The city of God

The City of God: Book 7: Chapters 12-14

Chapter 12

Now, just listen to the lovely account which the pagans give of the name Pecunia! Jupiter is called Pecunia, they tell us, because all things belong to him. What an explanation of a divine name! The fact is that Pecunia would be not only a vulgar but a slanderous name for anyone who possessed everything. Compared to all the other things contained in heaven and earth, what is money—all of it, all that men possess under the name of money? The fact is that nothing but men’s greed gave this name to Jupiter. Those who love money wanted to think of themselves as loving, not just any god, but the very King of the gods.

It would be a different matter if Jupiter had been called Riches rather than Money. Riches and money are two different things. Even wise and just and good men are said to be ‘rich,’ though they have little or no money at all. Such men are rich in virtues; even when they are in need of material necessities, their virtues make them feel they have sufficient. On the other hand, greedy men are poor, always grasping for more and always in need. They can never be other than indigent in their abundance, however much money they own. Even God can rightly be called ‘rich’—not, of course, in money, but in omnipotence.

Men of money, it is true, are popularly called rich, but they are inwardly as poor as they are greedy. So, too, men without money are called poor, but inwardly they are as rich as they are wise. For a wise man, then, what kind of theology is that in which the ‘King of the gods’ gets one of his names from that thing ‘which no wise man covets.’ It would be even easier for them not to covet money, if only such wise men, for the good of their souls, knew something of the doctrine dealing with eternal life, namely, that the Ruler of the world takes His name not from money but from wisdom, for the love of wisdom takes away the stains of avarice and the love of money.

Chapter 13

If I pursue this discussion of Jupiter, it is only because it would seem that all the other gods are to be referred back to him, and thus there is an end to the inanity of polytheism. All these gods are one in him, sometimes being thought of as his parts or powers and sometimes as giving their many names to him, since the power of his spirit is diffused throughout the cosmos and since there are many parts making up the sum of our visible universe and the administrative tasks are manifold. What, for example, is Saturn? Varro answers: ‘One of the principal gods, in whose hands is the power over all sowing’ [satio].

Now, recall his exposition of the verses of Valerius Soranus, according to which Jupiter is the world, sending forth and taking back all seeds. From this, it follows that the power over all sowing is in the hands of Jupiter.

And what is Genius? ‘The god,’ says Varro, ‘who is in charge of and has power over all things that: are born.’ But, that power, they believe, belongs to that world which was addressed in the words, ‘Jupiter, Father and Mother of gods.’ In another place, Varro says that each one’s genius is his rational soul, and, as each person has his own genius, so is the god the soul of the world. This comes to saying that the world spirit is the genius of the universe. This is the genius whose name is Jupiter. Not every genius is divine, for, if so, every man’s soul would be a god, since every soul is a genius. Even the pagans refuse to admit so absurd a conclusion. All that is left for them is to call that Genius, par excellence, god who is the spirit of the universe and, therefore, Jupiter.

Chapter 14

The pagans found no way of referring Mercury and Mars to any parts of the universe, or to any of the divine activities which manifest themselves in the [four] elements. For this reason, they put them in charge at least of human activities, namely, speech and war. Because, if Mercury, for example, had power over the speech of the gods, he would have power over the King of the gods, whether Jupiter speaks at his dictation or, at least, with his permission. The conclusion is clearly absurd.

We must suppose, then, that Mercury has power only in regard to the activity of human speech. In that case, it is hard to believe that Jupiter, under his name of Ruminus, is willing to descend to the lowly function of suckling not merely babies but beasts, yet refuses the care of human speech—for here is our superiority to the animals. The conclusion is that Jupiter and Mercury are one and the same.

It may be objected that Mercury is merely another name for speech itself, as is proved from the meaning of the word. Mercury, they argue, means medius currens, ‘running between’ and speech ‘runs between’ men. So, too, in Greek, he is called Hermes, because hermeneía means speech or interpretation (which is an aspect of speech). And Mercury is in charge of merchandise on the premise that speech ‘runs between’ buyers and sellers. He has wings on his feet and head to signify that speech flies like a bird through the air. Mercury is called a messenger, because speech is the messenger of thought. But, the conclusion here is that Mercury is not a god at all, since, on their own confession, he is nothing but speech. However, when the pagans make gods for themselves out of things which are not even demons, when they pray to unclean spirits, they are possessed by beings which are less than gods, for they are demons.

So, too, in regard to Mars, the pagans could find no element or part of the cosmos in which he could exercise any activity of nature. So, they called him the god of war, which is a work—though an unwanted one—of man. Thus, if only Felicity would provide us with perpetual peace, Mars would have nothing to do! Of course, Mars may be war itself as Mercury is speech. Well, I do not have to prove that war is not a god; but, would to God it were as easy to prove that the thing, which, even falsely, is called a god were not a war.

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

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