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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 10

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 10.—Whether It Was Desirable that The Roman Empire Should Be Increased by Such a Furious Succession of Wars, When It Might Have Been Quiet and Safe by Following in the Peaceful Ways of Numa.

Do they reply that the Roman empire could never have been so widely extended, nor so glorious, save by constant and unintermitting wars?  A fit argument, truly!  Why must a kingdom be distracted in order to be great?  In this little world of man’s body, is it not better to have a moderate stature, and health with it, than to attain the huge dimensions of a giant by unnatural torments, and when you attain it to find no rest, but to be pained the more in proportion to the size of your members?  What evil would have resulted, or rather what good would not have resulted, had those times continued which Sallust sketched, when he says, “At first the kings (for that was the first title of empire in the world) were divided in their sentiments:  part cultivated the mind, others the body:  at that time the life of men was led without coveteousness; every one was sufficiently satisfied with his own!” 133   Was it requisite, then, for Rome’s prosperity, that the state of things which Virgil reprobates should succeed:

“At length stole on a baser age

And war’s indomitable rage,

And greedy lust of gain?” 134

But obviously the Romans have a plausible defence for undertaking and carrying on such disastrous wars,—to wit, that the pressure of their enemies forced them to resist, so that they were compelled to fight, not by any greed of human applause, but by the necessity of protecting life and liberty.  Well, let that pass.  Here is Sallust’s account of the matter:  “For when their state, enriched with laws, institutions, territory, seemed abundantly prosperous and sufficiently powerful, according to the ordinary law of human nature, opulence gave birth to envy.  Accordingly, the neighboring kings and states took arms and assaulted them.  A few allies lent assistance; the rest, struck with fear, kept aloof from dangers.  But the Romans, watchful at home and in war, were active, made preparations, encouraged one another, marched to meet their enemies,—protected by arms their liberty, country, parents.  Afterwards, when they had repelled the dangers by their bravery, they carried help to their allies and friends, and procured alliances more by conferring than by receiving favors.” 135   This was to build up Rome’s greatness by honorable means.  But, in Numa’s reign, I would know whether the long peace was maintained in spite of the incursions of wicked neighbors, or if these incursions were discontinued that the peace might be maintained?  For if even then Rome was harassed by wars, and yet did not meet force with force, the same means she then used to quiet her enemies without conquering them in war, or terrifying them with the onset of battle, she might have used always, and have reigned in peace with the gates of Janus shut.  And if this was not in her power, then Rome enjoyed peace not at the will of her gods, but at the will of her neighbors round about, and only so long as they cared to provoke her with no war, unless perhaps these pitiful gods will dare to sell to one man as their favor what lies not in their power to bestow, but in the will of another man.  These demons, indeed, in so far as they are permitted, can terrify or incite the minds of wicked men by their own peculiar wickedness.  But if they always had this power, and if no action were taken against their efforts by a more secret and higher power, they would be supreme to give peace or the victories of war, which almost always fall out through some human emotion, and frequently in opposition to the will of the gods, as is proved not only by lying legends, which scarcely hint or signify any grain of truth, but even by Roman history itself.


Footnotes

47:133

Sall. Conj. Cat. ii.

47:134

Æneid, viii. 326–7.

47:135

Sall. Cat. Conj. vi.


Next: Chapter 11

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