IT is an undisputed fact that felicity is the complete enjoyment of all that is to be desired. Felicity is not a goddess, but a gift of God; and therefore no god is to be worshipped by men except the God who can make men happy. If Felicity were in fact a goddess, then she would rightly be called the sole divinity worthy of worship. But God alone has power to bestow those blessings which can be received even by those who are not good and therefore are not happy. Let us therefore proceed to inquire why God was willing that the Roman Empire should extend so widely and last so long. We have already asserted at some length that this was not due to the multitude of false gods the Romans worshipped; and we shall have more to say on this, if occasion offers.
1.The Roman Empire and other kingdoms were not due to mere chance, nor dependent on the position of the stars
The cause of the greatness of the Roman Empire was neither chance nor destiny, in the sense in which those words are, somewhat arbitrarily employed, when ‘chance’ is used of events which have no cause, or at least no cause which depends on any rational principle, and ‘destiny’ of events which happen in an inevitable sequence, independent of the will of God or man. Without the slightest doubt, the kingdoms of men are established by divine providence. If anyone ascribes this to destiny, because he uses the word ‘destiny’ to refer to the will or power of God, then he can keep his opinion, but he should express himself more accurately. Why does he not say in the first place what he is prepared to say when asked what he meant by ‘destiny’? For when people hear the word ‘destiny’, the established usage of the language inevitably leads them to understand by the word the influence of the position of the stars at the time of birth or conception. Some regard this influence as having no connection with the will of God, while others assert that it is dependent upon it. Those who suppose that the stars decide, quite apart from the will of God, how we shall act, and what blessings we shall enjoy or what disasters we shall suffer, are to be refused any hearing whatsoever, not only from those who hold the true religion, but even from those who choose to be worshippers of gods of any sort, however false. For can this supposition mean anything but an end to all worship, and all prayer? Our present argument is not addressed to such as these, but against those who oppose the Christian religion in defence of their supposed gods.
As for those who make the position of the stars depend on the will of God, when they in some way decide the character of each person, and what blessing and what harm is to come his way – if they think that those stars have this power deputed to them by the supreme power of God and that it is their will that decides – then they do the heavens a grave injustice in supposing that in that shining senate, as we may call it, and in that resplendent senate-house, they decreed the commission of crimes so abominable that if any earthly state had decreed them, its own destruction would have been decreed by the whole of humanity. And then, if men act under pressure of such heavenly constraint, what room is left for the judgement of God, who is the Lord of stars and of men? While if they say that the stars, having received power from God omnipotent, do not take those decisions at their own whim, but are merely fulfilling his commands when they impose those constraints, are we then to think of God himself in a way which seemed completely unworthy when we were thinking of the stars as deciding? But it may be said that the stars give notice of events and do not bring those events about, so that the position of the stars becomes a kind of statement, predicting, not producing, future happenings; and this has been an opinion held by men of respectable intelligence. Now this is not the way the astrologers normally talk. They would not say, for example, ‘This position of Mars signifies murder’; they say, ‘it causes murder.’
However, let us concede that they do not express themselves adequately, and that they ought to acquire from the philosophers the accepted vocabulary to communicate what they believe they find in the position of the stars. But how is it that they have never been able to explain why, in the life of twins, in their actions, in their experiences, their professions, their accomplishments, their positions – in all the other circumstances of human life, and even in death itself, there is often found such diversity that in those respects many strangers show more resemblance to them than they show to one another, even though the smallest possible interval separated their births and though they were conceived at the same moment, by a single act of intercourse.
2. Similarity and dissimilarity in the health of twins
Cicero1 tells us that Hippocrates,2 the most famous of all doctors, left it on record that in a case where two brothers fell ill at the same time and their illness grew worse simultaneously, and began to subside at the same moment, he suspected that they were twins. Now Posidonius,3 the Stoic, who was very much given to astrology, would assert that they had been conceived and born under the same configuration of the stars. Thus the coincidence which the physician believed due to a similar constitution, the philosopher–astrologer ascribed to the configuration of the stars existing at the moment of their conception and of their birth. In a case like this the medical assumption is more acceptable and more credible from the start, since it is possible that the physical condition of parents at the moment of conception may affect the earliest beginnings of infants then conceived, so that after their initial development in the mother’s body they are born with a like constitution. Thereafter they are reared in the same house, with the same food, in the same climate and situation, drinking the same water; and medical science avers that those factors have the greatest influence, for good or ill, on physical condition. Twins are also used to the same kinds of exercise. All those similarities produce the same kind of physique, and so they fall ill of the same diseases, at the same time, from the same causes. But to trace this parallelism of illness to the influence of the configuration of stars at the moment of conception and birth is an odd kind of impudence, seeing that so many conceptions and births could have been subject to the influences of the same aspect of the sky, producing beings of widely different races, vastly diverse in their actions and experiences.
Now we know quite well that twins may be very different in their behaviour; they may go to different places; they may also differ in their medical history. And, as far as I can see, Hippocrates offers the easiest explanation of this divergence in respect of illness, in ascribing it to differences in diet and in exercise, which arise not from physical temperament but from deliberate choice.
As for Posidonius and all those who assert that the stars rule human destinies, I should be surprised if they could find any answer to this, unless their object was merely to make game of the ignorant on a subject completely unknown to them. For this is what they are trying to achieve in regard to the tiny interval of time which separates the births of twins. They refer to the small section of the sky where they mark the precise hour in question – what they call the ‘horoscope’. Either this interval has not sufficient importance to explain the diversity of outlook, of action, of character, of experiences, exhibited in twins, or else it is so important that it should override the identity of twins in respect of nobility or lowliness of descent; for they assign this greatest of disparities solely to the influence of the hour of birth. Thus, if the birth of the second twin follows the first so closely that the same part of the horoscope serves for both, then in that case I look for complete parity in all things – which can never in fact be found in twins. While if the slow arrival of the second twin changes the horoscope, then I expect to find different parents – which is impossible in the case of twins.
3. Nigidius the astrologer; his argument about twins, derived from the potter’s wheel
Nothing is to be gained by bringing in the well-known parable of the potter’s wheel, given by Nigidius4 in reply to this problem, which greatly troubled him, a parable that gave him his nickname, Figulus (‘the potter’). He revolved a potter’s wheel with all the vigour he could command, and while it was spinning he made two very rapid strokes on the wheel with ink, apparently on the same spot. When the wheel stopped those marks were found to be a considerable distance apart on the edge of it. ‘In the same way,’ said Nigidius, ‘the sky whirls round so swiftly that although twins may be born in as quick succession as my two strokes on the wheel, that corresponds to a very large tract of the sky. This would account for all the great divergences alleged in the character of twins and in the events of their lives.’
This parable is even more fragile than the pottery made on that wheel. For if a change in the constellations which cannot be observed makes such a difference in the sky that one of two twins gets ad
vantages from heredity, while the other does not, how can those astrologers have the boldness to examine the constellations, in the case of those who are not twins, and then foretell matters which depend on this unobservable mystery, and connect them with the moment of birth? Perhaps they can make those statements in the horoscopes of those who are not twins, because there we are dealing with longer intervals of time, while the few instants that may separate the births of twins are assumed to affect minor matters on which astrologers are not normally consulted. For no one is going to ask advice about when to sit down, when to take a walk, or when to have a meal! But we are certainly not here talking of minor matters. The many wide differences between twins that we are pointing out are found in their character, their actions, and the events of their lives.
4. The twins Esau and Jacob, very different in character and actions
In the time of our remote ancestors (to mention a very notable instance) two twins were born in such close succession that the second was holding on to the foot of the first.5 Now there was such a difference in their lives and characters, such divergence in their actions, such disparity in the affection of their parents, that these discrepancies turned them into mutual enemies. That does not mean that when one of them was walking, the other was sitting, that the one stayed awake while the other slept, or kept silent when the other was talking, insignificant differences supposedly connected with those minute alterations in the heavens which cannot be observed by those who note the configuration of the stars under which an individual is born, and which provide the basis for astrological consultations. For one of those twins was a paid servant, the other was not; one was loved by his mother, the other was not; one lost that position which in those days was counted a great honour, while the other acquired it. And besides, what a vast difference between their wives, their sons, the whole setting of their lives! If these divergencies depend on those few instants of time which separate twins, and are not to be observed in the constellations, why are those statements made after examination of the constellations of those who are not twins? If it is said that it is because they have reference, not to mere flashes of time which defy observation, but to spaces of time which can be observed and noted, then what is the purpose of this potter’s wheel except to send the clay-heads spinning round until they are too giddy to notice what nonsense the astrologers talk!
5. Proofs of the falsity of astrology
Then recall the instance of the two brothers whose illness grew worse and then grew better simultaneously, which led Hippocrates, observing them professionally, to conjecture that they were twins.6 Surely this refutes those who would attribute to the influence of the stars a similarity which arose from similarity of constitution? For why did they fall sick in the same way and at the same time, instead of one after the other, in the order of their birth – since they could not have been born simultaneously? Or, supposing that the difference in the time of their birth was not important enough to effect a difference in the time of their falling sick, why is it maintained that a difference in the time of birth is the decisive factor in all other differences? They could travel at different times, marry at different times, procreate sons at different times and so on, just because they were born at different times. Then why could they not fall sick at different times for the same reason? If the delay between the two births altered the horoscope and introduced disparity in other matters, why did the effect of simultaneous conception endure only in matters of health and sickness? If it is asserted that in regard to health one’s destiny is fixed at conception, while in all other respects it is connected with the moment of birth, the astrologers ought to refrain from any predictions about health after inspection of the constellations of nativity, since the evidence for the precise time of conception is not available for their investigations. If, however, they foretell sickness without examining the horoscope of conception because the moment of birth gives sufficient evidence, how could they tell one of a pair of twins, on the evidence of the time of his birth, when he was due to fall ill, since the other, who had a different time of birth, was inevitably due to fall ill in step with his brother?
Another question: There is, we are told, such a difference between the times of birth of twins that the constellations are bound to be different for them, because their horoscopes do not match, nor do the ‘cardinal points’ to which such predominant influence is attached as to alter the whole destiny of the subject. But how can this be. when the moment of conception must be identical?
