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THE FOURTH BOOK
1. Let us then give up that prerogative of the Christian name, of which I spoke above, by which we consider that because we are more religious than other people, we ought also to be stronger. For since, as I have said, the faith of a Christian is to believe faithfully in Christ,178178 See III. 2, supra. to keep Christ’s commandments, it surely follows that the man who is unfaithful has no faith, that he who crushes under foot Christ’s commandments does not believe in Christ. The whole question centers on this point, that he who does not perform the work of a Christian does not appear to be one, for the name without its proper acts and function is nothing. A certain man 179179 Salvian Ad ecclesiam II. 37; a work issued anonymously as the address of Timothy to the church on avarice, but accepted by Salvian as his in Ep. IX, to Salonius. The anonymous publication explains the manner of his reference in this case. On this passage cf. also Ep. IX. 9: “The names of things are of no avail without the substance, and the words for virtues are nothing without their active strength.” says in his writings: “What else is high office without lofty merits but an honorable title without the man honored, or what is lofty rank without worth but an ornament in the midst of filth,?”
So, to use the same phrase ourselves, what else is a sacred name without merit but an ornament in the midst of filth? The sacred word bore witness to this in the divine writings, saying: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.”180180 Proverbs 11. 22. Thus among us also the name of Christian is like a golden ornament; if we use it unworthily, we make ourselves seem like swine wearing jewels.
Finally, whoever wishes fuller proof that mere words are nothing without actions should consider how countless peoples, by failing in 99good works, have lost the names given them. The twelve tribes of the Hebrews, when they were of old chosen by God, received two holy names, for they were called the people of God, and Israel. We read: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee.”181181 Psalms 50. 7; cf. Psalms 81. 8. Once the Jews bore both these titles, now they have neither. They who long since left off the worship of God cannot be called God’s people, nor can they who denied his Son be given a name that means “Seeing God.” So it is written: “But Israel does not know, my people doth not consider.”182182 Isaiah 1. 3.
For this reason on another occasion our God spoke of the people of the Hebrews to the prophet, saying: “Call his name, Not Beloved.” And speaking to the Jews themselves: “You are not my people and I am not your God.”183183 Hosea 1. 9; Romans 9. 25. Moreover, he himself showed clearly why he spoke thus about them, for he said: “They have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.”184184 Jeremiah 17. 13. And again: “They have rejected the word of the Lord and there is no wisdom in them.”185185 Ibid. 8. 9.
But indeed I am afraid that this is true of us now no less than it was of them, since we do not obey the words of the Lord, and our disobedience certainly shows that there is no wisdom in us. Unless perhaps we believe that we act wisely in scorning God, and consider it as a sign of the greatest prudence that we despise Christ’s commandments. There is some reason why we should be thought to hold this opinion, for we all sin with as much accord as if we were doing it in pursuit of an elaborately planned policy.
Since this is the case, what logical reason have we for deluding ourselves by a false notion into the belief that the good name of Christian can be of any possible help to us in the evils we commit? The Holy Spirit says that not even faith, without good works, can 100benefit Christian men. Yet surely to have faith requires much more than the name alone, for the name is the mere instrument by which a man is addressed, whereas faith is the fruit of the spirit. That this same fruit of faith is profitless without good works, the apostle testifies when he says: “Faith without good works is dead.” And again he says: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” 186186 James 2. 20, 26. He adds also certain harder sayings for the confusion of those who delude themselves by their false claims to the Christian faith.
2. “Yea, a man may say: ‘Thou hast faith and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.’”187187 Ibid. 2. 18. By this, indeed, he shows that good acts serve also as witnesses of the Christian faith, because unless a Christian has performed good works, he cannot prove his faith at all, and since he cannot prove that it exists, it must be considered as altogether non-existent.188188 Rittershausen suggests that Salvian here alluded to the saying of the jurisconsults: “Not to be, and not to appear, or not to be susceptible of proof, are one and the same thing.” For he shows at once that it must be considered as nothing, in his additional words to the Christian: “Thou belie vest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”189189 James 2. 19. Consider what the apostle meant by this. Let us not be angry at the divine testimony but assent to it; let us not speak against it but profit by it. “Thou believest,” says the Divine Word to the Christian, “that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Was not the apostle in error when he compared the faith of a Christian to that of a devil? Surely not, but wishing to demonstrate what was said above, that without good works a man should claim no merit through pride in his faith, for this reason he says that the devils also believe in God. The intent is, of course, that as the devils, though they believe in 101God, still persist in their wickedness, the sort of faith that they hold is like that of certain men who, while they assert their belief in God, still do not cease to do evil. Moreover, the apostle adds, for the confusion and condemnation of sinful men, that the devils not only believe in the name of God, but fear and tremble before it. Which is as much as to say: “Why do you flatter yourself, O man, whoever you are, for your belief, which without fear and obedience to God is as nothing? The devils have some advantage over you in this. For you have but one thing alone, and they have two: you have your belief, but not fear; they have belief and fear alike.” Why do you wonder that we are chastised, that we are given over into the hands of the enemy, that we are weaker than all other men? Our miseries, our infirmities, our overthrow, our captivities and the punishments of our evil slavery are the proof that we are bad servants of a good master. How are we bad servants? Because, to be sure, our sufferings are only in proportion to our deserts. How are we the servants of a good master? Because he shows what we deserve, even though he does not inflict on us the punishment due, for he would rather correct us by the most kind and merciful chastisement than permit us to perish. As far as our misdoings are concerned, we deserve the penalty of death, but he, attaching more importance to mercy than to severity, prefers to better us by mercifully tempering his censure, than to slay us by the infliction of a just chastisement.
I know only too well that we are ungrateful for the blows we receive. But why do we wonder that God strikes us for our sins, when we ourselves strike our slaves for theirs? Like unjust judges we petty men are unwilling to be scourged by God, though we scourge men of our own condition. I am not surprised that we are so unjust in this case, for our very nature and wickedness are of a servile sort. We wish to do wrong and not be beaten for it. In this we have the same characteristics as our poor slaves. We all wish to sin without punishment. I call all men to witness whether I lie: I 102declare that there is no one, however great his guilt, who admits that he deserves torture. From this we may observe how unjust and how exceedingly wicked a thing it is that we are most severe to others, but most indulgent to ourselves; harsh to others, but lax with ourselves. For the same crimes we punish others and let ourselves go free; truly a mark of intolerable indulgence190190 The MS reading incontumaciae, the single occurrence of this word, was formerly questioned, but Pauly now accepts it, following Hartel, as equivalent to obsequium. and presumption. We do not wish to recognize any guilt in ourselves, but we dare to claim the right to judge others. What can be more unjust or more perverse than we show ourselves in this? We think that very crime justifiable in our own case that we condemn most severely in others. So it is not without cause that the apostle cries out to us: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whoever thou art, that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”191191 Romans 2. 1.
