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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 1

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 1.—That the Platonists Themselves Have Determined that God Alone Can Confer Happiness Either on Angels or Men, But that It Yet Remains a Question Whether Those Spirits Whom They Direct Us to Worship, that We May Obtain Happiness, Wish Sacrifice to Be Offered to Themselves, or to the One God Only.

It is the decided opinion of all who use their brains, that all men desire to be happy.  But who are happy, or how they become so, these are questions about which the weakness of human understanding stirs endless and angry controversies, in which philosophers have wasted their strength and expended their leisure.  To adduce and discuss their various opinions would be tedious, and is unnecessary.  The reader may remember what we said in the eighth book, while making a selection of the philosophers with whom we might discuss the question regarding the future life of happiness, whether we can reach it by paying divine honors to the one true God, the Creator of all gods, or by worshipping many gods, and he will not expect us to repeat here the same argument, especially as, even if he has forgotten it, he may refresh his memory by reperusal.  For we made selection of the Platonists, justly esteemed the noblest of the philosophers, because they had the wit to perceive that the human soul, immortal and rational, or intellectual, as it is, cannot be happy except by partaking of the light of that God by whom both itself and the world were made; and also that the happy life which all men desire cannot be reached by any who does not cleave with a pure and holy love to that one supreme good, the unchangeable God.  But as even these philosophers, whether accommodating to the folly and ignorance of the people, or, as the apostle says, “becoming vain in their imaginations,” 369 supposed or allowed others to suppose that many gods should be worshipped, so that some of them considered that divine honor by worship and sacrifice should be rendered even to the demons (an error I have already exploded), we must now, by God’s help, ascertain what is thought about our religious worship and piety by those immortal and blessed spirits, who dwell in the heavenly places among dominations, principalities, powers, whom the Platonists call gods, and some either good demons, or, like us, angels,—that is to say, to put it more plainly, whether the angels desire us to offer sacrifice and worship, and to consecrate our possessions and ourselves, to them or only to God, theirs and ours.

For this is the worship which is due to the Divinity, or, to speak more accurately, to the Deity; and, to express this worship in a single word as there does not occur to me any Latin term sufficiently exact, I shall avail myself, whenever necessary, of a Greek word. Λατρεία, whenever it occurs in Scripture, is rendered by the word service.  But that service which is due to men, and in reference to which the apostle writes that servants must be subject to their own masters, 370 is usually designated by another word in Greek, 371 whereas the service which is paid to God alone by worship, is always, or almost always, called λατρεία in the usage of those who wrote from the divine oracles.  This cannot so well be called simply “cultus,” for in that case it would not seem to be due exclusively to God; for the same word is applied to the respect p. 181 we pay either to the memory or the living presence of men.  From it, too, we derive the words agriculture, colonist, and others. 372   And the heathen call their gods “cœlicolæ,” not because they worship heaven, but because they dwell in it, and as it were colonize it,—not in the sense in which we call those colonists who are attached to their native soil to cultivate it under the rule of the owners, but in the sense in which the great master of the Latin language says, “There was an ancient city inhabited by Tyrian colonists.” 373   He called them colonists, not because they cultivated the soil, but because they inhabited the city.  So, too, cities that have hived off from larger cities are called colonies.  Consequently, while it is quite true that, using the word in a special sense, “cult” can be rendered to none but God, yet, as the word is applied to other things besides, the cult due to God cannot in Latin be expressed by this word alone.

The word “religion” might seem to express more definitely the worship due to God alone, and therefore Latin translators have used this word to represent θρησκεία; yet, as not only the uneducated, but also the best instructed, use the word religion to express human ties, and relationships, and affinities, it would inevitably introduce ambiguity to use this word in discussing the worship of God, unable as we are to say that religion is nothing else than the worship of God, without contradicting the common usage which applies this word to the observance of social relationships.  “Piety,” again, or, as the Greeks say, εὐσέβεια, is commonly understood as the proper designation of the worship of God.  Yet this word also is used of dutifulness to parents.  The common people, too, use it of works of charity, which, I suppose, arises from the circumstance that God enjoins the performance of such works, and declares that He is pleased with them instead of, or in preference to sacrifices.  From this usage it has also come to pass that God Himself is called pious, 374 in which sense the Greeks never use εὐσεβεῖν, though εὐσέβεια is applied to works of charity by their common people also.  In some passages of Scripture, therefore, they have sought to preserve the distinction by using not εὐσέβεια, the more general word, but θεοσέβεια, which literally denotes the worship of God.  We, on the other hand, cannot express either of these ideas by one word.  This worship, then, which in Greek is called λατρεία, and in Latin “servitus” [service], but the service due to God only; this worship, which in Greek is called θρησκεία, and in Latin “religio,” but the religion by which we are bound to God only; this worship, which they call θεοσέβεια, but which we cannot express in one word, but call it the worship of God,—this, we say, belongs only to that God who is the true God, and who makes His worshippers gods. 375   And therefore, whoever these immortal and blessed inhabitants of heaven be, if they do not love us, and wish us to be blessed, then we ought not to worship them; and if they do love us and desire our happiness, they cannot wish us to be made happy by any other means than they themselves have enjoyed,—for how could they wish our blessedness to flow from one source, theirs from another?



Rom. 1.21.


Eph. 6.5.


Namely, δουλεία:  comp. Quæst in Exod. 94; Quæst. in Gen. 21; Contra Faustum, 15. 9, etc.


Agricolæ, coloni, incolæ.


Virgil, Æn., i. 12.


2 Chr. 30:9, Eccl. 11:13; Judith 7.20.


Ps. 82.6.

Next: Chapter 2

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