Or if two beings conceived at the same instant could have different destinies at their birth, why should it be impossible for two who were born at the same instant to have different destinies for their life and their death? If the fact that both were conceived at the same moment did not prevent one from being born before the other, why should a simultaneous birth in any way prevent one from dying before the other? If simultaneous conception allows twins to have different fortunes in the womb, why should simultaneous birth prevent any creatures on earth from having diverse fortunes? Then we could sweep away all the inventions of this art – or rather of this futility. Why on earth should those conceived at one and the same time, at one and the same instant, under one and the same disposition of the heavenly bothes – why should they have divergent destinies, bringing them to different times of birth, while two beings born of two mothers in precisely similar circumstances, at the same moment, under the same celestial disposition, could not have different destinies which would impose on them, inevitably, a different course of life and a different manner of death? Is it that beings when conceived do not yet have a destiny and cannot have a destiny unless they reach birth? If so, what is the meaning of saying that if the exact time of conception could be established, the astrologers would be able to make many more inspired predictions? Hence the oft-told story of the savant who carefully chose the moment for marital intercourse, so as to beget a prodigy of a son.
The same notion is reflected in the solution given by Posidonius7 to the problem of the two men with the simultaneous illness. The great astrologer, who was also a philosopher, suggested that the explanation was that they had been born simultaneously and been conceived at the same moment. He added ‘conceived’ to guard against the objection that they obviously could not have been born at exactly the same instant. No one could deny their simultaneous conception. Pos-idonius would not immediately attribute the parallel course of the same illness in the two men to their identical constitutions; he connected their medical history with the influence of the stars. Well, if conception has the power to ensure coincidence of destiny, then birth should not be able to alter it. Or if the destinies of twins are altered because they are born at different moments, why should we not rather infer that they were already altered to enable them to be born at different moments? Are we to suppose that the will of the living does not modify the destiny assigned by their birth, although the order of birth modifies the destiny given by conception?
6. Twins of different sex
Again, seeing that twins are undoubtedly conceived at the same instant, how is it that, under the same fateful constellation, one of them may be conceived a male, the other a female? I know a pair of twins of different sex; both of them are still alive and full of vigour for their age. They resemble one another physically, as far as difference of sex allows; but they are quite dissimilar in respect of their calling and their manner of life. And I am not referring to the activities which must differ in men and women. The male twin is a staff officer; he is almost always away from home, serving abroad. His sister scarcely ever leaves her native soil, or even her own part of the country. Furthermore – and this is still more incredible if you believe in destiny fixed by stars, but in no way remarkable, if account is taken of man’s free will and the gifts of God – the brother married, while the sister is a consecrated virgin. He has a large family, while she is unmarried.
‘How all-powerful,’ they say, ‘is the influence of the horoscope!’ I have already sufficiently shown that it is nothing of the kind. But whatever force this influence may be thought to have, it is at the moment of birth that it is supposed to exercise its power. Does it operate at all at the moment of conception? Conception clearly results from one act of intercourse, and the force of nature is so great that, once a woman has conceived, it is quite impossible for her to conceive again; therefore it follows inevitably that twins must be conceived at precisely the same moment. Are we to suppose either that one was changed into a male child or the other into a female while they were being born, because at birth they were under different horoscopes?
Now it could be maintained, without utter absurdity, that some influences from the stars have an effect on variations confined to the physical realm. We observe that the variation of the seasons depends on the approach and withdrawal of the sun, and the waxing and waning of the moon produces growth and diminution in certain species, such as sea-urchins and shell-fish, and also the marvellous variations of the tides. It is not conceivable that the decisions of man’s will are subjected to the dispositions of the stars. Those astrologers try to bind our actions to those astral phenomena, and they challenge us to produce an instance where their system lacks coherence, merely on the physical level. Well, what could be more physical than difference of sex? Yet twins of different sexes could be conceived under the same astral disposition. So what statement or belief could be more silly than the assertion that the position of the stars, which was identical for both twins at the moment of conception, could not have prevented the sister from being of a different sex from her brother when she had the same conjunction, and that the position of the stars, at the moment of their birth, could have produced between them the vast difference between the married state and holy virginity?
7. The choice of a day for marriage, or for planting and sowing
Who could believe the notion that by selecting certain days one can in a sense create new destinies for one’s own acts? It would mean that the savant in the anecdote was not born so as to be destined to beget a remarkable son, but, on the contrary, destined to beget a contemptible offspring. That is why that learned man carefully chose the time for marital intercourse. That is, he created a destiny which was not his before and as a result of his act something was fated to happen which was not destined at his birth. What an extraordinary piece of nonsense! You carefully choose the day for marriage, for fear, I imagine, of hitting on an inauspicious day, and making an unhappy match! So what has happened to what the stars decided at your birth? Can a man then alter what has been fixed for him by the choice of a day? If so, cannot what he has fixed by that choice be altered by some other power?
Then again, if it is only men who are subject to the celestial conjunctions, and not everything else under the heavens, why are days selected as specially appropriate for the planting of vines or other trees, or for sowing crops, other days for training cattle, or for their mating, so as to build up herds of oxen or mares, and so on? Suppose that the choice of days is of such importance because every body and every living being on earth is dominated by the position of the stars which varies at different moments. Then let those who believe this consider the innumerable beings which are born, or come to be, or start at any given instant of time, and have such diverse destinies, so diverse as to convince any schoolboy that those astrological observations are utterly ridiculous. Who is so bereft of his senses as to allow himself to assert that all trees, vegetables, animals, snakes, birds, fishes, worms have their individual and different ‘moments of nativity’? And yet it is common for people to put the competence of astrologers to proof by bringing them the ‘conjunctions’ of dumb animals, whose moment of birth they note carefully at home with a view to this astrological examination. And they put into the top class those astrologers who, on inspection of the ‘conjunctions’, declare that they signify the birth of an animal, not a man. They even have the audacity to name the kind of animal, and whether it will be good for wool-production, or as a draught-animal, or fit for the plough, or a useful watchdog. For astrologers are consulted even about canine destinies and their replies are greeted with loud shouts of admiration. Men are such fools as to imagine that when a man is born all other births are stopped, so that not even a mouse is born at the same time and under the same tract of the heavens. For if they allowed a mouse, they would be led step by step by a process of logical reasoning to camels and elephants! They will not observe that even when they have selected a day for sowing a field, a vast number of seeds fall on the soil at the same time and germinate at the same time; then when the crop springs up, they put out shoots, come to maturity and turn golden, all at the same time; and yet, though the resultant ears are all contemporary and, to coin a word, ‘congerminal’, some are wiped out by blight, some are plundered by birds and some plucked off by men. They notice that these ears have very different ends; are they going to maintain that they had different ‘conjunctions’? How can they? Or are they going to change their minds about selecting days for those operations, and to say that such things have no connection with the celestial decisions? Will they subject only mankind to the stars, men being the only creatures on earth on whom God has bestowed free will?
When one ponders all this, one has some justification for supposing that when astrologers give replies that are often surprisingly true, they are inspired, in some mysterious way, by spirits, but spirits of evil, whose concern is to instil and confirm in men’s minds those false and baneful notions about ‘astral destiny’. These true predictions do not come from any skill in the notation and inspection of horoscopes; that is a spurious art.
8. ‘Fate’; a name given by some people not to the position of the stars but to a chain of causes dependent on God’s will
There are those who use the name ‘destiny’ to refer not to the conjunction of stars at the moment of conception, or birth, or beginning, but to the connected series of causes which is responsible for anything that happens. We need not engage in a laborious controversy with them about the use of a word. For in fact they ascribe this orderly series, this chain of causes, to the will and power of the supreme God, who is believed, most rightly and truly, to know all things before they happen and who leaves nothing unordered. From him come all powers, but not all wills. What they mean by ‘destiny’ is principally the will of the supreme God, whose power extends invincibly through all things. This is demonstrated by the following lines, written, if I am not mistaken, by Seneca,8
Father supreme, thou sovereign of the heavens,
Lead where thou wilt. I hasten to obey,
Eager to do thy will. If mine be crossed,
I’ll follow, though in tears. If I be wicked
I will endure to have that done to me
Which, virtuous, I could choose to do myself.
Fate leads the willing, drags the reluctant feet.9
It is quite evident that in the last line the poet uses ‘fate’, or destiny, to refer to what he had earlier called the will of the ‘supreme Father’. He says that he is ready to obey, so as to be led willingly, not dragged against his will; for
Fate leads the willing, drags the reluctant feet.
The same sentiment is expressed in the lines of Homer, turned into Latin by Cicero,
The mind of man is governed by the light
Which Jove dispenses on the fruitful earth.10
The opinions of poets should not carry weight in the present discussion. But since Cicero tells us that the Stoics generally appropriate those lines of Homer in support of their assertion of the power of destiny, we are not dealing with the ideas of the poet, but the notions of philosophers. In those lines, which they introduce into their arguments about fate, their idea of the nature of destiny is made abundantly clear. They refer to destiny under the name of Jupiter, whom they suppose to be the supreme god, and they assert that it is on him that the causal chain of every destiny depends.
9. God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will; a criticism of Cicero
Cicero11 tries hard to refute those philosophers, while realizing that he cannot make head against them without abolishing divination. He tries to get rid of it by denying the existence of knowledge of the future. He uses his best efforts to establish the utter impossibility of such knowledge and of any prediction of events, whether in man or in God. Thus he denies the foreknowledge of God, as well as trying to demolish every prophecy, even though it is clearer than daylight. He does this by spurious arguments, and by setting up as targets certain easily refutable oracles,12 which, however, he fails to invalidate, although in his exposure of the conjectures of astrologers, his eloquence carries all before it. The fact is that such guesswork is self-destructive and self-refuting. Yet the theory that the stars decide destiny is much more tolerable than the attempt to get rid of all knowledge of the future. To acknowledge the existence of God, while denying him any prescience of events, is the most obvious madness. Cicero himself realized this, and almost ventured on the denial referred to in Scripture, ‘The fool has said in his heart: God does not exist.’13 But he did not say it in his own person; he knew that such an assertion would disturb people, and incur odium. And so he represents Cotta14 as arguing this point against the Stoics, in the book On the Nature of the Gods.15 Cicero preferred to give his vote to Lucius Balbus,16 to whom he entrusted the defence of the Stoic position, rather than to Cotta, who denied the existence of any divine nature. However, in his book On Divination he comes out openly in his own name in an attack on the notion of foreknowledge. His whole purpose in this is to preserve free will by refusing to admit the existence of fate. He assumes that the admission of foreknowledge entails the acceptance of fate as a logical necessity. For our part, whatever may be the twists and turns of philosophical dispute and debate, we recognize a God who is supreme and true and therefore we confess his supreme power and foreknowledge. We are not afraid that what we do by an act of will may not be a voluntary act, because God, with his infallible prescience, knew that we should do it. This was the fear that led Cicero to oppose foreknowledge and the Stoics to deny that everything happens by necessity, although they maintained that everything happens according to fate.
