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De Civitate Dei, Book VII

Preface

The previous book showed that it is impossible to achieve the happiness of eternal life by means of worshiping the Roman gods that have been established in the cities (‘civil’ theology fails). But this point must be established further.

 

Chapters 1-4: The Classification of the Gods

Varro distinguished between common and ‘select’/’principle’ gods, indicating 20 who fit in the latter category. But when we look at the responsibilities given to these ‘select’ gods, we see that they are responsible for tasks that are more lowly and less important than the tasks of lesser deities. For example, Janus (a principle deity) allows a woman to become pregnant, but Sentinus (a common deity) gives senses to the baby in the womb. Which is higher? Even the Roman gods say that sense is higher than life. And further, the principle gods often share menial responsibilities with common gods. We need not touch again on why Virtue or Felicity are not among the principle gods (see Book IV). The only conclusion we can reach is that the ‘principle’ gods are those who have won greater renown among the general republic. But then why would the god of money be below the god of art? Perhaps natural philosophers did have some influence here.

Whatever the reason for the classifications, being selected by the Romans leads more to insult than to honor. At least the common deities are sheltered from such insult by their very obscurity. While the ‘principle’ gods have descended to the tasks of the common ones, the common gods have not descended to the scandals which surround the ‘principle’ ones.

Varro’s conception of natural theology goes like this: there are four areas of the world (ether, air, water, land). Each area is filled with souls: ether contains planets and stars (seen by eye), air contains heroes (seen only by mind), water and land contain mortal souls (seen by eye). This system will become important in the next book when we deal further with natural philosophy.

 

Chapters 5-17: The Images of the Gods

Varro records that the images of the gods were invented by men of antiquity as a teaching tool for the unlearned. But Varro never arrived at the truth God, because God is not the soul of all things but the One who created the soul. Because Varro declares that the Soul of the World and its manifestations are true gods, the whole of his natural theology could extend only to the nature of the rational soul and never rise above this world.

Varro says that Janus is the world and that he has to do with the beginning of things. But Terminus is brought-in to deal with the end of the world. How can this be? Why must power be wrested from Janus? And the end of a course of events is always what relieves one of anxiety, so Terminus would then be worthy of more honor than Janus (though only the latter is a ‘principle’ god).

The image of Janus as having two faces or four makes no sense. They claim this represents the world in some way, but there is no significant way that the human mouth and throat (on which the image of Janus is based) resembles the world. One also wonders the relation between Janus and Jupiter who is said to have control over all causes which effect all that happens in the world? Varro explains that Janus has the beginning, Jupiter the efficient causes, and Terminus the end. But a cause precedes the beginning also to bring it about. If this would be Jupiter, then He is God. But his own actions do not show purity of cause, and so this cannot be right. Further, if Janus is in the world, where is Jupiter? Why are they both said to be the world. The further we try to understand the different gods and how they relate, the more confused we become. Augustine spends time on the names for Jupiter (Ruminus, Pecunia, etc).

And what are we to associate with the gods of Mercury or Mars? Speech and war? But then Mars would be out of work if Felicity could actually accomplish peace. Others want to associate all the gods with stars – and so we are left with the odd contradiction of having Jupiter fill everything and yet being a single star in the sky. Apollo is said to be a healer and prophet but is associated with the sun. The ‘select’ gods in fact the world, some are parts and some the whole.

 

Chapters 18-26: The Gods are Concerned only with Worldly Things

A more plausible explanation for the gods is that they were humans who received adulation from men who wished to have them as gods. Saturn was associated with agriculture and seed.  Possibly he was a king who had to plow to survive?! Similarly, Varro interprets the ceremonies of Ceres of Eleusis as dealing with agriculture, but for the Greeks they involved issues related to eternity. Liber also is relegated to the earth in his vulgar activity. Venilia, the goddess who draws the water to the short is complemented by Salacia who returns it to the open sea. But is it not the same water that goes back and forth – how can there be two goddesses here? These are certainly not gods, for they do not follow the rules of philosophy but ensnare people to the worship of humanly invented powers.

Varro explains that there are three degrees of the soul: that which gives life but not sentience to the body (the life that plants have), that which gives sensibility (our eyes, ears, nostrils, touch), that which is the mind (only man has this intelligence). Varro then equates this last degree of soul with God. To put it plainly, Varro sees the trees and stones as God’s fingernails and bones, the stars as God’s eyes, and the ether is God’s mind. There are certainly problems here, but Augustine wants to press Varro on issues of ‘civil’ philosophy. Varro affirms three gods, two of whom supposed fit within the other; and yet all three have their own temples. Tellus, the Great Mother, similarly had many gods within her.  But again, there is no promise here of eternal life, only multiplication of gods.

The Greeks explain in detail the mutilation of Attis, a story that Varro does not touch upon – and it’s a good thing – for the tale is of a god whose genitals are mutilated. Varro was, for good reason, embarrassed by the vulgarity of the story. Varro was similarly silent regarding the eunuchs consecrated to the Great Mother. It was believed that the Great Mother, the most degrading of all the gods and goddesses, imputed virility to the Romans by means of the eunuchs in her temple. Again, we ask, is it to these gods that eternal life is to be found? What Augustine is looking for is a true religion that does not worship the world as god but praises the world as the work of God.

 

Chapter 27-35: The Gods Exposed

When a person worships a creature, he commits a double sin: worshiping a creature and not using that creature in the worship of God. Christians worship God Himself, the one who made all souls and the entire world. God regulates and controls all those things that the Romans have assigned to different gods. Instead of directing attention to the gods, we should give thanks to the one God. He blesses us with all good things. And furthermore, when we were overloaded with sins, God sent His Son to die and forgive our sins. Even the rituals and rites of the Old Testament were meant to reveal this eternal life offered in the Son.

It is the Christian religion which proves the demonic nature of the Roman gods. But even the senators of Rome themselves were once brought secret records indicating the true rationale behind the worship ceremonies of the gods, and they ordered the books to be burned. Either they revealed incredibly shameful reasons for the ceremonies or they revealed that the gods were merely humans. The embarrassing origin and rationale behind the ceremonies caused Varro to give a different kind of explanation of the worship of Rome, one more dependent upon natural theology.

Let us leave these gods behind, pay no attention to their superstitions, and honor the true God.

De Civitate Dei, Book VI

Preface

As promised at the end of the last Book, the argument now turns to refute those who claim that the gods provide rewards in the future life. The reader will remember from Book IV that there are many gods for different segments of life. But from which can eternal life be gained? None of the gods seem to possess time.

