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3. Since this is so, and since no strange influence has suddenly manifested itself to break the continuous course of events by interrupting their succession, what is the ground of the allegation, that a plague was brought upon the earth after the Christian religion came into the world, and after it revealed the mysteries of hidden truth? But pestilences, say my opponents, and droughts, wars, famines, locusts, mice, and hailstones, and other hurtful things, by which the property of men is assailed, the gods bring upon us, incensed as they are by your wrong-doings and by your transgressions. If it were not a mark of stupidity to linger on matters which are already clear, and which require no defence, I should certainly show, by unfolding the history of past ages, that those ills which you speak of were not unknown, were not sudden in their visitation; and that the plagues did not burst upon us, and the affairs of men begin to be attacked by a variety of dangers, from the time that our sect32463246 Or, “race,” gens, i.e., the Christian people. won the honour32473247 The verb mereri, used in this passage, has in Roman writers the idea of merit or excellence of some kind in a person, in virtue of which he is deemed worthy of some favour or advantage; but in ecclesiastical Latin it means, as here, to gain something by the mere favour of God, without any merit of one’s own. of this appellation. For if we are to blame, and if these plagues have been devised against our sin, whence did antiquity know these names for misfortunes? Whence did she give a designation to wars? By what conception could she indicate pestilence and hailstorms, or how could she introduce these terms among her words, by which speech was rendered plain? For if these ills are entirely new, and if they derive their origin from recent transgressions, how could it be that the ancients coined terms for these things, which, on the one hand, they knew that they themselves had never experienced, and which, on the other, they had not heard of as occurring in the time of their ancestors? Scarcity of produce, say my opponents, and short supplies of grain, press more heavily on us. For, I would ask, were the former generations, even the most ancient, at any period wholly free from such an inevitable calamity? Do not the very words by which these ills are characterized bear evidence and proclaim loudly that no mortal ever escaped from them with entire immunity? But if the matter were difficult of belief, we might urge, on the testimony of authors, how great nations, and what individual nations, and how often such nations experienced dreadful famine, and perished by accumulated devastation. Very many hailstorms fall upon and assail all things. For do we not find it contained and deliberately stated in ancient literature, that even showers of stones32483248 See Livy, i. 31, etc.; and Pliny, Nat. Hist., ii. 38. often ruined entire districts? Violent rains cause the crops to perish, and proclaim barrenness to countries:—were the ancients, indeed, free from these ills, when we have known of32493249 The ms. reads, flumina cognoverimus ingentia lim-in-is ingentia siccatis, “that mighty rivers shrunk up, leaving the mud,” etc. mighty rivers even being dried up, and the mud of their channels parched? The contagious influences of pestilence consume the human race:—ransack the records of history written in various languages, and you will find that all countries have often been desolated and deprived of their inhabitants. Every kind of crop is consumed, and devoured by locusts and by mice:—go through your own annals, and you will be taught by these plagues how often former ages were visited by them, and how often they were brought to the wretchedness of poverty. 415Cities shaken by powerful earthquakes totter to their destruction:—what! did not bygone days witness cities with their populations engulphed by huge rents of the earth?32503250 So Tertullian, Apologet., 40, says,—“We have read that the islands Hiera, Anaphe, Delos, Rhodes, and Cos were destroyed, together with many human beings.” or did they enjoy a condition exempt from such disasters?
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