Now what was it that Cicero so dreaded in prescience of the future, that he struggled to demolish the idea by so execrable a line of argument? He reasoned that if all events are foreknown, they will happen in the precise order of that foreknowledge; if so, the order is determined in the prescience of God. If the order of events is determined, so is the causal order; for nothing can happen unless preceded by an efficient cause. If the causal order is fixed, determining all events, then all events, he concludes, are ordered by destiny. If this is true, nothing depends on us and there is no such thing as free will. ‘Once we allow this,’ he says, ‘all human life is overthrown. There is no point in making laws, no purpose in expressing reprimand or approbation, censure or encouragement; there is no justice in establishing rewards for the good and penalties for the evil.’17
It is to avoid those consequences, discreditable and absurd as they are, and perilous to human life, that Cicero refuses to allow any foreknowledge. And he constrains the religious soul to this dilemma, forcing it to choose between those propositions: either there is some scope for our will, or there is foreknowledge. He thinks that both cannot be true; to affirm one is to deny the other. If we choose foreknowledge, free will is annihilated; if we choose free will, prescience is abolished. And so, being a man of eminent learning, a counsellor of wide experience and practiced skill in matters affecting human life, Cicero chooses free will. To support this, he denies foreknowledge and thus, in seeking to make men free, he makes them irreverent. For the religious mind chooses both, foreknowledge as well as liberty; it acknowledges both, and supports both in pious faith. ‘How?’ asks Cicero. If there is prescience of the future, the logical consequences entailed lead to the conclusion that nothing depends on our free will. And further, if anything does so depend, then, by the converse logical process, we reach the position that there is no foreknowledge. The argument proceeds thus: if there is free will, everything does not happen by fate; if everything does not happen by fate, there is not a fixed order of all causes; if there is not a fixed order of all causes, there is not a fixed order of events for the divine prescience, for these events cannot take place unless preceded by efficient causes; if there is not a fixed order for God’s prescience, everything does not happen as he has foreknown them as due to happen. Thus, he concludes, if everything does not happen as foreknown by God, then there is in him no foreknowledge of all the future.18
Against such profane and irreverent impudence we assert both that God knows all things before they happen and that we do by our free will everything that we feel and know would not happen without our volition. We do not say that everything is fated; in fact we deny that anything happens by destiny. For we have shown that the notion of destiny, in the accepted sense, referring to conjunction of stars at the time of conception or birth, has no validity, since it asserts something which has no reality. It is not that we deny a causal order where the will of God prevails; but we do not describe it by the word ‘fate’, unless perhaps if we understand fate to be derived from fari (speak),19 that is from the act of speaking. We cannot in fact deny that it is written in Scripture, ‘God has spoken once, and I have heard those two things: that the power belongs to God; and that mercy belongs to you, Lord, and you render to each in accordance with his works.’20 The words ‘has spoken once’ mean ‘he has spoken immovably,’ that is, unalterably, just as he knows unalterably all that is to happen and what he himself is going to do. For this reason we should be able to use the word ‘fate’, deriving it from fari, except that this word is generally used in a different sense, a sense to which we should not wish men’s hearts to be directed.
Now if there is for God a fixed order of all causes, it does not follow that nothing depends on our free choice. Our wills themselves are in the order of causes, which is, for God, fixed, and is contained in his foreknowledge, since human acts of will are the causes of human activities. Therefore he who had prescience of the causes of all events certainly could not be ignorant of our decisions, which he foreknows as the causes of our actions.
Cicero’s own concession21 that nothing happens unless preceded by an efficient cause is enough to refute him in the present question. It does not help his case to assert that while no event is causeless, not every cause is the work of destiny, since there are fortuitous causes, natural, and voluntary causes. It is enough that he admits that every event must be preceded by a cause. For our part, we do not deny the existence of causes called ‘fortuitous’ (from the same root as the word ‘fortune’); only we say that they are hidden causes and attribute them to the will, either of the true God, or of spirits of some kind. The ‘natural’ causes we do not detach from the will of God, the author and creator of all nature. The ‘voluntary’ causes come from God, or from angels, or men, or animals – if indeed one can apply the notion of will to the movements of beings devoid of reason, which carry out actions
in accordance with their nature, to achieve some desire or to avoid some danger. By the wills of angels I mean both the wills of the good angels of God, as we call them, and of the evil ‘angels of the devil’, or even ‘demons’. The same applies to the wills of men; there are those of good men, and those of evil.
This implies that the only efficient causes of events are voluntary causes, that is, they proceed from that nature which is the ‘breath of life’. (‘Breath’ also refers to the air or the wind; but since that is corporeal, it is not the ‘breath of life’.) The breath of life, which gives life to everything, and is the creator of every body and every created spirit (breath), is God himself, the uncreated spirit. In his will rests the supreme power, which assists the good wills of created spirits, sits in judgement on the evil wills, orders all wills, granting the power of achievement to some and denying it to others. Just as he is the creator of all natures, so he is the giver of all power of achievement, but not of all acts of will. Evil wills do not proceed from him because they are contrary to the nature which proceeds from him. Bodies are mostly subject to wills, some to our wills – that is to the wills of mortal beings, the wills of men rather than of animals – the others to the wills of angels. But all bodies are subject above all to the will of God, and to him all wills also are subject, because the only power they have is the power that God allows them.
Thus the cause which is cause only, and not effect, is God. But other causes are also effects, as are all created spirits and in particular the rational spirits. Corporeal causes, which are more acted upon than active, are not to be counted among efficient causes, since all they can achieve is what is achieved through them by the wills of spirits. How then does the order of causes, which is fixed in the prescience of God, result in the withdrawal of everything from dependence on our will, when our acts of will play an important part in that causal order? Let Cicero dispute with those who assert that this causal order is decided by destiny, or rather who give that order the name of destiny, or fate – a position which shocks us particularly because of that word ‘fate’, which is generally understood in a way which corresponds to nothing in the real world. But when Cicero denies that the order of all causes is completely fixed and perfectly known to God’s foreknowledge we execrate his opinion even more than do the Stoics. For either he denies the existence of God, which indeed he has been at pains to do, in the person of a disputant in his treatise On the Nature of the Gods; or else, if he acknowledges God’s existence while denying his foreknowledge, he is even so saying, in effect, exactly what ‘the fool has said in his heart’; for he is saying, ‘God does not exist.’22 For a being who does not know all the future is certainly not God.
Thus our wills have only as much power as God has willed and foreknown; God, whose foreknowledge is infallible, has foreknown the strength of our wills and their achievements, and it is for that reason that their future strength is completely determined and their future achievements utterly assured. That is why, if I had decided to apply the term ‘destiny’ at all, I should be more ready to say that the destiny of the weak is the will of the stronger, who has the weak in his power, than to admit that destiny, in the Stoic sense of ‘the causal ordar’ (a use peculiar to Stoics, in conflict with the generally accepted one) does away with the free decision of our will.
10. Are men’s wills under the sway of necessity?
There is no need, then, to dread that ‘necessity’, through fear of which the Stoics took such pains to distinguish between the causes of things, withdrawing some of them from the sway of necessity, subjecting others to it, and classing our wills among the causes they wished to emancipate from necessity, for fear, I suppose, that they would not be free if subject to it. Now if, in our case, ‘necessity’ is to be used of what is not in our control, of what achieves its purpose whether we will or no – the ‘necessity’ of death, for example – then it is obvious that our wills, by the exercise of which we lead a good life or a bad, are not subject to a necessity of this kind. We do a great many things which we should not have done if we had not wished to. In the first place, our willing belongs to this class of acts. If we so wish, it exists; if we do not so wish, it does not; for we should not will, if we did not so wish.
If, on the other hand, we define ‘necessity’ in the sense implied when we say that it is necessary a thing should be thus, or should happen thus, I see no reason to fear that this would rob us of free will. We do not subject the life and the foreknowledge of God to necessity, if we say that it is ‘necessary’ for God to be eternal and to have complete foreknowledge; nor is his power diminished by saying that he cannot die or make a mistake. The reason why he cannot is that, if he could, his power would certainly be less; and he is rightly called ‘all-powerful’, although he has not the power to the, or to be mistaken. ‘All-powerful’ means that he does what he wills, and does not suffer what he does not will; otherwise he would be by no means all-powerful. It is just because he is all-powerful that there are some things he
cannot do. The same applies when we say that it is ‘necessary’ that when we will, we will by free choice. That statement is undisputable; and it does not mean that we are subjecting our free will to a necessity which abolishes freedom. Our wills are ours and it is our wills that affect all that we do by willing, and which would not have happened if we had not willed. But when anyone has something done to him against his will, here, again, the effective power is will, not his own will, but another’s But the power of achievement comes from God. For if there was only the will without the power of realization, that will would have been thwarted by a more powerful will. Even so, that will would have been a will, and the will not of another, but of him who willed, although it was incapable of realization. Hence, whatever happens to man against his will is to be attributed not to the wills of men, or angels, or any created spirits, but to the will of him who gives the power of realization.
It does not follow, then, that there is nothing in our will because God foreknew what was going to be in our will; for if he foreknew this, it was not nothing that he foreknew. Further, if, in foreknowing what would be in our will, he foreknew something, and not nonentity, it follows immediately that there is something in our will, even if God foreknows it. Hence we are in no way compelled either to preserve God’s prescience by abolishing our free will, or to safeguard our free will by denying (blasphemously) the divine foreknowledge. We embrace both truths, and acknowledge them in faith and sincerity, the one for a right belief, the other for a right life. And yet a man’s life cannot be right without a right belief about God. Therefore, let us never dream of denying his foreknowledge in the interests of our freedom; for it is with his help that we are, or shall be, free.
By the same token, it is not true that reprimands, exhortations, praise and blame are useless, because God has knowledge of them before; they are of the greatest efficacy in so far as he has foreknown that they would be effective. And prayers are effectual in obtaining all that God foreknew that he would grant in answer to them; and it is with justice that rewards are appointed for good actions and punishments for sins. The fact that God foreknew that a man would sin does not make a man sin; on the contrary, it cannot be doubted that it is the man himself who sins just because he whose prescience cannot be mistaken has foreseen that the man himself would sin. A man does not sin unless he wills to sin; and if he had willed not to sin, then God would have foreseen that refusal.
