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Salvian, On the Government of God (1930) pp.77-97.  Book 3

Book III. : On the obligations of the Christian life

[Translated by Eva M. Sanford]


1. It is well: the foundations have been laid 1 for a work undertaken from pious motives and from love of a sacred duty; they have not been laid in marshy ground or built of perishable stone, but are strengthened by the sacred treasures used in their building and by the skill of their divine architect. These foundations, as God himself says in his Gospel, cannot be shaken by raging winds, undermined by river floods, or washed away by the rains.2 Since the divine writings in some fashion lent their aid to the erection of this structure, and the Holy Scriptures performed the joiner's task, the work itself must, through the help of the Lord Jesus Christ, be as strong as its makers. So this edifice receives its character from its parent stock and cannot be shaken while the builders remain sound.

As no one can tear down the walls of earthly houses without tearing apart their stones and mortar, so none can destroy this structure of ours unless he first destroys the materials of which it is composed. Since these certainly can in no way be weakened, we may safely assume the permanence of a building whose strength is insured by immortal aid.

The question is raised why, if everything in this world is controlled by the care and governance and judgment of God, the condition of the barbarians is so much better than ours, why among us the fortune of good men is harder than that of the wicked. Why should upright men fall ill and reprobates recover? Why does the whole world fall prey to powers for the most part unjust? Perhaps a rational and fairly consistent answer would be: "I do not know." For I do not know the secrets of God. The oracle of |78 his heavenly word is sufficient proof for me in this case. God says, as I have already proved in my earlier books, that all things are subject to his oversight, his rule and his judgment. If you wish to know what doctrines you must accept, you have the sacred writings: the perfect course is to hold fast what you have read in them.

Moreover, I would not have you ask me to account for God's actions in the cases of which I speak. I am a man; I do not understand the secrets of God,3 I do not dare search them out, I am afraid to pry into them, for to seek to know more than is permitted is in itself a kind of rash sacrilege.4 God says that he moves and ordains all things: let that suffice. Do you ask me why one man is greater and another less, one wretched and another happy, one strong and another weak? Why indeed God does such things. I do not know, but the proof that he is the source of all actions should convince you fully. As God is greater than the sum total of human reason, our knowledge that everything is done by him ought to have more weight with us than reason alone. You do not need, therefore, to hear any new argument on this point; let God's authority be set over against all reason from any source whatever.

We are not at liberty to say that of the actions of the divine will one is just and another unjust, because whatever you see is done by God, whatever you are sure is done by him, you must confess is more than just. So much can be said of God's government and justice without further discussion and without uncertainty. I need not prove by arguments what is proved by his very words. When we read that God says he constantly sees all the earth, we have proof that he sees it, since he says so. When we read that he |79 rules all creation, we have proof that he rules it, because he so affirms. When we read that he orders all things by his immediate judgment, his judgment is clearly proved by his own testimony. All other statements, made in human terms, need proofs and witnesses, whereas God's speech is its own witness, since the words of perfect truth must be perfect testimony to the truth. Yet since our God willed that we should through the Sacred Scriptures know certain things, as if from the archives of his spirit and mind ----since the pronouncements of the Holy Scriptures are themselves in a way the mind of God ---- I shall not conceal anything that God has wished his people to know and preach.

One thing, however, I should like to know before 1 begin ----whether I am to address my words to Christians or to pagans. If to Christians, I do not doubt that I shall prove my case. But if I speak to pagans, I should scorn the attempt, not for any lack of proofs, but because I despair of profit from my discourse. Surely it is fruitless and lost labor when a perverse listener is not open to conviction. Yet because I think there is no one belonging to the Christian name who does not at least wish to seem a Christian, I shall address my words to Christians, However many pagans still adhere to their impious unbelief, it is enough for me to prove my contentions to a Christian audience.

2. So you keep airing the question why we Christians who believe in God are more wretched than all other men. The words of the apostle to the churches might have furnished me with a sufficient answer to this: "That no man should be moved by these afflictions; for you yourself know that we are appointed thereunto." 5 Since the apostle says we are meant to endure hardships, miseries and sorrows, why is it strange that we suffer every evil, who are fighting for the sake of enduring all adversities? Since, however, many do not appreciate this, but think that Christians should receive from God, as the wages due to their faith, greater |80 strength than all other races, because they are more religious than all others, let us agree to their opinion and argument.

