St. Augustine the leftist
Updated: Oct 1, 2022
I flicked open the first three chapters of St. Augustine’s The City of God—I was not impressed. Augustine responds to pagans who say that Rome was sacked by the barbarians because the Romans abandoned the old gods and favoured Christianity instead. The fact Augustine produced a written refutation to these accusations is itself suspicious—the need to riposte in this way indicates there is some truth to the allegation, if normal political rules apply (and they do, even thousands of years ago—don’t believe anything until it’s denied). Further, Augustine’s initial foray is to say that since the pagans—presumably some, not all—who make the accusations took shelter in churches and were spared because the barbarians refused to violate the sanctity of the churches it follows that they cannot criticise Christianity.
This is a leftist rhetorical strategy: as with debates over whether race and sex exist, Augustine does not refute the accusation but instead makes a moralised non sequitur. Pagans: “We have been defeated and subject to rapine and pillage because we abandoned the old gods.” Augustine: “Well, you only survived anyway because we sheltered you in our churches—so be quiet, you evil ungrateful people.” Augustine makes no effort to refute the charge. “But if we hadn’t toppled the old gods we wouldn’t have had to hide in the churches…” “Silence!”
Augustine has not covered himself in glory here; and since this is his opening gambit, I’m not optimistic that the rest of The City of God will be any better—so far, it seems to be “cope” (as we say online). Further, if Augustine had a killer refutation for the pagan accusations he would have put it out there first—yet we have emotional blackmail instead, not a good sign. Later historians, such as Gibbon, held that the way Rome abandoned the rites followed by her martial aristocracy left her open to predation by barbarous hordes. Based on Augustine’s cagey response, he was right—although the discussion is understood not in terms of decline in morale due to abandoned rites but rather in terms of literal divine intercession.
Augustine goes on to argue that only Christian sanctuaries have been respected in such a way by invaders—so, yes, we were beaten; and yet we were not totally slaughtered, because God protects the churches whereas the old pagans gods never protected their temples. Again, this does not refute the original accusation—which was not about whether individual churches are protected but about whether Rome as such was defeated because the citizens abandoned the old rites. Further, there are historical examples where pagan temples were respected by invaders—and many examples where churches were sacked (though perhaps Augustine could argue that God later withdrew protection from the churches due to corruption—though I am almost certain churches were sacked in his time too).
So, overall, I am not impressed by St. Augustine so far—and these things, in my experience, rarely get better the further you go along. I suppose that, ultimately, the death and resurrection of Christ is one thing and Christianity is another (albeit related) thing. There have been people who say that Christ’s death means you have to abandon war (Quakers), to participate in a weekly feast of His body and blood (Catholics), and to refuse blood transfusions (Seventh-Day Adventists)—and that is Christianity, of which Augustine was one exponent (and at various times to criticise him would have resulted in a singe or two to the pubic hair—at the hands of man, not the Devil).
The fact that Augustine uses leftist strategies—emotional blackmail—shows he was detached from reality (he is basically post-facto justifying a defeat, just as leftists post-facto justify Islamist suicide bombings in the West because immigration “must be good”—just as Christianity “must be good”). If this is Christianity, I’m not for it—it is based on lies and manipulation. Then again, would Jesus—who rendered unto Caesar—insist that the old rites be supplanted?