1. The matters discussed in Book I
IN embarking on this treatise on the City of God, I have thought it right to begin by replying to its enemies who, in their pursuit of earthly joys and their appetite for fleeting satisfactions, blame the Christian religion – the only religion of truth and salvation – if among these pleasures they find any unhappiness; yet this unhappiness is imposed on them by God’s mercy for their admonition, rather than by God’s severity for their punishment. There is, among those adversaries of ours, a great mass of the uneducated, and such people suppose themselves to have the authority of the learned to foment their bitter feelings towards us. These illiterates imagine that there is something extraordinary in the mishaps of their own time and that they did not happen in other periods; those who know this idea to be false conceal their knowledge and support this delusion, to make it seem that the rest are justified in their complaints. I was therefore bound to prove that the facts were very different, from the evidence of the books in which their own authors have recorded the history of the past for the information of posterity, and bound also to demonstrate that the false gods whom they used to worship openly and still worship secretly, are really unclean spirits; they are demons so malignant and deceitful that they delight in the wickedness imputed to them, whether truly or falsely, and have wished their crimes to be publicly represented at their festivals, so that it may be impossible for human weakness to be recalled from the perpetration of such enormities, because a supposedly divine authority is given for their imitation.
We have established all this, not on the basis of our own theories, but partly on evidence still fresh in the memory, since we have seen with our own eyes such exhibitions put on in honour of such divinities,1 and partly on evidence from writers who have left a description of these performances, not as a reproach to the gods, but in their honour. Thus Varro,2 the greatest of Roman scholars, the weightiest authority, divided his work into books on ‘human affairs’ and books on ‘divine affairs’, arranging his subject matter under the headings in proportion to the importance of the topics. And he included stage shows under the heading of ‘divine affairs’, not ‘human affairs’, though in fact if the community had consisted entirely of decent and honourable men those shows ought not to have ranked among human affairs. Varro did not make this classification on his own authority; he was born and brought up in Rome, and he found the games so classified, among divine affairs.
At the end of Book 1, I briefly set out the points I intended to make in the succeeding argument. In Books II and III I have partly fulfilled that intention. I must now satisfy the expectation of my readers by completing the design.
2. The subjects included in Books II and III
I undertook to make some answer to those who ascribe to our religion the responsibility for the calamities of the Roman republic, and to recall (as far as they came to mind and to the extent that seemed sufficient) the disasters suffered by Rome, and by the provinces belonging to her empire, before the prohibition of their sacrifices. They would doubtless have attributed to us the blame for all these, if our religion had by then spread its light on them or had put a stop to their sacrilegious sacrifices.
If I am not mistaken, I have sufficiently dealt with these questions in previous books, treating in Book II of moral evils – which should be reckoned the only real evils, or, at least, the worst of evils – in Book III, of those evils which are the only evils dreaded by fools, namely physical and external disasters – from which even the good are not exempt. As for moral evils, those fools accept them not merely with patience, but with delight; and those are the evils which make them evil. And yet how little I have said about Rome, considered by itself, and about Rome’s empire; I have not given a full account up to the time of Caesar Augustus. What if I had decided to recall and emphasize the disasters which, unlike the devastations and destructions inflicted by warring armies, are not inflicted by men upon each other, but come upon the material world by the action of the elements? Apuleius3 briefly touches on these in his treatise De Mundo. He observes that all earthly things are subject to change, alteration, and annihilation. For he says that ‘the ground leapt apart’ (I am quoting his own words)
with the enormous tremors of the earth, and whole cities were wiped out with their inhabitants; whole districts were swamped by sudden cloudbursts; what once were continents were changed into islands by the incursion of strange waters; islands were made accessible on foot by the withdrawal of the sea; cities were overthrown by winds and storms; in the East fire flashed from the clouds and destroyed whole districts by conflagrations: and in Western countries there were waterspouts and floods which caused equal devastation: on the summit of Etna the craters burst open and streams of flame ran down the slopes like mountain torrents: it was a conflagration kindled by the gods.4
If I had decided to collect such instances of historical fact from all possible sources, when could I have brought the list to an end? And these events all happened in periods before the name of Christ had suppressed any of the futilities of the pagans which destroy all genuine security.
I also promised5 to show for what moral qualities in the Romans, and for what ends, the true God, in whose power are all kingdoms, deigned to assist the growth of the Roman Empire, and to demonstrate how utterly useless was the help of those supposed gods, whose trickery and deceit in fact did them so much harm. Hence it is clear to me that I must now enter on this topic, and treat especially of the growth of the Roman Empire. For I have dwelt already at considerable length, particularly in Book II, on the harm done by the delusions of the demons, whom the Romans worshipped as gods, and their disastrous effect on Roman morality. While throughout all the three books now completed, I have pointed out the consolations which God, even in the midst of the horrors of war, has bestowed through the name of Christ, which the barbarians hold in such respect – consolations foreign to the normal usage of war, granted to good and bad alike, in the same way, as God ‘makes the sun rise on good and on bad, and sends the rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous’.6
3. Is the extent of dominion when acquired only by war, to be considered among the blessings of the wise or the happy?
Let us then see on what grounds our opponents have the boldness to ascribe the immense expansion and the long duration of the Roman Empire to the credit of the gods to whom, so they claim, they offered honourable worship in the dutiful performance of degrading spectacles by the agency of degraded performers.
But I should like to preface the inquiry with a brief examination of the following question: Is it reasonable, is it sensible, to boast of the extent and grandeur of empire, when you cannot show that men lived in happiness, as they passed their lives amid the horrors of war, amid the shedding of men’s blood – whether the blood of enemies or fellow-citizens – under the shadow of fear and amid the terror of ruthless ambition? The only joy to be attained had the fragile brilliance of glass, a joy outweighed by the fear that it may be shattered in a moment.
To help us to form our judgement let us refuse to be fooled by empty bombast, to let the edge of our critical faculties be blunted by high-sounding words like ‘peoples’, ‘realms’, ‘provinces’. Let us set before our mind’s eye two men; for the individual man is, like a single letter in a statement, an element, as it were, out of which a community or a realm is built up, however vast its territorial possessions. Let us imagine one of the two to be poor, or, better, in a middle station of life, while the other is excessively rich. But the rich man is tortured by fears, worn out with sadness, burnt up with ambition, never knowing serenity of respose, always panting and sweating in his struggles with opponents. It may be true that he enormously swells his patrimony, but at the cost of those discontents, while by this increase he heaps up a load of further anxiety and bitterness. The other man, the ordinary citizen, is content with his strictly limited resources. He is loved by family and friends; he enjoys the blessing of peace with his relations, neighbours, and friends; he is loyal, compassionate, and kind, healthy in body, temperate in habits, of unblemished character, and enjoys the serenity of a good conscience. I do not think anyone would be fool enough to hesitate about which he would prefer.
It is the same with two families, two peoples, or two realms. The same canon of judgement applies as in the case of the two men. If we apply the canon scrupulously, without allowing our judgement to be warped, we shall not have the slightest difficulty in seeing where true happiness lies, and where an empty show. And therefore it is beneficial that the good should extend their dominion far and wide, and that their reign should endure, with the worship of the true God by genuine sacrifices and upright lives. This is for the benefit of all, of the subjects even more than the rulers. For the rulers, their piety and integrity – great gifts of God – suffice for true happiness, for a good life on earth, and for eternal life hereafter. And, in this world the reign of the good is a blessing for themselves, and even more for the whole of human society. In contrast, the reign of the wicked is more harmful to those who wield the power, who bring destruction on their own souls through the greater scope thus given for their misdeeds, whereas those who are enslaved beneath them are harmed only by their own wickedness. For the evils inflicted on the righteous by then-wicked masters are not punishments for crime but tests of virtue. The good man, though a slave, is free; the wicked, though he reigns, is a slave, and not the slave of a single man, but – what is far worse – the slave of as many masters as he has vices.7 It is in reference to vices that the Scripture says, ‘When a man is vanquished he becomes the bond-slave of his conqueror.’8
4. Kingdoms without justice are like criminal gangs
Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention.
If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of kingdom, which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity.
For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.’9
5. The revolt of the gladiators, whose power had something of a royal grandeur
I shall not discuss the question of what kind of people Romulus collected; it is known that he took measures to ensure that when they were granted a share in the community after abandoning their former way of life, they should no longer have to think about the punishment to which they were liable, the fear of which had impelled them to greater crimes, so that in the future they should be less aggressive in their attitude to society.
What I want to say is that when the Roman Empire was already great, when she had subjugated many nations and was feared by all the rest, this great Empire was bitterly distressed and deeply alarmed, and had the utmost difficulty in extricating herself from the threat of overwhelming disaster, when a tiny handful of gladiators10 in Campania escaped from the training-school and collected a large army. Under three commanders11 they wrought cruel havoc over a wide area of Italy. Would our opponents tell us the name of the god who assisted them, so that from a small and contemptible gang of thugs they developed into a ‘kingdom’ inspiring fear in the Romans, for all Rome’s great resources and all her strongholds? Are they going to say they did not receive divine help because they did not last long?12 Come now, no man’s life is very long! On this argument the gods never help any man to a throne, since individuals soon die; and one should not count something a benefit which vanishes like smoke in the case of each man – and so, to be sure, in all, as one individual succeeds another. What does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and died so long ago, that after their death the Roman Empire grew to such greatness, since they have to plead their cause in the world below? Whether their cause be good or bad is not relevant to our argument. The same consideration applies to all those who in the few days of the rapid course of their lives have wielded temporary power in the Roman Empire. However long the extension of that Empire’s duration, as the generations succeed one another in their rise and fall, those individuals have passed on, taking with them the bundle of their deeds.