Let us see what it means to believe firmly in God. We who wish our reward for belief and faith in this life to be so great must consider what sort of belief and faith we should have. What is belief and what is faith? I think it is that a man believe in Christ faithfully, that he be faithful to God, that is, that he faithfully keep God's commandments.6 For as the slaves of rich men or of government officials, to whom expensive furnishings and valuable stores are entrusted, cannot be called faithful if they have swallowed up the goods entrusted to them; so Christians also are proved unfaithful if they have corrupted the good things granted them by God.

Perhaps you ask what the good is that God grants to Christian men? What else but all the substance of our faith, all those things through which we are Christians? First the law, then the prophets, thirdly the Gospels, fourthly the reading of the apostles, finally the gift of fresh regeneration, the grace of holy baptism, the unction of the divine chrism. You remember that of old among the Hebrews, the people especially chosen of God, when the office of the judges had passed over into the power of kings, God called the most approved and excellent men to reign through the royal unction. So every Christian, having performed all God's commands after receiving the chrism of the church, shall be called to heaven to receive the reward of his labors. Since these are the elements of our faith, let us see who keeps these great sacraments in such a way as to be judged faithful, for, as I said, the unfaithful must be those who do not keep their trust. And indeed I do not ask that a man perform all the commands of the Old and New Testaments: I exempt him from the censorial power of the old law, the threats of the prophets, even from the strictest interpretation of the apostolic books or the full doctrine of the Gospels in their complete perfection, though these last admit no exception. I only ask who lives in |81 accordance with the least number of God's commands. I do not mean those which so many avoid that they are almost accursed. God's honor and reverence have advanced so far among us that those things which our lack of devotion leads us to neglect, we consider worthy even of hatred.

For instance, who would deign even to listen to our Savior's bidding not to take thought for the morrow? Who obeys his order to be content with a single tunic? Who thinks the command to walk unshod possible or even tolerable to follow? These precepts then I pass over. For here our faith, in which we trust, falls short, so that we judge superfluous the precepts the Lord intended for our benefit. "Love your enemies," said the Savior, "do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." 7 Who could keep all these commandments'? Who would deign to follow God's commands in respect to his enemies, I do not say in wishes, but even in words? Even if a man compels himself to do so, still it is his lips alone that act, and not his mind; he lends the service of his voice to the action without changing the feeling of his heart. Therefore, even if he forces himself to say a prayer for his adversary, his lips move, but he does not really pray.

To discuss all such cases would take too long; but one point I add, that we may know that not only do we fail to accede to all God's commands, but we actually obey almost none of them. This is why the apostle cried: "For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." 8 We add this to our sins, that although we are guilty in every respect, we still believe ourselves to be pure and holy. Thus the offences of our iniquity are piled high by a false assumption of righteousness. "Whosoever hateth his brother," says the apostle, "is a murderer." 9 We may know from this that there are many murderers who |82 think themselves innocent, because, as we see, murder is committed not only by the hand of him that kills, but also by the heart of him that hates. For this reason the Savior added to this precept a still harsher decree, saying: "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." 10 Anger is the mother of hatred. Hence the Savior wished to shut out wrath, that hatred might not spring from it. If then not only hatred but even wrath makes us guilty in God's judgment, we clearly see that as no one in the world is free from anger, so no one can be free from conviction of sin. Moreover, God seems to trace every fiber of that precept to its end, and cut off all its fruits and branches, when he says: "But whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire; whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Racha,' shall be in danger of the council." Many do not know what kind of danger is involved in racha, but they know very well with what slanderous intent men are charged with folly.11 So, using their knowledge rather than their ignorance, they prefer to expiate in the divine fires the guilt incurred by a form of abuse they understand, rather than to atone before human councils for one that they do not know. 