11. God’s universal providence, by whose laws the whole scheme of things is governed
Thus God is the supreme reality, with his Word and the Holy Spirit – three who are one. He is the God omnipotent, creator and maker of every soul and every body; participation in him brings happiness to all who are happy in truth and not in illusion; he has made man a rational animal, consisting of soul and body; and when man sins he does not let him go unpunished, nor does he abandon him without pity. He has given, to good men and bad alike, the existence they share with the stones; he has given man reproductive life which he shares with the plants, the life of the senses, which he shares with the animals, and the life of the intellect, shared only with the angels. From him derives every mode of being, every species, every order, all measure, number, and weight. He is the source of all that exists in nature, whatever its kind, whatsoever its value, and of the seeds of forms, and the forms of seeds, and the motions of seeds and forms. He has given to flesh its origin, beauty, health, fertility in propagation, the arrangement of the bodily organs, and the health that comes from their harmony. He has endowed even the soul of irrational creatures with memory, sense, and appetite, but above all this, he has given to the rational soul thought, intelligence, and will. He has not abandoned even the inner parts of the smallest and lowliest creature, or the bird’s feather (to say nothing of the heavens and the earth, the angels and mankind) – he has not left them without a harmony of their constituent parts, a kind of peace. It is beyond anything incredible that he should have willed the kingdoms of men, their dominations and their servitudes, to be outside the range of the laws of his providence.
12. The moral character in the ancient Romans which earned from the true God the increase of their empire although they did not worship him
Let us go on to examine for what moral qualities and for what reason the true. God deigned to help the Romans in the extension of their empire; for in his control are all the kingdoms of the earth.
In order to discuss this question more thoroughly, I have written the previous book, which deals with this topic; and I have shown there that in this matter there is no power at all in those gods whom the Romans considered they had to worship by means of frivolous ceremonies. In the first part of the present book, up to this point, I have shown that the notion of ‘destiny’ must be dismissed, so that no one, once convinced that the propagation and preservation of the Roman Empire was not due to the worship of those gods, should attribute it to some ‘destiny’ or other, and not to the omnipotent will of God most high.
Now according to the witness of the historians, the ancient Romans – those of the earliest epoch – no doubt worshipped false gods, like the other races (except only the Hebrew people) and sacrificed victims not to God, but to demons; nevertheless they were ‘greedy for praise, generous with their money, and aimed at vast renown and honourable riches’.23 They were passionately devoted to glory; it was for this that they desired to live, for this they did not hesitate to die. This unbounded passion for glory, above all else, checked their other appetites. They felt it would be shameful for their country to be enslaved, but glorious for her to have dominion and empire; and so they set their hearts first on making her free, then on making her sovereign.
That is why, when they found the domination of kings intolerable, they ‘created for themselves an annual authority in the hands of two men, who were called “consuls”, from consulere24 (to take counsel), not “kings” (reges), a word derived from regnare (to reign), or “lords” (domini), derived from dominare (to dominate)’.25 (It would, in fact, seem to be more correct to derive reges from regere (to rule), regnum (reign) being derived from reges, but reges, as I say, from regere.) The Romans accounted the royal disdain to be not the strict direction of a ruler, nor the benevolent advice of a counsellor, but the arrogance of a despot. And so, after the expulsion of King Tarquin and the institution of consuls, a period followed which the same author, Sallust, ranks among the glories of the Roman people. ‘When once the city had won liberty,’ he says, ‘the speed and extent of its development almost passes belief. So great was the passion for glory that took hold of the people.’26 It was this greed for praise, this passion for glory, that gave rise to those marvellous achievements, which were, no doubt, praiseworthy and glorious in men’s estimation.
Sallust also praises two great men of renown in his own era, Marcus Cato and Gaius Caesar.27 He says that Rome had for a long time been deprived of any men of outstanding quality, but that in his time there had been two men of immense moral stature, though very different in character.28 He praises Caesar, among other things, for his ambition for a great command, for an army, for a new war in which his abilities could shine. Thus the chief desire of men of eminent qualities was that Bellona should arouse wretched nations to war and drive them on with her bloody whip29 to give an occasion for their abilities to shine. Such was the ambition aroused by their ‘greed for praise’ and ‘passion for glory’. In early times it was the love of liberty that led to great achievements, later it was the love of domination, the greed for praise and glory. Their outstanding poet bears witness to both these motives, when he writes,
Porsenna bade take back the exiled Tarquin,
And pressed on Rome with overwhelming might.
Then rushed to arms Aeneas’ valiant sons,
The important thing for the men of that time was either to die bravely, or to live in freedom. But when liberty had been won, ‘such a passion for glory took hold of them’ that liberty alone did not satisfy – they had to acquire dominion. What mattered then was expressed by the same poet, when he makes Jupiter say,
Only let savage Juno,
Who wearies land and sea and heaven with dread,
Come to a better mind, with me support
The toga’d race, the masters of the earth.
This is my will: as age succeeds to age
The time will come when those of Aeneas’ line
Shall press beneath the yoke of slavery
Phthia and famed Mycenae; yes, and Argos
Vanquished shall feel the mastery of Rome.31
Virgil, of course, represents Jupiter as prophesying the future; but he is himself recalling the past and contemplating the present situation. My purpose in quoting these lines is to show that after liberty, the Romans valued dominion so highly as to place it among their greatest glories. Hence the same poet puts above the accomplishments of other races the specifically Roman arts of ruling, commanding, subduing and subjecting other nations. This is what he says,
Others will forge the bronze that seems to breathe
With gentler life, and chisel from the marble
The living features. They will plead a case
With more persuasive skill: and with the compass
Will trace the mazes of the sky, and tell the rising
Of all the stars. Be these thy arts, my Roman;
To hold the nations under thy dominion,
Enforcing peace till it becomes a custom;
To spare the subject, and beat down the proud.32
The Romans practised those ‘arts’ with the more skill when they were the less given to indulgence and to the enervation of soul and body by the lust to accumulate wealth – that corrupter of morality – by robbing their less fortunate fellows and by extravagant generosity to degraded stage-players.
At the time when Sallust was writing and Virgil was composing his poem, moral corruption was already general and widespread, and men thus corrupted did not seek position and glory by Virgil’s ‘arts’, but schemed for them by trickery and deceit. Hence Sallust tells us,
It was, at first, ambition rather than greed that worked on men’s hearts; a vice closer to a virtue. The true man and the worthless wretch alike covet glory, honour and power. But the true man directs his efforts along the right way; the man who lacks the moral qualities works towards his goal by trickery and deceit.33
These ‘moral qualities’ enable a man to arrive at honour, glory, and power by merit, not by the tricks of the canvasser. The aims are shared by the true man and the worthless wretch; but ‘the true man directs his efforts along the right way.’ That is the way of merit; it is by this way that he strives towards his goal, towards glory, honour, and power. That this feeling was innate in the Romans is shown by the establishment of temples, very near to each other, to the gods Virtue and Honour;34 they thought of these gifts of God as being themselves divinities. From this one can realize what they wished to be the consummation of merit, what the good man connected with merit – it was honour. Although the bad men desired honour, they did not possess it, since they tried to win it by dishonest means, by ‘trickery and deceit’.
Cato is given even higher praise. Sallust says of him, ‘The less he sought glory, the more it pursued him.’35 Glory, the object of the Romans’ burning ambition, is the judgement of men when they think well of others. That is why virtue is superior to glory, since it is not content with the testimony of men, without the witness of a man’s own conscience. Hence the Apostle says, ‘This is our glory: the testimony of our own conscience.’36 And, in another place, ‘Let each man test his own work; and thus he will have his glory in himself, not in another.’37 Therefore glory, honour, and power – those Roman aims, which the good men strove to attain by honourable means – must be the consequences of virtue not its antecedents. The only genuine virtue is that which tends to the end where the good of man is, which surpasses any other good. Hence Cato was not obliged to solicit the honours which he sought; it was the city’s obligation to grant them to him, without his asking.
There were thus two Romans of eminent qualities at that period, Caesar and Cato. But Cato’s qualities evidently approached far more nearly to the true ideal of virtue than did those of Caesar. Accordingly, if we want a picture of the condition of the commonwealth at that time, and of its previous condition, we may find it in Cato’s judgement, when he says,
Do not imagine that it was by force of arms that our ancestors made a great nation out of a small community. If that were true, we should today have a far more glorious nation. In allies, in our own citizens, in armaments, in horses, we have greater resources than they enjoyed. But it was other causes that made them great, causes that with us have ceased to exist: energy in our own land, a rule of justice outside our borders; in forming policy, a mind that is free because not at the mercy of criminal passions. Instead of these we have self-indulgence and greed, public poverty and private opulence. We praise riches: we pursue a course of sloth. No distinction is made between good men and bad: the intrigues of ambition win the prizes due to merit. No wonder, when each of you thinks only of his own private interest; when at home you are slaves to your appetites, and to money and influence in your public life. The consequence is that an attack is being launched on a republic left without defences.38
These words of Cato, or of Sallust, might lead one to suppose that all the Romans of antiquity, or the majority of them, resembled those of whom they speak so highly. That is not so. Otherwise the remarks of the same historian, quoted in my second book,39 would be untrue. Sallust40 tells us that the injustices of the powerful classes led to a secession of the plebeians from the patricians, and that from the beginning there were other domestic dissensions, and that the era of just moderation in government lasted after the expulsion of the kings only as long as the threat from Tarquin remained until the end of the major war against Etruria which Rome had engaged in because of Tarquin. But after that the plebeians were treated like slaves under the rule of the patricians, who handled them with the same violence as the kings, drove them from their lands, and wielded sole power, all others being disenfranchised. These discords, with one side aiming at domination, the other seeking to avoid slavery, were only ended by the Second Punic War, because then once again came the pressure of a serious threat, which checked their restless spirits, and distracted them from these disorders by a more urgent anxiety, and recalled them to domestic concord.
But it was by a mere handful of men, good men in their way, that the great public interests were managed; and it was thanks to the foresight of those few that those domestic ills were rendered tolerable and alleviated, and thus the country advanced to greatness.41 Sallust adds that in reading or hearing of the many splendid exploits of the Roman people, in peace and war, on land and sea, he has been interested to observe what was the principal basis for their great achievements. He knew that on many occasions a mere handful of Romans had matched great enemy battalions and that Rome had waged war with scanty resources against opulent kings. And he declares that, after much reflection, he had reached the conclusion that all this success was due to the exceptional qualities of a small minority, and that this minority was responsible for the victory of poverty over riches – the triumph of the few over vast numbers. ‘But’, he continues, ‘when luxury and idleness had corrupted the city, then, conversely, the greatness of the country supported the vices of generals and magistrates.’
