Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 113


20. Hence also they cannot meet us fairly with this question: Why, then, did the God of the Hebrews, whom you declare to be the supreme and true God, not only not subdue the Romans under their power, but even fail to secure those Hebrews themselves against subjugation by the Romans? For there were open sins of theirs that went before them, and on account of which the prophets so long time ago predicted that this very thing would overtake them; and above all, the reason lay in the fact, that in their impious fury they put Christ to death, in the commission of which sin they were made blind [to the guilt of their crime] through the deserts of other hidden transgressions. That His sufferings also would be for the benefit of the Gentiles, was foretold by the same prophetictestimony. Nor, in another point of view, did; the fact appear clearer, that the kingdom of that nation, and its temple, and its priesthood, and its sacrificial system, and that mystical unction which is called kriQma59 in Greek, from which the name of Christ takes its evident application, and on account of which that nation was accustomed to speak of its kings as anointed ones,60 were ordained with the express object of prefiguring Christ, than has the kindred fact become apparent, that after the resurrection of the Christ who was put to death began to be preached unto the believing Gentiles, all those things came to their end, all unrecognised as the circumstance was, whether by the Romans, through whose victory, or by the Jews, through whose subjugation, it was brought about that they did thus reach their conclusion.


21. Here indeed we have a wonderful fact, which is not remarked by those few pagans who have remained such,—namely, that this God of the Hebrews who was offended by the conquered, and who was also denied acceptance by the conquerors, is now preached and worshipped among all nations. This is that God of Israel of whom the prophet spake so long time since, when he thus addressed the people of God: “And He who brought thee out, the God of Israel, shall be called (the God) of the whole earth.”61 What was thus prophesied has been brought to pass through the name of the Christ, who comes to men in the form of a descendant of that very Israel who was the grandson of Abraham, with whom the race of the Hebrews began.62 For it was to this Israel also that it was said, “In thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed.”63 Thus it is shown that the God of Israel, the true God who made heaven and earth, and who administers human affairs justly and mercifully in such wise that neither does justice exclude mercy with Him, nor does mercy hinder justice, was not overcome Himself when His Hebrew people suffered their overthrow, in virtue of His permitting the kingdom and priesthood of that nation to be seized and subverted by the Romans. For now, indeed, by the might of this gospel of Christ, the true King and Priest, the advent of which was prefigured by that kingdom and priesthood, the God of Israel Himself is everywhere destroying the idols of the nations. And, in truth, it was to prevent that destruction that the Romans refused to admit the sacred rites of this God in the way that they admitted those of the gods of the other nations whom they conquered. Thus did He remove both kingdom and priesthood from the prophetic nation, because He who was promised to men through the agency of that people had already come. And by Christ the King He has brought into subjection to His own name that Roman empire by which the said nation was overcome; and by the strength and devotion of Christian faith, He has converted it so as to effect a subversion of those idols, the honour ascribed to which precluded His worship from obtaining entrance.

22. I am of opinion that it was not by means of magical arts that Christ, previous to His birth among men, brought it about that those things which were destined to come to pass in the course of His history, were pre-announced by so many prophets, and prefigured also by the kingdom and priesthood established in a certain nation. For the people who are connected with that now abolished kingdom, and who in the wonderful providence of God are scattered throughout all lands, have indeed remained without any unction from the true King and Priest; in which anointing64 the import of the name of Christ is plainly discovered. But notwithstanding this, they still retain remnants of some of their observances; while, on the other hand, not even in their state of overthrow and subjugation have they accepted those Roman rites which are connected with the worship of idols. Thus they still keep the prophetic books as the witness of Christ; and in this way in the documents of His enemies we find proof presented65 of the truth of this Christ who is the subject of prophecy. What, then, do these unhappy men disclose themselves to be, by the unworthy method in which they laud66 the nameof Christ? If anything relating to the practice of magic has been written under His name, while the doctrine of Christ is so vehemently antagonistic to such arts, these men ought ratherin the light of this fact to gather some idea of the greatness of that name, by the addition of which even persons who live in opposition toHis precepts endeavour to dignify their nefariouspractices. For just as, in the course of the diverse errors of men, many persons have set uptheir varied heresies against the truth under the cover of His name, so the very enemies of Christ think that, for the purposes of gaining acceptance for opinions which they propound in opposition to the doctrine of Christ, they have no weight of authority at their service unless they have the name of Christ.


