This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 8.14–27.

8.14–15. Augustine begins his discussion of the demons of Platonism and their mediation. Much of his discussion will be a critique of the views of Apuleius. Apuleius lived in the second century after Christ and was a North African, like Augustine. Apuleius was a teacher of rhetoric and was a Platonist, but he’s most famous today for his novel, The Golden Ass.

In early Greek mythology and philosophy, “daimon” didn’t have any negative connotations. A demon was usually understood to be some sort of spirit of nature. By Augustine’s day, however, because of the influence of Christianity, the word had a universal negative connotation.

Augustine contends that the demons ought not be considered superior to humans. Even though they possess immortal bodies of air, better and worse are always matters of virtue. Physicality does not confer virtue. This is another aspect of the same argument that Augustine made when discussing the greatness of the Roman Empire.

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This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 7.33–8.13.

7.33–35. We’ve reached the end of book seven, and Augustine has waited until the end to bring out new evidence supporting his theory that polytheistic religion is actually the worship of malignant spirits.

Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, supposedly reigning from 715 to 673 BC. The Romans had a list of contributions that each of the seven kings made to the city of Rome. Numa was supposedly a Sabine whose major contribution was the establishment of Rome’s religious institutions.

In 181 BC, some of Numa’s books on religion and philosophy were found, but the Roman Senate had them burned. Augustine relates Varro’s version of the story but provides his own interpretation. These books wouldn’t have been burned if they hadn’t revealed the truth about polytheism’s demonic origin.

It’s worth reading Livy’s account of the same event in History of Rome 40.29. Livy claims that the books looked new and sounded Pythagorean. Pythagoreanism would show them to be obvious forgeries since Pythagoras lived long after Numa. It seems that a rumor circulated at the time that Numa was a disciple of Pythagoras, even though this would be a chronological impossibility. Even so, Livy says that the books were burned because they undermined civil religion, not because they were inauthentic.

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This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 7.12–32.

7.12–15. Augustine continues to note inconsistencies within Pagan religion. How are all the gods related to Jupiter? How are they related to the world? How are they related to the deeds of men? How are they related to the stars of the heavens? Augustine finds Pagan explanations both sad and humorous.

Chapter 15 talks of Venus and Juno’s golden apple. In classical myth, the goddess of discord threw a golden apple into the midst of a feast of gods and goddesses. The apple was inscribed with the words “for the most beautiful.” Three goddesses immediately reached out to grab it—Juno, Venus, and Minerva. Jupiter sends Mercury with the three goddess to see Paris of Troy, who will judge which is the most beautiful. Paris chooses Venus because she bribes him with the love of Helen, who is the most beautiful woman in the world. This event triggers the Trojan War. Augustine suggests that the goddesses fight over rights to the Moon in the same way they fought over the apple. Strangely, he doesn’t mention Diana who was frequently associated with the Moon. I suppose that including Diana would have prevented him from making his erudite allusion to the golden apple. He does bring up Diana in connection with the moon in the next chapter.

7.16. In this chapter Augustine describes the physical manifestations of the select gods. When reading Augustine’s thoughts on Sun, Moon, and stars, it is important to keep in mind that he operates with a geocentric view of the universe. The hierarchy of the universe, from earth at the bottom to ether at the top, had theological implications in traditional Roman religion and the religions of the philosophers. Continue Reading…

This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 7.1–11.

7.1–2. In book seven, Augustine criticizes Roman civil religion from a different perspective. In book six, he tried to show how it was no better than the shameful stories of the poets. In this book he’ll attempt to undermine faith in the “select gods.”

He realizes that some of his opponents might grant that his previous book contains a valid criticism against the minor gods. Yes, Rome had too many gods and their tasks tended to overlap too much. In book seven, Augustine wants his reader to see that those same criticisms apply to the major gods as well.

The select gods: Janus, a god of beginnings. Jupiter, king of the gods. Saturn, father of Jupiter and a god of agriculture and time. Genius, like a guardian angel, which could guard a person or a place. Perhaps this Genius is the Genius of Rome. Mercury, god of commerce and communication. Apollo, god of light and truth. Mars, god of war. Vulcan, god of fire. Neptune, god of the waters. The Sun, the sun. Orcus, god of the underworld. Father Liber, god of wine and freedom. Earth, the earth. Ceres, goddess of agricultural fertility. Juno, queen of the gods. The Moon, the moon, but often associated with other goddesses. Diana, goddess of the hunt and pregnancy. Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Venus, goddess of love. Vesta, goddess of the hearth.

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This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 6.1–12.

Book six is a little shorter than previous books so we were able to tackle it all in one week.

In this book Augustine wants to show his reader that the traditional Roman gods cannot offer eternal life.

6.1. I find Augustine to be quite amusing in this first section. If the gods can’t be trusted to help in temporal affairs (which Augustine has proved in his first five books), then it is absurd to believe that they can give eternal life to anyone.

6.2. Augustine interacts with Varro as he attempts to show that Paganism has nothing to say about eternal life. Augustine notes that many intellectuals looked upon Varro as the authority on Roman religion, even though his style was unexceptional.

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This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 5.13–26.

5.13–16. In this section we see some of Augustine’s pride at being Roman. The Romans were the best example of the earthly city. A love of praise motivated their actions, but that vice served to check other vices. When discussing Augustine’s thinking, people sometimes talk about “splendid vices,” though I don’t believe the phrase actually appears in his writings.

The pagans could not experience true virtue apart from God, but they have a sort of shadow of virtue. Their love of human praise, though technically a vice, caused the old Romans to act in a manner that Augustine more or less approved of.

His point, which he’ll make at other places in City of God, seems to be that apart from true religion, the Romans are as good as it gets. Being a Roman himself, he’s naturally biased, but he has a point. The deeds of the pagan Romans continued to be remembered and lauded through the Middle Ages, the Early Modern Period, and the Enlightenment. The Roman Republic has always been almost universally approved by later generations.

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This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 5.1–12.

5.1–3. Augustine claims that he will begin to discuss why the Roman state was so successful. He has spent the last four books explaining why one should not attribute Roman success to the gods. It seems that he realizes at the beginning of book five that he left out an important bit. He launches into a refutation of astrology so that his reader will not attribute Roman success to destiny. An explanation of the real foundations of Roman success will have to wait.

“Destiny” as determined by the stars cannot explain the events of history. Augustine argues his point by examining how the Stoics, and others, tried to explain away the different experiences of twins. Even though he has trouble moving on to the main point of book five, I enjoy these passages in which Augustine talks through the absurdity of astrology. Astrology had a fairly serious reputation in ancient Rome.

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