THE argument of my first five books has, I believe, given a sufficient refutation of those who suppose that many false gods are to be venerated and worshipped for advantages in this mortal life and for benefits in temporal things. They would accord them the ceremonies and the humble devotion which the Greeks call latreia,1 a worship due only to the one true God. Christian truth proves those ‘gods’ to be useless images or unclean spirits and malignant demons, creatures at any rate, and not the Creator.
To be sure, those five books are not enough to deal with all the extravagant folly and perversity of our opponents – nor would any number of additional books suffice. That is clear to all. Stupidity glories in never yielding to the force of truth; that is how it effects the ruin of anyone who is under the dominion of this monstrous moral fault. It is a disease proof against all efforts to treat it, not through any fault in the physician, but because the patient is himself incurable. But those who understand what they read, who reflect upon it and weigh the arguments without any obstinate adherence to their old errors, or at least without excessive and exaggerated attachment to them – such people will be ready to conclude that in the five books already completed out discussion has been more, not less, than the question demanded. The ignorant try to bring odium on the Christian religion in connection with the disasters to which human life is subject, and the calamities and catastrophes that beset human affairs; and the learned not merely connive at this but even support those slanders, in defiance of their own conscience, possessed by a raging madness of blasphemy. These judicious readers cannot doubt that such attempts are utterly devoid of any clear thinking or right reasoning and are composed of nothing but irresponsible frivolity and malignant spite.
1. The assertion that the gods are worshipped not for blessings in this life, but with a view to life eternal
The scheme I have prescribed for this work demands that I should now proceed to the task of refuting and instructing those who maintain that the pagan gods, which the Christian religion does away with, are to be worshipped, not with a view to this present life, but with a view to the life which is to come after death.
I should like to take as the opening of my discussion, the truthful oracle of a holy psalm, ‘Blessed is he whose hope is the Lord God, and who has not turned his attention to vain things and lying madnesses.’2 However, on the subject of all those ‘vain things’ and ‘lying madnesses’, men are likely to give a far readier hearing to the philosophers who reject the erroneous opinions of the peoples who have set up images to the divinities, and have either invented or accepted many false and unworthy stories about the ‘immortal gods’, as they call them, and, having accepted them, have interwoven them into the worship and the sacred rites of those gods. Although they have not freely proclaimed their disapprobation of those practices, these philosophers have at least murmured it in their learned disputations; and so it is not inappropriate to discuss with them this question: Is it our duty to worship, with a view to the life after death, the one God, who made every spiritual and material creature; or those many gods who, according to some of the most eminent and famous of these same philosophers,3 were created by the one God and raised by him to their exalted state?
I have mentioned in my fourth book some of the gods who are distributed among particular functions,4 one god for each minute duty. Who could brook the suggestion, indeed the contention, that such divinities can assure eternal life to anyone? There were men of great learning and penetration, who gloried in having conferred a great benefit by giving written instructions to inform people why they should pray to each particular god, and what help should be asked for from each of them, so as to avoid the ludicrous kind of mistake which occurs in mime to raise a laugh,5 as when Bacchus is asked for water, and the Lymphae are asked for wine. Now, if a man who prays to the immortal gods, on asking the Lymphae for wine, receives the reply, ‘We only have water; apply to Liber’, are those authorities likely to suggest that the correct rejoinder would be, ‘If you haven’t wine, at least give me eternal life?’ Could anything be more monstrously absurd? If those giggling goddesses (they are always so ready for a laugh!6) are not aiming at leading their suppliant a dance (like the demons) they would surely reply, ‘My good man, why should you think we have life (vitam) at our disposal, when we have told you we haven’t even the vine (vitem)?’
It is, then, a mark of the most unconscionable folly to ask or hope for eternal life from such divinities. Even supposing they are concerned with supporting and propping up this brief life of care, they watch over its particular departments, so it is asserted, in such a way that if anything belonging to one god’s sphere of responsibility is sought from another god, a ridiculous anomaly arises, like some farcical situation in a mime. When those involved are actors, and know what they are doing, it gets a well-deserved laugh in the theatre; when they are fools, who do not know what they are about, it is treated with more justified scorn in the real world. That is why learned men were astute enough to determine, and put on record, which god or goddess should be entreated for what, as far as concerns the divinities established in their communities – for example, what one can obtain from liber, or the Lymphae, or Vulcan, and the other gods, some of whom I mentioned in my fourth book, while I decided to pass over the rest. Doubtless it is an error to ask Ceres for wine, Liber for bread, Vulcan for water, the Lymphae for fire; we surely ought to realize how much more imbecile it would be to implore any of these deities for eternal life!
When we were discussing wordly dominion, and asking which gods or goddess might be believed capable of granting it, we proved, after examining every possibility, that it would be utterly remote from the truth to imagine that even the kingdoms of this world are established by any of this host of false gods. If this is true, then surely it would show the craziest impiety to suppose that any of them could grant eternal life, which is, without any doubt, incomparably to be preferred to all earthly kingdoms. The reason why such gods are incapable, in our view, of giving earthly dominion is not that they are so great and exalted and earthly power a thing so lowly and contemptible that they would not deign, in their lofty state, to be concerned with it. However great the contempt which one may rightly feel for the precarious eminences of worldly power, when one considers the frailty of man, those gods are evidently of such a character as to be quite unworthy to be entrusted with the power to grant or to preserve even such transitory gifts. Therefore, if it be true (as the full discussion in my last two books has established) that not one of this host of gods, whether of the plebeian sort or, as one might say, the noble deities, is fit to grand mortal kingdoms to mortals, how much less could any of them turn mortals into immortals?
Furthermore, if we are now dealing with those who think that the gods are to be worshipped for the sake of the life after death and not with a view to this present life, we must conclude that it is utterly wrong to worship them even with the hope of obtaining those particular benefits which are severally assigned to the control of such gods, not on any rational grounds but by superstitious credulity. There are those who believe in the necessity of such worship, maintaining it essential for securing advantages in this mortal life; and I have refuted them, to the best of my ability, in the first five books. Accordingly, if the devotees of the goddess Juventas (Youth) enjoyed markedly greater prosperity in early life, while those who disclaimed her either deceased before maturity, or shrivelled into senile inertia while still young in years; if Bearded Fortune7 clothed the cheeks of her votaries with a growth of notable splendour and allurement, while we observed her detractors with hairless chins or with unconvincing beards, we should even so be perfectly right in saying that those goddesses only had power within the limits somehow assigned to their particular functions, and that one should not seek eternal life from Juventas, who does not produce beards, and that no benefit after this life is to be looked for from Bearded Fortune, for even in this life she could not even give us the youthful age in which the beard first grows. In reality, the worship of those goddesses is not essential to ensure the gifts supposedly under their control. Many worshippers of Juventas have been far from flourishing in their early years; while many non-worshippers enjoy robust health in youth; many suppliants of Bearded Fortune have no beard at all, or have achieved only an unprepossessing growth, and expose themselves to the ridicule of her bearded detractors for having venerated her in the hope of hirsute adornment. Are men such fools as to think in their hearts that the worship of these gods can be of advantage for eternal life, when they realize how futile and ridiculous it is even in respect of those temporal and evanescent gifts which the divinities are said to have in their particular charge? This would be too bold a claim even for those who parcelled out those temporal responsibilities to the gods to ensure that they should be worshipped by the unthinking; they thought there were too many of those deities, and they did not want to have any of them sitting about with time on their hands!
