not even the nature of the Devil himself is evil, in so far as it is a nature; it is perversion that makes it evil. And so the Devil did not stand firm in the truth, and yet he did not escape the judgement of the truth. He did not continue in the tranquility of order; but that did not mean that he escaped from the power of the imposer of order. The good that God imparts, which the Devil has in his nature, does not withdraw him from God’s justice by which his punishment is ordained. But God, in punishing, does not chastise the good which he created, but the evil which the Devil has committed. And God does not take away all that he gave to that nature; he takes something, and yet he leaves something, so that there may be some being left to feel pain at the deprivation.
Now this pain is in itself evidence of the good that was taken away and the good that was left. In fact, if no good had been left there could have been no grief for lost good. For a sinner is in a worse state if he rejoices in the loss of righteousness; but a sinner who feels anguish, though he may gain no good from his anguish, is at least grieving at the loss of salvation. And since righteousness and salvation are both good, and the loss of any good calls for grief rather than for joy (assuming that there is no compensation for the loss in the shape of a higher good – for example, righteousness of character is a higher good than health of body), the unrighteous man’s grief in his punishment is more appropriate than his rejoicing in sin. Hence, just as delight in the abandonment of good, when a man sins, is evidence of a bad will, so grief at the loss of good, when a man is punished, is evidence of a good nature. For when a man grieves at the loss of the peace of his nature, his grief arises from some remnants of that peace, which ensure that his nature is still on friendly terms with itself. Moreover, it is entirely right that in the last punishment the wicked and ungodly should bewail in their agonies the loss of their ‘natural’goods, and realize that he who divested them of these goods with perfect justice is God, whom they despised when with supreme generosity he bestowed them.
God then, created all things in supreme wisdom and ordered them in perfect justice; and in establishing the mortal race of mankind as the greatest ornament of earthly things, he has given to mankind certain good things suitable to this life. These are: temporal peace, in proportion to the short span of a mortal life – the peace that consists in bodily health and soundness, and in fellowship with one’s kind; and everything necessary to safeguard or recover this peace – those things, for example, which are appropriate and accessible to our senses: light, speech, air to breathe, water to drink, and whatever is suitable for the feeding and clothing of the body, for the care of the body and the adornment of the person. And all this is granted under the most equitable condition: that every mortal who uses aright such goods, goods designed to serve the peace of mortal men, shall receive goods greater in degree and superior in kind, namely, the peace of immortality, and the glory and honour appropriate to it in a life which is eternal for the enjoyment of God and of one’s neighbour in God, whereas he who wrongly uses those mortal goods shall lose them, and shall not receive the blessings of eternal life.
14. The order and law, earthly or heavenly, by which government serves the interests of human society
We see, then, that all man’s use of temporal things is related to the enjoyment of earthly peace in the earthly city; whereas in the Heavenly City it is related to the enjoyment of eternal peace. Thus, if we were irrational animals, our only aim would be the adjustment of the parts of the body in due proportion, and the quieting of the appetites – only, that is, the repose of the flesh, and an adequate supply of pleasures, so that bodily peace might promote the peace of the soul. For if bodily peace is lacking, the peace of the irrational soul is also hindered, because it cannot achieve the quieting of its appetites. But the two together promote that peace which is a mutual concord between soul and body, the peace of an ordered life and of health. For living creatures show their love of bodily peace by their avoidance of pain, and by their pursuit of pleasure to satisfy the demands of their appetites they demonstrate their love of peace of soul. In just the same way, by shunning death they indicate quite clearly how great is their love of the peace in which soul and body are harmoniously united.
But because there is in man a rational soul, he subordinates to the peace of the rational soul all that part of his nature which he shares with the beasts, so that he may engage in deliberate thought and act in accordance with this thought, so that he may thus exhibit that ordered agreement of cognition and action which we called the peace of the rational soul. For with this end in view he ought to wish to be spared the distress of pain and grief, the disturbances of desire, the dissolution of death, so that he may come to some profitable knowledge and may order his life and his moral standards in accordance with this knowledge. But he needs divine direction, which he may obey with resolution, and divine assistance that he may obey it freely, to prevent him from falling, in his enthusiasm for knowledge, a victim to some fatal error, through the weakness of the human mind. And so long as he is in this mortal body, he is a pilgrim in a foreign land, away from God; therefore he walks by faith, not by sight.32 That is why he views all peace, of body or of soul, or of both, in relation to that peace which exists between mortal man and immortal God, so that he may exhibit an ordered obedience in faith in subjection to the everlasting Law.
Now God, our master, teaches two chief precepts, love of God and love of neighbour; and in them man finds three objects for his love: God, himself, and his neighbour; and a man who loves God is not wrong in loving himself. It follows, therefore, that he will be concerned also that his neighbour should love God, since he is told to love his neighbour as himself; and the same is true of his concern for his wife, his children, for the members of his household, and for all other men, so far as is possible. And, for the same end, he will wish his neighbour to be concerned for him, if he happens to need that concern. For this reason he will be at peace, as far as lies in him, with all men, in that peace among men, that ordered harmony; and the basis of this order is the observance of two rules: first, to do no harm to anyone, and, secondly, to help everyone whenever possible. To begin with, therefore, a man has a responsibility for his own household –obviously, both in the order of nature and in the framework of human society, he has easier and more immediate contact with them; he can exercise his concern for them. That is why the Apostle says, ‘Anyone who does not take care of his own people, especially those in his own household, is worse than an unbeliever – he is a renegade’33 This is where domestic peace starts, the ordered harmony about giving and obeying orders among those who live in the same house. For the orders are given by those who are concerned for the interests of others; thus the husband gives orders to the wife, parents to children, masters to servants. While those who are the objects of this concern obey orders; for example, wives obey husbands, the children obey their parents, the servants their masters. But in the household of the just man who ‘lives on the basis of faith’and who is still on pilgrimage, far from that Heavenly City, even those who give orders are the servants of those whom they appear to command. For they do not give orders because of a lust for domination but from a dutiful concern for the interests of others, not with pride in taking precedence over others, but with compassion in taking care of others.