 

Chapters 1-9: Varro’s Account of the Gods and Philosophy in Rome

Even Varro, in his extensive work which he claims is ‘exhaustive’ in treatment in one place, fails to treat the eternality of the gods. Varro divided theology into mythical (poets), natural (philosophers), and civil (general public).[1] The first category trades in falsities, while the second deals with the nature of the gods. This latter category was not entirely saved from the filth of the first, but Varro does not mention this as a criticism. His main criticism of the philosophers is that they continue to divide due to controversy. Augustine’s biggest criticism is that these divisions are based on the institutions in Varro’s day (among poets, philosophers, and civic life); if he were investigating the true nature of these disciplines, there would be no third category – or rather, the second (natural philosophy) and third (civic philosophy) would converge entirely. For nothing should be admitted into the city unless it is in accordance with nature, and the findings of what is in nature should not be kept from the governance and functioning of the city. Truly, Varro more closely associates the first and third than he does the second and third. A better distinction for Varro would have been between ‘natural gods’ and ‘gods of human institution’. In the end, Varro creates ‘civic theology’ as a kind of mixture of these two.

The poets essentially introduced a love of the world under the guise of gods and goddesses. Even Varro admits that the gods, in human form, appear to enjoy sensual pleasures. And the foulest of pleasures encouraged in the sanctuary are not even allowed on the theatrical stage. What kind of holiness inhabits such temples? That which is hidden is, of course, not according to nature. It involves men being treated as women.[2]

True natural philosophy does not look to the science of nature but to the science of God. We make this distinction because the Mother of gods is not properly equated with the earth – for God, by nature, stands separate from his creation.

Varro distinguishes between a religious and superstitious man. The former respects the gods as his parents, while the latter is afraid of the gods as if his enemies. But the gods as described by poets and as worshiped by citizens of Rome do threaten humanity and instill superstition. And these threatening gods who crowd wedding chambers and other arenas of private life, instilling fear and increasing timidity, are the very gods of the poets (not those of the natural philosophers). And despite the detailed history Varro gives of these gods, nowhere do they offer the eternal life that Christ gives.

 

Chapter 10-11: Seneca’s Account of the Gods in Rome

Seneca was much more outspoken and critical against the theology of the city than was Varro. He spoke of the worship they demanded in order to be appeased (cutting off sexual organs, cutting, etc.). One wonders what would happen if the gods were angry! The servants of the gods are either engaged in perversity or in completely superfluous activities. Despite Seneca’s severe criticism of the theology of the poets, he took part in some civic displays in the theater. He did so insincerely, which is worse than the actors who at least have no intention to deceive. If Seneca could have consistently criticized the theology of the poets and the superstition evidenced in public rituals, others could have followed the lead he learned from the natural philosophers. Seneca similarly criticized the rituals of the Jews (like the Sabbath, which he saw as impractical and wasteful), though he did not comment about the Christians whom he undoubtedly was aware of and knew.

 

Chapter 12: Closing Appeal

The Greeks divided theology into mystical, physical, and political, and the Romans divided it into fabulous, natural, and civil. The first and last of these can obviously be rejected. Not only do these fail to provide a way to achieve happiness, but they do not offer a way to eternal life (which itself is a condition of happiness). In the next book will come a more thorough criticism of civil theology.

 

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My Footnotes:

[1] Of these three, it will become clear that Augustine prefers ‘natural philosophy’. This is investigating things according to the nature of things. What is so interesting here is that Augustine is operating outside our contemporary constraints which divide theology and philosophy. Jean-Luc Marion has given an interesting lecture in which he develops the rise of the supposed conflict between philosophy and theology: link.

[2] It is clear here that Augustine, like the biblical authors, denounces not only the idolatrous context of homosexual practice but the sinfulness of the practice itself. Book VI.6-8 are quite clear that Augustine finds homosexual practice a perversion of nature, whether conducted in temples, on the stage, in public, and in private. The practice is the problem, not simply the context.

De Civitate Dei, Book V

Chapters 1-11: God Controls History

The Roman empire’s history was not due to chance nor to destiny.

By ‘destiny’ some people mean the positions of the stars. Of those clinging to ‘destiny’ according to the stars, some say that it is entirely apart from God’s will and others say it is in step with it. The former can be disregarded, since their position implies dismissal of all prayer and worship. And the latter cannot explain things like twins and why their lives often diverge so greatly if they were born under the same configuration of the stars. Augustine cites various authorities on this issue (Hippocrates, Nigidius) and concludes by arguing that the differences in the lives of twins are properly attributed to their different characters, actions, and events in their lives – not to the differences in the stars under which they were born. For example, Esau and Jacob could not have been more different in character and many other things. And further, if the lives of twins were influenced by the unique setting of the constellations at the time of their birth, and if these times are slightly differently, how could it be cited as proof that the constellations were influencing their lives if those cases where twins fell ill and recovered at precisely the same time be cited as proof also? For then, wouldn’t they fall ill and recover at slightly different times? If one tries to locate the time of conception as the moment when twins have their destiny revealed in the stars, how can this be? Indeed conception of twins happens at the exact same time, but then how could there ever be a boy and girl as twins.

Others mean by ‘destiny’ the connected series of causes which is responsible for anything that transpires in life. Usually this is associated with God’s will, and so we could more properly speak of ‘destiny’ with the designation, ‘God’s will’. The philosophers referred to destiny under the name of Jupiter whom they supposed to be supreme. Cicero tries to refute these philosophers and goes too far, essentially saying that God does not have foreknowledge. He does so in order to save human free will. But Augustine has no problem saying that we lose our freedom in light of God’s prescience. Cicero thought that if there is such prescience in God, the order is predetermined which means the causes are as well (this is a Stoic account of ‘destiny’). This would then mean, Cicero concluded, that nothing depends upon us which then makes laws and reprimands meaningless. Thus Cicero denies foreknowledge, making men free but irreverent.

The religious mind, in contrast, affirms both foreknowledge and free will. We do so by claiming that God’s prescience does not necessarily imply a loss of human free will, since human wills can themselves are in the order of causes. There are three types of causes, none of which are detached from God’s will: fortuitous (those hidden in God or a spirit of some kind), natural (from nature), and voluntary (come from God or angels or men or animals [1]). According to this schema, only voluntary causes are efficient causes. Only God is cause and not effect, but other causes are both cause and effect. How then does the order of causes, which is fixed in God’s foreknowledge, take everything from the dependence of our will? To the contrary, our wills play an important part in that causal order.[2] God has fashioned the strength of our wills, and it is by his foreknowledge that its future achievements are assured.