2. What was Varro’s opinion of the gods? His disclosures of their nature and their rites were such that he would have shown more reverence in keeping silent
Has anyone pursued research in this subject further than Marcus Varro?8 Who has made more scholarly discoveries, or pondered the facts more assiduously? Who has made nicer distinctions, or written more carefully or more fully on those matters? His literary style is not particularly attractive; but he is so full of knowledge and ideas that in the kind of learning which we Christians call secular and the pagans call liberal he gives as much information to the student of history as Cicero gives pleasure to the connoisseur of style. In fact, Cicero himself gives Varro a fine testimonial in his Academics9 when he says that he had engaged in discussion on the subject of that work with Marcus Varro, ‘easily the most acute of intellects, and undoubtedly the most learned of men.’ He does not say ‘the most eloquent’ or ‘the most fluent’; for in truth Varro is seriously inadequate in this department. What he says is ‘easily the most acute of intellects’. And in that book, the Academics, where his thesis is that all things should be doubted, he added ‘undoubtedly the most learned of men’. He was so convinced of this that he put aside the doubt which he normally applied to everything. It seems that although he was going to argue in defence of Academic doubt, he had forgotten when speaking of Varro, but only then, that he was an Academic. In the first book he acclaims the literary works of the same author in these terms,
We were like strangers in our own city, visitors who had lost their way. It was your books that, as it were, brought us back home, so that at last we could recognize who we were, and where we were. It was you who revealed to us the age of our country, the sequence of events, the laws of religious ceremonies and of the priesthoods, the traditional customs of private and public life, the position of geographical areas and of particular places, and the terminology of all matters, human and divine, with their various kinds, and functions, and causes.10
He was a man of pre-eminent, of unparalleled erudition, succinctly and neatly described in one line of Terentian,11
Varro, that man of universal science;12
a man who read so much that we marvel that he had any time for writing; who wrote so much that we find it hard to believe that anyone could have read it all. If this man, with all his talents and all his learning, had intended to attack and eradicate those ‘divine matters’ of which he wrote, and to assert that they belonged to superstition not to religion, I do not know whether he would have recorded so many elements in ‘theology’ which can arouse only derision, contempt, and abhorrence. In fact he worshipped those same gods and thought that they should be worshipped. So much so that in his written works he expresses the fear that the gods may perish, not through an attack of the enemy, but through the indifference of Roman citizens. It is, he says, from this disaster (as he thinks it) that he is rescuing the gods; by books of this kind he is securing and preserving for them a place in the memory of good men. This he regards as a more profitable service than the much-praised act of Metellus13 in saving the sacred emblems of Vesta from the fire, and that of Aeneas14 in rescuing the Penates from destruction: and yet he hands down, for the study of future generations, traditions which deserve to be rejected by the wise and the foolish alike as being, in their judgement, utterly inimical to the true religion. What ought we to think of this? Is it not that a man of acute intellect and vast erudition, but lacking the freedom given by the Holy Spirit, has succumbed to the pressure of the customs and laws of his country? At the same time he could not bring himself to keep silent about the things which troubled him, on the pretext of lending support to religion.
3. Varro’s division of his ‘Antiquities’ into ‘Human Matters’ and ‘Divine Matters’
Varro wrote forty-one books of Antiquities; and he divided them by subjects into ‘human matters’ and ‘divine matters’, assigning twenty-five to ‘anthropology’ and sixteen to ‘theology’. In the anthropological section of his work he planned four parts, each of six books, concentrating in turn on the performers of the actions, the place, the time, and the nature of the action. Thus in the first six books he writes about men, in the next six about places, in the third group about times, while the fourth and last group deals with the performances. Four sixes make twenty-four; but he leads off with a separate book, which serves as a general introduction to the whole section.
In the section on ‘divine matters’ the same scheme of division is kept, in regard to the rites to be performed in honour of the gods; for those rites are performed by men in certain places and at certain times. The four subjects mentioned are contained in groups of three books: the first group deals with the men involved, the second with the places, the third with the times, the fourth with the actual rites; as before, he employs the most subtle distinctions in describing the performers, the place and time of the performances, and the manner of the performances. But besides this he was bound to say – and this was what people especially looked for – to whom these ceremonies are offered. And so the three last books treat of the gods themselves; and that makes three fives, fifteen. As we have said, there are sixteen books in all, because here also he prefaces the section with a separate book to serve as an introduction.
After the end of this first book Varro goes on to subdivide the first group of three books, within his general five-part division. In this group, dealing with the men involved, the first book describes the priests, the second, the augurs, the third, the quindecimviri.15 In the second group, dealing with the places, Book One treats of shrines, Book Two, of temples, Book three, of sacred places. The next group, referring to feast days, contains one book about holy days; another about games in the circus, a third about stage plays. The fourth group, about the actual ceremonies, consists of a book devoted to consecrations, a book about private rites, while the last book handles public ceremonies. At the end of this kind of procession of observances the gods themselves, the recipients of the whole system of worship, bring up the rear; and they are dealt with in the remaining three books: in the first of these come the ‘certain gods’, in the second, the ‘uncertain’,16 in the third, the last of the whole work, the ‘principal and select’17 divinities.
4. From Varro’s account it emerges that ‘Human Matters’ precede ‘Divine Matters’ among the pagans
In the whole of this impressive sequence, with all those subtle distinctions and this precise arrangement, it is in vain to seek eternal life; it would be the height of impudence to look for it or to hope for it in this context. So much is readily apparent, from what we have already said and from what we are to go on to say, to anyone who is not his own enemy because of the obstinacy of his heart. These institutions are either the work of men, or of demons, and not of ‘good demons’, as the pagans call them, but, to speak frankly, of unclean spirits or undeniably malignant powers. Malignant, because with consummate spite they secretly instil into the thoughts of the impious, and at times openly suggest to their senses, pernicious notions which make the human soul more and more evanescent, and less and less able to adjust itself and attach itself to eternal truth; and they support those notions with fallacious evidence in every way they can.