23). But what shall be said to this, if those vain eulogizers of Christ, and those crooked slanderers of the Christian religion, lack the daring to blaspheme Christ, for this particular reason that some of their philosophers, as Porphyry of Sicily67 has given us to understand in his books, consulted their gods as to their response on the subject of [the claims of] Christ, and were constrained by their own oracles to laud Christ? Nor should that seem incredible. For we also read in the Gospel that the demons confessed Him;68 and in our prophets it is written in this wise: “For the gods of the nations are demons.”69 Thus it happens, then, that in order to avoid attempting aught in opposition to the responses of their own deities, they turn their blasphemies aside from Christ, and pour them forth against His disciples. It seems to me, however, that these gods of the Gentiles, whom the philosophers of the pagans may have consulted, if they were asked to give their judgment on the disciples of Christ, as well as on Christ Himself, would be constrained to praise them in like manner.


24. Nevertheless these persons argue still to the effect that this demolition of temples, and this condemnation of sacrifices, and this shattering of all images, are brought about, not in virtue of the doctrine of Christ Himself, but only by the hand of His apostles, who, as they contend, taught something different from what He taught. They think by this device, while honouring and lauding Christ, to tear the Christian faith in pieces. For it is at least true, that it is by the disciples of Christ that at once the works and the words of Christ have been made known, on which this Christian religion is established, with which a very few people of this character are still in antagonism, who do not now indeed openly assail it, but yet continue even in these days to utter their mutterings against it. But if they refuse to believe that Christ taught in the way indicated, let them read the prophets, who not only enjoined the complete destruction of the superstitions of idols, but also predicted that this subversion would come to pass in Christian times. And if these spoke falsely, why is their word fulfilled with so mighty a demonstration? But if they spoke truly, why is resistance offered to such divine power?70


25. However, here is a matter which should meet with more careful consideration at their hands,—namely, what they take the God of Israel to be, and why they have not admitted Him to the honours of worship among them, inthe way that they have done with the gods of other nations that have been made subject to the imperial power of Rome? This question demands an answer all the more, when we see that they are of the mind that all the gods ought to be worshipped by the man of wisdom. Why, then, has He been excluded from the number of these others? If He is very mighty, why is He the only deity that is not worshipped by them? If He has little or no might, why are the images of other gods broken in pieces by all the nations, while He is now almost the only God that is worshipped among these peoples? From the grasp of this question these men shall never be able to extricate themselves, who worship both the greater and the lesser deities, whom they hold to be gods, and at the same time refuse to worship this God, who has proved Himself stronger than all those to whom they do service. If He is [a God] of great virtue,71 why has He been deemed worthy only of rejection? And if He is [a God] of little or no power, why has He been able to accomplish so much, although rejected? If He is good, why is He the only one separated from the other good deities? And if He is evil, why is He, who stands thus alone, not subjugated by so many good deities? If He is truthful, why are His precepts scorned? And if He is a liar, why are His predictions fulfilled?


