The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter 23

Apart from Lucretia, about whom I expressed my views above, the pagan champions of suicide find it hard to single out anyone whose authority they can set up as a norm, except the celebrated Cato who killed himself at Utica. He is not the only example of suicide, but, as a learned and virtuous man, what he did might be regarded as having been right for him and not right for others. Of Cato’s action I must say, in the first place, that his own friends, some of them learned, very wisely tried to dissuade him from his action, and judged it to be the action of a cowardly rather than of a brave spirit. For them, it was not an exhibition of virtue forearming against wickedness, but a craven spirit flinching before the frowns of fortune.

In fact, Cato judged himself by the advice he gave to his own beloved son. For, if it was infamy to live under a victorious Caesar, why did the father lead the son on to such a disgrace by bidding him to place all his hopes in Caesar’s liberality? Why did he not compel his son to die along with himself? If Torquatus gained applause by putting to death a gallant son who had engaged the enemy against his orders and won, why did vanquished Cato spare his vanquished son, but not himself? Was it more shameful to be a victor contrary to orders than to submit to a victor contrary to honor?

Thus, Cato deemed it no disgrace to live under the victorious Caesar; otherwise, he would have delivered his son from that disgrace by his own sword. What else, then, remains to be said but that Cato loved his son, whom he both hoped and desired Caesar would spare, as much as he begrudged Caesar the glory of pardoning him—as Caesar is reported to have said himself—or, to use a milder term, he was ashamed of such a courtesy at Caesar’s hands.

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), 8:56–57.

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