Varro himself bears witness that the reason for writing about ‘human matters’ before ‘divine matters’ was that human communities first came into existence and divine institutions are afterwards established by them. Whereas it was not any terrestrial community that established true religion; it was true religion, without doubt, that established the Celestial City; and true religion is given to his true worshippers by the inspiration and teaching of the true God, the giver of eternal life.
Varro gives the following explanation of his treatment of ‘human matters’ before ‘divine matters’, on the ground that the ‘divine matters’ were established by men: ‘The painter exists before the picture, the builder before the building: similarly, human communities precede their institutions.’ But he does say that he would have written about the gods before proceeding to men, if he were treating of every aspect of the gods. Are we really to suppose that in this work he is only treating of some part of the divine nature and not of the whole: or that the divine nature, even when considered only in a particular aspect ought not to take precedence over human nature? Further, in his three last books he carefully arranges the gods into the categories of ‘certain’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘select’; does it appear that he leaves any aspect unmentioned? What does he mean, then, when he says, ‘If I were treating of every aspect of the gods and of men, I would have dealt with the divine before starting on the human?’ Either he is writing about every aspect, or some aspects, or no aspect at all. If about every aspect, then ‘divine matters’ should precede ‘human’; but why should they not, even if he is writing only about some? Would it be improper to make even some aspects of the divine take precedence over the whole of human nature? If it would be too much that one part of the divine should have precedence over all the human matters, would it at least be right for it to do so over merely Roman affairs? For his books on ‘human affairs’ treat only of Roman matters; they do not include the whole world. And yet he claims that he is justified in having given them precedence over his books on ‘divine affairs’, as the painter precedes the picture, the builder comes before the building. Here he plainly admits that ‘divine matters’ are of human institution, like pictures and buildings.
There remains the possibility that he is to be supposed to have written about no aspect of divinity at all; and that he was reluctant to admit this explicitly and left it to be inferred by the intelligent reader. For ‘I have not treated of all’ means, in common usage, ‘I have treated of some’; but it canbe understood as ‘I have treated of none’; since ‘none’ is the negation of both ‘all’ and ‘some’. Varro himself declares that if he were writing about every aspect of the divine nature it would have to precede the treatment of human affairs; but truth cries out, without need of a word from Varro, that the divine nature, even if treated only in part, should have had precedence over Roman affairs, at least. Yet it properly takes second place; therefore it is not there at all. It was not that Varro decided to rank ‘human affairs’ before ‘divine’, but to give truth the precedence over falsehood. For in his books on ‘human affairs’ he follows the course of history; but his account of what he calls ‘divine affairs’ is a collection of frivolous fantasies. And this is doubtless what he intended to signify by a subtle hint, in writing of them after the other topics, and, not content with this, in giving an explanation for taking this course. If he had said nothing in explanation, others might have defended his procedure on different grounds. But the very explanation he has given leaves others no room for arbitrary speculation and is sufficient proof that he is giving men precedence over their institutions, not ranking human nature before the divine.
Thus Varro has admitted that his books on ‘divine affairs’ do not deal with the truth relating to the divine nature but with the false notions which arise from error. As I have mentioned in the fourth book,18 he states this more clearly in another place, where he acknowledges that he would have written on the principles dictated by nature, if he had been founding a new community; but since he found himself in a community already ancient, the only course open to him was to conform to its traditional ways.
5. Varro’s division of theology into ‘mythical’, ‘natural’, and ‘civil’
Then again, what is the significance of Varro’s division of ‘theology’, that is the systematic theory of the gods, into the types: mythical, physical and civil?19 We should have called the first type ‘fabular’, if Latin usage had permitted. Let us call it ‘fabulous’, since the name ‘mythical’ is derived from mythos, the Greek word for fable. Usage allows us to call the second type ‘natural’ (physis being the Greek for ‘nature’). The third category, ‘civil’, Varro himself designated by a Latin word.
He goes on to say, ‘The name “mythical” applies to the theology used chiefly by the poets, “physical” to that of the philosophers, “civil” to that of the general public. The first type contains a great deal of fiction which is in conflict with the dignity and nature of the immortals. It is in this category that we find one god born from the head, another from the thigh, a third from drops of blood;20 we find stories about thefts and adulteries committed by gods, and gods enslaved to human beings.21 In fact we find attributed to gods not only the accidents that happen to humanity in general, but even those which can befall the most contemptible of mankind.’ In this passage he has the courage to take the chance, when he thinks he can do it with impunity, of casting off all obscurity and ambiguity, and making it quite clear what injustice is done to the nature of the gods by these lying fables. For he is talking, not about ‘natural’, or ‘civil’ theology but about ‘fabulous’ theology, which he thinks he has the right to criticize quite candidly.
Let us see what he says about the second type:
The second type which I have pointed out, is one on which the philosophers have left a number of works, in which they discuss who the gods are, where they are, of what kind and of what character they are: whether they came into being at a certain time, or have always existed: whether they derive their being from fire (the belief of Heraclitus) or from numbers (as Pythagoras thought) or from atoms (as Epicurus alleges).22 And there are other like questions all of which men’s ears can more readily tolerate within the walls of a lecture-room than in the market-place outside.
He has no fault to find with this ‘physical’ theology, which is the special preserve of philosophers, except for a mention of the philosophical controversies, which have given rise to a multitude of dissident sects. All the same, he removes the subject from the marketplace, that is, from the general public, and shuts it up between the walls of a lecture-room. But he has not removed the first type – the mythical – with all its lies and flith. What sensitive ears ordinary people have, including the Roman people, in matters of religion! They cannot tolerate the discussions of philosophers about the immortal gods. Yet they not merely tolerate, they listen with pleasure to fictions, sung by poets and acted by players, which offend against the dignity and the nature of the gods, because such adventures are appropriate to human nature, or rather to human nature at its most contemptible. More than this, they have decided that such stories are pleasing to the gods, and must be employed to obtain their favour.
Now perhaps someone is going to say, ‘Let us make the same distinction as Varro himself makes between the “mythical” and “physical” (“fabulous” and “natural”) and the “civil” variety of theology. We are now discussing “civil” theology; let us see how Varro describes it.’ I do indeed see why Varro had to distinguish the fabulous type; because it is false, degraded, and unworthy. But to wish to separate natural theology from civil, is surely tantamount to an admission that civil theology itself is false. If ‘natural’ theology is really natural, what is found wrong with it, to cause its exclusion from the city? While if so-called ‘civil’ theology is not natural, what merit has it to cause its admission? This is, we may suppose, the reason why Varro treated ‘human affairs’ before ‘divine affairs’ – in ‘divine affairs’ he was dealing not with something in nature but with purely human institutions.