The virtue of the few, the moral quality of those who stride towards glory, honour, and power by the right path, that is, by virtue itself – this is what Cato also praises. Hence came the energy at home, which he mentions, that brought riches to the public treasure, while private fortunes remained straitened. He contrasted this with the perverted situation after the moral corruption had set in, when we find the public purse empty and private pockets well-lined.42
13. The love of praise: though a vice, it counts as a virtue because it checks greater vices
The kingdoms of the East had enjoyed renown for a long time, when God decided that a Western empire should arise, later in time, but more renowned for the extent and grandeur of its dominion. And, to suppress the grievous evils of many nations, he entrusted this dom inion to those men, in preference to all others, who served their country for the sake of honour, praise and glory, who looked to find that glory in their country’s safety above their own and who suppressed greed for money and many other faults in favour of that one fault of theirs, the love of praise.
That the love of praise is, in fact, a fault, is recognized by the morally clear-sighted. The poet Horace did not fail to perceive this, when he wrote,
Does lust for praise inflame you? There are rites
Of expiation which will work a cure
If you three times rehearse the formula
Set in the prayer book, with a pure intent.43
And in one of his Odes he urges the conquest of the lust of domination when he says,
Vaster your realm, when you subdue your passions,
Than if you join Cadiz to far-off Libya
Under your sway, and all the Punic Empire
Have you for master.44
For all that, if men have not learnt to restrain their discreditable passions by obtaining the help of the Holy Spirit through their devout faith and their love of the Intelligible Beauty,45 at least it is good that the desire for human praise and glory makes them, not indeed saints, but less depraved men.
Cicero himself could not disguise this fact; in his treatise On the Commonwealth,46 speaking of the appointment of a chief of state, he lays it down that he must be ‘nourished by glory’, and goes on to recall that it was the greed for glory that inspired his ancestors to many famous and admirable achievements. Thus the Romans not only did not resist this fault; they held that it should be aroused and kindled, considering it to be in the interests of the commonwealth. And even in his philosophical writings Cicero does not disguise this pernicious doctrine; in fact he makes it as clear as daylight. For when speaking of the studies which should be pursued in the quest of the true good, rather than of the hollowness of human praise, he brings in this general and universal sentiment: ‘It is honour that nourishes the arts; it is glory that kindles men to intellectual effort. All pursuits lose lustre when they fall from general favour.’47
14. Love of human praise is to be checked, because all the
glory of the righteous is in God
There can be no doubt that it is better to resist this passion than to yield to it. A man is more like God, the purer he is from this contamination. In this life it cannot wholly be rooted out from the heart, because even those souls which are making good progress are not exempt from the temptation. But at least the greed for glory should be overcome by the love of justice; and so, if things which are themselves good and right ‘lose lustre’ because of general disfavour, then the love of human praise itself should be ashamed, and yield place to the love of truth. For this vice is an enemy to devout faith, if the greed for glory is stronger in the heart than the fear or the love of God; so much so, that the Lord said, ‘How can you believe, when you look for glory from one another, and do not seek the glory which comes from God alone?’48 Again, the Evangelist speaks of those who believed in Christ but were afraid to confess it openly, when he says, ‘They loved the glory of men rather than the glory of God.’49
This was not how the apostles behaved. They preached the name of Christ in places where that name was not in ‘general favour’, and we recall Cicero’s statement: ‘All pursuits lose lustre when they fall from general favour.’ They preached in places where, in fact, Christ’s name was held in utter detestation. They kept in mind what they had been told by their good master, the physician of souls, ‘If anyone denies me before men, I will deny him in the presence of my Father in Heaven’, or ‘in the presence of the angels of God.’50 Amidst curses and slanders, amidst the severest persecutions and the harshest punishments, all the clamorous hostility of men did not stop them from preaching men’s salvation. The divine quality of their actions, their words and their lives, their triumphs, as one may say, over hard hearts, and their introduction of the peace of righteousness; all these brought them immense glory in the Church of Christ. And yet they did not rest on that glory, as if they had attained the goal of their own virtue. They ascribed it all to the glory of God, whose grace had made them what they were.51 And this was a torch which kindled the fire of the love of God in the hearts of those they guided, the torch which was to make them such as the apostles were. Their master had taught the apostles not to be good in order to gain glory from men. He told them, ‘Take care not to perform your righteous acts in the presence of men, so as to be seen by them: or you will have no reward with my Father, who is in heaven.’52 On the other hand, so that men should not put a perverse interpretation on this injunction and reduce the influence of their goodness by concealing it, in fear of winning men’s approval, the Lord explained to what purpose they ought to seek publicity. He said, ‘Let your works shine in men’s sight, so that they may see your acts of goodness, and glorify your Father, who is in Heaven’;53 so the purpose is not ‘to be seen of them’, that is, with the intention that they should be converted to you, because by yourselves you are nothing, but ‘so that they may glorify your Father, who is in Heaven’, and so that they may be converted to him, and become what you are.
The martyrs followed in the steps of the apostles. They did not inflict suffering on themselves, but they endured what was inflicted on them; and in so doing they surpassed the Scaevolas, the Curtii, and the Decir54 by their true virtue, springing from true devotion, and by their countless multitude. Those Roman heroes belonged to an earthly city, and the aim set before them, in all their acts of duty for her, was the safety of their country, and a kingdom not in heaven, but on earth; not in life eternal, but in the process where the dying pass away and are succeeded by those who will the in their turn. What else was there for them to love save glory? For, through glory, they desired to have a kind of life after death on the lips of those who praised them.
15. The temporal reward bestowed by God on Roman high qualities of character
To such men as these God was not going to give eternal life with his angels in his own Heavenly City, the City to which true religion leads, which renders the supreme worship (the Greek word for it is latreia)55 only to the one true God. If God had not granted to them the earthly glory of an empire which surpassed all others, they would have received no reward for the good qualities, the virtues, that is, by means of which they laboured to attain that great glory. When such men do anything good, their sole motive is the hope of receiving glory from their fellow-men; and the Lord refers to them when he says, ‘I tell you in truth, they have received their reward in full.’ They took no account of their own material interests compared with the common good, that is the commonwealth and the public purse; they resisted the temptations of avarice; they acted for their country’s well-being with disinterested concern; they were guilty of no offence against the law; they succumbed to no sensual indulgence. By such immaculate conduct they laboured towards honours, power and glory, by what they took to be the true way. And they were honoured in almost all nations; they imposed their laws on many peoples; and today they enjoy renown in the history and literature of nearly all races. They have no reason to complain of the justice of God, the supreme and true. ‘They have received their reward in full.’56
16. The reward of the citizens of the Eternal City; the Roman virtues offer them useful examples
Very different is the reward of the saints. Here below they endure obloquy for the City of God, which is hateful to the lovers of this world. That City is eternal; no one is born there, because no one dies. There is the true felicity, which is no goddess, but the gift of God. From there we have received the pledge of our faith, in that we sigh for her beauty while on our pilgrimage. In that City the sun does not rise ‘on the good and on the evil’;57 the ‘sun of righteousness’58 spreads its light only on the good; there the public treasury needs no great efforts for its enrichment at the cost of private poverty; for there the common stock is the treasury of truth.
But more than this; the Roman Empire was not extended and did not attain to glory in men’s eyes simply for this, that men of this stamp should be accorded this kind of reward. It had this further purpose, that the citizens of that Eternal City, in the days of their pilgrimage, should fix their eyes steadily and soberly on those examples and observe what love they should have towards the City on high, in view of life eternal, if the earthly city had received such devotion from her citizens, in their hope of glory in the sight of men.
17. The profit the Romans gained from their wars and the benefits they conferred on the vanquished
As for this mortal life, which ends after a few days’ course, what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts? Did the Romans do any harm to other nations when they subdued them and imposed the Roman laws, apart from the vast slaughter of the wars? If that result had been effected by peaceful agreement, it would have had better success; but then there would have been no glory for the conquerors. The Romans themselves lived under the same laws as they imposed on the rest. If this imposition had happened without the aid of Mars and Bellona, so that Victory had no hand in it (for there would have been no fighting and therefore no victors), the condition of the Romans and that of the other peoples would have been precisely the same – especially if they had without delay taken the step, which they took later, to win gratitude for their humanity, by associating in the commonwealth, as Roman citizens, all those who belonged to the Roman Empire; for this granted to all a privilege formerly enjoyed by a few. There was one exception to this equality: the Roman lower classes, possessing no land, lived at the public expense. The contributions to their upkeep would have been furnished with a better grace, had they been presented voluntarily through the agency of equitable administrators, after a peaceful compact, instead of being taken by extortion from conquered peoples.
As far as I can see, the distinction between victors and vanquished has not the slightest importance for security, for moral standards, or even for human dignity. It is merely a matter of the arrogance of human glory, the coin in which these men ‘received their reward’, who were on fire with unlimited lust for glory, and waged their wars of burning fury. Is it the case that the conqueror’s lands are exempt from taxes? Have the victors access to knowledge forbidden to the others? Are there not many senators in other lands, who do not know Rome even by sight? Take away national complacency, and what are all men but simply men? If the perverse standards of the world would allow men to receive honours proportional to their deserts, even so the honour of men should not be accounted an important matter; smoke has no weight.
For all that, even in this we may profit from the goodness of our Lord God. Let us consider all the hardships these conquerors made light of, all the sufferings they endured, and the desires they suppressed to gain the glory of men. They deserved to receive that glory as a reward for such virtues. Let this thought avail to suppress pride in us. That City, in which it has been promised that we shall reign, differs from this earthly city as widely as the sky from the earth, life eternal from temporal joy, substantial glory from empty praises, the society of angels from the society of men, the light of the Maker of the sun and moon from the light of the sun and moon. Therefore the citizens of so great a country should not suppose that they have achieved anything of note if, to attain that country, they have done something good, or endured some ills, seeing that those Romans did so much and suffered so much for the earthly country they already possessed. What gives special point to this comparison is that the remission of sins, the promise which recruits the citizens for the Eternal Country, finds a kind of shadowy resemblance in that refuge of Romulus,59 where the offer of impunity for crimes of every kind collected a multitude which was to result in the foundation of the city of Rome.
