Augustin: City of God 147
147 The date of three of the minor prophets, Obadiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk, is neither mentioned by themselves nor given in the chronicles of Eusebius and Jerome. For although they put Obadiah with Micah, yet when Mi prophesied does not appear from that part of their writings in which the dates are noted. And this, I think, has happened through their error in negligently copying the works of others. But we could not find the two others now mentioned in the copies of the chronicles which we have; yet because they are contained in the canon, we ought not to pass them by.
Obadiah, so far as his writings are concerned, the briefest of all the prophets, speaks against Idumea, that is, the nation of Esau that reprobate eider of the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Now if, by that form of speech in which a part is put for the whole, we take Idumea as put for the nations, we may understand of Christ what he says among other things, “But upon Mount Sion shall be safety, and there shall be a Holy One.”35 And a little after, at the end of the same prophecy, he says, “And those who are saved again shall come up out of Mount Sion, that they may defend Mount Esau, and it shall be a kingdom to the Lord.”36 It is quite evident this was fulfilled when those saved again out of Mount Sion—that is, the believers in Christ from Judea, of whom the apostles are chiefly to be acknowledged—went up to defend Mount Esau. How could they defend it except by making safe, through the preaching of the gospel, those who believed that they might be “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God?”37 This he expressed as an inference, adding, “And it shall be to the Lord a kingdom.” For Mount Sion signifies Jades, where it is predicted there shall be safety, and a Holy One, that is, Christ Jesus. But Mount Esau is Idumea, which signifies the Church of the Gentiles, which, as I have expounded, those saved again out of Sion have defended that it should be a kingdom to the Lord. This was obscure before it took place; but what believer does not find it out now that it is done?
As for the prophet Nahum, through him God says, “I will exterminate the graven and the molten things: I will make thy burial. For lo, the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings and announceth peace are swift upon the mountains! O Judah, celebrate thy festival days, and perform thy vows; for now they shall not go on any more so as to become antiquated. It is completed, it is consumed, it is taken away. He ascendeth who breathes in thy face, delivering thee out of tribulation.”38 Let him that remembers the gospel call to mind who hath ascended from hell and breathed the Holy Spirit in the face of Judah, that is, of the Jewish disciples; for they belong to the New Testament, whose festival days are so spiritually renewed that they cannot become antiquated. Moreover, we already see the graven and molten things, that is, the idols of the false gods, exterminated through the gospel, and given up to oblivion as of the grave, and we know that this prophecy is fulfilled in this very thing.
Of what else than the advent of Christ, who was to come, is Habakkuk understood to say, “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision openly on a tablet of boxwood, that he that readeth these things may understand. For the vision is yet for a time appointed, and it will arise in the end, and will not become void: if it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, and will not be delayed?”39
35 (Ab 17
36 (Ab 21).
37 (Col 1,13,
38 Na 1,14 Na 2,1).
39 (Ha 2,2-3.
In his prayer, with a song, to whom but the Lord Christ does he say, “O Lord, I have heard Thy hearing, and was afraid: O Lord, I have considered Thy works, and was greatly afraid?” (Ha 3,2).