26. In fine, they may think of Him as they please. Still, we may ask whether it is the case that the Romans refuse to consider evil deities as also proper objects of worship,—those Romans who have erected fanes to Pallor and Fever, and who enjoin both that the good demons are to been treated,72 and that the evil demons are to be propitiated. Whatever their opinion, then, of Him may be, the question still is, Why is He the only Deity whom they have judged worthy neither of being called upon for help, nor of being propitiated? What God is this, who is either one so unknown, that He is the only one not discovered as yet among so many gods, or who is one so well known that He is now the only one worshipped by so many men? There remains, then, nothing which they can possibly allege in explanation of their refusal to admit the worship of this God, except that His will was that He alone should be worshipped; and His command was, that those gods of the Gentiles that they were worshipping at the time should cease to be worshipped. But an answer to this other question is rather to be required of them, namely, what or what manner of deity they consider this God to be, who has forbidden the worship of those other gods for whom they erected temples and images,—this God, who has also been possessed of might so vast that His will has prevailed more in effecting the destruction of their images than theirs has availed to secure the non-admittance of His worship. And, indeed, the opinion of that philosopher of theirs is given in plain terms, whom, even on the authority of their own oracle, they have maintained to have been the wisest of all men. For the opinion of Socrates is, that every deity whatsoever ought to be worshipped just in the manner in which he may have ordained that he should be worshipped. Consequently it became a matter of the supremest necessity with them to refuse to worship the God of the Hebrews. For if they were minded to worship Him in a method different from the way in which He had declared that He ought to be worshipped, then assuredly they would have been worshipping not this God as He is, but some figment of their own. And, on the other hand, if they were willing to worship Him in the manner which He had indicated, then they could not but perceive that they were not at liberty to worship those other deities whom He interdicted them from worshipping. Thus was it, therefore, that they rejected the service of the one true God, because they were afraid that they might offend the many false gods. For they thought that the anger of those deities would be more to their injury, than the goodwill of this God would be to their profit.


27. But that must have been a vain necessity and a ridiculous timidity.73 We ask now what opinion regarding this God is formed by those men whose pleasure it is that all gods ought to be worshipped. For if He ought not to be worshipped, how are all worshipped when He is not worshipped? And if He ought to be worshipped, it cannot be that all others are to be worshipped along with Him. For unless He is worshipped alone, He is really not worshipped at all. Or may it perhaps be the case, that they will allege Him to be no God at all, while they call those gods who, as we believe, have no power to do anything except so far as permission is given them by His judgment,—have not merely no power to do good to any one, but no power even to do harm to any, except to those who are judged by Him, who possesses all power, to merit so to be harmed? But, as they themselves are compelled to admit, those deities have shown less power than He has done. For if those are held to be gods whose prophets, when consulted by men, have returned responses which, that I may not call them false, were at least most convenient for their private interests, how is not He to be regarded as God whose prophets have not only given the congruous answer on subjects regarding which they were consulted at the special time, but who also, in the case of subjects respecting which they were not consulted, and which related to the universal race of man and all nations, have announced prophetically so long time before the event those very things of which we now read, and which indeed we now behold? If they gave the name of god to that being under whose inspiration the Sibyl sung of the fates74 of the Romans, how is not He (to be called) God, who, in accordance with the announcement aforetime given, has shown us how the Romans and all nations are coming to believe in Himself through the gospel of Christ, as the one God, and to demolish all the images of their fathers? Finally, if they designate those as gods who have never dared through their prophets to say anything against this God, how is not He (to be designated) God, who not only commanded by the mouth of His prophets the destruction of their images, but who also predicted that among all the Gentiles they would be destroyed by those who should be enjoined to abandon their idols and to worship Him alone, and who, on receiving these injunctions, should be His servants?75


28. Or let them aver, if they are able, that some Sibyl of theirs, or any one whatever among their other prophets, announced long ago that it would come to pass that the God of the Hebrews, the God of Israel, would be worshipped by aIl nations, declaring, at the same time, thatthe worshippers of other gods before that time had rightly rejected Him; and again, that the compositions of His prophets would be in such exalted authority,76 that in obedience to them the Roman government itself would command the destruction of images, the said seers at the same time giving warning against acting upon such ordinances;—let them, I say, read out any utterances like these, if they can, from any of the books of their prophets. For I stop not to state that those things which we can read in their books repeat a testimony on behalf of our religion, that is, the Christian religon, which they might have heard from the holy angels and from our prophets themselves; just as the very devils were compelled to confess Christ when He was present in the flesh. But I pass by these matters, regarding which, when we bring them forward, their contention is that they were invented by our party. Most certainly, however, they may themselves be pressed to adduce anything which has been prophesied by the seers of their own gods against the God of the Hebrews; as, on our side, we can point to declarations so remarkable at once for number and for weight recorded in the books of our prophets against their gods, in which also we can both note the command and recite the prediction and demonstrate the event. And over the realization of these things, that comparatively small number of heathens who have remained such are more inclined to grieve than they are ready to acknowledge that God who has had the power to foretell these things as events destined to be made good; whereas in their dealings with their own false gods, who are genuine demons, they prize nothing else so highly as to be informed by their responses of something which is to take place with them.77