Now if even the benefits of the briefest space of time are to be attributed to the help of the gods, those gladiators received no inconsiderable assistance. They broke the chains of their servile condition; they escaped; they got clean away; they collected a large and formidable army; and in obedience to the plans and orders of their ‘kings’, they became an object of dread to the soaring might of Rome. They were more than a match for many Roman generals; they captured much booty; they gained many victories; they indulged themselves at will, following the prompting of every desire; in fact, they lived in all the grandeur of kings, until their eventual defeat, which was only achieved with the greatest difficulty.
But let us go on to matters of more importance.
6. The ambition of King Ninus, the first ruler to extend his dominion by making war on his neighbours
We have an account of Greek history, or rather of the history of foreign nations, from the pen of Justinus, who based his work on that of Trogus Pompeius. Both were Latin authors, but Justinus abbreviated his original; and he begins his work with these words,
At the beginning of history the supreme power over races and nations rested with kings, who rose to that summit of authority not by canvassing popular support, but because their moderation was recognized by good men. The peoples were not under the restraint of laws: it was their custom to protect, not to extend, the frontiers of their dominion, and their realms were confined within the limits of their own country. Ninus, king of Assyria, was the first to change these ancient and, as it were, hereditary customs, through a craving for empire, which was then a novelty. He was the first to make war on his neighbours; and he extended his sway as far as the borders of Libya, over nations who were not trained to resist.
He goes on, a little later,
Ninus established his hold on his vast acquisitions by continual occupation. Thus strengthened by the increased resources acquired by the subjugation of his neighbours he passed on to attack others. Each victory became the instrument of the next conquest; and the result was the submission of all the nations of the East.13
Whatever credit is to be attached to the statements of Justinus or Trogus – for other more trustworthy documents prove them guilty of inexactitude on occasion – there is general agreement among historians that the Assyrian kingdom received a wide extension under Ninus. And that kingdom lasted so long that the Roman Empire has not equalled its duration. Those who have pursued the study of chronology ascribe to the Assyrian Empire a duration of one thousand two hundred and forty years,14 from the first year of Ninus’ reign to the time when it was taken over by the Medes.15
Now, to attack one’s neighbours, to pass on to crush and subdue more remote peoples without provocation and solely from the thirst for dominion – what is one to call this but brigandage on the grand scale?
7. The rise and fall of the kingdoms of the world. Are these changes due to the assistance of the gods, and their subsequent desertion?
If this Assyrian kingdom reached such magnitude and lasted for so long, without any assistance from the gods, why are the gods given credit for the Roman Empire’s wide extension in space and its long duration in time? Whatever the cause in one case, it is the same as in the other. But if our enemies maintain that the success of Assyria is to be attributed to the help of the gods, then I ask: Of what gods? For the nations which Ninus crushed and subdued did not then worship gods different from those of Assyria. Or if the Assyrians did have gods exclusively their own, more highly skilled workers as it were, in the empire-building and empire-maintaining trade, then are we to suppose that they were dead, when Assyria lost her Empire? Or that they preferred to cross over to the Medes, because they had not been paid, or, perhaps, because higher wages were offered? And then transferred to the Persians,16 when Cyrus invited them on more favourable terms? The Persians, after the far-reaching but very short-lived Empire of Alexander,17 have remained to this day in the possession of their dominion over no inconsiderable territory in the East. If this is so, either the gods are faithless, in deserting their own people and passing over to the enemy – a thing which Camillus18 refused to do, when, after conquering and storming a city which was Rome’s bitterest foe, he experienced the ingratitude of his own city, for which he had won that victory; he forgot this injustice and remembered only his country, when he saved her a second time from the Gauls. Or else the gods are not as strong as gods ought to be, if they can be conquered by the superior strategy or the military strength of human beings. Or again, if the gods wage war against one another, and the gods are not conquered by men but, it may be, by other gods who belong exclusively to particular communities, we may infer that there are enmities among them, which they take up on behalf of their particular side. And it follows that a community ought to worship other gods as much as its own, to gain their help for its own side.
Finally, whatever may be the truth about this transference, or flight, or migration of the gods – or their desertion in battle – those kingdoms were lost and taken over, after immeasurable military disasters, at a time when the name of Christ had not yet been preached in that part of the world. If at the time when the Assyrian Empire was destroyed, after twelve hundred years and more, the Christian religion had already proclaimed another, an eternal, kingdom and had put an end to the sacrilegious cults of false gods, what would the fools of that race have said? Would they not have asserted that an Empire so long preserved could only have disappeared because their cults had been abandoned and the Christian religion had been accepted?
In such an absurd (but very likely) assertion our opponents should see themselves mirrored; and they should then blush, if they have any shame, to utter similar complaints. The Roman Empire has been shaken rather than transformed, and that happened to it at other periods, before the preaching of Christ’s name; and it recovered. There is no need to despair of its recovery at this present time. Who knows what is God’s will in this matter?
8. The Romans could scarcely entrust a single department of life to any one god. To what gods could they ascribe the growth and preservation of their Empire?
Next, if you will, let us inquire which gods, of all that host of gods19 who received their worship, they believed to be specially responsible for the extension and preservation of the Roman Empire. For in a work of such nobility and sublime grandeur they do not dare to assign any part to the goddess Cloacina, or to Volupia (whose name has the same root as ‘voluptuous’) or to Lubentina (a name derived from libido), or to Vaticanus (who presides over the wails – vogitus – of infants), or to Cunina (who takes care of their cradles – cunae). But how can I give a list, in one passage of this book, of all the names of their gods and goddesses? The Romans had difficulty in getting them into the massive volumes in which they assigned particular functions and special responsibilities to the various divine powers. They decided that responsibility for the land should not be entrusted to any one god; they put the goddess Rusina in charge of the rural countryside; they consigned the mountain ranges (iuga) to the care of the god Jugatinus; the hills (colles) to the goddess Collatina, the valleys to Vallonia. They could not even find the goddess called Segetia adequate on her own, to the responsibility for the crops (segetes) from start to finish. Instead, they decided that the corn when sown (sata) should have the goddess Seia to watch over it as long as the seeds were under ground; as soon as the shoots came above the ground and began to form the grain (seges), they were under the charge of the goddess Segetia; but when the corn had been reaped and stored the goddess Tutiliua was set over them to keep them safe (tuto). Would not anyone think that Segetia should have been competent to supervise the whole process from the first green shoots to the dry ears of corn? But that was not enough for men who loved a multitude of gods – and so much so that their miserable soul disdained the pure embrace of the one true God and prostituted itself to a mob of demons. So they put Proserpina in command of germinating corn; the god Nodutus looked after the nodes and joints on the stalks; the goddess Volutina saw to the envelopes (involumenta) of the follicles; when the follicles opened (patescunt) to release the spike, the goddess Patelana took over; when the crops were evenly eared, then came the turn of the goddess Hostilina (the old word for ‘make even’ was hostirc); when the crops were blooming, the goddess Flora came in; when they became milky, the god Lacturnus; when they were maturing, the goddess Matuta; when they were plucked up (runcantur) the goddess Runcina.
I shall not list them all; I find the whole thing disagreeable, even if the Romans do not think it disgraceful. But this very brief account is intended to make it clear that the pagans have not the impudence to allege that the Roman Empire was established, increased, and preserved by those divinities who were so clearly confined to their own particular departments that no general responsibility was entrusted to any one of them. When could Segetia have looked after the Empire, seeing that she was not allowed the simultaneous charge of crops and trees? How could Cunina have even given a thought to arms, when her authority was not permitted to range beyond cradles? How could Nodutus help in war, when his interest was confined to the node of the stalk and did not even extend to the follicle?
Each man appoints one door-keeper for his house and that one, being a man, is enough. But the Romans appointed three gods; Forculus to guard the doors (fores); Cardea the hinges (cardo); Iimentinus the threshold (limen).20 So Porculus could not guard both hinges and threshold at the same time!
9. Jupiter’s worshippers consider him to be the supreme god. Is he to be held responsible for the wide extent and long duration of the Roman Empire?
We ought then to pass over this host of tiny gods – or at least to dismiss them for a time – and to look into the functions of the greater gods, by whose activity Rome was brought to greatness and enjoyed a long period of empire over so many peoples. Here, of course, we see the work of Jupiter; it is Jupiter whom the Romans will have to be the king of all the gods and goddesses. This is the meaning of his sceptre, and of the Capitol21 on its high hill. ‘The whole universe is full of Jupiter.’22 This may be a poetic utterance; but the Romans use it as the most adequate definition of the god; and Varro believes that men who worship one single God, without an idol, are really worshipping Jupiter, though under another name.23 If that is true, why has he been so shamefully treated at Rome – and indeed among other nations – by having an idol erected to him? This action so offended Varro that, despite the pressure of perverted custom in so great a city, he had not the slightest hesitation in saying, and saying in writing, that those who set up images for the people ‘have abolished reverence and introduced error’.
