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Augustine of Hippo: City of God > Book VII. The Select Gods of the Roman State

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Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Continuing from Book VI, Augustine critiques the theology of Varro the scholar

The following gods, certainly, Varro signalizes as select, devoting one book to this subject: Janus, Jupiter, Saturn, Genius, Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Vulcan, Neptune, Sol, Orcus, father Liber, Tellus, Ceres, Juno, Luna, Diana, Minerva, Venus, Vesta; of which twenty gods, twelve are males, and eight females.


Are they many different gods, or different names of the same god? Are they worthy to be called gods?


Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Word of the Day

February:
For they say that two months have been dedicated to these two gods, with reference to beginnings and ends—January to Janus, and February to Terminus—over and above those ten months which commence with March and end with December. And they say that that is the reason why the Terminalia are celebrated in the month of February, the same month in which the sacred purification is made which they call Februum, and from which the month derives its name.



John Angerer | 59 comments We are starting book VIII in May, is that correct? I’m still on track and reading!


message 4: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 415 comments I hope it's not too much of a disappointment, but I am afraid that I will not continue reading this book right now. Or perhaps just on my own, supported by the audio course.

With so few people joining, I miss a certain liveliness and variety, and it just feels a little awkward.

So, I'm sorry, I did give it a try, but it's not quite working for me. Thanks for the conversations we've had thus far!


Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments John Angerer wrote: "We are starting book VIII in May, is that correct? I’m still on track and reading!"

My apologies for not posting the book discussions according to schedule. We're supposed to start Book IX in May, so we're a little behind. But, no worries, we have plenty of time to catch up.

The last three books of Part I are all related to one topic: Platonism.


Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Ruth wrote: "I hope it's not too much of a disappointment, but I am afraid that I will not continue reading this book right now. Or perhaps just on my own, supported by the audio course..."

We're just getting to the good stuff. Don't give up now! :)


John Angerer | 59 comments Now that We are through Easter and Jazz Fest is almost through, I’ll be back to reading 10 pages a day, I’ll catch up by mid May. So I’ll shoot for book X by May 15th. Thanks for the update.


message 8: by Nemo (last edited May 01, 2019 12:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments
VII.30
He who is wholly everywhere, included in no space, bound by no chains, mutable in no part of His being, filling heaven and earth with omnipresent power, not with a needy nature.  Therefore He governs all things in such a manner as to allow them to perform and exercise their own proper movements.  For although they can be nothing without Him, they are not what He is.  He does also many things through angels; but only from Himself does He beatify angels.  So also, though He send angels to men for certain purposes, He does not for all that beatify men by the good inherent in the angels, but by Himself, as He does the angels themselves.


For Augustine, the pagan gods, whether they are demons, glorified dead men, or metaphorical representations of nature, are very much part of the creation, and should not be confused with the true God, the Creator who completely transcends the creation.

If I'm not mistaken, this Creator-creation divide is also one of the important differences between Christianity and Platonism, which we will read in more depth in the later books.


message 9: by Ruth (last edited May 01, 2019 12:50PM) (new)

Ruth | 415 comments Nemo wrote: "For Augustine, the pagan gods, whether they are demons, glorified dead men, or metaphorical representations of nature, are very much part of the creation, and should not be confused with the true God, the Creator who completely transcends the creation. "

o well... this is in fact rather interesting :-)

That's a good point, I think, but it's also utterly bewildering to think of God as transcending everything. I end up thinking that he is close to nothing! And utterly unreachable, always further from where you thought he was. Like the end of the rainbow.

I have been puzzling over some of Augustine's statements that the pagan gods cannot be gods because they are so immoral. I wonder if Augustine isn't too much defining what God must be like? Isn't that just another way of creating our own God according to our own ideas of what is right/wrong? (Not that I would know of a better way, you must at some point decide what revelation you believe, and on what grounds)

It is interesting to ponder what our own image of God is, and how that makes a difference in what we expect from him. As Augustine said that you cannot expect eternal happiness from gods who enjoy rape and various other immoral behaviours. But I am very much at loss what one could expect from a God who is utterly transcendent.