3. Since this is true, and since these commands of the Lord not only fail of being carried out by us, but are practically all reversed, when shall we come to obey his greater precepts'? The Savior said: "Whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. . . . And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." 12 He who calls himself a Christian ought to walk as Christ walked. Certainly not only those who follow the delights and pomps of the world, but even those who abandon worldly interests fail to meet these requirements. Those who |83 make a show of renouncing their wealth do not appear to make their renunciation complete, and those who are thought to be carrying their cross so carry it that they gain more honor in the name of the cross than suffering in its passion. Even though all those men should in good faith accomplish these precepts in some measure, still it is certain that none of them could succeed in walking along the paths of this life as the Savior walked. For the apostle says: "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." 13

4. Perhaps certain men think the commands of the apostle are hard. Clearly they must be considered difficult, if the apostles exacted from others the performance of duties they did not lay upon themselves. But if, on the other hand, they enjoined upon others much lighter duties than on themselves, instead of being considered harsh teachers, they must be thought most indulgent parents, who, through their religious zeal, themselves in loving indulgence take the burdens their sons should bear.

What was it that one of them said to the people of the church? "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." And again: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." 14 This is his command, that we imitate him who gave himself over to the imitation of Christ. Indeed, none can doubt that he himself imitated Christ. As Christ for our sake subjected himself to the world, so did Paul for Christ's sake. As Christ for us endured the heaviest pains and labors, so did Paul for Christ. As Christ for us suffered scorn and mockery, so did Paul for Christ. As Christ for us endured his passion and death, so did Paul for Christ. Therefore not without cause, conscious of his own merits, he said: "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." 15 |84 

Since he so followed Christ, let us consider which of us seems to be a true follower of the apostle. He writes of himself first of all that he never gave offence to any, but in all things showed himself the minister of God, in much patience, in affliction, in necessities, in blows, in imprisonments, in stripes.16 Elsewhere, comparing himself with others, he says: "Howbeit, whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly) I am bold also: I speak as a fool, I am more; in labors more abundant, in prisons more frequent, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck." 17

Surely, even if we leave out of account the other apostolic virtues that he lists, when the apostle says that he has suffered shipwreck three times, in this at least we can outdo him. We have not merely been wrecked three times, but our whole life is one continuous shipwreck; indeed all men are living such vicious lives that there seems to be no Christian who is not wrecked constantly. 18

5. Some one may object that it does not befit our present time to endure for Christ such sufferings as did the apostles of old. It is true that there are no longer heathen princes, nor tyrannous persecutors; the blood of the saints is not shed now nor their faith tried by tortures. Our God is content with the service of our peace, that we please him simply by the purity of our spotless acts and the holiness of an unstained life. Our faith and devotion are the more due him because he demands lesser services from us and has foregone the greater exactions. Since even our princes are Christians, there is no persecution and religion is not disturbed, we who are not forced to test our faith by harsher trials ought certainly to |85 seek the more to please God in small ways. For he by whom trifles are duly performed proves that if occasion arises he will be capable of greater things.

6. Let us then pass over the trials of the most blessed Paul, let us even omit the accounts we read in the books later written about our faith, of the sufferings endured by almost all Christians, who, mounting to the doors of the heavenly palaces by their tortures, contrived steps for their ascent from the very racks and scaffolds. Let us see whether in those lesser and ordinary observances of religious devotion which we all as Christians can perform in utter peace at all times, we are really trying to accede to the Lord's commands.

Christ orders us not to quarrel. Who obeys this order? He not only gives the command, but insists on it so far that he bids us renounce those things about which a dispute has arisen, provided we may thus end the suit. "For," he says, "if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." 19 I ask who there are who yield to the attempts of their adversaries to despoil them; further, who there are who do not try to rob their opponents in turn? For we are so far from leaving them other property in addition to our coats, that if we can find any way to do it we take away coats and cloaks as well from our enemies. Indeed, so eagerly do we obey the Lord's commands that it does not satisfy us to refuse our adversaries even the least part of our garments, unless we rob them of everything we possibly can, as far as the circumstances permit.