29. Seeing, then, that these things are so, why do not these unhappy men rather apprehend the fact that this God is the true God, whom they perceive to be placed in a position so thoroughly separated from the company of their own deities, that, although they are compelled to acknowledge Him to be God, those very persons who profess that all gods ought to be worshipped are nevertheless not permitted to worship Him along with the rest? Now, since these deities and this God cannot be worshipped together, why is not He selected who forbids those others to be worshipped; and why are not those deities abandoned, who do not interdict Him from being worshipped? Or if they do indeed forbid His worship, let the interdict be read. For what has greater claims to be recited to their people in their temples, in which the sound of no such thing has ever been heard? And, in good sooth, the prohibition directed by so many against one ought to be more notable78 and more potent than the prohibition launched by one against so many. For if the worship of this God is impious, then those gods are profitless, who do not interdict men from that impiety; but if the worship of this God is pious, then, as in that worship the commandment is given that these others are not to be worshipped, their worship is impious. If, again, those deities forbid His worship, but only so diffidently that they rather fear to be heard79 than dare to prohibit, who is so unwise as not to draw his own inference from the fact, who fails to perceive that this God ought to be chosen, who in so public a manner prohibits their worship, who commanded that their images should be destroyed, who foretold that demolition, who Himself effected it, in preference to those deities of whom we know not that they ordained abstinence from His worship, of whom we do not read that they foretold such an event, and in whom we do not see power sufficient to have it brought about? I put the question, let them give the answer: Who is this God, who thus harasses all the gods of the Gentiles, who thus betrays all their sacred rites, who thus renders them extinct?


30. But why do I interrogate men whose native wit has deserted them in answering the question as to who this God is? Some say that He is Saturn. I fancy the reason of that is found in the sanctification of the Sabbath; for those men assign that day to Saturn. But their own Varro, than whom they can point to no man of greater learning among them, thought that the God of the Jews was Jupiter, and he judged that it mattered not what name was employed, provided the same subject was understood under it; in which, I believe, we see how he was subdued by His supremacy. For, inasmuch as the Romans are not accustomed to worship any more exalted object than Jupiter, of which fact their Capitol is the open and sufficient attestation, and deem him to be the king of all gods; when he observed that the Jews worshipped the supreme God, he could not think of any object under that title other than Jupiter himself. But whether men call the God of the Hebrews Saturn, or declare Him to be Jupiter, let them tell us when Saturn dared to prohibit the worship of a second deity. He did not venture to interdict the worship even of this very Jupiter, who is said to have expelled him from his kingdom,—the son thus expelling the father. And if Jupiter, as the more powerful deity and the conqueror, has been accepted by his worshippers, then they ought not to worship Saturn, the conquered and expelled. But neither, on the other hand, did Jove put his worship under the ban. Nay, that deity whom he had power to overcome, he nevertheless suffered to continue a god.


31. These narratives of yours, say they, are but fables which have to be interpreted by the wise, or else they are fit only to be laughed at; but we revere that Jupiter of whom Maro says that

“All things are full of Jove,”

—Virgil’s Eclogues, 3,5,60;

that is to say, the spirit of life80 that vivifies all things. It is not without some reason, therefore, that Varro thought that Jove was worshipped by the Jews; for the God of the Jews says by His prophet, “I fill heaven and earth.”81 But what is meant by that which the same poet names Ether? How do they take the term? For he speaks thus:

“Then the omnipotent father Ether, with fertilizing showers,

Came down into the bosom of his fruitful spouse.”—Virgil’s Georgics, 2,325.

They say, indeed, that this Ether is not spirit,82 but a lofty body in which the heaven is stretched above the air.83 Is liberty conceded to the poet to speak at one time in the language of the followers of Plato, as if God was not body, but spirit, and at another time in the language of the Stoics, as if God was a body? What is it, then, that they worship in their Capitol? If it is a spirit, or if again it is, in short, the corporeal heaven itself, then what does that shield of Jupiter there which they style the Aegis? The origin of that name, indeed, is explained by the circumstance that a goat84 nourished Jupiter when he was concealed by his mother. Or is this a fiction of the poets? But are the capitols of the Romans, then, also the mere creations of the poets? And what is the meaning of that, certainly not poetical, but unmistakeably farcical, variability of yours, in seeking your gods according to the ideas of philosophers in books, and revering them according to the notions of poets in your temples?

