1. My description, at the end of the previous book, of the weakness and misery of the Romans, may seem to be at variance with my general proposition. I admitted that the very people who, as pagans, conquered and ruled the world, are being conquered and enslaved, now that they have become Christians. Is not this clear evidence of God's neglect of human affairs? The charge is easily refuted by what I said long ago about the pagan nations. Those who know the law of God and neglect it are more guilty than those who fail to observe it through lack of knowledge.
However, if God is willing, since we have reached the point in our undertaking at which something should be said of the old Romans, we shall, with God's help, prove that his favor to them in the past was as just as is his present severity toward us, and that his help to them in former times was as fully deserved as is our punishment now.
Would that this same punishment were of benefit to us! Much harder and more grievous than punishment is the fact that no amendment follows. The Lord wishes to cure us by his chastisement, but improvement does not result. How can we explain this evil? Cattle and flocks are cured by surgery; when the diseased organs of mules, asses and swine have been cauterized they acknowledge the healing effect of the fire, and at once when the corruption of the infected parts has been burned away or cut out, living flesh grows in place of the dead tissue. But we are burned and cut, yet are not healed by the surgeon's tools or the burning of the cautery. What is more serious, such care makes us even worse. It is not mere chance that we undergo the same treatment as flocks and cattle afflicted by incurable diseases. For in all parts of the world, since the healing care that is given us has no effect, our lives are being brought to an end by death and destruction. Indeed, not to repeat what I said some time ago, how can we define these disorders except by saying that we are at the same time living in misery and in luxury? Grant that luxury is the vice of the fortunate (though no one can be both infamous and happy at the same time, since there is no true happiness without honor), grant that these are the vices of a long peace and plentiful security, why then are they found where there is no longer peace or security? Almost throughout the Roman world peace and security have ceased. Why do only the vices they engender survive? Who can tolerate licentiousness in a needy man? Wantonness in poverty earns the more reproach, and a worthless fellow is more heavily censured if his condition is wretched.
The whole Roman world is at once wretched and voluptuous. What poor man is also wanton? What man awaiting captivity thinks of the circus? Who laughs in the shadow of death? Yet we, in the fear of captivity, continue to frequent the games, and shadowed by the fear of death, we laugh. You would think the whole Roman people had been steeped in Sardonic herbs: they are dying, yet they laugh. So in almost every part of the world tears follow close upon our laughter; and the saying of our Lord comes home to us at the present time: |Woe unto you that laugh, for ye shall weep.|
2. The great length at which I have spoken of the disgraceful character of the public spectacles may have led you to assume that the abstinence of the barbarians from this particular vice of ours is their only point of moral superiority to us, inasmuch as we are not polluted as they are by the crime of carnal lust and the filth of mortal fornication. Let us then, if you please, compare the Romans in this respect also with other nations. I cannot indeed think of any with whom we may be more justly compared than those whom God has put into the very bosom of the state and made owners and lords of the Roman land. Although there was absolutely no ground to dispute his judgment in this, still, since he has taken away from us the best part of our territory, and given it to the barbarians, let us see whether he seems to have exercised justice in this transfer.
No one questions that the Aquitanians and the Nine Peoples had the very marrow of the Gallic provinces, rich in every sort of fertility, and not in fertility alone, but in qualities sometimes ranked above this, charm, beauty and luxury. Almost all that district is still covered with close-planted vines, flowering meadows, plowed fields, fruit orchards, charming groves, springing fountains, flowing streams or waving grain, so that the owners and masters of the land truly seem to have taken for their own not so much a section of ground as a likeness of paradise. What conclusion can be drawn from this? Unquestionably those men ought to have been more fervent in service to God whom he had especially enriched by the most abundant evidence of his favor. What is more right and fitting than that those whom their Lord seemed especially to have favored by his gifts should themselves make an earnest effort to please him by their religious worship, particularly since God lays no heavy or burdensome demands on us? For he does not call on us to plow or hoe, to spade up the earth or prepare the ground for vines, nor, to sum up, does he exact from his slaves what we require of ours. What does he himself say? |Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.|
So we see that the Lord calls us not to labor but to rest. What does he exact of us, what does he order us to offer him, save only faith, chastity, humility, sobriety, mercy and sanctity? All these assuredly do not burden but adorn us. Nor is this all; they adorn our present life to the end that they may adorn even more the life to come. O good and loving master, of inestimable mercy! He has given us the gifts of religion at the present time that he may later reward us for the gifts he now gives! These virtues, then, all the Aquitanians should have cultivated, and indeed, as I said before, they should have made more especial efforts in this direction, since they had received the especial gifts of God. What resulted from their prosperity? What was bound to result? Was it not the exact reverse of what should have happened? In all the provinces of Gaul these men who are first in wealth, are first also in vice: nowhere is pleasure more shameless, life more vicious, or moral standards more corrupt. This is the return they have given God for his sacred gifts, that as far as by his generosity he had drawn them to his favor, so far they by their abuse have labored to arouse his anger.
3. Or is this perhaps false, and are all my statements due to envy rather than truth? I shall not use the method of proof some men employ in the courts, bringing in as witnesses outsiders or persons unsuitable to testify for some other reason. I shall cross-question the very men by whom these things have been done. I have spoken falsely if they deny me. They confess, and indeed, which is much more serious, they confess without any apparent grief. For now in their confession they have the same attitude as in their commission of the fault. Just as then they were not ashamed to perform disgraceful acts, so now they do not in the least repent having performed them. We must indeed make exception for a very small number of men distinguished for their holiness, who, as one of their number has said, |have given their wealth to redeem their crime.| Of these we must make an exception, men who, we believe, were actually guilty only of lesser crimes even in the midst of the almost universal entanglements of vice, and who merited conversion by God's divine power. Now one for whom favor is reserved has not been altogether injurious to his master in his actions. What more can I say? I think that a man whom God has persuaded at last to cease from his wrongdoing has always had God in mind, even in the midst of his error.
