Augustine begins book 7 showing that the gods worshipped in the cities of the Romans cannot offer eternal life. He then moves on to talk about the various categories of the gods: there are various lower gods who seem to have little personality and don’t get much notoriety, and there are the select gods who have stories written about them and celebrations dedicated to them. Each of the gods – both lower and select gods – have influence over a specific sphere and none has power over eternal life. Augustine argues that none of them should be worshipped unless they can grant eternal life and so wonders why anyone worships any of them. He also wonders why some of the gods are designated as “select”. It cannot be their more important function since some of the lower gods seem to have power over more important spheres (Augustine details the processes of birth and new life and shows how the select gods have authority over the opening of the womb and similar events, but one of the lesser gods has power over life). It seems that the greater and lesser gods are distinguished by who worships them and how many people write about them, not by any inherent powers or influence.
Also, the lesser gods have less written about them, but Augustine argues that this is to their benefit. The stories written about the select gods often explore their faults and shameful deeds. The lesser gods are not scandalous, as nearly all of the select gods are. Augustine says that he can’t think of a shameful story about the select god Janus, but that the Romans made up for that by depicting Janus as having two or four heads, with a hideous appearance. Is it better to be a select god, really? In chapter 5, Augustine gets into an interesting discussion about Varro’s natural theology and god being “the soul of the world”. I’m interested by where Augustine might take us with this discussion, but he’s just setting it up at this point and so I don’t have anything to say about it yet.
I’ll end with a quote about Varro’s intelligence and where it led him: “But your soul [Varro’s], so learned and so clever – and for this reason I grieve deeply for you – could never have through those mysteries of doctrine attained its God. It could never, that is, have attained the God by Whom, not with Whom, it was made; of Whom it is not a part, but a work: the God Who is not the soul of everything, but Who made every soul, and in Whose light alone, if it be not ungrateful for His grace, the soul is made blessed.”
God is separate from His creation. He is not the soul of His creation and everything a part of Him, as Varro’s theology would have it.