15. Man’s natural freedom; and the slavery caused by sin
This relationship is prescribed by the order of nature, and it is in this situation that God created man. For he says, ‘Let him have lordship over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky… and all the reptiles that crawl on the earth.’34 He did not wish the rational being, made in his own image, to have dominion over any but irrational creatures, not man over man, but man over the beasts. Hence the first just men were set up as shepherds of flocks, rather than as kings of men, so that in this way also God might convey the message of what was required by the order of nature, and what was demanded by the deserts of sinners – for it is understood, of course, that the condition of slavery is justly imposed on the sinner. That is why we do not hear of a slave anywhere in the Scriptures until Noah, the just man, punished his son’s sin with this word;35 and so that son deserved this name because of his misdeed, not because of his nature. The origin of the Latin word for slave, servus, is believed to be derived from the fact that those who by the laws of war could rightly be put to death by the conquerors, became servi, slaves, when they were preserved, receiving this name from their preservation.36 But even this enslavement could not have happened, if it were not for the deserts of sin. For even when a just war is fought it is in defence of his sin that the other side is contending; and victory, even when the victory falls to the wicked, is a humiliation visited on the conquered by divine judgement, either to correct or to punish their sins. We have a witness to this in Daniel, a man of God, who in captivity confesses to God his own sins and the sins of his people, and in devout grief testifies that they are the cause of that captivity.37 The first cause of slavery, then, is sin, whereby man was subjected to man in the condition of bondage; and this can only happen by the judgement of God, with whom there is no injustice, and who knows how to allot different punishments according to the deserts of the offenders.
Now, as our Lord above says, ‘Everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave’,38 and that is why, though many devout men are slaves to unrighteous masters, yet the masters they serve are not themselves free men;‘for when a man is conquered by another he is also bound as a slave to his conqueror.’39 And obviously it is a happier lot to be slave to a human being than to a lust; and, in fact, the most pitiless domination that devastates the hearts of men, is that exercised by this very lust for domination, to mention no others. However, in that order of peace in which men are subordinate to other men, humility is as salutary for the servants as pride is harmful to the masters. And yet by nature, in the condition in which God created man, no man is the slave either of man or of sin. But it remains true that slavery as a punishment is also ordained by that law which enjoins the preservation of the order of nature, and forbids its disturbance; in fact, if nothing had been done to contravene that law, there would have been nothing to require the discipline of slavery as a punishment. That explains also the Apostle’s admonition to slaves, that they should be subject to their masters, and serve them loyally and willingly.40 What he means is that if they cannot be set free by their masters, they themselves may thus make their slavery, in a sense, free by serving not with the slyness of fear, but with the fidelity of affection, until all injustice disappears and all human lordship and power is annihilated, and God is all in all.41
16. Equity in the relation of master and slave
This being so, even though our righteous fathers had slaves, they so managed the peace of their households as to make a distinction between the situation of children and the condition of slaves in respect of the temporal goods of this life; and yet in the matter of the worship of God – in whom we must place our hope of everlasting goods – they were concerned, with equal affection, for all the members of their household. This is what the order of nature prescribes, so that this is the source of the name paterfamilias, a name that has become so generally used that even those who exercise unjust rule rejoice to be called by this title. On the other hand, those who are genuine ‘fathers of their household’are concerned for the welfare of all in their households in respect of the worship and service of God, as if they were all their children, longing and praying that they may come to the heavenly home, where it will not be a necessary duty to give orders to men, because it will no longer be a necessary duty to be concerned for the welfare of those who are already in the felicity of that immortal state. But until that home is reached, the fathers have an obligation to exercise the authority of masters greater than the duty of slaves to put up with their condition as servants.
However, if anyone in the household is, through his disobedience, an enemy to the domestic peace, he is reproved by a word, or by a blow, or any other kind of punishment that is just and legitimate, to the extent allowed by human society; but this is for the benefit of the offender, intended to readjust him to the domestic peace from which he had broken away. For just as it is not an act of kindness to help a man, when the effect of the help is to make him lose a greater good, so it is not a blameless act to spare a man, when by so doing you let him fall into a greater sin. Hence the duty of anyone who would be blameless includes not only doing no harm to anyone but also restraining a man from sin or punishing his sin, so that either the man who is chastised may be corrected by his experience, or others may be deterred by his example. Now a man’s house ought to be the beginning, or rather a small component part of the city, and every beginning is directed to some end of its own kind, and every component part contributes to the completeness of the whole of which it forms a part. The implication is quite apparent, that domestic peace contributes to the peace of the city – that is, the ordered harmony of those who live together in a house in the matter of giving and obeying orders, contributes to the ordered harmony concerning authority and obedience obtaining among the citizens. Consequently it is fitting that the father of a household should take his rules from the law of the city, and govern his household in such a way that it fits in with the peace of the city.