Augustine turns to give definition to what he means by ‘necessity’. He does not see why it must mean ‘that which is not in our control’ in regards to our wills. After all, is it necessary (in this sense) that God is eternal – that is, apart from his will? No, this would be like saying that we are subject to the necessity that when we will, we will by free choice. So this definition of necessity is not quite right, because there are necessities that do not abolish freedom. Ultimately, if our will is not fulfilled, we can be certain that it is because of God. Thus, we uphold God’s prescience and our free will in faith and sincerity. In the last analysis, it is by God’s foreknowledge that we are, or shall be, free.[3] God created everything in its proper order.[2]

 

Chapters 12-19: Why God Prospered Rome

This leads to a very pertinent question in regards to the history of Rome, namely, for what reason did God help the Romans expand their empire?

Above all, Romans were devoted to glory and motivated by it in the age of expansion, though formerly they had been propelled by love of liberty. Romans were completely overtaken by an ambition for more human praise – the good were those who pursued it without vice while the bad pursued it with theft, dishonesty, etc. The point is that everyone pursued human praise. Their concept of merit was overtaken as well; they equated merit with honor. Honor is when a man judges another favorably. When we compare this with virtue, we realize that virtue is not content with the testimony of men but also requires the testimony of one’s own conscience (2 Corinthians 1:12; Galatians 6:4). Sallust said that the early Romans conquered armies much larger than themselves because of some special virtue that was later destroyed by the sloth brought-on by success. What he means is that there were Romans in the early years that pursued expansion for Rome within the bounds of virtue but that later it completely changed as their love of praise overcame their virtue. Though the early Romans did not know the help of the Holy Spirit in pursuing virtue, their desire for glory at least made them less depraved.

There is no doubt that it is more honorable to resist the passion for human praise than to yield to it. At the minimum, greed for praise should be overcome by the love of justice so that one would do right even if others do not praise him for it (John 5:44, 12:43). Nobody is entirely exempt from the passion for human honor, even the best are tempted by it. The apostles certainly gained incredible honor in the churches by ‘conquering’ the hard hearts.[4] But they turned that glory to God. In other words, they did not hide their works (Jesus commanded the opposite: Matthew 5:16) but displayed them in such a way that people would be converted, not to themselves, but to God. The martyrs also suffered for love of God, a stark contrast to those heroes of Rome who suffered for the sake of having a kind of life after death on the lips of those who praised them. Many of them exemplified immaculate conduct, but in such behavior they were laboring only for honors, power, and glory.[5] In light of this discussion, we can say that the purpose of Rome’s expansion was so that the citizens of the City of God might see what devotion the citizens of the earthly city have for their country and that God’s saints might learn to strive with a greater effort for the Eternal City.

In a sense, it does not matter what country one lives in during this mortal life in light of how short it is, provided that the country does not force them to commit wicked acts. Conquering by Rome essentially was of no importance for security, moral standards, or even human dignity of Romans or conquered nations (aside from the lower classes who were sometimes dispossessed). All that transpired was some warriors received the praise they so passionately sought, but smoke has no weight. God gives his citizens substantial glory. There are indeed parallels to the earthly city and the City of God, which is why God led Rome’s history forward. God’s saints are enticed into the kingdom through remission of sin, and similarly, Romulus offered impunity for crimes for any who would join him to found Rome. When we compare various aspects of how God runs his City in comparison with the earthly city, we are overwhelmed. The sufferings of the Romans, propelled by promises of small rewards, should encourage us to make sacrifices for God. Brutus sacrificed his son, and we are merely asked to not store-up money for our children but to give it to the poor. Augustine recounts the sacrificial service of Torquatus, Furius Camillus, Mucius, Curtius Decii, Marcus Pulvillus, Marcus Regulus, Lucius Valerius, Quintius Cincinnatus, and Fabricius, all of whom were motivated by the praise of men. Christians should feel a prick of shame if they cannot display similar heroic acts, seeing that the glory which is promised them is better than that for which these brave Romans sacrificed so dearly.

Augustine outlines three sources of motivation that have been discussed in the previous chapters of this book: 1) desire for what is good (aside from the applause of fellow men), 2) desire for applause (aside from what is good), and 3) desire for domination (aside from applause). The first and last can appear the same, but the former is fueled by a love for the good of others and only delights in praise when it is praise for what is truly beneficial to others in oneself. Thus, it is only by true piety that one can have true virtue. This has been made clear, but it needs further exploration.

 

Chapters 20-26: True Virtue in Christian Kings

The Stoics, who set virtue as the highest good for humanity, seek to induce a sense of shame in the Epicureans, who set physical pleasure as the greatest good. To mock the Epicureans, the Stoics represent Pleasure sitting on a throne with Virtue as her servant. But a similarly shameful picture could represent the Stoic account of virtue: Glory sits on a throne with Virtue as his servant. For some, this means that self-approval is on the throne and for others it means the approval of their fellow citizens.

It is God who brings nations into power and dispossesses nations. God does the same with various rulers. God also controls the durations of wars. God kept Radagaisus, king of the Goths, from claiming victory in his invasion of Rome ‘just the other day’ (p218). This king was not Christian and would have shown no respect for the churches or sacred sites of the martyrs. The sacrifices he performed to the gods were similar to those Rome once performed (before Christianity entered), but they were too weak against the Christian God. Victory was finally given to Alaric, an Arian Christian, since he would respect these symbols of God’s grace in Rome.

Kings are approved by God when they show mercy, uphold justice, show greater delight in denying their own lower desires than in subjecting more people, and continually offer to God a true sacrifice of prayer and humility and compassion. This is true happiness for a king. God did not want kings to think that they must sacrifice to demons to reign, so he appointed Constantine. But in order to show that God should not be sought for the sake of more power, God disposed several kings which followed him rather quickly. But Theodosius did find God’s help on numerous occasions. He also showed compassion and mercy to individuals who rebelled and to whole pagan armies who fled for refuge in a church. Though he was removed from power, Theodosius knew true happiness as a king.

All of this has shown that the gods do not reward worshipers with temporary goods. Some may think that the gods still reward with eternal goods, and so the next book will take-up this point.

 

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My Footnotes:

[1] This section (Book V.9) contains some material on the will. Here, the discussion is in the broadest possible frame (God’s will in relation to other wills as played-out in the course of history), but despite top-down movement of the discussion, Augustine does discuss in a short span the wills of lower beings. Augustine comes at these issues in Book XIV but from the bottom-up, so-to-speak. These sections are fruitfully read side-by-side to ensure neither the broad frame nor the details are lost or subsumed into the other.