What is this but the inexpressible admiration of the foreknown, new, and sudden salvation of men? “In the midst of two living creatures thou shalt be recognized.” What is this but either between the two testaments, or between the two thieves, or between Moses and Elias talking with Him on the mount? “While the years draw nigh, Thou wilt be recognized; at the coming of the time Thou wilt be shown,” does not even need exposition. “While my soul shall be troubled at Him, in wrath Thou wilt be mindful of mercy.” What is this but that He puts Himself for the Jews, of whose nation He was, who were troubled with great anger and crucified Christ, when He, mindful of mercy, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?41 “God shall come from Teman, and the Holy One from the shady and close mountain.”42 What is said here, “He shall come from Teman,” some interpret “from the south,” or “from the southwest,” by which is signified the noonday, that is, the fervor of charity and the splendor of truth. “The shady and close mountain” might be understood in many ways, yet I prefer to take it as meaning the depth of the divine Scriptures, in which Christ is prophesied: for in the Scriptures there are many things shady and close which exercise the mind of the reader; and Christ comes thence when he who has understanding finds Him there. “His power covereth up the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise.” What is this but what is also said in the psalm, “Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and Thy glory above all the earth?”43 “His splendor shall be as the light.” What is it but that the fame of Him shall illuminate believers? “Horns are in His hands.” What is this but the trophy of the cross? “And He hath placed the firm charity of His strength”44 needs no exposition. “Before His face shall go the word, and it shall go forth into the field after His feet.” What is this but that He should both be announced before His coming hither and after His return hence? “He stood, and the earth was moved.” What is this but that “He stood” for succor, “and the earth was moved” to believe? “He regarded, and the nations melted;” that is, He had compassion, and made the people penitent. “The mountains are broken with violence;” that is, through the power of those who work miracles the pride of the haughty is broken “The everlasting hills flowed down;” that is, they are humbled in time that they may be lifted up for eternity. “I saw His goings [made] eternal for his labors;” that is, I beheld His labor of love not left without the reward of eternity. “The tents of Ethiopia shall be greatly afraid, and the tents of the land of Midian” that is, even those nations which are not under the Roman authority, being suddenly terrified by the news of Thy wonderful works, shall become a Christian people. “Wert Thou angry at the rivers, O Lord? or was Thy fury against the rivers? or was Thy rage against the sea? This is said because He does not now come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.45 “For Thou shall mount upon Thy horses, and Thy riding shall be salvation;” that is, Thine evangelists shall carry Thee, for they are guided by Thee, and Thy gospel is salvation to them that believe in Thee. “Bending, Thou wilt bend Thy bow against the sceptres, saith the Lord;” that is, Thou wilt threaten even the kings of the earth with Thy judgment. “The earth shall be cleft with rivers;” that is, by the sermons of those who preach Thee flowing in upon them, men’s hearts shall be opened to make confession, to whom it is said, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.”46 What does “The people shall see Thee and grieve” mean, but that in mourning they shall be blessed?47 What is “Scattering the waters in marching,” but that by walking in those who everywhere proclaim Thee, Thou wilt scatter hither and thither the streams of Thy doctrine? What is “The abyss uttered its voice?” Is it not that the depth of the human heart expressed what it perceived? The words, “The depth of its phantasy,” are an explanation of the previous verse, for the depth is the abyss; and “Uttered its voice” is to be understood before them, that is, as we have said, it expressed what it perceived. Now the phantasy is the vision, which it did not hold or conceal, but poured forth in confession. “The sun was raised up, and the moon stood still in her course;” that is, Christ ascended into heaven, and the Church was established under her King. “Thy darts shall go in the light;” that is, Thy words shall not be sent in secret, but openly. For He had said to His own disciples, “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in the light.”48 “By threatening thou shall diminish the earth;” that is, by that threatening Thou shall humble men. “And in fury Thou shall cast down the nations;” for in punishing those who exalt themselves Thou dashest them one against another. “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, that Thou mightest save Thy Christ; Thou hast sent death on the heads of the wicked.” None of these words require exposition. “Thou hast lifted up the bonds, even to the neck.” This may be understood even of the good bonds of wisdom, that the feet may be put into its fetters, and the neck into its collar. “Thou hast struck off in amazement of mind the bonds” must be understood for, He lifts up the good and strikes off the bad, about. which it is said to Him, “Thou hast broken asunder my bonds,”49 and that “in amazement of mind,” that is, wonderfully. “The heads of the mighty shall be moved in it;” to wit, in that wonder. “They shall open their teeth like a poor man eating secretly.” For some of the mighty among the Jews shall come to the Lord, admiring His works and words, and shall greedily eat the bread of His doctrine in secret for fear of the Jews, just as the Gospel has shown they did. “And Thou hast sent into the sea Thy horses, troubling many waters,” which are nothing else than many people; for unless all were troubled, some would not be converted with fear, others pursued with fury. “I