3. But some rich man may say: “We do not do the same things, not at all the same things, that slaves do; for slaves turn into thieves and runaways; slaves live only for their greedy appetites.” It is true that these are vices characteristic of slaves, but their masters, though not all of them, have more and greater faults. Certain of them must indeed be excepted, though very few, whom I do not name for fear that in so doing I may appear less to praise them than to libel those whom I do not name.
First then, slaves, if they are thieves, are usually forced into robbery by need, since even though the customary allowances are furnished them, these conform better to custom than to sufficiency and so fulfill the canon192192 That is, the usual slave allowance. The language seems to be borrowed from Cod. Just. XII. 23: De canone frumentario urbis Romae. Cf. Grégoire et Collombet ad. loc. without satisfying the needs of those who receive them. Their necessity makes the fault itself less blameworthy, since a convicted thief who seems compelled to robbery 103against his will deserves pardon. The Scripture itself seems to palliate the wrongdoing of needy men when it says: “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.”193193 Proverbs 6. 30. He steals to satisfy his soul; it is for this reason that we think we cannot accuse strongly enough those who are pardoned by the Divine Word. Regarding the running away of slaves we speak in the same way as about their thefts; but with even more justification, forsooth, in this case, since not only their wretched condition but also their punishments drive them to try to escape. They fear their overseers, they fear those set to keep silence among them, they fear their masters’ agents. Among all these there are scarcely any to whom they seem to belong less than to their owners; they are beaten and broken down by them all. What more can be said? Many slaves take refuge with their masters from fear of their fellow-slaves. We ought not to hold responsible the slaves who try to escape, but those who force them to make the attempt. Our slaves labor under a most unhappy compulsion; longing to serve, they have no choice but to flee. They have no desire whatever to leave their masters’ service, but the cruelty of their fellows does not allow them to continue in it.
They are called liars also. None the less, they are driven to falsehood by the brutality of the impending punishment—they lie in the hope of escaping torture. Why is it strange that a terrified slave would rather lie than be flogged? They are charged with having greedy mouths and stomachs, but this is nothing new; the man who has often endured hunger has the greater desire for satiety. Even supposing that he does not lack dry bread, he still hungers for delicacies, and so must be pardoned if he seeks more greedily that which is constantly lacking.
But you who are noble, you who are rich, who have an abundance of all good things, who ought to honor God the more because you enjoy his benefits endlessly, let us see whether your actions are, I 104shall not say holy, but even harmless. What rich man, to repeat my former question, save only a few, is not stained by every sort of evil deed? And when I except a few, would that I might include many more in the exception! for then the innocence of the majority might be the salvation of all. I am speaking about none now save the man who recognizes that my words apply to him. If what I say lies outside his conscience my charge will do him no discredit. If, on the other hand, his heart admits the truth of my words, he should realize that it is not my tongue that is accusing him but his own conscience.
To recount first the vices characteristic of slaves: if a slave is a runaway, so are you also, rich and noble though you are; for all men who abandon the law of the Lord are running away from their master. What fault can you rightly find in the slave? You are doing as he does. He flees from his master, and you from yours; but in this you incur more blame than he, for in all likelihood he is running away from a bad master, while you flee from a good one. In the slave you criticize incontinent greed. This is a rare fault in him, for want of means to satisfy it, but a daily one in you because of your abundance. Hence you see that the words of the apostle censure you more than him; nay, they censure you alone, for “wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things”;194194 Romans 2. 1. nay, not the same, but far greater and more wicked. In the slave you punish an infrequent overindulgence of the appetite, while you constantly distend your own belly with undigested food. You think theft a servile fault, but you too, O rich man, commit robbery when you encroach on things forbidden by God. Indeed every man who performs illicit actions is guilty of theft.
4. Why do I dwell on these petty details and speak in a sort of allegorical fashion, when absolutely unconcealed crimes make it clear that the wealthy commit not mere thefts but highway robbery 105on a grand scale? How often do you find a rich man’s neighbor who is not himself poor, who is really secure in his acts and position? Indeed by the encroachments of overpowerful men,195195 Even the imperial estates suffered from such encroachments; cf. the decree of Arcadius and Honorius, A.D. 399, providing for restitution of property unjustly seized on the imperial estates, and for a double penalty if restitution was delayed beyond a period of three months, applying also to those who had fled, unless they returned to restore the property stolen. The penalty applied to judges also if they did not give evidence against the exactores and conpulsores who were guilty. It is noteworthy that the decree claimed that but for the imperial clemency a fourfold penalty should have been exacted; one suspects impotence rather than clemency as the reason for the lighter fine (Cod. Theod. X. 1.10). On the general situation, cf. V. 8. infra. weaklings lose their property or even their freedom along with their goods, so that it was not without reason that the Sacred Word alluded to them both, saying: “Wild asses are the prey of lions in the wilderness; so poor men are a pasture for the rich.”196196 Ecclesiasticus 13. 19. And yet not only the poor but almost the whole human race is suffering this tyranny. “What else is the official career of eminent men but the confiscation of all the property of their states? What else is the prefecture of certain men, whose names I suppress, but plundering?197197 Compare the description of Arvandus, praetorian prefect of Gaul, given by Sidonius Apollinaris Ep. I. 7.3, “He governed his first prefecture with great distinction, and his second with great destruction.” Again, in Ep. V. 13 Sidonius described the “monster” Seronatus, “exhausting the individuals scattered outside the towns by unheard of forms of inflictions, and ensnaring them by the sinuous deceits of his calumnies.” The same Seronatus (Ep. II. 1) “levies taxes as a master, exacts payments like a judge, slanders like a barbarian . . , fills the woods daily with fugitives, the villas with enemies, the altars with accused men, the prisons with clergy.” We learn, however, from Ep. VII. 7. 2 that he was at last brought to justice and put to death, though the government hesitated to act against him. Nothing causes greater devastation in the poorer states than the high officials. Honor is bought by a few to be paid for by the oppression of the many; what could be more disgraceful or more unjust than this? Wretched men pay the purchase price for honors which they do not buy for themselves,; they have nothing to do with 106the bargain, but know only too well the payments made;198198 So Sidonius, Ep. V. 13, said of Seronatus: “Some are freed by his venality, others by his vanity, none by his mercy.” the world is turned upside down that a few men may be glorified; the honor of one man is the ruin of the human race.199199 On this whole passage cf. Haemmerle, Studia Salviana, I. 4, pp. 29-33.
To conclude, the Spanish provinces know whereof I speak, for they have nothing left them but their name;200200 Since Gaul was overrun by the barbarians earlier than Spain, the latter province suffered heavier taxation at the hands of the imperial prefects, who tried to make up the Gallic deficit in the imperial taxation from this source. Cf. Orosius VII. 41. 7: “There are certain Romans among them who prefer to sustain poverty in freedom among the barbarians than the constant oppression of taxation among the Romans.” the provinces of Africa know it, whose very existence is at an end;201201 Africa, being under the praetorian prefect of Italy, as Spain was under that of Gaul, also suffered from the increase of taxation to make up for losses in Italy. the lands of Gaul know it, for they are devastated, yet not by all their officials, and so they still draw the scanty breath of life in a few far corners, since the integrity of a few has supported for a time those whom the rapine of the many has impoverished.202202 See Sidonius Ep. III. 6. 3: “Certainly the provinces are much discussed; a good year depends less on the crops than the officials.” Again, in Ep. IV. 24. 5, Sidonius illustrated the “integrity of a few” by persuading an official friend to grant a year’s immunity from taxes, and cancellation of the interest due, to a more straitened taxpayer, to free him “from the barbarous demands of the collectors yapping around him.”
