In his first book in part one of “City of God” Augustine wanted to show that Christianity in no part had a hand in the fall of Rome (it should be noted however that the first ten books of “City of God” are devoted to dealing with this issue, but book one is the most forceful of them). In his second book, Augustine now turns to the question of whether or not the pagan Roman gods could do anything good for the souls of mankind.
“City of God,” Part 1 – The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness, Book 2 – Pagan Gods Never Protected Men’s Souls.
Chapter 1: It is difficult to reason with fallen man, for he considers his impulses and desires to be a sufficient reason to behave and think the way they do.
“Unfortunately, however, there prevails a major and malignant malady of fools, the victims of which mistake their irrational impulses for truth and reason, even when confronted with as much evidence as any man has a right to expect from another.”
Chapter 2: Augustine summarizes the previous book, and gives his reasons for spending a great deal of time on the issue of why God allowed evil to fall on both the good and the evil.
Chapter 3: Christians are repeatedly blamed for natural disasters. This chapter serves as a prologue to a look into history to prove this claim wrong.
“I am still dealing with those ignorant dupes who gave birth and popular currency to the saying: ‘If there is a drought, blame the Christians.'”
“Let them, therefore, recall with me the calamities which so often and in so many ways set back the prosperity of Rome, and remember, too, that all this happened long before Christ came in the flesh, long before His Name shone before men with that glory which they vainly begrudge Him.”
Chapter 4: The pagan gods do not deserve to be worshiped because they allowed their worshipers to sink to depraved, shameful depths of morality. How could any divine figure allow such disgrace to take place in their name?
“But why did not those gods… lay down moral precepts that would help their devotees to lead a decent life?”
Chapters 5-6: [Editor’s summary] “If it is to be asserted that the Roman deities actually commanded indecent plays to be presented in their honor, then these gods are unworthy and no proper protectors of the morals of the people.”
Chapter 7: The realm of philosophy, which led to many noble discoveries, should be more desired in the temples than the obscene plays. The plays lead only to depraved behaviors, which will only serve to damn the soul. The record of the behavior of the gods also lead man to fall into unholy behavior.
“How much more sensible and proper would it be to have Plato’s writings read in a temple dedicated to him than to have the mutilations of the priests of Cybele, the consecration of eunuchs, the slashing of insane men, in the temples of the demons, the perpetuation of every cruel and foul, or foully cruel and cruelly foul, abomination that is wont to pass for a religious rite.”
“Thus, we read in Terence how a dissolute youth looks upon a wall painting, ‘in which the tale was told how Jove sent down a shower of gold into the lap of Danae.’ He appeals to the authority of this weighty example to justify his own lust, with a boast that he did but imitate a god. ‘And what god?’ he continues. ‘Even he that shakes the loftiest temples with thunder. Since he did thus, should a wretch of a man like me not do the same? Why! I did it with all my heart.'” (emphasis added)
Chapters 8-20: [Editor’s summary] “In a lengthy analysis of Roman writings, featuring the works of Cicero and Sallust, Augustine argues that the pagan fables and theatrical presentations corrupted the virtues of the early Romans and their contemporaries. Their gods provided no useful laws and no moral code of life. Plato recognized this when he excluded the fables of the classical religious poets from his ideal Republic.” (emphasis added)
Chapter 21: The pagan gods in no way helped the spread and development of justice. Even historians who wrote before the coming of Christ in the flesh decried the city of Rome as lost to injustice and immorality.
“Why, then, did their gods not save from disaster that republic which, long before Christ appeared in the flesh, Cicero mournfully deplores as lost?”
Chapters 22-28: [Editor’s summary] “The degeneration of Roman morals accompanied the increasing craving for worldly power and for the enjoyment of obscene ceremonies in honor of divinities such as the goddess Caelestis and the lewd Mother Flora.”
Chapter 29: Augustine concludes this book with a call to faith. He shows that the Romans demonstrate the accuracy of his claims by ostracizing those who perform the plays. He calls them to leave this way of life and instead turn towards the City of God.
“You have already, in part, passed judgment on these spirits, for, while you placated them with stage plays, you branded with infamy the actors who performed them.”
Next time, we look at the book entitled “Physical Evils Were Not Prevented by the Gods.”