1. I have been dealing with personalities for a long time now, and seem to have exceeded the rules of argument. For undoubtedly the reader (if anyone for Christ's sake does read these words written from love of Christ) is thinking or saying of me: |Since the subject he is pursuing is a general one, of what use is it to heap up so many accusations against a single person? Suppose -- for it is credible -- that the man of whom he speaks is as he describes him; still how can one man's goodness be blocked by another's guilt, or -- a point of much greater importance -- how is the general cause injured by one individual's crime?|
The injury indeed I can prove by clear examples. For instance, Achar once stole a part of an accursed thing, and the trespass of one man was the ruin of all. David ordered the children of Israel to be numbered, and the Lord punished his fault by the destruction of the whole people. Rapsaces spoke scornfully of God, and God smote a hundred and eighty-five thousand men because the froward tongue of one profane man spoke evil of him. Hence it was not without justice that the blessed apostle Paul ordered a noxious sinner cast out of the church and showed why he gave this order, saying: |A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.| From this we clearly see that even one evil man very often works the destruction of many. Nor is this without justice. The reader should recognize that what I said above concerning one wicked man is not beside the point, since we read in the Scriptures that the wrath of the Divine Majesty has very frequently been kindled on account of one man's guilt. But my argument is not limited by this consideration, for we do not need to assume that one man blocks the way of all, since all are blocking each other; it is not fitting to consider that all are imperilled by one, since they are all imperilled by their own actions. For all men are rushing headlong into destruction, or at least, to put it somewhat more mildly, almost all. Where can the Christian people find such good fortune that the number of evildoers may be less than the number of the good, or failing that, be merely equivalent to it? How lamentable and grievous is our present wretchedness! How changed is the Christian people now from its former character! Of old, Peter, the chief of the apostles, punished with death the falsehood of Ananias and Sapphira. The most blessed Paul also expelled one wicked man from the church, that he might not infect a great number by his presence. But we are content to have an equal number of good and evil men. Why should I say we are content? We ought rather to exult and dance for joy, if we could achieve such an equal balance. See to what depths we have fallen, to what state we have been reduced after that glorious purity of the Christian people which kept them all unspotted, for now we think that the church would be happy if it contained even as much good as evil. How could we fail to consider it blessed if half its members were guiltless, since now we lament that they are almost all guilty?
Since this is the case, it was useless, useless indeed, to speak so long of one evil man, useless to weep for one man's crimes, since all or almost all require our tears and lamentations. There are many who are of this sort or who wish to be so, which is no less incriminating, and who strive by their zeal for evil to seem guilty of the charge. On this account, even if their lesser capacity accomplishes less evil, they are themselves as wicked as the rest, for it is their lack of ability and not their will that prevents them. Their hopes alone are within their own control, and in these they are criminals; they yield to none in their desire for wrongdoing, and in this, as far as their means permit, they strive to excel. Different though the two cases are, their rivalry is like that of good men, for as the good desire to outdo all others in honorable aims, so the evil yearn to surpass in depravity. As the glory of good men is to grow daily better, even so the glory of the wicked is to become worse; and as the best wish to reach the height of all virtues, so the worst hope to claim the palm in all vices. To our misfortune this is particularly characteristic of us, the Christians, since, as I have already said, we think wickedness is wisdom. Of these God spoke particularly: |I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.| When the apostle cried, |if any man seemeth to be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise,| he meant that if a man wishes to be wise, he should be good, for no one is truly wise unless he is truly good. We, on the contrary, through the viciousness of our perverse spirits and our |reprobate minds| -- to use the scriptural phrase -- reject goodness in favor of folly. Loving corruption more than wisdom, we think we become daily wiser in proportion as our depravity increases.
2. Yet what hope of betterment is there in us, I ask, who are not led into evil by mistaken opinion, but strive with all the eagerness of our perverted natures to appear constantly worse and worse? This is the reason why I have long lamented that we are much worse than the barbarians, for ignorance of the law excuses them, whereas our knowledge of it accuses us. They prefer the evil to the good through inexperience of the truth, because they do not know what things are good; we, by our knowledge of the truth, know very well what things are good, [but consider them inferior to the evil in many] ways.
In the first place, there is almost no crime or vice that does not accompany the games. In these the greatest pleasure is to have men die, or, what is worse and more cruel than death, to have them torn in pieces, to have the bellies of wild beasts gorged with human flesh; to have men eaten, to the great joy of the bystanders and the delight of onlookers, so that the victims seem devoured almost as much by the eyes of the audience as by the teeth of beasts. That such things may take place the whole world is ransacked; great is the care with which the search is carried on and perfected. Hidden retreats are entered, pathless ravines are searched, impenetrable forests traversed, the cloud-bearing Alps are climbed, the depths of valleys plumbed, and in order that the flesh of men may be devoured by wild beasts, the last secrets of the world of nature are revealed.
My opponents object that this is not done all the time. True, and a glorious excuse it is for wrongdoing, that it is not constantly carried on -- as if any time were appropriate for actions that injure God! Are evil deeds well done because they are not done incessantly? Even murderers are not always employed in murder, but they are still murderers when they are not actually killing, for their hands are at all times stained with bloodshed. Bobbers do not steal all the time, but they do not cease to be robbers, for when they are not engaged in theft, their minds are occupied with it. Certainly men who take pleasure in the animal fights of the arena are by no means free from the guilt involved in such spectacles, even when they are not actually looking at them. Would they not enjoy watching them always if they could?