5. But my sorrow has led me to wander too far afield. To return to my former topic: is there any respect in which even the nobles are not contaminated by servile vices, or have they, forsooth, a right to commit sins they punish in their slaves? A slave may not even dream of such ravages as these nobles perform. This, however, is not quite true, for certain of the slaves, gaining noble rank, commit like sins, or even worse. Still the remaining slaves can hardly be held responsible for the fact that some few have so blessedly lost the condition of servitude.
Homicide is rare among slaves because of their dread and fear of 107capital punishment, whereas among the rich it is constantly committed because of their confident hope of immunity. Perhaps I am doing an injustice in reckoning the actions of the rich as sins, for when they kill their poor slaves they consider it an act of justice, not a crime.203203 This attitude, however, was in defiance of a decree of Constantine of A.D. 319 (Cod. Just. IX. 14. 1), which made a master who intentionally killed a slave guilty of homicide, whatever was the method used. Nor is this all; they also abuse their privilege in their vile breaches of chastity. What rich man keeps his marriage vows, who among them does not plunge headlong into passionate lust, who does not use his household slaves as harlots and pursue his madness against any one on whom the heat of his evil desires may light? They illustrate well the words of the Holy Scriptures about such men as they: “They are become as horses rushing madly on the mares.”204204 Jeremiah 5. 8. Is it not a proof of what I just said, that the average man washes to make his own by physical union whatever his eyes have beheld with desire? To use the term concubine may perhaps seem unfair, since in comparison with the vices mentioned above it seems almost a form of chastity to be content with a few mates and restrain one’s lusts to a fixed number of wives.205205 The increase of concubinage in the fourth century led to progressive legalization of the institution. Constantine in A.D. 326 forbade it unconditionally (Cod. Just. V. 26) ; Arcadius and Honorius in 405 strictly limited the inheritance of concubines and their children (Ibid. 27. 2) ; Theodosius and Valentinian in 443 (Ibid. 27. 3) provided that natural sons might have full inheritance rights if they entered the curial class, and natural daughters if they married curials. The last decree illustrates also how fiscal necessities led to increasing leniency on the part of the government toward the frailties of the propertied class, especially when direct benefit to the treasury would result. I say “wives” advisedly because we have come to such a pass that many consider their maidservants as actual wives. Would that they were content to have only those whom they do so consider! But the truth is more foul and loathsome by far—for certain men who have contracted honorable marriages take additional wives of servile rank, deforming the sanctity of holy matrimony by low and mean 108unions, not blushing to become the consorts of their slave women, toppling over the lofty structure of marriage for the vile beds of slaves, proving themselves fully worthy of the rank of those whom they judge worthy of their embrace.
6. Doubtless many of those who either are or wish to be nobles listened with lofty scorn to my statement that some slaves are less reprehensible than their masters. But since I made this remark not about all of them but only those whom it fits, no one has any cause for anger if he thinks himself a very different sort of man, for his anger would be enough to betray his membership in the group of which I spoke.206206 See Jerome Adv. Rufinum I. 11: “When vice is attacked anonymously, the man who is angry at the attack accuses himself. It were the part of a prudent man, therefore, though annoyed, to hide his guilt and cover his clouded heart by a bright front.” On the other hand, any nobles who abominate this wickedness should be angry at such men as these, who defame the very name of nobility by the extreme baseness of their misdeeds. For although, men of that stripe are a heavy burden to all Christian people, still by their vileness they pollute especially the members of their own class. Therefore I have said that certain nobles are worse than slaves, and I have thus opened the way for contradiction, unless I can adduce proof for my words.
Take for example this crime, a very great one indeed, of which almost the whole mass of slaves is guiltless. Has any slave throngs of concubines, is any one of them denied by the stain of polygamy or do they think they can live like dogs or swine with as many wives as they have been able to subject to their lust? The answer, I suppose, is obvious, that slaves have no such opportunities, for they surely would take them if they had. I believe this, but I cannot consider actions I do not see performed as having taken place. However dishonorable his intentions are, however evil his desires may be, no one is punishable for the crimes that he does not commit. It is generally agreed that slaves are wicked and worthy of our 109contempt. But, be that as it may, free-born men of noble rank are the more to be reproached if in their more honorable condition they are worse than slaves. Hence the inevitable conclusion is not that bondmen ought to be absolved from responsibility for their wrongdoings:, but that the majority of the rich are more to be condemned in comparison with slaves.
Who can find words to describe the enormity of our present situation? Now when the Roman commonwealth, already extinct or at least drawing its last breath in that one corner where it still seems to retain some life, is dying,207207 This mention of the notion, prevalent in the fifth century, of the old age of the Roman power, is somewhat at variance with Salviun’s usual point of view. Sidonius used “the old age of the world” as a commonplace (cf. Ep. VIII. 6. 3); Cyprian (Ad Demetrianum 4) made it the chief answer to the usual charges against the Christians: “You blame the Christians because as the world grows old its parts are weakened.” Salvian, on the other hand, saw the old regime as continuing with new vigor, gained from the barbarians, to take the place of the old vices. strangled by the cords of taxation as if by the hands of brigands, still a great number of wealthy men are found the burden of whose taxes is borne by the poor; that is, very many rich men are found whose taxes are murdering the poor.208208 The efforts of the central government to do away with such inequalities are illustrated by the decree of Gratian, Theodosius and Valentinian, a.d. 383 (Cod. Theod. XI. 13. 1) : “Let all the privileges granted to a few individuals to the destruction of the many be annulled, and all who have received immunities of this sort by any means be reduced to an equal lot with the other provincials . . . “; by the decree of the same emperors in 385 (Ibid. I. 20) providing that all be bound “by the same equal form of levy”; and by that of Arcadius and Honorius in 399 (Ibid. I. 26) removing all privilege, making all men equally subject to taxation, especially in “those provinces from which the complaint arises.” The repetition of such provisions illustrates clearly enough the futility of enacting them, which increased in the fifth century. Very many, I said: I am afraid I might more truly say all; for so few, if any, are free from this evil, that we may find practically all the rich in the category to which I have just assigned many of them.