Moreover, there is a second similar commandment joined with this one, in which the Lord says: "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." 20 How many men do we think there are who would listen politely to such words, or agree to them in their hearts, even if they pretended to listen? How |86 often do you find a man who does not return many blows for the one that he has received? He is so far from turning his other cheek to the man who strikes him that he thinks that he is winning when he has outdone his adversary, not in being struck, but in striking. The Savior said: "What you wish that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them." 21 A part of this saying we know so well that we never overlook it ---- a part we omit so constantly that we do not know it at all. For we know very well what we wish others to do for us, but we do not know what we ourselves ought to do for them. Would that we really did not know! For our guilt would be less if due to ignorance, according to the saying: "He who does not know his lord's will shall be beaten with few stripes; but he who knows and does not do according to his lord's will, shall be beaten with many stripes." 22 But now our offence is the greater because we cherish a part of this sacred command on account of its usefulness to our convenience, and pass over a part of it in injury to God. Paul the apostle also adds to this word of the Lord in his preaching, saying: "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth." And again: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." 23

You see then how faithfully he performed the precepts of Christ when, as the Savior bade us take thought for others just as we do for ourselves, he ordered us to consult the welfare of others more than our own, proving himself, to be sure, a good servant of a good master, and a glorious disciple of an exemplary teacher. He so followed in the steps of the Lord, that his own footprints somehow made those of his Master more evident and more clearly formed.

Which of these do we Christians obey, the command of Christ or that of his apostle? I think we obey neither one. For we are so far from doing anything that inconveniences ourselves, that we choose |87 instead to provide first of all for our own convenience, whatever discomfort this involves for others.

7. Perhaps you may think we are choosing only the greater commandments, which no one follows, and which, as Christians themselves think, cannot be followed in any case, and are passing over others which can be and indeed are followed by all. But this point must be considered first, that no slave is allowed to choose according to his own wishes which of his master's commands he will carry out and which he will not, nor by a most insolent abuse to assume the task that pleases him and reject the rest. Certainly human masters think it impossible to tolerate calmly slaves who hear part of their orders and despise the rest, who, according to their own desires, carry out the commands they think should be performed and trample under foot those they think deserve such treatment. If slaves obey their masters according to their own free will alone, they are not rendering true obedience even when they seem to obey. When a slave obeys only such of his master's orders as he pleases, he is no longer doing his master's will but his own. If then we, who are but weak little men, are still utterly unwilling that our slaves, who are equal to us in their common humanity, though our inferiors in their condition of servitude, should despise us, how unjustly, forsooth, do we scorn our heavenly Master, since we, being ourselves men, yet think we ought not to be despised by men of our own condition! 24 Unless perhaps we have such great wisdom and deep intelligence that we who are unwilling to hear any insults from our slaves wish God to be subject to insults from us, |88 and believe that he deserves to endure from us such treatment as we consider unfit for human endurance.

For this reason, to return to our former topic, any who think that I am talking of the greater commands of God and omitting the lesser, must recognize the unreasonableness of their complaint. There is no just reason for preferring some commands, when all must be performed. As I have already said, just as the servants of carnal masters are by no means permitted to choose which of their master's precepts they are to perform and which they are not, so we, who are the servants of our Lord, ought not to think it in any way permissible to humor ourselves by choosing those commands that please us, or by an abusive indulgence of our pride to trample under foot those that displease us.

8. Let us, however, come to an agreement with those who do not wish us to tell of the greater commands of the Lord, for the reason perhaps that they think they are fulfilling his lesser precepts, though it is not sufficient for salvation to perform the lesser commandments while scorning the greater. It is written: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." 25 Although for this reason it is not sufficient for us to obey all God's small and least commands, yet I agree to speak only of these, in order to show that most Christians have not performed even the least and slightest of their duties.

Our Savior ordered that Christian men should not swear. The men who perjure themselves daily are more numerous than those who do not swear at all. He commanded that no one should curse. Whose speech is not cursing? For curses are always the first instrument of wrath; whatever in our weakness we cannot perform we ardently desire in our anger, and thus in every impulse of our wrathful hearts we use evil wishes as our weapons.26 Hence every |89 man shows plainly that whatever he wishes may happen to his adversaries he would do to them if he could. Since we ail put our tongues to this wicked use on the slightest provocation, our disregard of the Lord's will shows that we think it will be held of small account by God, who gave these commands. But the Holy Scripture says: "Revilers shall not inherit the kingdom of God." 27 From this we may judge how serious and deadly a crime evil-speaking is, which by itself shuts a man out of heaven, even though the rest of his life may have been good.