Nor is this the only possible example of our sins, but there are still greater ones. For instance, do not the consuls even now have hens fed after the custom of the sacrilegious pagans? Are not auguries still sought from the flight of birds, and almost all those superstitions kept up which even pagan writers of old thought laughable? Now when the very men who give their names to the years and with whose office the years themselves begin do such things, are we to believe that years begun under these auspices can continue their course propitiously? I wish that these actions might pollute only the consuls who are responsible for them. But the situation is the more desperate because while such things are done with the public consent, the honor of a very limited number becomes the guilt of all, and so, although only two men are inaugurated in any given year, scarcely any one in the whole world escapes infection.
3. Let this much suffice about the games, seeing that they are, as you say, not performed all the time. We shall speak, instead, of everyday obscenities. These the hosts of demons have contrived of such a sort and so innumerable that even honest and upright hearts, though they can scorn and tread down some among them, yet can scarcely find a way to overcome them all completely. Armies about to engage in battle are said either to intersect with pitfalls the places through which they expect the troops of the enemy to march, or plant them with stakes, or fill them with caltrops, so that even if some of their snares fail to entrap a victim, none of the enemy can fail to be caught. In like manner the demons have prepared so many treacherous lures in this life for the human race that even though one escapes many of them, he is finally caught by one or another.
And since indeed it would take too long to tell of all these snares, that is, the amphitheaters, the concert halls, games, parades, athletes, rope dancers, pantomimes and other monstrosities of which one is ashamed to speak, since it is shameful even to know of such wickedness, I shall describe only the vices of the circuses and theaters. For the evils that are performed in these are such that no one can mention them, or even think of them without being polluted. Other vices as a rule claim only some one portion of our being; for instance, base thoughts affect the mind only, immodest glances the eyes, shameful sounds the ears, so that when any one of these has gone astray, the rest can still be free from wrongdoing. But in the theaters no part of our bodies is free from guilt, for our minds are polluted by evil desires, our ears by hearing and our eyes by what they see, and all these are so disgraceful that a man cannot even describe them without loss of decency.
Who without injuring his modesty can tell of those representations of base acts, those obscenities of words and voice, those disgraceful motions and foul gestures? The very fact that they forbid description shows what great sin there is in all these. Some of the very greatest crimes can be named and discussed without injury to the character of the speaker, as homicide, robbery, adultery, sacrilege and so forth; it is only the vice of the theaters that cannot even be attacked without loss of modesty. So in arraigning these vile and disgraceful abuses the prosecutor has a strange experience, in that, although the honesty of the would-be accuser is unquestioned, he cannot without prejudice to his honor relate or attack them. All other evils pollute those who perform them, not those who merely see or hear them. You may, for instance, hear a man blaspheme, but since your mind disapproves of his sacrilege you are not polluted by it. Or if you happen to be present during a robbery, you are not denied by the act, inasmuch as it is abhorrent to your principles. The indecencies of the spectacles alone involve actors and audience in substantially the same guilt. For all those who approve such performances and take pleasure in seeing them perform them through the medium of their sight and approval. To such men the words of the apostle apply with a peculiar force, since not only |they which commit such things are worthy of death| but also |those who have pleasure in them that do them.|
Therefore in these pictures of vice the whole people commits fornication mentally, and any who happen to come to the spectacle chaste go home from it adulterers. They are guilty of this fornication not only when they go home, but also when they come to the theater, for the very desire of the obscene makes a man unchaste who is hurrying toward an impure spectacle.
4. You see then in what actions all or the majority of Romans participate. None the less, we who do such things say we are forsaken by God, though we ourselves are forsaking him. Let us suppose that our Lord would like to watch us even though we do not deserve it: can he do so? See countless thousands of Christians daily spending their time at shows representing shameful acts. Can God look at them at such a time? Can God watch over men who are revelling in the circuses and wantoning in the theaters? Or do we perhaps think it fitting and desirable that when God sees us in the circuses and theaters, he should see with us what we ourselves see there, and look with us at the disgraceful sights at which we gaze? One of two things must happen; either, if he deigns to look on us, he must also see our surroundings, or if he averts his eyes from them, which he surely does, then he must avert them equally from us, who are among them.
In spite of this, without interruption we continue to do those thing's of which I speak. Do we perhaps suppose that, like the ancient pagans, we have a god of theaters and circuses? For they built the theaters and circuses long ago because they believed that such vanities were a delight to their idols. How can we imitate them in this, who surely know that our God hates such things? Of course, if we know that these vile shows please God, there can be no objection to our performing them incessantly. But if in our hearts we know that God abhors and abominates them, that as they are the devil's food so are they also a cause of offence to God, then how can we say that we worship God in the church, we who always serve the devil in the obscene games with full knowledge and understanding and with deliberate intention? What hope, I ask, shall we have before God, who injure him not by chance or by ignorance, but after the manner of those old giants of whom we read that they attempted to scale the heavens in their mad ambition and climbed, as it were, into the clouds? So we, by the injuries that we constantly inflict on God throughout the world, as if by common consent, are making war on heaven.
