Preface. The Purpose and Argument of this work
HERE, my dear Marcellinus,1 is the fulfilment of my promise, a book in which I have taken upon myself the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of that City. I treat of it both as it exists in this world of time, a stranger among the ungodly, living by faith,2 and as it stands in the security of its everlasting seat. This security it now awaits in steadfast patience, until ‘justice returns to judgement’;3 but it is to attain it hereafter in virtue of its ascendancy over its enemies, when the final victory is won and peace established. The task is long and arduous; but God is our helper.4
I know how great is the effort needed to convince the proud of the power and excellence of humility, an excellence which makes it soar above all the summits of this world, which sway in their temporal instability, overtopping them all with an eminence not arrogated by human pride, but granted by divine grace. For the King and Founder of this City which is our subject has revealed in the Scripture of his people this statement of the divine Law, ‘God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.’5 This is God’s prerogative; but man’s arrogant spirit in its swelling pride has claimed it as its own, and delights to hear this verse quoted in its own praise: ‘To spare the conquered, and beat down the proud.’6
Therefore I cannot refrain from speaking about the city of this world, a city which aims at dominion, which holds nations in enslavement, but is itself dominated by that very lust of domination. I must consider this city as far as the scheme of this work demands and as occasion serves.
l. The enemies of Christianity were spared by the barbarians at the sack of Rome, out of respect for Christ
From this world’s city there arise enemies against whom the City of God has to be defended, though many of these correct their godless errors and become useful citizens of that City. But many are inflamed with hate against it and feel no gratitude for the benefits offered by its Redeemer. The benefits are unmistakable; those enemies would not today be able to utter a word against the City if, when fleeing from the sword of their enemy, they had not found, in the City’s holy places, the safety on which they now congratulate themselves.7 The barbarians spared them for Christ’s sake; and now these Romans assail Christ’s name. The sacred places of the martyrs and the basilicas of the apostles bear witness to this, for in the sack of Rome they afforded shelter to fugitives, both Christian and pagan. The bloodthirsty enemy raged thus far, but here the frenzy of butchery was checked; to these refuges the merciful among the enemy conveyed those whom they had spared outside, to save them from encountering foes who had no such pity. Even men who elsewhere raged with all the savagery an enemy can show, arrived at places where practices generally allowed by laws of war were forbidden and their monstrous passion for violence was brought to a sudden halt; their lust for taking captives was subdued.
In this way many escaped who now complain of this Christian era, and hold Christ responsible for the disasters which their city endured. But they do not make Christ responsible for the benefits they received out of respect for Christ, to which they owed their lives. They attribute their deliverance to their own destiny; whereas if they had any right judgement they ought rather to attribute the harsh cruelty they suffered at the hands of their enemies to the providence of God. For God’s providence constantly uses war to correct and chasten the corrupt morals of mankind, as it also uses such afflictions to train men in a righteous and laudable way of life, removing to a better state those whose life is approved, or else keeping them in this world for further service.
Moreover, they should give credit to this Christian era for the fact that these savage barbarians showed mercy beyond the custom of war – whether they so acted in general in honour of the name of Christ, or in places specially dedicated to Christ’s name, buildings of such size and capacity as to give mercy a wider range. For this clemency our detractors ought rather to give thanks to God; they should have recourse to his name in all sincerity, so as to escape the penalty of everlasting fire, seeing that so many of them assumed his name dishonestly, to escape the penalty of immediate destruction. Among those whom you see insulting Christ’s servants with such wanton insolence there are very many who came unscathed through that terrible time of massacre only by passing themselves off as Christ’s servants. And now with ungrateful pride and impious madness they oppose his name in the perversity of their hearts, so that they may incur the punishment of eternal darkness; but then they took refuge in that name, though with deceitful lips, so that they might continue to enjoy this transitory light.
2. That victors should spare the vanquished out of respect for their gods, is something unexampled in history
We have the records of many wars, both before the foundation of Rome and after its rise to power. Let our enemies read their history, and then produce instances of the capture of any city by foreign enemies when those enemies spared any whom they found taking refuge in the temples of their gods.8 Let them quote any barbarian general who gave instructions, at the storming of a town, that no one should be treated with violence who was discovered in this temple or that Aeneas saw Priam at the altar,
polluting with his blood
The fire which he had consecrated.9
And Diomedes and Ulysses
Slew all the warders of the citadel
And snatched with bloody hands the sacred image;
Nor shrank to touch the chaplets virginal
Of the dread goddess.
And there is no truth in the statement that comes after,
The Grecian hopes then failed, and ebbed away.10
For what in fact followed was the Greek victory, the destruction of Troy by fire and sword, the slaughter of Priam at the altar.
And it was not because Troy lost Minerva that Troy perished. What loss did Minerva herself first incur, that led to her own disappearance? Was it, perhaps, the loss of her guards? There can be no doubt that their death made her removal possible – the image did not preserve the men; the men were preserving the image. Why then did they worship her, to secure her protection for their country and its citizens? She could not guard her own keepers.
3. The folly of the Romans in confiding their safety to the household gods who had failed to protect Troy
There you see the sort of gods to whom the Romans gladly entrusted the preservation of their city. Pitiable folly! Yet the Romans are enraged by such criticisms from us, while they are not incensed at the authors of such quotations; in fact they pay money to become acquainted with their works, and they consider that those who merely instruct them in these works merit an official salary and an honoured position in the community. Virgil certainly is held to be a great poet; in fact he is regarded as the best and the most renowned of all poets, and for that reason he is read by children at an early age – they take great draughts of his poetry into their unformed minds, so that they may not easily forget him, for, as Horace remarks,
New vessels will for long retain the taste
Of what is first poured into them.11
Now in Virgil Juno is introduced as hostile to the Trojans, and when she urges Aeolus, king of the winds, against them, she says,
A race I hate sails the Etruscan sea
Bringing to Italy Troy’s vanquished gods,
And Troy itself.12
Ought the Romans, as prudent men, to have entrusted the defence of Rome to gods unable to defend themselves? Juno no doubt spoke like a woman in anger, heedless of what she was saying. But consider what is said by Aeneas himself, who is so often called ‘the pious’.
Panthus, the priest of Phoebus and the citadel,
Snatching his conquered gods and his young grandson
Rushes in frenzy to the door.13
He does not shrink from calling the gods ‘conquered’, and he speaks of them as being entrusted to him, rather than the other way round, when he is told, ‘To thee, Troy now entrusts her native gods.’14
If Virgil speaks of such gods as ‘vanquished’, and tells how, after their overthrow, they only succeeded in escaping because they were committed to the care of a man, what folly it is to see any wisdom in committing Rome to such guardians, and in supposing that it could not be sacked while it retained possession of them. To worship ‘vanquished’ gods as protectors and defenders is to rely not on divinities but on defaulters. It is not sensible to assume that Rome would have escaped this disaster had these gods not first perished; the sensible belief is that those gods would have perished long before, had not Rome made every effort to preserve them. Anyone who gives his mind to it can see that it is utter folly to count on invincibility by virtue of the possession of defenders who have been conquered and to attribute destruction to the loss of such guardian deities as these. In fact, the only possible cause of destruction was the choice of such perishable defenders. When the poets wrote and sang of ‘vanquished gods’, it was not because it suited their whim to lie – they were men of sense, and truth compelled them to admit the facts.
But I must deal with this subject in fuller detail in a more convenient place. For the present I will return to the ingratitude of those who blasphemously blame Christ for the disasters which their moral perversity deservedly brought upon them, and I will deal with the subject as briefly as I can. ‘They were spared for Christ’s sake, pagans though they were; yet they scorn to acknowledge this. With the madness of sacrilegious perversity they use their tongues against the name of Christ: yet with those same tongues they dishonestly claimed that name in order to save their lives, or else, in places sacred to him, they held their tongues through fear. They were kept safe and protected there where his name stood between then and the enemy’s violence. And so they issue from that shelter to assail him with curses of hate.
4. Juno’s sanctuary in Troy gave no security from the Greeks; whereas the apostolic basilicas at Rome gave protection from the barbarians
As I said before, Troy itself, the mother of the Roman people, could not, by means of the consecrated buildings of its gods, save its citizens from the fire and sword of the Greeks, although they worshipped the same gods.
In Juno’s sanctuary
The chosen warders, Phoenix and dread Ulysses,
Keep safe the spoils; and there is heaped Troy’s wealth:
Plunder from burning shrines, the golden bowls,
The tables of the gods, the captured vestments.
And near them stand the boys and trembling matrons
Rank upon rank.15
That is to say, a place consecrated to so great a goddess was chosen, not as a place from which prisoners might not lawfully be taken out, but as a place where the victors might at pleasure shut up their captives. This sanctuary was not the temple of any common god of the lower orders of deities, but that of the sister and wife of Jove himself, the queen of all the gods. Now contrast it with the memorial shrines of our apostles. To the former were taken the spoils from the burning temples and gods, not to be given to the vanquished, but to be divided among the victors; to the latter was carried, with honour and most scrupulous reverence, all that belonged to those places which was found elsewhere. There, freedom was lost; here, it was preserved. There, captives were confined; here, enslavement was forbidden. There, men were herded by foes who exercised their power by sending them into slavery; here, they were conducted by foes who showed their pity by setting them free. In short, the greedy arrogance of the contemptible Greeks chose that temple of Juno for its display; the humble clemency of the barbarians, uncouth as they were, chose those basilicas of Christ. It may be that the Greeks in their victory spared the temples of the common gods and refrained from hurting or enslaving the poor conquered Trojans who took refuge there. If so, Virgil, in the manner of poets, did not tell the truth about it. In fact he gives the familiar picture of the sack of a city by its enemies.