Christ ordered that envy be far from us, but we, contrary to his teaching, envy not merely outsiders but even our friends. This is the ruling vice in the hearts of almost all: our greed for eating has its limits, but our greed for slandering others has no end; our appetite for food becomes sated, but our appetite for spite does not. Perchance the punishment for this fault is a slight one? "The slanderous man," says the Holy Scripture, "shall be rooted out." 28 Surely that is a serious and fearful punishment, yet it does not serve to reform us. Every one of us thinks it worth while to endanger himself as long as he may continue to injure others. The retribution for this vice is clearly a suitable one, as it attacks, the doer only; it does no injury at all to the person slandered, but only punishes the man from whose lips the libel comes.

I suppose I seem to be out of my mind in repeating these words, and I can easily bear the appearance of madness in such a case. For the Lord was not speaking senselessly when he enjoined us through his apostle: "Let all clamor be put away from you, with all malice." 29 Both of these evils indeed are ever present with us, but malice more than clamor. Clamor indeed is not always on our lips, but malice is always in our hearts. So I think that if clamor should cease among us, yet malice would remain to the end. |90 

Our God orders us also to live without murmuring and without complaints.30 When in the history of the human race have these been unknown? In hot weather we complain of drought, in rainy weather of floods; if it is a bad season for the crops we complain of scarcity, in a good season, of low prices. We long for plenty, and when we get it we object to it. What could be more wicked or more disgraceful than this? We complain of God's mercy even in this, that he gives us what we ask.

God bade his servants keep all scandal from their sight altogether, and so he said: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart," 31 From this we can fully understand how chaste our Savior wished us to be, who even shut out licentiousness from our eyes. Knowing that our eyes are in a way the windows of our souls,32 and that all evil desires make their way into the heart through the eyes as their natural passageways, he wished us to destroy such desires utterly while they were still outside that they might not spring up within us and put forth their deadly shoots within the soul, if they once germinated in our eyesight.33 Therefore the Lord said that the wanton glances of lustful men are adulterous, meaning that a man who truly wishes to shun adultery must keep a watch on his eyes. The Savior, indeed, wishing to cultivate a most genuine and perfect sanctity in his worshippers, ordered them to avoid scrupulously even the least offences, on the ground that according to the cleanness of his eyesight, so also is the purity of a Christian's life. Just as a man's eye could not receive a mote of dust without impairing his sight, so our life should not permit any stain of dishonor |91 to find a place in it. Whence come the following words of the Lord: "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee, that one of thy members perish, than that thy whole body be cast into hell." 34 If, therefore, according to the word of God, we are dragged down into hell by scandalous actions, surely it is right to sacrifice our eyes and hands in order to escape this punishment. No man should deprive himself of his members, but in the ease of certain domestic relationships so necessary to us that we have come to consider them as eyes or hands, it is right to deprive ourselves of their present service in order to escape the torture of eternal fire. When the choice lies between comfort and life, it is certainly better for the Christian to forfeit his convenience and gain life.

9. In all the points of which we have spoken our Lord has ordered us to obey him, but where are those who obey all his ordinances or even a very few of them? Where are those who love their enemies or do good to those that persecute them, or overcome evil by doing good, who turn their cheeks to those that strike them, who yield their property without a lawsuit to those that rob them? Who is there that permits himself no slander whatever, that injures no man by evil speaking, that keeps his lips silent that they may not break out in bitter curses? Who is there that keeps these least commandments, not to speak of those greater ones which I mentioned a short time ago?