Therefore we offer up to Christ -- O monstrous folly! -- to Christ we offer up circuses and mimes, and we do this chiefly when we receive some benefit from him, when some mark of prosperity is granted us by him, or a victory over the enemy is bestowed on us by his divine favor! How do we seem in this to differ from a man who injures a generous benefactor, or responds to endearments with cutting abuse, or pierces with his dagger the lips that seek to kiss him? I ask all the rich and powerful men of this world, what punishment they think fitting for a slave who plots evil against a good and loving master, who quarrels with a master who deserves only good of him, and returns only foul words for the liberty that he has received. Undoubtedly he is guilty of the greatest wrongdoing who returns evil for good, when he should not even feel free to return evil for evil. But this is what we do who are called Christians: we arouse a merciful God against us by our licentious acts, we insult him by our filthy deeds when he is propitious, we lash him with abusive words when he speaks gently to us.
5. To Christ then -- O monstrous folly! -- we offer circuses and mimes, to Christ in return for his benefits, we offer the obscenities of the theaters, to Christ we dedicate the vilest shows as sacrificial offerings. Was this the teaching given us by the Savior, incarnate for our sake? Was this his preaching, or that of his apostles? For this did he endure the humiliation of human nativity and take upon himself a shameful origin in his mortal birth? For this he lay in a manger, whom angels served as he lay there. For this he willed to be wrapped in swaddling clothes, and wearing them ruled heaven; for this he hung upon the cross, whom the world feared as he hung there. |Who though he was rich,| the apostle said, |yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.| |And being in the form of God,| I quote farther, |he humbled himself unto death, even the death of the cross.|
These then are the precepts that Christ gave us at the time of his passion. A glorious return we are making for his suffering, who, having received redemption by his death, offer him in return most disgraceful lives! The blessed Paul said: |For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ hath appeared, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a people worthy of acceptance, zealous of good works.
Where are men who do those things for which the apostle says Christ came? Where are those who flee from worldly lusts? Where are those who live righteous and godly lives, who show in their good works that they hold the blessed hope, and by living immaculate lives prove that they await the kingdom of God, since they deserve to receive it? |The Lord Jesus Christ,| Paul said, |came to purify unto himself a people worthy of acceptance, zealous of good works.| Where is that pure people, that acceptable people, that people of good works, that people of righteousness? |Christ,| the Scripture says, |suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps.| So we follow the Savior's steps in the circuses; we follow the Savior's steps in the theaters. Is this the example Christ left for us? We read that he wept, not that he laughed. In both he gave us an example, for weeping is the remorse of the heart, laughter the corruption of uprightness. For this reason he said: |Woe unto you that laugh now; for ye shall weep;| and again: |Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.| But we do not think it enough to laugh and rejoice, unless we rejoice in sin and madness, unless our laughter is mixed with impure and disgraceful actions.
6. Who can describe this delusion of ours, this folly? Are we really unable to enjoy ourselves day by day, and to laugh, without turning our laughter and joy into crime? or do we perhaps consider wholesome enjoyment profitless and find no pleasure in innocent laughter? What wickedness is this, I ask, and what insanity? Let us laugh indeed, let us rejoice unstintedly, and as constantly as you please, if only we do so innocently. What folly and madness it is for us to think laughter and joy worthless unless they involve injury to God! Injury indeed, and a very great one. The spectacles involve a sort of apostasy from the faith, a fatal violation of the creed itself and of the divine sacraments. For what is the first confession of faith made by Christians in baptism for their salvation? What else than their vow to renounce the devil and his pomps and spectacles and his works? So in the very words of our profession of faith spectacles and pomps are the works of the devil How then, O Christian, shall you after baptism seek the spectacles, which you confess are the work of the devil? You have once renounced the devil and his spectacles, and therefore as a rational and intelligent being must recognize that in resorting again to them, you are returning to the devil. For you have renounced them both at the same time and declared them to be one and the same. If you return to one, you return to them both. For your words were: |I renounce the devil, his pomps and spectacles and his works.| What follows in your baptismal vows? |I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ his Son.| First then, you renounced the devil that you might believe in God, for he who does not renounce the devil does not believe in God and therefore he who returns to the devil forsakes God.
Furthermore, the devil is present in his spectacles and pomps, and therefore when we return to the devil's spectacles, we abandon our Christian faith. Thus all the sacraments of our belief are broken, and all that follows in the creed is shaken and totters; for nothing that follows remains intact if the chief clause has fallen. Tell me then, you who are a Christian, how you think you are keeping the latter portions of the creed, whose first clauses you have abandoned? The limbs without the head are worth nothing, and everything depends on its own first principles; these surely, if they perish, will drag all the rest down with them to destruction. If the main stock is removed, the other parts either cease to exist or if they continue are useless, for without its head nothing can subsist.
If any one thinks the wickedness of the spectacles a trivial matter, let him consider well all that I have said, and he will see that in them is not pleasure but death. For what else is it but death, to have lost the source of life? When the foundations of our creed are overthrown, life itself is strangled.
7. I must return again to my oft-repeated contention, what have the barbarians like this? Where in their lands are circuses, where are theaters, where those other wicked vices that are the ruin of our hope and salvation? Even if they had such things, being pagans, their error would involve less offence to what is sacred, and less guilt, for though such sights as these are impure, still they would not involve violation of a sacrament.
But as for us, how can we answer in our own behalf? We hold the creed and overthrow it. We are equally ready to confess the gift of salvation and to deny it. Where then is our Christianity, when we only receive the sacrament of salvation to the end that falling from grace we may thereafter sin more grievously than before? We prefer vain shows to God's churches, we scorn his altars and honor the theaters. To conclude, we love and honor everything else; only God, in contrast with worldly pleasures, is vile in our sight.