10. Theories which placed different gods in charge of different parts of the universe
Why do the pagans give Juno to Jupiter for a wife, to be called ‘sister and spouse’?24 ‘The reason is’, they say, ‘that, by tradition, we assume Jupiter to be in the ether25 (the upper air) and Juno in the lower air; and these two elements are joined together, the one above the other.’ Then it follows that this Jupiter is not the subject of the statement, ‘The whole universe is full of Jupiter’, if Juno also fills some part of it. Or is it that each of them fills both elements and this married pair are at the same time in both and in each? Then why is the ether assigned to Jupiter and the air to Juno? And in any case the two of them would be enough. Why allot the sea to Neptune, and the earth to Pluto? And they must not be left wifeless, so Salada26 is provided for Neptune, Proserpina for Pluto. For as the lower part of the sky – the air – is, they say, occupied by Juno, so Salacia has the lower part of the sea, and Proserpina the lower parts of the earth.
They try to find ways to botch together their fables, but without success. For if their account were true their teachers of old time would have spoken of three elements, not four, so as to distribute each of the married pairs to their particular element. As it is, those teachers undoubtedly asserted that ether and air were different elements; but water, whether ‘upper’ or ‘lower’, is still just water; you may conceive some difference; but not enough to make it anything but water. And in spite of all imaginable differences and distinctions, ‘lower’ earth cannot be anything but earth.
Observe further that the whole material universe is made up of the four elements. Then where will Minerva come in? What will be her sphere? What will she fill? She was set up in the Capitol with Jupiter and Juno, although she was not the daughter of both. If they say that Minerva holds sway in the upper part of the ether and that this gave the poets occasion to invent the story of her birth from the head of Jupiter, why is she not reputed the queen of the gods on the ground that she is higher than Jupiter? Is it because it was improper to place a daughter above her father? Then why was that equity not observed in the relation between Jupiter and Saturn? Is it because Saturn was conquered? Then they fought, did they? ‘Certainly not! All that is legendary gossip!’ Very well. Let us not believe the fables; let us have better ideas about the gods. Then why is Jupiter’s father not given at least an equal place of honour, if not a higher? ‘Because Saturn represents duration of time.’27 So they worship time when they worship Saturn! And the implication is that Jupiter, king of gods, is a child of time! Is there anything improper in calling Juno and Jupiter the children of time, if he is the sky and she is the earth? For undoubtedly sky and earth are created things; and Virgil is basing himself not on poetical fictions but on the writings of philosophers, when he says,
The omnipotent father, ether all-supreme,
Descends with fecund showers upon the lap
Of his glad consort.28
‘Upon the lap’, that is, of Tellus or Terra; for here also they are determined to have some difference, and in the earth itself they distinguish Terra, Tellus, and Tellumo,29 and all these gods are called by their special names, assigned to their own separate functions and worshipped with their own rites, at their own altars. The earth is also called the Mother of the Gods – so the fictions of the poets are more tolerable, since it is not in the poetry of the Romans but in their sacred books that Juno is found not only as ‘sister and spouse’ of Jupiter, but also as his mother. They make out the same earth to be Ceres and also Vesta,30 although more often they claim that Vesta is simply fire, fire on the hearth, without which a community cannot exist; and the reason why virgins are by custom consecrated to her service is that fire, like a virgin, does not give birth. All this inanity deserved to be abolished and swept away by him who was born of a virgin.
Is it not insupportable that while they ascribe to fire so much honour and, one may say, purity, they are not ashamed sometimes to identify Vesta with Venus, thus making nonsense of the virginity which is honoured in her attendants? For if Vesta is Venus how could the virgins do her due service by abstaining from the works of Venus? Or are there two Venuses, one a virgin, the other a wife? Or, rather three! One for virgins, who is the same as Vesta; one for married women; one for harlots? This last was the goddess to whom the Phoenicians used to give a present, earned by the prostitution of their daughters, before they gave them in marriage. Which of these is the lady wife of Vulcan? Certainly not the virgin, since she has a husband. Not the harlot; perish the thought! We must not seem to insult the son of Juno, and Minerva’s fellow-worker! Then we infer that Vulcan’s wife was concerned with married women. I hope they will not imitate her behaviour with Mars!
‘There you go! Back to the fables again.’ But what kind of justice is this – to be angry with us for talking like this about their gods and not to be angry with themselves for taking such pleasure in watching the gods’ depravities in the theatres? And remember (incredible though it would be, were it not proved quite incontestably) that those representations of the gods’ disgrace were instituted in honour of the gods!
11. The many gods identified by the learned with Jupiter
So let them make what claims they like in their scientific theories and arguments. Let Jupiter be at one time the soul of this material universe, who ‘fills’ and ‘moves the whole mass’,31 constructed and composed out of four elements – or as many elements as they please – and then let him give up to his sister and his brothers their special parts of the whole. At another time let him be the ether, so that he may from above embrace Juno, the air spread out below him, and then let him be the whole sky, air included, and fertilize, with his ‘fecund showers’ and seeds, the earth which is both his wife and his mother – nothing disgusting in this, in the divine context! Then (we need not discuss all the possibilities) let him be the one god of whom the famous poet (as many think) is speaking when he says,
Because God ranges all the lands of earth,
The sea’s expanse, and the vast depth of heaven.32
Let this one god be Jupiter in the ether, Juno in the air, Neptune in the sea, Salacia33 in the lower depths of the sea, Pluto on earth, Proserpina in the lower depths of the earth, Vesta on the domestic hearth, Vulcan in the metal-worker’s forge: in the sky, let him be the Sun, the Moon, the stars; among the seers, Apollo; in commerce, Mercury; in the person of Janus34 let him appear as the initiator, in Terminus as the terminator. Let him be Saturn, in respect of time; in wars let him be Mars and Bellona; Liber among the vines, Ceres among the crops and Diana in the woods; and Minerva in respect of natural talents. Finally, let him also be seen in that crowd of plebian gods, as we may call them. Under the name of Liber let him be in charge of the seed of men, and in charge of the seed of women under the title of Libera;35 let him be identified with Diespater, to bring the offspring into the light of day (dies), and with Mena, whom the Romans appointed to supervise the periods of women; and with Lucina,36 who is invoked by women in childbirth. Let him bring aid (opem) to the newly-born by receiving them upon the lap of earth, and be called Opis; let him open the infant’s mouth when the baby wails, and be called the god Vaticanus; and lift it (levare) from the ground as the goddess Levana; and guard the cradle as Cunina.37 Let it be none other than he who is manifested in those goddesses, called Carmentes, who foretell the fate of the newly-born; let him be invoked as Fortuna, the presiding deity of chances. As the goddess Rumina let him give the breast to the baby (the breast was anciently called ruma); as Potina let him offer drink (potio), and as Educa serve food (esca) to the young. Let him be named Paventia, from the terror (pavor) of infants; Venilia,38 from the advent of hope; Volupia,39 from voluptuous delight; Agenoria, in respect of activity; from the stimulus which drives men to excessive action, let him get the title Stimula; and be the goddess Strenia,40 in making men strenuous; and Numeria, to teach men numbers, and Camena to teach them to sin (canere). At the same time let him be Consus, in offering counsel, and Sentia, by inspiring sentiments; and appear as the goddess Juventas,41 to welcome the opening stages of youth, when the toga praetexta has been laid aside; and as ‘Bearded Fortuna’42 to equip the young men with beards. (The pagans refused to do these young men the honour of giving this divinity, as a male divinity of some kind or other, a masculine name, Barbatus, say – from barbo, as Nodutus from nodus – or Fortunáis; anything rather than the feminine Fortuna – with that beard!) In the character of Jugatinus43 let him join couples in marriage; and let him be invoked by the name of Virginensis, when the bride’s virgin girdle is untied. Let him be Mutunus, or Tutunus, whom the Greeks called Priapus.44 If it does not embarrass our opponents, let Jupiter be all that I have mentioned – and all that I have left unsaid (for I decided to omit a great deal): let him, and him alone, be all those gods and goddesses,45 whether, as some would have it, they are all aspects of Jupiter, or forces of Jupiter. The latter interpretation is advanced by those who have decided that he is the soul of the world – an opinion held by men of apparent distinction and erudition.
If this is true – and for the moment I leave aside the question of its truth – what would they lose by a wise economy in worshipping one God? Would he be in any way underrated, since he himself would be worshipped? If it should be feared that the omitted or neglected aspects of Jupiter might be angry, the inference would be that here there is not (as they would have it) one whole life of one Living Being, containing in itself all gods as its powers or members or aspects, but rather, each aspect has a life distinct from the others, if one aspect can be angry independently of another, if one can be appeased while another is irritated. If, on the other hand, it is asserted that all the aspects together, that is the whole of Jupiter himself, could have been offended if his aspects were not worshipped individually and separately, this assertion is the merest folly. None of them could have been neglected while the god himself, who in himself possesses them all, was being worshipped. Out of innumerable possible examples I will content myself with this. They say that all the stars are ‘aspects’ of Jupiter, that they are alive and possess rational souls and are therefore indisputably gods.46But they do not observe how many of these gods they omit to worship, for how many they do not build temples or stars. They erect altars, while they have thought it necessary to set them up for a tiny handful of stars and to sacrifice to them individually. So if those gods are angry when they do not receive individual worship, are not the pagans afraid of living beneath the wrath of the whole heaven when they have propitiated but a few of them? While if they worship all the stars just because they exist in the Jupiter whom they worship, they could, by this economical procedure, have offered their prayers to them all, in the person of that one god, and thus none of them would have been angry, since none of them would have been neglected. This would have been better than to worship some of them and give a just cause for anger to the far greater number who were overlooked, especially when the sight presented to the stars when they shone down from their celestial abode was – Priapus, swelling in all his naked obscenity!