Since this is the case and since we keep none of the Lord's commands, why do we complain of God, who has far more right to complain of us? Why should we grieve that he does not hear us, when we ourselves do not hear him? What right have we to whisper that God does not look upon the earth, when we ourselves do not look up to the heavens? What reason have we to be vexed that our prayers are despised by the Lord, whose commands we despise? |92 

Suppose that we were equal to our Lord; what chance is there for just complaint when each side receives the same treatment it gives? And this entirely overlooks a point easily proved, that we are very far from receiving what we give, since God really treats us much more kindly than we do him. For the moment, however, let us act on the assumption that I proposed. The Lord himself spoke thus: "I cried unto you and ye did not hear me: you too shall cry unto me and I shall not hear you." 35 What is more fair and just than this? We have not hearkened, therefore he does not hear us. We have not been mindful of him, therefore he does not consider us. What mortal master, I ask, is content to treat his underlings according to this rule, that he will scorn them only in proportion to their contempt of him? And yet we do not stop with such injurious scorn of God as mortal masters receive from their slaves, since the greatest contempt a slave can show is in not doing what he has been ordered. We, however, bend all our efforts and energy not only to neglecting our orders, but even to acting directly contrary to them. For God commands us all to love one another, but we rend each other in mutual hatred. God enjoins us all to give our goods to the poor, but we plunder other men's goods instead. God orders every Christian to keep his eyes pure; how many men are there who do not wallow in the filth of fornication?

What more can I say? It is a heavy and sorrowful charge that I must bring: the church itself, which should strive to appease God in all things ---- what else does it do but arouse him to anger? Except a very few individuals who shun evil, what else is the whole congregation of Christians but the very dregs of vice? How often will you find a man in the church who is not a drunkard or glutton or adulterer or fornicator or robber or wastrel or brigand or homicide? And what is worst of all, they commit these crimes endlessly. I appeal to the conscience of all Christians; of these crimes and |93 misdeeds that I have just named, who is not guilty of some part, who is not guilty of the whole? You would more easily find a man guilty of them all than of none. And because what I have said; may perhaps seem too severe an accusation I shall go much farther and say that you could more easily find men guilty of ail evils than of a few, more easily find men guilty of the greater faults than of the less. That is, it is easier to find men who have committed the greater sins along with the less than the less without the greater. For almost the whole body of the church has been reduced to such moral depravity that among all Christian people the standard of holiness is merely to be less sinful than others. Some hold the churches, which are the temples and altars of God, in less reverence than the houses of the least important municipal magistrates. The common run of men indeed do not presume to enter the doors, I shall not say of illustrious potentates, but even of governors or presiding officials, unless the official has called them or contracted business with them, or unless the honor due their individual position permits their entrance. If anyone enters without due occasion he is flogged or roughly put out or punished by some humiliation or personal indignity.36 But to the temples, or rather the altars and sacred shrines of God, all mean and evil men resort violently, entirely without reverence for his sacred honor. I do not mean to deny that all should hasten thither to pray to God, but he who enters to win God's favor should not go out to arouse his anger. The same action should not demand his indulgence and provoke his wrath. It is a monstrous thing for men to keep committing the same sins which they lament having committed, and for those who enter the church to weep for their old misdeeds to go out [to commit new ones].37 |94 

Go out, did I say? They are usually planning fresh crimes in the very midst of their prayers and supplications. While men's voices do one thing, their hearts do another; while their words lament their past misdeeds their minds plan further wrongs, and thus their prayers increase their guilt instead of winning pardon for it. So the scriptural curse is truly fulfilled upon them, that from their very prayers they go out condemned and their petition is turned into sin.38

Finally, if any one wishes to know what men of this sort are thinking in church, let him consider this. When their religious duties are accomplished they all hurry off at once to their accustomed pursuits ---- some, for instance, to steal, others to get drunk, others to commit fornication, others to commit highway robbery ----so that it is perfectly clear that they have spent their time inside the temple in planning what they will do after leaving it.

10. Undoubtedly some men think that all these evils and all the infamous vice of which I have spoken above may be properly ascribed to slaves or to the lowest of men, whereas the freeman's reputation is not spotted by the stain of such disgraceful deeds. Yet what else is the life of all business men but fraud and perjury, of the curials but injustice,39 of petty officials but slander, of all soldiers but rapine?

Perhaps you think that one need not object to such a charge against characters of this sort. For, you say, their actions fit their professions, so it is no wonder that they act according to their |95 business in life; as if, indeed, God wishes any man to do or profess evil. Or is it no offence whatever to His Divine Majesty that the lower classes are known to commit the greatest crimes, especially when by far the greater part of the human race belongs to this group? Without doubt, the insult that his divinity suffers is proportionate to the number of sinners.