18. Seeing that the Romans achieved so much for their earthly
city, to win glory from men, Christians should shun any
boasting about anything they have done for love of their
This being so, is it such a great thing that one should despise, for the sake of that Eternal and Heavenly Country, all the attractions of this present life, however beguiling, if, for the sake of this temporal and earthly country, Brutus had the strength to kill his sons,60 a thing which that other country compels no one to do? It is surely a harder thing to put one’s sons to death, than to do what has to be done for that Celestial Country: to give to the poor the possessions which one had supposed should be collected and preserved for one’s children, or to let them go, if a temptation should appear which made that course necessary for the sake of faith and righteousness. Happiness, whether for us or for our children, is not the result of earthly riches, which must either be lost by us in our lifetime or else must pass after our death into the possession of those we do not know or, it may be, of those whom we do not wish to have them. It is God who gives happiness; for he is the true wealth of men’s souls.
As for Brutus, even the poet who praises him testifies to his ill-fortune,
His sons, conspiring to an armed revolt
He punished, in fair liberty’s defence.
O most unhappy, howsoe’er the future
Speak of his deed!
Though in the next line he consoles the unhappy man,
Love of his country and the boundless passion
For high renown, these swayed his grim resolve.61
These were the two motives which drove the Romans to their wonderful achievements: liberty, and the passion for the praise of men. Then if a father could kill his sons for the liberty of those destined to die and because of a desire for the praises which were to be won from mortal beings, is it anything remarkable if, to gain the true liberty, which frees us from the domination of death, of iniquity and of the devil, not from desire for human praise but from the charitable longing to set men free (not from King Tarquin, but from the demons and the prince of the demons) – is it remarkable if, for the sake of all this we should be ready, not to kill our sons, but to reckon among our sons the poor people of Christ?
Another great man of Rome, surnamed Torquatus,62 put his son to death because he had fought, not against his country but for his country, yet in defiance of the command issued by his father, his commander. The son in his youthful ardour had accepted the enemy’s challenge to combat and he had conquered. Yet his father killed him, for fear that the evil of the bad example of contempt or orders would outweigh the glory of the victory over the enemy. In face of this, why should they plume themselves who, in obedience to the laws of their immortal country, despise all this world’s goods, which are much less dear than sons?
Furius Camillus63 had struck off from his country’s neck the yoke of Veii, Rome’s bitterest enemy, and then had been condemned by his rivals; yet he returned to rescue his ungrateful country again, this time from the Gauls. For he could find no better country where he could live with greater honour. Then why should we extol, as if for some grand accomplishment, a man who happens to have suffered grave injustice in the Church at the hands of worldly enemies by being deprived of his position; and then, instead of going over to the side of the Church’s enemies, or founding some heresy against her, has preferred to use all his efforts to defend the Church against the baneful perversions of the heretics, since there is no other Church where he can find, not the chance of living gloriously in men’s eyes, but the way to attain to life eternal?
When Porsenna was pressing hard on Rome in a struggle of the utmost gravity, Mucius64 failed in an attempt to kill the Etruscan chief and by mistake killed another man instead. Thereupon he stretched out his right hand into the flame of an altar before Porsenna’s eyes, saying, ‘You see what kind of man I am. There are many men of the same stamp who have sworn an oath together to destroy you’ Shocked by this display of fortitude, and dreading a conspiracy of such men, Porsenna made peace without delay and stopped the war. Considering this, surely no one is likely to regard his own merits as entitling him to a share in the kingdom of heaven, if for that kingdom’s sake he has given to the flames not one of his hands but the whole of his body, and that not by a voluntary self-inflicted sacrifice but as the victim of another’s persecution.
Then there is the case of Curtius,65 He spurred on his horse and hurled himself, fully armed, into a gaping chasm in obedience to the oracles of his gods. They had ordered that the best possession of the Romans should be consigned to that abyss, and the Romans could only interpret this as referring to their excellence in warriors and in arms; hence it appeared that at the gods’ command a fully-armed warrior must hurl himself to that death. Remembering him, will anyone claim credit for something heroic if he has encountered an enemy of his faith and then has not sent himself to such a death of his own accord, but has been sent to meet it by that enemy? And we know that he has received from his Lord, who is the king of his own country, an oracle more definite than any oracle of Rome, ‘Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.’
The Decii65 devoted themselves to death, consecrating themselves in a way by sacrificial formulas, so that the anger of the gods might be appeased by the bloodshed as they fell, and the Roman army might be saved. In view of that act, the holy martyrs have no cause for boasting, as though they have done anything worthy of participation in that country where there is eternal and genuine felicity, if they have struggled in the faith of charity and the charity of faith, to the extent of shedding their blood – loving not only their brothers, for whom their blood was shed, but, in obedience to the commandment, loving even their enemies, by whom it was shed.
Marcus Pulvillus66 was dedicating the temple of Jove, Juno, and Minerva when he received a false report of the death of his son, put about by envious rivals in the hope that he would be so distressed as to retire from the ceremony, and his colleagues would gain the glory of the dedication. But he thought so little of it that he ordered his son’s body to be thrown out without burial, so completely had the passion for glory overcome the sorrow of bereavement in his heart. If Pulvillus could do that, then what of the man who was so concerned about his father’s burial, to whom the Lord said, ‘Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead?’67 Is he to claim that he has performed some great feat for the preaching of the gospel, by which the citizens of the country on high are freed from all kinds of error and gathered into a community?
Marcus Regulus68 refused to break his sworn promise to a ruthless enemy. He left Rome and went back to the enemy, because (as he is said to have replied to the Romans who would have kept him back) he could not hold up his head as an honourable citizen in Rome after he had been a slave to Africans. And the Carthaginians murdered him with hideous tortures, because he had acted against their interests in the Roman senate. Then surely we Christians should make light of any kind of torture in defence of the faith of that country to which faith itself guides us? Or ‘what return will be given to the Lord for all the benefits which he has given,’69 if a man has suffered, for the faith which is due to God, such torture as Regulus suffered for the faith which he owed to his pitiless foes?
How can a Christian dare to pride himself on poverty voluntarily accepted to enable him to walk less encumbered on the road that leads to his own country, where God himself is the true wealth, when he hears or reads about Lucius Valerius,70 who died during his consulship, so poor that a public collection was made to pay for his burial? Or when he hears or reads about Quintius Cincinnatus71 who owned two acres of land, which he cultivated with his own hands, who was taken from his plough to become dictator – an office much higher than that of consul – and who, when he had conquered the enemy and won immense glory, then continued in the same poverty as before?
And can the Christian brag of any extraordinary performance, if he has refused to be seduced from the fellowship of that Heavenly Country by any of this world’s prizes, when he learns that Fabricius72 could not be torn from his allegiance to the Roman state by the most lavish presents of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, who offered him as much as a quarter of his kingdom? Fabricius preferred to remain in poverty as an ordinary citizen.
Those Romans had a republic richly endowed with all resources (and ‘republic’ means ‘state of the people’, ‘state of the country’, ‘commonwealth’), while they themselves lived in poverty in their own homes. So much so that one of them,73 who had already been consul twice, was dismissed from the senate by the censor’s ban, because it was discovered that he had ten pounds of silver plate. Such was the poverty of men whose triumphs enriched the public treasury. It is a far nobler resolution that leads Christians to regard their riches as belonging to all, according to the principle described in the Acts of Apostles; by which everything is shared out according to individual need, no one claims anything as his private property, and everything belongs to the common stock.74 But Christians must understand that this gives them no ground for self-conceit, since they do this to attain to the fellowship of the angels, while the Roman worthies did much the same to preserve the glory of their country.
Such instances as these (and there are many others to be found in Roman literature) would never have gained such renown, or been so often quoted, had not the Roman Empire extended far and wide, coming to greatness with so impressive a record of success. Accordingly, it was that Empire, so far-spread and so long-lasting, and given lustre and glory by the heroic quality of its great men, that gave to them the return they looked for as a recompense for their resolution, while it sets before us Christians examples whose message we cannot but heed. If we do not display, in the service of the most glorious City of God, the qualities of which the Romans, after their fashion, gave us something of a model, in their pursuit of the glory of their earthly city, then we ought to feel the prick of shame. If we do display these virtues, we must not be infected with pride, for, as the Apostle says, ‘The sufferings of the present time are not worth thinking of, in view of the glory which will be manifested in us.’75 Whereas the Romans judged their life abundantly worthwhile in view of the glory of men in the immediate present.
The Jews put Christ to death, when the New Testament revealed what was veiled in the Old Testament,76 the knowledge that God, the one true God, is to be worshipped for the sake of eternal life and everlasting gifts and for participation in that City on high, and not for earthly and temporal blessings, which divine providence bestows on good and evil without discrimination. And for this the Jews were justly given over to the Romans, for the greater glory of Rome, so that those who had sought earthly glory and attained it by their virtue (of whatever kind), overcame those who in their perverse wickedness spurned and put to death the giver of true glory and of citizenship in the Eternal City.
19. The difference between ambition for glory and ambition for domination
There is a clear difference between the desire for glory before men and the desire for domination. There is, to be sure, a slippery slope from the excessive delight in the praise of men to the burning passion for domination; and yet those who long for true glory, though it be the glory of merely human praise, are anxious for the good opinion of enlightened judges. For there are many good moral qualities which are approved by many, though many do not possess them. And it is by those moral qualities that glory, power, and domination are sought by the kind of men who, as Sallust says, ‘strive for them in the right way’.77 But if anyone aims at power and domination without that kind of desire for glory which makes a man fear the disapprobation of sound judges, then he generally seeks to accomplish his heart’s desire by the most barefaced crimes.
Thus the man who covets glory either ‘strives by the right way’ for it or ‘struggles by trickery and deceit’, desiring to seem a good man without being so. Therefore it is a great virtue in a virtuous man to despise glory, because this contempt is seen by God, but is not revealed to the judgement of men. If anyone acts before men’s eyes with the intention of seeming to despise glory, then men may suspect that such action is designed to win greater praise, that is, greater glory; and there is no way in which he can make it apparent to perception that such suspicion is groundless. But the man who despises flattering judgement, also despises baseless suspicions; and yet, if he is a truly good man, he does not regard the salvation of his fellow-men as of no importance. For so great is the righteousness of one who has his virtues from the Spirit of God, that he loves even his enemies; and such is his love even for those who hate and disparage him, that he wishes them to be reformed so that he may have them as fellow-citizens, not of the earthly city, but of the heavenly. As for those who praise him, though he takes little account of their applause, he does not undervalue their love; he does not want to deceive those who praise him, because he would not want to play tricks on those who love him. And for that reason his ardent concern is that praise should rather be given to him from whom man receives whatever in him is rightly deserving of praise.
