Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"City of God" III.18-19

Chapter 18:
Even the Punic Wars, that time in Roman history which everyone (Augustine included) believed to be the height of Roman virtue and excellence, was not exempted by the pagan gods from destruction and devastation. The idols themselves were swept away in fire and disaster. Which, for the Romans, was the equivalent of the gods being killed: "These objections of ours would be idle if our adversaries maintained that their idols are consecrated rather as symbols of things eternal, than to secure the blessings of time; and that thus, though the symbols, like all material and visible things, might perish, no damage thereby resulted to the things for the sake of which they had been consecrated, while, as for the images themselves, they could be renewed again for the same purposes they had formerly served."
That of course is contrary to the nature of idolatry. Even when it begins as mere symbolism, it inevitably ends with the prostration of man before the work of his own hands. Idolatry, like all sin, grows without ceasing outside of the power of the Gospel. And so we should be quite grateful for the efforts of those faithful believers who have warned us repeatedly of the dangers of worshiping objects of gold, silver, stone, and wood, and who regularly remind us that worship is due to God alone through Christ.

Chapter 19:
When the Romans were losing to Hannibal in the Second Punic War, they in a sense turned on their gods and turned to the slaves and the civic virtue of the leading citizens for safety. That is, they pressed the slaves into the army and stripped the temples of ceremonial weapons in order to arm these new soldiers. All of this was done on the dollar of the citizen body, for the state had no more to give. For just a minute, the cranky old conservative comes out of Augustine as he asks whether we could imagine a similar circumstance being endured today, when people get upset at the slightest disruption of the public amusements...

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