One case in itself proves the truth of my contention, disregarding all the rest. Whenever it happens, as it does only too often, that on the same day we are celebrating a feast of the church and the public games, I ask it of everyone's conscience, which is it that collects greater crowds of Christians, the rows of seats at the public games or the court of God? Do all men throng to the temple in preference to the theater, love the words of the Gospel more than those of the stage -- the words of life or of death, the words of Christ or of a mime? Without doubt; we love more that which we place first. For on every day when the fatal games are given, whatever festival of the church it may be, not only do men who claim to be Christians fail to come to the services, but any who do happen to have come unwittingly, if they chance to hear, while in the church, that games are being given, leave the building at once. The temple of God is scorned for a rush to the theater; the church is emptied and the circus filled; we leave Christ alone on the altar and feast our adulterous eyes on the foulest sights of the vile games. So it is with the greatest justice that the Lord God says to us: |For your filthiness you have been driven out in banishment.| And again he says: |The altars of this laughter shall be brought to nothing.|
8. At least, you say, this answer can be made, that such things are not done in all the cities of the Romans. True, and I shall even go so far as to say that they are not now being done in all places where they have been hitherto. For instance, no shows are given now in Mayence, but this is because the city has been destroyed and blotted out; nor at Cologne, for it is overrun by the enemy. They are not being performed in the most noble city of Trèves, which has been laid low by a destruction four times repeated, nor finally in many other cities of Gaul and Spain. Then woe to us and our iniquities, woe to us and our impurities! What hope have Christian congregations in the sight of God when these evils cease to exist in the Roman cities only from the time when the cities themselves have come into subjection to barbarian jurisdiction? This mark of vice and impurity seems to be a native characteristic of the Romans, an inborn trait, for wherever there are Romans, these evils prevail. Do you think that this is a serious and unjust accusation? Serious indeed, if it is without foundation. But how can it fail to be false, since the activities of which I spoke are now carried on in only a few Roman cities? Most of our cities, you claim, are not now polluted by the taint of these vices; even though they are the same places which were the homes of our old wickedness, still their former indulgences have ceased.
So we must now consider the question, why those cities still seem to be the haunts of the games, whereas the games have ceased. They are still the homes and abiding places of disgraceful vice because all sorts of vile deeds have hitherto been enacted in them. Moreover, the only reason for the cessation of the games themselves is that they cannot be given at the present time because of the misery and poverty in which we live. That they were presented before was due to our depravity; that they are not given now, to our necessity. For the collapse of the imperial fiscus and the beggary of the Roman treasury do not permit money to be lavished on trifling matters that make no return. Let men squander as much as they please, casting their money into the mire; they cannot lose as much as they could formerly, for they have not as much to lose. In respect of our lustful desires and our base pleasures we should certainly like to have more abundance, if only that we might be able to transmute our wealth into disgraceful filth. The amounts squandered in our beggary are an indication of what we should like to spend if we were rich and magnificent. The bane and ruin of our present depraved condition is that though our poverty has nothing left to lose, our sinful souls yearn for more wealth to cast away.
We cannot therefore console ourselves at all on these grounds, that is, by saying that the former extravagances are not now being committed in all our cities. For the only reason for their abandonment is that cities where they were carried on in the past are no longer in existence, or that in the places where such things used to be
done, [means are lacking] to perform them. Thus the spectacles are no longer possible in the cities where they were formerly performed; as God himself said to sinners through his prophet: |The Lord remembered these things and it came into his mind, and the Lord could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment and a curse.| So it has come to pass that the greater part of the Roman world is become a desolation and an astonishment and a curse.
9. Would that these abominations had only been committed of old and that Roman depravity would at length cease such performances! Then perhaps, as it is written, God would be merciful to our sins. But we do not so act as to propitiate him. We constantly add evils to evils and pile sins upon sins, and though many of us have already perished we seek to complete our own destruction. Who, tell me, seeing another man killed beside him is not in terror for himself? Who can see his neighbor's house burn and not try by every means in his power to keep his own from being set on fire? But we not only see our neighbors burning but know that the flames have already spread over the greater part of our own bodies. What unspeakable evil is this that we are suffering? We are on fire, on fire, I say, and yet we do not fear the flames that burn us. That the evils committed formerly are at last diminishing is the result of our miseries, not the fruit of a true repentance.
This is easily proved; only give back our former prosperity and you shall see at once the old interests everywhere restored. Note this also: as far as men's wishes are concerned, even if the games are no longer actually being given in many places, yet they still exist as of old, for the Roman people everywhere wish them given. When nothing but sheer necessity hinders a man from an evil deed, the mere desire for a base act is as much to be condemned as the action. For if, as I said, according to the words of our Lord: |Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her is guilty of the adultery conceived in his heart,| we can understand that while of necessity we do not commit disgraceful acts worthy of condemnation, we are nevertheless guilty if we only desire forbidden things.
Why should I mention desire? Most men actually do these things whenever they can. When the inhabitants of other cities come to Ravenna or Rome they join the Roman plebs in the circus, and the people of Ravenna in the theater. Therefore let no one consider himself acquitted on the ground of his distance from the spectacles. All are united in the turpitude of their actions who join one another in their desire for disgraceful deeds.
