Friday, March 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

civitateIV.3. Whether the great extent of the empire, which has been acquired only by wars, is to be reckoned among the good things either of the wise or the happy

Now, therefore, let us see how it is that they dare to ascribe the very great extent and duration of the Roman empire to those gods whom they contend that they worship honourably, even by the obsequies of vile games and the ministry of vile men: although I should like first to inquire for a little what reason, what prudence, there is in wishing to glory in the greatness and extent of the empire, when you cannot point out the happiness of men who are always rolling, with dark fear and cruel lust, in warlike slaughters and in blood, which, whether shed in civil or foreign war, is still human blood; so that their joy may be compared to glass in its fragile splendour, of which one is horribly afraid lest it should be suddenly broken in pieces. That this may be more easily discerned, let us not come to nought by being carried away with empty boasting, or blunt the edge of our attention by loud-sounding names of things, when we hear of peoples, kingdoms, provinces. But let us suppose the case of two men; for each individual man, like one letter in a language, is as it were the element of a city or kingdom, however far-spreading in its occupation of the earth. Of these two men let us suppose that one is poor, or rather of middling circumstances; the other very rich. But the rich man is anxious with fears, pining with discontent, burning with covetousness, never secure, always uneasy, panting from the perpetual strife of his enemies, adding to his patrimony indeed by these miseries to an immense degree, and by these additions also heaping up most bitter cares. But that other man of moderate wealth is contented with a small and compact estate, most dear to his own family, enjoying the sweetest peace with his kindred neighbors and friends, in piety religious, benignant in mind, healthy in body, in life frugal, in manners chaste, in conscience secure. I know not whether any one can be such a fool, that he dare hesitate which to prefer. As, therefore, in the case of these two men, so in two families, in two nations, in two kingdoms, this test of tranquility holds good; and if we apply it vigilantly and without prejudice, we shall quite easily see where the mere show of happiness dwells, and where real felicity. Wherefore if the true God is worshipped, and if He is served with genuine rites and true virtue, it is advantageous that good men should long reign both far and wide. Nor is this advantageous so much to themselves, as to those over whom they reign. For, so far as concerns themselves, their piety and probity, which are great gifts of God, suffice to give them true felicity, enabling them to live well the life that now is, and afterwards receive that which is eternal. In this world, therefore, the dominion of good men is profitable, not so much for themselves as for human affairs. But the dominion of bad men is hurtful chiefly to themselves who rule, for they destroy their own souls by greater licence in wickedness; while those who are put under them are not hurt except by their own iniquity. For to the just all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not the punishment of crime, but the test of virtue. Therefore the good man, although he is a slave, is free; but the bad man, even if he reigns, is a slave, and that not of one man, but what is far more grievous, of as many masters as he has vices; of which vices when the divine Scripture treats, it says, "For of whom any man is overcome, to the same he is also the bond-slave."

Sunday, March 14, 2010


He's not done until he's killed you.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Jenson on Ezekiel ix

Specifically, Ezekiel ix, 3-8 (p. 84):
jensonThe Lord instructs the recording angel: he is to go through Jerusalem and mark the foreheads of those in the city who have remained faithful - obviously not an overwhelming number, since there is one angel to do this and six to follow him and destroy the rest. There is wordplay here: the word for "mark" is also the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tau. We could therefore translate "make a tau on the forehead" - which indeed is how rabbinic tradition read the passage (Levey 1990: 37). Thus we know the shape of the mark; in the orthography of ancient Hebrew the tau was a cross. It is impossible not to notice: the angel is told to perform the very gesture of baptismal chrism and of Ash Wednesday's marking with ashes. [source]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

History and Providence

90 pages into the Civitate, I notice that Augustine's demythologizing of Roman deities bears a striking resemblance to the same arguments that might be lodged against anyone who attributes specific historical events to the will of the Christian God.

What's interesting, though, is that rather than use these arguments to go ahead and say, "Therefore, we cannot know the providential acts of God," Augustine uses these arguments to say, "Actually, it's not the Roman gods that deserve credit for the blessings of Rome, but actually the God of the Christians."

P.S. I like where he's going with this.