On the other hand, the man who despises glory and is eager only for domination is worse than the beasts, in his cruelty or in his self-indulgence. Some of the Romans were men of this kind, who, while caring nothing for the opinion of others, were possessed by the passion for domination. History shows that there were many such; but it was Nero Caesar who first scaled, as it were, the heights of this vice, and gained the summit. So debauched was he that one would have supposed that nothing virile was to be feared from him; such was his cruelty that one would not have suspected anything effeminate in his nature, if one had not known about it.78 Yet even to men like this the power of domination is not given except by the providence of God, when he decides that man’s condition deserves such masters. God’s statement on this point is clear, when the divine Wisdom says, ‘It is through me that kings rule, and through me that tyrants possess the land.’79 It might be supposed that ‘tyrants’ here is used not in the sense of ‘wicked and irresponsible rulers’, but in the ancient meaning of ‘men of power’, as when Virgil says,
To have touched the tyrant’s hand will be for me
Earnest of peace.80
This suggestion is precluded by an unambiguous statement in another place, that God ‘makes a hypocrite to reign because of the perversity of the people’.81
I have now sufficiently explained, as far as I can, the reason why the one true and just God has assisted the Romans, who are good according to the standards of the earthly city, to the attainment of the glory of so great an empire. But it may be that there is another more hidden cause on account of the diverse merits of mankind, which are better known to God than to us. However, it is the conviction of all those who are truly religious, that no one can have true virtue without true piety, that is without the true worship of the true God; and that the virtue which is employed in the service of human glory is not true virtue; still, those who are not citizens of the Eternal City – which the holy Scriptures call the City of God – are of more service to the earthly city when they possess even that sort of virtue than if they are without it.
As for those who are endowed with true piety and who lead a good life, if they are skilled in the art of government, then there is no happier situation for mankind than that they, by God’s mercy, should wield power. Yet such men attribute to the grace of God whatever virtues they may be able to display in this present life, because God has given those virtues to them in response to their wish, their faith, and their petition. At the same time they realize how far they fall short of the perfect righteousness, such as is found in the fellowship of the angels, for which they strive to fit themselves. However much praise and public approbation is given to the virtue which is engaged in the service of human glory, it is in no way to be compared to the humblest beginnings of the saints, whose hope has been placed in the grace and mercy of the true God.
20. For virtue to serve the end of human glory is as shameful as for her to serve the end of sensual pleasure
The philosophers who set up virtue as the highest good for man82 seek to induce a sense of shame in those other philosophers83 who, while approving virtue, take physical pleasure as the end, and use that as the criterion of virtue; pleasure, in their view, is to be sought for its own sake, virtue as a means to that end. To shame them, their opponents paint a kind of picture in words,84 representing Pleasure sitting on a royal throne like some voluptuous queen, with Virtues as her obedient servants, waiting upon her nod, to fulfil her commands. She orders Prudence to be vigilant to take all steps to ensure the untroubled reign of pleasure. She bids Justice to provide all possible benefits to secure the friendships necessary for physical well-being, and to do no wrong to anyone, lest a breach of the law should interrupt the serenity of the life of pleasure. She instructs Fortitude to see to it that in case of physical pain which is not such as to bring her to suicide, she should resolutely keep in mind her mistress, Pleasure, so as to soften the pangs of present suffering by the recollection of previous delights. She enjoins Temperance to use moderation in food, though eating may be a source of delight, for fear that indulgence may cause some upset to health, which would be a serious hindrance to pleasure, for the Epicureans regard bodily health as a prime ingredient in pleasure. Thus the virtues, with all their glory and dignity, turned out to be the slaves of Pleasure, a mistress represented as a kind of exacting and worthless baggage. Nothing could be more shameful, say the Stoics, than this picture, nothing more hideously degraded, nothing more intolerable to the eyes of decent people. And they are right.
But in my view the picture would still fall short of the beauty we require, if it were painted with the virtues as the slaves of human glory. Glory may not be a female voluptuary, but she is puffed up with empty conceit; and it is most improper that the Virtues, with their solidity and strength, should be her servants. For then Prudence would exercise no foresight, Justice make no dispensations, Fortitude show no endurance, Temperance impose no moderation, except so far as to win man’s approval, and to serve the ends of Glory and her inflated conceit.
And yet men must not think to free themselves from this degradation by posing as despisers of glory and paying no heed to the opinions of others, while they esteem themselves as wise men and win their own approval. For their virtue, if it exists, is dependent on the praise of man in another kind of way. For the man who wins his own approval, is still a man. But he who with genuine piety believes in God and hopes in him, is more concerned about what he finds displeasing in himself than what (if anything) is pleasing, not so much to himself as to the Truth. And he ascribes whatever there is that may be pleasing in himself entirely to the mercy of the God whom he fears to displease, offering thanks for faults amended, and pouring out prayers for the amendment of faults that still remain.
21. The Roman Empire ordained by the true God, who is the source of all power, and by whose providence the universe is governed.
This being so, we must ascribe to the true God alone the power to grant kingdoms and empires. He it is who gives happiness in the kingdom of heaven only to the good, but grants earthly kingdoms both to the good and to the evil, in accordance with his pleasure, which can never be unjust. We have already said something on this matter, as far as he has willed to make it plain to us. But to examine the secrets of men’s hearts and to decide with clear judgement on the varying merits of human kingdoms – this would be a heavy task for us men, a task indeed far beyond our powers. And for that reason the one true God, who never leaves the human race unattended by his judgement or his help, granted dominion to the Romans when he willed and in the measure that he willed. It was he who gave sovereignty to the Assyrians, and also to the Persians (who, according to the evidence of their literature, worshipped two gods only, a good god and an evil85) to say nothing of the Hebrew people, about whom, and about their worship of one God only and the time of their sovereignty, I have already said enough, in my judgement. It was God who gave crops to the Persians without the worship of Segetia, and the other gifts of the earth without the worship of all those gods, each of whom the Romans assigned to a particular function, sometimes appointing several gods to one duty. God himself gave dominion to the Romans without the worship of those gods to whose worship the Romans thought they owed their Empire.
This is true also in respect of individual men. The same God gave power to Marius and to Gaius Caesar, to Augustus and to Nero, to the Vespasians, father and son,86 the most attractive emperors, as well as to Domitian, the most ruthless tyrant; and (we need not run through the whole list) the same God gave the throne to Constantine the Christian, and also to Julian the Apostate. Julian had exceptional endowments, perverted by sacrilegious and abominable superstition working through a love of domination. He gave his entire trust to the worthless oracles of superstition and, confident in the certainty of victory, he burnt the ships carrying essential food supplies. Then, pressing on feverishly with his inordinate designs he paid the just price for his rashness when he was slain, leaving his army destitute, in enemy territory.87 And the army could not escape except by giving the lie to that ‘presage’ of the god Terminus88 by the moving of the frontier of the Roman Empire. I have spoken of this in my last book. The god Terminus, who refused to give way to Jupiter, gave way to necessity.
It is clear that God, the one true God, rules and guides these events, according to his pleasure. If God’s reasons are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust?
22. The duration of wars and their outcome depend on the decision of God
The same may be said of the duration of wars. It rests with the decision of God in his just judgement and mercy either to afflict or console mankind, so that some wars come to an end more speedily, others more slowly. The Pirate War and the Third Punic War were brought to a successful conclusion with incredible rapidity, in a very short time, the first by Pompey, the second by Scipio.89 The war against the runaway gladiators, also, despite many defeats suffered by Roman commanders, including two consuls, and terrible destruction and devastation in Italy, was finished in two years, after heavy losses. Then the Picentines, the Massi and the Poligni, peoples of Italy, not foreigners, after serving Rome faithfully under the yoke of servitude essayed to life up their heads and assert their liberty, although Rome had by then subdued many nations and had destroyed Carthage. In this Italian War the Romans were often defeated; two consuls perished, as did other well-known senators. Yet this horror was not long drawn-out; four years saw the end of it. The Second Punic War, on the other hand, was attended with terrible losses and disasters to the Roman state; it lasted for eighteen years, and almost drained the strength of Rome to complete exhaustion. In two battles nearly seventy thousand Romans fell.90 The First Punic War took twenty-three years to finish; the Mithridatic War took forty. And no one should suppose that the Romans in earlier times were able, through their greater courage, to finish their wars more quickly. The Samnite War was fought in an early period highly praised for every kind of virtue; and that war was prolonged for almost fifty years, and in its course the Romans suffered a defeat of such magnitude that they had to pass under the yoke.91 But they did not love glory for the sake of justice; they appeared to love justice only for the sake of glory; and therefore they broke the treaty of peace that had been concluded.
The reason for recalling these facts is that many people are ignorant of past history, while some others feign ignorance, and if in this Christian era any war seems somewhat unduly protracted, they seize the chance for impudent attacks on our religion, crying out that if Christianity did not exist, and the divinities were worshipped with the ancient rites, this war would by now have been brought to an end by that Roman valour which, with the help of Mars and Bellona, so speedily concluded so many wars in the past.
Let those who have read their history remember how long were the wars waged by Rome in times past, and with what diverse fortunes and grievous disasters they were attended; for the world is liable to be tempest-tossed by such misfortunes, like a storm-swept sea. Let them acknowledge the facts, even if it goes against the grain; and left them stop destroying themselves by crazy insults against God, and refrain from deceiving the ignorant
23. The war in which Radagaisus, king of the Goths, a demon-worshipper, was vanquished in one day, with his immense forces
Our adversaries do not recall with gratitude that wonderful instance of God’s merciful action in our own times, only just the other day; in fact they do their best to bury it in oblivion. If we pass it over in silence, we shall show ourselves equally ungrateful.
Radagaisus,92 king of the Goths, had taken up a position in the vicinity of Rome, at the head of an immense army of savages, and the threat weighed heavily on Roman shoulders. But then, in a single day, he was vanquished, without one casualty to Rome, without even one wounded; more than a hundred thousand of his army were laid low, and Radagaisus himself was taken prisoner and soon paid the penalty of death he so richly deserved.
