The city of God

The City of God: Book 3: Chapters Twenty-Nine and Thirty

Chapter 29

No fury of foreign nations and no ruthlessness of barbarians can be compared with this victory of citizens over fellow citizens. Rome never witnessed a crime so fateful, black, and revolting. It can be compared neither with the incursion of the Gauls long ago, nor with that of the Goths more recently, nor with the ferocity which Marius and Sulla and other men of light and leading in their parties in Rome vented on members of their own body. The Gauls, it is true, massacred the Senators wherever they could find trace of them throughout the city, except those who found refuge in the stronghold of the Capitol, which somehow got defended. But, the Gauls at least sold for gold the lives of those who were on that rock. They could not take them with the sword, but they could have snuffed them out by means of a siege. On the other hand, the Goths spared so many Senators that it is a wonder they killed any at all.

Sulla, while Marius was still alive, took up his quarters on the Capitol which the Gauls had failed to take, and thence gave the signal for the butchery we know. When Marius fled, only to return more savage and more bloodthirsty than before, he proceeded by senatorial decree to rob many of their lives and property. But, once Sulla was gone, nothing was left too sacred for Marius’ partisans to profane. They did not even spare the life of Mucius, a fellow citizen, a Senator, a pontifex whom they cut down with his arms pitifully clinging to the shrine which was believed to hold the destinies of Rome. Finally, not to mention other assassinations too numerous to reckon, there is the last black list of Sulla, which decreed the doom of more senators than the Goths were able even to plunder.

Chapter 30

What, therefore, could show more effrontery, audacity, impudence, folly, and even madness, than for the pagans to refuse to blame those past calamities on their gods while they charge the present disasters to our Christ? The barbarous civil wars which, on the admission of their own historians, were more vindictive than all foreign wars on record, and which not only plagued the republic but utterly ruined it, all occurred many years before the coming of Christ. By a natural sequence of ill-fated cause and effect, the war between Marius and Sulla led to the wars of Sertorius and Catiline, the former of whom was proscribed by Sulla and the latter encouraged. From these, spring the wars of Lepidus and Catulus, of whom Lepidus sought to undo Sulla’s work and Catulus to uphold it. Then followed the conflict between Pompey and Caesar. Pompey had been Sulla’s follower, but had matched and even outstripped him. Caesar, however, could not allow Pompey a power he himself did not have, and gained the upper hand over his rival when he defeated and slew him. So we come to the other Caesar, later called Augustus, during whose reign Christ was born.

Augustus himself waged civil wars with more than one opponent, wars in which perished many an illustrious man, not least among them being Cicero, the celebrated orator, who gave us the masterly treatise on the art of governing the State. This same Gaius Caesar was murdered in the very precincts of the Curia by a clique of senators turned conspirators, who alleged that their victim had schemed to seize power and that they were acting in defense of the republic’s liberty. Yet, their victim was the very man who had put down Pompey, and who had used his victory with clemency by sparing the lives of his adversaries and restoring to them their dignities.

As heir of Caesar’s power there rose up a man of far different character, a man befouled and degraded by every vice, that Antony whom Cicero withstood with all his might in the name of that same liberty. Then came forward a young man of high character, that other Caesar, Gaius Caesar’s adopted son, who, as I said, was later given the title of Augustus. To this young Caesar, Cicero lent all his support, in an effort to strengthen his power against Antony. He hoped that, once Antony was checked and crushed, Caesar would bring back freedom to the State. But, the orator was an extraordinarily blind prophet. He did not foresee that the very young man he was aiding to office and power was to deliver Cicero’s own life into Antony’s hands as a sort of peace-offering, and was to subject to his own dictatorship the country’s liberty, to the restoration of which Cicero had devoted so much of his oratory.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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