On the topic of rude stories about gods: in the Old Testament, God is commanding people to go to war, and also he kills people when they do not sacrifice the precisely correct incense, and more such strange things. These are things that are often explained metaphorically, but it seems to me that Augustine will not grant that same excuse to the Roman pagan gods. If I remember correctly from the Confessions, then Augustine would at first not convert to Christianity because he found the Old Testament stories too harsh. But then later he met Ambrose who explained all that metaphorically. And isn't that precisely what the philosophers also do with the greek and roman gods? Or is there a difference.

(Note: I admit that I haven't yet read book VII, these are my thoughts related to book VI, but perhaps both books deal somewhat with the same questions)


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Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Ruth wrote: "I have been puzzling over some of Augustine's statements that the pagan gods cannot be gods because they are so immoral. I wonder if Augustine isn't too much defining what God must be like? Isn't that just another way of creating our own God according to our own ideas of what is right/wrong?."

We have an innate sense of right and wrong, i.e., conscience, and we judge whether something or someone is moral based on this innate sense that we have. So what Augustine does here is what we all do. When making judgement in this way, we do not create God any more than we create conscience for ourselves. (To use an analogy, we look at the stars and judge which star is the brightest, but we create neither the light nor the stars by such judgment).

I don't recall Augustine interpreting any of God's acts in the Old Testament metaphorically, although he does say that some things in the Scripture need to be interpreted metaphorically. On that point, I think many Church Fathers would agree. One most notable example, some Church Fathers we've read in this group interpreted the story of incest between Lot and his daughters metaphorically.

When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament, I'm probably in the minority, for I don't think there is anything immoral in the actions of God as described in the OT.


message 11: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 415 comments Nemo wrote: "When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament, I'm probably in the minority, for I don't think there is anything immoral in the actions of God as described in the OT"

Well, He is certainly not so base, and childish and selfish as the pagan gods!
But Augustine said somewhere that you can tell the nature of a god from the worship that is offered to him. And in that respect I find it difficult to deal with the story about the death of Aaron's sons, and how Aaron wasn't even allowed to mourn their loss.


message 12: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 415 comments Ruth wrote: "It is interesting to ponder what our own image of God is, and how that makes a difference in what we expect from him. As Augustine said that you cannot expect eternal happiness from gods who enjoy rape and various other immoral behaviours. But I am very much at loss what one could expect from a God who is utterly transcendent."

To answer my own question: I suppose he gives us transcendence! The ability to rise above earthly suffering and/or good fortune, and enjoy being present to the full spectrum of life.


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Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Ruth wrote: ".. I find it difficult to deal with the story about the death of Aaron's sons..."

I thought it was a tragedy too. But, disobedience and idolatry are two sins punished by death in the OT, and the two sons of Aaron were guilty of both.

The names of Nadab and Abihu, first appeared in Exodus 6 when Elisheba their mother bore them to Aaron their father; in Exodus 24, they went up Mount Sinai with Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; in Exodus 28, they were ordained by God as priests, along with their father and two brothers Eleazar and Ithamar. All seemed to have gone well for them, until in Leviticus 10, they offered unauthorized fire and died before the Lord.

Nadab and Abihu willfully ignored the very specific commandments of the Lord concerning sacrifices and offerings. Perhaps they thought they knew better, having seen God themselves, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt”; or perhaps they were puffed up by the revelations they had received at a relatively young age compared to their elders.


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Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 1416 comments Ruth wrote: " But I am very much at loss what one could expect from a God who is utterly transcendent."

It is with good reason that Paul writes, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9)

So much can be and has been said about the transcendence of God, I don't even know where to start. Perhaps it is important to note that transcendence is not separation, and I think that is what Augustine is saying: God beatifies man by Himself... I can't think of anything more intimate than that. Without transcendence, there would be neither salvation nor beautification.


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