Let us inspect this ‘civil theology’. ‘The third variety,’ says Varro, ‘is that which the citizens in the towns, and especially the priests, ought to know and put into practice. It contains information about the gods which should be worshipped officially and the rites and sacrifices which should be offered to each of them.’ We should pay special attention to the statement which follows. Varro says, ‘The first type of theology is particularly suited to the theatre; the second is particularly concerned with the world; the special relevance of the third is to the city.’ It is easy to see to which he gives the first prize. Obviously it is the second type, the theology, as he said earlier, of the philosophers. He claims that this is concerned with the world, and, in the opinion of the philosophers,23 the world is the most important of all existing things. As for the two other theologies, the first (that of the theatre) and the second (that of the city), does he separate them or associate them? For what belongs to a city is not necessarily connected with the world, although a city is in the world. It may happen that cults are practised in a city, and beliefs held, which are based on mistaken ideas which correspond to no reality in the world or outside it. But a theatre must of necessity be in a city; for only a city community establishes a theatre. And the sole object of a theatre is the presentation of stage shows. And stage shows can only be classed among ‘divine affairs’, which are treated with such subtlety in these books of Varro’s.
6. Criticism of Varro’s treatment of ‘mythical’ and ‘civil’ theology
Marcus Varro, you are the shrewdest of men, and, without a shadow of doubt, the most erudite. You are only a man, for all that; you are not God, and you have not been borne aloft by the Spirit of God into truth and liberty so that you could see things divine and bring news of them to men. You do indeed discern how important it is to separate divine matters from the follies and falsehoods of men. But you are afraid of falling foul of pernicious popular notions and traditional practices in state-established superstitions. You yourself feel, when you consider them in all their aspects, that they are utterly alien from the nature of the gods, even of those gods which the human mind, in its weakness, suspects to exist in the elements of this world; and the whole of your literature is loud in condemnation of them. And yet how does your native talent – which, for all its pre-eminence, is merely human – acquit itself at this point? What support do you derive, in this quandary, from your learning – which is also merely human, however manifold and immense? You desire to worship ‘natural’ gods; you are compelled to worship the ‘gods of the city’. You have found other gods, those of the fables, and you can be less reserved in loosing off your feelings about them. But, whether you like it or not, some of your shots land on the ‘civil’ gods as well. You say, to be sure, that the ‘fabulous’ gods are appropriate to the theatre, the ‘natural’ gods are relevant to the world, the ‘civil’ deities to the city. But, surely, the world is a divine work, while cities and theatres are works of men? And the gods who are laughed at in the theatres are the same as those adored in the temples, and the deities to whom you offer sacrifices are identical with those for whom you put on games. You would have shown much more candour and percipience in your division if you had distinguished between ‘natural gods’ on one side and ‘gods of human institution’ on the other, observing that the writings of poets on the latter display a different attitude from the teaching of the priests, but that poetry and priestcraft are allied in a fellowship of deception, and so are equally acceptable to the demons, whose enemy is the teaching of truth.
Leaving on one side, for later discussion, the so-called ‘natural theology’, we may ask whether we are really prepared to ask or hope for eternal life from the gods of poetry and the theatre, the gods of the games and the plays? A thousand times, no! The God of truth forbids that we should entertain such monstrous, blasphemous insanity. What! Are we to seek eternal life from gods who are pleased and appeased by shows at which scandalous stories about them are enacted for all to see? No one, I conceive, has reached this degree of insanity, this bottomless pit of blasphemous delirium. It is agreed, then, that no one attains to everlasting life by means either of ‘fabulous’ or ‘civil’ theology. The former sows a crop of shame by inventing foul stories about the gods; the latter by supporting them, reaps the harvest. The one scatters lies: the other collects them. The one slanders ‘divine matters’ with false reports: the other includes among ‘divine matters’ the shows in which the slanders are presented. The one chants in verse the unspeakable fictions of human imagination about the gods; the other consecrates those fictions in the festivals of the gods. The one sings the crimes and shames of the deities; the other views them with complacence. The one reveals, or else invents them; the other either attests them as true, or enjoys them, even if false. Both ‘theologies’ are disgusting, both deserve condemnation. The theology of the theatre proclaims the degradation of the people; the theology of the city makes that degradation into an amenity. Can eternal life be looked for from a source of corruption to this short life of time? Or are we to suppose that while association with evil men corrupts our life, if they insinuate themselves into our affections and secure our approval, the society of demons has no such effect, although those outrageous tales form part of their cult? If the tales are true, how degraded are the gods! If false, how degraded the worship!
In saying this we may give the impression to one who had but scant acquaintance with the subject, that it is only in the songs of the poets and in performances on the stage that these fables, so insulting to the divine majesty, so ludicrous and detestable, are presented to the public in honour of gods of this kind, while the sacred rites, which are conducted by priests, not by actors, are pure from any disgrace and unconnected with any such pollution. If this were true, no one would ever decide that obscenities should be presented on the stage in honour of the gods, and the gods themselves would never have ordered such exhibitions for themselves. In fact, it is just because this kind of thing goes on in the temples that there is no shame about putting on similar performances in the theatre.
It comes to this; that our authority, in attempting to distinguish ‘civil theology’ as a third category separate from ‘fabulous’ and ‘natural’ theology, really meant it to be regarded as a mixture of the two others, rather than distinct from them. For he distinctly states that what the poets write is inadequate to serve as a model for the people to follow, while the writings of philosophers are too demanding for the common folk to find profit from their study. ‘These two theologies,’ says Varro, ‘are incompatible; and yet quite a number of ingredients have been taken from them to help to form the principles of “civil” theology. For that reason, where elements in “civil theology” coincide with elements in the other categories, we shall enter them under “civil theology”. But we ought to cultivate the society of the philosophers more than that of the poets.’ This implies that we should not utterly shun the society of the poets. Besides, in another passage, dealing with the ‘generation of the gods’, he says that people in general are more inclined to believe the poets than the ‘naturalists’.24 In the former passage he is talking about what ought to happen, in the second about what actually does happen. He says that the ‘naturalists’ have written with a view to edification; the poets to give pleasure. Thus the poets have written about the scandalous conduct of the gods, which gives pleasure to the general public – and to the gods; but they do not offer models for the people to imitate. As he says, poets write to give pleasure, not for edification. All the same, they write the kind of things the gods ask for and that the people present to them.
7. The similarity and agreement of ‘mythical’ and ‘civil’ theology
The truth is, then, that ‘fabulous’ theology – the theology of theatre and stage, with all its abundant degradation and obscenity, is brought into ‘civil’ theology. And all that theology which is rightly judged worthy of condemnation and rejection, is part of the theology which it is considered right to foster and put into practice. Clearly it is not a discrepant part, as I have undertaken to prove; not a part alien from the whole of the rest of the body, tacked on to it as an incongruous pendant; it is completely consonant with it, and is joined to it with perfect compatibility, like a component part of the same organism.
