Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Minucius Felix/The Octavius of Minucius Felix/Chapter 25

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix
by Minucius Felix, translated by Robert Ernest Wallis
Chapter 25
155913Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix — Chapter 25Robert Ernest WallisMinucius Felix

Chapter XXV.—Argument:  Then He Shows that Cæcilius Had Been Wrong in Asserting that the Romans Had Gained Their Power Over the Whole World by Means of the Due Observance of Superstitions of This Kind.  Rather the Romans in Their Origin Were Collected by Crime, and Grew by the Terrors of Their Ferocity.  And Therefore the Romans Were Not So Great Because They Were Religious, But Because They Were Sacrilegious with Impunity.

“Nevertheless, you will say that that very superstition itself gave, increased, and established their empire for the Romans, since they prevailed not so much by their valour as by their religion and piety.  Doubtless the illustrious and noble justice of the Romans had its beginning from the very cradle of the growing empire.  Did they not in their origin, when gathered together and fortified by crime, grow by the terror of their own fierceness?  For the first people were assembled together as to an asylum.  Abandoned people, profligate, incestuous, assassins, traitors, had flocked together; and in order that Romulus himself, their commander and governor, might excel his people in guilt, he committed fratricide.[1]  These are the first auspices of the religious state!  By and by they carried off, violated, and ruined foreign virgins, already betrothed, already destined for husbands, and even some young women from their marriage vows—a thing unexampled[2]—and then engaged in war with their parents, that is, with their fathers-in-law, and shed the blood of their kindred.  What more irreligious, what more audacious, what could be safer than the very confidence of crime?  Now, to drive their neighbours from the land, to overthrow the nearest cities, with their temples and altars, to drive them into captivity, to grow up by the losses of others and by their own crimes, is the course of training common to the rest of the kings and the latest leaders with Romulus.  Thus, whatever the Romans hold, cultivate, possess, is the spoil of their audacity.  All their temples are built from the spoils of violence, that is, from the ruins of cities, from the spoils of the gods, from the murders of priests.  This is to insult and scorn, to yield to conquered religions, to adore them when captive, after having vanquished them.  For to adore what you have taken by force, is to consecrate sacrilege, not divinities.  As often, therefore, as the Romans triumphed, so often they were polluted; and as many trophies as they gained from the nations, so many spoils did they take from the gods.  Therefore the Romans were not so great because they were religious, but because they were sacrilegious with impunity.  For neither were they able in the wars themselves to have the help of the gods against whom they took up arms; and they began to worship those when they were triumphed over, whom they had previously challenged.  But what avail such gods as those on behalf of the Romans, who had had no power on behalf of their own worshippers against the Roman arms?  For we know the indigenous gods of the Romans—Romulus, Picus, Tiberinus, and Consus, and Pilumnus, and Picumnus.  Tatius both discovered and worshipped Cloacina; Hostilius, Fear and Pallor.  Subsequently Fever was dedicated by I know not whom:  such was the superstition that nourished that city,—diseases and ill states of health.  Assuredly also Acca Laurentia, and Flora, infamous harlots, must be reckoned among the diseases[3] and the gods of the Romans.  Such as these doubtless enlarged the dominion of the Romans, in opposition to others who were worshipped by the nations:  for against their own people neither did the Thracian Mars, nor the Cretan Jupiter, nor Juno, now of Argos, now of Samos, now of Carthage, nor Diana of Tauris, nor the Idæan Mother, nor those Egyptian—not deities, but monstrosities—assist them; unless perchance among the Romans the chastity of virgins was greater, or the religion of the priests more holy:  though absolutely among very many of the virgins unchastity was punished, in that they, doubtless without the knowledge of Vesta, had intercourse too carelessly with men; and for the rest their impunity arose not from the better protection of their chastity, but from the better fortune of their immodesty.  And where are adulteries better arranged by the priests than among the very altars and shrines? where are more panderings debated, or more acts of violence concerted?  Finally, burning lust is more frequently gratified in the little chambers of the keepers of the temple, than in the brothels themselves.  And still, long before the Romans, by the ordering of God, the Assyrians held dominion, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks also, and the Egyptians, although they had not any Pontiffs, nor Arvales, nor Salii, nor Vestals, nor Augurs, nor chickens shut up in a coop, by whose feeding or abstinence the highest concerns of the state were to be governed.

Footnotes edit

  1. Parricidium.
  2. Virg., Æneid, viii. 635.
  3. Some read “probra” for “morbos,” scil. “reproaches.”