12. The theory that makes God the soul of the world, the body of God
But here is another point. And it is one which no man of quick intelligence, in fact no man at all (for there is no need here of exceptional ability) can consider unmoved. Putting aside all contentious polemics, let us note carefully that if God is the Soul of the World and the world is to him as the body to the soul, if this God is, as it were, in the bosom of nature and contains all things in himself, so that from his soul, which gives life to the whole of that mass, the life and soul of all living things is derived – according to the lot assigned at birth to each; if this is so, then nothing at all remains which is not a part of God. Can anyone fail to see the blasphemous and irreligious consequences? Anything which anyone treads underfoot would be a part of God! In the killing of any living creature, a part of God would be slaughtered! I shrink from uttering all the possibilities which come to mind; it would be impossible to mention them without shame.
13. Another theory confines the points of God to the rational animals
But perhaps it is maintained that only rational animals, such as men, are parts of God. For my part, I cannot see how, if the whole universe is God, the lower animals can be excluded from his parts. But we need not contest the point. To confine ourselves to the rational being, man, what could be more unfortunate than the belief that when a child is smacked, God is smacked? It would follow, too, that ‘parts of God’ can become lustful, unjust, irreligious, and utterly worthy of condemnation. Could anyone in his right mind tolerate such a conclusion? Finally, why should God be angry with those who do not worship him, seeing that it is ‘parts’ of himself which deny him worship?
Our opponents are thus reduced to admitting that all the gods have their own particular lives, that each one lives for himself, that none is ‘part’ of any other, and that all should be worshipped who can be recognized and worshipped, since there are so many that they cannot all be recognized and worshipped.
It is because Jupiter presides over all the gods as king, that the Romans suppose him to have established and extended Rome’s dominion. If Jupiter himself did not do so, what other god could they believe to have undertaken so great a task? All the other gods were fully employed in their own particular tasks and responsibilities, and none of them invades the sphere of another. Only the king of gods could have given increase and enlargement to the kingdom of men.
14. If Victory is, as they say, a goddess, it is inconsistent to attribute the growth of empire to Jupiter
The first question I would like to ask is: Why is not Empire itself one of those gods? Surely it should be, if Victory is a goddess?47 Why should Jupiter himself be needed in this matter, if Victory is favourable and propitious, and always comes to those whom she wishes to be conquerors? Given her favour and sympathy, what nations would have remained unconquered, even though Jupiter had taken a holiday, or had been otherwise employed? Surely, all kingdoms would have submitted? But perhaps honest men did not like to make war with a lack of equity too unconscionable and to enlarge their dominions by aggression against peaceful neighbours who did them no wrong? If such was their feeling, I certainly approve and applaud them.
15. Can good men consistently desire to extend their dominion?
I would therefore have our adversaries consider the possibility that to rejoice in the extent of empire is not a characteristic of good men. The increase of empire was assisted by the wickedness of those against whom just wars were waged. The empire would have been small indeed, if neighbouring peoples had been peaceable, had always acted with justice, and had never provoked attack by any wrong-doing. In that case, human affairs would have been in a happier state; all kingdoms would have been small and would have rejoiced in concord with their neighbours. There would have been a multitude of kingdoms in the world, as there are multitudes of homes in our cities. To make war and to extend the realm by crushing other peoples, is good fortune in the eyes of the wicked; to the good, it is stern necessity. But since it would be worse that the unjust should lord it over the just, this stern necessity may be called good fortune without impropriety. Yet there can be no shadow of doubt that it is greater good fortune to have a good neighbour and live in peace with him than to subdue a bad neighbour when he makes war. It is a wicked prayer to ask to have someone to hate or to fear, so that he may be someone to conquer.
So if it was by waging wars that were just, not impious and unjust, that the Romans were able to acquire so vast an empire, surely they should worship the Injustice of others as a kind of goddess? For we observe how much help ‘she’ has given towards the extension of the Empire by making others wrong-doers, so that the Romans should have enemies to fight in a just cause and so increase Rome’s power. Why should not Injustice be a goddess – at least the Injustice of foreign nations – if Panic and Pallor and Fever48 earned a place among Roman gods? With the support of those two Goddesses, ‘Foreign Injustice’ and Victory, the Empire grew, even when Jupiter took a holiday. Injustice stirred up causes of war; Victory brought the war to a happy conclusion.
As for Jupiter, what part would he have had to play, when the benefits which might have been ascribed to him were themselves considered gods, given the name of gods, worshipped as gods, and invoked to play their own parts? He would have had some part in this if he was also called Dominion, on the analogy of the goddess called Victory. While if dominion is a gift of Jupiter, why should not victory also be considered his gift? And victory certainly would have been regarded as a gift, if, instead of a stone on the Capitol,49 the Romans had recognized and worshipped the true ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.50
16. The Romans assigned a separate god to each activity. Why did they put the temple of Quies outside the gates?
The Romans assigned particular gods to particular spheres and to almost every single movement. They had a goddess called Age-noria,51 to arouse to action; a goddess Stimula,51 to stimulate to extraordinary action; a goddess Murcia52 to make a man extraordinarily inactive, that is (according to Pomponius53) murcidus, meaning slothful and inert, and a goddess Strenia,51 to make man strenuous. They undertook to offer public sacrifices in honour of all these divinities. But although they acknowledged a goddess named Quies54 (tranquillity) to make men tranquil and though she had a temple outside the Colline gate, they refused to adopt this temple as a national shrine. This I find very surprising. Was it a symptom of an untranquil spirit? Or did it rather mean that anyone who obstinately worshipped that mob of demons (for clearly they were not gods) could not enjoy the tranquillity to which the true Physician invites man, when he says, ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’55
17. If Jupiter is the supreme power, is Victory also to be considered a goddess?
They may allege that Jupiter sends Victory, and that she comes at his bidding to those of his choice in obedience to Jupiter as king of gods and takes her place on their side. This could truthfully be said not of Jupiter, who is fancifully imagined as the king of gods, but of the true King of the Ages, who sends – not Victory, who has no real existence – but his angel, and gives the conquest to whom he will. And his design may be inscrutable; it cannot be unjust.
If Victory is a goddess, why not Triumph? Why not attach Triumph to Victory, as her husband, or brother, or son? If these fancies of theirs about the gods had been invented by poets and then attacked by us, they would have answered: ‘Those are poetical fictions, not to be attributed to the true divinities.’ And yet they themselves did not laugh when they encountered fantastic absurdities of this sort, not when reading the poets but when worshipping in the temples. They ought then to have made all their requests to Jupiter and addressed their supplications to him alone. For if Victory is a goddess, and subject to the king of gods, she could not have dared to oppose him, wherever he had sent her, to follow her own inclination instead.
18. If Felicitas and Fortuna are both goddesses, how are they distinguished?
Then what of the belief that Felicity56 also is a goddess? She has received a temple, she has earned an altar and appropriate rites are paid her. She ought to have been worshipped as a sole divinity. For when she was present what blessing could have been lacking? But what is the point of reckoning Fortune57 also as a divinity and worshipping her as well? Is there any difference between felicity and fortune? Yes, there is: fortune may be good or bad; but felicity could not be bad, without ceasing to be felicity. But surely we ought to believe that all the gods, of either sex (if, indeed, the gods also have a sex) are good without exception! This is what Plato58 says, and other philosophers, and the outstanding, guides of the republic, and of the other peoples. How then can Fortune be sometimes good, sometimes bad? Can it be that when she is bad she is no longer a divinity, but is suddenly changed into a malignant devil? How many goddesses of this kind are there? As many, to be sure, as there are fortunate men, that is, men of good fortune. Since there are other men, very many of them, enduring bad fortune simultaneously, that is at one and the same time, then Fortune – if it is the same goddess – would be simultaneously good and bad – bad for some, good for others. But is she not always good, if she is a goddess? Then she must be the same as Felicity. Why is the goddess given different names?
Well, that is allowable; the same thing is often called by different names. But why different temples, different altars, different rites? ‘The reason is’, they say, ‘that felicity is what good men enjoy as a result of their previous merits; while fortune – what we call good fortune – happens to men, good and bad alike, without any weighing of their merits: it comes fortuitously; hence the name Fortune.’ How can she be good if she comes, without discrimination, to good and bad? What is the point of worshipping her if she is so blind that she blunders into people at random, so that she often passes by her worshippers and attaches herself to those who disregard her? Otherwise, if her worshippers receive any advantage, if they are noticed and favoured by her, then she comes in consequence of merit and not fortuitously. So what has happened to the definition of Fortune? What about the derivation of her name from fortuitous events? If she really is fortune (i.e. luck) there is no advantage in worshipping her. If she discriminates in favour of her worshippers she is not fortune. Is it the case that Jupiter sends her at his pleasure? If so, he should be worshipped alone; Fortune cannot resist his bidding, when he sends her where he wishes. Or at least let us leave her worship to the bad, who are not inclined to acquire the merits by which the goddess Felicity could be attracted.