5. Cato’s description of the sack of a city, according to the custom of war
According to Sallust, a historian renowned for his veracity, Cato,16 in making his proposal about the conspirators, was careful to remind the senate of the usual consequences when cities are sacked.
Maidens and boys are carried off, children are torn from parents’ embrace; mothers are subjected to the pleasure of the conquerors; temples and homes are despoiled; there is fire and slaughter everywhere; the scene is crowded with fighting men, with dead bodies, with bloodshed and lamentation.17
If he had omitted the mention of temples, we might have supposed that it was the custom for enemies to spare the abodes of gods. Yet the Roman temples had to dread this fate, not at the hands of foreign foes, but at the hands of Catiline and his associates, that is, of Roman citizens and senators of the highest birth; but they, to be sure, were men without conscience, murderers of the land that bore them.
6. Not even the Romans spared the conquered in the temples of captured cities
Why should I survey in this argument the wars waged by many nations which supply no instance of mercy shown the conquered in the abodes of their gods? Let us observe the Romans themselves; let us give them further examination. It was said of them, in their particular praise, that it was their custom ‘To spare the conquered and beat down the proud’;18 and that they chose ‘rather to pardon than to avenge the wrongs’19 they suffered. To extend their dominions these Romans captured, stormed or overthrew many mighty cities. Do we ever read of any privilege extended to certain temples, to ensure that any who took refuge in them should be given their freedom? Or did they act thus, even though the historians fail to mention it? These historians particularly look for points to praise. Is it likely that they would omit actions which, by their own standards, would be most convincing evidence of religious feeling?
That great Roman, Marcus Marcellus, who captured the splendid city of Syracuse, is said to have wept over its coming downfall and to have shed his own tears before shedding Syracusan blood.20 He also took care to preserve the honour of his enemies, for before he ordered the invasion of the town, the victor issued an edict that no violence should be done to the person of any free citizen. And yet that city was overthrown in the usual manner of warfare, and there is no record of any proclamation by that honourable and merciful commander to order that anyone who fled to this temple or that should be immune from harm. And this would certainly not have passed unrecorded, since the records could not allow his weeping to remain unmentioned, nor his edict utterly forbidding the violation of his enemy’s honour.
Fabius, who crushed Tarentum, is commended for having abstained from plundering images.21 For when his secretary inquired what were his commands about the statues of the gods, many of which had been captured, he seasoned his moderation with a joke. He asked what sort of images they were and, on being told that many of them were of impressive size, and some were even armed, he said, ‘Let us leave the Tarentines their angry gods.’ Now since the Roman chroniclers could not fail to mention the tears of one and the jocularity of the other, the honourable clemency of Marcellus and the humorous moderation of Fabius, is it likely that they would omit to record it if these two had shown mercy to any man out of respect for their gods by forbidding massacre or enslavement in some temple or other?
7. In the sack of Rome, the cruelties conformed to the conventions of war; the acts of clemency were due to the power of Chrise’s name
All the devastation, the butchery, the plundering, the conflagrations, and all the anguish which accompanied the recent disaster at Rome22 were in accordance with the general practice of warfare. But there was something which established a new custom, something which changed the whole aspect of the scene; the savagery of the barbarians took on such an aspect of gentleness that the largest basilicas were selected and set aside to be filled with people to be spared by the enemy. No one was to be violently used there, no one snatched away. Many were to be brought there for liberation by merciful foes; none were to be taken from there into captivity even by cruel enemies. This is to be attributed to the name of Christ and the influence of Christianity. Anyone who fails to see this is blind; anyone who sees it and fails to give praise for it is thankless; anyone who tries to stop another from giving praise is a madman. Let us hope that no one with any sense will ascribe the credit for this to the brutal nature of the barbarians. Their fierce and savage minds were terrified, restrained, and miraculously controlled by him who long ago said, through his prophet, ‘I will visit their iniquities with a rod, and their sins with scourges: but I will not disperse my mercy from them.’23
8. Blessings and disasters often shared by good and bad
No doubt this question will be asked, ‘Why does the divine mercy extend even to the godless and ungrateful?’ The only explanation is that it is the mercy of one ‘who makes his sun rise on the good and on the bad, and sends rain alike on the righteous and the unrighteous’.24 Some of the wicked are brought to penitence by considering these facts, and amend their impiety, while others, in the words of the Apostle, ‘despise the riches of God’s goodness and forebearance, in the hardness and impenitence of their hearts, and lay up for themselves a store of wrath in the day of God’s anger and of the revelation of the just judgement of God, who will repay every man according to his actions’.25 Yet the patience of God still invites the wicked to penitence, just as God’s chastisement trains the good in patient endurance. God’s mercy embraces the good for their cherishing, just as his severity chastens the wicked for their punishment. God, in his providence, decided to prepare future blessings for the righteous, which the unrighteous will not enjoy, and sorrows for the ungodly, with which the good will not be tormented. But he has willed that these temporal goods and temporal evils should befall good and bad alike, so that the good things should not be too eagerly coveted, when it is seen that the wicked also enjoy them, and that the evils should not be discreditably shunned, when it is apparent that the good are often afflicted with them.
The most important question is this: What use is made of the things thought to be blessings, and of the things reputed evil? The good man is not exalted by this world’s goods; nor is he overwhelmed by this world’s ills. The bad man is punished by misfortune of this kind just because he is corrupted by good fortune.
However, it often happens that God shows more clearly his manner of working in the distribution of good and bad fortune. For if punishment were obviously inflicted on every wrongdoing in this life, it would be supposed that nothing was reserved for the last judgement; on the other hand, if God’s power never openly punished any sin in this world, there would be an end to belief in providence. Similarly in respect of good fortune; if God did not grant it to some petitioners with manifest generosity, we should not suppose that these temporal blessings were his concern, while if he bestowed prosperity on all just for the asking we might think that God was to be served merely for the sake of those rewards, and any service of him would prove us not godly but rather greedy and covetous.
This being so, when the good and the wicked suffer alike, the identity of their sufferings does not mean that there is no difference between them. Though the sufferings are the same, the sufferers remain different. Virtue and vice are not the same, even if they undergo the same torment. The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain; and oil is not mistaken for lees because both are forced out by the same press. In the same way, the violence which assails good men to test them, to cleanse and purify them, effects in the wicked their condemnation, ruin, and annihilation. Thus the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme; the good, in the same affliction, offer up prayers and praises. This shows that what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of the sufferings. Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends. But the movement is identical.
9. The reasons why the good and the wicked are equally afflicted
Thus, in this universal catastrophe, the sufferings of Christians have tended to their moral improvement, because they viewed them with the eyes of faith.
First, they consider in humility the sins which have moved God’s indignation so that he has filled the world with dire calamities. And although they are free from criminal and godless wickedness, still they do not regard themselves as so far removed from such wrongdoing as not to deserve to suffer the temporal ills which are the recompense of sin. Everyone of them, however commendable his life, gives way at times to physical desires, and, while avoiding monstrous crimes, the sink of iniquity and the abomination of godlessness, is yet guilty of some sins, infrequent sins, perhaps, or more frequent because more trivial. Apart from this, it is not easy to find anyone who, when confronted with those whose fearful arrogance, lust, and greed, whose detestable wickedness and impiety, have caused God to give effect to his threats and warnings by bringing destruction on the earth – it is not, I say, easy to find anyone who regards such men as they should be regarded – who, when he meets them, treats them as they should be treated.
We tend culpably to evade our responsibility when we ought to instruct and admonish them, sometimes even with sharp reproof and censure, either because the task is irksome, or because we are afraid of giving offence; or it may be that we shrink from incurring their enmity, for fear that they may hinder and harm us in worldly matters, in respect either of what we eagerly seek to attain, or of what we weakly dread to lose. And so, although the good dislike the way of life of the wicked, and therefore do not fall into the condemnation which is in store for the wicked after this life, nevertheless, because they are tender towards damnable sins of the wicked, and thus fall into sin through fear of such people (pardonable and comparatively trivial though those sins may be), they are justly chastised with afflictions in this world, although they are spared eternal punishment; and they rightly feel this life to be bitter when they are associated with the wicked in the afflictions sent by God. But it was through love of this world’s sweetness that they refused to be bitter to those sinners.
If anyone refrains from reproof and correction of ill-doers because he looks for a more suitable occasion, or because he fears that this will make them worse, or fears that they will hinder the instruction of others, who are weak, in a good and godly way of life, and that they will oppress them, and turn them away from the faith, in such a case the action seems to be prompted not by self-interest but by counsels of charity. What is culpable is when those whose life is different and who abhor the deeds of the wicked are nevertheless indulgent to the sins of others, which they ought to reprehend and reprove, because they are concerned to avoid giving offence to them, in case they should harm themselves in respect of things which may be rightly and innocently enjoyed by good men, but which they desire more than is right for those who are strangers in this world and who fix their hope on a heavenly country.