Yet we flatter ourselves on the uprightness of our ways, the rarity of our vices. So I shall carry my charges farther: not only do men still yield as of old to the pollution of those infamous games but their guilt in this is much greater than before. For in the past the various members of the Roman world flourished unimpaired; the public wealth had made the storehouses inadequate; the citizens of all the towns had abundance of riches and delights, and amid such overflowing prosperity the authority of religion could hardly exercise due censorship of conduct. Then indeed those who exploited base desires found rich grazing on all sides, but there was no lack of wealth to satisfy their greed; no one worried about the public disbursements and expenses, for the cost was not felt. The state indeed seemed in a way to seek an opportunity to squander what it could scarcely continue to hold. Thus the heaped-up wealth that had already begun to exceed just bounds furnished abundance for lavishness even in trivial matters.
But of the present situation what can we say? Our old abundance has deserted us; the resources of former times are gone, and we are in a wretched state, but do not cease our frivolities. Although even orphan wastrels are usually benefited by poverty, leaving off the error of their ways as soon as they have squandered their wealth, we seem to be a new class of profligates, in whom opulence has ceased to dwell, but dissipation persists. The causes of our corruption lie not as with other men in outside enticements, but in our hearts, and our minds are the source of our depravity, so that [we] are not [moved] to amend our ways by the loss of our wealth, but [go on] sinning through love of wickedness.
10. Although I may have shown sufficiently what serious vices the Romans have, from which the barbarian tribes are free, still 1 shall add many points that I have omitted. But before I continue, let me remind you that a fault of any sort which dishonors God should in no sense seem a trivial matter to anyone. It is never permissible to dishonor an illustrious and powerful man, and anyone who dishonors such a one is held guilty in the eyes of the law and is condemned in due course as responsible for the injurious action. How much more difficult of atonement is the accusation of injury to God! The fault of the wrongdoer always increases in proportion to the position of the person injured, since necessarily the greater the person of the man who suffers abusive action, the greater is the guilt of the man who commits such action. Wherefore we read in the law that even those who seem to have committed only slight offence against the sacred ordinances have nevertheless been most severely punished; to the end that we might know that nothing pertaining to God should be considered unimportant. Even what seemed to be a petty fault became a grave one, inasmuch as it was an injury to the divine power.
What did Oza, the Levite of God, do against the divine commandment, when he tried to steady the ark of the Lord? There was no law laid down regarding this. Yet immediately he took hold of it, he was struck down, apparently not because he did anything in an impudent fashion or with an undutiful intention, but his very service was undutiful because he exceeded his orders.
When a man of the Israelites had gathered wood on the Sabbath, he was struck down and killed by the judgment and command of God, who is truly a most gentle and merciful judge, who would doubtless have preferred to spare rather than to kill, if the consideration of severity had not outweighed consideration of mercy. For one incautious man perished to save many from perishing thereafter through lack of caution.
But why do I speak of single individuals? The children of Israel in their journey through the desert, because they longed for their accustomed meat, lost a part of their number. The desire for meat had not yet been forbidden them, but God, I think, wished to further the observance of the law by the suppression of rebellious desires. He intended the whole people to learn the more easily how earnestly one should avoid what God forbade in his divine writings, since even those acts injured him which he had not yet forbidden by law.
The same people also murmured at the hardships they underwent, and for this reason were punished by the Lord's rods, not because it is forbidden a man to groan at hardships, but because their murmurs were displeasing to God, inasmuch as they seemed to accuse him of causing them too much labor. From this we should learn how much a man enjoying the blessings of good fortune ought to seek to please God, since it is not even permitted to complain of those ills that seem painful.
11. What is the purpose of these examples? What else than that nothing should seem trivial that causes injury to God? For we were talking of the public games, which are truly mockeries of our hopes, mockeries of our life. While we sport in the theaters and circuses, we perish, according to the Sacred Word which says: |It is as sport to a fool to do mischief.| So we too, when we laugh amidst disgraceful and shameful sights, are committing crimes, and crimes of no slight extent. Our wrongdoing is the more worthy of punishment for this very reason, that though it seems to be of a most trivial nature, it is really pestilential and deadly in its outcome. There are two chief evils, for a man to destroy himself and for him to injure God; both of these are committed in the public games, where through criminal and shameful sights the eternal salvation of the Christian people is utterly destroyed, and through a sacrilegious superstition the divine majesty is violated. There can be no doubt that the games injure God, consecrated as they are to idols. For Minerva is worshipped and honored in the gymnasia, Venus in the theaters, Neptune in the circuses, Mars in the arena, Mercury in the palaestra, and thus the superstitious worship varies according to the character of its sponsors. Impure actions of all sorts are performed in the theaters; there is wanton luxury in the palaestras, immoderate vice in the circuses, madness in the arenas. In one of these is wantonness, in another lasciviousness, in another intemperance, in another insanity, in them all the devil; nay, in each individual place where shows are held, not merely one devil, but devils of all varieties, for they preside over the places dedicated to their worship. Therefore in spectacles of this sort neither allurements nor vices are found alone. It is sacrilege for a Christian to mingle with this superstition, sharing in the worship of those in whose festivals he takes delight. While such a thing is always serious enough, it becomes more intolerable when either our adversity or our prosperity, exceeding the ordinary measure of our life, makes our acts more blameworthy. In adversity there is double need to appease God, and in prosperity to avoid grieving him. Surely he must be appeased when he is angry, and must not be alienated when he is propitious; for our adversities come to us through his wrath, our prosperity through his favor. But we do everything by contraries.