[2] Here (Book V.9, 11) Augustine explicitly mentions the notion of ‘order’ which is the conceptual means through which he envisions created reality and aberrations of that reality.

[3] This is the famous Augustinian emphasis on the will as the ‘root’ of sin and the primary target of grace. A will healed by God wills the right things, and this is true freedom.

[4] Of course, this way of speaking is highly unpopular today in our overly sophisticated postcolonial minds. However, our snobbery may not be as well founded as Augustine’s passionate love for lost people. Academics are the worst at criticizing lay attempts to evangelize – it is as if they want all evangelism to stop until a perfectly pure form is conceptualized. That is why it is so refreshing to see that in this work Augustine’s arguments continually go back to a passionate plea for conversion to Jesus Christ. Where is this in our modern theologies? I so appreciate the work of John Bowen in this regard, especially his stated attempt to bring scholarship back to evangelism and evangelism back to scholarship. The marriage of these two is indeed what we see in this work by Augustine.

[5] Moral theologians discuss at length different ways of thinking about ‘pagan virtues’ (to put the subject matter crudely). The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 91, for example, sets-out to carefully define what are good works and does so in a way that requires not only outward obedience but, more fundamentally, inward renewal by the Holy Spirit. As I noted in my footnotes on Book I, there are debates about how far Augustine thought pagans could conform in an external way to the standards of virtue.

De Civitate Dei, Book IV

Chapters 1-7: Kingdom Expansion and the Gods

On what grounds do our opponents say that the gods expanded the Roman territory?

Before answering this important question, it must be asked if it is reasonable to want to expand that which contributed more to people’s fears than to their happiness? To answer this question, imagine two men, one rich and another in a middle station. The rich man is beset by worries and anxieties, though his wealth expands. The other man is loved by friends and enjoys peace and temperance in all things. Nobody would be foolish enough to say the first man is happier than the second. And it is the same canon of judgment which is applied to a family, a city, or a nation.

If you remove justice, nations are simply criminal gangs on a large scale. [1] The only difference between pirate and an emperor is the size of the navy. What may be disconcerting to Romans is to recall that Romulus gathered criminals around him and promised that they would not be punished for their crimes. So what makes Rome more of a nation than the gladiators (Spartacus, Oenomaus, and Crixus) who broke-free from the training school and gathered around themselves a whole army which wreaked havoc throughout the Roman countryside? It appears that the gods helped them.

Some ascribe to the Assyrian empire a length of 1,240 years. Their conquering technique involved inhabiting a city and using its resources to go conquer and inhabit the next. What is this but brigandage on a grand scale? And there is no claim from the Romans that the Assyrians accomplished this all by the help of the gods. But, then, why claim it was necessary for the Romans who were a smaller kingdom and of a smaller lifespan? And if the Assyrians had attributed their expansion to the gods, they could not have blamed Christianity for their downfall since Christ had not yet come to earth.

 

Chapters 8-24: Different Gods for Different Areas of Life?

The Romans have many different gods that rule over different areas of life. It is interesting to note that no gods had a general responsibility for Rome. Jupiter is said to fill the whole universe, but she is also said to fill the upper air. June, his wife, fills the lower air. Then Neptune fills the sea, and Pluto fills the earth. However, wives must be assigned to these last two also. This leaves us with an  upper and lower sea and earth, but this cannot be right. The ancients taught only four elements: upper air, lower air, sea, and earth. Other contradictions arise in their fables about the gods. Some try to avoid these contradictions by saying all other gods are forces of Jupiter. Imagining this were true for a moment – wouldn’t it make more sense to worship Jupiter alone and thereby appease all the gods than to try to appease them each individually?

If God were considered to be related to the world as our soul is to our body, one can quickly see that we would be stepping on God all the time or killing him when we swat a fly. And if God is said to only be in rational animals (humanity), then God is smacked when a child is spanked, and God could not be angry with those who do not worship him since all people are already parts of God. [2]

Returning more directly again to the second question posed above, Augustine says that good people do not rejoice in the expansion of their empire. If there were not the wicked lust for expansion, “there would have been a multitude of kingdoms in the world, as there are multitudes of homes in our cities” (p154).[3] Clearly, it is better to live at peace with a good neighbor than to subdue a bad neighbor when he makes war. But it was injustice which led Rome into some possibly just wars.[4] One god whom the Romans refused to recognize as a national deity was “tranquility” – could this be symptomatic of demon worship that no peace can be found?

There are many other contradictions among their naming of gods. And why is there a god called Fortune? For fortune can be good or bad, but gods can only be good according to Plato and other philosophers. And if she really is fortune, there is no use in worshiper her since fortune implies luck. They also have a god called Virtue. (But virtue is truly a gift of God and should not be worshiped.) And they have a god called Faith. But according to Habakkuk 2:4 (‘the just shall live by faith’), faith goes under Virtue (which is classically divided into: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance). Amidst all these contradictions (and we could mention others), it is clear that all that is needed is virtue and felicity. Why strive for other gods than these? Virtue includes all that ought to be done, and felicity all that ought to be desired. And acquiring virtue is felicity, so these gods should be related somehow. Truly, of course, these are both gifts of God. And further, shouldn’t Jupiter worship Felicity, if indeed he was happy in his reign as Mother of gods?[5]

 

Chapters 25-34: One Need Only Worship Christ

Romans, thus, named the different gods according to the gifts that they valued from the one true God. And bizarre stories are associated with these gods. For example, the Romans executed a criminal the day before the games were supposed to start one year – and a man received a vision and fell ill as a result. The gods told him in the vision that he would be ill until the games were started and that the death of the criminal displeased them and that they expected the mirth of the games instead. After telling the vision to the senate, the man was healed. The senate commanded that the games must be started and, now, with four times the funding.

Scaevola argued that there were three strands of tradition in regards to the gods: poets, philosophers, and statesmen. He saw statesmen alone as useful to the commonwealth. Augustine argues that his only reason for rejecting philosophers was not that they said irrelevant things (which are not harmful) but that they asserted that many of the gods were simply men who died a normal death. They also asserted that the true God does not have sex or age or a bodily form. Scaevola agreed, but he thought it was better for the populace to be deceived in regards to the gods, since they inspired loyalty and good character. But this is precisely the point that we have been making; the gods did nothing of the sort. Scaevola did see this correctly, namely, that the gods are accused rather than exonerated through the common stories about them. We can go further: the rites they required to be instituted are lewd and corrupt Roman morality. And the history we have recounted shows that they were unable or unwilling to save the Greeks and now the Romans.