This is made plain by those images which show the shape, the age, the sex, and the clothing of the gods. The poets have their ‘bearded Jupiter’ and ‘beardless Mercury’; so do the pontiffs. It is not only the mimes who give Priapus an enormous phallus; the priests do the same. He stands there in his sacred places to claim men’s adoration in just the same guise as when he comes on the stage to provoke laughter. The old man Saturn and Apollo the stripling are not merely actors’ parts; they are also statues in temples. Why is it that Forculus, who is in charge of doors (fores), and Limentinus, who looks after the threshold (limen), are masculine; while Cardea,25 who comes between them – she watches over the hinge (cardo) – is feminine? Do we not find details, in the books on ‘divine matters’, which the serious poets judged unworthy of their verses? Is it true that only on the stage does Diana carry arms, while in the city she is shown simply as a maiden? Is it true that Apollo is a lute-player only in the theatre, while at Delphi he has no connection with that accomplishment?
But these details are quite respectable compared with the disgusting character of some of the others. What conception of Jupiter was in the minds of those who placed his nurse26 in the Capitol? Have they not given support to the theory of Euhemerus,27 who, writing as a careful researcher, not as a purveyor of legendary chatter, maintained that all those gods were originally men, mere mortals? And what of those banqueting gods, Jupiter’s parasites?28 Surely those who set them round Jupiter’s table intended to turn the ceremonies into scenes of farce! For if a mime had talked of Jupiter’s parasites, admitted to his banquet, he would be taken to be asking for a laugh. It was, in fact, Varro who spoke of them. And he was not meaning to make fun of the gods, but to win them respect; this is witnessed by the fact that he wrote this in his books on ‘divine affairs’ not in those on ‘human affairs’; not in the place where he describes the theatrical shows, but where he reveals the solemnities of the Capitol. In the end the evidence constrains him to admit that the Romans, having made gods in human form, believed them to take delight in human sensual pleasures.
The fact is that the malignant spirits did not fail in their proper task, which was to confirm these pernicious opinions by deluding men’s minds. Hence such stories as the one about a guardian of the temple of Hercules, who had a day off with nothing to do and played dice by himself. He threw first with one hand for Hercules, then with the other for himself: the rule of the game being that if he won he would get himself a dinner at the temple’s expense and pay for a mistress, while, if the game went to Hercules, he should supply the god with the same pleasures at his own expense. Then, being beaten by himself, representing Hercules, he provided for the god the dinner he owed him and the well-known courtesan Larentina. She went to sleep in the temple and had a dream in which Hercules lay with her, and told her that the first young man she met on leaving the temple would pay her a fee which she was to take as being her payment from Hercules. Now the first young man she met on her departure was the extremely wealthy Tarutius. He fell in love with her, and kept her as his mistress for many years; then he died, and left her as his heiress. Thus she came into a very handsome fortune and, not wishing to seem ungrateful for the divine payment, she did what she supposed would be most acceptable to the divine powers, in making the Roman people her heir. She disappeared, but her will was found; and for this benefit, so the story goes, she was accorded divine honours.29
If the poets had invented this story, and if the mimes had acted it on the stage, it would, without any doubt, have been assigned to ‘fabulous’ theology, and the decision would have been that it should be separated from the respectable category of ‘civil’ theology. But such disgraceful stories are presented by so learned an authority as belonging not to the poets, but to the people; not to the mimes, but to the rites of religion; not to theatres, but to temples; in fact, not to ‘fabulous’ but to ‘civil’ theology. And that is why it is not idle for the actors to use their arts to represent the complete degradation of the gods; but it is utterly idle for the priests to try, by their supposed sacred rites, to invest the gods with an honour to which they have no claim whatsoever.
There are rites of Juno, celebrated in her favourite island of Samos,30 in which she is given in marriage to Jupiter. There are rites of Ceres, in which she searches for Proserpina, carried off by Pluto. Venus has her rites, in which she mourns the death of her beloved Adonis, a lovely youth, killed by the tusk of a boar. The Mother of the Gods31 has her rites, in which the beautiful youth Attis, whom she loved and castrated in feminine jealousy, is lamented by those called Galli, who themselves suffer the same misfortune.32 Such performances are more disgusting than any obscenity on the stage. What then is the point of ostensibly taking pains to separate the fabulous fictions of the poets about the gods, which belong to the theatre, from ‘civil’ theology, which is, in theory, appropriate for the city, this being represented as a separation of what is honourable and decent from what is disgusting and dishonourable? In fact, we ought here to be grateful to the actors, who have had consideration for men’s eyes, and have not unveiled in their shows everything that is concealed within the walls of sacred temples.
How can we think any good of the rites which are shrouded in darkness, when such abominations are produced in the light of day? Certainly, the practices performed in secret by those castrated perverts is their affair. But it has not been possible to keep out of sight those unfortunates, so foully unmanned and corrupted. The pagans should try to convince anyone that they perform any holy action through the ministry of such men, for they cannot deny that such men have an appointed role and activity among their ceremonies. We do not know the nature of the performances: we do know the nature of the ministers. In contrast, we do know what happens on the stage; we know that no eunuch or pervert finds a place there, even in a chorus of harlots. Yet the actors are regarded as degraded and outside the pale; and it would be wrong for respectable citizens to act such parts. Then what kind of sacred rites are these, seeing that holiness chooses as ministers the kind of men whom the stage, for all its obscenity, has refused to admit!
8. The naturalistic explanations of the gods suggested by pagan scholars
‘But all these phenomena’, we are told, ‘have what one may call “physiological” explanations, explanations, that is, in terms of natural science.’ This is to assume that it is ‘physiology’ we are looking for in this discussion and not theology, that is, the science of nature, not the science of God. Doubtless, the true God is God by nature, not in idea, but that does not mean that all nature is God; for there is a nature of man, of beast, of tree, of stone; and God is none of these. However, if the main point in this line of interpretation, when applied to the rites of the Mother of Gods, is that she is certainly the earth, do we need to look further and to examine other explanations? There could be no clearer support for the theory which alleges that all those gods were once mere men. They are ‘sons of earth’, and so earth is their mother. But according to the true theology, the earth is the work of God, not his mother.
Besides, in whatever way the rites of the Mother of Gods may be interpreted in reference to the facts of nature, it remains true that for men to be treated as women is not in accordance with nature; it is contrary to nature. This disease, this scandal, this disgrace, is openly professed in these religious ceremonies; whereas it is reluctantly confessed, under torture, by men of corrupted morals. Then again, if those rites, which are proved to be more disgusting than the obscenities of the theatre, are excused and made pure by the interpretation which makes them symbolical of natural phenomena, why then does not the same excuse and purification affect the fictions of poets? Many interpreters have in fact explained them in the same way. Even the myth of Saturn devouring his children, regarded as the most brutal and shocking of all legends, is interpreted by a number of exegetes in this way; the name Saturn signifies the long passage of time,33 which consumes all that it brings into existence; or, according to Varro’s notion, Saturn refers to the seeds which issue from the ground and then fall back to the ground again. There are other similar interpretations of this legend, and of the other myths.