There are the weaker brothers, in the married state, who have children or look to have them, who are masters of houses and households; the Apostle addresses them in the churches, teaching them and warning them how they ought to live, wives with husbands and husbands with wives, children with parents and parents with children, servants with masters and masters with servants.26 Such men are eager to acquire many of this world’s temporal goods, and grieve to lose them, and for that reason they have not the heart to offend men whose lives of shame and crime they detest. But they are not alone.
Even those who have a higher standard of life, who are not entangled in the bonds of marriage, who are content with little food and scanty clothing, are often fearful of attacks by the wicked upon their reputation and their safety, and so refrain from reproaches. They are not so afraid of the wicked as to yield to their villainous threats to the extent of committing crimes like theirs; but though they do not commit them they too often fail to reprehend them, for although they might perhaps convert some by such rebuke they fear that, if the attempt failed, their safety and reputation might be endangered or destroyed. And this is not due to prudence, nor is it because they see their reputation and safety as essential means whereby mankind may receive the benefit of instruction; it is rather due to weakness – because they delight in flattery and popularity and because they dread the judgement of the mob, and the torture or death of the body. In fact, they are constrained by self-interest, not by the obligations of charity.
So this seems to me a major reason why the good are chastized along with the evil, when God decides to punish moral corruption with temporal calamities. Good and bad are chastised together, not because both alike live evil lives, but because both alike, though not in the same degree, love this temporal life. But the good ought to have despised it, so that the others might be reformed and corrected and might aim at life eternal; or, if they refused to be partners in this enterprise, so that they might be borne with, and loved as Christians should love their enemies, since in this life it is always uncertain whether or not they are likely to experience a change of heart.
In this matter a uniquely heavy responsibility rests on those to whom this message is given by the prophet: ‘He indeed will die in his sin, but I will require his blood at the hand of the watchman.’27 For ‘watchmen’, that is, leaders of the people, have been appointed in the churches for this purpose, that they should be unsparing in their condemnation of sin. This does not mean that a man is entirely free from blame in this regard if, without being a ‘watchman’, he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of this life force him to associate – if he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached. There is a further reason for the infliction of temporal suffering on the good, as is seen in the case of Job – that the spirit of man may be tested, that he may learn for himself what is the degree of disinterested devotion that he offers to God.
10. The saints lose nothing by being deprived of temporal goods
After giving proper attention and consideration to these points, observe whether any disaster has happened to the faithful and religious which did not turn out for their good; unless we are to suppose that there is no meaning in the Apostle’s statement, ‘We know that God makes all things co-operate for good for those who love him.’28 They lost all they had. Did they lose faith? Or devotion? Or the possessions of the inner man, who is ‘rich in the sight of God’?29 These are the riches of Christians, and the Apostle, who was endowed with this wealth, said,
Devotion combined with self-sufficiency yields great profit. For we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything away with us. So, if we have food and clothes, we are content with that. For those who wish to become rich fall into temptation and into a snare, and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge men into death and destruction. For acquisitiveness is the root of all evils; and those who have this as their aim have strayed away from the faith and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.30
If those who lost their earthly riches in that disaster had possessed them in the spirit thus described to them by one who was outwardly poor but inwardly rich; that is, if they had ‘used the world as though not using if’,31 then they would have been able to say, with that man who was so sorely tried and yet was never overcome: ‘I issued from my mother’s womb in nakedness, and in nakedness I shall return to the earth. The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. It has happened as God decided. May the Lord’s name be blessed.’32 Thus a good servant would regard the will of God as his great resource, and he would be enriched in his mind by close attendance on God’s will; nor would he grieve if deprived in life of those possessions which he would soon have to leave behind at his death.
The weaker characters, who clung to their worldly goods with some degree of avarice, even if they did not prefer them to Christ, discovered, in losing them, how much they sinned in loving them. They ‘entangled themselves in sorrows’, as I have already quoted from the Apostle, and they suffered in proportion. They refused for so long to be taught by words, and they had to have the added teaching of experience. For when the Apostle said, ‘Those who wish to become rich fall into temptation…’33 what he condemns in riches is the desire for them, not the opportunities they offer. This is clear from his injunction in another passage:
I enjoin the rich of this world not to feel proud, and not to fix their eyes on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who supplies us liberally with all things for our enjoyment. Let them do good; let them be rich in good works; let them be ready to give; let them share their wealth; let them store up a good foundation for the future; let them get hold of true life.34
Those who have done this with their riches have had great gains to compensate them for light losses, and their joy at what they assured for themselves more securely by readiness to give outweighed their sadness at the surrender of possessions they more easily lost because they clung to them fearfully. Reluctance to remove their goods from this world exposed them to the risk of loss. There were those who accepted the Lord’s advice: ‘Do not store your treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Pile up treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, your heart will be also;’35 and such people proved in the time of tribulation how wise they were in not despising the finest of advisers and the most faithful and unconquerable guardian of treasure. For if many rejoiced at having their riches in a place which fortunately escaped the enemy’s approach, with how much greater certainty and confidence could those rejoice who at the warning of their God removed themselves to a place to which the enemy could never come. Hence our friend Paulinus,36 bishop of Nola, deliberately reduced himself from great wealth to extreme poverty and the great riches of holiness; and when the barbarians devastated Nola, and he was in their hands, he prayed in his heart, as I learnt from him afterwards, ‘Lord, let me not be tortured on account of gold and silver; for you know where all my riches are.’ For he kept all his possessions in the place where he had been told to store and preserve them by him who foretold those troubles which were to come upon the world. In this way, those who obeyed their Lord’s advice about where and how they ought to amass treasure, did not lose even their worldly riches in the barbarian invasions. But those who had to repent of their disobedience learnt what they should have done in this matter; if they failed to learn by wisdom before the event, at least they learned by experience after it.
It will be objected that some Christians, and good Christians, were tortured to make them hand over their goods to the enemy. But they could not hand over, nor lose, that good which was the ground of their own goodness; and if they preferred to be tortured rather than surrender ‘the Mammon of unrighteousness’, then they were not good. Those who suffered so much for the sake of gold should have been warned how much they should endure for the sake of Christ, so that they might learn, instead of loving gold and silver, to love him who would enrich with eternal felicity those who suffered for his sake. To suffer for the sake of wealth was pitiable, whether the wealth was concealed by telling lies, or surrendered by telling the truth. For under torture no one lost Christ by confessing him, no one preserved his gold except by denying it. In this respect we might say that torture conveyed the lesson that what is to be loved is the incorruptible good; and so torture was more useful than those possessions which tormented their owners, through the love they aroused, without bringing them any useful profit.
But there were some who were tortured even though they possessed nothing to surrender. They were tortured because they were not believed. Perhaps they desired possessions, and were not voluntarily poor through holiness. They had to be shown that the mere desire for wealth, even without the enjoyment of it, deserved such torments. As for those who had no gold and silver stored away because they had set their hearts on a better life, I am not sure that any of such people were so unfortunate as to be tortured because of their supposed wealth. But even if this did happen, those who confessed holy poverty when tortured were confessing Christ; and so anyone who confessed holy poverty, even if he did not win credence from the enemy, could not be tortured without winning a heavenly reward.
‘But’, they say, ‘many Christians have been destroyed by prolonged starvation.’ Well, the loyal and faithful turned this also to their own advantage by enduring it in fidelity to God. For when starvation killed any, it snatched them away from the evils of this life, as disease rescues men from the sufferings of the body, and if it spared their lives, it taught them to live more frugally and to fast more extensively.
11. The end of this present life must come, whether sooner or later
‘But’, they will say, ‘many Christians also have been killed, and many carried off by hideous diseases of all kinds.’ If one must grieve at this, it is certainly the common lot of all who have been brought into this life. I am certain of this, that no one has died who was not going to die at some time, and the end of life reduces the longest life to the same condition as the shortest. When something has once ceased to exist, there is no more question of better or worse, longer or shorter. What does it matter by what kind of death life is brought to an end? When man’s life is ended he does not have to die again. Among the daily chances of this life every man on earth is threatened in the same way by innumerable deaths, and it is uncertain which of them will come to him. And so the question is whether it is better to suffer one in dying or to fear them all in living. I am well aware that a man would sooner choose to live under threat of all those deaths than by one death to be thereafter free of the fear of them. But there is a wide difference between the body’s instinctive shrinking, in weakness and fear, and the mind’s rational conviction, when deliberately set free from the body’s influence. Death is not to be regarded as a disaster, when it follows on a good life, for the only thing that makes death an evil is what comes after death. Those who must inevitably die ought not to worry overmuch about what accident will cause their death, but about their destination after dying. Christians know that the death of a poor religious man, licked by the tongues of dogs, is far better than the death of a godless rich man, dressed in purple and linen.37 Why then should those who have lived well be dismayed by the terrors of death in any form?
12. The lack of burial does not matter to a Christian
‘But many could not even be buried, in all that welter of carnage.’ Religious faith does not dread even that. We have the assurance that the ravenous beasts will not hinder the resurrection of bodies of which not a single hair of the head will perish. He who is the Truth would not say, ‘Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul’,38 if the future life could be hindered by anything which the foe chose to do with the bodies of the slain. Unless anyone is so absurd as to contend that those who kill the body should not be dreaded before death, for fear that they should kill the body, and yet should be dreaded after death, for fear that they should not allow the corpse to be buried! In that case Christ spoke falsely about ‘those who kill the body, and have nothing that they can do after that’,39 if they can do so much with the corpses. Perish the thought, that the Truth could lie! The reason for saying that they do something when they kill is that there is feeling in the body when it is killed; but after that they have nothing they can do, since there is no feeling in a body that has been killed.
