The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Thirty

Chapter 30

Were your former and famous pontifex, Scipio Nasica, still alive—the man whom, amid the panic of the Punic War, the Senate chose with one voice as the Roman citizen best fitted to welcome to Rome the obscene rites of the Phrygian goddess Cybele—he would have obliged you to desist from your impudent decision, and you would not even dare to look him in the face. Why, then, now that disaster has laid a heavy hand on you, do you complain about Christian civilization, if it be not that you desire to wallow securely in voluptuousness and, free from all restraint, give free rein to your profligate conduct? For, you do not desire to have peace and abundance of all things, in order to use these goods like decent men, that is, with measure, sobriety, temperance, and piety. No, your purpose is rather to pursue every kind of pleasure with insane extravagance; thus, out of your prosperity, you conjure up that corruption of morals which is more deadly than the fury of your enemies.

But that great man of yours, the chief pontifex, Scipio, that man whom the whole Senate judged your best citizen, fearing that that very calamity befall you, refused to consent to the destruction of Carthage, then challenging Rome’s bid for power. He stood out against Cato, who was all for it. For, Scipio feared complacent security as the enemy of feeble spirits, and believed that a vigilant fear would be a better, and a badly needed, teacher for the Romans. He was not mistaken; the event proved how rightly he spoke. Carthage was, indeed, destroyed, and the panic fear that haunted the Roman republic was dispelled. But, a ghastly strain of disastrous calamities speedily followed these palmy days. Peace was undermined and shattered—first by savage and bloody strife, then by a concurrence of evil forces that broke out into civil wars, with their horrible massacres and bloodshed, and raging mania for proscriptions and plunder, so much so that those Romans who in more virtuous days feared harm only from their enemies, now that those days had become degenerate, had to endure greater misery from their fellow citizens. That very lust for power which among human vices obsessed the Roman people more completely than any other, once it took possession of a few men of exceptional power also made slaves of the rest of them, now a demoralized and weary horde.

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), 8:66–68.

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