The rest, however, at least the great majority and the most noble, are all very nearly of a kind: the intemperance of all is a devouring whirlpool, their life a brothel. Why should I speak of brothels? Even those I think are less wicked than the men of whom I spoke. For the prostitutes in them have not experienced the marriage bond, and so do not defile what they do not know; their shameless lives require atonement, it is true, but they are not liable to the charge of adultery. Add to this that such haunts are few, and few the prostitutes who have condemned themselves to a most unhappy life in them. Among the Aquitanians, on the other hand, what city in its richest and most elegant quarters was not practically a brothel? What rich and powerful man did not live in lustful vice? Who among them did not plunge into the pit of the most sordid associations? Who honored his wife by a faithful observance of his marriage vows? Nay, as far as passive endurance of their lust is concerned, who among them did not reduce his wife to the status of his maidservants and degrade the sacrament of holy matrimony so far that no woman in the house was made to seem more contemptible by her husband's conduct than she who was made chief in it by the dignity of marriage?
4. Perhaps some one is thinking that what I say is not strictly accurate; for the matrons of southern Gaul did continue to exercise their rights and to hold honor and power as mistresses of their households. That is true. Many of them indeed did keep unimpaired their right of government, but scarcely one kept her marriage rights unpolluted. Our present object of investigation is not the power of women, but the infamous conduct of their husbands. However, I should not even say that the matrons kept their power uninjured, since a wife who has not kept her connubial rights safe and inviolate has not kept her full rights of domination. When the master of the house acts as husband of the maidservants, the mistress is not far removed from the mean position of the slave. Who among the rich men of Aquitania did not so act? Who among them has not been considered by his shameless maids, and with good, reason, as either adulterer or husband? For, as the prophet said: |They were as fed horses in the morning; everyone neighed after his neighbor's wife.| Those of whom he spoke sinned perhaps less grievously, and, I think, with less intention of wrong than did our men. The Aquitanians more truly resembled the post horses: they whinnied not after a few women merely, but after all their household maids -- that is, after their own herds -- and, like those; beasts called the stallions of the herd, they waxed wanton with the heat of their intoxicating passion, and attacked whatever woman was first exposed to the onslaught of their shameless lust. Since this is the case, I ask the wise what sort of families they think were found where such men were heads of the households? What corruption do they think there would be among the slaves, where there Avas such great vice among the masters? For if the head is diseased no part of the body is sound, and no member performs its functions when the dominating part is not functioning. Moreover, the master's relation to his house is that of the head to the body, its very life, setting up standards of living for all its members. The most unfortunate aspect of the matter is that all follow the worse example more readily, and evil associations corrupt good manners more easily than good ones will correct the evil. Furthermore, since even good and honorable heads of families cannot make their slaves good, what do you think becomes of the household morality when the master himself sets an example of lewdness? And yet in such a case we have not only an example of immorality but a sort of enforced necessity, since the slave women are compelled to obey their wanton masters against their will, and the lust of those in power is the compulsion of their subjects. From this we may see how great was the filth of shameless vice when women subject to the most depraved of masters were not allowed to be chaste even when they wished.
5. It may be difficult, you think, to prove this, and no traces are likely to be found remaining of the past debauchery and lust. See, then, how many of these men, even though they no longer have any country, and are living as paupers in comparison with their past wealth, are really worse than before. They are worse not only in that they continue to live as they did formerly, but in the very fact that their crimes never cease. Indeed their evil deeds, though not worse than before in character, are more numerous; thus, even though no new devices lend novelty to their sins, the number of their misdoings is increased.
Add to this that, as I have said, it is old men, and poor ones, who live in such a fashion; for each of these points increases the evil. Surely it is less shocking for young men and rich to sin. But what hope of cure is there for men who are not recalled from their wonted vice either by miserable poverty or by extreme age? Some of them, I suppose, are relying on a foolish assurance of long life or the intention of eventual penitence; is it not a strange prodigy that men should be given over to vice even at the very time of death? This being the case, what more can be said? I add one more point, however, that many are living in this fashion today, even among the enemy, and subject as captives to daily fear and danger, and although it was on account of the excessive wickedness of their lives that God surrendered them into the hands of the enemy, they do not forsake their vice even among the barbarians.
6. Perhaps those among whom they now live are of such a character that these vices please them, and they would be most grievously offended if they were to see the Romans living chastely in the midst of their vices. If this were the ease, still the wickedness of others ought not to make us wicked. It should be of more importance in every man's eyes to be good on his own account than to be wicked for another. We should strive to please God by our uprightness rather than men by our vices. Consequently, even if a man lives among unchaste barbarians, he ought to seek chastity, which is of service to him, rather than lewdness, which pleases his lustful enemies. But note a point that serves to increase our guilt: among chaste barbarians we ourselves are unchaste. I shall say even more; the barbarians themselves are offended by our vices. Among the Goths no one is permitted to indulge in fornication; only the Romans in their land, by national and titular prerogative, are allowed this vice. What hope, I ask, have we then in the sight of God? We love vice, while the Goths execrate it; we flee from purity, while they love it; fornication with them is a perilous vice, but with us a mark of honor. Do we think that we can stand before God, do we think that we can attain salvation, when every crime of impurity, every disgraceful vice, is committed by the Romans and censured by the barbarians? At this point I ask those who consider us better than the barbarians to tell me which of these evils are committed by even a very few of the Goths, and which of them are not committed by all or nearly all of the Romans? Yet we wonder that the lands of the Aquitanians and of us all have been given by God to the barbarians, though those same barbarians are now purifying by their chastity the places polluted by the fornication of the Romans.
7. Is this the case in Aquitania alone? Let us pass under review other parts of the world also, and not speak exclusively of the Gauls. Have not the same crimes or greater ones destroyed the provinces of Spain? Even if the divine wrath had handed these lands over to any other barbarians you might name, the enemies of chastity in them would have suffered tortures worthy of their vices. But as an added evidence of the condemnation of their shamelessness they were delivered into the hands of the Vandals, the most shamefast of barbarians. In the captivity of Spain God wished to give a twofold evidence of his hatred of carnal lust and love of chastity, when he put the Vandals in command solely on account of their preeminent chastity and subjected the Spaniards to them solely on account of their surpassing lewdness. What do I mean by this? Were there not anywhere in the world stronger barbarians to whom the Spanish lands might be surrendered? Many, without doubt, nay, all of them were stronger, if I am not mistaken. But he handed the people of Spain over to the weakest of the enemy expressly to show that it was not the strength but the merit of the Vandals that conquered, and that we were not being overwhelmed by the power of our foes, who then seemed most unheroic, but only by the wickedness of our vices, that the saying of the Lord to the Jews might be fulfilled in us: |According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions have I done unto them, and hid my face from them.| Elsewhere speaking to the same people, he said: |The Lord shall bring a nation against them from far . . . with the hoofs of his horses shall they tread down all thy streets; they shall slay thy people by the sword.|
So all that the Lord said has been fulfilled in us, and our punishment has vindicated the force of his divine words.