gave heed, and my belly trembled at the voice of the prayer of my lips; and trembling entered into my bones, and my habit of body was troubled under me.” He gave heed to those things which he said, and was himself terrified at his own prayer, which he had poured forth prophetically, and in which he discerned things to come. For when many people are troubled, he saw the threatening tribulation of the Church, and at once acknowledged himself a member of it, and said, “I shall rest in the day of tribulation,” as being one of those Who are rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation.50 “That I may ascend,” he says, “among the people of my pilgrimage,” departing quite from the wicked people of his carnal kinship, who are not pilgrims in this earth, and do not seek the country above.51 “Although the fig-tree,” he says, “shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines the labor of the olive shall lie, and the fields shall yield no meat; the sheep shall be cut off from the meat, and there shall be no oxen in the stalls.” He sees that nation which was to slay Christ about to lose the abundance of spiritual supplies, which, in prophetic fashion, he has set forth by the figure of earthly plenty. And because that nation was to suffer such wrath of God, because, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, it wished to establish its own,52 he immediately says, “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in God my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He will set my feet in completion; He will place me above the heights, that I may conquer in His song,” to wit, in that song of which something similar is said in the psalm, “He set my feet upon a rock, and directed my goings, and put in my mouth a new song, a hymn to our God.”53 He therefore conquers in the song of the Lord, who takes pleasure in His praise, not in his own; that “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”54 But some copies have, “I will joy in God my Jesus,” which seems to me better than the version of those who, wishing to put it in Latin, have not set down that very name which for us it is dearer and sweeter to name.
Jeremiah, like Isaiah, is one of the greater prophets, not of the minor, like the others from whose writings I have just given extracts. He prophesied when Josiah reigned in Jerusalem, and Ancus Martius at Rome, when the captivity of the Jews was already at hand; and he continued to prophesy down to the fifth month of the captivity, as we find from his writings. Zephaniah, one of the minor prophets, is put along with him, because he himself says that he prophesied in the days of Josiah; but he does not say till when. Jeremiah thus prophesied not only in the times of Ancus Martius, but also in those of Tarquinius Priscus, whom the Romans had for their fifth king. For he had already begun to reign when that captivity took place. Jeremiah, in prophesying of Christ, says, “The breath of our mouth, the Lord Christ, was taken in our sins,”55 thus briefly showing both that Christ is our Lord and that He suffered for us. Also in another place he says, “This is my God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of Him; who hath found out all the way of prudence, and hath given it to Jacob His servant, and to Israel His beloved: afterwards He was seen on the earth, and conversed with men.”56 Some attribute this testimony not to Jeremiah, but to his secretary, who was called Baruch; but it is more commonly ascribed to Jeremiah. Again the same prophet says concerning Him, “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise up unto David a righteous shoot, and a King shall reign and shall be wise, and shall do judgment and justice in the earth. In those days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell confidently: and this is the name which they shall call Him, Our righteous Lord.”57 And of the calling of the nations which was to come to pass, and which we now see fulfilled, he thus spoke: “O Lord my God, and my refuge in the day of evils. to Thee shall the nations come from the utmost end of the earth, saying, Truly our fathers have worshipped lying images, wherein there is no profit.”58 But that the Jews, by whom He behoved even to be slain, were not going to acknowledge Him, this prophet thus intimates: “Heavy is the heart through all; and He is a man, and who shall know Him?”59 That passage also is his which I have quoted in the seventeenth book concerning the new testament, of which Christ is the Mediator. For Jeremiah himself says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will complete over the house of Jacob a new testament,” and the rest, which may be read there.60
148 For the present I shall put down those predictions about Christ by the prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied with Jeremiah. “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, in the day of my resurrection, in the future; because it is my determination to assemble the nations, and gather together the kingdoms.”61 And again he says, “The Lord will be terrible upon them, and will exterminate all the gods of the earth; and they shall worship Him every man from his place, even all the isles of the nations.”62 And a little after he says, “Then will I turn to the people a tongue, and to His offspring, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, and serve Him under one yoke. From the borders of the rivers of Ethiopia: shall they bring sacrifices unto me. In that day thou shall not be confounded for all thy curious inventions, which thou hast done impiously against me: for then I will take away from thee the Haughtiness of thy trespass; and thou shalt no more magnify thyself above thy holy mountain. And I will leave in thee a meek and humble people, and they who shall be left of Israel shall fear the name of the Lord.”63 These are the remnant of whom the apostle quotes that which is elsewhere prophesied: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.”64 These are the remnant of that nation who have believed in Christ.
