The city of God

The City of God: Book 4: Chapters Twenty-One and Twenty-Two

Chapter 21

Not truth, but folly, created these goddesses. These are gifts of the true God, and not goddesses at all. Where virtue and felicity are found, what else remains to be desired? If virtue and felicity cannot suffice a man, what will? For, virtue includes all things to be done, and felicity all things to be desired. If extent and duration of empire are blessings, they affect that same felicity. If Jupiter was worshiped that he might grant these blessings, why did they fail to understand that those things are gifts of God, and not divinities? Even if they took them for divinities, they could at least have dispensed with the rest of the polytheistic horde.

Let us examine the functions which our accusers have arbitrarily assigned to all the gods and goddesses, and ask them to discover, if they can, any boon which any god could bestow on a man possessed of virtue and felicity. What knowledge would one need to beg from Mercury or Minerva, when virtue in itself contains all blessings? The ancients defined virtue as the art of living well and rightly—assuming that the Latin ars was derived from the Greek arete, or virtue. But, if virtue comes only to the clever, what need was there of the god, Pater Catius, to make men alert or sharp, since Felicity could furnish this? To be born clever is surely a stroke of felicity. Therefore, even if the unborn child could not supplicate the goddess Felicitas to be kind and grant him that gift, she would confer upon the parents, her devotees, the happiness of bringing forth talented children.

To what purpose would women in childbirth invoke Lucina, when, with Felicitas attending, they could not only bear the child safely, but also bear good children? For the same reason, why recommend children to the goddess Ops as they come into the world; to the god Vaticanus when they cry; to the goddess Cunina as they lie in the cradle; to the goddess Rumina when they suck; to the god Statilinus when they begin to stand; to the goddess Adeona when they toddle toward you; to Abeona when the toddle away; to the goddess Mens that they have a good mind; to the deities Volumnus and Volumna that they may will good things; to the nuptial divinities that they may marry well; to the agricultural gods that they may gather abundance of produce, especially to the goddess Fructesea herself; to Mars and Bellona that they may fight well in war; to the goddess Victory that they may win; to the god Honos that they may be honored; to the goddess Pecunia that they may always have plenty of money; to the god Aesculanus and his son Argentinus that they may always have copper and silver coin?

They make Aesculanus the father of Argentinus, because copper money came into use before silver money. I am surprised that Argentinus did not beget Aurinus, since gold coin came into use even later. If the pagans had had that god, they would have set him before his father Argentinus and his grandfather Aesculanus, just as they now place Jove before Saturn. What need, therefore, was there of worshiping and invoking a horde of divinities to obtain spiritual, corporal, or external blessing? These divinities are so numerous that I have not mentioned them all, nor could the pagans themselves provide gods, or fragments of gods, for all the goods of human life, taken singly or in parts. Since the one goddess Felicity could have conferred all possible favors with an enormous and simple economy of effort, should any other divinity be sought either to bring down blessings or to ward off misfortunes?

Why should one have to supplicate the divinity Fessona in behalf of the weary; the goddess Pellonia for repulsing enemies; the physicians Apollo or Aesculapius in behalf of the sick, or both together when the danger was great? What need of importuning the god Spinensis for clearing thorns from the fields, or the goddess Rubigo for keeping off mildew? With Felicity’s protecting presence, either no evils would arise, or they would be most easily banished. Finally, since we are dealing with the two goddesses Virtue and Felicity, if felicity is a reward of virtue, it is not a goddess, but a gift of God; if it is a goddess, why cannot it be said to bestow virtue, since even to attain virtue is a great felicity?

Chapter 22

What, therefore, is to be thought of the inestimable service which Varro boasts of having done for his countrymen, not only by enumerating the gods the Romans must worship, but also by specifying the function appropriate to each? It is useless, he says, to know a certain doctor by name and appearance, but not to know what a doctor is. So, also, it is useless to know that Aesculapius is a god, but not to know that he can give you good health, and consequently not to know why you should invoke him.

To drive home his point, he uses another comparison. It is impossible for anyone, he says, not merely to live well, but to live at all, if he does not know who is a smith, who a baker, who a plasterer; if he does not know from whom he can seek household necessaries, whom to take as helper, whom as leader, whom as teacher. In like manner, he assures us, there can be no doubt that a knowledge of the gods is useful only when one has an idea in what affairs each god has efficacy, ability and power. ‘Thus,’ he continues, ‘we shall be able to know which god to call upon and invoke for any need, so that we may not ask, like the clowns, for water from Bacchus and wine from the Lymphae.’ Useful knowledge, indeed! We would have been grateful to Varro if he had taught the truth, taught men that they should adore the one true God, from whom all gifts come.

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

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