8. Since the majority of barbarian nations have drunk Roman blood and torn our flesh, we may ask why it is especially into the power of those once considered the most cowardly of the enemy that the Lord has delivered the greatest resources of the state and the wealthiest people who bear the Roman name. Why else indeed, except to make us recognize, as I said before, that the outcome depended on merit, not on strength, and that this should serve to confound and punish us, that we were given into the power of the weakest, and must recognize the correction of God's hand in the fact that not the bravest but the most despised of our enemies overcame us. For we read that whenever God has willed that men should clearly see his great works, the action has been performed through the medium of a few men, of men of the lowest sort, so that his divine handwork might not be ascribed to human power.
Thus indeed Sisera, the captain before whom the Hebrew army trembled, was laid low by a woman; a woman's hand struck down Abimelech, the stormer of cities, and the ironclad hosts of the Assyrians were routed by the help of a widow. Not to speak of women only, did not the Lord wish Benedad, king of Syria, whom thirty-two kings and armies of like proportions served, as well as countless thousands of his own people, to be conquered by a few serving-men, so that God himself might be recognized as the author of so great a victory? Against the Midianites also, who, as the Book of Judges relates, had filled all the land like locusts, Gideon was ordered to fight with a few men, not because he had not more in his army, but he was forbidden to lead many men to battle for fear that a multitude might claim some share in the victory as their own. When Gideon had gathered together thirty thousand armed men, the Lord spoke thus to him: |The people that are with thee are too many for me to give Midian into their hands.| What followed? He left Gideon, to fight against countless thousands of barbarians, only three hundred men. Indeed, he commanded the force of soldiers to be reduced to such a scanty number in order that their lack of men might prevent any claim of credit for a victory divinely won. Why he did this, the Lord himself declared most plainly: |Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying: Mine own hand hath saved me.'|
Let all the wicked hearken, I say, let all the presumptuous hearken, and all who excel in power; let all men hear what the Lord says: |Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.'|
9. Let all men hear, I repeat, who utter blasphemies against the Lord, let all hear who put their trust in man. God declares that all men speak against him who presume to think that they can be freed by their own might. Who is there among the Romans who does not hold this opinion? Who is there in our number who does not blaspheme in this respect almost constantly? It is common knowledge that the state has no longer any strength, yet not even now do we acknowledge to whose favor we owe it that we still live. Whenever God gives us a degree of prosperity beyond our hopes and deserts, one man ascribes it to fate, another to chance, another to the strategy of our leaders, another to their foresight, another to the administration, another to his patron, but none to God.
Yet we wonder that his divine hand fails to give us some things for which we wish, though we deny him credit for what he has given in the past. What else are we doing, when we ascribe the good things he gives us to the blind workings of chance, the ability of our leaders, or any other minor agencies? Following such arguments we ought to thank the earth for our yearly harvests, the vineyards for the vintage, the sea for hauls of fish, the forests for the wood we cut, the sheep for our clothing, and other beasts for the meat with which we are filled. What sense is there in our willingness to be grateful to God for his other gifts when we deny him gratitude for his greatest benefits? What man of our condition would be satisfied to have another thank him for some minor favor if he had denied him credit for his greatest gifts? So though we cannot thank God worthily, we shall fall far short of what is due him if we are grateful to him only for the means of daily life, and withhold from him our gratitude for helping us in time of trouble, freeing us in the midst of dangers and preserving us by his constant protection when we are placed in the midst of barbarous nations.
Not so do the Goths or the Vandals regard him, being better in this respect than ourselves, though trained by heretical teachers. However, I have grounds to suspect that certain men are offended by what I say. Since the truth must outweigh the fear of giving offence I shall say it nevertheless, and say it repeatedly: not so do the Goths or the Vandals act, for when they are in danger they beg help of God and they call their prosperity the gift of his divine love. In fact our misfortune in the last war furnished proof of this difference between us. For the Goths through fear put their hope in God, and we through presumption put ours in the Huns. The Goths sought peace and we denied it; they sent bishops to make terms and we rejected them; they honored God even in the person of alien priests and we despised him in our own. Was not the outcome of these events consonant with the actions of each side? To them in the depths of fear was given the palm of victory; to us in the height of confidence was given confusion, so that the words of our Lord were clearly exemplified in us and in them: |For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.| To them was given exaltation for their humility and to us humiliation for our pride.
10. This the general of our forces learned when he entered as a captive the same city of the enemy that he had boasted he would enter that same day as victor. He proved indeed the words of the prophet: |For a man's way is not his own, nor is it in his own power to walk and direct his steps.| Since he thought his actions were under his own control, he could neither direct his steps nor find the way of safety. So we read: |He poureth contempt upon the prince and causeth him to wander in the wilderness where there is no way. . . . He has been brought to nothing, even as the waters which run continually.| In him, indeed, in addition to his actual misfortune, the present judgment of God was clearly shown. He has endured all the sufferings that he had boasted he would inflict on others. Because he trusted that the enemy could be taken without God's aid and consent, he has himself been captured; he claimed foreknowledge and wisdom and has met with disgrace for his presumption; he himself has worn the chains he prepared for others.
