Augustine's Reply to Maximus


Is it a serious discussion we are engaged in, or do you only want amusement? The tone of your letter leaves me wondering whether your preference for humorous remarks to studied arguments is the result of your advanced years, or simply your affability. First you make a comparison between Mount Olympus and your own market-place, the point of which I fail to see; unless it was your intention to remind me that that it was on that mountain that Jupiter pitched as camp in his war against his father, according to the tale that you and your fellow believers call sacred, and to remind me of the two images of Mars in that same marketplace, one of them armed, the other in his tunic, while a human statue, standing over against them, uses three outstretched fingers to curb their evil influence that threatens your town so immediately. So should I ever have believed that in mentioning your marketplace you wanted to revive my recollection of such silly deities, if it had not been your intention to be facetious rather than to have a serious discussion? 

But as to your statement that such gods are portions of one great god, I give you clear warning: please refrain altogether from such irreverence. If you are referring to the integrity of that god about whom, as the ancients have it, learned and unlearned are in agreement, do you describe as portions of him whose whose frightfulness, or, if you prefer the word, power, is kept in check by the statue of a single dead man? I could say a good deal more about this point: you are, I hope, still intelligent enough to see how far that remark of yours is criminal. You have gathered together some names of dead North Africans, with the intention of making use of them to cast on my religion what you consider to be witty abuse: I am not sure if I should refute your taunts or pass over them in silence. If such matters appear to a man of your reputation for sense to be as unimportant as they are, I have not much time for such diversion; if they appear important to you, I am surprised at your taste for the absurd. You seem to have forgotten the names of your own criminal priests. I do not suppose that these did not occur to you while you were writing, but in your usual genial way you wanted to make me laugh by reminding me how many laughable things are to be found in your superstitions. Nor could you have forgotten yourself so far as to imagine that the mocking of African names, by you, an African, has a kind of humor in it.

Let's interpret the name: "Namphamo" means only "the man with the lucky foot".  It represents the man whose coming brings some good fortune, just as we say that one whose arrival has be attended by some stroke of luck has entered into a prosperous foot. If you disapprove of African as a language, then you must refuse to admit that many wise things have been recorded in Punic books, as is declared by learned men; you must even feel shame that you were born in a province in which the language is native. If it is unreasonable that the sound of our own tongue should give us offence and if you grant that I have rightly interpreted that name, you have just cause to feel annoyed with your friend Virgil, who in these words invites your Hercules to the rites celebrated in his honor to Evander:

Us and thy rites with prosperous foot approach, In favoring mood.

He prays him to come "with prosperous foot; that is he wants Hercules tocome as Namphamo, in whom it pleases you to find much with which to mock us. Since you take such delight in jokes, you have in your own religion ample material for hilarity; Stercutius, your god of manure, Culucina, your goddess of purification, Bald Venus, your god Fear, your god Pallor, your goddess Fever, and countless others of the same kind, to whom the ancient Romans, worshipers of idols, built temples and thought worship should be offered. if you neglect them, you are neglecting Roman gods, thereby making it understood that you were not initiated into Roman rites, and yet you scorn and despise African names like one excessively devoted to the altars of Rome.

But you depreciation of those rites seems perhaps greater than ours, though you gain from them some vague pleasure for life's journey. You had no hesitation even in invoking the authority of Virgil, as you say, and in shielding yourself by that line in which he says:


Each man is drawn by his own pleasure


If you are satisfied with Virgil's authority, as you indicate to be so, then you will certainly be satisfied with these lines, too:


From high Olympus first came Saturn; Fleeing Jove's arms, an exile from his realm,


Saturn and such gods of yours that were once men.

Then again, you state that your rites are to be preferred to ours, on the ground that your worship is public, while we use more secret places of meeting. First, I ask you how it comes that you have forgotten your God Bacchus you think he should be entrusted only to the eyes of the few who are initiated. Then you convict yourself of having no other intention in mentioning the public celebration of your rites, than that of making us envisage, as in a mirror, your senators and notable townsmen raging and revelling through your city streets. if in that celebration you have the presence of a deity within you, you surely see what kind of being he is, when he destroys your reason. But if this is only an assumed madness, what are those secret rites that you actually practice in public? Or what is the object of so vile a piece of deceit?

Or again, if you are inspired prophets, why do you foretell no future events? Or why do you rend the clothes of the bystanders, if you are in your right mind?

Since your letter recalls to me these facts and others which I think it better to pass over for the present, why should I make fun of your gods, when anyone who knows your type of mind and reads your letter can see that you yourself secretly mock them? So if you want us to discuss this topic in a manner befitting your age and sense and answering the just demands of my close friends from one of my profession, look for some theme worthy of debate between us, and do your best to put forward on behalf of your gods arguments that will not make me think you are betraying your own case; for you certainly did suggest to me what can be said against them, rather than advance any statement on their behalf. 

Finally, I want to tell you something that you shouldknow, to keep you from being inadvertently drawn into irreverent gibes:  Catholic Christians, who have a church established in your town too worship no dead man and adore nothing as a deity that was made and created by God; they worship God himself, who made and created everything.

I shall enlarge upon these facts by the help of our one True God, when I am assured that you want to treat them seriously.

To the Conference