The city of God

The City of God: Book 4: Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen

Chapter 17

They may possibly reply that Jupiter is the one who sends Victory on her mission and that, in compliance with the wishes of the King of the gods, she goes to the people designated, and fights on their side. This, however, can truly be said, not of that Jupiter they arbitrarily imagine to be King of the gods, but only of that true King of the ages, who despatches, not Victory, who has no real existence, but His angel, and grants victory to whom He wills. His designs may at times be hidden, but they can never be wicked.

If Victory is a goddess, why is not Triumph also a god, joined to Victory either as husband, brother, or son? These pagans have conceived notions about the gods which, if created by the poet’s fancy, or criticized by us, they would brand as ridiculous poets’ dreams, unworthy of being predicated of real gods. Yet, they did not ridicule themselves, either for reading such absurdities in the poets, or for actually worshiping them in the temples. The pagans should, therefore, invoke Jupiter in all their needs and address their supplications to him alone. For, if Victory is a divinity subject to that King, and he sent her anywhere, she could not dare oppose him and do what she herself pleased.

Chapter 18

How does it happen that Felicity is also a goddess? They built her a temple, rewarded her with an altar, and performed suitable rites in her honor. Therefore, she alone should have been worshiped. For, what good is absent when she is present, and what sense is there in also believing in, and paying worship to, the goddess Fortune? Is Felicity one thing and Fortune another? Yes, they say, because fortune can be adverse, while, if felicity is adverse, it is not felicity. Surely, we must regard the divinities of both sexes (supposing they can have sex) as nothing but good. Plato says so, the other philosophers say so, and distinguished leaders of the state and of the people say so.

How does it happen, then, that the goddess Fortune is now good, now evil? Can it be that when she is evil she is no longer a goddess, but suddenly turned into a malevolent demon? How many goddesses of that kind are there? As many, surely, as there are fortunate men, or men who enjoy good fortune. But, as there are many other men who at one and the same time with the others are pursued by evil fortune, would Fortune, if it were the bad one, be good and bad at the same time: Good to some; bad to others? Or is the Fortune who is a goddess always good? Then, she is Felicity; why give her two names? However, we can bear with that, since it is common enough to call the same thing by two names.

But, why give them different temples, different altars, different rites? That, they allege, is because felicity is to be understood as the happy state awarded to good people for the good things they have already done, while the fortune which men call good falls to the good and the bad indiscriminately, taking no account of merits. Hence, she is called Fortune. But, how can that be good which favors both the good and the bad without distinction? Why pay divine honors to a being who gropes about so blindly that for the most part she passes by her own suppliants and clings to her defamers? Or, if her devotees do anything to deserve her favorable attention and goodwill, then she takes their merits into account and does not stumble upon them by chance.

What are we to think of that definition of Fortune? What are we to think of a deity who derives her name from chance happenings? If she is merely chance, it is sheer waste of time to worship her. If, on the contrary, she discriminates among her suppliants in order to benefit the good, then she is not chance. Does Jupiter send her wherever he will? In that case, he alone should be worshiped. For, Fortune cannot refuse to obey any command of his, or go wherever he may wish to send her. Let only the wicked be her suppliants, the people who have no intention of acquiring those merits by which Felicity might be attracted.

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

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