What clearer proof, I ask, could there have been of the judgment of God, than that the general who boasted of plundering should be counted as booty; that he who counted his triumph already won should be led in another's triumph -- be surrounded, seized, and bound, his arms twisted behind his back; that he should see those hands tied whose prowess he vaunted; that he should become a spectacle for women and children, see barbarians making sport of him, endure the derision of both sexes, and though he had the greatest pride in his bravery, meet a coward's death? Would that this might have been a speedy cure for his wrongdoing, without longer suffering! But, as befits the greatness of his punishment, wasted by the days of his captivity and by the prolonged anguish of a barbarian prison, he was reduced to such misery that he roused the pity of the enemy, and this most men think harder and more bitter to bear than the imprisonment itself. Why did these things happen? Surely because, as I have already indicated, the enemy were humble before God, whereas we were rebellious; they believed the victory lay in his hand, we that it lay in our own -- a sacrilegious and wicked conception that makes our sin so much the worse and more injurious to us. Lastly, we learn from an authentic report that the king of the enemy himself lay on haircloth and prayed up to the very day of the conflict; when battle was imminent he lay in prayer, and rose only to fight. Before he assumed command in the battle he fought in prayer, and so went forth to the fight with confidence in a victory already earned by his prayers.
11. Moreover, the experience of the Vandals was not dissimilar: when our people went against them in Spain and had as much confidence in a complete victory as they had recently against the Goths, the same overweening pride engulfed them in the same disastrous ruin. Then the words of the prophet were fulfilled for our army: |The Lord shall reject thy confidence and thou shalt not prosper in it.|
For we trusted in our own wisdom and strength against the command of the Lord, who said: |Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither the mighty man in his might, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord.|
So we have not been conquered undeservedly, for the enemy sought better aid than we did. While we prided ourselves on arms and auxiliaries, on the side of the enemy the Book of the Divine Law opposed us. To its help most of all the fear and terror of the Vandals then resorted, to oppose to us the Divine Word and to open up to those who came against them in rivalry the writings of the Sacred Book which may be called the very voice of God. At this point I ask: who of our number ever did this, or who would not have been derided if he had thought it should be done? He would have been scorned indeed, as almost all religious acts are derided among us. Then what value can our claim to a religious title have for us, what use is it to say we are catholic, to boast that we possess the true faith, to despise the Goths and Vandals, reviling them as heretics, when we are living in a truly heretical depravity? The words of the Divine Scripture addressed to the Jews who trusted in the law are most fittingly applied to us: |How do you say, We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us?' . . . Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.' For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye oppress not the stranger and the fatherless and the widow and shed not innocent blood in this place, then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for ever and ever.| By this surely it is shown that if we do not amend our ways, it is useless for us to vaunt our claims to Catholicism.
Enough of this has been said already, and more must perhaps be said later, though there seems little need to discuss the point further, since the judgment of God is constantly manifested. Recent history shows his verdict both upon us and upon the Goths and Vandals; they increase daily while we diminish; they gain in power while we are humbled; they flourish and we wither away. So the words of the Holy Scriptures concerning Saul and David may be truly spoken of us also: |David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.| For the Lord is righteous, as the prophet says: |He is righteous and his judgments are upright.|
12. We are judged by the ever-present judgment of God, and thus a most slothful race has been aroused to accomplish our destruction and shame. They go from place to place, from city to city, and destroy everything. First they poured out from their native land into Germany, which lay nearest them, a country called barbarous, but under Roman control. After its destruction, the country of the Belgae burst into flames, then the rich estates of the luxurious Aquitanians, and after these the whole body of the Gallic provinces. This ruin spread gradually, however, in order that while one part was being visited with destruction, another might be reformed by its example. But when has there been any amendment among us, or what part of the Roman world, whatever its affliction, is corrected by it? As we read: |They are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become useless.| And in like manner the prophet cried out to the Lord, saying: |Thou hast stricken them but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.|
How truly this applies to us the present situation shows. Gaul long endured devastation; did Spain, her near neighbor, mend her ways? Not undeservedly, since they showed no fear whatever, and no reform, the people of Spain began to catch fire from the flames by which the Gauls were consumed. The worst and most evil aspect of all this is, as I have said before, that the fires which, to speak figuratively, consumed the bodies of these sinful men, did not burn away their vices.
Thus God has been compelled by our crimes to scatter the enemy's forces as a scourge for our sins, from place to place, from city to city, and to send nations aroused almost from the very ends of the earth even across the sea, to punish the crimes of our people in Africa. Why was this? Having been led forth from their own country, could the Vandals not have remained within the Gallic states? Could fear have prevented these tribes from abiding there, who had already devastated all the land without injury from us? But suppose they had cause for alarm in Gaul, why should they have feared to settle and stay in Spain, where they had completely crushed our armies in battle, where they were already triumphantly victorious, having reached such a height of valor as to learn that after trial in a war long anticipated, the strength of the Roman state, even with barbarian reinforcements, could not equal theirs?
13. They could have stayed there, then, and were not afraid, but surely the heavenly hand that had dragged them thither to punish the vices of the Spanish compelled them also to cross the straits to devastate Africa. In fact, they themselves confessed that they did not act of their own volition, for they were driven and urged on by a divine command. From this we may learn how great are our misdoings, since to destroy and punish us the barbarians are compelled to move against their will, following the words of the devastator of the land of Israel, the king of the Assyrians, when he said: |And now without the will of the Lord am I come up against this land? The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land, to destroy it.'| And elsewhere the Sacred Word says: |Therefore thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nabuchodonosor the king of Babylon, my servant, and when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt.'|
From this we may know that all things which are afflicted are indeed smitten by the judgment of God; their overthrow, however, as I have often remarked, is due to sin. So whatever is done on account of sin is not to be ascribed to God, since a deed is rightly ascribed to that cause which has made it unavoidable. For example, a murderer sentenced to death by the judge is actually punished by his own crime; a thief or a man who has committed sacrilege is consumed not by the flames that burn his body, but by his own sin. Whence we see that the Vandals did not cross to Africa because of God's severity but because of the sins of the Romans in that country. By their grave and long continued iniquity these people were forcing the Vandals to come before they actually left their native land. Therefore we must understand that only God's mercy postponed the punishment so long due, and their misdeeds and crimes at length brought upon these sinful people the chastisement they deserved. Or are we to believe that they did not deserve their fate? Have any people better deserved ruin than these, in whom all sorts of shameful and indecent lust have flourished at once? For the rest of the world, though bound by some disgraceful vices, has some virtue still remaining: men who are subject to drunkenness are free from malevolence; those who live in a fever of lust do not suffer from raging greed; finally, many who are accused of physical incontinence are commended by the simplicity of their minds. But among the people of Africa, with few exceptions, you will find none with an equal measure of good and evil, for almost the whole population is evil. So the purity of their original nature has been shut out and their vices have, as it were, created a new character among them.