32. But was that Euhemerus also a poet, who declares both Jupiter himself, and his father Saturn, and Pluto and Neptune his brothers, to have been men, in terms so exceedingly plain that their worshippers ought all the more to render thanks to the poets, because their inventions have not been intended so much to disparage them as rather to dress them up? Albeit Cicero85 mentions that this same Euhemerus was translated into Latin by the poet Ennius.86 Or was Cicero himself a poet, who, in counselling the person with whom he debates in his Tusculan Disputations, addresses him as one possessing knowledge of things secret, in the following terms: “If, indeed, I were to attempt to search into antiquity, and produce from thence the subjects which the writers of Greece have given to the world, it would be found that even those deities who are reckoned gods of the higher orders have gone from us into heaven. Ask whose sepulchres are pointed out in Greece: call to mind, since you have been initiated, the things which are delivered in the mysteries: then, doubtless, you will comprehend how widely extended this belief is.”87 This author certainly makes ample acknowledgment of the doctrine that those gods of theirs were originally, men. He does, indeed, benevolently surmise that they made their way into heaven. But he did not hesitate to say in public, that even the honour thus given them in general repute88 was conferred upon them by men, when he spoke of Romulus in these words: “By good will and repute We have raised to the immortal gods that Romulus who rounded this city.”89 How should it be such a wonderful thing, therefore, to suppose that the more ancient men did with respect to Jupiter and Saturn and the others what the Romans have done with respect to Romulus, and what, in good truth, they have thought of doing even in these more recent times also in the case of Caesar? And to these same Virgil has addressed the additional flattery of song, saying:

“Lo, the star of Caesar, descendant of Dione, arose.”—Eclogue, 9,ver. 47.Let them see to it, then, that the truth of history do not turn out to exhibit to our view. sepulchres erected for their false gods here upon the earth!and let them take heed lest the vanity of poetry, instead of fixing, may be but feigning90 stars for their deities there in heaven. For, in reality, that one is not the star of Jupiter, neither is this one the star of Saturn; but thesimple fact is, that upon these stars, which were set from the foundation of the world, the names of those persons were imposed after their death by men who were minded to honour them as gods on their departure from this life. Andwith respect to these we may, indeed, ask how there should be such ill desert in chastity, or such good desert in voluptuousness, that Venus should have a star, and Minerva be denied one among those luminaries which revolve along with the sun and moon?

33. But it may be said that Cicero, the Academic sage, who has been bold enough to make mention of the sepulchres of their gods, and to commit the statement to writing, is a more doubtful authority than the poets; although he did not presume to offer that assertion simply as his own personal opinion, but put it on record as a statement contained among the traditions of their own sacred rites. Well, then, can it also be maintained that Varro either gives expression merely to an invention of his own, as a poet might do, or puts the matter only dubiously, as might be the case with an Academician, because he declares that, in the instance of all such gods, the matters of their worshiphad their origin either in the life which theylived, or in the death which they died, among men? Or was that Egyptian priest, Leon,91 either a poet or an Academician, who expounded the origin of those gods of theirs to Alexander of Macedon, in a way somewhat different indeed from the opinion advanced by the Greeks, but nevertheless so far accordant therewith as to make out their deities to have been originally men?

34. But what is all this to us?92 Let them assert that they worship Jupiter, and not a dead man; let them maintain that they have dedicated their Capitol not to a dead man, but to the Spirit that vivifies all things and fills the world. And as to that shield of his, which was made of the skin of a she-goat in honour of his nurse, let them put upon it whatever interpretation they please. What do they say, however, about Saturn?93 What is it that they worship under the name of Saturn? Is not this the deity that was the first to come down to us from Olympus (of whom the poet sings):

“Then from Olympus’ height came down

Good Saturn, exiled from his crown

By Jove, his mightier heir:

(He brought the rate to union first

Erewhile, on mountain-tops dispersed,

And gave them statutes to obey,

And willed the land wherein he lay

Should Latium’s title bear.”

