MAXIMUS THE GRAMMARIAN TO AUGUSTINE (390, CE)

 

I find interest and pleasure in frequent contact with you and in your provocative opinions, so, since you recently attacked me without rudeness and without damage to our friendship, I make haste to give you back as good as you gave; otherwise, you might construe my silence as agreement. But I beg you, if you consider my reply shows the stiffness of old age; attend to it with a kindly ear.

There is no sure evidence for the Greek fable that Mount Olympus is the dwelling place of the gods, but we see and feel sure that the market-place of our own town is occupied by a crowd of beneficent deities. And, indeed, who is so foolish, so mentally lost, as to deny the very certain truth that there is one supreme god, without beginning, without natural offspring, like a great and splendid father?  His powers that permeate the universe he has made we call upon by many names, since to all of us his right name is, of course, unknown. For god is a name common to all cults, and so it is that while with different observances we pursue, as it were, his members piecemeal, we seem, in truth, to worship him entire.

But I cannot disguise my impatience with such a misconception as yours. For who could bear to see Miggo esteemed in preference to Jupiter, Minerva, Venus, and Vesta, and your head-martyr, Namphamo (save the mark!), above all of the immortal gods? 

    <Namphano is the name of a Donatist martyr, executed in the mid 350's for sedition against Rome..>

Among these Blessed Ones, endless in number, are names hateful to gods and men, villains who heaped crime on crime and met punishment befitting their character and deeds, revered now by your cult. You praise the manner of their death, and whitewash their crimes with glory though you must, at least inwardly, be well aware of their unspeakable offenses.

Fools flock to their tombs, I'm ashamed to say, forsaking the temples, abandoning the faith of their fathers, so that the prediction of Lucan is clearly fulfilled:

And in God's temples Romans shall swear by shades.

This time seems to me to be almost another Battle of Actium, in which the monsters of Egypt are daring to brandish against  the Roman gods weapons doomed to speedy destruction.

But, I beg of you my learned friend, to reject, as unworthy of you, that vigorous eloquence which has brought you universal fame, to abstain from those Stoic arguments that are your usual weapons, and to renounce for a while the logic which devote all the strength of its sinews to robbing every man of certainty. Prove by the facts themselves who is at god whom you Christians claim as your peculiar property and whose presence you feign to see in secret and low places. We indeed, with reverent prayers worship our gods in daylight, openly before the eyes and ears of all mortals, and we earn their favor by acceptable sacrifices, taking pains to let our actions be seen and approved by everyone.

But I am a feeble old man, so I withdraw from any further contest and gladly give my adherence to that sentiment of the virtuous Virgil:

Let each man be drawn by his own pleasure. 

After this, my distinguished friend, seceder that you are from myown faith, I fully expect that some Christian thieves will steal this letter and that it will be burned or otherwise destroyed. In that event, it will only be the papyrus that will be lost, not what I have said, for I shall forever keep a copy of it accessible to all the truly faithful. May the gods keep you. Through them all we children of nature worship and adore in a thousand ways and with harmonious difference one who is the common father both of the gods and all mortal men.

Augustine's Response