14. Indeed, aside from a very few servants of God, what was the whole territory of Africa but one house of vice, like that bronze vessel of which the prophet said: |Woe to the bloody city! to the bronze vessel whose scum is therein, and whose scum hath not gone out from it, because the blood shall not go out from it!| He compared the city, as we see, to a bronze vessel and its iniquity to blood, that we might know that the iniquity of the people in a city is like blood seething in a brazen pot. And again, not unlike this is another saying of the Sacred Word: |The houses of Israel have all been made a mixture before me of brass and iron and tin and lead, in the midst is silver mixed with the mass. Therefore say this; thus saith the Lord God: Inasmuch as ye are all made one mass I shall blow upon you and melt you in the fires of my wrath.'|
How are the very dissimilar metals that the Scriptures have named melted together in one furnace? Surely in the diversity of metals the unlike qualities of men are figured. Thus even silver, that is, metal of the nobler sort, is cast in the same fires as the rest because men have debased the gifts of their nobler natures by their degenerate lives. Even so we read that the Lord spoke also of the king of Tyre through his prophet: |Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God: thou hast been the seal of likeness, and a crown of beauty in the delights of paradise; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius and topaz and emerald.'| Again he says: |With silver and with gold hast thou filled thy treasuries, from the multitude of commerce hast thou filled thy storehouses.| Do not all these things seem to have been said expressly of the people of Africa? Where are greater treasuries, where is greater commerce, where are fuller storehouses? |With gold,| he says, |hast thou filled thy treasuries from the multitude of thy commerce.| I add more: Africa was once so rich that the abundance of her commerce seems to have filled not only her own treasuries but those of the whole world as well.
What did the prophet say next? |Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, because of the multitude of thine iniquities have I cast thee to the ground.| How does this apply to the power of Africa, and how does that land seem to have been laid prostrate on the ground? How except that when she lost the height of her former power, she also lost her almost celestial honor? |And I shall bring forth,| said the prophet, |a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee.| What could be truer than this? The fire of sin went forth from the midst of their iniquity, and devoured the happiness of former times. |And all they that know thee among the people shall be sore afflicted over thee.| We might think that this phrase did not apply to them, were it not that the destruction of Africa is the sorrow of the human race. |Thou art become destruction,| said the prophet, |and never shalt thou be any more.| It is only too well known that everything in that province has been completely destroyed; all that we can do is to prevent those evils which are now being punished from being continued forever.
15. May God in his merciful kindness not permit this! Indeed, as far us the deserts of our crimes are concerned, there is no reason why he should not. What misdeeds are not constantly committed there? I shall not speak of them all, for their enormity is such that they cannot be known or discussed. I shall talk chiefly of the obscene nature of their indecencies, and, which is more serious still, of their acts of sacrilege. I pass over their insane greed, a vice shared by the whole human race; I pass over their inhuman avarice, an evil characteristic of most of the Romans; let their drunkenness be left unmentioned, since it is common to noble and base alike; let swelling pride be omitted, for this is so particularly the province of the rich, that they would perhaps think they were losing something of their just due if anyone else wished to claim any share in it. Finally, let almost all the wickedness involving frauds, forgeries and perjuries be passed over, for no Roman city was ever free from these evils. Yet this crime was the especial prerogative of all the people of Africa. For just as the filth of a boat is washed down into the bilge water in its depths, so vices seem to have flowed into their habits from the whole world. I know of no wickedness that did not abound there, whereas even pagan and barbarous nations, though they have evil ways especially characteristic of their own races, still do not merit reproach in all things. The race of the Goths is treacherous but chaste, the Alans unchaste but not treacherous; the Franks are deceitful but hospitable, the Saxons savage in their cruelty but admirable for their chastity; to conclude, all races have their own peculiar vices accompanied by their own good qualities. But among the people of Africa practically without exception there is nothing but evil. If inhumanity is the subject of our accusation they are inhuman; if drunkenness, they are drunken; if falsehood, they are most false; if deceit,, they are unexcelled in deceitfulness; if greed, they are surpassingly greedy; if perfidy, theirs is unequalled. Their impurity and blasphemy must not be confused with these other sins, since in the evils of which I have spoken above they have surpassed the vices of other nations, but in these they have outdone their own.
16. To speak first of their impurity -- who does not know that all Africa has always flamed with the torches of obscenity, so that you would think it not a land and abiding place of men, but an Aetna of unclean fires? As Aetna has always seethed with certain inner flames of heat implanted in it by nature, so also has Africa with the abominable fires of fornication. I do not wish you to believe my words alone in this matter, but to seek the corroboration of the whole human race. Who can fail to recognize that all the people of Africa are unchaste unless they happen to have been converted to God, and changed by their religious faith? This however is as rare and strange as to see a Gaius who is not a Gaius or a Seius who is not a Seius. It is as unusual and rare for an African not to be unchaste as for him not to be an African.
So general is the vice of impurity among them that whoever ceases to be indecent seems to be no longer an African. I shall not discuss the individual cities nor mention all the different localities, for fear of seeming to search out examples too curiously. I shall content myself with one city instead, the chief of all the cities of that land, and in a way the mother of them all, the eternal rival of Rome's citadel, of old in arms and courage, afterwards in splendor and dignity. It is Carthage of which I speak, the greatest rival of the city of Rome, and a sort of Rome in the African world; she alone suffices as an example and witness of my words, since she has contained within herself all the resources and governance of statecraft in the world.
There you would find all the appurtenances of the public offices, schools of the liberal arts, the studies of the philosophers, training schools in languages and ethics; there also were military forces and the powers that control the army, there was the office of the proconsul, there the daily judge and ruler of the province -- in name, indeed, proconsul, but in power a very consul; there lastly were the administrators of the state properties, their honors differing from one another in rank and name -- procurators, as I may call them, of the public streets and crossroads -- governing all the wards of the city and all sections of the people. With this one city we may well be content as an example of the others, and as evidence of their condition, so that having seen the character of the city where the officials have always been of the highest grade, we may infer what those towns were like that had the supervision of less honored men.
