IF MAN’S sickly understanding would not set plain truth at defiance, but humbly submit this common infirmity to the tonic of wholesome doctrine until, by filial trust in God’s help, it regained its strength, those who think straight and express their thoughts in well-chosen speech would have no need of many words to correct the errors of baseless assumption. Unfortunately, however, there prevails a major and malignant malady of fools, the victims of which mistake their irrational impulses for truth and reason, even when confronted with as much evidence as any man has a right to expect from another. It may be an excess of blindness which prevents them from seeing the most glaring facts, or a perverse obstinacy which prevents them from accepting the facts when seen. This compels me to present more diffusely, not for their closed eyes to see, but, so to speak, for their hands to touch and feel, some obvious points.
Yet, if we always felt obliged to reply to counterstatements, when would there be an end to the argument or a limit to discussion? For, those who cannot grasp what is said, or, if they understand the truth, are too obdurate to accept it, keep on replying and, according to Holy Writ, ‘speak iniquity’1 and never weary of empty words. You can easily see what an endless, wearisome, and fruitless task it would be, if I were to refute all the unconsidered objections of people who pigheadedly contradict everything I say.
And so, my dear Marcellinus, I hope that neither you nor any others, for whose profit and pleasure this work is offered in the love of Christ, will read what I write in the spirit of men who demand an answer every time they hear any objections and act like those silly women whom St. Paul describes as ‘ever learning and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth.’
When I began in the previous Book to speak of the City of God—which moved me to undertake, with God’s help, this entire work—my first plan was to challenge the view of those who hold that the Christian religion is responsible for all the wars desolating this miserable world and, in particular, for the recent barbarian sack of the City of Rome. It is true that the Christian religion forbids pagans to honor demons with unspeakable sacrifices; but, as I pointed out, they should thank Christ for the boon that, out of regard for His Name and in disregard of the traditional usages of war, the barbarians gave them immunity in spacious Christian buildings. What is more, they treated both the genuine followers of Christ and many who through fear pretended to be such with great concern. They refused to take measures against them which the laws of war permitted.
Thence arose the question: Why did God, on the one hand, bestow His good things upon the impious and the thankless, while, on the other, the enemy’s hard blows fell with equal weight upon the good and the wicked alike? In order to answer this all-embracing question as fully as the scope of my work demanded, I lingered on it for various reasons. First, because many are disturbed in mind when they observe how, in the daily round of life, God’s gifts and man’s brutalities oftentimes fall indifferently and indiscriminately to the lot of both the good and the bad; but, above all, because I wanted to offer to those pure and holy women whose modesty had been outraged by the barbarian soldiery, but whose purity of soul had stood adamant, the consoling assurance that they have no reason to bewail their lives, since there is no personal guilt for them to bewail.
Then, I proceeded to address a few remarks to those who shamelessly seek to defame Christian victims of calamity, and especially the virtue of outraged women who have remained undefiled and saintly. These calumniators, I pointed out, are wicked, impious, and degenerate descendants—not to say, the worst enemies—of those sturdier Romans whose many noble deeds are on the lips of men and live in the pages of history. The Rome founded and made great by the toil of their ancestors these men made even lower while it was still standing than when it fell. In the sack by the enemy only its stones and timbers fell, but in the lives of these despicable creatures everything collapsed, not merely the ramparts and armaments of their walls, but likewise of their wills. The fire of their base passions burned more fiercely in their hearts than the flames that devoured the city’s roofs.
With these observations, I brought the first Book to a close. Now, I propose to speak of the calamities that befell the city from the beginning of its history, both at home and in its provinces—all of which our calumniators would have attributed to the Christian religion, if at that time the Gospel teaching had been freely bearing witness against their false and deceiving gods.
Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII