Summary of “City of God” pt. 4 – Part 1, Book 4

“City of God,” Part 1 – The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness, Book 4 – Divine Justice and the Growth of the Roman Empire

[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: The criticisms of the Christian faith is in part a conspiracy. Educated men who know better are spouting lies in order to provoke the masses. Augustine then announces that he has done extensive studying int he history books to prove these claims.

“I have gone to the books in which their own historians have recorded, for men’s information, the things that happened in the past, and from these I have proved two important facts: first, that the actual events were far different from what these people imagined; second, that the false gods which pagans then worshiped in the open, and now worship under cover, were unclean spirits, malignant and lying demons.”

Chapter 2: Augustine summarizes his goals with books two and three. He then lists other topics he promised to deal with and still plans to cover.

“These matters I have sufficiently described, I think, in Books II and III. In the second, I dealt with the moral evils which must be regarded as the only real and serious calamities. In Book III, I treated of those calamities which alone foolish people dread to face, those evils which affect the body and material goods, and which ordinarily even the good have to suffer. As for their own moral evils, our pagan accusers accept them not only patiently, but gladly.”

Chapter 3: Augustine now looks to the claim that the immensity and duration of the Roman Empire stands as proof that the Romans have honorably and dutifully worshiped the gods. Augustine points out that the endless war and blood shed is not a thing to be considered good.

Chapter 4: In the absence of a higher authority, the conquests of a nation are no different than that of a single pirate ship at sea.

Chapters 5-8: [Editor’s Summary] The claim that the gods fostered the remarkable extension of the Roman Empire is refuted by reference to the growth of the Assyrian Empire without help from the Roman deities. Similar arguments are based on the martial successes of the Persians and Alexander the Great. Attempts to discover what gods may have been responsible for the greatness of Rome fail. There are too many candidates and none worthy. 

Chapter 9: Of all the major gods of Rome, the one who is the most likely to be responsible for the growth of the Roman Empire is Jupiter (also referred to as Jove).

Chapter 10: Attempts at understanding what the reasoning is for dividing the lordship of the various gods over different elements.

Chapter 11: Augustine points out the contradiction in having Jupiter be the highest god in the Roman pantheon. How could a supreme god be god of only a few areas? Augustine also explores the idea of whether or not the Roman deities could all be considered one within Jupiter.

“If the pagans are not ashamed of it, let the one jupiter be all the things I have said, and all the things I have not said – for there is much I could not say. Let him be all these gods and goddesses, whether they are all parts of him, as some would have it, or powers, as those believe who like to conceive of him as the world-soul. This latter is the view of their greatest and very learned men.”

“They do not see, for example, how many gods remain without worship, how many have no temples or altars built to them, and to how few of the heavenly bodies they thought to dedicating such tings, and of offering special sacrifices. If, therefore, the stars are wrathful because each is not given its own special worship, do not the pagans dread to live under the wrath of the entire heaven, since they appeased only a few gods?”

Chapter 12: A short denunciation of pantheism and panentheism. It is absurd to think that the essence of God could be contained any of the elements of nature.

“Does anyone fail to see how impious and blasphemous is the conclusion that follows: When anyone tramples on anything, he tramples on God; when he kills any living thing, he kills God! I refuse to set forth all the conclusions which thinking men can draw, but which they cannot express without shame.”

Chapters 13-26: [Editor’s Summary] Roman superstition accepted so many divinities that polytheism became ridiculous: there were deities competing with each other in every corner of the Roman home. Educated pagans, such as Varro and Cicero, saw some the deficiencies of polytheism but failed to bring order to the chaos of Graeco-Roman mythology.

Chapter 27: The pagan pontifex Scaevola has written about his disdain for the stories of the pagan gods. He has stated the stories of the gods are useless for the benefit of man. Augustine encourages him to end the stage plays.

“In the same writings, Scaevola makes no secret of the reasons he had for rejecting the gods of the poets. It is because ‘they so distort them that the gods cannot be compared even with decent men. One they turn into a thief, another into an adulterer, and otherwise make them talk and act like degenerate and fools, such as the three goddesses who fought among themselves for the prize of beauty, and destroyed Troy when two of them were bested by Venus. Jove himself is transformed into a bull or a swan in order to carry on amours with some wanton or other. A goddess marries a man. Saturn devours his children. In fine, no prodigy nor vice can be imagined which is not here, however, utterly irreconcilable with their divine nature.'”

Chapter 28: If the pagan gods actually had the power to sustain a nation, it would have been the Greeks they favored. For the Greeks, at least, honored their gods with more honor and dignity in their stage plays. If the Romans had turned to the one true God, they might have been sustained.

Chapters 29-34: [Editor’s Summary] Further examples of the superstitious dependence of the Romans on divine auguries are given. Cicero knew that much of this was nonsense; so did Varro. Belief in the One, Supreme God of Christianity is a refreshing remedy to all this foolishness.

Next time: “Providence and the Greatness of Rome”

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