Daniel and Ezekiel, other two of the greater prophets, also first prophesied in the very captivity of Babylon. Daniel even defined the time when Christ was to come and suffer by the exact date. It would take too long to show this by computation, and it has been done often by others before us. But of His power and glory he has thus spoken: “I saw in a night vision, and, behold, one like the Son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven, and He came even to the Ancient of days, and He was brought into His presence. And to Him there was given dominion, and honor, and a kingdom: and all people, tribes, and tongues shall serve Him. His power is an everlasting power, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed.”65
Ezekiel also, speaking prophetically in the person of God the Father, thus foretells Christ, speaking of Him in the prophetic manner as David, because He assumed flesh of the seed of David, and on account of that form of a servant in which He was made man, He who is the Son of God is also called the servant of God. He says, “And I will set up over my sheep one Shepherd, who will feed them, even my servant David; and He shall feed them, and He shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince in the midst of them. I the Lord have spoken.”66 And in another place he says, “And one King shall be over them all: and they shall no more be two nations, neither shall they be divided any more into two kingdoms: neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, and their abominations, and all their iniquities. And I will save them out of all their dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. And my servant David shall be king over them, and there shall be one Shepherd for them all.”67
There remain three minor prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who prophesied at the close of the captivity. Of these Haggai more openly prophesies of Christ and the Church thus briefly: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet one little while, and I will shake the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will move all nations, and the desired of all nations shall come.”68 The fulfillment of this prophecy is in part already seen, and in part hoped for in the end. For He moved the heaven by the testimony of the angels and the stars, when Christ became incarnate. He moved the earth by the great miracle of His birth of the virgin. He moved the sea and the dry land, when Christ was proclaimed both in the isles and in the whole world. So we see all nations moved to the faith; and the fulfillment of what follows, “And the desired of all nations shall come,” is looked for at His last coming. For ere men can desire and and wait for Him, they must believe and love Him.