At this point I almost repent of my promise made above, to omit almost all the vices of the people of this province and to speak chiefly of their obscenities and blasphemies. For I see the city overflowing with vice, boiling over with every sort of iniquity -- full indeed of people, but even fuller of dishonor, full of riches but fuller still of vice; men striving to outdo one another in depravity and lust, some vying with their mates in rapacity, others in indecency. Some are languid with wine, others distended with feasting, some garlanded with flowers, others smeared with unguents, all wasted by various forms of dissipation, but sunk in the same mortal error. Not all, indeed, were intoxicated with winebibbing, but all were drunk with their sins.
You would judge such a people lacking in sanity, not in full possession of their senses, steady neither in mind nor in gait, attacking each other in a mob like drunken men. Now we must consider also another charge of a serious kind, unlike this in its nature but not unlike it in gravity, unless its greatness sets it in a different class. I mean the proscriptions of orphans, the afflictions of widows and the crucifixion of the poor. All these made their moan daily to God, and prayed for an end of their sufferings. Nay, what is worse, they were sometimes driven by their bitter woes even to pray for the arrival of the enemy. These have now at last obtained from God the privilege of enduring with the rest such ruin from the barbarians as they formerly suffered alone from the Romans!
17. But let us pass over these matters, for they may be paralleled in practically every part of the Roman world, and I promised to mention them only briefly. As to the unchastity and impurity which I have been discussing, would these not have been sufficient of themselves to destroy Africa? What part of the state was not full of indecency, what street or bypath was not a place of shame? Lust had so cut off most of the crossroads and streets with its snares, and entangled them with its nets, that even those who utterly abhorred such vices could scarcely avoid them. You might compare them to brigands lurking in ambush and snatching their spoils from passers-by; they so hedged in the paths, the winding roads and byways with their close-set traps, that scarcely anyone could be cautious enough not to fall into some of their treacherous snares, however many he escaped. All the citizens reeked, if I may use the expression, with the stench of lust, all inhaled the fetid odors of their mutual impurity. Yet this horrid condition inspired no loathing in them, for the same plague had infected them all. You would think the city a sinkpot of lust and fornication, like the muck collected from the offscourings of all the streets and sewers. What hope could there be in such a place, where, except for the temple of the Lord, there was nothing to be seen but filth?
Yet why should I except the temple of God? The church was, to be sure, completely under the care of the priests and clergy, whom I prefer not to discuss. I am bound by reverence for my Lord's ministry, and think that those men who served at the altars alone preserved their purity, as we read that Lot stood alone on the mountain when the people of Sodom perished. As for the people, however, who among such countless numbers was chaste? Chaste, did I say? Who was not guilty of fornication, or adultery, and that too without ceasing? Therefore must I cry out again -- what hope could there be in that people? One adulterer sometimes pollutes a whole church congregation, but there you could scarcely find one chaste man among thousands, if you searched most diligently, even in the church.
I have much more than this to say. Would that what I have said included the whole accusation, and that these men in their indecency had been content to satisfy their lust with fornication of fallen women only! Their fault was still more serious and wicked than this, for nearly all the vices of which the blessed apostle Paul complained so bitterly existed in Africa. |The men leaving the natural use of women burned in their lust toward one another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.| Was it not of barbarous and savage races that the blessed apostle spoke? Nay verily, but of us, that is, expressly of the Romans, whom indeed the people of Africa, since they were not able of old to overcome them in power and might, have now outdone in the only way left to them, to wit, in lust. Whoever thinks he has a right to be angry at my words should rather be incensed at the apostle, for what I have said of the character of the inhabitants of Africa, he once said of their masters, the Romans.
18. Perhaps the vices of which I spoke were hidden, or the men in charge of the public morals in different places took care that the diffusion of such crimes should not sully the eyes of the people. If this had been done, however many had been defiled by the actions themselves, all would not have been injured by the sight and thought of them. However disgraceful a vice is, it does not as a rule deserve full credence when it is committed secretly. But to commit the greatest sins and feel no shame for what one has done, demands censure passing that of the sins themselves. What more prodigious wrong could have been performed there? In a Christian city, in a church which the apostles founded by their teachings, which martyrs had crowned by their passion, men took upon themselves the functions of women, without any shame to cloak their action, without the shield of modesty; as if their sin would be too slight if only the authors of these evils were stained by them, through the public knowledge of their vice it became the wrong-doing of the whole city. The entire city saw this and suffered it, the judges saw and condoned it, the people saw and applauded, and thus when fellowship in disgraceful lust was spread through the city, the general consent made it common to all. But, you say, perhaps there was at length an end to the evil and some emendation of the wrong. Who could believe or even hear calmly that men converted to a feminine passivity not only their natural functions but even their looks, their step, their clothing and everything characteristic of the male sex and appearance? So completely was nature reversed in them that although nothing should be more shameful to men than to seem to have any feminine characteristics, nothing seemed to certain of these men more disgraceful than to seem in any respect masculine.
19. You may argue that this disgrace was that of a few men only, and what was not perpetrated by the majority could not injure all. Indeed, I have said before that very often among the people of God the crime even of one man has been the ruin of many, as the people were betrayed by the theft of Achar, a pestilence arose from the jealousy of Saul, and a plague came from the numbering of the people by the blessed David. For the church of God is like an eye. If even a little mote fall into the eye, it blinds the whole sight; so, if even a few men in the body of the church act indecently, it darkens the whole light of the church. Therefore the Savior called the chief part of the church its eye, saying: |The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness,| Whence the apostle asked: |Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?| I should not say, however, that there was in Africa a little of this evil, but overmuch, not that most of the people there were effeminate, but that the effeminacy of the few was the corruption of the many. Even if there are few who live disgracefully there are many who are stained by the filth of the few. As one harlot makes many commit fornication, so the abominable unions of the effeminate few infect the vast majority of the people.