But still there is talk of ‘fabulous’ theology; it is criticized, rejected, and scorned with all its interpretations of this kind; and it is distinguished, as rightly to be repudiated, not merely from the ‘natural’ theology of the philosophers, but also from the ‘civil’ theology, which we are now discussing; and it is rejected, on the ground that it has invented unworthy stories about the gods. The intention underlying this distinction is obvious. The men of acute intelligence and profound erudition who have written treatises on this subject realized that both ‘fabulous’ and ‘civil’ theology merit reprobation. Now they had the courage to find fault with the former, but not with the latter. They exposed the one for criticism; they put up the other, so like it, for comparison. It was not that they wanted ‘civil’ theology to be chosen in preference to the other; they hoped that it would be realized that both ought equally to be cast aside. Thus, they thought, the contempt of both these theologies would give an opening for ‘natural’ theology to establish itself in superior minds, and that without any risk to those who were afraid to criticize ‘civil’ theology. For both ‘civil’ and ‘fabulous’ theologies are alike fabulous and civil. Anyone who intelligently examines the futile obscenities of both will conclude that both are fabulous; anyone who observes that stage shows closely related to ‘fabulous’ theology are included in the festivals of the gods of the city and in the civic religious cult, will recognize that both theologies are, in fact, civil.
How is it, then, that the power of giving eternal life is ascribed to any of those gods, when their images and their ceremonies show quite unmistakably that they are precisely the same as those openly rejected ‘fabulous’ divinities in respect of their physical form, their age, sex, clothing, their marriages, their children and their rites? All this makes it clear that they were originally human beings in whose honour rites and ceremonies were established in response to some special circumstance in their life or death and that this error has crept in with the encouragement of the demons who insinuated it, or at least through the activity of an unclean spirit, seizing, any chance to delude the minds of men.
9. The functions of individual gods
Then what about those functions assigned to the gods, portioned out in minute penny packets, with instructions that each of those divinities should be supplicated for his special responsibility? I have said a good deal about this already, though not all that could be said. But is it not all more appropriate to the buffoonery of farce than to the divine dignity? If anyone engaged two nurses for a child, one to give him solid food only, the other to give him nothing but drink, we should think him a clown, putting on a kind of farcical performance in his own home. But the Romans employ two divinities for these purposes, Educa and Potina!34 They want to derive the name Liber from liberamentum (deliverance),35 on the ground that through his assistance males are ‘delivered’ from semen in coition – and they will have it that Libera (whom they identify with Venus) renders the same service to women, because their story is that she ensures the emission. For this reason they prescribe the offering of the male part of the body to Liber, in his temple, and of the female to Libera. Besides this they have women, as well as wine, assigned to Liber, with a view to provoking sexual desire, and in this way the Bacchanalia were celebrated with all their limitless insanity; Varro himself admits that the Bacchants could not have performed their feats if their minds had not been deranged. However, these rites later incurred the displeasure of the senate when it came to its senses and ordered their abolition.36 It may be that here at any rate the Romans realized what power those unclean spirits, whom they took for gods, could exercise over men’s minds. One thing is certain; such performances would never have taken place in the theatre; they had entertainment there, not raving madness. And yet to have gods who delight in such entertainments is a similar kind of lunacy.
Varro certainly lays down the distinction between a religious and a superstitious man. The superstitious, he says, is afraid of the gods. The religious man respects them as he respects his parents; he does not fear them as enemies, and when he calls them good, he means that they are more ready to spare the guilty than to harm one innocent person. And yet Varro records that three divinities are brought in as guards for a woman after childbirth to prevent Silvanus from entering and tormenting her; and, to symbolize the three guards, three men make the rounds of the doorways of the house at night. They strike the threshold first with an axe, then with a pestle, and afterwards they sweep it with besoms, these emblems of agriculture being used to prevent the entrance of Silvanus. They are agricultural emblems because axes are necessary for the polling or lopping of trees, pestles for the making of flour, besoms for the piling up of corn. The three gods get their names from those activities: Intercidona from the incision (intercisio) made by the axe, Pilumnus from pilum (pestle), Deverra from the besoms used in sweeping (deverrere). By these guardian deities the woman is protected after childbirth from the violence of the god Silvanus.37 Thus good gods could not offer strong enough protection against the savagery of a harmful deity unless they outnumbered him by three to one and opposed this rough, terrible, and uncouth god (he was, remember, the god of the forest) with the symbols of agriculture, as being contrary to him. Does this show the harmlessness of the gods? And their concord? Are those the protecting deities of cities – more laughable than the comic turns of the theatre?
The god Jugatinus38 is brought in when a man and a woman are united in the ‘yoke’ (iugum) of marriage. So far, so good. But the bride has to be escorted home. The god Domiducus is employed to ‘lead her home’ (domum ducere). To install her in the house, the god Domitius sees to her ‘going home’ (domum ire). The goddess Mantuma is called in as well, to see that she will ‘remain’ (manere) with her husband.39 What else is needed? Should we not show consideration for human modesty, and let the sexual desire of flesh and blood achieve the rest, without violation of the secrets of modesty? Why fill the bridal chamber with a mob of divinities, when even the bridal escort retires? And what is the purpose of so crowding it? That the thought of the presence of the gods should make the couple more concerned to preserve decency? Not at all. It is to ensure that with their cooperation, there shall be no difficulty in ravishing the virginity of a girl who feels the weakness of her sex and is terrified by the strangeness of her situation. For here are the goddess Virginensis, and Father Subigus (to subdue – subigere) and Mother Prema (to press – premere) and the goddess Pertunda (to pierce – pertundere) as well as Venus and Priapus.40 What does all this mean? If the husband finds the job altogether too much for him and needs divine assistance, would not one god, or one goddess be enough? Do you mean to tell me that Venus alone would not be adequate? She is, they say, so called (among other reasons) because ‘not without violence’ (vi non sine) can a woman be robbed of her virginity! If there is any modesty in human beings (there seems to be none in the gods!), I feel sure that the belief in the presence of so many divinities of both sexes to urge on the business in hand would so embarrass the couple as to quench the enthusiasm of the one and stiffen the reluctance of the other! And then, if Virginensis is among those present, to see to the untying of the virgin girdle, and Subigus, to see that the bride is subdued to her husband, and Prema, to make sure that, when subdued, she is pressed tight, to prevent her moving – if they are there, what is the function of the goddess Pertunda? She should blush for shame and take herself off! Let the bridgegroom have something to do for himself! It would be most improper for anyone but the husband to do what her name implies. But it may be that she is tolerated just because she is a goddess, not a god. If she were supposed to be masculine, with the name Pertundus, the husband would demand greater protection against him, in defence of his wife’s honour, than the newly-delivered mother seeks, in order to ward off Silvanus. But what am I talking about? Priapus is there as well, that all-too-male divinity. And the newly wedded bride used to be told to sit on his phallus, that monstrous obscenity, following the most honourable and most religious custom of Roman matrons.
