The city of God

The City of God: Book 4: Chapters Nineteen and Twenty

Chapter 19

The pagans make so much of this alleged divinity they call Fortune that, as one tradition has it, her statue (which was dedicated by women and therefore called Fortuna Muliebris) actually spoke and declared more than once that the women had honored her in true religious form. We need not wonder if that is really true. It is not hard for evil spirits to practice deception even with such tricks. But, the fact that the goddess who spoke is the one who happens upon people by accident, not the one who seeks out the meritorious, should have put the pagans on their guard against the demons’ wiles.

Why was Fortune loquacious and Felicity silent? Only in order that men, once they had Fortune on their side, might go on leading any kind of life, knowing that Fortune would bestow her favor on them without considering whether or not they deserved it. At any rate, if Fortune did speak, it should have been the Fortune of men rather than of women—to avoid the impression that the prodigy was nothing but the gossip of the women who dedicated the statue.

Chapter 20

The pagans also deified Virtue. Surely, if she were really a goddess, she should have been set above many other divinities. Since, however, she is not a goddess, but a gift of God, we should beg virtue from the only one who can bestow it. The whole swarm of false gods will vanish like mist. But, why was Faith also reckoned a goddess, and she, too, given a temple and an altar? Any one who comes to know faith really and practically already builds her a temple in his heart. But, how can the pagans know what faith is, when its first and highest demand is that men should believe in the true God? Why was not virtue enough for them, since faith is included in it? They thought it necessary to make a fourfold division of virtue: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Since each of these kinds has its own subspecies, faith is reckoned a part of justice, and is accorded first place among us who appreciate the significance of the words: ‘The just men liveth by faith.’ I am astonished at the fanatical multipliers of gods. If faith is a goddess, why did they insult so many other goddesses by ignoring them and not raising temples and altars in their honor also?

Why was not temperance thought worthy to be a goddess? Many men of high rank won no small glory in her name. Finally, why was not fortitude ranked among the deities? She stood by Mucius when he held his right hand in the flame. She stood by Curtius, who for his country plunged headlong into the chasm. She stood by the Decii, father, and son, when they sacrificed their lives for the safety of the army. Whether it was real fortitude which inspired these men is not the question here. Why did not prudence, why did not wisdom deserve a divine abode? Is it because they are all honored under the general title of Virtue? Then, He alone who is God could have been honored, since the rest of the gods are looked upon as parts of Him. But in that one general virtue are included faith and chastity, and both of these had altars in their own temples.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  +  51  =  53

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.