Think a minute: the remedies recently given to some cities.—what have they done but make all the rich immune and heap up 110the taxes of the wretched? 209209 See V. 8 infra. We are reminded, however, how much the rich also had to complain of the burdens of taxation, by the description (Sidonius Ep. V. 17. 5) of a church festival of which the crowning pleasure was the conversation of Sidonius and his wealthy friends with “no mention of the imperial officers or of the taxes, not a word to be betrayed, and no one to betray it.” To free the rich from their old dues they have added new burdens to those of the poor; they have enriched the wealthy by taking away their slightest obligations and afflicted the poor by multiplying their very heavy payments. The rich have thus become wealthier by the decrease of the burdens that they bore easily, while the poor are dying of the increase in taxes that they already found too great for endurance. So the vaunted remedy most unjustly exalted the one group and most unjustly killed the other; to one class it was a most accursed reward and to the other a most accursed poison. Hence I say that nothing can be more wicked than the rich who are murdering the poor by their so-called remedies, and nothing more unlucky than the poor, to whom even the general panacea brings death.
7. Then what a state of things it is, what a holy condition of affairs, that, if a noble begins to be converted to God, he at once loses his noble rank! What honor is paid to Christ among a Christian people in whose eyes religion makes a man ignoble? For as soon as a man has made an attempt to improve himself, he meets the abusive scorn of worse men, and thus all are compelled to some degree of evil living that they may not be considered contemptible. Not without cause did the apostle cry out: “The whole world lieth in wickedness.”210210 I John 5. 19. He spoke truly, for it is right to say that the whole world is lying in wickedness when the good cannot hold their place in it. Indeed, everything is so full of iniquity that either all who live are evil, or the few who are good are tortured by the persecution of the many. Therefore, as I said, if any man of honorable rank devotes himself to religion, he at once ceases to be honored. For when a man has changed his garments,211211 See V. 10, infra: “Thinking the service of God depends more on costume than on actions, they have changed their garments but not their hearts.” Caesarius of Arles, who is said by Cyprian (Vita I. 1. 11) never to have given up in the slightest degree the customs of the brothers at Lérins, said in the first chapter of his Regula ad monachos (Migne, PL, LXVII, col. 1099) : “In the first place if any man come to conversion . . . let his lay garments not be changed, unless he have first made bills of sale for his possessions.” Elsewhere he said (Epistola ad germanos, ibid. col. 1155): “To lay aside secular garments and put on religious ones is the work of a moment. . . . Let him not be wont to wear a style of clothing either too mean, or displaying pride by frequent change, or of a ruinous elegance.” Evidently, then, his idea of a religious habit was not a set uniform, but one distinguished from secular clothing chiefly by its simplicity. The emphasis laid by this prominent alumnus of the monastery at Lérins on the change in clothing as an indication of the adoption of a religious life seems adequate to settle the question much mooted among editors of Salvian, whether the change of garments in the present passage is to be taken literally or figuratively. forthwith 111he changes his rank; if he has been of high degree, he becomes contemptible; if he has been most glorious, he becomes the vilest of the vile; if he has been altogether full of honor, he becomes altogether wretched in aspect.
Yet certain worldly men and unbelievers wonder why they endure the wrath of God and his hatred, when they persecute him in the persons of all his saints; for all things are perverse and at variance with the ways of the past. If there is any good man, he is scorned as though he were evil: if a man is evil, he is honored as though he were good. Is it then strange that we who daily grow worse, endure worse tortures daily? 212212 See Cyprian Ad Demetrianum 10: “And do you wonder that the wrath of God increasingly punishes the human race, when the sins to be punished increase daily?” For men daily invent new evils and do not forsake the old; fresh crimes spring up, but the old are not abandoned.
8. Is there any room for further discussion? However hard and bitter our lot, we still suffer less than we deserve. Why should we complain that God deals harshly with us? We treat him much more rudely. We anger him by our impure acts and force him, unwilling though he is, to punish us. And although the spirit and majesty of God are such that he is not moved by any passion or anger, yet such is the aggravation of our sins that they drive him to wrath. 112If I may say so, we subject his loving kindness to force, and seem to lay violent hands on his mercy. For although he is so gentle that ho would like to spare us constantly, our perversity compels him to punish our sins. As those who blockade well-fortified cities or attempt to capture and undermine their mighty strongholds, customarily lay siege to them with all sorts of machines and weapons, so we attack the mercy of God with every kind of frightful sin as if we, too, were using siege engines. Then we think God injures us, though we are acting most injuriously toward him. Indeed every fault of all Christians is an insult to his divinity. “When we perform those acts that are forbidden by God we trample underfoot the orders of him who forbade us. It is impious to blame God’s severity for our misfortunes: we should instead accuse ourselves. For when we commit the sins that cause our torture, we are ourselves the authors of our torments. Why then do we complain of the bitterness of our punishments? Each one of us punishes himself.
This is why the prophet said to us: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that have added fuel to the flame; walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks that ye have kindled.”213213 Isaiah 50. 11. For the whole human race is rushing headlong into eternal punishment by the very course that the Scriptures describe. First we kindle the fire, then add fuel to the flames, and lastly enter the flames that we have prepared. When does man first kindle eternal fire for himself? Surely when he first begins to sin. But when does he add fuel to the flames? When he heaps up sins upon sins. When shall he enter the everlasting fire? When he has already completed the irrevocable account of wickedness by the increase of his sins, as our Savior said to the leaders of the Jews: “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers,”214214 Matthew 23. 32-33. The men whom the Lord himself told to fill up the measure were not far from completing the full number of their sins. Because they were 113no longer worthy of salvation, they filled up the number of iniquities by which they were to perish. Whence also, when the ancient Law recalled that the sins of the Amorreans215215 That is, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah; cf. I. 8, supra. were fulfilled, it is said that the angels spoke to the blessed Lot, saying: “Whomsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord hath sent us to destroy them.”216216 Genesis 19. 12-13. For a long time, truly, that most sinful people had been kindling the fires by which they perished, and so when the tale of their iniquities was completed they burned in the flames of their own crimes. For they deserved so ill of God that they suffered in this world the Gehenna that is to come in the later judgment.
9. But, you say, none now deserve the end of those men, for none are to be compared with them, in evil doing. Perhaps that is true, still what do we make of the fact that the Savior himself said that all who have spurned his Gospel are worse than they? And at Capernaum he said: “If the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee.”217217 Matthew 11. 23-24; cf. Luke 10. 12-15. If he said the people of Sodom are less to be condemned than all who neglect the Gospels, then we who in most of our actions show our neglect of the Gospel teachings are in graver danger, especially since we are not willing to be content with crimes long familiar, that seem a part of our daily life. Many are not satisfied with the customary vices, with litigation, slander and rapine, with drunkenness and gorging at feasts, with forgeries and perjury, with adultery and homicide. Finally, however inhuman the atrocities involved, all the crimes involving injury to their fellow men are not enough for them, but they must needs turn the blasphemous violence of their 114mad minds against the Lord also. For it is written of the wicked: “They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. . . . And they say, ‘How doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High?’” And again: “The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.”218218 Psalms 73. 9, 11; 94. 7.