So let our friends go and try (and good luck to them!) to use all their subtlety to make a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘fabulous’ theology, between the city and the theatre, the temple and the stage, priestly ceremonies and poets’ verses – a supposed distinction between decency and obscenity, truth and falsehood, solemnity and frivolity, the serious and the farcical, between what is to be desired and what is to be rejected. We understand what they are up to. They know that the theology of the theatre and of fable depends on their ‘civil’ theology, which is reflected in the verses of the poets as in a mirror. They have not the courage to condemn ‘civil’ theology, but they give a detailed exposition of it, and then criticize its reflection in terms of reprobation. The purpose of this is that those who perceive their intention may repudiate the original also, of which this is the image. As for the gods, they look at themselves in the same mirror, and are so enamoured of what they see, that they can be more clearly recognized, in both image and original, for who they are and what they are.
This is why the gods have compelled their worshippers, by commandments backed by fearful threats, to dedicate to them the indecencies of ‘fabulous’ theology, to include them in their festivals, to class them under ‘divine matters’. In so doing they have made it all the more obvious that they themselves are unclean spirits; and at the same time, they have made this rejected and condemned theology, that of the theatre, a component part of ‘civil’ theology, which is regarded as chosen and approved. The whole of this ‘theology’ is a mass of lies and delusions; yet we find part of it in the priestly books, the other part in the verses of poets.
Whether one could discover still more divisions is another question. For the present I have followed the distinctions made by Varro, and I believe that I have sufficiently shown that both the theology of the city and the theology of the theatre belong to one division, namely, ‘civil’ theology. Hence, since they are both alike in their indecency, their absurdity, their unworthiness, their falsity, heaven forbid that any man of genuine religion should hope for life eternal from either of them.
Varro himself begins his enumeration of the gods with the moment of a man’s conception and starts with Janus. Then he traces the sequence up to the moment of the death of a decrepit old man, and brings to an end the list of gods concerned with man himself with the goddess Nenia,41 who is invoked in song at the funerals of the aged. He then passes to a record of the gods who are concerned, not with man himself, but with the necessities of man’s life, food, clothing, and the rest. And in every case he indicates the function of each god and the purpose for which prayer should be directed to each. Yet in the whole of this careful examination he never mentions or names any gods from whom eternal life is to be asked; and it is, strictly speaking, for the sake of eternal life alone that we are Christians.
Who is so slow-witted as to fail to realize that in expounding and exposing ‘civil’ theology with such care, in showing its resemblance to the shameful and infamous ‘fabulous’ theology, and in demonstrating quite clearly that it is part of the former – that, in this Varro is really making every effort to prepare a place in men’s minds for ‘natural’ theology, which, according to him, is the concern of the philosophers? He employs great subtlety in criticizing ‘fabulous’ theology, without daring to criticize ‘civil’, but demonstrating the reprehensible character of the latter by his manner of exposition. Thus, in his intention, both those theologies will be condemned by the judgement of intelligent readers, and only ‘natural’ theology will remain for them to adopt. We shall treat of this theology more thoroughly in the appropriate place, with the help of God.
10. Seneca’s frankness in criticizing ‘civil’ theology more vigorously than Varro denounced the ‘mythical’
Varro lacked the frankness and courage to criticize the theology of the city with the same freedom he showed towards the theology of the theatre, which resembled it so closely. Annaeus Seneca had those qualities in some degree, if not in full measure. That is he had them in his writing; but he failed to display them in his life.
Seneca (who I suppose, on good evidence, to have been at the height of his fame in the time of our apostles)42 wrote a book Against Superstitions.43 In it he attacked this ‘civil’ theology, the theology of the city, in much greater detail, and with much greater vehemence than Varro had used against the ‘fabulous’ theology of the theatre. Thus, on the subject of images, he writes,
They dedicate images representing sacred, immortal, inviolable beings in base, inert matter; they give them the shapes of men, of wild beasts, or of fishes; some make bi-sexual gods, having bodies with incongruous characteristics. And they give the name of divinities to those images, though they would be classed as monsters if they suddenly came to life.
Somewhat later, he speaks in praise of ‘natural’ theology, and sets out the opinions of some of the philosophers. He then confronts himself with a question. ‘At this point,’ he says, ‘someone asks, “Am I to believe that the sky and the earth are gods? And that some gods live above the moon and some below? Am I to bear patiently with Plato, who proposed a god without a body; or Strato,44 the Peripatetic, who suggested a god without a soul?”’ Seneca then replies, ‘Do you really suppose that the dreams of Titus Tatius, or Romulus, or Tullus Hostilius, were nearer to the truth? Tatius dedicated a statue to the goddess Cloacina;45 Romulus to Picus and Tiberinus. Hostillius made divinities of Panic and Pallor,46 the most unpleasant conditions of human beings; the one being the emotion of a terrified mind, the other not even a disease, but merely a change of complexion. Are you more inclined to believe in these deities, and to give them a place in heaven?’
Seneca was quite outspoken about the cruel obscenity of some of the ceremonies:
One man cuts off his male organs: another gashes his arms. If this is the way they earn the favour of the gods, what happens when they fear their anger? The gods do not deserve any kind of worship, if this is the worship they desire. So extreme is the frenzy of a mind disturbed and toppled from its throne, that the gods are appeased by rites which surpass the savagery of the foulest of mankind, whose cruelty has passed into legend. Tyrants have sometimes lacerated men’s limbs: they have never ordered men to lacerate themselves. Men have been gelded to serve a monarch’s lustful pleasure; but no one has ever unmanned himself with his own hands, at the bidding of his master. Men gash themselves in the temples, and offer their wounds and their blood as a supplication. If anyone had the time to notice what those people do and what they have done to them, he would discover things so unbecoming for men of honour, so unworthy of freemen, so incongruous for men of sane mind, that no one would hesitate to call them mad, if there were not so many sharing the same frenzy. As it is, their title to sanity rests on the multitude of the apparently insane.