If the Romans would have merely acknowledged the one true God, their dominion would have been better, whatever its size. And they would have the hope of receiving hereafter an eternal kingdom, regardless of whether they enjoyed dominion in this world or not. The story of Mars, Terminus, and Juventas refusing to yield place to Jupiter as symbolic of Rome’s refusal to yield to attacking enemies has proven false over and over – in fact, all that is left of the tale is the offense done to Jupiter. Surely all of these gods have now yielded to Christ, and even before the Incarnation, they yielded to various opponents in war. Cicero, at least, tried to disentangle Roman religion from superstition. Even Varro, though supportive of the gods in general, said that if he were founding Rome he would name the gods according to Nature. This implies that there was much which he left unsaid and unwritten. Varro also said that people should worship one God who is the soul of the world. We would quarrel with him that God is not a soul by showing that the human soul is mutable while God is not, but he comes closer to the truth than the typical Roman of his time.[2] Varro even cites the Jews as an example of a people who did not worship via images. Imageless worship characterized Rome for 170 years, and when images were introduced, error increased. Varro did note, however, that people are more likely to listen to poets than natural philosophers.

The reality is that Israel did not worship any of the Roman gods in order to be delivered out of Egypt. We will touch on this more in the next book.

 

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My Footnotes

[1] It would be interesting to do an extended investigation of how the Proverbs conceives of the link(s) between individual and communal happiness. Also, it would be interesting to uncover the (unstated) proper route that is not mentioned by the parents in Proverbs 1:10-19. Augustine seems to say here that it is a city filled with justice (not solitary virtue). So there may be hints in Proverbs of that broader community, and it would be interesting to tease-out some of the details (whatever Proverbs gives us…probably not a full vision).

[2] I personally do not find Augustine’s arguments again panentheism all that convincing here, though they may have been more weighty in his own day for various reasons. Panentheism has been found sneaking around the pages of some recent systematicians as well as playing a foundational role in many philosophical discourses about God. See John Cooper’s book for some of the details, Panentheism: the other god of the philosophers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).

[3] This obviously relates directly to modern conversations about globalization.

[4] This (Book IV.15) is the first direct discussion of the just war concept that Augustine will develop at length throughout the City of God.

[5] In Book IV.18-23 Augustine is drawing on the eudemonist tradition of ethics. It is very important to see how Augustine’s view and use of this tradition changed over his life as a Christian. Two interesting takes on this development: Oliver O’Donovan’s The Problem of Self-Love in St. Augustine and Brian Brock’s Singing the Ethos of God.

De Civitate Dei, Book III

Chapter 1: Natural Calamities

This book will focus on famines, diseases, captivity, etc. which were briefly mentioned in the first book. It is clear from her history that the gods never stopped these evils from coming upon Rome. And what a shame, because these are the only evils that evil people consider evil. “They are more disgusted by a bad house than a bad life” (p89).

 

Chapters 2-29: The gods in Roman History

Augustine goes through various incidents in the history of Rome, exploring in each why the gods cannot be trusted.

First, Troy, the source of the Roman people, fell to the Greeks who worshiped the same gods as the Trojans. Why then did Troy fall and not the Greeks? The histories give two explanations: (1) Laemedon, who hired the gods of Apollo and Neptune to build the walls of Troy, refused to pay them after their work was done. As a result, the gods overthrew Troy. But how could true gods not know that they would be cheated? And whether it would be more risky to worship or cheat such gods it is hard to say, since they appear so out of control and lack knowledge about the future. (2) Others say that the gods destroyed Troy as punishment for the adultery of Paris. But both Aeneas and Romulus were fabled to have adulteress goddesses as their ancestors. Why was there no punishment here? Certainly these are fables and poor explanations of Troy’s downfall. The reality is that Greece defeated them. Varro claimed that these myths are useful to believe, because they inspire courage in those who believe themselves to have gods as their ancestors. The myth certainly served Rhea, the mother of Romulus, because she would have been punished by death had it been discovered that the father of her son was not a god but a man not her husband. (In due course we will consider Genesis 6 where the Scriptures speak of delinquent angels producing giants by intercourse with women.)

Second, Romulus (or his servants or other Romans apart from him) killed his brother Remus. If Romulus did it, it should have been punished as fratricide; if the Romans did it, it should have been punished as patricide (which is worse). And juxtaposing Rome’s guilt (whether Romulus’ alone or all of Rome’s) with that of Greece’s makes one wonder why Greece was punished by the gods and Rome favored?

Third, why did the city of Ilium, built on the cite of the destroyed city of Troy, suffer another defeat during the civil wars of Rome? For they were more righteous than the incoming general, Fimbria, and his army.

Fourth, Romulus’ successor, Numa, is said to have been assisted by the gods to achieve 43 or 49 years of peace, the entirety of his reign. Unfortunately, Numa did not use this peace wisely. But what is interesting to note is that Numa instituted many sacred rites to worship or appease the gods. Thus, peace was established before the rites were. And what is more noteworthy is that only one year of peace is recorded in the ~200 years after Numa’s reign. Did this peace come from the gods, who were now being worshiped, or because Rome’s neighbors chose to not attack during this time?

Fifth, Augustine recounts the war of the Greeks against the Achaeans. Reportedly, the statue of Apollo, which resided in Roman territory at the time, wept for four days. The Romans soon received news that the Greeks had been defeated and concluded that Apollos was weeping for that land from which he had been brought. Other stories like this could be told from the history books.

Sixth, many gods were brought into Rome after Numa’s reign. They came in male and female, as if they were animals. And the Mother came in after some of her sons! Rome seemed better-off with fewer, but still the Romans continued to seek more and more gods.

Seventh, when the Romans took the Sabines as their wives, they fought their father-in-laws to the death. And Romulus, at a point of the battle in which it appeared the Romans were losing, called upon Jupiter. The Romans fled to their homes, and the wives pled with their fathers to not kill their new husbands. What an odd means of support these gods are!

Eighth, long after Numa, the Romans provoked the Albans to war. The Albans were descendents of Aeneas, just as the Romans were. The war was to finally be settled by triplets on each side fighting each other. While the Albans won the first two, the final Roman (Horatius) slaughtered all three Alban triplets. Only one of six went home safely. Who won? From the perspective of Jupiter, it should appear that none did, since all of them were supposed grandchildren of Jupiter. We understand why Sallust says that after the founding era of Rome came one in which lust for domination produced conflicts and wars. During all of it, the Roman gods sat like spectators in an amphitheatre.

