May 05, 2010

Augustine's Pagan Gods

Romulus's elevation to godhood furnished Augustine with two attacks on paganism. The first we have already discussed and concerned the definition of miracles. The second is even more revelatory- this time not of the difference between Christianity and Christianity, but between paganism and Christianity. Augustine with horror commented that the Romans believed that consent made a god, it must have been a 'polite fiction' and if Cicero admits that Romulus died, he must be admitting Romulus was a man (III 15). The pagans presumably were not or not all of them performing a 'polite fiction', what Augustine is doing here is deliberately changing the meaning of the word God.

Augustine's god stands above human beings and his status is unalterable. It is there by nature, part of the inherent definition of his existance. Anselm, a later Christian philosopher, anchored his own definition of God's existance in God's position as the perfect, omnipotent and omniscient entity presiding over the universe. But the position of Romulus did not fit this model. Rather Romulus went up a ladder between the human and divine, he began as a man, became a hero and ended a God. What this suggests is a world of fluidity where divinity and manhood interrelated. Augustine's christianity divides heaven and earth, he ridicules the wooing of women by the Olympians and mocks the protection of the Gods for ordinary men, his God stands apart and above history.

Although pagans and Christians said the same word, God, they meant different things!