19. Fortuna Muliebris
The Romans assign so much importance to the alleged divinity whom they call Fortune, that they have a traditional story that her statue, which was dedicated by the Roman women and is called ‘Feminine Fortune’,59 actually spoke,60 and said that the women had consecrated her with all proper ceremonies; and she repeated the statement on more than one occasion.
If the story is true, there is no call for us to be surprised. It is not so difficult for malignant demons to effect illusions; and the Romans should have been put on their guard against such cunning trickery by the fact that the goddess who spoke was one who appears fortuitously and does not come in response to merit. Fortune is represented as a chatterer, while Felicity is dumb. What can be the point of this, except to encourage men not to take pains about right living, provided that Fortuna is favourable? And she can make men fortunate, irrespective of merit. In any case, if Fortuna speaks, then it would have been better to have the ‘Fortune of the Men’61 speaking, not the ‘Fortune of the Women’; for then it would not be suspected that this impressive miracle was a piece of female gossip.
20. Virtue and Faith received divine honours; but why not other virtues?
They also made Virtue62 a goddess. If she really was a goddess, she certainly ought to have been preferred to many of the others. In fact, since virtue is not a divinity, but a gift of God, men should seek to gain virtue from him who alone can grant it and the whole mob of false gods should be sent packing. But why has Faith63 been believed in as a goddess, being given a temple and an altar for herself? Anyone who has the wisdom to acknowledge Faith makes for her a dwelling in his own self. Besides, how can those people know what faith is, seeing that the first and chief function of faith is to give men belief in the true God? And why was Virtue not sufficient for their needs? Surely, where Virtue is, there Faith is also? They observed that Virtue must be divided into four species: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. Now each of these has its own varieties, and so faith is classed under justice and it holds the chief place with all of us who know the meaning of the statement that ‘the just man lives through his faith.’64
What really amazes me about those who are so eager for a multitude of gods is this: if faith is a goddess, why have they insulted so many other goddesses by passing them over, when they might have dedicated temples and altars to them in the same way? Why has temperance not been thought worthy of divinity, when it is in her name that a number of eminent Romans have won no small glory? How is it that fortitude is not divine? It was fortitude that supported Mucius,65 when he stretched out his right hand into the flames; and Curtius,66 when he hurled himself into a chasm, for his country’s sake; and the Decii,67 father and son, when they devoted themselves to death to save the army. (I am assuming that it was true fortitude that they exemplified; the point is not relevant at the moment.) Why have prudence and wisdom deserved no divine habitations? Is it because they are all worshipped under the general title of Virtue? By the same token, one God might be worshipped, and the other gods be accounted aspects of him. In any case, faith and modesty are included in virtue; yet Faith and Modesty68 have been deemed worthy of altars in their special shrines, independent of Virtue.
21. Those who did not recognize one God should at least have been content with Virtue and Felicity
It is not truth that creates these goddesses; it is folly. These virtues are not themselves divinities; they are gifts of the true God. Furthermore, where there is virtue and felicity, what need is there to seek anything else? If men are not satisfied with these, what will suffice them? For surely, virtue includes all that ought to be done, felicity all that ought to be desired. If Jupiter is worshipped, so that he may grant those blessings – on the ground that extension and duration of empire, if they are benefits, come under the heading of felicity – why is it not recognized that they are gifts of God, not deities? While if they are reckoned as deities, there is at any rate no need to seek out all that crowd of other gods. Bearing in mind the functions of all those gods and goddesses69 which the pagans have whimsically invented according to their fancy, let them see if they can discover anything which any god could supply to a man who possesses virtue and felicity. What teaching would he need to seek from Mercury or Minerva, since Virtue would include everything? The men of old defined virtue as ‘the art of good and right living’. Thus the Latins derived the word ars (art) from aretê, the Greek word for virtue.70 Now if this virtue (or art) could only come to one who has a certain native wit, what was the use of the god Father Catius, who was supposed to make one shrewd (catus), that is sharp-witted (acutus), since felicity, good luck, could confer this quality? To be born with this native wit is assuredly a stroke of luck – of felicity. Hence, although Felicity could not be worshipped by the unborn, she might have granted to her worshippers the boon that their children should be quick-witted. And what need was there for women in childbirth to invoke Lucina; if Felicity were at hand to help, they would not only have easy labour, but good children as well. What need to entrust the newly born to Opis, the wailing infants to Vaticanus, infants in their cots to Cunina, children at the breast to Rumina,71 to commend them to Statilinus when standing, to Adeona when coming (adeuntes), to Abeona72 when going (abeuntes); to the goddess Mens (Mind), for mental development, to Volumnus and Volumna73 for a right volition; to the nuptial deities74 for a good marriage, to the gods of the fields, and especially the goddess Fructesa,75for fruitful harvests; to Mars and Bellona, for courage in war; to goddess Victory, that they might be victorious; to the god Honour,76 that honours might come to them; to the goddess Pecunia,77 to ensure plenty of money (pecunia), and to the god Aesculanus and his son Argentinus for coins of brass (aes) and silver (argentum)? The reason for assuming Aesculanus as the father of Argentinus was that the first currency was bronze and silver money only came in later. What surprises me is that Argentinus did not have a son called Aurinus, because of the still later introduction of gold (aurum). If they had had these three gods, they might have promoted Aurinus above his father Argentinus and his grandfather Aesculanus, just as they promoted Jupiter above Saturn.
Was it really necessary to worship and invoke all that crowd of gods to obtain benefits for soul or body or external blessings? I have not mentioned all their gods, and the Romans themselves did not succeed in assigning miniature gods as specialists to deal with all benefits of human life classified in minute detail. Why all that crowd, when, with a simple and sweeping economy, Felicity could have bestowed all the benefits? Then they would have been spared the trouble of finding any other god, either to obtain blessings or to ward off disasters. Then they would not have had to call upon Fessona for the exhausted (fessi), or upon pellonia to drive off (pellere) the enemy; and to call in Apollo or Aesculapius as a physician for their sick – or both at once, in a case of grave danger; or Spiniensis, to root out the thorns (spinae) from the fields; or the goddess Robigo,78 to keep blight (robigo) away. With the presence and protection of the one goddess, Felicity, disasters either would not occur, or would easily be dispelled.
One final point, on the subject of the goddesses Virtue and Felicity. If felicity is the reward of virtue, felicity is not a goddess, but a gift of God. If Felicity is a goddess, why should Felicity not be said to confer virtue, since the acquisition of virtue is surely a great felicity?
22. The knowledge of the gods to be worshipped; Varro’s gifts to the Romans
Varro boasts that he rendered his fellow-citizens an ‘immense service’ in not merely listing the gods whom the Romans ought to worship, but also stating the special function of each of them. What was the basis of that claim? ‘It is of no purpose’, he says, ‘to know the name of a physician, and what he looks like, if you do not know that he is a physician. Similarly, it is no use knowing that Aesculapius is a god, without being aware that he comes to the aid of the sick. You would not know why you ought to pray to him.’ He drives the point home with another parallel. ‘You cannot lead a satisfactory life, in fact you cannot live at all, if you do not know who the blacksmith is, and the baker, and the plasterer, and where to go to get anything you need; and from whom to seek help, or guidance, or instruction.’ In just the same way, he insists, there can be no doubt of the advantage of acquaintance with the gods, if a man knows the power, ability and competence of each god in his particular sphere. ‘Thus,’ he goes on, ‘we shall be able to know which god we are to summon by invocation, and for what purpose. And we may avoid acting like the comedians, who apply to Liber (or Bacchus) for water, and to the Lymphae (water-goddesses) for wine.’
A great advantage, to be sure! Everyone would be grateful to Varro, if he had shown them the truth and had taught men that they should worship the true God from whom all good things come.
23. Felicity, a late-comer to the ranks of Roman gods though she might by herself have taken the place of all the rest
But (and this is the question before us) if the pagan books and rites are true, and Felicity is a goddess, why is it not established that she alone should be worshipped, since she could confer all blessings and, in this economical fashion, bring a man happiness? Does anyone desire anything for any other reason than to secure happiness? Then why on earth was it so long before Lucullus79 set up a shrine for this great goddess, after so many leading men of Rome had managed without her? Surely Romulus himself was anxious to found a city that should be happy? He, of all people, should have erected a temple to her, and then he would not have addressed prayers to the other gods for anything; for if Felicity had been there, nothing would have been lacking. Why did he not? For what purpose did he establish, as gods for the Roman people, Janus, Jupiter, Picus, Faunus, Tiberinus, Hercules, and the rest?80 Why did Titus Tatius81 add Saturn, Ops, Sun, Moon, Vulcan, Light and the rest – including even Cloacina82 – and never think of Felicity? Why did Numa bring in so many gods and goddesses – but not Felicity? Was it that he could not find her, in all that crowd? At any rate, king Hostilius could not have introduced, as gods to be propitiated, those novel divinities, Panic and Pallor,83 if he had known and worshipped the goddess Felicity. For if she were there, Panic and Pallor would depart without propitiation; they would be chased away in flight!