And so many Christian bodies have not received a covering of earth, and yet no one has separated any of them from heaven and earth, and the whole universe is filled with the presence of him who knows from where he is to raise up what he has created. The psalm says, ‘They have set out the mortal parts of thy servants as food for the birds of the sky; and the flesh of dry saints as food for the beasts of the earth. They have shed their blood like water all round Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.’40 But this was said to underline the cruelty of the acts, not to stress the misfortune of the sufferers; for although their sufferings seem harsh and terrible in the eyes of men, yet ‘the death of his saints is precious in the eyes of God’.41
Such things as a decent funeral and a proper burial, with its procession of mourners, are a consolation to the living rather than a help to the departed. If an expensive burial is any advantage to the godless, then a cheap funeral, or no funeral at all, will prove a hindrance to the poor religious man. A crowd of dependants provided the rich man in his purple with a funeral that was splendid in the eyes of men, but a funeral much more splendid in God’s sight was provided for the poor man by the ministering angels, who did not escort him to a marble tomb, but carried him up to Abraham’s bosom.
This is treated with ridicule by those against whose attacks we have undertaken to defend the City of God. Yet their own philosophers have shown contempt for anxiety about burial. Whole armies, when dying for their earthly country, have often shown no concern about where they would lie, or for what beasts they would become food; and their poets could be applauded for saying,
Who lacks an urn, is covered by the sky.42
By what right do they jeer at Christians because their bodies are unburied? Christians have the promise that their bodies and all their limbs will be restored and renewed, in an instant, not only from the earth, but also from the remotest hiding-places in the other elements into which their dead bodies passed in disintegration.
13. The reason for burying the bodies of the saints
This does not mean that the bodies of the departed are to be scorned and cast away, particularly not the bodies of the righteous and faithful, of which the Spirit has made holy use as instruments for good works of every kind. For if such things as a father’s clothes, and his ring, are dear to their children in proportion to their affection for their parents, then the actual bodies are certainly not to be treated with contempt, since we wear them in a much closer and more intimate way than any clothing. A man’s body is no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to his very nature as a man. Hence the burials of the righteous men of antiquity were performed as acts of loyal devotion; their funeral services were thronged, arrangements made for their tombs, and they themselves during their lifetime gave instructions to their sons about the burial, or even the transference, of their bodies; and Tobit is commended, as the angel testifies, for having done good service to God by giving burial to the dead.43 The Lord himself also, who was to rise again on the third day, proclaimed, and commanded that it should be proclaimed, that the pious woman had done ‘a good deed’, because she had poured costly ointment over his limbs and had done this for his burial;44 and it is related in the Gospel, as a praiseworthy act, that those who received his body from the cross were careful to clothe it and bury it with all honour.45
These authorities are not instructing us that dead bodies have any feeling; they are pointing out that the providence of God, who approves such acts of duty and piety, is concerned with the bodies of the dead, so as to promote faith in the resurrection. There is a further saving lesson to be learnt here – how great a reward there may be for alms which we give to those who live and feel, if any care and service we render to men’s lifeless bodies is not lost in the sight of God. There are other examples of instructions given by holy patriarchs about the disposal or the transference of their bodies, instructions which they wished to be taken as uttered in the spirit of prophecy;46 but this is not the place to discuss them, and the examples we have given may suffice.
But if the absence of the necessities of life, such as food and clothes, although causing much misery, does not shatter the good man’s courage to endure with patience, and does not banish devotion from his soul, but rather fertilizes it by exercise, still less does the absence of the usual honours of funeral and burial bring misery to those who are at peace in the hidden abodes of the devout. Therefore where those honours were not paid to the bodies of Christians in the sack of their great city, or of other towns, no fault lay with the living, who were unable to offer them, and no penalty was suffered by the dead, who could not feel their deprivation.
14. The divine consolations of the saints in captivity
‘But many Christians have been taken into captivity.’ This was certainly most pitiable if they could be taken anywhere where they did not find their God. The Bible provides great consolation for this disaster also. There were the three boys in captivity;47 Daniel also was in captivity48 and so were other prophets. They did not lack the consolation of God’s presence; so the God who did not desert the prophet in the belly of a sea-monster,49 did not desert his faithful followers under the domination of a people who, though barbarians, were still human. Our opponents choose rather to ridicule than to believe the tale of Jonah; and yet they believe the story, in their literature, of Arion of Methymna, that renowned minstrel, who was thrown overboard, and carried to land supported on a dolphin’s back.50 Our story about the prophet Jonah is indeed more incredible. Obviously it is more incredible because more miraculous, and more miraculous because it is evidence of greater power.
15. The story of Regulus, an example of captivity endured for religion’s sake, although a false religion
However, our opponents have, among their most eminent heroes, a notable instance of captivity voluntarily endured for religion’s sake. Marcus Regulus,51 the Roman commander-in-chief, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. Since the Carthaginians preferred to have their own prisoners released by the Romans, rather than keep their Roman prisoners, Regulus was the man chosen to be sent to Rome with their deputation, having first bound himself by an oath to return to Carthage if he failed to obtain the result the enemy desired. He proceeded to Rome, and in the senate he successfully urged the rejection of the proposal, since he considered that an exchange of prisoners was not to the advantage of Rome. After the success of his plea he was not forced by his countrymen to return to the enemy, but since he had taken an oath, he voluntarily fulfilled his obligation and the enemy put him to death with every refinement of dreadful torture. They shut him in a narrow box, where he was forced to stand upright, and sharp nails had been fixed on all sides of it, so that he could not lean in any direction without the most horrible suffering; thus they dispatched him by keeping him awake.
Our enemies are certainly right to praise a courage which rose superior to so dreadful a fate. And yet he had sworn by those gods, the prohibition of whose worship has led, in their opinion, to the infliction of these recent disasters on the human race. This means that they were worshipped so that they might grant prosperity in this life. Now, if they either wished or allowed such punishment to be enacted on one who kept his oath, what heavier penalty could they have imposed in their anger on an oath-breaker?
I can conclude my reasoning by two lines of argument. Regulus venerated the gods; and the result was that because of his oath he did not stay in his own country, but went without the least hesitation, not to any place he chose, but back to his fiercest enemies. His reward was a horrible end, so that if he thought his upright conduct brought any temporal advantage he was very much mistaken. In fact he showed by his example that the gods are no help to their worshippers as far as happiness in this world goes. He was devoted to their worship; yet he was conquered and taken into captivity and because he refused to break the oath he had sworn by the gods, he was destroyed by torture of an unprecedented and excessively atrocious kind.
If, on the other hand, the worship of the gods brings happiness hereafter as a reward, why do our antagonists bring false accusations against the established Christian order, alleging that catastrophe has come upon the city just because it has left off the worship of its gods? For the most conscientious worshipper could be as unfortunate as Regulus. Surely no one is so crazy, so preternaturally blind, as to contend, in defiance of the obvious facts, that while an individual worshipper can be unfortunate, a whole worshipping community cannot? As if it were more fitting for the power of the gods to preserve large numbers rather than individuals, seeing that a multitude is made up of individuals!
Again, if they say that Marcus Regulus would have been happy in the possession of a virtuous spirit even in captivity, and during those physical torments, then let us aim at true virtue, which can bring happiness also to a community. For the source of a community’s felicity is no different from that of one man, since a community is simply a united multitude of individuals. I am not at the moment discussing the nature of Regulus’s virtue; it is enough for my present purpose that our opponents are compelled by this notable example to admit that the gods are not to be worshipped for the sake of physical blessings or external advantages, since Regulus preferred to be deprived of all these rather than to offend the gods by whom he had sworn.
Now how are we to cope with men who are proud to have had such a fellow-citizen, but afraid to belong to such a community? If they are not so afraid, let them admit that what happened to Regulus could have happened also to a community which worshipped the gods as conscientiously as he did and let them cease to bring false charges against the Christian order. But since the question has been raised about those Christians who also were taken prisoner, let those who shamelessly and thoughtlessly jeer at the most wholesome devotion look carefully at this example and keep silent. This most diligent worshipper of the gods was deprived of the only country he had, because he kept his oath to them, and was killed as a prisoner by a lingering death with torture of unexampled cruelty. If this was no reproach to those gods, there is much less reason to bring a charge against the Christian profession in respect of the imprisonment of its saints, who look for a heavenly country with true faith and know that even in their own homes they are no more than sojourners.
16. Violation of chastity, without the will’s consent, cannot pollute the character
Our adversaries certainly think they have a weighty attack to make on Christians, when they make the most of their captivity by adding stories of the violation of wives, of maidens ready for marriage, and even in some cases of women in the religious life. On this point it is not our faith which is in difficulty, nor our devotion, nor is that particular virtue, the term for which is chastity, called in question. But our argument is in a way constrained and hampered, between the claims of modesty and reasoned argument. Here we are not so much concerned to answer the attacks of those outside as to administer consolation to those within our fellowship.