Do you say that the nobles are free from these crimes? At best that is but a small gain, for all the nobles in the world would seem no more than one man in a great crowd of people. Is even this small group free from guilt? First let us consider what the Divine Word says of men of this sort. You remember that the apostle, addressing the people of God, spoke thus: "Hearken, my beloved brethren. Hath God not chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you by their power? Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?" 40

The testimony of the apostle is potent, unless perhaps the nobles think that they are exempt from his accusation because he named only the rich. The nobles, however, are either identical with the rich, or, if there are rich men who are not counted in their number, they are practically in the same category, for so great is the misery of our times that no one is considered of higher rank than he who has the greatest riches. It makes little difference which of these the apostle meant, or if he was talking of both; since his words certainly apply to both the rich and the noble, it does not signify which of the two he had in mind. What noble or what rich man ever had any horror of crime? Yet my query was mistaken ---- many indeed do fear it, but few avoid it. They fear in others the crimes they themselves constantly commit, being in a strange manner both the accusers and doers of the same evils. They denounce in public what |96 they do in secret, and for that reason, when they think they are passing judgment on others they condemn themselves even more by their censure.

Let us overlook those men who have the greater guilt, and ask what single rich man or noble there is who preserves his innocence and keeps his hands clean of every sort of crime? It was foolish for me to say of every sort ---- would God they were clean of the greatest! Great men seem to consider it their personal prerogative to commit the lesser crimes as a matter of course. So I shall say nothing of their more ordinary misdoings. Let us see if any one of them is free from the two which we consider capital offences, that is, homicide and sexual vice. Which of them is not either reeking with human blood or smeared with the filth of an impure life? Either one of these is enough to render him liable to eternal punishment, but there is hardly a wealthy man who has not committed both.

11. Perhaps one of this number is thinking to himself: "I am not doing such things now." I commend you if you are not, yet probably you did in the past, and to have stopped is not equivalent to never having done them at all. But if it were, what value would there be in one man's desisting from wickedness when so many persist in their crime? The conversion of one man does not atone for the sins of the many, nor is it enough to appease God that one man should leave off sinning, while the whole human race offends him. Consider too that he who is converted for the sake of escaping eternal death certainly gains a great reward for his conversion in this escape. By no means could he succeed in turning away the punishment of damnation from others. It is a mark of intolerable presumption, and an enormous wickedness, for a man to think himself so holy that he even supposes wicked men can find salvation through him. God spoke thus of a certain land and a sinful people: "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, were in |97 it, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, they only shall be delivered." 41

No one, I think, will be so shameless as to dare compare himself with such men as these. However much a man may now try to please God, yet to assert one's own morality is an example of the greatest unrighteousness. Thus is destroyed our confidence in the false notion that an innumerable host of sinners can be saved from the evils that threaten them by the intercession of a few good men. For since no one is equal to the three men named above, what hope can any have that countless wicked, men unrelated to them can be saved by a very few good men, when those saints, who were close to God, did not deserve of the Lord that their very members, in the persons of their children," should be saved? It is right that this should be so. Though all sons seem to be members of their parents, yet they must not be considered members of those whose love they have begun to cast aside, inasmuch as the wickedness of their degenerate lives has degraded their natural endowments. So it happens that even we who are said to be Christians lose the virtue of so great a name by our evil vices. It is of no possible benefit to have a holy name without morality, for a life that denies our Christian profession cancels the honor of a glorious rank by the baseness of unworthy actions.

Since then we see practically no group among all the Christians, no corner in all the churches, that is not full of all manner of offence and stained with every deadly sin, why should we beguile ourselves with the name of Christian? Assuredly our guilt is made the greater by this most sacred name, if we belie it by our conduct. The name of Christian aggravates our offences against God, since we continue our sins in the very bosom of the church.

[Footnotes moved to end]

1. 1  See Lactantius op. cit. VII. 1.1: Bene habet, iacta sunt fundamenta, ut ait eximius orator . . .; where Lactantius is quoting Cicero Pro Murena 6. 14.

2. 2 Matthew 7. 25.