How is it that the Roman Empire was extending its power far and wide, long before anyone had started a cult of Felicity? Is that the reason why its felicity did not match its grandeur? For how could true felicity exist where there was not true religion? True religion is the worship of the true God, not the cult of false gods, who are just so many devils. In fact, the inclusion of Felicity in the ranks of the gods was followed by the terrible infelicity of the civil wars. Was it that Felicity was rightly indignant at having been summoned so late, and summoned to what was not an honour so much as an insult – in that she was associated in worship with Priapus, Cloacina, Panic, Pallor, and Fever,84 and the rest? Such deities could not claim worship; they could only shame their worshippers.
Finally, if it was thought right that such a mighty goddess should be worshipped along with, that disreputable crowd, why was she not accorded at least a worship of greater splendour than the rest? Is it not intolerable that Felicity was not ranked among the Consentes,85 the gods who are said to be called in as Jupiter’s counsellors, nor among those called ‘the select gods’?86 They might have made her a temple to stand out above the others by the elevation of its site and the excellence of its architecture. Why did they not build her something better than the temple they gave to Jupiter himself? For who but Felicity gave Jupiter his kingship – assuming, that is, that he was happy in his reign? Felicity is undeniably worth more than a kingdom. For it is certain that one could easily find a man who was afraid to become a king; but you would not find anyone who did not want to be happy. If the pagans suppose that the opinion of the gods can be obtained by auguries or by any other method, they should have been asked whether they were willing to give place to Felicity, if it should happen that temples or altars of other gods had already taken a site where a greater and loftier temple might be erected for her. Even Jupiter himself would have retired in her favour, to allow Felicity to occupy the summit of the Capitol hill, rather than himself. For no one would have resisted Felicity, except (an impossible supposition) anyone who wished to be unhappy.
Had Jupiter been consulted, it is inconceivable that he would have acted as did the three gods, Mars, Terminus, and Juventas,87 who utterly refused to give place to their superior, in fact their king. For Roman literature has the story that when King Tarquin decided to build the Capitol, he discovered that the site which seemed most worthy and most appropriate had already been taken by other gods. He did not dare to do anything in defiance of their wishes, but he was. confident that they would yield willingly to that mighty divinity, their prince; and since there were many gods installed in the place where the Capitol was set up, he inquired, through the auguries, whether they were ready to give way to Jupiter. They all agreed to do so, except for those I have mentioned: Mars, Terminus, and Juventas. And that is why the Capitol88 was so constructed that they were included in it, though their images were so inconspicuous that the most learned men were scarcely aware of the fact. Jupiter would never have treated Felicity with the contempt that Terminus, Mars, and Juventas showed to him. And even those three, who would not give place to Jupiter, would have yielded to Felicity, who had made Jupiter their king. Or if they had not yielded, it would not have been out of contempt, but because they preferred to skulk unnoticed in the dwelling of Felicity rather than to catch every eye in their own shrines and be parted from her.
As soon as Felicity had been thus established in a dignified and exalted setting, the citizens would have learnt where they should seek help in every prayer for blessing. The bidding of natural reason would have led them to abandon the superfluous multitude of other gods, and confine their worship to Felicity. They would have prayed to her alone; her temple alone would have been thronged with citizens who wished for happiness – and who would not? Thus felicity would have been sought from the goddess Felicity herself, instead of from all the gods as formerly. For who would wish to receive, from any god, anything other than happiness, or what, in his view, conduces to happiness? Further, if it is in the power of Felicity to choose her beneficiaries (as it must be, if she is divine), what sort of folly is it to seek happiness from another god, when one can obtain it from Felicity herself! The Romans ought therefore to have honoured this deity above the rest of the gods, and to have shown this in the splendour of her setting, as well as in other ways. We learn from Roman sources that in antiquity the Romans ascribed nocturnal lightning to a certain Summanus,89and they paid him more honour than Jupiter, who was responsible for lightning during the day. But when a temple of outstanding magnificence had been built for Jupiter, the crowds thronged to it, because of the impressiveness of the shrine, so that you would have difficulty in finding anyone who so much as remembers having read the name Summanus – no one ever hears it spoken.
Now if Felicity is not a goddess, because she is, in truth, a gift of God, we should seek the God who can bestow that gift and abandon the pernicious mob of false gods to which the silly mob of fools attach themselves. These fools turn the gifts of God into deities, and by the obstinacy of their insolent self-will, offend the God who confers those gifts. How can a man escape unhappiness, if he worships Felicity as divine and deserts God, the giver of felicity? Could a man escape starvation by licking the painted picture of a loaf, instead of begging real bread from someone who had it to give?
24. Arguments adduced in defence of the worship of the divine gifts, as well as gods
I should like to consider the explanations put forward by our opponents. ‘Are we to suppose’, they say, ‘that our ancestors were such idiots that they did not realize that these were the divine gifts and not themselves divinities? But they knew that these gifts were only given by the generosity of a god, and when they did not know the names of the gods concerned they called them by the name of the gifts, which, they felt, were bestowed by them. They made some modifications in the words; thus Bellona from bellum (war); Cunina from cunae (cradle); Segetia from seges (crop); Pomona90from poma (apples); Bubona from bubus (ablative of boves, oxen). Sometimes they were called by the actual name of their subject, as Pecunia, the goddess who gives money (pecunia), which does not mean that money itself is considered a divinity. In the same way, Virtue is the bestower of virtue; Honour, of honour; Concordia gives concord; Victoria gives victory. Thus when Felicity is spoken of as a goddess, the reference is not to the gift, but to the giver of happiness.’
25. Only one God is to be worshipped. He is recognized as the giver of felicity even if his name is unknown
This explanation will perhaps make it much easier for us to win over to our way of thinking those of our opponents whose hearts are not too hardened. Human nature in its weakness has already felt that happiness can only be given by a god; and that has been realized by men who have been worshipping many gods, including Jupiter himself, the king of the gods. Now because they did not know the name of the giver of happiness, those people decided to call him by the name of the gift for which they believed him responsible. If this is true, they have made it clear that happiness is not given by Jupiter, whom they were already worshipping, but by a deity who was, they held, to be worshipped by the name of happiness itself, the name ‘Felicity’.
I put it quite bluntly. They believed that happiness is the gift of some god, unknown to them. Then let them seek him and worship him, and that is enough. Away with the hubbub of innumerable demons! The only man who would not be satisfied with this God is the man who is not satisfied with his gift. I repeat, the only man who would not be satisfied with God, the giver of happiness, as worthy of his worship, is the man who is not satisfied with happiness itself as worthy of his acceptance. If a man is content with happiness – and in fact man has nothing which he should desire beyond that – then let him serve the one God, the giver of happiness. And that is not the god they call Jupiter. For if they had recognized Jupiter as the giver of happiness they would not have looked for another deity, male or female, called Felicity, as its giver; nor would they have thought it right to associate the worship of Jupiter with all those slanders; for he was, according to their account, a seducer of the wives of others,91 and a shameless lover and ravisher of a beautiful boy.92
26. The theatrical shows, demanded by the gods from their worshippers
‘But this’, Cicero asserts, ‘is a fiction of Homer, who transferred human shortcomings to the gods. Would that he had transferred divine powers to us men.’93 The serious-minded Cicero was justifiably displeased with a poet who imputed fictitious crimes to the deities. But those crimes are represented in speech, in song, and in action in the stage shows; and those shows are put on in honour of the gods, and are classed among ‘Divine Matters’ by the most learned authorities. How is this? Cicero ought on this point to cry out, not against the poet’s fictions, but against the traditional institutions, established by his ancestors. But those ancestors would have cried out, in reply,
What have we done? It was the gods themselves who clamoured for these exhibitions in their honour, who demanded them with fearful threats, promising disaster if they were withheld, punishing any omission with the utmost harshness, and showing themselves appeased when the omission was repaired. Among the miraculous demonstrations of their power, the following story is told.94 A Roman peasant named Titus Latinius, the father of a family, was told in a dream to inform the senate that the Roman games must be restarted, because on the first day of the games a criminal had been ordered to be led to execution before the eyes of the assembled people, and this command had displeased the gods; no doubt because the divinities looked for cheerful entertainment at those shows. The man who had received this warning dream had not courage to fulfil the order next day; and on the second night he was given the same injunction, in stricter terms. He did not obey; and so he lost his son. On the third night he was told that a heavier punishment awaited him, if he disobeyed. When his courage again failed him, even after this threat, he fell seriously ill with a fearful disease. Then, on the advice of his friends he did inform the magistrates, and was carried into the senate on a litter. There he recounted his dream; and immediately he was restored to health and left the senate-house on his own legs, completely cured. Astounded by this miracle, the senate voted to recommence the games, with a fourfold increase of the subsidy.
Any man in his senses could see that men who were under the sway of malignant demons – a domination from which only the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, could free them – were constrained by force to offer to such gods exhibitions which to a right judgement could only appear disgusting. Certainly in those games – which were restarted by order of the senate, under compulsion from the gods – these poetic scandals about the gods were publicly displayed. In those shows the actors portrayed Jupiter, the corrupter of innocence, in song and action; and thus they appeased him! If this was mere fiction, Jupiter would have been angry, surely? Or, if Jupiter took delight in those scandals, even though fictitious, then his worship was nothing but the service of a devil.