Zechariah says of Christ and the Church, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; shout joyfully, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King shall come unto thee, just and the Saviour; Himself poor, and mounting an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass: and His dominion shall be from Sea to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.”69 How this was done, when the Lord Christ on His journey used a beast of burden of this kind, we read in the Gospel, where, also, as much of this prophecy is quoted as appears sufficient for the context. In another place, speaking in the Spirit of prophecy to Christ Himself of the remission of sins through His blood, he says, “Thou also, by the blood of Thy testament, hast sent forth Thy prisoners from the lake wherein is no water.”70 Different opinions may be held, consistently with right belief, as to what he meant by this lake. Yet it seems to me that no meaning suits better than that of the depth of human misery, which is, as it were, dry and barren, where there are no streams of righteousness, but only the mire of iniquity. For it is said of it in the Psalms, “And He led me forth out of the lake of misery, and from the miry clay.”71
Malachi, foretelling the Church which we now behold propagated through Christ, says most openly to the Jews, in the person of God, “I have no pleasure in you, and I will not accept a gift at your hand. For from the rising even to the going down of the sun, my name is great among the nations; and in every place sacrifice shall be made, and a pure oblation shall be offered unto my name: for my name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord.”72 Since we can already see this sacrifice offered to God in every place, from the rising of the sun to his going down, through Christ’s priesthood after the order of Melchisedec, while the Jews, to whom it was said, “I have no pleasure in you, neither will I accept a gift at your hand,” cannot deny that their sacrifice has ceased, why do they still look for another Christ, when they read this in the prophecy, and see it fulfilled, which could not be fulfilled except through Him? And a little after he says of Him, in the person of God, “My covenant was with Him of life and peace: and I gave to Him that He might fear me with fear, and be afraid before my name. The law of truth was in His mouth: directing in peace He hath walked with me, and hath turned many away from iniquity. For the Priest’s lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at His mouth: for He is the Angel of the Lord Almighty.”73 Nor is it to be wondered at that Christ Jesus is called the Angel of the Almighty God. For just as He is called a servant on account of the form of a servant in which He came to men, so He is called an angel on account of the evangel which He proclaimed to men. For if we interpret these Greek words, evangel is “good news,” and angel is “messenger.” Again he says of Him, “Behold I will send mine angel, and He will look out the way before my face: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come into His temple, even the Angel of the testament, whom ye desire. Behold, He cometh, saith the Lord Almighty, and who shall abide the day of His entry, or who shall stand at His appearing?”74 In this place he has foretold both the first and second advent of Christ: the first, to wit, of which he says, “And He shall come suddenly into His temple;” that is, into His flesh, of which He said in the Gospel, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”75 And of the second advent he says, “Behold, He cometh, saith the Lord Almighty, and who shall abide the day of His entry, or who shall stand at His appearing?” But what he says, “The Lord whom ye seek, and the Angel of the testament whom ye desire,” just means that even the Jews, according to the Scriptures which they read, shall seek and desire Christ. But many of them did not acknowledge that He whom they sought and desired had come, being blinded in their hearts, which were preoccupied with their own merits. Now what he here calls the testament, either above, where he says, “My testament had been with Him,” or here, where he has called Him the Angel of the testament, we ought, beyond a doubt, to take to be the new testament, in which the things promised are eternal, and not the old, in which they are only temporal. Yet many who are weak are troubled when they see the wicked abound in such temporal things, because they value them greatly, and serve the true God to be rewarded with them. On this account, to distinguish the eternal blessedness of the new testament, which shall be given only to the good, from the earthly felicity of the old, which for the most part is given to the bad as well, the same prophet says, “Ye have made your words burdensome to me: yet ye have said, In what have we spoken ill of Thee? Ye have said, Foolish is every one who serves God; and what profit is it that we have kept His observances, and that we have walked as suppliants before the face of the Lord Almighty? And now we call the aliens blessed; yea, all that do wicked things are built up again; yea, they are opposed to God and are saved. They that feared the Lord uttered these reproaches every one to his neighbor: and the Lord hearkened and heard; and He wrote a book of remembrance before Him, for them that fear the Lord and that revere His name.”76 By that book is meant the New Testament. Finally, let us hear what follows: “And they shall be an acquisition for me, saith the Lord Almighty, in the day which I make; and I will choose them as a man chooseth his son that serveth him. And ye shall return, and shall discern between the just and the unjust, and between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not. For, behold, the day cometh burning as an oven, and it shall burn them up; and all the aliens and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that shall come will set them on fire, saith the Lord Almighty, and shall leave neither root nor branch. And unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise, and health shall be in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and exult as calves let loose from bonds. And ye shall tread down the wicked, and they shall be ashes under your feet, in the day in which I shall do [this], saith the Lord Almighty.”77 This day is the day of judgment, of which, if God will, we shall speak more fully in its own place.
After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all.78 For by consulting the Gospel we learn that Christ is the Truth. From this time, when the temple was rebuilt, down to the time of Aristobulus, the Jews had not kings but princes; and the reckoning of their dates is found, not in the Holy Scriptures which are called canonical, but in others, among which are also the books of the Maccabees. These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils.