Ninth, the various death of the kings of Rome are important to note. Romulus died and, shortly thereafter, followed an eclipsed of the sun. The uneducated populace thought this meant Romulus had been upgraded to the status of a god and that the gods were sad at his death. Cicero was certainly speaking the truth in noting that the eclipse would have happened whether Romulus had died or not. Other kings died of illness, murder by in-laws, and even from lightning.

Tenth, another period of Roman history arose when consulship replaced kingship. Consuls could barely serve a year in office before they were murdered or disposed of. Again, the gods were of no assistance.

Eleventh, the patricians reduced the plebs to slavery, launching strife that did not settle until the end of the Second Punic War. Throughout the conflict, there was no concern for contributing to the commonwealth but for adding to the strength of one or other of these parties within Rome. This whole era of Rome’s history is associated with wars and plagues: severe snow, famine, lengthy wars, fires, etc. were Rome’s lot. In each occasion Augustine shows how the gods failed to show-up. Even as Rome emerged victorious, they lost many cities and their faithful allies suffered brutal defeat. It is either that the gods are provoked to anger when an individual or community keeps the faith, or one can perish even when under the favor of the gods – let the Romans choose!

Twelfth, after Second Punic War, justice pervaded Roman society for a while (but, as was noted in Book I, this was due to the threat of an enemy). Scipio brought the Second Punic War to an end but was later banished from Rome. Why did the gods whom he defended from Hannibal not defend him afterwards? This is especially puzzling in light of the fact that these gods are only worshiped for the temporal blessings they promise to bestow. During this time of high morality, the Lex Voconia was passed which limited the inheritance that women could receive – is this really the height of Rome’s justice – for what could be more inequitable?

Thirteenth, Augustine turns to the period of Roman history that leads from the Punic Wars down to Augustus. Here, monarchy was instituted. During this time, Romans suffered horrible defeats. Shortly after this period, all Romans in Asia were murdered in a single day. And Social Wars, Servile Wars, and Civil Wars followed inside Rome’s cities. The temple of Concord was even built on the site of a fierce battle over land: the gods were honored where they failed to assist the people in settling a conflict. It truly should be a prison for Concord and not a temple. Why not construct a temple of Discord instead of Concord? During some conflicts, bodies were piled-up inside temples such as this one.

 

Chapters 29-31: The Folly of Blaming Christ

How can anyone in their right mind blame Christ but not these gods for the recent invasion by the Goths? In fact, the invasion by the Goths was not the most severe that Rome has experienced; compared to the invasion of Gauls, the Goths appear somewhat merciful. Even the Civil Wars of Rome were worse than the Gothic invasion. The worst violence experienced in Rome happened before Christ’s coming to earth. It makes more sense to accuse the gods of causing all these evils. But if Christ had been born before all the calamities recounted above descended on Rome, the Romans would certainly say that Christianity was the sole cause of them! It should certainly be clear after narrating only some of the highlights of Rome’s history from her own books that reinstating the worship of the gods would not help anything.

De Civitate Dei, Book II

Chapters 1-3: Replies to Despisers of the City of God will Eventually be Drawn to a Close

Defending the City of God would not be necessary if those with a weak understanding could submit to the teaching of those with a firm grasp of the truth. Augustine realizes that he is handing this book to people who are holding their eyes shut. He realizes that his opponents will continue to raise objections after reading what he writes, however long and thorough. He also realizes he cannot answer objections forever. At some point, his replies must stop, and so he encourages Christian readers of the work to learn from what is written and not be shaken by further objections. Augustine envisions the City of God advancing and expanding its territory, and yet, the illiterate mobs of Rome want to blame all calamity (famines, wars, etc.) on Christianity. But these events certainly occurred before Christianity influenced Rome to remove pagan sacrifices.

 

Chapters 4-14: The Roman gods Encouraged Immorality, not Morality

These Roman gods were so careless that they did not even give guidance to the Romans about how to live a good life. To the contrary, the festivals of the gods were morally deplorable. At the festival to the Mother of the Gods, horrible things are done – things that Romans are ashamed to do in front of their own mothers! But that way of making the comparison does not expose the horror of these gods; rather, we should realize that the Mother of the Gods is so evil that she seeks to corrupt her sons. This is why Scipio, the great Roman senator referred to in Book I, opposed the building of theaters in Rome.

Though there is some good teaching in the poets of Rome, where is the appointed assembly in which these truths are taught and explained to the people? Christians, of course, can point to basilicas/churches. Some would say that the schools of the philosophers do this, but these schools are from Greece and they promulgate the discoveries of men and not the teachings of gods. Some philosophers, indeed, have discovered important points with the help of God.[1] But if that were truly acknowledge and prized by Romans, they would have temples built to Plato and not these immoral gods. But to the contrary, the plays written by poets were dedicated to the gods at the gods’ own supposed request, offering examples of immorality for the common man which contradict the good teaching of some of the natural philosophers.

Readers will remember in the first book where Augustine explained that theatrical performances were instituted in Rome (against Scipio’s original wishes) to provide relief from a plague. So theater was established in Rome by the gods so that their immorality might be displayed as an example for her citizens. While Greek theater allowed falsehood to be written in the script if it served a good joke (even if making fun of the gods themselves), the Romans did not allow jokes nor defamation of character to be made at anyone’s expense. And yet these plays show horrible depictions of the gods. Is this not why Roman actors are classed below priests and politicians – because they are doing reprehensible things on stage? Further, why praise the poets but castigate the actors? Worst of all, why punish the imitator but worshiping the imitated? Plato had it right: poets should be banished from the city due to the outrage they offered to the gods. Perhaps Plato should be honored above the Roman gods. Christians, however, hold Plato as neither a hero or a demi-god, though they recognize he taught some truth.[1]

 

Chapters 15-27: Rome Fell Morally before the City of God Arrived

With these gods at the helm, how did Rome ever experience any justice or morality in her society?

Sallust, the historian, famous said, “justice and morality prevailed among them by nature as much as by law” (p67). It is important that this quote comes as he is discussing the era between the Second Punic War and the last, an era in which Rome’s greed and ambition was kept in check by the threat of an invasion by Carthage (cf. the predictions of Scipio in this regard from Book I). But as his narration of this era continues, he states that justice and equity were quickly cast aside after the society shifted from kings to consuls because the patres oppressed the plebs to the condition of slavery. So much for Roman nature and law! Things got even worse, according to Sallust’s own account, after the defeat of Carthage: “the degradation of traditional morality…became a torrential downhill rush” (p69). All this goes to show that things were in a very poor condition when Christianity came to Rome. Before Christianity, the gods not only failed to instruct them in the good and right way but demanded from them acts of depravity and shame.