17. The origin of peace between the heavenly society and the earthly city, and of discord between them
But a household of human beings whose life is not based on faith is in pursuit of an earthly peace based on the things belonging to this temporal life, and on its advantages, whereas a household of human beings whose life is based on faith looks forward to the blessings which are promised as eternal in the future, making use of earthly and temporal things like a pilgrim in a foreign land, who does not let himself be taken in by them or distracted from his course towards God, but rather treats them as supports which help him more easily to bear the burdens of ‘the corruptible body which weighs heavy on the soul’;42 they must on no account be allowed to increase the load. Thus both kinds of men and both kinds of households alike make use of the things essential for this mortal life; but each has its own very different end in making use of them. So also the earthly city, whose life is not based on faith, aims at an earthly peace, and it limits the harmonious agreement of citizens concerning the giving and obeying of orders to the establishment of a kind of compromise between human wills about the things relevant to mortal life. In contrast, the Heavenly City – or rather that part of it which is on pilgrimage in this condition of mortality, and which lives on the basis of faith – must needs make use of this peace also, until this mortal state, for which this kind of peace is essential, passes away. And therefore, it leads what we may call a life of captivity in this earthly city as in a foreign land, although it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as a kind of pledge of it; and yet it does not hesitate to obey the laws of the earthly city by which those things which are designed for the support of this mortal life are regulated; and the purpose of this obedience is that, since this mortal condition is shared by both cities, a harmony may be preserved between them in things that are relevant to this condition.
But this earthly city has had some philosophers belonging to it whose theories are rejected by the teaching inspired by God. Either led astray by their own speculation or deluded by demons, these thinkers reached the belief that there are many gods who must be won over to serve human ends, and also that they have, as it were, different departments with different responsibilities attached. Thus the body is the department of one god, the mind that of another; and within the body itself, one god is in charge of the head, another of the neck and so on with each of the separate members. Similarly, within the mind, one is responsible for natural ability, another for learning, another for anger, another for lust; and in the accessories of life there are separate gods over the departments of flocks, grain, wine, oil, forests, coinage, navigation, war and victory, marriage, birth, fertility, and so on.43 The Heavenly City, in contrast, knows only one God as the object of worship, and decrees, with faithful devotion, that he only is to be served with that service which the Greeks call latreia, which is due to God alone. And the result of this difference has been that the Heavenly City could not have laws of religion common with the earthly city, and in defence of her religious laws she was bound to dissent from those who thought differently and to prove a burdensome nuisance to them. Thus she had to endure their anger and hatred, and the assaults of persecution; until at length that City shattered the morale of her adversaries by the terror inspired by her numbers, and by the help she continually received from God.
While this Heavenly City, therefore, is on pilgrimage in this world, she calls out citizens from all nations and so collects a society of aliens, speaking all languages. She takes no account of any difference in customs, laws, and institutions, by which earthly peace is achieved and preserved – not that she annuls or abolishes any of those, rather, she maintains them and follows them (for whatever divergences there are among the diverse nations, those institutions have one single aim – earthly peace), provided that no hindrance is presented thereby to the religion which teaches that the one supreme and true God is to be worshipped. Thus even the Heavenly City in her pilgrimage here on earth makes use of the earthly peace and defends and seeks the compromise between human wills in respect of the provisions relevant to the mortal nature of man, so far as may be permitted without detriment to true religion and piety. In fact, that City relates the earthly peace to the heavenly peace, which is so truly peaceful that it should be regarded as the only peace deserving the name, at least in respect of the rational creation; for this peace is the perfectly ordered and completely harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and of each other in God. When we arrive at that state of peace, there will be no longer a life that ends in death, but a life that is life in sure and sober truth; there will be no animal body to ‘weigh down the soul’ in its process of corruption; there will be a spiritual body with no cravings, a body subdued in every part to the will. This peace the Heavenly City possesses in faith while on its pilgrimage, and it lives a life of righteousness, based on this faith,44 having the attainment of that peace in view in every good action it performs in relation to God, and in relation to a neighbour, since the life of a city is inevitably a social life.
18. The hesitations of the New Academy contrasted with the steadfast certainty of the Christian faith
As for that characteristic which Varro produces as the distinctive mark of the New Academy,45 the view that everything is uncertain, the City of God roundly condemns such doubt as being madness. In matters apprehended by the mind and the reason it has most certain knowledge, even if that knowledge is of small extent, on account of the ‘corruptible body which weighs down the mind’– as the Apostle says, ‘Our knowledge is partial.’46 It also trusts the evidence of the senses in every matter; for the mind employs the senses through the agency of the body, and anyone who supposes that they can never be trusted is woefully mistaken. It believes also in the holy Scriptures, the old and the new, which we call canonical, whence is derived the faith which is the basis of the just man’s life, the faith by which we walk on our way without doubting, in the time of our pilgrimage, in exile from the Lord. So long as this faith is sound and certain we cannot justly be reproached if we have doubts about some matters where neither sense nor reason give clear perception, where we have received no illumination from the canonical Scriptures and where we have not been given information by witnesses whom it would be irrational to distrust.
19. The dress and behaviour of the Christian people
It is completely irrelevant to the Heavenly City what dress is worn or what manner of life adopted by each person who follows the faith that is the way to God, provided that these do not conflict with the divine instructions. Hence, when even philosophers become Christians, they are not obliged to alter their mode of dress or their dietary habits, which offer no hindrance to religion. The only change required is in their false teachings. Thus the peculiar behaviour of the Cynics, which Varro treated as a differentia,47 is to that city a matter of no importance at all, if there is nothing indecent or immoderate in that behaviour. As for the three kinds of life, the life of leisure, the life of action, and the combination of the two, anyone, to be sure, might spend his life in any of these ways without detriment to his faith, and might thus attain to the everlasting rewards. What does matter is the answers to those questions: What does a man possess as a result of his love of truth? And what does he pay out in response to the obligations of Christian love? For no one ought to be so leisured as to take no thought in that leisure for the interest of his neighbour, nor so active as to feel no need for the contemplation of God. The attraction of a life of leisure ought not to be the prospect of lazy inactivity, but the chance for the investigation and discovery of truth, on the understanding that each person makes some progress in this, and does not grudgingly withhold his discoveries from another.