How, do you ask? Listen. First, if won over by his own mercy -- for we never so live that we deserve his favor -- if, as I say, at any time won over by his own mercy God gives us peaceful seasons, plentiful crops, tranquillity rich in all good things and abundance increasing beyond our hopes, we let ourselves be so corrupted by great prosperity and fortune, we let ourselves be so depraved by insolent manners that we altogether forget God and ourselves. Although the apostle says that every benefit of the peace given by God depends on this: |That we lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,| the only use we make of the quiet he gives is to live in drunkenness and luxury, in wantonness and rapine, in all manner of crime and wickedness. We look on his goodly gift of peace as an opportunity for licentiousness, and take the quiet given by his truce as a chance to sin more freely and safely.
Therefore we are unworthy of heavenly gifts, who make no good use of God's kindness, and see in the means of good works only material for vice. Hence it comes that the peace which we so abuse itself works against us, and is actually harmful to us, since we use it to our detriment. Is this worthy of belief? We change nature itself by our wickedness, and the good things that God has made as his loving gift to us are turned to evil by our wanton lives.
12. We who are corrupted by prosperity, you say, are corrected through adversity. Long peace had made us unruly, but we are brought back by strife to moderation. In what cases have the dwellers in our cities, who were licentious in prosperity, begun to be chaste in adversity? When has drunkenness, which increased in the time of our peace and prosperity, ceased under the ravages of the enemy?
Italy has already been devastated by many disasters: have the vices of the Italians therefore ended? The city of Rome has been besieged and taken by storm: have the Romans therefore ceased their mad blasphemy? Barbarous nations have overrun the states of Gaul: have the crimes of the Gauls therefore changed in character, as far as their evil habits are concerned? Tribes of Vandals have crossed over into the Spanish countryside: the fortune of the Spaniards has indeed changed, but not their corruption. Lastly, that no part of the world might be immune from fatal destruction, wars have begun to cross the seas, they have devastated and overthrown cities shut off by the waves, in Sardinia and Sicily, the imperial granaries. Having, as it were, cut off the vital channels of the empire, they captured Africa, which may be called its heart. What then? As barbarians entered that land, did its vices cease, even through fear? Or, as even the most worthless slaves are usually reformed for the time being, did terror drive them to modesty and self-restraint? Who can rightly estimate this evil? The barbarians' arms clashed about the walls of Cirta and Carthage while the Christian congregation of the city raved in the circuses and wantoned in the theaters. Some had their throats cut without the walls, while others still committed fornication within; part of the people were captive to the enemy without, while part within the city were captive to their own vices. It is hard to decide which suffered the worse misfortune. The former indeed were captive externally in the flesh, the latter inwardly in the soul. Of the two deadly evils, it is less, I think, for a Christian to endure captivity of the body than of the soul, according to the teachings of the Savior himself in the Gospel, that the death of the soul is much more fatal than that of the body.
Or do we perhaps believe that those men were not captive in soul, who then rejoiced in the time of their people's captivity? Was he not captive in mind and heart, who laughed amid the punishments of his people, who did not know that his throat was being cut along with theirs, that in their deaths he also died? Outside the walls, as I have said, and inside them too, was heard the din of battle and of the games; the voices of dying men mingled with the voices of revellers; the outcry of the people slain in the war could scarcely be distinguished from the clamor of those who shouted in the circus. What was accomplished by this but the hastening of the destruction of the people who chose such a course, though God perhaps did not yet wish to destroy them?
13. These places, however, are far away, almost removed to another world, and seem irrelevant to the discussion when I consider that even in my own country, in the Gallic states, almost all men of high degree have been made worse by their misfortunes. I myself have seen men of lofty birth and honor, though already despoiled and plundered, still less ruined in fortunes than in morality; for, ravaged and stripped though they were, something still remained to them of their property, but nothing of their character. They were so much more hostile to themselves than to alien enemies that, though they had already been ruined by the barbarians, they now completed their own destruction. It is sad to tell what we saw there; honored old men, feeble Christians, when the ruin of their state was already imminent, making themselves slaves to appetite and lust. What are the first grounds of accusation? That they were honored, old, Christians, or in danger? Who would deem it possible that such things should be done by old men even in utter security, or by boys in a crisis, or at any time whatever by Christians? They reclined at feasts, forgetful of their honor, forgetting justice, forgetting their faith and the name they bore. There were the leaders of the state, gorged with food, dissolute from winebibbing, wild with shouting, giddy with revelry, completely out of their senses, or rather, since this was their usual condition, precisely in their senses. In spite of all this, what I have next to say is still worse: not even the destruction of their towns put an end to their excesses. The wealthiest city of Gaul was taken by storm no less than four times. It is easy to recognize the city of which I speak. The first captivity should surely have sufficed to mend the ways of the citizens, so that the renewal of their sins would not have renewed the destruction. But what followed? The tale is incredible. The constant repetition of misfortunes in that city increased its crimes. Like that fabulous monster whose heads multiplied as they were cut off, so also in the most excellent city of Gaul, wickedness gathered strength from the very blows that punished it. You would have thought that the punishment intended to end the crimes of its people acted instead as the begetter of vice. What then? By the daily multiplication of swarming evils it has come to such a pass that the city could more easily exist without inhabitants than any of its citizens could do without crime.
