So far, Augustine has established that the power and might of the Roman Empire:
- Does not come from the pagan gods.
- Does not come from fate.
Instead, the Romans built their greatness on a love of glory. "Glory they most ardently loved: for it they wished to live, for it they did not hesitate to die. Every other desire was repressed by the strength of their passion for that one thing. At length their country itself, because it seemed inglorious to serve, but glorious to rule and to command, they first earnestly desired to be free, and then to be mistress."
At first, the Romans pursued glory in their nation by holding freedom to be a virtue, and defining 'glory' as 'self-sacrificial service to the state.' Over time, that glory was not enough and ambition expanded its scope to include the desire for the glory of dominance. "At that time it was their greatest ambition either to die bravely or to live free; but when liberty was obtained, so great a desire of glory took possession of them, that liberty alone was not enough unless domination also should be sought..."
In the early days of the Republic the pursuit of glory shaped itself by trying to work hard at virtue. And yet over time the desire for glory remained while the willingness to work hard waned. So a generation grew up who were ambitious for glory but unwilling to be dedicated the pursuit of virtue, and instead turned to treachery against the state.
At this point, Augustine reminds us to be a bit careful with our thinking and words. The 'virtue' in question is still only a worldly virtue. "For the glory with the desire of which the Romans burned is the judgment of men thinking well of men. And therefore virtue is better, which is content with no human judgment save that of one’s own conscience."
And yet, even this shadow of virtue (but not true virtue) was worth something and benefited the Roman state. "But the great things which were then achieved were accomplished through the administration of a few men, who were good in their own way. And by the wisdom and forethought of these few good men, which first enabled the republic to endure these evils and mitigated them, it waxed greater and greater." Augustine will have more to say about this in the following chapter.