In the life of action, on the other hand, what is to be treasured is not a place of honour or power in this life, since ‘everything under the sun is vanity’48 but the task itself that is achieved by means of that place of honour and that power – if that achievement is right and helpful, that is, if it serves to promote the well-being of the common people, for, as we have already argued, this well-being is according to God’s intention.49 That is why the Apostle says, ‘Anyone who aspires to the episcopate aspires to an honourable task.’50 He wanted to explain what ‘episcopate’means; it is the name of a task, not an honour. It is, in fact, a Greek word, derived from the fact that a man who is put in authority over others ‘superintends’them, that is, he has respon sibility for them. For the Greek skopos means ‘intention’ (in the sense of ‘direction of the attention’); and so we may, if we wish, translate epi-skopein as ‘super-intend’. Hence a ‘bishop’ who has set his heart on a position of eminence rather than an opportunity for service should realize that he is no bishop. So then, no one is debarred from devoting himself to the pursuit of truth, for that involves a praiseworthy kind of leisure. But high position, although without it a people cannot be ruled, is not in itself a respectable object of ambition, even if that position be held and exercised in a manner worthy of respect. We see then that it is love of truth that looks for sanctified leisure, while it is the compulsion of love that undertakes righteous engagement in affairs. If this latter burden is not imposed on us, we should employ our freedom from business in the quest for truth and in its contemplation, while if it is laid upon us, it is to be undertaken because of the compulsion of love. Yet even in this case the delight in truth should not be utterly abandoned, for fear that we should lose this enjoyment and that compulsion should overwhelm us.
20. The fellow-citizens of the saints are in this life made happy by hope
We see, then, that the Supreme Good of the City of God is everlasting and perfect peace, which is not the peace through which men pass in their mortality, in their journey from birth to death, but that peace in which they remain in their immortal state, experiencing no adversity at all. In view of this, can anyone deny that this is the supremely blessed life, or that the present life on earth, however full it may be of the greatest possible blessings of soul and body and of external circumstances, is, in comparison, most miserable? For all that, if anyone accepts the present life in such a spirit that he uses it with the end in view of that other life on which he has set his heart with all his ardour and for which he hopes with all his confidence, such a man may without absurdity be called happy even now, though rather by future hope than in present reality. Present reality without that hope is, to be sure, a false happiness, in fact, an utter misery. For the present does not bring into play the true goods of the mind; since no wisdom is true wisdom if it does not direct its attention, in all its prudent decisions, its resolute actions, its self-control and its just dealings with others, towards that ultimate state in which God will be all in all,51 in the assurance of eternity and the perfection of peace.
21. Scipio’s definition of a commonwealth. Was it ever a reality at Rome?
This brings me to the place where I must fulfil, as briefly and clearly as I may, the promise I gave in the second book. 52I there promised that I would show that there never was a Roman commonwealth answering to the definitions advanced by Scipio in Cicero’s On the Republic. For Scipio gives a brief definition of the state, or commonwealth, as the ‘weal of the people’. Now if this is a true definition there never was a Roman commonwealth, because the Roman state was never the ‘weal of the people’, according to Scipio’s definition. For he defined a ‘people’ as a multitude ‘united in association by a common sense of right and a community of interest’. He explains in the discussion what he means by ‘a common sense of right’, showing that a state cannot be maintained without justice, and where there is no true justice there can be no right. For any action according to right is inevitably a just action, while no unjust action can possibly be according to right. For unjust human institutions are not to be called or supposed to be institutions of right, since even they themselves say that right is what has flowed from the fount of justice; as for the notion of justice commonly put forward by some misguided thinkers, that it is ‘the interest of the strongest’,53 they hold this to be a false conception.
Therefore, where there is no true justice there can be no ‘association of men united by a common sense of right’, and therefore no people answering to the definition of Scipio, or Cicero. And if there is no people then there is no ‘weal of the people’, but some kind of a mob, not deserving the name of a people. If, therefore, a commonwealth is the ‘weal of the people’, and if a people thoes not exist where there is no ‘association by a common sense of right’, and there is no right where there is no justice, the irresistible conclusion is that where there is no justice there is no commonwealth. Moreover, justice is that virtue which assigns to everyone his due.54 Then what kind of justice is it that takes a man away from the true God and subjects him to unclean demons? Is this to assign to every man his due? Or are we to say that a man is unjust when he takes an estate from a man who has bought it and hands it over to someone who has no right to it, while we give the name of just to a man who takes himself away from the Lord God who made him, and becomes the servant of malignant spirits?
There is, to be sure, in the same work, On the Republic, a most vigorous and powerful argument on behalf of justice against injustice. Earlier in the discussion a plea was put forward for injustice against justice, and it was alleged that a state cannot stand or be governed except by injustice, and it was posited as the strongest point in this case that it was unjust that men should be servants to other men as their masters; and yet an imperial city, the head of a great commonwealth, cannot rule its provinces except by adopting this injustice. Now it was urged in reply on the side of justice, that this situation is just, on the ground that servitude is in the interest of such men as the provincials, and that it is established for their benefit, when rightly established – that is, when unprincipled men are deprived of the freedom to do wrong with impunity. It was also asserted that the subjugated will be better off, because they were worse off before subjugation. In confirmation of this line of reasoning a notable illustration was adduced, ostensibly taken from nature. It was stated thus: ‘How is it then that God rules man, the soul rules the body, the reason rules lust and the other perverted elements in the soul?’ By this analogy it is shown plainly enough that servitude is beneficial for some men, and that servitude to God, at least, is beneficial to all.
