Chapters 6-7 continue the argument that Augustine has been making: that conquerors continue to slay the conquered even when they cling to their gods hoping for mercy. But in the case of the sack of Rome, the Visigoths spared those who sought Christ and called upon His name. Augustine attributes this mercy to the power of the name of Christ and not to the character of the conquerors; he continues to refer to them as “savage barbarians”.
In chapter 8, Augustine begins to deal with an interesting question: “But why did the divine mercy extend even to the wicked and ungrateful?” And he gives the beginnings of a helpful answer, and we get to see lyrical Augustine in the process. God’s mercy falls on the righteous and the wicked together, as catastrophe comes to both the good and the evil. Why? “[T]he forbearance of God invites the wicked to repentance, just as the chastisement of God teaches forbearance to the good.” The goodness we experience does not make us good and the difficulties we suffer do not make us evil – “For the dissimilarity of the sufferers remains even where there is a similarity of what they undergo; and even though they suffer the same torment, virtue and vice are nonetheless not the same.” There is some internal or God-given difference between the righteous and the wicked, and their sufferings produce different results. I’ll leave off with the end of chapter 8. Because I like it:
“In the same fire, gold glows but chaff smokes, and under the same flail straw is crushed but grain purified; nor is the oil of the olive mingled with the lees because extracted under the weight of the same press. By the same token, when one and the same force falls upon the good and the wicked, the former are purged and purified but the latter damned, ruined, and destroyed. Hence it is that, under the same affliction, the wicked hate and blaspheme God while the good pray and praise Him. What is important, then, is not what is suffered, but by whom; for, stirred up by the same motion, mud gives forth a dreadful smell, yet ointment has a sweet fragrance.”