If that impious creature had entered Rome with his huge army of the ungodly, would he have given any quarter? Would he have shown any respect for the sacred sites of the martyrs?93 Would he have feared God in the person of any man? Would he have left any blood unshed, any honour unviolated? If Radagaisus had conquered, think of the claims the pagans would have made for those gods of theirs! The insolent boasts that he had conquered, had attained such power, because he had appeased the gods, and invited their assistance, with daily sacrifices – sacrifices which the Christian religion forbade to the Romans! When he was approaching the place where he was over-whelmed at a mere sign from the Majesty on high, and when the report of his progress had spread over all the world, we were told in Carthage that the pagans believed and spread it abroad, even boasted, that the Gothic king enjoyed the protection and support of friendly gods, to whom, they said, he sacrificed daily, and could not conceivably be conquered by those who did not offer such rites to the Roman gods, and would not allow anyone to offer them. And those wretches do not give thanks to the great mercy of God, who after deciding to use a barbarian invasion as a chastisement for men’s immorality – which deserved an even harsher punishment – tempered his wrath with such great compassion. And so, in the first place, he allowed the barbarian to be miraculously defeated, lest the glory should be given to those demons, whose help he was known to have entreated, to the overthrow of feeble minds. And, after that, he suffered Rome to be taken by barbarians94 who, contrary to the usages of war in former times, protected those who took sanctuary in holy places out of reverence for the Christian religion, and who showed such hostility, in the name of the Christian religion, to those demons and the rites of their blasphemous sacrifices, in which the Goth had placed his trust, that they seemed to be waging a far more ruthless war with them than with men.
Thus the true Lord and Governor of the world has chastised the Romans with the scourge of his mercy, and has shown to the votaries of demons, by this incredible defeat, that those sacrifices are needless, even for the preservation of safety in this present world, so that all those who are sensible enough to face the facts, instead of engaging in obstinate debate, may not abandon true religion under pressure of the circumstances of the moment, but may adhere to it more loyally in confident expectation of eternal life.
24. The true felicity of Christian emperors
When we describe certain Christian emperors as ‘happy’, it is not because they enjoyed long reigns, or because they died a peaceful death, leaving the throne to their sons; nor is it because they subdued their country’s enemies, or had the power to forestall insurrections by enemies in their own land and to suppress such insurrections if they arose. All these, and other similar rewards or consolations in this life of trouble were granted to some of the worshippers of demons, as their due; and yet those pagan rulers have no connection with the Kingdom of God, to which those Christian rulers belong. Their good fortune was due to the mercy of God; for it was God’s intention that those who believe in him should not demand such blessings from him as if they represented the highest good.
We Christians call rulers happy, if they rule with justice; if amid the voices of exalted praise and the reverent salutations of excessive humility, they are not inflated with pride, but remember that they are but men; if they put their power at the service of God’s majesty, to extend his worship far and wide; if they fear God, love him and worship him; if, more than their earthly kingdom, they love that realm where they do not fear to share the kingship; if they are slow to punish, but ready to pardon; if they take vengeance on wrong because of the necessity to direct and protect the state, and not to satisfy their personal animosity; if they grant pardon not to allow impunity to wrong-doing but in the hope of amendment of the wrong-doer; if, when they are obliged to take severe decisions, as must often happen, they compensate this with the gentleness of their mercy and the generosity of their benefits; if they restrain their self-indulgent appetites all the more because they are more free to gratify them, and prefer to have command over their lower desires than over any number of subject peoples; and if they do all this not for a burning desire for empty glory, but for the love of eternal blessedness; and if they do not fail to offer to their true God, as a sacrifice for their sins, the oblation of humility, compassion, and prayer.
It is Christian emperors of this kind whom we call happy; happy in hope, during this present life, and to be happy in reality hereafter, when what we wait for will have come to pass.
25. The prosperity bestowed by God on Constantine, the Christian emperor
God, in his goodness, did not wish that those who believed he was to be worshipped for the sake of life eternal, should suppose that no one could attain to the highest stations and the kingdoms of this world unless he made his supplications to demons, on the ground that those evil spirits have great power in this sphere. And for that reason he heaped worldly gifts such as no one would have dared to hope for, on Constantine, who made no supplication to demons, but worshipped only the true God. And God even granted him the honour of founding a city,95 associated with the Roman Empire, the daughter, one might say, of Rome herself, but a city which contained not a single temple or image of any demon. Constantine had a long reign,96 and as the sole Augustus he ruled and defended the whole Roman world; he was victorious, above all others, in the wars which he directed and conducted; fortune favoured his efforts in the repression of usurpers;97 and he died of sickness and old age after a long life, leaving the throne to his sons.98
On the other hand, so that no emperor should become a Christian in order to earn the good fortune of Constantine (whereas it is only with a view to life eternal that anyone should be a Christian), God removed Jovian99 more quickly than Julian100; he allowed Gratian101 to be slain by the usurper’s sword – but in far less painful circumstances than attended the murder of the great Pompey, who worshipped the pretended gods of Rome. For Pompey could not be avenged by Cato,102 whom he had, as it were, made his heir to the Civil War; while Gratian was avenged by Theodosius – although pious souls do not look for such consolation – whom Gratian had taken as a partner in his rule, although he had a young brother. Gratian was more concerned to have a trustworthy associate than to enjoy excessive power.
26. The faith and devotion of the Emperor Theodosius
Thus Theodosius kept faith with Gratian not only in life, but after his death. The young brother of Gratian, Valentinian, had been driven out by Maximus, his murderer. Theodosius, like a true Christian, brought him back to his part of the Empire, as his ward. He looked after him with fatherly affection. Valentinian had been deprived of all his resources; and Theodosius would have been able to remove him without trouble, if his burning passion had been the desire for an enlarged dominion rather than the love of doing good. As it was, he took the boy into his care, preserved his imperial standing, and consoled him with his kindness and his favour. Later, when his great success had rendered Maximus formidable, Theodosius, for all his pressing anxieties, did not lapse into blasphemous and forbidden superstitions. He sent a message to John, who had settled as a hermit in Egypt, of whose increasing reputation he had heard, for John was regarded as a servant of God, endowed with the spirit of prophecy; and from the prophet he received a definite assurance of victory. Soon afterwards, when he had got rid of Maximus,103 Theodosius restored the boy Valentinian, with respectful compassion, to his share in the Empire, from which he had been driven. Before long, Valentinian was destroyed, whether by an ambush, or some other plot, or by accident, and another usurper, Eugenius, was illegally put in his place. Theodosius suppressed him, in secure confidence in another prophetic reply he had received; and it was more by the power of prayer than by force of arms that he fought against the redoubtable forces of the usurper. Soldiers who took part in the battle have told us that the javelins were wrenched from their hands as they aimed them, when a violent wind blew from the side of Theodosius towards the enemy and not only whirled away with the utmost rapidity the missiles discharged against the emperor’s forces, but even turned them back on to the bodies of the foe. This suggested to the poet Claudian (who was far from being a Christian) those lines in praise of Theodosius:
O dearly loved of God, the sky fights for thee,
And winds in league come at the trumpet’s call.104
After victory had confirmed his confidence and his prediction, Theodosius cast down the images of Jupiter which had been supposedly consecrated against him by some kind of ceremonies and set up in the Alps. Those statues held golden thunderbolts; and when the emperor’s couriers felt able, in the joy of victory, to turn those weapons into a joke, saying that they would like to be struck by thunderbolts of that kind, Theodosius was delighted and kindly gave them to the jesters as a present.
The sons of his enemies had been carried off, not by his order, but in the tumult of war; and, though they were not Christians, they took refuge in the Church. Theodosius wished them to become Christians, since the occasion thus offered; and he loved them with Christian charity. He did not deprive them of their property; in fact he heaped honours on them; and he never allowed victory to be followed by the satisfaction of private feuds. Men like Cinna, Marius, and Sulla wished the civil strife to continue when the wars were ended. Very different was Theodosius; far from wanting any harm to come to anyone after the end of civil war, he was deeply grieved that such conflicts should ever break out. Among all these anxieties Theodosius, from the beginning of his reign, never relaxed his endeavours to help the Church against the ungodly by just and compassionate legislation; and the Church at the time was in difficulties, for the heretic Valens105 had dealt her heavy blows in his support of the Arians. Theodosius was more glad to be a member of that Church than to be ruler of the world. He ordered the demolition of pagan images, knowing that even this world’s prizes are not in the gift of demons, but in the power of the true God.
But nothing could be more wonderful than the religious humility he showed after the grievous crime committed by the people of Thessalonica.106 On the intercession of the bishops he had promised a pardon; but then the clamour of certain of his close supporters drove him to avenge the crime. But he was constrained by the discipline of the Church to do penance in such a fashion that the people of Thessalonica, as they prayed for him, wept at seeing the imperial highness thus prostrate, with an emotion stronger than their fears of the emperor’s wrath at their offence. These and other good works of like nature, which it would take too long to recount, Theodosius took with him when he left the loftiest summit of power – which is nothing but a passing mist.107 The reward of those works is eternal happiness; God is the giver; and the only recipients are the truly devout. But all the rest that this world offers, whether the peaks of power or the bare necessities of life, God dispenses freely to good and evil alike – just as he gives to all alike the world the light, the air, earth and water and the fruits of earth, and man’s soul, body, senses, intelligence, and life. Among those gifts is dominion, of whatever extent; and this God bestows in accordance with his government of temporal affairs.
Our opponents have now been refuted and convicted of error by the irresistible evidence which proves that all the multitude of false gods is of no help towards the attainment of those temporal goods, which are the sole objects of desire for the fools. But I am aware that I must go on to answer those who now try to assert that the gods are to be worshipped, not with a view to advantage in this present life, but for the sake of that life which is to come after death.
I think I have given a sufficient answer, in these five books, to those who wish to worship those inanities, because of their love of this world, and who now complain, with childish indignation, that this worship is not allowed. After I had published the first three books, and they began to be widely circulated, I heard that some people were preparing to write some kind of a reply. Then I received information that this reply had been written, but the authors were looking for a suitable occasion to publish it without danger to themselves. I hereby warn them not to wish for something which is not for their own good. It is easy for anyone to imagine that he has made a reply, when he has refused to keep silence. Is anything more loquacious than folly? But it must not be supposed that folly is as powerful as truth, just because it can, if it likes, shout louder and longer than truth.
Let them consider the whole matter carefully. Perhaps if they weigh things up without partiality or prejudice, they may perceive that there are some arguments which can be attacked, but not refuted, by an impudent prattle of words, like the buffoonery of satires and mimes. If they realize this, I hope they may put a check on their frivolity, and choose to be corrected by the wise rather than win the applause of the irresponsible. If by ‘looking for a suitable occasion’ they mean, not the chance to tell the truth, but the freedom to slander, then may heaven shield them from the fate of the man who was called ‘lucky’ because he had licence to do wrong; the man of whom Cicero says, ‘Unhappy man! He was given licence to sin!’108 A man may count himself happy in having licence to slander; but he will be far happier if deprived entirely of that liberty. Then he can drop the silly pose of superiority and take the opportunity to raise what objection he likes, as one really interested in getting to know; he can ask his questions in a spirit of friendly discussion, and listen when those whom he consults do their best to give a courteous, serious, and frank reply.