So much then for this city. What of another not far distant but of almost equal magnificence? Has it not suffered the same ruin of fortunes and of morals? For aside from all else, when it was utterly demoralized by the two chief evils common to all, avarice and drunkenness, it finally reached such a state of rabid greed for wine that the very rulers of the city did not rise from their feasts when the enemy were actually entering the gates. God wished to make clear to them why they perished, since at the moment of their final disaster they were leading the very life through which they had come to ruin. I myself saw lamentable sights there, with no distinction between boys and old men. The scurrility and levity of all were alike; all vices reigned at once -- extravagance, drinking bouts, wantonness -- all the people revelled together. They drank, gamed, committed adultery. Old and honored men waxed wanton at their feasts; men already almost too feeble to live proved mighty in their cups; men too weak to walk were strong in drinking; those whose steps tottered were nimble dancers. What more can be said? Through all that I have recounted they became so degraded that the words of the Sacred Scripture were fulfilled in them: |Wine and women make men of understanding to fall away from God.| For while they drink, dice, rape and play the madman, men begin to deny Christ. After all this do we wonder that men who have long since undergone moral ruin suffer the ruin of their fortunes? Let no one think that such a city perished only at the time of its physical destruction, for the deeds of its people had brought its ruin long before their death.
14. I have told the fate of the most famous cities. What of the many others in various parts of Gaul? Have they not fallen, too, because of like vices on the part of their citizens? All were so completely possessed by their crimes that they did not fear any danger they had foreknowledge of captivity and did not dread it. Fear indeed was taken away from these sinful men to prevent them from the exercise of caution. Therefore, though the barbarians were settled almost within their sight, men felt no fear, the cities remained unguarded. Such was the blindness of their hearts, or rather of their sins, that although doubtless no one wished to die, no one did anything to ward off death. Everything was in the grip of carelessness and sloth, negligence and gluttony, drunkenness and sleep, as has been written of such men: |Because a deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon them.| A deep sleep indeed fell upon them that destruction might follow closely. For when, as it is written, a sinner's iniquity is full and he is due to perish, foreknowledge is taken from him, that he may not escape his doom. But enough of this. I have made my point sufficiently clear, I think, that not even in the time of the greatest danger did the vices of the people come to an end before the actual overthrow of their cities.
15. Perhaps such things have occurred in the past, but have now come to an end, or will do so at some future time. Yes, forsooth, if today any city or province that has been smitten by God's scourge or devastated by the enemy appears humbled, converted and amended, if practically all who bear the Roman name do not prefer death to reformation, the end of their life to the end of their vices! This can be quickly tested by the example of the greatest city of Gaul, three times destroyed by successive captures, yet when the whole city had been burned to the ground, its wickedness increased even after its destruction. Those whom the enemy had not killed when they pillaged the city were overwhelmed by disaster after the sack; those who had escaped death in the capture did not survive the ruin that followed. Some died lingering deaths from deep wounds, others were burned by the enemy's fires and suffered tortures even after the flames were extinguished. Some perished of hunger, others of nakedness, some wasting away, others paralyzed with cold, and so all alike by diverse deaths hastened to the common goal.
Worse than all this, other cities suffered from the destruction of this single town. There lay all about the torn and naked bodies of both sexes, a sight that I myself endured. These were a pollution to the eyes of the city, as they lay there lacerated by birds and dogs. The stench of the dead brought pestilence on the living: death breathed out death. Thus even those who had escaped the destruction of the city suffered the evils that sprang from the fate of the rest.
What followed these calamities? Who can assay such utter folly? The few men of rank who had survived destruction demanded of the emperors circuses as the sovereign remedy for a ruined city. O that I might here and now be gifted with eloquence adequate to cope with this shocking event, that there might be at least as much virtue in my complaint as there is sorrow at its cause! Who can even decide what chiefly merits accusation in the tale, irreverence or stupidity, extravagance or insanity? In these terms the whole is comprised. What is more irreverent than a petition that works injury to God? What is more stupid than not to consider your petition carefully? What so clear a proof of hopeless extravagance as to desire luxuries in a time of general mourning? Or more insane than to be in the midst of evils without any understanding of them?
Among these, however, insanity is the least culpable, for the will is not at fault when sin is committed through sheer madness. Therefore those of whom I speak deserved the greater blame, because, though sane, they acted senselessly. Do you, O citizens of Trèves, long for circuses when you have been plundered and captured, after slaughter and bloodshed, after stripes and captivity, and the repeated destruction of your ruined city? What is more lamentable than this stupidity, more grievous than this folly? I confess I thought you most miserable when you were suffering destruction, but I see that you are now more miserable when you demand public shows. At first I thought you had lost only your material property in the capture of your city; I did not know that you had lost also your intelligence and control of your senses. Do you then ask for theaters, and demand a circus from our emperors? For what condition, I ask, what people and what city? A city burned and destroyed, a people captive and killed, who have perished, or mourn their dead; a city of which nothing survives but sheer calamity, whose people are altogether anxious in their grief, worn out by tears, prostrate in bereavement, so that it is hard to say whether the lot of the living or the dead is worse to bear. So great are the miseries of the survivors that they surpass the ill fortune of the dead.
Do you then seek public shows, O citizen of Trèves? Where, pray, are they to be given? Over the pyres and ashes, the bodies and blood of the dead? For what part of your city is free from these? Where has blood not been shed, where are bodies and mangled limbs not strewn? Everywhere the city's appearance betrays its capture, everywhere are the horror of captivity and the image of death. The remains of a most unhappy people lie on the graves of their dead, yet you ask for circuses; the city is blackened by fire, yet you put on a festive countenance; all things mourn, but you rejoice! Yea more, by your infamous pleasure you provoke God, and by your vile superstitions arouse his divine wrath. Can there be any wonder that such a fate has befallen you, when threefold destruction has not corrected you, so that you richly deserved to perish by the fourth?