In the first place, it must be firmly established that virtue, the condition of right living, holds command over the parts of the body from her throne in the mind, and that the consecrated body is the instrument of the consecrated will; and if that will continues unshaken and steadfast, whatever anyone else does with the body or to the body, provided that it cannot be avoided without committing sin, involves no blame to the sufferer. But there can be committed on another’s body not only acts involving pain, but also acts involving lust. And so whenever any act of the latter kind has been committed, although it does not destroy a purity which has been maintained by the utmost resolution, still it does engender a sense of shame, because it may be believed that an act, which perhaps could not have taken place without some physical pleasure, was accompanied also by a consent of the mind.
17. The question of suicide caused by fear of punishment or disgrace
Some women killed themselves to avoid suffering anything of the kind, and surely any man of compassion would be ready to excuse the emotions which lead them to do this. Some refused to kill themselves, because they did not want to escape another’s criminal act by a misdeed of their own. And anyone who uses this as a charge against them will lay himself open to a charge of foolishness. For it is clear that if no one has a private right to kill even a guilty man (and no law allows this), then certainly anyone who kills himself is a murderer, and is the more guilty in killing himself the more innocent he is of the charge on which he has condemned himself to death. We rightly abominate the act of Judas, and the judgement of truth is that when he hanged himself he did not atone for the guilt of his detestable betrayal but rather increased it, since he despaired of God’s mercy and in a fit of self-destructive remorse left himself no chance of a saving repentance. How much less right has anyone to indulge in self-slaughter when he can find in himself no fault to justify such a punishment! For when Judas killed himself, he killed a criminal, and yet he ended his life guilty not only of Christ’s death, but also of his own; one crime led to another. Why then should a man, who has done no wrong, do wrong to himself? Why should he kill the innocent in putting himself to death, to prevent a guilty man from doing it? Why should he commit a sin against himself to deprive someone else of the chance?
18. The question of violence from others, and the lust of others suffered by an unwilling mind in a ravished body
‘But’, it will be said, ‘there is the fear of being polluted by another’s lust.’ There will be no pollution, if the lust is another’s; if there is pollution, the lust is not another’s. Now purity is a virtue of the mind. It has courage as its companion and courage decides to endure evil rather than consent to evil. A man of purity and high principle has not the power to decide what happens to his body, but only what he will mentally accept or repudiate. What sane man will suppose that he has lost his purity if his body is seized and forced and used for the satisfaction of a lust that is not his own? For if purity is lost in this way, it follows that it is not a virtue of the mind; it is not then ranked with the qualities which make up the moral life, but is classed among physical qualities, such as strength, beauty, and health, the impairment of which does not in any way mean the impairment of the moral life. If purity is something of this sort, why do we risk physical danger to avoid its loss? But if it is a quality of the mind, it is not lost when the body is violated. Indeed, when the quality of modesty resists the indecency of carnal desires the body itself is sanctified, and therefore, when purity persists in its unshaken resolution to resist these desires, the body’s holiness is not lost, because the will to employ the body in holiness endures, as does the ability, as far as in it lies.
The body is not holy just because its parts are intact, or because they have not undergone any handling. Those parts may suffer violent injury by accidents of various kinds, and sometimes doctors seeking to effect a cure may employ treatment with distressing visible effects. During a manual examination of a virgin a midwife destroyed her maidenhead, whether by malice, or clumsiness, or accident. I do not suppose that anyone would be stupid enough to imagine that the virgin lost anything of bodily chastity, even though the integrity of that part had been destroyed. Therefore while the mind’s resolve endures, which gives the body its claim to chastity, the violence of another’s lust cannot take away the chastity which is preserved by unwavering self-control.
Now suppose some woman, with her mind corrupted and her vowed intention to God violated, in the act of going to her seducer to be defiled. Do we say that she is chaste in body while she is on her way, when the chastity of her mind, which made the body chaste, has been lost and destroyed? Of course not! We must rather draw the inference that just as bodily chastity is lost when mental chastity has been violated, so bodily chastity is not lost, even when the body has been ravished, while the mind’s chastity endures. Therefore when a woman has been ravished without her consenting, and forced by another’s sin, she has no reason to punish herself by a voluntary death. Still less should she do so before the event lest she should commit certain murder while the offence, and another’s offence at that, still remains uncertain.
19. Lucretia’s suicide
We have given clear reason for our assertion that when physical violation has involved no change in the intention of chastity by any consent to the wrong, then the guilt attaches only to the ravisher, and not at all to the woman forcibly ravished without any consent on her part. We are defending the chastity not only of the minds but even of the bodies of ravished Christian women. Will our opponents dare to contradict us? They certainly heap the highest praises for modesty upon Lucretia, a noble Roman matron of antiquity.52 When King Tarquin’s son had lustfully gained possession of her body and had ravished her with violence, she revealed the villain’s crime to her husband Collatinus and her kinsman Brutus, and constrained them to take revenge. Then she destroyed herself, unable to endure the horror of the foul indignity. What are we to say of her? Is she to be judged adulterous or chaste? Who would regard this as a matter of difficult dispute? Someone puts the truth well in a declamation on this subject: ‘A paradox! There were two persons involved, and only one committed adultery.’ Finely and truly said. The speaker observed in the union of two bodies the disgusting lechery of the one, the chaste intention of the other, and he saw in that act not the conjunction of their bodies but the diversity of their minds. ‘There were two persons involved, and only one committed adultery.’
But how was it that she who did not commit adultery received the heavier punishment? For the adulterer was driven from his country, with his father; his victim suffered the supreme penalty. If there is no unchastity when a woman is ravished against her will, then there is no justice in the punishment of the chaste. I appeal to Roman laws and Roman judges. To execute a criminal without trial was, according to you, a punishable offence. If anyone was charged in your courts with having put to death a woman not merely uncondemned but chaste and innocent, and this charge had been proved, would you not have chastised the culprit with appropriate severity?
That is what Lucretia did. That highly extolled Lucretia also did away with the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia. Give your sentence. Or if you cannot do this, because the culprit is not present to receive the punishment, why do you extol with such praises the killer of the chaste and innocent? You certainly have no means of defending her before the judges of the underworld, such as are described in the verses of your poets. She would be set among those who
Hating the light, brought death upon themselves
Though innocent, and hurled away their souls.53
And if she desired to return to the world above,
It is forbidden, the grim lake sets a bound
With its unlovely waters.54
But perhaps she is not there, because in killing herself it was no innocent which she killed, but one conscious of guilt. For suppose (a thing which only she herself could know) that, although the young man attacked her violently, she was so enticed by her own desire that she consented to the act and that when she came to punish herself she was so grieved that she thought death the only expiation. Yet not even in this case ought she to have killed herself, if she could have offered a profitable penitence to false gods.
However, if such was the case, and if it was not true that ‘there were two persons involved, and only one committed adultery’, but both were adulterous, the one by reason of his open assault, the other by reason of her hidden consent, then she did not kill an innocent, and her literary defenders are free to maintain that she is not in the underworld among those who ‘brought death upon themselves though innocent’. But then her defence is faced with a dilemma. If her homicide is extenuated, her adultery is established; if she is cleared of adultery, the murder is abundantly proved. There is no possible way out: ‘If she is adulterous, why is she praised? If chaste, why was she put to death?’
However, in the case of the noble example of that woman, it is enough for us to quote what was said in her praise: ‘There were two persons involved, and only one committed adultery.’ This suffices to refute those who, because any notion of chastity is alien to them, jeer at Christian women violated in captivity. They believe Lucretia to have been too good to be polluted by giving any consent to adultery. Her killing of herself because, although not adulterous, she had suffered an adulterer’s embraces, was due to the weakness of shame, not to the high value she set on chastity. She was ashamed of another’s foul deed committed on her, even though not with her, and as a Roman woman, excessively eager for honour, she was afraid that she should be thought, if she lived, to have willingly endured what, when she lived, she had violently suffered. Since she could not display her pure conscience to the world she thought she must exhibit her punishment before men’s eyes as a proof of her state of mind. She blushed at the thought of being regarded as an accomplice in the act if she were to bear with patience what another had inflicted on her with violence.
Such has not been the behaviour of Christian women. When they were treated like this they did not take vengeance on themselves for another’s crime. They would not add crime to crime by committing murder on themselves in shame because the enemy had committed rape on them in lust. They have the glory of chastity within them, the testimony of their conscience. They have this in the sight of God, and they ask for nothing more. In fact there is nothing else for them to do that is right for them to do. For they will not deviate from the authority of God’s law by taking unlawful steps to avoid the suspicions of men.
20. Christians have no authority to commit suicide in any circumstance
It is significant that in the sacred canonical books there can nowhere be found any injunction or permission to commit suicide either to ensure immortality or to avoid or escape any evil. In fact we must understand it to be forbidden by the law ‘you shall not kill’,55 particularly as there is no addition of ‘your neighbour’ as in the prohibition of false witness, ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’56 But that does not mean that a man who gives false witness against himself is exempt from this guilt, since the rule about loving one’s neighbour begins with oneself, seeing that the Scripture says, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’57
Moreover, if anyone who gives false witness against himself is just as guilty as if he did so against a neighbour – although the prohibition forbids false witness against a neighbour and might be misunderstood as implying that there is no prohibition of false witness against oneself – then it is the more obvious that a man is not allowed to kill himself, since the text ‘Thou shall not kill’ has no addition and it must be taken that there is no exception, not even the one to whom the command is addressed.
