“City of God,” Part 1 – The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness, Book Two – Physical Evils Were Not Prevented by the Gods.
[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 this is so.]
Chapter 1: Preamble to this book, dealing with the topic of natural evils, disasters, and cities falling to foreign armies.
Chapter 2: The City of Troy was faithful to the Roman gods, yet it still fell to the Greeks. The response to this objection is that Troy fell because the leader Priam had to pay for his father Laomedon’s perjury against one of the God’s. However, if this god, Apollo, is called the Seer, he should have known that Laomedon would have gone back on his promise.
Chapter 3: Some might say the anger of the gods against Troy was because of the adultery of Paris, but this neglects the fact that adultery was common place among the pantheon, and that the pantheon frequently fell into sexuality with humanity.
Chapter 4: Even learned pagans deny the truth of the gods. They are seen as useful fictions which stand to inspire the people. If this interpretation is correct, however, what is there to stop the invention of even more lies to inspire?
“Even one of the most learned pagans, Varro, if not with outright decisiveness and confidence, still cautiously avows that all this is sheer nonsense. For all that, he affirms that it is expedient for states that men of valor should claim divine lineage, however shallow the pretense.”
Chapters 5-30: [Editor’s Summary] A long survey of Greek and Roman history follows, illustrating the failure of the gods to prevent physical evils. The argument refers to incidents such as the adultery of Paris, the fratricide of Romulus, the destruction of Troy, the growing use of offensive war by the Romans, the degeneration of the social position of Roman women, the violent deaths of several Roman kings. The discussion turns to the evils suffered by the Romans during the Punic Wars. Further Roman catastrophes are presented in great detail: reprisals against the Romans in Asia, madness among the Roman domestic animals, late civil wars. All were pre-Christian evils.
Chapter 31: Augustine concludes this book with a certainty: If the Christian faith had been around at the times of all the events described up to now, the Christians and their faith would surely be blamed. Why then, are the pagan gods not blamed for these evils?
“If mankind had embraced Christ’s teaching before the Punic Wars, and if there had followed the terrible devastation of those wars in Europe and Africa, there is not one of those intolerable critics who would not have blamed those evils on the Christian religion.”
“Now, if the half-wits we have to endure and must answer were to witness all these catastrophes occurring in Christian times, there is not one of them who would not saddle them on Christianity. But, they will blame their gods for none of those misfortunes. Indeed, they demand the restoration of their worship, so that they may be preserved from these and lesser evils, despite the fact that when their forebears worshiped the gods, they suffered greater calamities by far.”
Next time: “Divine Justice and the Growth of the Roman Empire.”