149 In the time of our prophets, then, whose writings had already come to the knowledge of almost all nations. the philosophers of the nations had not yet arisen,—at least, not those who were called by that name, which originated with Pythagoras the Samian, who was becoming famous at the time when the Jewish captivity ended. Much more, then, are the other philosophers found to be later than the prophets. For even Socrates the Athenian, the master of all who were then most famous, holding the pre-eminence in that department that is called the moral or active, is found after Esdras in the chronicles. Plato also was born not much later, who far out went the other disciples of Socrates. If, besides these, we take their predecessors, who had not yet been styled philosophers, to wit, the seven sages, and then the physicists, who succeeded Thales, and imitated his studious search into the nature of things, namely, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Anaxagoras, and some others, before Pythagoras first professed himself a philosopher, even these did not precede the whole of our prophets in antiquity of time, since Thales, whom the others succeeded, is said to have flourished in the reign of Romulus, when the stream of prophecy burst forth from the fountains of Israel in those writings which spread over the whole world. So that only those theological poets, Orpheus, Linus, and Musaeus, and, it may be, some others among the Greeks, are found earlier in date than the Hebrew prophets whose writings we hold as authoritative. But not even these preceded in time our true divine, Moses, who authentically preached the one true God, and whose writings are first in the authoritative canon; and therefore the Greeks, in whose tongue the literature of this age chiefly appears, have no ground for boasting of their wisdom, in which our religion, wherein is true wisdom, is not evidently more ancient at least, if not superior. Yet it must be confessed that before Moses there had already been, not indeed among the Greeks, but among barbarous nations, as in Egypt, some doctrine which might be called their wisdom, else it would not have been written in the holy books that Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,79 as he was, when, being born there, and adopted and nursed by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was also liberally educated. Yet not even the wisdom of the Egyptians could be antecedent in time to the wisdom of our prophets, because even Abraham was a prophet. And what wisdom could there be in Egypt before Isis had given them letters, whom they thought fit to worship as a goddess after her death? Now Isis is declared to have been the daughter of Inachus, who first began to reign in Argos when the grandsons of Abraham are known to have been already born.
If I may recall far more ancient times, our patriarch Noah was certainly even before that great deluge, and I might not undeservedly call him a prophet, forasmuch as the ark he made, in which he escaped with his family, was itself a prophecy of our times.80 What of Enoch, the seventh from Adam? Does not the canonical epistle of the Apostle Jude declare that he prophesied?81 But the writings of these men could not be held as authoritative either among the Jews or us, on account of their too great antiquity, which made it seem needful to regard them with suspicion, lest false things should be set forth instead roof true. For some writings which are said be theirs are quoted by those who, according to their own humor, loosely believe what they please. But the purity of the canon has not admitted these writings, not because the authority of these men who pleased God is rejected, but because they are not believed to be theirs. Nor ought it to appear strange if writings for which so great antiquity is claimed are held in suspicion, seeing that in the very history of the kings of Judah and Israel containing their acts, which we believe to belong to the canonical Scripture, very many things are mentioned which are not explained there, but are said to be found in other books which the prophets wrote, the very names of these prophets being sometimes given, and yet they are not found in the canon which the people of God received. Now I confess the reason of this is hidden from me; only I think that even those men, to whom certainly the Holy Spirit revealed those things which ought to be held as of religious authority, might write some things as men by historical diligence, and others as prophets by divine inspiration; and these things were so distinct, that it was judged that the former should be ascribed to themselves, but the latter to God speaking through them: and so the one pertained to the abundance of knowledge, the other to the authority of religion. In that authority the canon is guarded. So that, if any writings outside of it are now brought forward under the name of the ancient prophets, they cannot serve even as an aid to knowledge, because it is uncertain whether they are genuine; and on this account they are not trusted, especially those of them in which some things are found that are even contrary to the truth of the canonical books, so that it is quite apparent they do not belong to them.