Was it really this Jupiter who could have founded, developed, and preserved the Roman Empire? A contemptible reprobate, in comparison with any Roman whatsoever who found such depravities revolting? Was it really a god like this who could have given happiness, who was worshipped in this miserable fashion, and who was even more miserably angry, if that worship was withheld?
27. Three kinds of gods distinguished by Scaevola, the pontiff
It is recorded that Scaevola,95 a most erudite pontiff, argued that there were three kinds of gods96 in the Roman tradition; one strand of tradition coming through the poets, another through the philosophers, the third through the statesmen. According to Scaevola, the first tradition was trivial nonsense, a collection of discreditable fictions about the gods, while the second had no value for a commonwealth, in that it introduced much that was irrelevant, and also much that was harmful for the people in general to know. The irrelevances are not important. It is a commonplace of jurisprudence that ‘the irrelevant is not harmful.’ But what are the elements which are harmful, if divulged to the general public? ‘The assertion’, says Scaevola, ‘that Hercules, Aesculapius, Castor and Pollux are not gods. The learned inform us that they were men,97 and that they died, in accordance with the human condition.’ And further, ‘The allegation that communities do not have true images of those who really are gods, because the true God has neither sex nor age, nor has he a denned bodily form.’ The pontiff did not wish the people to be aware of this; he did not think the statements were untrue. Thus he held that it was expedient for communities to be deceived in matters of religion, and Varro himself has no hesitation in saying as much, even in his books on ‘Divine Affairs’.
What a splendid religion for the weak to flee to for liberation! He asks for the truth which will set him free; and it is believed that it is expethent for him to be deceived!
As for the poetic tradition, Roman literature makes it quite clear why Scaevola rejected its teaching. The poets give such a distorted picture of the gods that such deities cannot stand comparison with good men. One god is represented as a thief, another as an adulterer, and so on; all kinds of degradation and absurdity, in word and deed, are ascribed to them. Three goddesses have a beauty contest; Venus wins the prize, and the disappointed candidates overthrow Troy. Jupiter himself is changed into a bull, or a swan, to enjoy the favours of some woman or other.98 A goddess marries a man; Saturn devours his children. Any imaginable marvel, every conceivable vice can be found in this poetic tradition, however remote from the divine nature.
Come, Scaevola, you ‘supreme pontiff’, suppress those spectacles – if you can! Forbid the people to offer such ‘honours’ to the immortal gods – shows in which men enjoy admiring the scandals of the gods and decide to imitate such behaviour, if possible. But if the people retort, ‘It is you pontiffs who have introduced this among us,’ ask the gods to cease demanding these exhibitions; for it was at their instigation that you ordered them to be put on. If those stories are evil, and therefore to be rejected as utterly incongruous with the majesty of the gods, then the wrong offered to the gods is the more serious because such fictions enjoy impunity.
But the gods do not listen to you, Scaevola. They are, in fact, demons, who teach depravity and rejoice in degradation. Far from counting it an outrage that such fictions should be published about them, they actually take it as an intolerable outrage if such shows are not performed in their rites. Appeal against those demons to Jupiter if you will, especially as more scandals are enacted in the stage shows about him than about any other. Yet, though you pontiffs call him Jupiter the God, ruler and disposer of the whole universe, does he not suffer the greatest outrage at your hands? For you think it proper to associate his worship with those demons, and you make him out to be their king.
28. Did the worship of the gods help the Romans in the acquisition and extension of the Empire?
It is utterly impossible that the increase and preservation of the Roman Empire could have been due to such gods as these, gods who are appeased – or rather accused – by rites of such a kind that it would be more culpable for them to delight in such exhibitions if the stories were groundless, than if they were based on fact. If it had been in their power, the gods might have preferred to bestow this great blessing of empire upon the Greeks. For in this matter of ‘divine affairs’, that is, in those stage-shows, the Greeks offered a worship more honourable and more worthy of divinity. They did not withdraw themselves out of reach of the poet’s biting tongue, when they saw the gods being so lacerated; they gave the poet liberty to maltreat any man at their pleasure. Nor did they condemn the actors as infamous; they considered them worthy of even the highest honours.99
The Romans could have had gold money without worshipping the god Aurinus, and silver and bronze, without the cult of Argentinus and his father, Aesculanus. And so on through the list, which it would be tedious to repeat. In the same way, though they could not have exercised dominion without the consent of the true God, still, if they had ignored, or despised, that multitude of false gods, and had recognized the one God, and given him the worship of sincere faith and pure lives, they would have had a better dominion – whatever its size – here on earth, and would have received hereafter an eternal kingdom, whether they had enjoyed dominion in this world or no.
29. The falsity of the augury which seemed to presage the strength and stability of the Roman Empire
I referred just now100 to that story of the ‘splendid presage’, as they described it, when Mars, Terminus, and Juventas refused to yield place to Jupiter, king of the gods. What is the meaning of the tale? ‘Why,’ they say, ‘it signifies that the race of Mars (that is, the Roman people) will never give up to anyone a place that is in their possession; that no one will ever move the Roman frontiers, thanks to the god Terminus; that the young men of Rome will yield to no one, thanks to the goddess Juventas.’ It is up to our opponents to decide how they can conceive Jupiter to be the king of gods, and the giver of their Empire, when this ‘presage’ presents him as an adversary and makes it glorious to refuse to yield to him. And yet, granted the truth of this, they have nothing whatsoever to fear. They are not likely to admit that the gods who refused to yield to Jupiter have yielded to Christ. They have, in fact, been able to yield to Christ, without any loss of territory in the Empire; they have been able to surrender to him their established abodes, and above all the hearts of their believers. But before Christ’s incarnation, before those books from which we have quoted were written, but after the event under king Tarquin that provided the ‘presage’, the Roman army was routed and turned to flight on a number of occasions, which showed the falsity of the ‘presage’. In the ‘presage’. Juventas did not yield to Jupiter. And when the conquering Gauls broke through, the ‘race of Mars’ was crushed in Rome itself, and when many cities defected to Hannibal the frontiers of the Empire were very narrowly restricted. Thus that ‘presage’ lost all its ‘splendour’; all that was left was the insolence shown to Jupiter, not by gods, but by demons. It is one thing not to yield; to regain what has been yielded is another. Even so, the eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire were voluntarily altered by Hadrian in later times;101 in fact he ceded to the Persian Empire three famous provinces, Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. So it would seem that the god Terminus, who, according to the pagans, was the protector of the imperial frontiers, the god who, according to that ‘splendid presage’ refused to yield to Jupiter, was more afraid of a king of men than of the king of the gods. Those provinces were recovered at a later date; but later still, almost in our own times, Terminus made another cession. This was when Julian, in his implicit obedience to the oracles of those gods, had the reckless hardihood to order the burning of the food-ships.102 Thus the army was cut off from supplies. Soon after, Julian himself died of wounds; the army was reduced to destitution; the enemy kept up their assaults on troops demoralized by the emperor’s death; and there would have been no survivors, if a peaceful composition had not fixed the imperial frontier on the lines which remain to this day. The loss of territory was not as great as the concessions of Hadrian; the new frontier represented a compromise.
There was not much substance in that ‘presage’! Terminus did not yield to Jupiter; but he yielded to Hadrian’s decision, to Julian’s rashness, to Jovian’s103 desperate situation. The more intelligent and thoughtful Romans saw this clearly. But they were powerless in the face of the habits of the community, which were tied up with the ceremonies of the demons. They themselves, in fact, although they realized the uselessness of such rites, believed that religious worship should be offered to the order of nature which is organized under the rule and government of the one true God. But such worship is due only to that God; and thus these Romans were, in the words of the Apostle, ‘serving the created order, instead of the Creator, who is blessed for all eternity’.104 It was the help of this true God that was needed – the God who sends men of holiness and true devotion to die for the true religion, so that false religions may be eradicated from the living.
30. What the pagans, on their own admission, think about their gods
Cicero, an augur himself, laughs at auguries;105 and at men who adjust their plans of action in obedience to the cries of ravens and crows.106 But an Academic philosopher107 like Cicero, who maintains that everything is uncertain, does not deserve to be treated as an authority in such matters. In the second book of his On the Nature of the Gods108 Quintus Lucilius Balbus109 is represented as taking part in a discussion; and while he himself advances some superstitions arising from the realm of physical nature – what might be called scientific or philosophical superstititions – he is indignant, for all that, at the erection of images and at fairy tales. ‘Do you see’, he says,
how man’s reason is diverted from scientific knowledge, carefully acquired, and of practical value, towards fictitious and invented gods? And this gives rise to false notions and confused errors, to what amount to old wives’ tales. And we are given information about the appearance of the gods, their age, their clothes, their ornaments; and further, about their genealogy, their marriages, their family connections: everything is translated into the resemblance of human weakness. The gods are represented as swayed by passions: we hear of their lusts and sorrows and bursts of anger. And, according to the stories, they were not exempt from wars and battles: not only, as in Homer,110 when two armies are fighting and various gods support either side; the gods had their own wars, for instance, those against the Titans and the Giants. Those stories are told by fools and believed by fools – a mass of frivolous nonsense.