16. I have given the above account in somewhat full detail to prove that we have borne all our sufferings not through the failure of God's providence or through his neglect, but because of his justice and judgment -- a most just dispensation and worthy retribution -- and that no portion whatever of the Roman world and Roman name, however greatly chastised by afflictions sent from heaven, has ever been corrected. Thus we prove that we do not deserve to enjoy prosperity, since we are not corrected by adversity.
Good gifts are given us from time to time, however, unworthy though we are. The good God, like a most indulgent father, sometimes lets us be humbled for our sins, but does not suffer us to be afflicted long. So at one time he chastises his children by adversity, in accordance with his discipline, and again favors them with peace, according to his mercy. As the best and most skilful doctors give different cures for various diseases and succor some by sweet, others by bitter drugs; cure certain ills by cautery, others by soothing poultices; employ ruthless surgery for some, but pour healing oil on others; seeking the same good health by utterly different cures: so also our God, when he restrains us by harsher blows, is seeking to cure us by cautery and surgery; when he favors us with good fortune he is offering us soothing oil and poultices -- for by means of different treatments he wishes to restore us all to the same good health.
Gentle treatment usually corrects even the most incorrigible slaves whom punishment has failed to reform, and kindness subdues those whom the lash failed to make submissive to their masters. Babies, too, and almost all stubborn children, whom threats and blows do not make amenable, are often led to obedience by goodies and endearments. Hence we should realize that we are more worthless than the worst slaves, and more stupid than foolish children, since torments do not correct us as they do bad slaves, nor coaxings win us over as they do naughty children.
17. I think I have now proved adequately that punishment has not corrected any part of the Roman people; it remains to prove that neither the gifts nor the gentle words of God correct us. What then are the gifts and gentle words of God? What indeed but our peace and quiet, the calmness of prosperity that attends on our hopes and wishes? Let me give you a particular instance, since the case demands it.
Whenever we are in fear, distress and danger, when cities are besieged by the enemy or provinces devastated, or the members of the state wounded by any other adversities, and we offer prayers and vows to the heavenly hosts for help, then if by the aid of the divine mercy our cities are saved, the devastation ended, the hostile armies routed and all fear removed by God's grace, what do we immediately do? Do we endeavor to recompense our Lord God by our worship, honor and reverence for the benefits we have received at his hands? For this is the fitting action and in accordance with human custom, that those who give us gifts may receive due return for them. This then perhaps we do, giving God recompense in human fashion, and making a good return for the good we have received of him.
So we run at once to the Lord's house, and prostrate ourselves on the ground, we supplicate him, our joy mixed with tears, and bedeck his doorway with, votive garlands, we adorn his altars with gifts, and since we ourselves are making a festival of gifts to him, transfer the joy of our countenance to his temples also. Or at least, an act no less pleasing to him, we renounce the vices of our former lives, we give good works as a sacrifice to him, and offer up a new conversion in return for our new joys. Lastly we declare a holy war on all uncleanliness, shun the madness of the circus, curse the vileness of the shows in the theater, vow a new life to the Lord and, to obtain his protection forever, dedicate ourselves to God.
18. Although all that I have described should be given to God for his recent benefits, let us consider what we actually do. Men run at once to the games, fly off to their old insanity, the folk pour into the theaters, the whole people riot madly at the circuses. God gives us good gifts to assure our merit, but we, as often as we receive his benefits, multiply our crimes. He by his mercies calls us to righteousness, but we rush headlong into wickedness; he by his mercies calls us to repentance, but we rush to destruction; he calls us to chastity, but we rush into impurity. A noble response we make to his holy favors, nobly do we recognize and honor his gifts, who repay the kindness we have received from him by an equal measure of injustice! Is this not injury to our God, or can any injury be less deserved, [when] great and frequent [gratitude] is needed instead?
But since by the taint of wickedness ingrained in our nature we cannot fail to be prey to vice except by ceasing to live at all, what hope of good is there in us? Those who sin through ignorance correct themselves when they learn their error; those who do not know the true religion begin to change their way of life when they change their faith. Lastly, those who are spoiled by excessive abundance and security, as I said, cease their depravity when they are no longer secure. |We do not err through ignorance, nor are we outside the true religion, nor corrupted by prosperity and security: quite the reverse. We know the true religion, so ignorance cannot serve as our excuse; we lack the peace and wealth of our former days; all that we had has been taken from us or changed -- only our vices have been increased. Nothing remains of our former peace and plenty but our crimes, which have made our prosperity cease.
Where are now the old resources and honors of Rome? The Romans were of old the mightiest of men, now they are without strength; of old they were feared, but now they live in fear; barbarous nations paid tribute to them, but to these same nations they are now tributary. The enemy sell us the very daylight; almost our whole safety is purchased for a price. Alas for our misfortunes! to what a pass have we come! For this we give thanks to the barbarians, that we are allowed to ransom ourselves from them at a price. What could be more abjectly wretched than to live on such terms? Yet after all this we think that we are living, we whose lives depend on tribute! We even make ourselves additionally ridiculous by pretending that the gold we pay is merely a gift. We call it a gift, yet it is really a ransom -- but a ransom paid on unusually hard and wretched terms. When captives have been redeemed, they gain their liberty, whereas we pay ransom constantly and are never free. The barbarians deal with us like those masters who hire out for wages slaves not needed for their own service. In like fashion, we are never free of the payments due: we pay ransom constantly in order to have the privilege of continuing endlessly to pay.