Now in serving God the soul rightly commands the body, and in the soul itself the reason which is subject to its Lord God rightly commands the lusts and the other perverted elements. That being so, when a man does not serve God, what amount of justice are we to suppose to exist in his being? For if a soul does not serve God it cannot with any kind of justice command the body, nor can a man’s reason control the vicious elements in the soul. And if there is no justice in such a man, there can be no sort of doubt that there is no justice in a gathering which consists of such men. Here, then, there is not that ‘consent to the law’ which makes a mob into a people, and it is ‘the weal of the people’that is said to make a ‘commonwealth’. As for the ‘community of interesf in virtue of which, according to our definition, a gathering of men is called a ‘people’, is there any need for me to talk about this? Although, to be sure, if you give the matter careful thought, there are no advantages for men who live ungodly lives, the lives of all those who do not serve God, but serve demons – demons all the more blasphemous in that they desire that sacrifice be offered to them as to gods, though in fact they are most unclean spirits. However, I consider that what I have said about ‘a common sense of right’is enough to make it apparent that by this definition people amongst whom there is no justice can never be said to have a commonwealth.
Now if it is said that the Romans in their commonwealth did not serve unclean spirits but good and holy gods, do we have to repeat, time and time again, the same things that we have already said often enough – in fact, more than often enough? Surely no one who has read the earlier books of this work and has reached this point can doubt that the Romans served evil and impure demons? If he can, he is either excessively dense, or unscrupulously argumentative! But, to say no more of the character of the gods the Romans worshipped with sacrifice, it is written in the Law of the true God, ‘Anyone who sacrifices to gods instead of to the Lord only, will be extirpated.’55 This shows that sacrifice to gods, whether good or bad, was against the will of him who uttered this command with so heavy a threat.
22. The true God, to whom alone sacrifice is due
But it may be asked in reply, ‘Who is this God you talk of, and how is it proved that he is the only one to whom the Romans owed obedience, and that they should have worshipped no god besides him?’It shows extreme blindness to ask, at this time of day, who this God is! He is the same God whose prophets foretold the events we now see happening. He is the God from whom Abraham received the message, ‘In your descendants all nations will be blessed.’56 And this promise was fulfilled in Christ, who sprang from that line by physical descent, as is acknowledged, willy nilly, even by those who have remained hostile to this name. He is the same God whose divine Spirit spoke through the lips of the men whose prophecies I have quoted in my previous books, prophecies fulfilled in the Church which we see diffused throughout the whole world. He is the God whom Varro, the greatest of Roman scholars, identifies with Jupiter; although he did not realize what he was saying. Still, I thought this worth mentioning, simply because a man of such great learning could not judge this God to be non-existent or of no worth, since he believed him to be identical with his supreme god. More important still, he is the god whom Porphyry,57 the most learned of philosophers, although the fiercest enemy of the Christians, acknowledges to be a great god, even on the evidence of the oracles of those whom he supposes to be gods.
23. Porphyry on the oracles about Christ given by the gods
For Porphyry produced a book entitled Philosophy from Oracles,58 a description and compilation of responses, ostensibly divine, on matters of philosophical interest, in which he says (to quote his own words, translated from the Greek), ‘The following reply, in verse, was given by Apollo to one who asked what god he should propitiate in order to recall his wife from Christianity.’Then follow these words, purporting to be the utterance of Apollo:
You might perhaps find it easier to write on water in printed characters, or fly like a bird through the air spreading light wings to the breeze, than recall to her senses an impious, polluted wife. Let her go as she pleases, persisting in her vain delusions, singing in lamentation for a god who died in delusions, who was condemned by right-thinking judges, and killed in hideous fashion by the worst of deaths, a death bound with iron.
Then after those verses of Apollo (here given in a prose translation), Porphyry goes on to say, ‘In these verses Apollo made plain the incurability of the belief of Christians, saying that the Jews uphold God more than the Christians. ’See how he denigrates Christ in preferring the Jews to the Christians, when he proclaims that the Jews are upholders of God, for he expounds the verses of Apollo, where he says that Christ was slain by right-thinking judges, as if it meant that the Jews passed a just judgement and Christ deserved his punishment. What the lying prophet of Apollo said, and Porphyry believed, or what Porphyry perhaps falsely invented as the utterance of the prophet, is their affair. We shall see later how far Porphyry is consistent with himself, or rather how far he makes those oracles of his agree with one another.
Here, at any rate, he says that the Jews, as upholders of God’s rights, passed a just judgement on Christ, in decreeing that he was to be tortured by the worst of deaths. And since Porphyry bears this testimony to the God of the Jews, he ought to have listened to that God when he says, ‘Anyone who sacrifices to other gods, instead of to the Lord alone, will be extirpated.’However, let us come to more obvious matters, and hear Porphyry’s statement about the greatness of the God of the Jews. For example, in answer to his question, ‘Which is better, word (that is, reason) or law?’Apollo, says Porphyry, ‘replied in these verses’. Porphyry goes on to quote the verses, from which I select the following, as sufficient: ‘in God, the begetter and the king before all things, at whom heaven trembles, and earth and sea and the hidden depths of the underworld and the very divinities shudder in dread; their law is the Father whom the holy Hebrews greatly honour.’59 In this oracle of his own god Apollo, Porphyry speaks of the God of the Hebrews as so great that the divinities themselves shudder in dread at him. Since, then, this is the God who has said, ‘Anyone who sacrifices to other gods will be extirpated’, it surprises me that Porphyry himself did not shudder in terror of being rooted out for offering sacrifice to other gods.