Hence some people have tried to extend its scope to wild and domestic animals to make it mean that even these may never be killed. But then why not apply it to plants and to anything rooted in the earth and nourished by the earth? For although this part of creation is without feeling, it is called ‘living’, and is hence capable of dying and consequently of being killed, when violence is done to it. And so the Apostle, speaking of seeds of this kind, says, ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies’;58 and it says in one of the psalms, ‘He killed the vines with hail.’59 But do we for this reason infer from ‘Thou shall not kill’ a divine prohibition against clearing away brushwood, and subscribe to the error of the Manicheans? That would be madness. We reject such fantasies, and when we read ‘You shall not kill’ we assume that this does not refer to bushes, which have no feelings, nor to irrational creatures, flying, swimming, walking, or crawling, since they have no rational association with us, not having been endowed with reason as we are, and hence it is by a just arrangement of the Creator that their life and death is subordinated to our needs. If this is so, it remains that we take the command ‘You shall not kill’ as applying to human beings, that is, other persons and oneself. For to kill oneself is to kill a human being.
21. All homicide is not murder
There are however certain exceptions to the law against killing, made by the authority of God himself. There are some whose killing God orders, either by a law, or by an express command to a particular person at a particular time. In fact one who owes a duty of obedience to the giver of the command does not himself ‘kill’ – he is an instrument, a sword in its user’s hand. For this reason the commandment forbidding killing was not broken by those who have waged wars on the authority of God, or those who have imposed the death-penalty on criminals when representing the authority of the State in accordance with the laws of the State, the justest and most reasonable source of power. When Abraham was ready to kill his son, so far from being blamed for cruelty he was praised for his devotion; it was not an act of crime, but of obedience. One is justified in asking whether Jephtha is to be regarded as obeying, a command of God in killing his daughter, when he had vowed to sacrifice to God the first thing he met when returning victorious from battle.60 And when Samson destroyed himself, with his enemies, by the demolition of the building,’61 this can only be excused on the ground that the Spirit, which performed miracles through him, secretly ordered him to do so. With the exception of these killings prescribed generally by a just law, or specially commanded by God himself – the source of justice – anyone who kills a human being, whether himself or anyone else, is involved in a charge of murder.
22. Is suicide ever a mark of greatness of soul?
Those who have committed this crime against themselves are perhaps to be admired for greatness of spirit; they are not to be praised for wisdom or sanity.62 And yet if we examine the matter more deeply and logically, we shall find that greatness of spirit is not the right term to apply to one who has killed himself because he lacked strength to endure hardships, or another’s wrongdoing. In fact we detect weakness in a mind which cannot bear physical oppression, or the stupid opinion of the mob; we rightly ascribe greatness to a spirit that has the strength to endure a life of misery instead of running away from it, and to despise the judgement of men – and in particular the judgement of the mob, which is so often clouded in the darkness of error – in comparison with the pure light of a good conscience. If suicide is to be taken as a mark of greatness of spirit, then Theombrotus will be a shining example of that quality. The story is that when he had read Plato’s book which discusses the immortality of the soul, he hurled himself from a wall and so passed from this life to a life which he believed to be better.63 There was no kind of misfortune, no accusation, true or false, which led him to do away with himself under an intolerable load. It was only greatness of spirit which prompted him to seek death and to ‘break the pleasant bonds of life’. But Plato himself, whom he had been reading, is witness that this showed greatness rather than goodness. Plato would have been first and foremost to take this action, and would have recommended it to others, had not the same intelligence which gave him his vision of the soul’s immortality enabled him to decide that this step was not to be taken – was, indeed, to be forbidden.
‘But many people did away with themselves to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy.’ The question is not only whether they did, but whether they ought to have done so. Sound reason is certainly to be preferred to examples. Some examples are in full harmony with sound reason, and they are the more worthy of imitation as they are more eminent in their devotion to God. Neither the patriarchs nor the prophets acted thus; nor did the apostles, since the Lord Christ himself, when he advised them to escape from one town to another in case of persecution,64 could have advised them to take their own lives to avoid falling into the hands of their persecutors. If he did not order or advise this way of quitting this life, although he promised to prepare eternal dwellings for them after their departure,65 it is clear that this course is not allowed to those who worship the one true God, whatever examples may be put forward by ‘the Gentiles who have no knowledge of him’.66
23. The example of Cato’s suicide
Apart from Lucretia, about whom I think I have said enough already, they will not easily find an authoritative example to appeal to, unless it is the famous Cato, who committed suicide at Utica, not because he was the only one to do so, but because he passed for a man of learning and integrity, so that one would feel justified in supposing his action could have been right then, and could be right now.
The most significant point to be made about this act is that his friends, who also were educated men, wisely endeavoured to dissuade him and considered such a course to be a mark of weakness rather than strength of mind, evidence not so much of a sense of honour seeking to avoid disgrace as of weakness unable to sustain adversity. In fact, Cato himself passed this judgement in advising his beloved son to ‘place all his hopes in Caesar’s kindness’. Why did he counsel such a shameful course, if it was ‘shameful to live under the shadow of Caesar’s victory’?67 Why did he not compel his son to the with him? Torquatus is praised because he killed the son who engaged the enemy against his father’s orders, even though his son was victorious;68 then why did Cato, when conquered, spare his conquered son, when he did not spare himself? Was it more shameful to be a conqueror disobediently, than to endure a conqueror dishonourably? It follows that Cato judged it not at all shameful to live under the victorious Caesar; otherwise he would have released his son from this shame with a father’s sword. The truth seems to be that he loved his son, for whom he hoped and wished for Caesar’s pardon, as much as he grudged the praise that Caesar would win by sparing his own life. Caesar is said to have given this explanation;69 perhaps we may put it more gently, and say that Cato would have been embarrassed at receiving Caesar’s pardon.
24. Regulus a nobler example of fortitude than Cato. But Christians supply much nobler instances.
Our adversaries object to our giving preference over Cato to the holy Job or to other saints recorded in our literature – writings of supreme authority and worthy of all credence. Job would rather suffer horrible bodily distresses than free himself from all those torments by self-inflicted death; and other saints chose to endure captivity and oppression at the enemy’s hands, rather than commit suicide. But in our adversaries’ literature I should put Marcus Regulus above Marcus Cato. For Cato had never beaten Caesar; he was beaten by Caesar, and disdaining to submit, he chose suicide. Regulus on the other hand had already beaten the Carthaginians; as commander-in-chief of the Roman army he had won, not a victory over fellow-citizens fraught with grief for Rome, but a victory over foreign foes, crowned, with glory. Afterwards he remained patient under Carthaginian domination and unmoved among Roman demonstrations of affection, not depriving his enemies of his conquered body nor his fellow-citizens of his unconquered spirit. It was not because he clung to life that he refused suicide. He proved this when, because of his oath, he returned without hesitation to the enemy, whom he had provoked more bitterly by his words in the senate than by his achievements in war. He set little store by this life; and yet when the enemy were raging against him he chose to let his life be ended by any kind of torture, rather than to the by his own hand. And by this choice he put it beyond doubt that suicide was, in his judgement, a serious crime. Among all their heroes, men worthy of honour and renowned for virtue, the Romans have none greater to produce. Here was one whom prosperity did not corrupt; for after so great a victory he remained a very poor man, one whom adversity could not shatter, for he went back without trembling to so terrible an end.
There were famous heroes who, though by the laws of war they could do violence to a conquered enemy, refused to do violence to themselves when conquered; though they had not the slightest fear of death, they chose to endure the enemy’s domination rather than put themselves to death. They were fighting for their earthly country; the gods they worshipped were false; but their worship was genuine and they faithfully kept their oaths. Christians worship the true God and they yearn for a heavenly country; will they not have more reason to refrain from the crime of suicide, if God’s providence subjects them for a time to their enemies for their probation or reformation? Their God does not abandon them in that humiliation, for he came from on high so humbly for their sake; moreover, they are men who are not under an obligation, from any military authority or code of warfare, to strike a conquered foe. What is the origin of this pernicious error, that a man should kill himself because of an enemy’s sin against him, or to prevent such a sin? In fact, he should not dare to kill even an enemy who did him wrong, or was about to do him wrong.
25. One sin should not be avoided by another
It is objected that there is a danger that the body, when subjected to another’s lust, may entice the mind, by the allurements of pleasure, to consent to the sin; for fear of this, they say, one ought to commit suicide not because of one’s own sin, but to forestall another’s. Never! The mind which is subordinate to the wisdom of God and not to the promptings of the body will never allow itself to consent to a physical desire aroused by another’s lust. If suicide is a detestable crime and a damnable sin, as the Truth plainly declares, who will be so senseless as to say, ‘Let us sin now, to avoid possible sin in the future. Let us now commit murder, to avoid falling into adultery in the future’? If wickedness has such power over us that sin is chosen in preference to innocence, is not uncertain adultery in the future preferable to certain homicide in the present? Is it not preferable to do a wrong which may be cured by penitence, than an act of wickedness which leaves no chance for saving repentance?
I have made this point for the benefit of men and women who suppose that they ought to lay violent hands on themselves to prevent themselves, and not others, from sinning, for fear that their own lust might be excited by another’s, and that they might consent. Let it never enter a Christian’s mind that such a mind could yield to any physical pleasure so as to consent to disgrace. For a Christian mind trusts in its God, places its hope in him, and relies on his help. It is true that insubordinate desires are still to be found in our mortal bodies, acting as it were by laws of their own without reference to the law of our will. Such disobedience of the body is not to be blamed when one is asleep, still less when there is no consent.
