The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter 31

For, once rooted in those arrogant spirits, would that passion for rule check its career before it climbed the whole ladder of public office to dynastic power? But, it would not be possible for one to perpetuate himself in power were it not for the prevalence of illicit favoritism, nor would such favoritism have any chance to prevail except among a people corrupted by greed and lust. For, a greedy and lustful people is what issued from that degrading prosperity which the famous Nasica, with sure foresight, sought to avert when he opposed the annihilation of the vast, mighty, and rich enemy state. This he did that fear might hold in check sensuality, which, thus restrained, might not itself degenerate into debauchery; and, with debauchery curbed, an end might be made of avarice. If these vices were banished, Nasica rightly thought, virtue would flourish and grow to the profit of the State, and a measure of freedom befitting virtue would be an abiding reward.

It was for those very reasons and because of his farseeing patriotism that the same chief priest—I cannot repeat too often that he was unanimously acclaimed by the Senate of his time as the worthiest citizen—gave cold reception to the project of the Senate to build an amphitheatre, and in a very earnest, emphatic, and impressive speech repressed their enthusiasm for the scheme and convinced them that they should not suffer the licentious ways of the Greeks to contaminate the sturdier life of their country, or tolerate foreign depravity to undermine and enervate Roman character. He spoke with such force and effect that his words stirred the Senators’ foresight to action, and they henceforth forbade the laying out even of those movable seats which the public had already begun to use.

With how much zeal would a man like Nasica have kept the stage plays themselves far from Rome, if he had dared defy the authority of those he regarded as gods. But, he either did not know that those deities were mischievous demons, or, if he did, he imagined that they should be propitiated rather than condemned. Not yet had that heaven-sent teaching been proclaimed to the nations, that teaching which purified the heart by faith, inspired human desire to seek eagerly for things heavenly and divine, and emancipated it from the domination of arrogant demons.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, The Fathers of the Church, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 8:68–69.

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