He goes on to recount the ceremonies habitually observed in the Capitol itself, and he exposes them without the slightest reserve. No one would believe, he implies, that those were performed by any but lunatics – unless it were in a spirit of mockery. He himself speaks in derision of the mourning for Osiris47 in the Egyptian mysteries, followed soon by the joy at his finding, since both the loss and the discovery are fictitious, and yet the grief, and the joy, are expressed with every appearance of genuine emotion by people who have neither lost nor found anything. Seneca adds,
But at least this delirium has a limited period; it is allowable to go mad once a year. If you go to the Capitol, you will be ashamed at the demented performances presented to the public, which frivolous lunacy looks upon in the light of a duty. Jupiter has someone to announce the names of his callers; another to tell him the time; he has an attendant to wash him, another to oil him, and this one merely goes through the motions with his hands. There are women to do the hair of Juno and Minerva; these stand at a distance not only from the statues, but from the temple, and move their fingers like hairdressers, while others hold up a looking-glass. You find people praying the gods to stand bail for them; others handing them their writs and explaining their law cases. A leading pantomime actor of great experience, grown old and decrepit, used to put on his act every day on the Capitol, as if the gods still took pleasure in his performance now that human beings had abandoned him. Craftsmen of all kinds hang about the place waiting to do some work for the immortal gods.
Soon afterwards, Seneca adds,
At least the services they offer are not indecent or dishonourable, though they may be superfluous. But there are some women who haunt the Capitol in the belief that Jupiter is in love with them: and they are not deterred by the thought of Juno’s jealous anger, which (if one is to believe the poets) can be formidable!
Here we have a freedom of speech such as Varro did not display. He could only bring himself to criticize poetic theology; he did not dare find fault with ‘civil’, which Seneca cut to pieces. Yet, if we really want the truth, the temples where those rites go on are worse than the theatres where those fictions are enacted. Hence, in the rites of ‘civil’ theology the role chosen by Seneca for the wise man is to simulate conformity in act while having no religious attachment. This is what he says: ‘The wise man will observe all these customs as being ordered by law, not as acceptable to the gods.’ And, a little later,
And what of the marriages we arrange among the gods, including the blasphemy of unions between brothers and sisters? We give Bellona to Mars, Venus to Vulcan, Salacia48 to Neptune. We leave some of the gods as bachelors, for lack, one assumes, of suitable matches. There are, to be sure, some unattached females available, such as Populonia, Fulgora,49 and Rumina;50 but it is not surprising that no suitors were forthcoming for them. All that undistinguished mob of gods which long-standing superstition has amassed over the centuries, will receive our worship; but we shall bear in mind that their cult is a matter of custom, having little connection with truth.
Thus, what the laws and custom established in ‘civil’ theology is not what was acceptable to the gods, nor anything related to reality. But Seneca, who had been, as it were, emancipated by the philosophers, but who was also an illustrious senator of the Roman people, worshipped what he criticized, performed acts which he reprehended, venerated what he condemned. Doubtless philosophy had taught him an important lesson, that he should not be superstitious in his conception of the physical universe; but, because of the laws of the country and the accepted customs, he also learnt that without playing an actor’s part in theatrical fictions, he should imitate such a performance in the temple. This was to take a line the more reprehensible in that he acted this insincere part in such a way as to lead people to believe him sincere. The stage-player on the other hand, only aims at giving pleasure by his performance; he has no desire to mislead or deceive his audience.
11. Seneca’s opinion of the Jews
Besides criticizing the superstitions of ‘civil’ theology, Seneca attacks the rites of the Jews, and the Sabbath in particular. He maintains that the Sabbath is a harmful institution, since by the interposition of this one day in seven they practically lose a seventh part of their life in inactivity, and they suffer by having to put off urgent tasks. As for the Christians, who were at that time already bitterly opposed to the Jews, he did not dare to mention them for good or ill – not wishing to praise them in defiance of the ancient traditions of his country, nor to criticize them against (it may be) his personal feelings. It is in speaking of the Jews that he says: ‘The customs of this detestable race have become so prevalent that they have been adopted in almost all the world. The vanquished have imposed their laws on the conquerors.’ He expresses his surprise when he says this, and he shows his ignorance of the ways of God’s working in adding a remark in which he reveals what he thought about the Jewish ritual system: ‘At least they know the origins of their ceremonies: the greater part of our people have no idea of the reason for the things they do.’
The questions that arise about the Jewish religious practices, why, and to what extent, they have been established by divine authority, and afterwards taken over, with divine approval, by the people of God, to whom the mystery of eternal life has been revealed – these questions I have treated in other places, and in particular in my books against the Manicheans.51 And I shall have more to say on this topic at a more convenient moment in this present work.
12. The falsity of the pagan gods has been exposed; they can give no help in respect of temporal life; they certainly cannot bestow life eternal
Here then are three theologies: the Greeks call them ‘mythical’, ‘physical’, and ‘political’, and in Latin they can be called ‘fabulous’, ‘natural’, and ‘civil’. Men can look to neither the first nor the third of these for eternal life: not to ‘fabulous’ theology, which the pagans themselves criticize with extreme candour, although they are worshippers of many false gods, nor to ‘civil’ theology, for that has been proved to be a subdivision of the ‘fabulous’, closely resembling it, or even morally inferior to it. If what I have said in this book is not enough to convince every reader, I would refer to the ample discussions in the previous volumes, and especially in the fourth, on God as the giver of felicity. For to whom should men consecrate themselves, with a view to eternal life, save to felicity alone, if felicity were a goddess?52 But felicity is not a goddess, but the gift of God. To what God then should we consecrate ourselves except to the giver of felicity, if we fix our devout affection on eternal life, where there is the true fulfilment of felicity?
After what has been already said, I do not imagine that anyone is likely to suppose that any of the pagan gods is the giver of felicity. Their worship has so much that is disgraceful in it, and even more disgraceful is their indignation if such worship is withheld; it is that which betrays them for the unclean spirits they are. Then how can one who does not give felicity be capable of giving eternal life? For what we mean by eternal life is the condition of unending felicity. If the soul lives in the eternal pains with which the unclean spirits themselves will be tormented, that is not eternal life, but eternal death. The greatest and worst of all deaths is where death does not the. Now since the soul, being created immortal, cannot be deprived of every kind of life, the supreme death of the soul is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment. Therefore life eternal, that is, life of unending felicity, is the gift of him alone who gives true felicity. It has been proved that the gods worshipped by ‘civil’ theology cannot give it. They are not to be worshipped, even with a view to temporal and earthly goods; we have demonstrated that in the five preceding books. Much less are they to be honoured with a view to eternal life, the life after death: that is the point we have made in this present book, with the support of the arguments in the previous discussions.
But inveterate custom has the strength derived from very deep roots: and some readers may think that my arguments have not adequately established the need to reject and to shun this ‘civil’ theology. I would ask any such readers to give their attention to the next volume, which, with God’s help, is to follow.