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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 24

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 24.—Of the Deeds of Sylla, in Which the Demons Boasted that He Had Their Help.

It is certain that Sylla—whose rule was so cruel that, in comparison with it, the preceding state of things which he came to avenge was regretted—when first he advanced towards Rome to give battle to Marius, found the auspices so favourable when he sacrificed, that, according to Livy’s account, the augur Postumius expressed his willingness to lose his head if Sylla did not, with the help of the gods, accomplish what he designed.  The gods, you see, had not departed from “every fane and sacred shrine,” since they were still predicting the issue of these affairs, and yet were taking no steps to correct Sylla himself.  Their presages promised him great prosperity but no threatenings of theirs subdued his evil passions.  And then, when he was in Asia conducting the war against Mithridates, a message from Jupiter was delivered to him by Lucius Titius, to the effect that he would conquer Mithridates; and so it came to pass.  And afterwards, when he was meditating a return to Rome for the purpose of avenging in the blood of the citizens injuries done to himself and his friends, a second message from Jupiter was delivered to him by a soldier of the sixth legion, to the effect that it was he who had predicted the victory over Mithridates, and that now he promised to give him power to recover the republic from his enemies, though with great bloodshed.  Sylla at once inquired of the soldier what form had appeared to him; and, on his reply, recognized that it was the same as Jupiter had formerly employed to convey to him the assurance regarding the victory over Mithridates.  How, then, can the gods be justified in this matter for the care they took to predict these shadowy successes, and for their negligence in correcting Sylla, and restraining him from stirring up a civil war so lamentable and atrocious, that it not merely disfigured, but extinguished, the republic?  The truth is, as I have often said, and as Scripture informs us, and as the facts themselves sufficiently indicate, the demons are found to look after their own ends only, that they may be regarded and worshipped as gods, and that men may be induced to offer to them a worship which associates them with their crimes, and involves them in one common wickedness and judgment of God.

Afterwards, when Sylla had come to Tarentum, and had sacrificed there, he saw on the head of the victim’s liver the likeness of a golden crown.  Thereupon the same soothsayer Postumius interpreted this to signify a signal victory, and ordered that he only should eat of the entrails.  A little afterwards, the slave of a certain Lucius Pontius cried out, “I am Bellona’s messenger; the victory is yours, Sylla!”  Then he added that the Capitol should be burned.  As soon as he had uttered this prediction he left the camp, but returned the following day more excited than ever, and shouted, “The Capitol is fired!”  And fired indeed it was.  This it was easy for a demon both to foresee and quickly to announce.  But observe, as relevant to our subject, what kind of gods they are under whom these men desire to live, who blaspheme the Saviour that delivers the wills of the faithful from the dominion of devils.  The man cried p. 39 out in prophetic rapture, “The victory is yours, Sylla!”  And to certify that he spoke by a divine spirit, he predicted also an event which was shortly to happen, and which indeed did fall out, in a place from which he in whom this spirit was speaking was far distant.  But he never cried, “Forbear thy villanies, Sylla!”—the villanies which were committed at Rome by that victor to whom a golden crown on the calf’s liver had been shown as the divine evidence of his victory.  If such signs as this were customarily sent by just gods, and not by wicked demons, then certainly the entrails he consulted should rather have given Sylla intimation of the cruel disasters that were to befall the city and himself.  For that victory was not so conducive to his exaltation to power, as it was fatal to his ambition; for by it he became so insatiable in his desires, and was rendered so arrogant and reckless by prosperity, that he may be said rather to have inflicted a moral destruction on himself than corporal destruction on his enemies.  But these truely woeful and deplorable calamities the gods gave him no previous hint of, neither by entrails, augury, dream, nor prediction.  For they feared his amendment more than his defeat.  Yea, they took good care that this glorious conqueror of his own fellow-citizens should be conquered and led captive by his own infamous vices, and should thus be the more submissive slave of the demons themselves.

Next: Chapter 25

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