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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 7

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 7.—That the Suggestions of Philosophers are Precluded from Having Any Moral Effect, Because They Have Not the Authority Which Belongs to Divine Instruction, and Because Man’s Natural Bias to Evil Induces Him Rather to Follow the Examples of the Gods Than to Obey the Precepts of Men.

But will they perhaps remind us of the schools of the philosophers, and their disputations?  In the first place, these belong not to Rome, but to Greece; and even if we yield to them that they are now Roman, because Greece itself has become a Roman province, still the teachings of the philosophers are not the commandments of the gods, but the discoveries of men, who, at the prompting of their own speculative ability, made efforts to discover the hidden laws of nature, and the right and wrong in ethics, and in dialectic what was consequent according to the rules of logic, and what was inconsequent and erroneous.  And some of them, by God’s help, made great discoveries; but when left to themselves they were betrayed by human infirmity, and fell into mistakes.  And this was ordered by divine providence, that their pride might be restrained, and that by their example it might be pointed out that it is humility which has access to the highest regions.  But of this we shall have more to say, if the Lord God of truth permit, in its own place. 97   However, if the philosophers have made any discoveries which are sufficient to guide men to virtue and blessedness, would it not have been greater justice to vote divine honors to them?  Were it not more accordant with every virtuous sentiment to read Plato’s writings in a “Temple of Plato,” than to be present in the temples of devils to witness the priests of Cybele 98 mutilating themselves, the effeminate being consecrated, the raving fanatics cutting themselves, and whatever other cruel or shameful, or shamefully cruel or cruelly shameful, ceremony is enjoined by the ritual of such gods as these?  Were it not a more p. 27 suitable education, and more likely to prompt the youth to virtue, if they heard public recitals of the laws of the gods, instead of the vain laudation of the customs and laws of their ancestors?  Certainly all the worshippers of the Roman gods, when once they are possessed by what Persius calls “the burning poison of lust,” 99 prefer to witness the deeds of Jupiter rather than to hear what Plato taught or Cato censured.  Hence the young profligate in Terence, when he sees on the wall a fresco representing the fabled descent of Jupiter into the lap of Danaë in the form of a golden shower, accepts this as authoritative precedent for his own licentiousness, and boasts that he is an imitator of God.  “And what God?” he says.  “He who with His thunder shakes the loftiest temples.  And was I, a poor creature compared to Him, to make bones of it?  No; I did it, and with all my heart.” 100



See below, books viii.-xii.


  “Galli,” the castrated priests of Cybele, who were named after the river Gallus, in Phrygia, the water of which was supposed to intoxicate or madden those who drank it.  According to Vitruvius (viii. 3), there was a similar fountain in Paphlagonia.  Apuleius (Golden Ass, viii.) gives a graphic and humorous description of the dress, dancing and imposture of these priests; mentioning, among other things, that they lashed themselves with whips and cut themselves with knives till the ground was wet with blood.


Persius, Sat. iii. 37.


Ter. Eun. iii. 5. 36; and cf. the similar allusion in Aristoph. Clouds, 1033–4.  It may be added that the argument of this chapter was largely used by the wiser of the heathen themselves.  Dionysius Hal. (ii. 20) and Seneca (De Brev Vit. c. xvi.) make the very same complaint; and it will be remembered that his adoption of this reasoning was one of the grounds on which Euripides was suspected of atheism.

Next: Chapter 8

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