When material success set-in, the poor served the rich, the rich used the poor to minister to their pride, subjects treated kings with servile fear rather than sincere respect, and kings were interested in the docility of their subjects and not morality. Cicero claims that the upright founders of Rome established the state by morality, but the original commonwealth they established had almost completely crumbled by his own day. It will later be argued that the justice which established Rome was not the pure justice underlying the City of God but a kind of dim image. But that will be discussed in a later place. What is important here is that Romans who accuse the fall of Rome on Christianity seem to ignore their own previous fall from morality and justice. Thus, the downfall they refer to must be the loss of their personal material comforts. This accusation of Christianity causing the loss of their worldly enjoyments betrays the failure of their gods to curb their lusts, as we have been showing.

The Romans themselves seem confused as to whether their gods promise to protect their worldly comforts or to secure eternal rewards. If one says the gods protect their temporal goods, then what does one make of the more wicked Marius becoming consul seven times over more worthy men? If one says the gods grant eternal rewards in return for human worship, why worry about the downfall of Rome at all much less blame Christianity for it? Again, what is clear in all this is their gods’ unwillingness to instruct them in the good life that Rome’s founders possessed to some degree. The story of Sulla’s eventual defeat of Marius certainly shows that the gods predicted his victory irrespective of his actions. What becomes clear in these stories is that the gods do not care about the morality of their worshipers but only that they are reckoned and worshiped as gods. Sulla’s victory, in the end, did not increase his glory but his ambition. In all of this ambition, Sulla merely imitated the gods; for the report is well-known (whether true or not) that before the battle, the gods were heard battling on the field.[2] Thus, like in the case of the theaters, the gods set forth their behavior as a model for Romans to follow. But human nature is never so corrupted as to lose all sense of what is honorable. This sense of honor was suppressed by Romans, lest offense be given to a fellow citizen.

 

Chapters 28-29: Romans, Enter the City of God

In Christian basilicas/churches one observes a modest separation of the sexes, clear instruction in how to live a worthy life, and a general atmosphere that commands honorable respect. Entry to the City of God is available: thus, “take possession of the Heavenly Country, for which you will have to endure but little hardship; and you will reign there in truth and for ever” (p87). Your eternal happiness is in the punishment of these gods that other Romans call you to worship. You Romans shut-out the actors at the plays of the gods; pray that you could shut-out the gods who inspire them.

 

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My Footnotes:

[1] This is an incredibly important claim (Book II.7, 14). In Books VIII and XI Augustine will explore this question further, namely, the extent to which the natural philosophers found truth and the extent to which we can attribute their discoveries to God’s assistance. What exactly Augustine says on this point is debated. One friend of mine commented that theological interpreters tend to point to texts which reflect a low view of God’s willingness to assist the efforts of natural philosophers, while political interpreters usually want to highlight texts that show a more positive assessment. (A good example of the latter: John von Heyking, Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World [Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001]) In these terms, I personally find the ‘political’ reading more convincing than the ‘theological’ (please understand that I am using these designations very loosely).

[2] In some places Augustine seems to think that the Roman gods were demons with agency and power, but in other places he presents them as lifeless objects. A similar ambiguity (which can be teased-out) is found in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

De Civitate Dei, Book I

Preface: Defending the City of God

Augustine sets out to defend the City of God both as it lives by faith in history and as it exists above history in eternity. Take note: he is defending the City of God, not describing it in some detached way (as if that were possible). His interlocutors are those who prefer other gods to the founder of this City. His defense involves the incredibly difficult task of convincing the arrogant of the value of humility which, in the end, requires a polemic against the pride that drives the city of man.

Chapters 1-7: Christ Blasphemed and Idols Worshiped

Augustine turns to discuss how Alaric, when invading Rome, commanded his men to not harm anyone hiding in a Christian basilica/church, ostensibly because these were Christians. Augustine claims that this event showed two things: 1) Christ’s mercy and lordship are superior that of the Roman gods, and 2) the Roman response to Christ’s mercy was blasphemy and further idolatry.

First, Augustine cites Roman historians who chronicle that the Roman gods were brought over from the sack of Troy. He questions, why were these defeated gods considered capable of defending Rome when they could not defend Troy? Troy’s defeat showed that the men of Troy were preserving the gods and not the gods the men. Contrast this with Christ who provided refuge in his basilicas during the recent sack of Rome. Augustine claims that history records no other instance where a god offered safety in war to those within his/her temple [1]. Quite to the contrary, the pillaging of temples is the norm even in the history books of the Romans who prided themselves on offering clemency to the conquered. For example, when Marcus Marcellus wept over Syracuse or Fabius defeated Tarentum, the temples were not spared but were either destroyed or mocked. Thus, the action of a barbarian Alaric to spare all Christians in basilicas should appear remarkable to Romans who value clemency. Does not this act of mercy show the power of Christ?

Augustine develops the second claim by recounting that many Romans feigned loyalty to Christ in the midst of the attack in order to find safety. However, these same Romans later blamed the attack on Christianity’s presence in Rome. The central question is why the Romans attributed their escape from death during the invasion of Rome to destiny and not Christ. Though some pagans were spared for Christ’s sake, Augustine claims that the cause of Rome’s fall was the ingratitude of those who blasphemed Christ.

Chapters 8-10: God Blesses his People, even in Suffering

Why did Christ offer safety in his church to both Christians and non-Christians? The direct answer to this question is that God doesn’t always do this: sometimes God rewards righteousness and sometimes he punishes unrighteousness in this life lest we forget about God and think that holiness does not matter. But God withholds this perfect distribution of what is deserved because then we would simply use holiness as a means to satisfy our lusts.

This is a good and right way to answer the question posed. But Augustine claims that the deeper question that arises when the righteous and unrighteous share the same mercy or judgment is, what use do we make of it? The righteous receive benefit from both blessing and judgment. On account of blessings they thank God and on account of judgments they receive corrective discipline. The unrighteous, however, love the world more after being blessed, and they despise God more about being judged. “The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke” (p14).