There you have the admissions of the defenders of the pagan gods! Later on, the speaker asserts that all this belongs to superstition, while his own teaching, in which he apparently follows the Stoics, belongs to religion. ‘It is not only the philosophers’, he says, ‘who have distinguished superstition from religion. Our ancestors drew the same distinction. For those who spent whole days in prayer, and offered sacrifices, so that their children might survive them (superstites essent) were called ‘superstitious.’111 One cannot fail to notice that he is trying, through fear of opposing the established customs of the country, to praise the religion of his ancestors, while wishing to disentangle it from superstition. The attempt fails. For if those ancestors gave the name ‘superstitious’ to those who spent whole days in prayer and offered sacrifices, surely the same name applies to those who set up images (which he finds reprehensible) of gods of different ages and with distinctive clothes, and established their genealogies, marriages, and family connections. When all this is criticized as superstition, then those ancestors are immediately implicated as the founders and worshippers of such images. And Cicero himself is implicated since for all the eloquence with which he strives to extricate himself and free himself from the charge, he did hold that those institutions should be treated with reverence. And he would not have dared even to mutter, in a popular assembly, the opinions resonantly proclaimed by the eloquent speaker in that philosophical debate.
Let us, who are Christians, give thanks to our Lord God (not to heaven and earth, as the philosopher says in his discussion, but to him who made heaven and earth) because, through the sublime humility of Christ, through the preaching of the apostles, through the faith of the martyrs who died for the truth and live with the Truth, our God has overthrown those superstitions, which Balbus, in his stammering way (balbutiens), barely succeeded in criticizing; and he has overthrown them by the free servitude of his people, not only in the hearts of true believers but even in the temples of superstitition.
31. Varro’s views. He rejected popular superstition, and held that one god should be worshipped, though he did not attain the knowledge of the true God
We regret that Varro classed stage-shows among ‘Divine Matters’, though this was not an expression of his own judgement. For though he assumes a pious role and exhorts men to worship the gods, as he does on many occasions, he acknowledges that he is not following his own judgement in conforming to customs which, as he points out, were established by the Roman state. Now he has no hesitation in admitting that if he had been founding that city at the beginning, he would have consecrated the gods and their names according to the rule of Nature. But he asserts that he is bound, as a member of an ancient people, to maintain the traditional story of their names and surnames as it reached him, and to make it his aim, in his writing and researches, to encourage the common people to honour the gods, not to despise them. In speaking like this he hints, with characteristic astuteness, that he is not revealing all that he knows, for much of that was not only contemptible in his eyes, but also likely to arouse contempt even in the common people if it were divulged. I should rightly be suspected of indulging in conjecture here, if Varro had not openly declared in another place, on the subject of religious rites, that there are many truths which it is not expedient for the general public to know, and, further, many falsehoods which it is good for the people to believe true, and that this is why the Greeks kept their initiation rites veiled in silence and enclosed within walls. Varro here at least reveals the whole policy of the so-called sages, by whose influence cities and peoples are governed. The malign demons rejoice exceedingly in this deceit, since they control the deluders and the deluded alike. And it is only the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, that frees us from their domination.
The same shrewd and learned author also says that in his view the only people who have apprehended what God is, are those who have believed him to be the soul which governs the universe by motion and reason. In this, Varro did not attain to the whole truth; for God is not a soul, but the author and maker of the soul, as of all else. All the same, if Varro could not free himself from the prejudices of inherited custom, at least he would acknowledge, and teach, that men should worship one God, who governs the universe by motion and reason. And so the only quarrel we should still have with him concerns his assertions that God is a soul, and not, as he really is, the creator of the soul.
Varro says also that the ancient Romans worshipped the gods for a hundred and seventy years without any images. ‘If that habit had been continued,’ he says, ‘the worship of the gods would have been conducted with greater purity.’ Among the evidence for this opinion he cites the Jewish people. And he has no hesitation in concluding this passage with the assertion that those who first set up images of the gods for the people were responsible for the abolition of reverent fear in their communities and for the increase of error. He had the sense to realize that it was easy to despise the gods because of the insensibility of their images. Notice that Varro speaks of ‘increase of error’ not ‘communication of error’. He evidently intends it to be inferred that error already existed, even without the images. And then when he says that ‘the people who apprehended what God is were those who believe in him as the soul which governs the universe by motion and reason’, and when he holds that ‘the worship of the gods would have been conducted with greater purity’ without images, one cannot fail to see how nearly he approaches to the truth. If he had had the strength to resist the power of long-established error he would assuredly have decided that the one God, whom he believed to be governor of the universe, should be worshipped without an image. And since he found himself so close to the truth, it may be that the mutability of the soul might have counselled him to the conclusion that the true God is an immutable nature, the creator of the soul, as of all else.
This being so, it follows that when such men as Varro have included in their writings all this ludicrous nonsense about the gods, they have done so because they were compelled to reveal them by the hidden working of the will of God, not because they were trying to persuade men of their truth. When we have taken our evidence from these books, we did so to refute those who refuse to see the strength and malignity of the demonic power from which we are set free by the unique sacrifice of that holy blood that was shed for us, and by the gift of the spirit which has been imparted to us.
32. For what apparent advantage the rulers of nations wished false religions to continue among their subject peoples
Varro says also, on the subject of the generations of the gods, that people in general are more inclined to listen to poets than to scientists, and that is why his ancestors, that is the ancient Romans, attributed sex and generation to the gods and arranged marriages for them.
We need not seek further for the reason for such beliefs than the interest of the self-styled experts and savants in misleading the people in matters of religion. In such matters they made it their business not only to worship the demons but also to imitate them; for the demons’ greatest desire is to deceive. The demons can only get control of men when they; have deluded and deceived them; in the same way the leaders of men (who werejiot men of integrity, but the human counterparts of the demons) taught men as true, under the name of religion, things they knew to be false. By this means they bound them tighter, as it were, to the citizen community, so that they might bring them under control and keep them there by the same technique. What chance had a weak and ignorant individual of escaping from the combined deceits of the statesmen and the demons?
33. The times of all kings and kingdoms have been ordained by the counsel and power of the true God
It is therefore this God, the author and giver of felicity, who, being the one true God, gives earthly dominion both to good men and to evil. And he does this not at random or, as one may say, fortuitously, because he is God, not Fortune. Rather he gives in accordance with the order of events in history, an order completely hidden from us, but perfectly known to God himself. Yet God is not bound in subjection to this order of events; he is himself in control, as the master of events, and arranges the order of things as a governor. As for felicity, he grants that only to the good. Men may have this happiness – or not have it – when they are slaves, or when they are rulers. But it can only be enjoyed in its fullness in that life where no one is any longer a slave. The reason why God gives worldly dominions both to the good and the evil is this: to prevent any of his worshippers who are still infants in respect of moral progress from yearning for such gifts from him as if they were of any importance.
This is the sacrament, the hidden meaning, of the Old Testament, where the New Testament lay concealed. In the Old Testament the promises and gifts are of earthly things; but even then men of spiritual perception realized, although they did not yet proclaim the fact for all to hear, that by those temporal goods eternity was signified; they understood also what were the gifts of God which constituted true felicity.
34. The kingdom of the Jews, established by the One true God, and preserved as long as they continued in the true religion
So those earthly blessings – the sole objects of breathless desire for those who can imagine nothing better – are dependent on the power of the one God, not on that of the many false gods, whom the Romans formerly believed they ought to worship. And it was so that this might be recognized that God increased his people in Egypt, starting with a very small number, and freed them from Egypt by means of miraculous signs. It was not Lucina whom those Israelite women invoked when God himself saved their new-born children from the hands of the Egyptian persecutors who intended to destroy them. God’s purpose was that the children should be marvellously multiplied and that race unbelievably increased. Those children took the breast without the aid of goddess Rumina; they needed no Cunina in their cradles; they took food and drink without Educa and Potina;112 they were reared without assistance from all those gods of childhood, married without the gods of marriage, they needed no cult of Priapus for the consummation of their marriages. Without the invocation of Neptune the sea divided and opened up a way for their crossing and brought its waters together to overwhelm their enemies in pursuit. When they received the manna from heaven they did not consecrate any goddess called Mannia, nor did they worship the Nymphs and the Lymphs when the rock was struck and poured out water to quench their thirst. They waged war without any frenzied rites of Mars and Bellona; and if, when they won their battles, victory was with them, that meant for them a gift not of a goddess, but of their God. They did not have to thank Segetia for their crops, Bubona for their oxen, Mellona for honey, Pomona for fruits.113 In fact, the Israelites received from the one true God all the blessings for which the Romans thought it necessary to pray to all the host of false gods, and they received them in a far happier manner. And if they had not sinned against God by turning aside to the worship of strange gods and of idols, seduced by impious superstition as if by magic arts, if they had not finally sinned by putting Christ to death, they would have continued in possession of the same realm, a realm exceeding others in happiness, if not in extent. If today they are dispersed over almost all the world, amongst almost all the nations, this is part of the providence of the one true God, whose purpose is that when in any place the images of the false gods are overthrown, with their altars, sacred groves, and temples, and when their sacrifices are forbidden, it may be proved that this was prophesied long ago; so that when this is read of in our Christian Scriptures there may be no ground for believing it a Christian invention.
The sequel of all this will be found in the next book. The present volume is already over-long, and it is time to bring it to an end.