Summary of “City of God” pt. 7 – Part 2, Book 7

Honestly, I’m a little dissapointed with the editors of this chapter. Augustine turns to examining specific gods of the Roman religion in order to show the weakness of their theological system. However, my copy of this book only had his dealings with one god, Janus. The  rest were edited out in order to save space. I was really looking forward to Augustine’s treatment of this topic. Oh well. Maybe in the future I will find myself an unabridged copy.

“City of God,” Part 2 – “The Pagan Gods and Future Happiness,” Book 7 – “Criticisms of Pagan Natural Theology”

[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on one of his legendary excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole in italics and note when I am doing so.]

Preface: Augustine has been working diligently to do away with Roman Polytheism, an issue that has plagued mankind for untold millennia.

Chapters 1-4: [Editor’s Summary] The functions of twenty ‘select’ gods, in Varro’s theology, are here discussed. Their duties and prerogatives are confused and mutually antagonistic. The whole teaching is ridiculous.

Chapter 5: The first naturalist interpretation to be dealt with, the idea that the gods/ancients made images of the gods for man to better understand them.

Chapter 6: Varro holds that the universe possesses a soul, and that the universe itself is God. The universe can then be divided into smaller parts (The universe/cosmos is divided into the heavens and the earth, the heavens into the ether and the air, and the earth is divided into water and land), and each of these smaller parts contain various “souls,” or gods.

Chapter 7: A look at one of the highest gods, Janus. Augustine points out his faults as a god. Namely that he is merely god of creation and beginning, but yet he is not the god of the end.

“Are we to say, then, that the beginnings of things belong to the universe or to Janus and that the endings do not belong to him, so that a second god has to be put in charge of these?”

Chapters 8-28: [Editor’s Summary] Further precisions are given concerning the worship of divinities such as Janus, Jupiter, Pecunia, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, and Apollo. Obscene rites in honor of Bacchus and the Great Mother are described in some detail. Varro produced a theology full of learned errors.

Chapter 29: Augustine summarizes the key difference between Christian monotheism and Roman polytheism. Christians worship the Creator.

“We worship God. We do not adore heaven and earth.”

Chapter 30: Discussion on the works and activities of the Christian God. All things are under His domain. In contrast, the Romans must divide every aspect of nature up to various different gods.

Chapter 31: As mentioned in Part 1, God gives blessings to the good and the bad alike. But for the good alone there is a special blessing of grace. Eternal life with God.

Chapter 32: Contrary to the Roman religion, the Hebrews and Christians have had the promise of eternal life proclaimed throughout history, as well as it being attested to through the doing of miracles.

Chapter 33: It is only by way of revelation of the one true religion from God that man can see the error in false religion. The demons of the false religions will fight to keep man from turning to the one true One.

Chapters 34-35: [Editor’s Summary] Varro’s unedifying story of the origin of pagan ceremonies and its eventual concealment by the Roman Senate show the inferiority of polytheism as a religion.

Next time: “Classical Philosophy and Refined Paganism”

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