Nor do I know which of them are worse in the sight of God, since in the Sacred Scriptures they are condemned by one and the same decree. |Neither effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,| said the apostle. This makes it the more lamentable and deplorable that such a sin should appear to be the wrongdoing of the whole city, and that the honor of the Roman name should be branded with the infamy of prodigious wickedness. Men took the garb of women and made their steps more mincing than women do; they wrought for themselves the tokens of a monstrous impurity and swathed their heads with the wrappings of feminine veils. And this they did publicly in a Roman city, the greatest and most famous city in that region! Was this not a disgrace to the Roman power, which permitted a most execrable wrong to be openly committed in the very bosom of the commonwealth? A great and strong power, capable of preventing the greatest crime, must approve the actions which with full knowledge it suffers to be committed, for he who has prohibitory power sanctions any action that he does not prevent.
20. Once again, impelled by my grief, I ask those who are angry at my words in what barbarian nations such things have at any time been done or permitted with general impunity? Finally, to save the necessity of longer discussion or investigation of this point, let us compare the actual devastators of Africa with the people whom they conquered. What actions of this sort have been performed by the Vandals? Surely barbarians, swollen with pride, puffed up with victory, rendered lax by the abundance of riches and luxuries, would have been changed by their unusual good fortune and prosperity, however chaste and continent they had always been before. They had, as it is written in the Scriptures, entered |a land flowing with milk and honey,| a fertile land, so rich in all delicacies as to be almost intoxicating in its plenty. Under these conditions it would be no cause for surprise that a barbarous tribe should wax wanton where nature herself seems unrestrained. Who would doubt that the Vandals, upon entering such a country, would plunge into all manner of filthy and unclean vice? Or, to speak more moderately, that they would at least copy the constant behavior of the people of Africa, into whose province they had come? Indeed, if that were all they did, they would deserve to be judged most continent and moderate, whom good fortune had not rendered more corrupt. For how often do you find a wise man whom prosperity does not change, whose faults do not increase with his fortunes? It is certain that the Vandals were most temperate, if they, the victors, merely resembled their captive subjects. In such great abundance of wealth and luxury, however, not one of them was rendered effeminate. Does that seem a small matter? Certainly the Romans of noble birth made effeminacy a regular practice. What more have I to add? Not one of the Vandals was polluted by the incest of the effeminate Romans about him. Certainly, effeminacy had long been considered by the Romans as a virtue rather than a vice, and those men thought themselves models of manly strength who had put others to the basest uses. For this reason the attendant boys, who once followed the soldiers, were given as a reward for services well performed on campaign, the privilege of being shamefully used as women, since they had proved themselves brave men. What a crime was this! Such were the actions of Romans, and Romans not of the present time; nevertheless -- not to accuse the men of old -- they were not the ancient Romans, but those who had already become corrupt and dissolute, no longer living up to their former reputation, but resembling Greeks more than Romans. Hence, as I have often said before, it should cause no surprise that the Roman state is at length suffering what it has long deserved.
21. This vice began among the Romans before Christ's Gospel, but that it did not cease after the Gospel was preached among them is still more grievous. After recalling this fact, who can help admiring the Vandals? They entered the wealthiest cities, where such vices were common, and took over the riches of dissolute men in such a way that they rejected their corrupting customs and now possess and use those things that are good, and avoid the degrading influence of those that are evil. This ought to be enough in their praise even if I add nothing more; for they have abominated the illicit acts of men. Still more noteworthy is it that they have also abstained from the corruption of women; they have shrunk from evil haunts and brothels, they have avoided illicit unions and the company of harlots. Can it be credible that the Romans permitted these things and barbarians abhorred them? Is there anything more to be said after this? There is indeed, and much more. That they have avoided foul actions is the lesser part; for a man can abhor disgraceful deeds without abolishing them. Their great and singular merit is that not only do they themselves avoid pollution by this stain, but they take care that others shall not be polluted. Indeed, a man is in some sort a guardian of human welfare who not only endeavors to be good himself, but also strives to bring it about that others may cease to be evil.
What I have said is a great point, surely, great and of preeminent importance. Who could believe that the Vandals in the Roman cities committed such sins? Sexual vice has been completely abolished by them. How was it removed? Not as some crimes are wont to be prohibited by the Romans, who decree that there shall be no theft, and go on thieving; who decree that there shall be no adultery, and are first to commit it. Yet I should scarcely say that they commit theft, for theirs is no mere theft but highway robbery. A judge punishes a petty theft in another though he is himself a robber: he punishes rapine, though he is himself guilty of the same crime; he punishes the cutthroat, though he himself wields a sword; he punishes those who break down bars and doors, though he himself destroys cities; he punishes those who burglarize houses, though he himself robs the provinces. Would that this were true only of those who are set in positions of power and to whom the very honor conferred on them gives some right to carry on their robberies; it is worse and more intolerable that even private citizens do the same, that is, men who have previously held high office. The honor once given them affords them this much advantage, that they may keep forever the legal right to plunder. So even when they have ceased to wield public administrative power, they do not cease to enjoy the private right of plundering. Thus the power they had as judges is slighter than that they have as private citizens, for in the former case successors were sure to be appointed for them, but now they have no successors.
See then how much legal decrees are worth, what profit we gain from the passage of ordinances which those men most scorn who administer them! The humble and lowly are forced to obey, the poor are compelled to accede to the orders of their superiors, and if they fail in their obedience, they are punished. The same rule is observed in this case as in that of the taxes: the poor are the only ones to obey the public decrees, as they alone pay the taxes. Thus in the laws themselves and in the execution of justice, injustice is most criminally wrought, since the lesser men are compelled to observe as sacred the laws that their betters continually trample under foot as of no importance.