To such men this prophetic saying may well be applied: “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”219219 Ibid. 53. 1. For they who declare that nothing is seen by God are very near to denying his actual substance, as they deny his sight, and when they say that he sees nothing they deny his very existence.
Although no evil deed has any rational foundation,220220 In the classical period this was already a popular proverb: Scelera non habent consilium; cf. Quintilian Institutio oratoria VII. 2. 44. since there is no bond between reason and wickedness, yet no blasphemy, in my opinion at least, is more irrational than this or more insane. What is so mad as for a man, who does not deny that God created the whole world, to deny that he governs it? How can one admit that God is its maker, and deny that he takes any care of what be made? As if his intention in creating the universe was to neglect it when completed! I say that he cares so much for his creatures that I can prove that he cared for them even before their creation; indeed, the very act of creation makes this clear. He would not have created the world, if his care had not preceded the act, especially since we know that in our human kind there is scarcely a man so stupid that he would carry an undertaking through to completion without the intention of taking care of it when finished. For a man who tills a field does so in order to keep it for his own use after it is cultivated; he who plants a vineyard means to take care of it when he has planted it; he who gathers the nucleus of a herd means to exercise his skill in increasing it. He who builds a house or lays its foundations, even though he has as yet no finished dwelling-place, 115still embodies in the building he is trying to erect the hopes of a future home.
Yet why should I speak of man alone, when even the smallest sorts of animals do all things with a view to future use?221221 Cf. Lactantius De ira Dei 10. 44: “Nor is it probable that the smaller and humbler creatures should have a rule of life, while the larger and chief ones lack it.” Ants, hiding various sorts of grain from [the fields]222222 There appears to be a slight lacuna in the text, unless, as Hartel conjectures (cf. Pauly’s note ad loc.), the preposition ex, for which an object is here supplied, has crept into the MS text from a marginal notation, ex standing for exempla. in underground storerooms, drag away and store their hoards because they cherish them in their desire to live. Why do the bees, when they lay foundations for the honeycomb or pluck their young from flowers,223223 See Vergil Georgics IV. 200. search out thyme except from their eager desire for honey, or certain other flowerets but from love of the young they are to find there?
Has God then instilled this love of their own functions into even the least of living things, and deprived himself alone of the love of his works? Have you considered that all our love of good things has come down to us from his good love? He himself is the fount and source of all our benefits, and since, as it is written: “In him we live and move and have our being,”224224 Acts 17. 28. from him surely we have received all the affection we give our offspring; for the whole world and the whole human race are the offspring of their creator.
Therefore by that very love he has caused us to feel for our sons he wished us to know how greatly he loved his own. For we read, just as “the invisible things of him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,”225225 Romans 1. 20. even so he wished his love for us to be known by the love that he gave us toward our own kindred. As it is written that he wished all fatherhood in heaven and in earth to be named after him,226226 Ephesians 3. 15. so he wished us to recognize 116his fatherly love. Yet why do I say fatherly? for his love is far more than a father’s. This is proved by the words of the Savior in the Gospel, when he said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son for the life of the world.”227227 John 3. 16. But the apostle also says: “God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. How hath he not with him also freely given us all things?”228228 Romans 8. 32. Note that the Vulgate reading is the future, donabit, while Salvian had donavit.
10. This confirms my former statement, that God loves us more than a father loves his son. It is clear that his love surpasses a man’s love for his sons, since for our sake he did not spare his own child. Nay, I add more, he did not spare his righteous Son, his only begotten Son, his Son who is himself God. What more can be said? And this was done for us, that is for wicked, unjust and most irreverent men. Who can justify this love of God toward us, save that his justice is so great that no shadow of injustice can fall on him? As far as human reason is concerned, any man would have acted most unjustly if he had had his good son put to death for his worst slaves. But for this very reason the love of God is the more surpassing and his goodness the more marvellous, that, as far as human weakness is concerned, the greatness of his justice almost bears the appearance of injustice. Therefore the apostle, to indicate as far as he might the boundless mercy of God, said: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die.”229229 Romans 5. 6-7. Certainly in this one sentence he showed us the love of God. For if scarcely any one undertakes to die for the greatest righteousness, Christ dying for our iniquity proved what love he bore us. Why God should have done this, the apostle tells us at once in the words that follow, saying: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now 117justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”230230 Ibid. 5. 8-9. He commends his love to us, in that he died for sinners; for a benefit is of greater worth that is given to men unworthy of it.
So he says: “God commends his love toward us.” How does he commend it? Surely in that he bestows it on the undeserving. If he had given it to holy men who deserved well of him, he would not seem to have given what was not due, but what he owed them.
What then have we given in return for this great boon, or what return ought we to make for it? First of all, what the most blessed prophet testifies that he owes and will give, saying: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.”231231 Psalms 116. 12-13. This is the first repayment, that we return death for death, and all die for him who died for us, even though our death is of much less account than his. Whence it comes that even if we take death upon us, we cannot by this means repay our debt. But since we cannot requite him more fully, we seem to be paying the whole, if we return him all that we can. This, therefore, as I said, is our first payment.
The second is, if we do not pay our debt by death, to pay it by love. The Savior himself, as the apostle says, by his death wished to commend his love to us all, to lead us by the example of his loving care to make a fitting return for such great affection. And just as certain marvellous natural gems, when one brings them into contact with iron, though it be of the hardest kind, hold it in suspense by an attraction that seems actually possessed of life, so also he, the greatest and most glorious gem of the heavenly kingdom, wished to come down from heaven to approach more closely to us, to draw us, in spite of our hardness, to his care as if by the hands of his love, that recognizing his gifts and benefits we might come to know what it befitted us to do for so good a master when he had 118done so much for his wicked servants. Then should be fulfilled the words of the apostle, that we should be killed all the day long for his love, and neither tribulation nor distress nor persecution nor famine nor nakedness nor the sword should be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus the Lord.232232 Romans 8. 35-36, 39.
11. Since our indebtedness to God is clearly established, let us see what return we make him for all that we owe. What return, indeed, but all the actions of which I have spoken before, namely, whatever is indecent, whatever is unworthy, whatever leads to injury of God, wicked deeds, disgraceful habits, drunken feasts, bloodstained hands, vile lusts, mad passions and whatever else can better be reckoned up by the conscience than in words! “For,” said the apostle, “it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.”233233 Ephesians 5. 12. Nor is this all, for it is an old charge, and belongs no more to the present time than to the past. More serious and lamentable is the fact that we are adding new sins to the old, sins not only new but of a monstrous and heathen sort, such as have not before been seen in the churches of God. We blasphemously revile the Lord, saying that he is a God who does not care for us, a God who pays us no attention, a God who neglects us, who does not govern us, and hence he is pitiless and obdurate, inhuman, harsh and cruel. For, since he is described as not regarding us, as careless and neglectful, what remains but to call him harsh and cruel and inhuman? What blind impudence! what sacrilegious boldness! It is not enough for us, that, bound in our countless sins, we are in all things guilty before God, unless we are also his accusers. Yet what hope, I ask, shall a man have, who, while facing judgment himself, brings accusation against his judge?