All of this is observable in the sack of Rome. Christians took God’s judgment as an occasion to remember their sins. Even though Christians did not commit the sins that brought God’s judgment on Rome, they perhaps failed to admonish and instruct their fellow citizens as faithfully as they should have. Sometimes we avoid admonishing our neighbor because the occasion does not seem appropriate or because our neighbor would be made worse by it; this failure to rebuke is motivated by love. But often, we avoid rebuking another because we want their approval. Those with earthly wealth or families are more attached to this world and thus are more likely to fail in properly rebuking their neighbor. But anyone could fall prey to being overly concerned about their own reputation instead of the holiness of their neighbor. All this is to show that even righteous people can love the world too much and thus benefit from God’s judgment as experienced in the sack of Rome.[2]

Chapters 11-13: God Cares for Unburied Christians

What about when the suffering extends all the way to death? Augustine asserts strongly that death always leads to a profound benefit for the Christian, though it is obviously not a good thing in itself. Thus, the horrendous death of the Christian is better than the peaceful death of the unrighteous.

But what about Christians who were not properly buried? Augustine claims that no person can stop Christ from resurrecting every hair on the heads of his saints. Absolutely no person can separate the body from the earth, and no person can separate the Christian’s soul from God. A proper burial is an act of faith on the part of the mourners, but it is not a help to the departed. Though a famous person may have many people at their funeral, the death of a saint is precious in God’s sight…regardless of how many people turn-out for it (Psalm 114:15). The Romans themselves say that one who lacks an urn is covered by the sky – so why would they jeer at unburied Christians?

This does not mean that bodies should be tossed away. Christ himself said that the woman who anointed his body with perfume as for burial did a “good deed” (Matthew 26:6-13). Caring for the bodies of the dead promotes faith in resurrection.

Chapters 14-29: God Cares for Christians in Captivity

That Christians are in captivity should not be a cause for blaspheming Christ. After all, did not Marcus Regulus willingly return to captivity and there die from the torture, all because of an oath that he swore to the Roman gods? What use is it to swear by gods if they do not help you? Perhaps one will say back that the gods rewarded him in the afterlife. But here is the profound contradiction of those who blame Rome’s fall on Christ: if Regulus as an individual was so unfortunate in his worship of the gods, couldn’t a group of worshipers? Roman idolaters must admit that what happened to Regulus could happen to them. And if this could happen at the hand of their gods, they have no ground to blame the Christian God for the fall of Rome.

Some in captivity have been sexually violated. On this point, Augustine is not concerned to answer the opponents but to tend to the concerns of Christians. He wants them to know that chastity is not lost in rape, for chastity is ultimately a matter of the will. A woman who has been violated is still chaste, but a woman who intends to break her chastity but fails to woo her partner is not still chaste. The body’s chastity is determined entirely by the will’s chastity [3], which means that Augustine is defending both the chastity of both the body and will for the violated but neither for the unsuccessful transgressor. So we are only polluted by our own lust, not the lust of another.

Even Lucretia, who is praised by the Romans as a paragon of virtue, after being violated by the king’s son killed herself. In doing so, she added sin (murder) to her shame, something that the Christian virgins in captivity have shown themselves superior to. Christians do not commit suicide because it violates the sixth commandment to not murder (the command simply says ‘do not murder’ and does not add ‘your neighbor’ – thus prohibiting suicide as well). [4] Cato, who committed suicide to avoid living under the victorious Caesar, is improperly admired by the Romans because a weak soul flees troubles. Regulus was better because he both defeated the Carthaginians and willingly endured their torture. In this way, he shared in the virtue of Job who chose bodily suffering to suicide. What we are to make of Samson’s case is parallel to Abraham sacrificing Isaac: they were under a different order from Christ than we are. For us, we trust that God is either purging our lives or testing our worth when we suffer.

Chapters 30-36: The History of Roman Vice and Christ’s Offer of Transformation

Scipio resisted Cato’s move to defeat Carthage, Rome’s imperial rival at the time, because he thought that fear of an enemy helpfully suppressed vice. But Rome defeated Carthage (under the charge of Marcus Regulus) and, fulfilling Scipio’s worst nightmares, Rome raged with the lust for power amidst its greed and sensuality.

While the gods initially ordered the organization of the games to allay a plague which attacked the body, Scipio opposed them because the games plagued the soul. But after Rome’s fall, Romans ran back to the games. While prosperity led to debauchery (as Scipio feared), he would never have imagined that suffering would lead to further debauchery!

But Christ has left many Romans alive so that they might have their ways amended. When Rome was founded, Romulus and Remus offered sanctuary to increase the size of their city. Similarly, Christ offered sanctuary to many of enemies among whom are hidden her future citizens.

In the next book, Augustine indicates that he will discuss the ills that persisted before Christianity ever came to Rome. Next, Augustine will show how God allowed the Romans to increase in the virtues that accommodated the expansion of the Roman empire. And finally, Augustine will return to the arguments of those who claim that the Roman gods promise not earthly but heavenly rewards for devotion to them. Augustine anticipates that these coming discussions will require a much greater subtlety.

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My Footnotes:

[1] The translator of the edition I am working from, Henry Bettenson, includes a note which provides two examples from Roman history where this in fact did happen, a point which Augustine’s interlocutors were apparently quick to jump on.

[2] In this section, Augustine offers a fairly heavy theodicy. He does so by saying that suffering can be explained in terms of its functional use to Christians, namely, that it will cause them to spiritually mature or love the world less, etc. Realizing that this is not a sufficient explanation for all suffering, he also mentions that Job suffered because God wanted Job to see that his devotion to God was ‘disinterested’ (that sounds like a bad thing, but to Augustine it was a good thing – it meant that Augustine loved God for God and not for what gifts he would give him). Let’s leave aside for the moment that this is probably not the best interpretation of the book of Job. The point I want to make is that contemporary theological discussions suggest that both of these forms of theodicy ultimately fail to explain suffering in general (though they do cover some cases) and probably the suffering of many Christians who were harmed in the fall of Rome.

[3] Augustine is giving here an important account of personal moral presence, specifically as it relates to the body. His account is basically this: personal moral presence = ‘the rational will’. I want to mention two important moral judgments that Augustine makes on the basis of this account: 1) chaste women who are violated are still chaste (Book I.16-19 ), and 2) fallen sexuality is sinful when ‘the rational will’ does not retain control over the body (Book XIV.16-26). In evaluating point #2, Paul Ramsey suggests that we must formulate other forms of personal moral presence in the body in addition to ‘the rational will’. I think Ramsey is right. I bring this up here, because in whatever way we correct Augustine in regards to point #2, we must ensure that the revised account plays-out in point #1.

[4] See Barth’s interaction with Augustine on suicide in CD III/4, p412, Barth’s summary: “[Augustine] simply wants it to be plainly understood that no one may take his own life merely to escape from temporal troubles, or for fear of the threat of others’ sins, or in despair at his own sins, or out of longing for death, seeing that self-destruction for these purely human reasons is an arbitrary act and therefore falls under the concept of murder.”