Now we must not believe that Heber, from whose name the word Hebrew is derived, preserved and transmitted the Hebrew language to Abraham only as a spoken language, and that the Hebrew letters began with the giving of the law through Moses; but rather that this language, along with its letters, was preserved by that succession of fathers. Moses, indeed, appointed some among the people of God to teach letters, before they could know any letters of the divine law. The Scripture calls these men UrammateisaUpUei", who may be called in Latin inductores or introductores of letters, because they, as it were, introduce them into the hearts of the learners, or rather lead those whom they teach into them. Therefore no nation could vaunt itself over our patriarchs and prophets by any wicked vanity for the antiquity of its wisdom; since not even Egypt, which is wont falsely and vainly to glory in the antiquity of her doctrines, is found to have preceded in time the wisdom of our patriarchs in her own wisdom, such as it is. Neither will any one dare to say that they were most skillful in wonderful sciences before they knew letters, that is, before Isis came and taught them there. Besides, what, for the most part, was that memorable doctrine of theirs which was called wisdom but astronomy, and it may be some other sciences of that kind, which usually have more power to exercise men’s wit than to enlighten their minds with true wisdom? As regards philosophy, which professes to teach men something which shall make them happy, studies of that kind flourished in those lands about the times of Mercury, whom they called Trismegistus, long before the sages and philosophers of Greece, but yet after Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and even after Moses himself. At that time, indeed, when Moses was born, Atlas is found to have lived, that great astronomer, the brother of Prometheus, and maternal grandson of the eider Mercury, of whom that Mercury Trismegistus was the grandson.
In vain, then, do some babble with most empty presumption, saying that Egypt has understood the reckoning of the stars for more than a hundred thousand years. For in what books have they collected that number who learned letters from Isis their mistress, not much more than two thousand years ago? Varro, who has declared this, is no small authority in history, and it does not disagree with the truth of the divine books. For as it is not yet six thousand years since the first man, who is called Adam, are not those to be ridiculed rather than refuted who try to persuade us of anything regarding a space of time so different from, and contrary to, the ascertained truth? For what historian of the past should we credit more than him who has also predicted things to come which we now see fulfilled? And the very disagreement of the historians among themselves furnishes a good reason why we ought rather to believe him who does not contradict the divine history which we hold. But, on the other hand, the citizens of the impious city, scattered everywhere through the earth, when they read the most learned writers, none of whom seems to be of contemptible authority, and find them disagreeing among themselves about affairs most remote from the memory of our age, cannot find out whom they ought to trust. But we, being sustained by divine authority in the history of our religion, have no doubt that whatever is opposed to it is most false, whatever may. be the case regarding other things in secular books, which, whether true or false, yield nothing of moment to our living rightly and happily.
But let us omit further examination of history, and return to the philosophers from whom we digressed to these things. They seem to have labored in their studies for no other end than to find out how to live in a way proper for laying hold of blessedness. Why, then, have the disciples dissented from their masters, and the fellow-disciples from one another, except because as men they have sought after these things by human sense and human reasonings? Now, although there might be among them a desire of glory, so that each wished to be thought wiser and more acute than another, and in no way addicted to the judgment of others, but the inventor of his own dogma and opinion, yet I may grant that there were some, or even very many of them, whose love of truth severed them from their teachers or fellow-disciples, that they might strive for what they thought was the truth, whether it was so or not. But what can human misery do, or how or where can it reach forth, so as to attain blessedness, if divine authority does not lead it? Finally, let our authors, among whom the canon of the sacred books is fixed and bounded, be far from disagreeing in any respect. It is not without good reason, then, that not merely a few people prating in the schools and gymnasia in captious disputations, but so many and great people, both learned and unlearned, in countries and cities, have believed that God spoke to them or by them, i.e. the canonical writers, when they wrote these books. There ought, indeed, to be but few of them, lest on account of their multitude what ought to be religiously esteemed should grow cheap; and yet not so few that their agreement should not be wonderful. For among the multitude of philosophers, who in their works have left behind them the monuments of their dogmas, no one will easily find any who agree in all their opinions. But to show this is too long a task for this work.
