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The author of the “ Institutes" comments to good effect upon the disagreements between the philosophers, upon the impurities and criminal practices connected with heathenism, and upon its formalism and materialism as contrasted with the spiritual. ity of Christianity. “Our religion," he says, “is on this account firm and solid and unchangeable, because it teaches justice, because it is always with us, because it has its existence altogether in the soul of the worshipper, because it has the mind itself for a sacrifice." 1 It is noteworthy that Lactantius appeals, with much of the confidence of the older apologists, to the transforming power exerted by Christianity upon the character and habits of its converts.2 Another feature connecting him with the earlier period is the little stress which he places upon the evidence of miracle as compared with that of prophecy; indeed, he hardly assigns to it as much weight as did some of his predecessors. “Christ," he says, “ was not believed by us to be God
” on this account, because he did wonderful things, but because we saw that all things were done in His case which were announced to us by the prediction of the prophets. He performed wonderful deeds: we might have supposed Him to be a magician, as you [heathen] now suppose him to be, and the Jews then supposed Him, if all the prophets did not with one accord proclaim that Christ would do those very things.
In the early part of the fifth century, the Spanish presbyter Orosius wrote a general history with an apologetic design. His aim was to show, by an ample exhibit of the evils which had befallen men apart from
1 v. 20.
2 iii. 26.
8 v. 3.
Christianity, that it could not properly be held responsible for existing evils. Near the middle of the same century, the Gallic presbyter Salvianus, in a work on the providence and judgments of God, accounted for the evils of the times in a way less sparing of his fellowChristians; for he painted their follies and vices in dark, perhaps over-drawn, colors, and represented the untoward events from which they were suffering as only a just retribution from the hand of God. But our attention is speedily withdrawn from these writings to a production of far greater scope and power which came between them. “ The City of God” (De Civitas Dei), by Augustine, ranks as the masterpiece of apology contributed by the Latin Church after the days of Tertullian. It suffers indeed from diffuseness. In terseness and energy it falls below the treatises of the fiery Carthaginian, but it rises far above them in breadth and elevation of thought. The city or kingdom of God, as contrasted with the kingdom of this world, is the theme to which the twenty-two books of the work are devoted ; and the majesty of the treatment corresponds in many passages to the majesty of the subject. One cannot rise from its perusal without feeling, with Augustine, that this divine city is indeed “a city surpassingly glorious, whether we view it as it still lives by faith in this fleeting course of time, and sojourns as a stranger in the midst of the ungodly, or as it shall dwell in the fixed stability of its eternal seat, which it now with patience waits for.”
Augustine wrote the "City of God” in the closing period of his life, a time that was fruitful in objections, from a temporal stand-point, against Christianity. Alaric
and his Goths had sacked the city of Rome. The barbaric inundation had begun, which threatened to sweep away the strongest pillars of the classic civilization. There was a chance for the heathen to complain that the adversities of the State were due to the usurpation of Christianity against the honor and the worship of the gods. To such murmurings Augustine replies by showing that temporal calamities are no new thing in history, nothing following exclusively in the wake of Christianity. He reminds the heathen Romans that their ancestors were again and again crushed under the weight of adversity, while yet there was not a Christian in their midst. He points to the fact that Rome, according to the teaching of her most honored poet, was founded under the patronage of conquered gods, divinities whose defeat had been proclaimed by the ruined walls and burning buildings of Troy. What security, he inquires, could be expected from such gods ? and points to a long list of instances in which their guardianship had failed. Where, he asks, were the gods while Rome
. was being desolated with these calamities? " Where were they when, during ten successive years of reverses, the Roman army suffered frequent and great losses among the Veians ? Where were they when the Gauls took, sacked, burned, and desolated Rome?"? It is in poor taste, he argues, for the worshippers of such gods to complain about the disastrous effects of Christianity, especially in face of the fact that nothing but Christian sanctuaries afforded them a refuge in the recent sacking of the imperial city.
But Augustine rises above this plane of judgment,
1 i. 2.
? iii. 17.
and asserts that a religion is not to be estimated chiefly, if at all, by its relation to temporal prosperity and dominion. He has the boldness to declare that the uni. versal Empire of Rome is nothing indispensable. Its upbuilding was, to be sure, in a sense, a work of Divine providence. But it was only the preference for the lesser of two evils which inclined the Supreme Ruler to concede the government of the world to the Romans. “When the kingdoms of the East had been illustrious for a long time, it pleased God that there should also arise a Western empire, which, though later in time, should be more illustrious in extent and greatness. And, in order that it might overcome the grievous evils which existed among other nations, He purposely granted it to such men as, for the sake of honor and praise and glory, consulted well for their country, in whose glory they sought their own, and whose safety they did not hesitate to prefer to their own, suppressing the desire of wealth and many other vices for this one vice, namely, the love of praise.”] Roman conquest and rule are, at best, only an unfortunate necessity springing from the abnormal condition of the times. Indeed, good men may fairly ask themselves the question, whether it is quite fitting to rejoice in extended empire. * For the iniquity of those with whom just wars are carried on favors the growth of a kingdom, which would certainly have been small if neighbors had not, by any wrong, pro ked the carrying on of war against them; and human affairs being thus more happy, all kingdoms would have been small, rejoicing in neighborly concord.” 2
The preserving a great empire intact and prosperous, the enjoyment by sovereigns of long and victorious reigns, – these are to be counted very subordinate tests when the truth and merit of a religion are under consideration. God may, indeed, be concerned to show that temporal prosperity is in no wise dependent upon serving the heathen gods. And this lesson he has inculcated in a most signal manner by the extraordinary prosperity given to a Constantine and a Theodosius, men who totally repudiated the heathen worship. But, on the other hand, He has taken equal pains to show that temporal prosperity is by no means the chief concern or the principal gift of Christianity. “Lest any emperor should become a Christian in order to merit the happiness of Constantine, when every one should be a Christian for the sake of eternal life, God took away Jovian far sooner than Julian, and permitted that Gratian should be slain by the sword of a tyrant.” 1
1 v. 13.
2 iv. 15.
With great emphasis Augustine urges that the supreme test of a religion is its ability to bestow spiritual and eternal good. Among the most striking features of his apology is the manner in which it soars above the current heathen notion of the gods as mere gods of the State, or patrons of earthly weal, and dwells upon the overshadowing importance of that spiritual and eternal kingdom which is to unfold its glory above and beyond all the wrecks of time. He teaches that good and ill in this world are mainly disciplinary or declarative. God punishes sin enough in the present to show the reality of His providence; He spares punishment sufficiently to illustrate His patience, and to intimate that there is
1 v. 25.