12. If God does regard human affairs, some one may say, if he cares for us, loves and guides us, why does he allow us to be weaker and more miserable than all nations? Why does he suffer us to be 119conquered by the barbarians? Why does he permit us to be subject to the rule of our enemies?234234 This question is answered in a similar way in Augustine’s homily, De tempore barbarico. To answer very briefly, as I have already said, he suffers us to endure these trials because we deserve to endure them. Let us consider the disgraceful habits, the vices and crimes of the Roman people, as we have described them above, and we shall then understand whether we can have any claim on his protection when we live in such impurity. If we examine in this light our customary argument that our misery and weakness show God’s neglect of human affairs, what do we really deserve? If he permitted us, living in such vice and wickedness, to be exceedingly strong, prosperous and completely happy, then perhaps there might be some ground for suspicion that God did not see the evil-doing of the Romans, if he allowed such wicked and abandoned men to be happy. Since instead he bids such vicious and evil men to be most abject and wretched, it is perfectly evident that we are seen and judged by God, for our sufferings are fully deserved.
We, of course, do not think we deserve them, and consequently are the more guilty and blameworthy for failing to recognize our deserts. The chief accusation of wrongdoers is their proud assertion of innocence. Among a number of men charged with the selfsame crime none is more guilty than he who does not acknowledge his guilt even in his own thoughts. We have, therefore, this single addition to make to our wrongdoings, that we consider ourselves guiltless.
But, you may object, grant that we are sinners and wicked men, certainly you cannot deny that we are better than the barbarians, and this alone makes it clear that God does not watch over human affairs, because we, who are better, are subject to men worse than ourselves. Whether we are better than the barbarians, we shall now consider; certainly there can be no doubt that we ought to be better. And for this very reason, we are worse than they, unless we 120are actually better, for the more honorable position makes any fault doubly blameworthy. The greater the personal dignity of the sinner, the greater is the odium of his sin.235235 See Juvenal Sat. 8. 141-142. Theft for example is a serious crime in any man, but a thieving senator is doubtless far more to be condemned than one of the lower classes. Fornication is. forbidden to all, but it is a much more serious vice in one of the clergy than in one of the people. So also we, who are said to be Christians and catholic, if we are guilty of vices like those of the barbarians, sin more seriously than they, for sins committed by men who claim a holy name are the more abominable. The more lofty our claim to honor, the greater is our fault; the very religion we profess accuses our faults, A pledge of chastity increases the sin of lewdness; drunkenness is more loathsome in one who makes an outward show of sobriety. Nothing is more vile than a philosopher who pursues a vicious and obscene life, since in addition to the natural baseness of his vices, he is further branded by his reputation for wisdom. We therefore, who out of the whole human race have professed the Christian philosophy, for this reason, must be believed and considered worse than all other nations, since, living under so great a profession of faith, in the very bosom of religion, we still sin.
13. I know it seems to most men intolerable that we should be called worse than barbarians. What possible good does it do us to have this seem intolerable? Our condition is made so much the more serious if we are worse than they and yet insist on believing ourselves better. “For if a man think himself to be something,” the apostle said, “when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work.”236236 Galatians 6. 3-4. We ought to put our trust in our works, not in our opinion; in reason, not lust; in truth, not in our will alone.
Since, then, some men think it unsupportable that we should 121be adjudged to be worse, or even not much better than the barbarians, let us consider in what way we are better, and in relation to which of the barbarians. For there are two kinds of barbarians in the world, that is, heretics and pagans.237237 The Goths and Vandals had been converted to Arianism; cf. Book IV. 14, 17 infra, for Salvian’s account of the pagans among the barbarians. To all of these, as far as the divine law is concerned, I declare that we are incomparably superior; as far as our life and actions are concerned, I say with grief and lamentation that we are worse. However, as I said before, let us not make this statement of the whole body of Romans without exception. For I except first of all those men who have devoted themselves to a religious life, and then some laymen who are equal to them; or, if that is too much to say, at least very like them in their upright and honorable actions. As for the rest, all or practically all are more guilty than the barbarians. And to be more guilty is to be worse.
Therefore, since some men think it irrational and absurd that we should be judged as worse, or even not much better than the barbarians, let us see, as I said, how we are worse, and in relation to which barbarians. Now I say that except for those Romans alone, whom I mentioned just now, the others are all or almost all more guilty than the barbarians, and more criminal in their lives. You who read these words are perhaps vexed and condemn what you read. I do not shrink from your censure; condemn me if I do not succeed in proving my words; condemn me if I do not show that the Sacred Scriptures also have said what 1 now claim. I myself who say that we Romans, who judge ourselves far superior to all other nations on earth, are worse in many respects, do not deny that in certain ways we are superior. For while we are, as I have said, worse in our way of life and in our sins, yet in living under the catholic law we are incomparably superior. But we must consider this, that while it is not our merit that the law is good, it is our fault that we live badly. Surely it profits us nothing that 122our law is good, if our life and conversation are not; for the good law is the gift of Christ, whereas the faulty life is our own responsibility. On the contrary, we are more blameworthy if the law we worship is good and we who worship it are evil. Nay, we do not worship it, if we are evil, for an evil worshipper cannot be properly said to worship at all. He who does not worship sacredly that which is holy does not worship at all, and hereby the very law we hold accuses us.
14. Disregarding, therefore, the privilege of the law, which either does not help us or even brings just condemnation upon us, let us compare the lives, the aims, the customs and the vices of the barbarians with our own. The barbarians are unjust and we are also; they are avaricious and so are we; they are faithless and so are we; to sum up, the barbarians and ourselves are alike guilty of all evils and impurities.
Perhaps the answer may be made: if we are equal to them in viciousness, why are we not also equal to them in strength? Inasmuch as their wickedness is like ours and their guilt identical, either we should be as strong as they, or they as weak as we. That is true, and the natural conclusion is that we who are weaker are the more guilty. What proof have we? The proof is, of course, inherent in my demonstration that God does everything in accordance with judgment. For if, as it is written: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good:”238238 Proverbs 15. 3. and in the words of the apostle: “The judgment of God is according to truth against all wicked men,”239239 Romans 2. 2. we, who do not cease to do evil, see that it is by the judgment of a just God that we endure the penalties for our evil-doing. But, you object, the barbarians commit the same sins, and yet are not as wretched as we. There is this difference between us, that even if the barbarians do the same things that we do, our sins are still more grievous than theirs. For our vices and 123theirs can be equal without their guilt being as great as ours. All of them, as I said before, are either pagans or heretics. I shall discuss the pagans first, since theirs is the older delusion: among these, the nation of the Saxons is savage, the Franks treacherous, the Gepids ruthless, the Huns lewd—so we see that the life of all the barbarians is full of vice. Can you say that their vices imply the same guilt as ours, that the lewdness of the Huns is as sinful as ours, the treachery of the Franks as worthy of accusation, the drunkenness of the Alemanni as reprehensible as that of Christians, the greed of an Alan as much to be condemned as that of a believer?