But what author of any sect is so approved in this demon-worshipping city, that the rest who have differed from or opposed him in opinion have been disapproved? The Epicureans asserted that human affairs were not under the providence of the gods; and the Stoics, holding the opposite opinion, agreed that they were ruled and defended by favorable and tutelary gods. Yet were not both sects famous among the Athenians? I wonder, then, why Anaxagoras was accused of a crime for saying that the sun was a burning stone, and denying that it was a god at all; while in the same city Epicurus flourished gloriously and lived securely, although he not only did not believe that the sun or any star was a god, but contended that neither Jupiter nor any of the gods dwelt in the world at all, so that the prayers and supplications of men might reach them! Were not both Aristippus and Antisthenes there, two noble philosophers and both Socratic? yet they placed the chief end of life within bounds so diverse and contradictory, that the first made the delight of the body the chief good, while the other asserted that man was made happy mainly by the virtue of the mind. The one also said that the wise man should flee from the republic; the other, that he should administer its affairs. Yet did not each gather disciples to follow his own sect? Indeed, in the conspicuous and well-known porch, in gymnasia, in gardens, in places public and private, they openly strove in bands each for his own opinion, some asserting there was one world, others innumerable worlds; some that this world had a beginning, others that it had not; some that it would perish, others that it would exist always; some that it was governed by the divine mind, others by chance and accident; some that souls are immortal, others that they are mortal,—and of those who asserted their immortality, some said they transmigrated through beasts, others that it was by no means so; while of those who asserted their mortality, some said they perished immediately after the body, others that they survived either a little while or a longer time, but not always; some fixing supreme good in the body, some in the mind, some in both; others adding to the mind and body external good things; some thinking that the bodily senses ought to be trusted always, some not always, others never. Now what people, senate, power, or public dignity of the impious city has ever taken care to judge between all these and oilier well-nigh innumerable dissensions of the philosophers, approving and accepting some, and disapproving and rejecting others? Has it not held in its bosom at random, without any judgment, and confusedly, so many controversies of men at variance, not about fields, houses, or anything of a pecuniary nature, but about those things which make life either miserable or happy? Even if some true things were said in it, yet falsehoods were uttered with the same licence; so that such a city has not amiss received the title of the mystic Babylon. For Babylon means confusion, as we remember we have already explained. Nor does it matter to the devil, its king, how they wrangle among themselves in contradictory errors, since all alike deservedly belong to him on account of their great and varied impiety.
But that nation, that people, that city, that republic, these Israelites, to whom the oracles of God were entrusted, by no means confounded with similar licence false prophets with the true prophets; but, agreeing together, and differing in nothing, acknowledged and upheld the authentic authors of their sacred books. These were their philosophers, these were their sages, divines, prophets, and teachers of probity and piety. Whoever was wise and lived according to them was wise and lived not according to men, but according to God who hath spoken by them. If sacrilege is forbidden there, God hath forbidden it. If it is said, “Honor thy father and thy mother,”82 God hath commanded it. If it is said, “Thou shall not commit adultery, Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not steal,”83 and other similar commandments, not human lips but the divine oracles have enounced them. Whatever truth certain philosophers, amid their false opinions, were able to see, and strove by laborious discussions to persuade men of,—such as that God had made this world, and Himself most providently governs it, or of the nobility of the virtues, of the love of country, of fidelity in friendship, of good works and everything pertaining to virtuous manners, although they knew not to what end and what rule all these things were to be referred,—all these, by words prophetic, that is, divine, although spoken by men, were commended to the people in that city, and not inculcated by contention in arguments, so that he who should know them might be afraid of contemning, not the wit of men, but the oracle of God.
Augustin: City of God 147