26. What explanation is to be given of unlawful acts committed by saints?
‘But’, they say, ‘in time of persecution there were holy women who escaped those who threatened their chastity by throwing themselves into rivers for the stream to whirl them away to death: and after such a death they were venerated as martyrs in the Catholic Church, and crowds thronged their tombs.’70 I would not presume to make a hasty judgement on their case. I do not know whether divine authority convinced the church by cogent evidence that their memory should be honoured in this way; it may well be so. It may be that they acted on divine instruction and not through a human mistake – not in error, but in obedience. This is what we are bound to believe in Samson’s case. When God orders, and shows without ambiguity that he orders, no one will bring an accusation against obedience. Who will lay a charge against a loyal compliance?
But if anyone decides to sacrifice his son to God, his action is not free from crime just because Abraham did this and was praised for doing it. For when a soldier kills a man in obedience to the legitimate authority under which he served, he is not chargeable with murder by the laws of his country; in fact he is chargeable with insubordination and mutiny if he refuses. But if he did it of his own accord, on his own authority, he would be liable to a charge of homicide. Thus he is punished if he did it without orders for the same reason that he will be punished if he refuses when ordered.
If that is the case when a general gives the order, how much more when the command comes from the Creator! And so one who accepts the prohibition against suicide may kill himself when commanded by one whose orders must not be slighted; only let him take care that there is no uncertainty about the divine command. We have only a hearsay acquaintance with any man’s conscience; we do not claim to judge the secrets of the heart. ‘No one knows what goes on inside a man except the man’s spirit which is in him.’71 What we are saying, asserting, and establishing by all means at our command is this: that no one ought deliberately to bring about his own death by way of escaping from temporal troubles, for fear that he may fall into eternal afflictions; it is wrong to commit suicide because of the sins of others, for this is to bring upon oneself a heavy burden of sin, whereas another’s sin could not defile one; or because of one’s past sins, for one has more need of this life on their account, so that those sins may be healed by repentance; or through longing for a better life, hoped for after death, for those guilty of their own death are not received after death into that better life.
27. Should one commit suicide to avoid sin?
There remains one situation in which it is supposed to be advantageous to commit suicide; I had already begun to discuss the question. It arises when the motive is to avoid falling into sin either through the allurements of pleasure or through the menaces of pain. If we agree to allow this motive we shall not be able to stop until we reach the point when people are to be encouraged to kill themselves for preference, immediately they have received forgiveness of all sins by washing in the waters of holy regeneration. For that would be the time to forestall all future sins – the moment when all past sins have been erased. If self-inflicted death is permitted, surely this is the best possible moment for it! When a person has been thus set free why should he expose himself again to all the perils of this life, when it is so easily allowed him to avoid them by doing away with himself? And the Bible says, ‘A man who is fond of danger will fall into it.’72 Why are men so fond of all these great dangers, or at any rate are willing to accept them, by remaining in this life, when they are allowed to depart from it? If a man has a duty to kill himself to avoid succumbing to sin because he is at the mercy of one man, who holds him prisoner, does he suppose that he has to go on living so as to endure the pressures of the actual world, which is full of temptations at all times, temptations such as that which is dreaded under one master, and innumerable others, which are the necessary accompaniment of this life? Has perverse silliness so warped our judgement and distracted us from facing the truth? For on this assumption, why do we spend time on those exhortations to the newly baptized. We do our best to kindle their resolve to preserve their virginal purity, or to remain continent in widowhood, or to remain faithful to their marriage vows. But there is available an excellent short cut which avoids any danger of sinning; if we can persuade them to rush to a self-inflicted death immediately upon receiving remission of sins, we shall send them to the Lord in the purest and soundest condition!
But in fact if anyone thinks that we should go in for persuasion on these lines, I should not call him silly, but quite crazy. Then how could anyone justify saying to any human being: ‘Kill yourself, to avoid adding more serious sin to your small shortcomings, living, as you do, under a master with the manners and morals of a savage’, if he cannot say, without being a complete criminal, ‘Kill yourself, now that all your sins have been absolved, to avoid committing such sins again, or even worse, while you are living in a world full of the allurements of impure pleasures, so maddened with all its monstrous cruelties, so menacing with all its errors and terrors’? To say this would be monstrous; it follows that suicide is monstrous. If there could be a valid reason for suicide one could not find one more valid than this; and since this is not valid, a valid reason does not exist.
28. By what judgement of God the enemy’s lust was allowed to sin against the bodies of the chaste
Therefore, faithful Christians, do not think life a burden because your enemies make a mockery of your chastity. You have a great and genuine consolation if you are sure in your conscience that you have not consented in the sins of those who have been allowed to sin against you. If you should ask why they were thus allowed, we must answer that the providence of the Creator and Governor of the universe is a profound mystery, and ‘his judgements are inscrutable, and his ways cannot be traced’.73
And yet you should honestly examine your hearts and see if perhaps you have not plumed yourselves overmuch on the possession of your virginity, your continence, your chastity – if you have not set too much store by the praises of men and have even envied others in this respect. I make no accusations, because I do not know, nor do I hear the replies of your hearts to this examination. However, if they give an affirmative reply, do not be amazed at having lost that for which you were concerned – because it would win men’s approval – while you have retained what cannot be displayed before their eyes. If you have not consented in the sin, divine aid has been added to divine grace, to prevent your losing that grace, while men’s reproach has come in place of men’s praise, to prevent your loving that praise. Accept this twofold consolation, you faint-hearted creatures. On the one hand there is your probation, on the other your chastisement; on one side, your justification, on the other, your correction.
Some hearts may reply that they have never prided themselves on the virtue of virginity, or widowhood, or chaste wedlock, but have rejoiced in God’s gift ‘with trembling’,74 and by ‘sharing the outlook of humble people’;75 that they have not envied the excellence of anyone of equal holiness and chastity; rather they have set little store by the praise of men (which is generally bestowed more lavishly in proportion to the rarity of the virtue which occasions it) and have rather desired that the number of such persons should be increased than that they themselves should have the distinction of scarcity.
If any such women have suffered the violence of barbarian lust, they will not blame God for allowing it, nor will they believe that God makes light of such crimes. He allows them, but no one can commit them with impunity. The truth is that in the mysterious justice of God the wickedness of desire is given rope, as it were, for the present, while its punishment is plainly being reserved for the final judgement.
It may also be that those whose conscience assures them that they have no swollen pride about the virtue of chastity had in them some latent weakness which might have swollen into arrogant complacency, if they had escaped this humiliation during the recent catastrophe. Therefore, just as some were carried off by death so that ‘evil should not corrupt their mind’,76 these others were roughly deprived of a possession, so that prosperity should not tamper with their modesty. Thus there were two classes, those who boasted that their bodies had never suffered defiling contact, and those who might have boasted, if they had not been violently handled by the enemy. Neither were robbed of their chastity: both were persuaded to be humble. In one case relief was brought to a swelling already developed; in the other a threatened swelling was forestalled.
There is a further point to be made. Some of the victims might have supposed that the virtue of continence is to be classed with physical qualities and that it endures provided that the body is not defiled by anyone’s lust, whereas in fact it has its seat in the strength of the will, sustained by God’s help, so that both body and spirit may be holy; and it is not a treasure which can be stolen without the mind’s consent. Perhaps their mistake has been corrected. For when they consider how conscientiously they have served God and realize that he cannot possibly have abandoned those who thus serve him and call upon him, and when they find it impossible to doubt how much pleasure he takes in their chastity, then they will see that it follows that he never could have allowed such a disaster to befall his saints if their purity could be destroyed in this way – a purity which he bestowed on them, and which he loves to see in them.
29. The taunt of the infidels that Christ did not rescue his servants from the enemy’s rage. What reply should those servants give?
The whole family of the servants of the supreme and true God has its consolation, which never disappoints, which does not depend on hope in shifting and transitory things; and those servants have no reason to regret even this life of time, for in it they are schooled for eternity. They enjoy their earthly blessings in the manner of pilgrims and they are not attached to them, while these earthly misfortunes serve for testing and correction. But there are those who jeer at their integrity. When any temporal disaster comes upon God’s servants, such people ask, ‘Where is your God now?’77 Let those scoffers tell us where their gods are, when the same things happen to them. After all, it is to escape from such evils that they worship their gods – or maintain that they should be worshipped.
The Christian’s answer is this:
My God is present everywhere, and wholly present everywhere. No limits confine him. He can be present without showing himself: he can depart without moving. When I am troubled with adversity, he is either testing my worth or punishing my faults. And he has an eternal reward in store for me in return for loyal endurance of temporal distress. But why should I deign to discuss your God with people like you? Still less should I speak with you about my God who ‘is to be feared above all gods; since all the gods of the nations are demons; while the Lord made the heavens’.78
30. Those who complain of the Christian era really wish to wallow in shameful self-indulgence
In the terrible time of the Punic War a man of the highest character had to be chosen to introduce a cult from Phrygia, and the senate unanimously selected Scipio Nasica, who was then your pontiff.79 If he were living now I doubt if you would dare to look him in the face, since he would certainly put a stop to your present effrontery. For why is it that you put the blame on this Christian era, when things go wrong? Is it not because you are anxious to enjoy your vices without interference, and to wallow in your corruption, untroubled and unrebuked? For if you are concerned for peace and general prosperity, it is not because you want to make decent use of these blessings, with moderation, with restraint, with self-control, with reverence. No! It is because you seek an infinite variety of pleasure with a crazy extravagance, and your prosperity produces a moral corruption far worse than all the fury of an enemy.
