The city of God

The City of God: Book 4: Chapters Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four

Chapter 23

But, to keep to our subject, if their books and rituals tell the truth, and Felicity is a goddess, why was she alone not worshiped, since it was in her power to bestow all blessings and make men happy by a short cut? What else but to be happy does any man desire? Why did so many rulers of Rome ignore so mighty a goddess till Lucullus erected a temple in her honor? Why did Romulus himself, who desired to found a happy city, not build a temple for her in the first place, and not have to beg the other gods for anything—since nothing is lacking if she is present? He himself would never have become king, or later, as they fancy, a god, had she not stood by him. Why, then, did he thrust upon the Romans so many gods: Janus, Jove, Mars, Picus, Faunus, Tiberinus, Hercules, and the rest? Why did Titus Tatius add Saturn, Ops, Sol, Luna, Vulcan, Lux, and still others (including Cloacina), yet scorn Felicity? Why should Numa omit her from among so many other gods and goddesses? Could he not see her for the crowd? Assuredly, King Hostilius himself would not have dragged in the new divinities Fear and Dread to be propitiated, had he known her or been one of her devotees. For, had she been there, Fear and Dread would not merely have departed appeased—they would have been driven out and would have fled.

Again, how was it that the Roman Empire expanded far and wide, yet no one worshiped Felicity? Was the Empire more extensive than happy? How can there be real felicity where there is no real piety? Piety is the true worship of the true God, not the worship of a host of false gods—every one a demon. Even afterwards, when Felicity had been given a place among the gods, the terrible infelicity of the civil wars followed. Was Felicity perhaps justifiably angered for being passed over so long and then at last brought in, not to her honor, but to the disgrace of seeing herself put on a level with Priapus and Cloacina, Fear and Dread, Fever and others who were not divinities worth worshiping, but a disgrace to their worshipers?

Lastly, if it seemed unworthy of so great a goddess to associate her with the worship of a disreputable rabble, why was she not accorded higher honors than the rest? It is intolerable to think that Felicity was not ranked with the divine Counsellors, who, they say, form Jupiter’s council, or with the gods they call ‘select.’ A temple should have been built to her which, in eminence of position and in magnificence of architecture, would be unsurpassed. Why should she not have an even better one than Jupiter himself? For, who but Felicity gave Jupiter his kingdom, supposing that he was really happy as king? Felicity is more blessed than a kingdom. No one doubts that it is easy to find a man who shrinks from becoming a king, but no man can be found who does not wish to be happy.

Suppose that the temples and altars of the other gods filled the available space on which a larger and more magnificent temple might be raised to Felicity. Suppose, too, that by means of auguries, or by any other procedure judged effectual, the gods were asked their wishes as to whether they would make room for Felicity. Jupiter himself would yield his place, that Felicity might have it upon the very crest of the Capitoline Hill. Nor would anyone protest against Felicity unless, which is impossible, he wished to be unhappy.

Were Jupiter asked his opinion, he certainly would not have been so discourteous as the three gods, Mars, Terminus, and Juventas, were to him when they utterly refused to relinquish their place to their superior and king. The story is told by their own writers that King Tarquinius wished to build a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus. But, he perceived that the site he thought most proper and suitable was already occupied by other gods, of whom many had their temples in the area where the Capitol was eventually erected. Not venturing, therefore, to take any steps without their consent, and feeling confident that they would defer to the wishes of a mighty divinity who was also their chief, Tarquinius had the augurs ask whether they would not resign their place to Jove. The answer was definitely affirmative, on the part of all save the ones I mentioned: Mars, Terminus, and Juventas. That is why the Capitol was constructed in such a way as to enclose the three, but with their statues so hidden away that the greatest sages of Rome could scarcely tell where they stood.

Jupiter himself would never treat Felicity so discourteously as Terminus, Mars and Juventas had treated him. The very ones who would not make way for Jove would unquestionably yield place to Felicity, who had made him their king. If they did not yield, it was not out of disrespect, but because they preferred to remain unknown in Felicity’s temple rather than sit in majesty without her in their own places.
Thus, with Felicity enthroned on a spacious and lofty seat, the citizens would soon learn from whom to beg the fulfillment of every good desire. Common sense alone would prompt them to reject the rest of the useless rabble of gods, to confine their worship to Felicity, and to pray to her alone. Into her temple alone would stream citizens who desired to be happy—and none would not. Thus, the felicity which was sought from all the gods would be enough from Felicity alone. For, who wishes to receive from any god anything but felicity, or whatever he judges conducive to it? Therefore, if Felicity has it in her power to abide with whom she will—and she has, if she is a goddess—what folly to seek felicity from some other god, when you can obtain it from Felicity herself!

Hence, this goddess should be honored above all other deities in the grandeur of her place of enthronement. For, as may be read in their writings, the ancient Romans worshiped a certain Summanus, to whom they ascribed the thunder of the night, above Jove, who ruled the thunder of the day. But, after a magnificent and lofty temple was raised to Jove, the grandeur of the structure drew the multitude in such numbers that soon one was scarcely to be found who had heard the name of Summanus, or who recalled even having read about him.
But, if Felicity is not a goddess because, in truth, it is one of God’s gifts, then seek the God who can bestow it. Forsake the deadly pack of false deities which the foolish rabble run after, making for themselves gods out of God’s gifts, and by their obstinate self-will offending God Himself, the Author of the gifts. No man can avoid infelicity who worships Felicity as a goddess and turns his back on the Giver of felicity, even as he cannot but hunger who licks the picture of a loaf and fails to ask the real loaf of the man who has it.

Chapter 24

Let us now consider the pagans’ arguments. They ask: Are we to consider that our ancestors were so stupid as not to realize these virtues to be God’s gifts, and not gods in themselves? Since they knew that such gifts are not bestowed on anyone except by some god, whose name they did not know, they simply designated gods by the name of those gifts they believed conferred by the gods. They did this by modifying the words, as when they called the war goddess Bellona, not Bellum; the goddess of cradles Cunina, not Cuna; the harvest god Segetia, not Seges; the orchard goddess Pomona, not Pomum; the cattle goddess Bubona, not Bos.

Or, on the other hand, without changing the word at all, they simply, by a mental distinction, transferred the names of the things themselves to the goddesses. Thus, when they called Pecunia the goddess who gives money, they by no means mistook the money for the goddess herself. So also with Virtue, who bestows virtue; Honor, who confers honor; Concord, who grants concord; Victory, who accords victory. So, they conclude, when Felicity is called a goddess, they understand thereby not the felicity that is given, but the divinity who gives felicity.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, The Fathers of the Church, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 8:220–225.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

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

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x