If a Hun or Gepid is deceitful what wonder is it in one who is utterly ignorant of the guilt involved in falsehood? If a Frank swears falsely, what is strange in his action, since he thinks perjury a figure of speech, and not a crime? And why is it strange that the barbarians have this degree of vice, since they know not the law and God, when a majority of the Romans, who know that they are sinning, take the same attitude?
Not to speak of any other type of man, let us consider only the throngs of Syrian merchants who have seized the greater part of all our towns—is their life anything else than plotting, trickery and wearing falsehood threadbare?240240 Salvian’s estimate of their numbers seems justified by the numerous inscriptions of Syrian and other orientals, found in Gaul; cf. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XII, XIII. They think words practically wasted that do not bring some profit to their speaker. Among these men God’s prohibition of an oath is held in such high esteem that they consider every sort of perjury actually profitable to them. What wonder is it, then, that the barbarians, who do not know that falsehood is a sin, practice deception? None of their actions are due to contempt of the divine ordinances, for they do not know the precepts of God. A man ignorant of the law cannot act in defiance of it. This is our peculiar guilt, who read the divine law and constantly violate its terms, who say that we know God and yet 124walk roughshod over his commands and precepts; and therefore, since we despise him whom we believe and boast that we worship, the very appearance of worship is an injury to him.
15. Lastly, to say nothing of our other sins, who is there among laymen, except a very few, that does not constantly have the name of Christ on his lips to swear by it? Hence this is the oath most commonly used by nobles and baseborn men alike: “By Christ I do this . . . ; by Christ I act thus . . . ; by Christ I am not going to say anything else . . . ; by Christ I am not going to do anything else.” And what results? The abuse has been carried so far that, as we said before about heathen barbarians, Christ’s name seems now to be not a binding oath but a mere expletive. For among the great majority this name is held to be so trivial that men never have less intention of doing a thing than when they swear by Christ to do it. Although it is written: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,”241241 Exodus 20. 7. reverence for Christ has fallen so low that among all the vain words of this age scarcely any seems more vainly used than the name of Christ.
Then many swear by the name of Christ to do things not merely trivial and foolish but even criminal. For this is their usual manner of speaking: “By Christ I’ll steal that . . . ; by Christ I’ll wound that man . . . ; by Christ I’ll murder him.” It has come to such a pass that they feel themselves bound by religion to commit the crimes they have sworn in Christ’s name.
Finally, let me tell an experience of my own. A short time ago, won over by the pleas of a certain poor man, I besought a man of considerable influence not to take from the poor wretch his property and substance, not to remove the sole prop and help that supported his poverty. Then he, who had swallowed the poor man’s goods in ravenous haste, and had already devoured his prey with most ardent ambition and greed, glared at me with eyes blazing as if he thought I might take from him something he had not succeeded in 125filching from the other, and said he could not possibly do as I asked, since he was acting in accordance with a sacred command or decree that he absolutely could not overlook. When I asked the reason, he said most emphatically, brooking no contradiction: “I have made a vow to seize that man’s property. Consider then whether I could or should fail to accomplish what I have sworn by the name of Christ.” Then I left him, having heard the reason for his most pious crime, for what else was I to do, when his action was shown to be so just and sacred!
16. At this point I ask all who are of sound mind: who would ever believe that human covetousness would reach such a pitch of audacity, would ever scorn God so openly that men should say it is for Christ’s sake they intend to do a deed the very performance of which is an insult to Christ? “What an unthinkable and monstrous crime! Of what daring are the wicked minds of men not capable? They arm themselves for robbery in God’s name; they make him somehow responsible for their crimes, and although Christ forbids and punishes all sin they claim that they perform their wicked deeds for his sake.
Yet we, complaining of the injustice of the enemy, say that the heathen barbarians are guilty of perjury. How much less guilty are they who swear falsely by demons, than we who swear by Christ! How much less serious a crime it is to take the name of Jove in vain than that of Christ! In the one case it is a dead man by whom they swear,242242 A characteristic example of Christian euhemerism. in the other the living God by whose name they swear falsely. In the former instance there is no longer even a man; in the latter, the most high God; here, since the oath was taken in the most binding name, the greatest guilt and perjury must be involved; there, since that by which they swear scarcely exists, clearly there is no perjury, for since the God by whom they swear does not exist, there is no perjury when the oath is broken. Finally, let him who wishes to know the truth of this matter 126listen to the blessed apostle Paul uttering the very arguments I am giving. These are his words: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” And again: “Where no law is, there is no transgression.” 243243 Romans 3. 19; 4. 15. In these two statements, did he not make clear that there are two divisions of the human race, those placed without the law, and those living under it? What men are there who now live under the law? Who indeed but the Christians? Such was the apostle himself, who said of himself: “I am not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.”244244 I Corinthians 9. 21.
Who then are outside the law of Christ? Who but pagans ignorant of the Lord’s law? Therefore it is of these that he says: “Where no law is, there is no transgression.” By this one word he shows that only Christians transgress the law when they sin, but the pagans who do not know the law sin without transgression, since no one can transgress in a matter of which he is ignorant. We alone therefore are transgressors of the divine law, we who, as it is written, read the law and do not follow it. Hence our knowledge brings us nothing but guilt, since its result is only that we give the more offence by our sins, for what we know from our reading and in our hearts, we spurn in our wantonness and scorn.
So the words of the apostle to every Christian man were most justly spoken: “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”245245 Romans 2. 23-24.
Of what crimes the Christians are guilty may be learned from this one fact, that they defame the name of God. And although we have been charged to “do all things for the glory of God”246246 I Corinthians 10. 31. we, on the contrary, do all things for his injury. Although the Savior daily calls to us: “Let your light so shine before men, that the 127sons of men may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,”247247 Matthew 5. 16. we, on the other hand, so live that the sons of men may see our evil deeds and blaspheme our Father which is in heaven.
17. This being the case, we may indeed beguile ourselves with the great prerogatives of the name of Christian, we who so act and live that by the very fact that we are said to be a Christian people we seem to be a reproach to Christ. On the other hand, what do we find of this sort among the pagans? Can it be said of the Huns: “See what sort of men these are who are called Christians?” Can it be said of the Saxons or the Franks: “See what these men do who claim to worship Christ?” Can the sacred law be blamed for the savage customs of the Moors? Do the most inhuman rites of Scythians or Gepids bring curses and blasphemy on the name of the Lord our Savior? Can it be said of any of these: “Where is the catholic law that they believe? Where are the commandments of piety and chastity that they learn? They read the Gospel, and are unchaste; they listen to the apostles, and get drunk; they follow Christ, and plunder; they lead dishonorable lives, and say that they follow an honorable law.” Can such things be said of any of these nations? Certainly not, but they are all truly said of us: in us Christ suffers reproach; in us the Christian law is accursed. Of us are said the words quoted above: “See what sort of men these are who worship Christ. They are plainly lying when they say that they learn good things, and boast that they keep the commandments of the sacred law. For if they learned good things they would be good. Their religion must be like its followers: doubtless they are what they are taught to be. Thus it appears that the prophets they have teach impurity; and the apostles they read have sanctioned wickedness; and the Gospel which they have learned preaches the actions that they perform; in fine, the lives of the Christians would be holy, if Christ had taught holiness. So the object of their 128worship must be judged from his worshippers. How can the teacher be good whose pupils we see are so evil? In him they are Christians—they hear Christ himself and read his words. It is easy for us all to learn the teachings of Christ. See what the Christians do, and you will clearly discern the teachings of Christ.”