Now this philosopher has also some good things to say about Christ, when he appears to have forgotten that insult we have just spoken of, or when it seems as if the malicious remarks his gods had made were uttered in their sleep, while in their waking moments they recognized his goodness and praised him as he deserved. Porphyry, in fact, says, with the air of one on the point of producing some amazing and incredible intelligence, ‘What I am going to say may certainly appear startling to some. I mean the fact that the gods have pronounced Christ to have been extremely devout, and have said that he has become immortal, and that they mention him in terms of commendation; whereas the Christians, by their account, are polluted and contaminated and entangled in error; and there are many other such slanders they issue against them.’ Then he proceeds to quote some of these supposed slanders of the gods against the Christians, and continues, ‘On the other hand, to those who asked whether Christ was God, Hecate replied, “You know that the immortal soul goes on its way after it leaves the body; whereas when it is cut off from wisdom it wanders for ever. That soul belongs to a man of outstanding piety; this they worship because truth is a stranger to them.”’60 Then, after quoting this supposed oracle he adds his own interpretation:
Thus He cate said that he was a most devout man, and that his soul, like the souls of the other devout men, was endowed after death with the immortality it deserved; and that Christians in their ignorance worship this soul. Moreover, to those who asked: ‘Why, then was he condemned?’the goddess gave this oracular reply: ‘The body, indeed, is always liable to torments that sap its strength; but the souls of the pious dwell in a heavenly abode. Now that soul of which we speak gave a fatal gift to other souls, those to whom the fates did not grant that they should possess the gifts of the gods or that they should have knowledge of immortal Jupiter; that fatal gift is entanglement in error. That is why they were hated by the gods, because, not being fated to know God or to receive gifts from the gods, they were given by this man the fatal gift of entanglement in error. For all that, he himself was devout, and, like other devout men, passed into heaven. And so you shall not slander him, but pity the insanity of men. From him comes for them a ready peril of headlong disaster.’
Is anyone so dense as to fail to realize that these oracles were either the inventions of a cunning man, a bitter enemy of the Christians, or the responses of demons devised with a like intent? For, surely, their purpose in praising Christ was to ensure that their vituperation of Christians would be accepted as truthful, so that, if possible, they might cut off the way of everlasting salvation, the way by which men and women become Christians. They feel, no doubt, that it is no hindrance to their ingenious and protean maleficence if they are believed when they praise Christ, provided that their vituperation of the Christians is also believed. Their intention is that when a man has believed both praise and slander they may turn him into an admirer of Christ, but an admirer who has no wish to become a Christian; and so Christ, though praised by him, will not set him free from the domination of those demons. And this is particularly true because they praise Christ in such terms that anyone who believes in the kind of Christ they proclaim does not become a genuine Christian but a Photinian heretic,61 one who acknowledges Christ only as a man, not as God also. That is why such a man cannot be saved by him, and cannot escape or undo the snares of those lying demons.
We, on our side, can approve neither Apollo’s vituperation of Christ nor Hecate’s praise of him. Apollo, we remember, would have it believed that Christ was an unrighteous man, put to death, he says, by right-thinking judges; Hecate, that he was a man of supreme piety, but only a man. However, the aim of both is the same, to make men refuse to become Christians; for unless they become Christians they cannot be rescued from the power of those false gods. But our philosopher, or rather all those who believe such purported oracles against the Christians, must first, if they can, succeed in harmonizing Hecate and Apollo on the subject of Christ, so that they unite in either his condemnation or his praise. Yet even if they succeeded in this, we should none the less give a wide berth to such delusive demons, whether slanderers of Christ or admirers. And since, in fact, their god and their goddess are in disagreement, and he slanders Christ while she praises him, then surely men in general do not believe them when they vituperate the Christians, if their own thinking is sound.
Now when Porphyry – or Hecate – praises Christ, while adding that he himself gave to the Christians the fatal gift of entanglement in error, he does at the same time reveal, as he supposes, the causes of his error. But before I explain those causes in his own words, I ask first: If Christ gave this fatal gift of entanglement in error, did he do this voluntarily or involuntarily? If voluntarily, how could he be righteous? If involuntarily, how could he be blessed? But now let us listen to the causes of the error.‘There are in a certain part of the world’, he says,
very small earthly spirits, subject to the authority of evil demons. The wise men of the Hebrews (and this Jesus was also one of them, as you have heard from the oracles of Apollo, quoted above) warned religious men against these evil demons and lesser spirits, and forbade them to pay attention to them, telling their hearers rather to venerate the gods of heaven, but, above all, to worship God the Father. But this is what the gods also teach; and we have shown above how they advise us to turn our thoughts to God, and everywhere bid us worship him. Uninstructed and ungodly natures, however, to which fate has not granted the gifts of the gods and the knowledge of immortal Jupiter, have not listened to the gods and to inspired men; and so they have rejected all the gods, while so far from hating the forbidden demons, they offer them reverence. While pretending to worship God, they do not perform those acts by which alone God is adored. For God, as being the father of all, has indeed no lack of anything; but it is well for us when we adore him by means of justice, chastity, and other virtues, making our life itself a prayer to him by imitating him and seeking to know him. For seeking to know him purifies us, while imitation of him deifies us by bringing our disposition in line with his.