3. 3 The much quoted words of Terence (Heauton. Timoroumenos 77) here take on a new significance, from the Christian connotation. "I am a man, nothing human is alien to me"----Salvian's wide sympathies echo the spirit of these words many times, but the secrets of God, he says, pass man's understanding. Salvian's acquaintance with Terence is indicated by his use of a line from the Andria in Ad ecclesiam III. 12.

4. 4 See Lactantius op. cit. II. 5. 2-3; 8. 69, 71.

5. 5 I Thessalonians 3. 3.

6. 6 The definition is repeated in IV. 1 infra.

7. 7 Matthew 5. 44. 

8. 8 Galatians 6. 3. 

9. 9 I John 3. 15.

10. 10 Matthew 5. 22.

11. 11 Ibid. 5. 22. See also Gregory Moralia 21. 5: "Racha indeed in the Hebrew tongue is the exclamation of the angry man, which shows his intention without fully expressing his wrath in words." For other contemporary discussions cf. Baluze ad loc.

12. 12 Luke 14. 33; Matthew 10. 38.

13. 13 I John 2. 6.

14. 14 Galatians 4.19; I Corinthians 11.1.

15. 15 II Timothy 4. 7-8.

16. 16 II Corinthians 6. 4-5.

17. 17 Ibid 11. 21, 23-25.

18. 18 Here Salvian makes use of his fundamental thesis, that the disasters of the Romans are due to their sins. The first part of this sentence would suggest to his readers the losses due to the barbarian invasions; in the conclusion he reminds them of the real danger they face.

19. 19 Matthew 5. 40.

20. 20 Ibid. 5.39.

21. 21 Ibid. 7. 12.

22. 22  See Luke 2. 47-48.

23. 23 I Corinthians 10.24; Philippians 2.4.

24. 24 See Cyprian Ad Demetrianum 8: "You yourself exact servitude from your slave and, yourself a man, compel a man to obey you, though you share in the same lot of birth, the same condition of death, like bodily substance, the same mental frame, and by equal right and the same rule come into this world and later leave it. Yet unless he serves you according to your will, unless he is subservient to your whim, you act the imperious and over-exacting master, afflicting and torturing him often with stripes, lashes, hunger, thirst, nakedness and the sword, with chains and imprisonment. And do you not recognize your God and master, who yourself exercise mastery in this fashion?"

25. 25 James 2.10.

26. 26 Rittershausen, commenting on the "elegant phrasing" of this sentence, cites Petronius Carmen de bello civili 228: Absentem votis interficit hostem.

27. 27 I Corinthians 6.10.

28. 28  See Romans 1. 30-32; Psalms 140.11; Proverbs 21. 28. 

29. 29 Ephesians 4. 31.

30. 30 Philippians 2.14-15.

31. 31 Matthew 5. 28.

32. 32 See Lactantius De opificio Dei 8.11: "The mind is that which sees through the eyes, placed in front of it, as if through windows covered with translucent glass or mica."

33. 33 Among the parallels quoted by Rittershausen ad loc, note especially Seneca De remediis fortuitorum 12.

34. 34 See Mark 9.43-47; Matthew 18.8-9.

35. 35 See Proverbs 1. 24; Micah 3. 4; Psalms 18. 41; Jeremiah 11. 11; Zechariah 7.13.

36. 36 Rittershausen cites this as a passage used by Cujas and other jurists in their commentaries on the Corpus Juris. Cf. Cod. Just. XII. 19 on those who have the right of access to the officials of the highest grade.

37. 37 The slight lacuna in the MSS is here supplied according to Pauly 's conjecture.

38. 38 See Psalms 109. 7.

39. 39 On the curials cf. V. 4 infra. The curials, once honored as the local aristocracy, making up the chief governing body of the municipalities of the Empire, the curia, had now, through the financial stringencies of the administration, become a class as much oppressed by the imperial financial agents as they were hated by those from whom they themselves exacted payments. The requirement that the curials of a district must make up from their own fortunes any deficit in the payments due had made it increasingly difficult to keep up the required number, and the injustice of which Salvian spoke worked in more than one direction. The burdens and difficulties of the office are best illustrated by the 192 sections of Cod. Theod. XII. 1.

40. 40 James 2.5-7.

41. 41 Ezekiel 14.14, 16.

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