Finally, what distorted and wicked notions the pagans have always had about the sacraments of the Lord is shown by the bloody inquisitions of brutal persecutors, who believed that at Christian services only vile and abominable rites were performed. Even the origins of our religion were thought to spring from two great crimes, the first being murder and the second incest, which is worse than murder. Nor were these mere murder and incest, but a more wicked thing than the bare commission of either of these crimes, the incest of holy mothers, and the murder of innocent infants, whom, they thought, the Christians not only murdered, but—which is more abominable—devoured.
All this was supposed to be done to appease God, as if any evil would cause him greater offence! as an offering to atone for sin, as if any sin could be greater! to make him look with favor on sacrifices, as if any act could better arouse his aversion and horror! to win the right to eternal life, as if indeed, even supposing it could be won by such actions, it were worth while to attain it by such atrocious crimes!
18. We may understand from this what the pagans have come to believe about the character of Christians, who worship God in such sacrifices, and what sort of God they think could have taught such things as sacred rites. Yet how did this belief arise? How else but through those who are called Christians, but are not; who by their shameful and disgraceful lives sully the name of their religion; who, as it is written, “profess that they know God, but in works deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate”;248248 Titus 1. 16. by whom, as we read, “the way of 129truth is evil spoken of”249249 II Peter 2. 2. and the sacred name of God violated by the profanity of sacrilegious men.
How very difficult it is to atone for subjecting the name of divinity to the evil-speaking of the heathen, we are taught by the example of the most blessed David. By the suffrage of his former acts of justice he deserved to win release by a single act of confession, from eternal punishment for his offences. Yet even the penitence that pleaded for him did not avail to win pardon for, this grievous sin. For when Nathan the prophet had heard him confess his fault, and said to him: “The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die,” he added at once: “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born of thee shall surely die.”250250 II Samuel 12. 13-14.
What followed? He laid aside his diadem, cast off his jewels, doffed the purple, gave up all the splendor of his royal state, and instead shut himself up alone in mourning, foully clad in sackcloth, drenched with his tears and besmirched with ashes. Yet though he sought the life of his little child with such lamentations and entreaties, and strove to move the tender heart of God with such fervent prayers, all his pleas and protests could not obtain his pardon, even though he had firmly believed that he should gain what he sought from God—which is the greatest aid to those who pray. From this we learn that there is absolutely no sin for which it is harder to atone than that of giving the heathen occasion to blaspheme. For whoever has gravely sinned without causing others to blaspheme brings condemnation only on himself, but he who has made others blaspheme drags many men down to death with him, and must be held answerable for all whom he has implicated in his guilt. Nor is this all; whenever a man sins; in such a way that his action does not give others occasion for blasphemy, his sin injures only him who has committed it, but does not insult the holy name of 130God by the sacrilegious curses of blasphemy. But if his wrongdoing has caused others to blaspheme, his sin must be immeasurably great, beyond the bounds of human guilt, for by the revilings of many he has caused incalculable insult to God.
19. Moreover, as I have said, this evil is peculiar to us Christians, because God is blasphemed only through the agency of those who know the good and do evil; who, as it is written: “Profess that they know God, but in works deny him”;251251 Titus 1.16. who, as the same apostle says: “Rest in the law and know his will, and approve the things that are more excellent; who have the form of knowledge and of truth in the law; who preach a man should not steal, and themselves steal; who say a man should not commit adultery and themselves commit it; who make their boast in the law and through breaking the law dishonor God.”252252 Romans 2. 17-23, selections.
The Christians are worse than other men for the very reason that they ought to be better. They do not justify their profession of faith, but light against it by their evil lives. For evil doing is the more damnable in contrast with an honorable title; and a holy name becomes a crime in an impious man. Therefore our Savior also says in the Apocalypse to a lukewarm Christian: “I would thou wert hot or cold; so then because thou art lukewarm, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”253253 Revelations 3. 15-16.
The Lord commanded every Christian to be fervent in faith and spirit. For it is written: “That we may be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”254254 Romans 12. 11. In this fervor of spirit the ardor of religious faith is made known; he who has the largest share of such ardor is recognized as fervent and faithful, while he who has none at all is known to be cold and an unbeliever. But he who is betwixt and between is a lukewarm Christian and hateful to the Lord, who therefore says to him: “Would that thou wert hot or cold, now therefore 131since thou art lukewarm I will spue thee out of my mouth.” That is to say: “Would that you had either the heat and faith of good Christians or the ignorance of pagans. For then either your warm faith would make you pleasing to God, or at least for the time being your ignorance of the law would give you some measure of excuse. But as it is, since you know Christ, and neglect him whom you know, you who have, so to speak, been received into the very presence of God by the recognition of the faith, are cast out because of lukewarmness.”
The blessed apostle Peter also made this plain when he said of the lukewarm and vicious Christians, that is, those who live wicked lives: “For it had been better for them not to have known the truth, than after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, ‘The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.’”255255 II Peter 2. 21-22.
To make clear that this was said of those who live under the name of Christian in the vileness and filth of the world, hear what he says of such men in the same passage: “For if, after they had escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.”256256 Ibid. 2. 20. This, indeed, the blessed Paul repeats in like manner: “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.”257257 Romans 2. 25. He himself shows very clearly that by circumcision Christianity is to be understood when he says: “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh.”258258 Philippians 3. 3. By this we see that he is comparing the 132wicked Christians with pagans, and not merely comparing them but almost ranking them as of less account, when he says: “However, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?”259259 Romans 2. 26-27.
From this we learn, as I said before, that we are much more blameworthy, who have the law and reject it, than those who neither have it at all nor know it, for no one despises what he does not know. “I had not known lust,” the apostle says, “except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet,”260260 Ibid. 7. 7. Nor do men transgress the law which they do not know, for, as it is written: “Where no law is, there is no transgression.”261261 Ibid. 4. 15. If men do not transgress the law which they have not, neither do they despise the terms of the law which they have not, for no one, as I said, can despise what he does not know.
We, therefore, are alike scorners and transgressors of the law, and thus we are worse than the pagans, because they do not know the ordinances of God, but we know them; they do not possess them, but we do; they do not perform precepts they have not heard, but we read and trample them under our feet. Hence what with them is ignorance is in us transgression, since there is less guilt in ignorance of the law than in contempt of it.133
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