Porphyry certainly did well in thus proclaiming God the Father, and in telling of the conduct by which he is to be worshipped; and the prophetic books of the Hebrews are full of such precepts, when the life of holiness is commanded or praised. But in respect of the Christians, Porphyry’s mistakes, or his calumnies, are as great as the demons (his supposed gods) could desire. He seems to assume that anyone would have difficulty in recalling the obscenities and indecencies which were performed in the theatre as acts of homage to the gods, and in observing what is read and said and heard in our churches, or what is offered to the true God, and in realizing, from this comparison, where the building up of moral character is to be found, and where its ruin. Who told him or suggested to him such a groundless and obvious he as that the Christians revere, instead of hating, the demons whose worship was forbidden to the Hebrews? It could only have been a diabolic spirit. For in fact the God whom the wise men of the Hebrews worshipped forbids sacrifices to be offered even to the holy angels and the powers of God, those angels and powers whom we venerate and love, in this mortal pilgrimage of ours, as our completely blessed fellow citizens. He forbids this in a voice of thunder in his Law, which he gave to his Hebrew people, when he said, in words heavy with menace, ‘Anyone who sacrifices to other gods will be extirpated.’62 Now it might be supposed that this precept forbids sacrifice to those most evil demons and the earthly spirits, which Porphyry calls ‘least’or ‘lesser’; for even these are called ‘gods’in the sacred Scriptures – of the Gentiles, that is, not in those of the Hebrews. This is made quite clear by the seventy translators in one of the psalms, where they say, ‘For all the gods of the nations are demons.’63 But to prevent any such supposition that sacrifice, while forbidden to those demons, was allowed to all or some of the heavenly beings, these words immediately follow: ‘instead of the Lord alone’, that is, ‘to the Lord alone’. I say this in case anyone imagines that the words ‘to the Lord alone’, Domino soli, means ‘our Lord the sun’, to whom sacrifice is to be offered. That this is not the meaning can easily be discovered by a reference to the Greek version.
The God of the Hebrews, then, to whom this eminent philosopher gives such impressive testimony, gave to his Hebrew people the Law, written in Hebrew, a Law not obscure and unknown, but by now of wide renown among all nations. And in this Law it is written: ‘Anyone who sacrifices to other gods, instead of to the Lord only, will be extirpated.’What need is there for a detailed inquiry on this subject into his Law and into his prophets? Why, the need is not for an inquiry, for the relevant passages are not hard to find or rare; all that is required is the collection and insertion in this discussion of mine of the obvious and frequent passages in which it is made as clear as daylight that the true and supreme God willed that sacrifice should be offered to no other being whatsoever, but to himself alone. Here is one statement, brief, yet certainly impressive, menacing, in fact, but with truth in the menace – a statement of the God whom the most learned of the pagans proclaims in such remarkable terms. It is a warning that must be heard, feared, and acted on, lest the disobedient be rooted out in consequence. ‘Anyone who sacrifices to other gods’, he says ‘instead of to the Lord alone, will be extirpated.’ This is not because God stands in need of anything, but because it is to our advantage to belong to him. For it is to him that the psalmist sings, in the holy Scriptures of the Hebrews, ‘I have said to the Lord: “You are my God, because you have no need of my goods.”’64
And yet it is we ourselves – we, his City – who are his best, his most glorious sacrifice. The mystic symbol of this sacrifice we celebrate in our oblations, familiar to the faithful, as we have maintained in previous books.65 For the sacrificial victims offered by the Jews, as a foreshadowing of what was to come, were destined to come to an end. This was declared by divine oracles through the lips of the holy prophets, in resounding tones, saying that the nations from the furthest East to the furthest West would offer on sacrifice, as we now see happening. I have extracted as many of those oracles as seemed sufficient,and have already scattered them throughout this work. It follows that justice is found where God, the one supreme God, rules an obiedient City according to his grace, forbidding sacrifice to any being save himself alone; and where in consequence the soul rules the body in all men who belong to this City and obey God, and the reason faithfully rules the vices in a lawful system of subordination; so that just as the individual righteous man lives on the basis of faith66 which is active in love,67 so the association, or people, of righteous men lives on the same basis of faith, active in love, the love with which a man loves God as God ought to be loved, and loves his neighbour as himself. But where this justice does not exist, there is certainly no ‘association of men united by a common sense of right and by a community of interest’. Therefore there is no commonwealth; for where there is no ‘people’, there is no ‘weal of the people’.
24. An alternative definition of ‘people’and ‘commonwealth’
If, on the other hand, another definition than this is found for a ‘people’, for example, if one should say, ‘A people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love’, then it follows that to observe the character of a particular people we must examine the objects of its love. And yet, whatever those objects, if it is the association of a multitude not of animals but of rational beings, and is united by a common agreement about the objects of its love, then there is no absurdity in applying to it the title of a ‘people’. And, obviously, the better the objects of this agreement, the better the people; the worse the objects of this love, the worse the people. By this definition of ours, the Roman people is a people and its estate is indubitably a commonwealth. But as for the objects of that people’s love – both in the earliest times and in subsequent periods – and the morality of that people as it proceeded to bloody strife of parties and then to the social and civil wars, and corrupted and disrupted that very unity which is, as it were, the health of a people –for all this we have the witness of history; and I have had a great deal to say about it in my preceding books. And yet I shall not make that a reason for asserting that a people is not really a people or that a state is not a commonwealth, so long as there remains an association of some kind or other between a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of its love. However,what I have said about the Roman people and the Roman commonwealth I must be understood to have said and felt about those of the Athenians and of any other Greeks, or of that former Babylon of the Assyrians, when they exercised imperial rule, whether on a small or a large scale, in their commonwealths – and indeed about any other nation whatsoever. For God is not the ruler of the city of the impious, because it disobeys his commandment that sacrifice should be offered to himself alone. The purpose of this law was that in that city the soul should rule over the body and reason over the vicious elements, in righteousness and faith. And because God does not rule there the general characteristic of that city is that it is devoid of true justice.
25. True virtues impossible without true religion
The fact is that the soul may appear to rule the body and the reason to govern the vicious elements in the most praiseworthy fashion; and yet if the soul and reason do not serve God as God himself has commanded that he should be served, then they do not in any way exercise the right kind of rule over the body and the vicious propensities. For what kind of a mistress over the body and the vices can a mind be that is ignorant of the true God and is not subjected to his rule, but instead is prostituted to the corrupting influence of vicious demons? Thus the virtues which the mind imagines it possesses, by means of which it rules the body and the vicious elements, are themselves vices rather than virtues, if the mind does not bring them into relation with God in order to achieve anything whatsoever and to maintain that achievement. For although the virtues are reckoned by some people to be genuine and honourable when they are related only to themselves and are sought for no other end, even then they are puffed up and proud, and so are to be accounted vices rather than virtues. For just as it is not something derived from the physical body itself that gives life to that body, but something above it, so it is not something that comes from man, but something above man, that makes his life blessed; and this is true not only of man but of every heavenly dominion and power whatsoever.