—Virgil’s Aeneid, 8,320-324, Conington’s trans.Does not his very image, made as it is with the head covered, present him as one under concealment?94 Was it not he that made the practice of agriculture known to the people of Italy,a fact which is expressed by the reaping-hook?95 No, say they; for you may see whether the being of whom such things are recorded was a man,96 and indeed one particular king: we, however, interpret Saturn to be universal Time, as is signified also by his name in Greek: for he is called Chronus,97 which word, with the aspiration thus given it, is also the vocable for time: whence, too, in Latin he gets the name of Saturn, as if it meant that he is sated98 with years. But now, what we are to make of people like these I know not, who, in their very effort to put a more favourable meaning upon the names and the images of their gods, make the confession that the very god who is their major deity, and the father of the rest, is Time. For what else do they thus betray but, in fact, that all those gods of theirs are only temporal, seeing that the very parent of them all is made out to be Time?

35. Accordingly, their more recent philosophers of the Platonic school, who have flourished in Christian times, have been ashamed of such fancies, and have endeavoured to interpret Saturn in another way, affirming that he received the name X rono"99 in order to signify, as it were, the fulness of intellect;their explanation being, that in Greek fulness100 is expressed by the term koro",101 and intellect or mind by the term nou";102 which etymology seems to be favoured also by the Latin name, on the supposition that the first part of the word (Saturnus) came from the Latin, and the second part from the Greek: so that he got the title Saturnus as an equivalent to satur, nou".103 For they saw how absurd it was to have that Jupiter regarded as a son of Time, whom they either considered, or wished to have considered, eternal deity. Furthermore, however, according to this novel interpretation, which it is marvellous that Cicero and Varro should have suffered to escape their notice, if their ancient authorities really had it, they call Jupiter the son of Saturn, thus denoting him, it may be, as the spirit that proceedeth forth from that supreme mind—the spirit which they choose to look upon as the soul of this world, so to speak, filling alike all heavenly and all earthly bodies. Whence comes also that saying of Maro, which I have cited a little ago, namely, “All things are full of Jove”? Should they not, then, if they are possessed of the ability, alter the superstitions indulged in by men, just as they alter their interpretation; and either erect no images at all, or at least build capitols to Saturn rather than to Jupiter? For they also maintain that no rational soul can be produced gifted with wisdom, except by participation in that supreme and unchangeable wisdom of his; and this affirmation they advance not only with respect to the soul of a man, but even with respect to that same soul of the world which they also designate Jove. Now we not only concede, but even very particularly proclaim, that there is a certain supreme wisdom of God, by participation in which every soul whatsoever that is constituted truly wise acquires its wisdom. But whether that universal corporeal mass, which is called the world, has a kind of soul, or, so to speak, its own soul, that is to say, a rational life by which it can govern its own movements, as is the case with every sort of animal, is a question both vast and obscure. That is an opinion which ought not to be affirmed, unless its truth is clearly ascertained; neither ought it to be rejected, unless its falsehood is as clearly ascertained. And what will it matter to man, even should this question remain for ever unsolved, since, in any case, no soul becomes wise or blessed by drawing from any other soul but from that one supreme and immutable wisdom of God?

36. The Romans, however, who have rounded a Capitol in honour of Jupiter, but none in honour of Saturn, as also these other nations whose opinion it has been that Jupiter ought to be worshipped pre-eminently and above the rest of the gods, have certainly not agreed in sentiment with the persons referred to; who, in accordance with that mad view of theirs, would dedicate their loftiest citadels104 rather to Saturn, if they had any power in these things, and who most particularly would annihilate those mathematicians and nativity-spinners105 by whom this Saturn, whom their opponents would designate the maker of the wise, has been placed with the character of a deity of evil among the other stars. But this opinion, nevertheless, has prevailed so mightily against them in the mind of humanity, that men decline even to name that god, and call him Ancient106 rather than Saturn; and that in so fearful a spirit of superstition, that the Carthaginians have now gone very near to change the designation of their town, and call it the town of the Ancient107 more frequently than the town of Saturn.108

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 113