22. Indignation has led me to exceed somewhat the appointed order of my discourse; let me now return to the original topic. I said that the cities of Africa were full of monstrous vices, and especially the queen and mistress of them all, but that the Vandals were not polluted. How unlike the Romans: did these barbarians prove themselves, in cleansing the stains of our disgrace! For they have removed from every part of Africa the vice of effeminacy, they have even abhorred intercourse with harlots, and have not only shunned or done away with it for the time being, but have made it absolutely cease to exist. O kindly Master, O good Savior! How much the desire of discipline accomplishes with your help, through which the vices of nature can be changed, as they have been by the Vandals! Let us see how they have been changed, since it is important to show not only the results of this action, but also the method by which it was made effective. It is difficult to have lewdness removed by a word or order, unless it has been done away in fact, and to have decency required by a command unless it has been enjoined before. Knowing this to be true, they removed unchastity while preserving the unchaste; they did not kill the unfortunate women, lest they should stain their prevention of vice with cruelty, and sin themselves in the very act of destroying the sins they desired to abolish. But they corrected the erring in such a way that the change should be a medicine, not a penalty. They ordered and compelled all prostitutes to marry; they transformed harlots into wives, fulfilling the word and command of the apostle that every woman should have her husband and every man his wife, that since incontinence cannot be restrained without some permissible indulgence of the flesh, sexual desire might have this legitimate outlet without sinful lust. In this, indeed, provision was made not only that women who could not live without husbands should have them, but also that through their domestic guardians those who did not know how to protect themselves should be safe. While the marriage bond constantly bound them, even if the customary unchastity of their former lives enticed them to sin, their husbands' guardianship should keep them from going astray. The Vandals also added severe requirements of chastity to prevent lust, coercing lewdness by the sword with the obvious purpose of preserving the chastity of both sexes by conjugal affection at home, and the fear of the laws in public. Thus purity should rest on a double basis of love at home and fear abroad. Moreover, the laws they possessed were not at all like those enactments that removed a part of the wickedness without preventing all of its obscenity, or like those Roman decrees that cut off adulterers from other men's wives but left them free access to single women, forbidding adultery while encouraging houses of ill fame. Those seem to have feared that men would be too chaste and pure if sexual vice were entirely forbidden. Not such are those of whom we speak, who have forbidden loose living as well as adultery, who wish women to be women only to their husbands and men to exercise their male functions only with their wives; who do not permit sexual desires to stray beyond the marriage bed, but order their laws after the pattern of the divine law, so that they think nothing permissible to them in this matter that God did not wish to permit. So they did not think any man should be given license by them to do anything that is not permitted to all by the divine power.
23. I know that what I say may seem to some intolerable, but I must treat these matters, in the light of reason, not of personal prejudices. Let anyone who is angry at what I say tell me this, has not Socrates always been considered the wisest of all men, and that too on the testimony of the Delphic demon, who might be called the prince of philosophers, as he was the prince of demons? Let us then consider what laws Socrates decreed as to chastity and what those men of whom we have been speaking have ordained about it.
Socrates said: |Let no man have a wife of his own, for marriage should be common to all; for so there will be greater harmony among the states, if all men have intercourse indiscriminately with all women, and all women with all men, and if all men become husbands of all women, and all women wives of all men.| Have we ever known any madman, or any possessed or driven out of his senses by any sort of insanity, say such a thing as this? You say, O chief of philosophers, that by the terms of this ordinance all men will be the husbands of all women, and all women the wives of all men, and all their children the offspring of all parents. But I maintain that no man would then be any woman's husband, no woman the wife of any man, and no child the offspring of any parents, for where all is promiscuous and confused, no one can claim anything as his own. And some men say that it was not sufficient for the wisest of philosophers to teach others such ideas, but he must needs carry them out for himself, handing his wife over to another man, as indeed the Roman Cato, that second Socrates of Italian birth, actually did. See then the examples given us by the Roman and Attic wisdom; as far as in them lay, they made all husbands panders of their wives. Yet Socrates outdid the rest, for he wrote books on the subject, and handed his shameful ideas down to posterity. So he had the more reason to glory in his teachings; as far as his principles were concerned, he made a brothel of the world. He is said to have been unjustly condemned by the judges. That is true, for it would have been better for the whole human race to condemn a man for preaching such doctrines. Without doubt it has condemned him. Since, indeed, as far as this theory goes all have repudiated his doctrines, all have condemned him not only by the authority of the sentence passed at his trial, but even more by their choice of a way of life, and rightly too.
Let us now compare with his statutes those of the men whom God has recently ordered to rule in Africa. Socrates decreed that no one should have a wife of his own, they that no one should have one not his own. He wished every woman to be subject to all men, they that no woman should know any man but her husband. He wished a mixed and promiscuous generation, they one purely born and regulated. He ordained that all houses should be of evil reputation, and they that there should be none such. He tried to build evil resorts in every dwelling, they removed them even from entire cities. He wished to prostitute all maidens, they made the prostitutes chaste.
Would that Socrates' error had been his alone, and not that of many, or even the majority of Romans! These follow Socrates' precepts in this matter even if they accept his teachings in nothing else, for many men have more than one wife apiece, and countless women have many husbands each. Are not all our cities full of dens of vice, and reeking with houses of ill fame? When I said all, I meant of course the noblest and loftiest, for such is the prerogative of dignity and honor in our great cities that they excel others as much in indecency as they do in size.
What hope, I ask you, can there be for the Roman state when barbarians are more chaste and pure than the Romans? What I say is all too little: what hope of life or pardon, I ask, can we have in the sight of God when we see chastity in the barbarians and even so are not willing to be chaste ourselves? Should we not feel shame and confusion at this? Already among the Goths you will find none impure except the Romans, none unchaste among the Vandals except the Romans. So much has the desire for chastity accomplished for the barbarians, so much has the severity of their moral code gained, that not only are they themselves chaste, but -- though it is so new and strange an event as to be almost incredible -- they have even made some Romans chaste.
If my human frailty permitted, I should wish to shout beyond my strength, to make my voice ring through the whole world: Be ashamed, ye Roman people everywhere, be ashamed of the lives you lead. No cities are free of evil haunts, no cities anywhere are free from indecency, except those in which barbarians have begun to live. Do we then wonder that we are wretched who are so impure, that we are conquered by the enemy who are outdone by them in honor, that they possess our properties who abjure our wickedness? It is neither the natural strength of their bodies that makes them conquer nor the weakness of our nature that makes us subject to defeat. Let no one think or persuade himself otherwise -- it is our vicious lives alone that have conquered us.