The great Scipio, your pontifex maximus, the finest character in Rome in the unanimous judgement of the senate, dreaded that this calamity might come upon you. For that reason he opposed the destruction of Carthage, Rome’s imperial rival at that time, and resisted Cato’s proposal for its demolition.80 He was afraid of security, as being a danger to weak characters; he looked on the citizens as wards, and fear as a kind of suitable guardian, giving the protection they needed. And his policy was justified; the event proved him right. The abolition of Carthage certainly removed a fearful threat to the State of Rome; and the extinction of that threat was immediately followed by disasters arising from prosperity. To begin with, harmony was broken and destroyed by savage and bloody insurrections; then followed a succession of disastrous quarrels and all the slaughter of the civil wars, all the torrents of bloodshed, all the greed and monstrous seething cruelty of proscriptions and expropriations, so that the Romans, who in a period of high moral standards stood in fear of their enemies, suffered a harsher fate from their fellow-citizens when those standards collapsed. And the lust for power, which of all human vices was found in its most concentrated form in the Roman people as a whole, first established its victory in a few powerful individuals, and then crushed the rest of an exhausted country beneath the yoke of slavery.
31. The stages of corruption by which the lust for power increased among the Romans
For when can that lust for power in arrogant hearts come to rest until, after passing from one office to another, it arrives at sovereignty? Now there would be no occasion for this continuous progress if ambition were not all-powerful; and the essential context for ambition is a people corrupted by greed and sensuality. And greed and sensuality in a people is the result of that prosperity which the great Nasica in his wisdom maintained should be guarded against, when he opposed the removal of a great and strong and wealthy enemy state. His intention was that lust should be restrained by fear, and should not issue in debauchery, and that the check on debauchery should stop greed from running riot. With those vices kept under restraint, the morality which supports a country flourished and increased, and permanence was given to the liberty which goes hand-in-hand with such morality.
It was the same conviction, the same patriotic forethought, which lead the same pontifex maximus of yours (who, as I must often repeat, was unanimously chosen by the senate of that time as the best man in Rome), to restrain the senate’s project to build a theatre.81 He deflected them from this ambitious design, and used all the weight of his authority in a speech which persuaded them not to allow Greek corruption to infiltrate into the virile morality of Rome, and to have no truck with foreign depravity which would undermine and weaken the Roman moral character. Such was the force of his authority that the senate, moved by his eloquence, had the wisdom to forbid for the future the erection of the temporary stands which the State had by now begun to provide for the spectators at the games.
What energy he would have shown in banishing from Rome the spectacles themselves, if he had dared to take a stand against the authority of those whom he supposed to be gods! He did not realize that they were harmful demons; or if he did, even he thought it better to appease than to despise them! For the nations had not yet received the revelation from heaven of the teaching which can cleanse the heart by faith and turn the interest of men in humble reverence towards things in heaven, or above the heavens, and free them from the oppressive domination of demonic powers.
32. The establishment of stage spectacles
Some of you do not know the facts; some of you pretend not to know, and you raise an outcry against the One who frees you from such oppressions. Well, here are the facts. The public games, those disgusting spectacles of frivolous immorality, were instituted at Rome not by the viciousness of men but by the orders of those gods of yours. It would be less offensive to decree divine honour to the great Scipio than to worship gods of this kind. Those gods were of less worth than their pontiff. Listen to me, if your minds allow you to think sensibly, after they have been drunk so long on the liquor of nonsense! The gods ordered theatrical shows to be put on in their honour to allay a plague which attacked the body,82 while the pontiff stopped the erection of a theatre to prevent a plague which would infect the soul. If you have enough light in your minds to prefer the soul to the body, choose which you should worship! For if the bodily plague did come to a halt, it was not because the more sophisticated craze for theatrical shows had intruded itself into a warlike people who had hitherto been used only to circus games. The truth is that the powers of evil foresaw, in their cleverness, that the plague would soon come to its natural end, and they craftily used this opportunity to bring upon you a far more serious pestilence, which gives them greater satisfaction. For this disease attacks not the body but the character. It has blinded the minds of the sufferers with such darkness, and has so deformed and degraded them, that quite recently, when Rome was sacked, those who were infected with this plague, and who managed to reach Carthage as refugees, attend the theatres every day as raving supporters of the rival actors! I wonder if posterity will be able to believe this, when they hear of it!
33. The vices of the Romans were not corrected by their country’s overthrow
What insanity this is! This is not error but plain madness. When, by all accounts, nations in the East were bewailing your catastrophe, when the greatest cities in the farthest parts of the earth were keeping days of public grief and mourning,83 you were asking the way to the theatres, and going in, making full houses, in fact, behaving in a much more crazy fashion than before. It was just this corruption, this moral disease, this overthrow of all integrity and decency, that the great Scipio dreaded for you, when he stopped the building of theatres, when he saw how easily you could be corrupted and perverted by prosperity, and did not want you to be relieved from the enemy’s threats. He did not think that a city is fortunate when its walls are standing, while its morals are in ruins. But the temptations of wicked demons had more effect on you than the precautions of men endowed with foresight. Thus you refuse to be held responsible for the evil that you do, while you hold the Christian era responsible for the evil which you suffer. You seek security not for the peace of your country but for your own impunity in debauchery. Prosperity depraved you; and adversity could not reform you. Scipio’s desire was that you should be threatened by the enemy, to prevent you from wallowing in sensuality. But now that you have been crushed by the enemy, you have not restrained your sensuality. You have learned no salutary lesson from calamity; you have become the most wretched, and you have remained the most worthless, of mankind.
34. The mercy of God in moderating the city’s destruction
And yet it is thanks to God’s grace that you are still alive. In sparing you he warns you to amend your ways by penitence. Despite your ingratitude he gave you the means of escape from the enemy’s hands either by passing as his servants or by taking refuge in the shrines of his martyrs. We are told that Romulus and Remus established a refuge, their aim being to increase the population of their city, and anyone who fled there was secure from any harm.84 This formed a precedent for a remarkable honour done to Christ; the destroyers of Rome followed the example of its founders. Now it is not surprising that the founders should have taken this course to increase the numbers of their citizens; but the destroyers acted in the same way to preserve large numbers of their enemies.
35. Sons of the Church lie hidden among the ungodly; and there are false Christians within the Church
Such is the reply (which could have been amplified and extended) which the redeemed household of servants of the Lord Christ – the pilgrim City of Christ the King – may return to its enemies.
She must bear in mind that among these very enemies are hidden her future citizens; and when confronted with them she must not think it a fruitless task to bear with their hostility until she finds them confessing the faith. In the same way, while the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, she has in her midst some who are united with her in participation in the sacraments, but who will not join with her in the eternal destiny of the saints. Some of these are hidden; some are well known, for they do not hesitate to murmur against God, whose sacramental sign they bear, even in the company of his, acknowledged enemies. At one time they join his enemies in filling the theatres, at another they join with us in filling the churches.
But, such as they are, we have less right to despair of the reformation of some of them, when some predestined friends, as yet unknown even to themselves, are concealed among our most open enemies. In truth, those two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgement. My task, as far as I shall receive divine assistance, will be to say what I think necessary in explanation of the origin, development, and appointed end of those two cities. And this I shall do to enhance the glory of the City of God, which will shine the more brightly when set in contrast with cities of other allegiance.
36. The subjects to be treated in the following discussion
But there are still certain points that have to be made against those who ascribe the disaster of the Roman State to our religion, which forbids the offering of sacrifice to Rome’s gods. For we must mention the ills which that city, or the provinces belonging to its Empire, suffered before their sacrifices had been forbidden – or at least such calamities as may come to mind, or as many as seem sufficient for my purpose. They would without doubt have held us responsible for all those, if our religion had by then revealed its splendour to them, or had forbidden their sacrilegious rites.
After that we must show how the true God, in whose power are all kingdoms, deigned to assist them in attaining the moral qualities needed for the increase of their Empire, and why he did so, although those reputed gods of theirs gave them no assistance; in fact we shall show how those gods did them harm by deceiving and misleading them. Lastly we shall answer those who, in spite of being disproved and refuted by unanswerable proofs, persist in the assertion that the gods are to be worshipped not with a view to any advantage in this life but with a view to the life after death.
Unless I am much mistaken, this argument will be more difficult and will require discussion of greater subtlety. We shall have to engage with philosophers, and philosophers of no ordinary sort, but those who enjoy the most eminent reputation amongst our adversaries and who are in agreement with us on many points – on the immortality of the soul, on God’s creation of the universe, and on his providence which governs his creation. But even these must be re butted on the points on which they disagree with us; and therefore we must not fail in our duty, so that, when we have refuted their impious attacks – in so far as God gives us strength – we may establish the City of God, and true religion, and the true worship of God. For in this alone is the genuine promise of eternal bliss.
So I bring this book to an end; and after this I shall begin in my second volume to deal with the subjects thus outlined.