26. The peace of the people alienated from God is made use of by God’s People on their pilgrimage
Thus, as the soul is the life of the physical body, so God is the blessedness of man’s life. As the holy Scriptures of the Hebrews say, ‘Blessed is the people, whose God is the Lord.’68 It follows that a people alienated from that God must be wretched. Yet even such a people loves a peace of its own, which is not to be rejected; but it will not possess it in the end, because it does not make good use of it before the end. Meanwhile, however, it is important for us also that this people should possess this peace in this life, since so long as the two cities are intermingled we also make use of the peace of Babylon –although the People of God is by faith set free from Babylon, so that in the meantime they are only pilgrims in the midst of her. That is why the Apostle instructs the Church to pray for kings of that city and those in high positions, adding these words: ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life with all devotion and love’.69 And when the prophet Jeremiah predicted to the ancient People of God the coming captivity, and bade them, by God’s inspiration, to go obediently to Babylon, serving God even by their patient endurance, he added his own advice that prayers should be offered for Babylon, ‘because in her peace is your peace’70 – meaning, of course, the temporal peace of the meantime, which is shared by good and bad alike.
27. The peace of God’s servants, a perfect tranquillity, not experienced in this life
In contrast, the peace which is our special possession is ours even in this life, a peace with God through faith; and it will be ours for ever, a peace with God through open vision.71 But peace here and now, whether the peace shared by all men or our own special possession, is such that it affords a solace for our wretchedness rather than the joy of blessedness. Our righteousness itself, too, though genuine, in virtue of the genuine Ultimate Good to which it is referred, is nevertheless only such as to consist in the forgiveness of sins rather than in the perfection of virtues. The evidence for this is in the prayer of the whole City of God on pilgrimage in the world, which, as we know, cries out to God through the lips of all its members: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’72 And this prayer is not effective for those whose ‘faith, without works, is dead’73 but only for those whose ‘faith is put into action through love’.74 For such a prayer is needed by righteous men because the reason, though subjected to God, does not have complete command over the vices in this mortal state and in the ‘corruptible body which weighs heavy on the soul’.75 In fact, even though command be exercised over the vices it is assuredly not by any means without a conflict. And even when a man fights well and even gains the mastery by conquering and subduing such foes, still in this situation of weakness something is all too likely to creep in to cause sin, if not in hasty action, at least in a casual remark or a fleeting thought.
For this reason there is no perfect peace so long as command is exercised over the vicious propensities, because the battle is fraught with peril while those vices that resist are being reduced to submission, while those which have been overcome are not yet triumphed over in peaceful security, but are repressed under a rule still troubled by anxieties. Thus we are in the midst of these temptations, about which we find this brief saying amongst the divine oracles: ‘Is a man’s life on earth anything but temptation?’;76 and who can presume that his life is of such a kind that he has no need to say to God, ‘Forgive us our debts’, unless he is a man of overwhelming conceit, not a truly great man, but one puffed up and swollen with pride, who is with justice resisted by him who gives grace to the humble, as it says in the Scriptures, ‘God resists the proud, but he gives his favour to the humble.’77In this life, therefore, justice in each individual exists when God rules and man obeys, when the mind rules the body and reason governs the vices even when they rebel, either by subduing them or by resisting them, while from God himself favour is sought for good deeds and pardon for offences, and thanks are duly offered to him for benefits received. But in that ultimate peace, to which this justice should be related, and for the attainment of which this justice is to be maintained, our nature will be healed by immortality and incorruption and will have no perverted elements, and nothing at all, in ourselves or any other, will be in conflict with any one of us. And so reason will not need to rule the vices, since there will be no vices, but God will hold sway over man, and the soul over the body, and in this state our delight and facility in obeying will be matched by our felicity in living and reigning. There, for each and every one, this state will be eternal, and its eternity will be assured; and for that reason the peace of this blessedness, or the blessedness of this peace, will be the Supreme Good.
28. The end of the wicked
In contrast with this, however, the wretchedness of those who do not belong to this City of God will be everlasting. This is called also ‘the second death’, because the soul cannot be said to be alive in that state, when it is separated from the life of God, nor can the body, when it is subjected to eternal torments. And this is precisely the reason why this ‘second death’ will be harder to bear, because it cannot come to an end in death. But here a question arises; for just as wretchedness is the opposite of blessedness, and death of life, so war is evidently the opposite of peace. And the question is rightly asked: What war, or what kind of war, can be understood to exist in the final state of the wicked, corresponding, by way of contrast, to that peace which is proclaimed with joyful praises in the final state of the good? Now anyone who puts this question should observe what it is that is harmful and destructive in war; and he will see that it is precisely the mutual opposition and conflict of the forces engaged. What war, then, can be imagined more serious and more bitter than a struggle in which the will is so at odds with the feelings and the feelings with the will, that their hostility cannot be ended by the victory of either – a struggle in which the violence of pain is in such conflict with the nature of the body that neither can yield to the other? For in this life, when such a conflict occurs, either pain wins, and death takes away feeling, or nature conquers, and health removes the pain. But in that other life, pain continues to torment, while nature lasts to feel the pain. Neither ceases to exist, lest the punishment also should cease.
These, then, are the final states of good and evil. The first we should seek to attain, the latter we should strive to escape. And since it is through a judgement that the good will pass to the one, and the evil to the other, it is of this judgement that I shall deal, as far as God grants, in the book which follows.