Jupiter may as well be the same as many of the gods, or maybe all the gods, or maybe there is no Jupiter at all, says Augustine. Over chapters 12-22, he looks at the nature of the gods in relation to one another, to the stars which also bear their names, and to the spheres of influence and responsibility that the gods have and concludes that this whole system is just a way for demons to increase in power over the Roman people. Why are there two gods for each wave of the seas, for example? So that two more demons might have influence in Rome. Why is Mercury over speech (or, is Mercury just speech itself?) and Mars over war (or, is Mars just war itself?)? So that more demons might have influence.
Augustine helpfully explains how the stories about the gods might have come into being: some men became powerful and people wanted to worship them, so they turned the stories about those men into worship stories about gods. This is a fine naturalistic explanation. And then he also goes on to explain that the demons use these stories to gain power among the people who tell them. The gods were just men and now they are demons. The demons used the men to get invitations to the Roman worship party. Augustine gives a naturalistic explanation and then a supernatural one for the same system of worship. This is helpful and right – the world is partially explicable by what we can see and touch, and yet so much is inexplicable to us. The worship of the gods makes sense because there is an ongoing power available to those who began by just worshipping men. When we worship men who are only men, we invite demons. And when we continue in our demon worship, we invite more and more demons, until pretty soon the whole system of worship is beyond our logic and control. In Rome, even the best and wisest could no longer make much sense of the worship of the gods, as Augustine shows us form Varro’s writing. Varro admits that he can’t make much out of civil or even natural theology, it is all beyond his ability to describe.
The One God intended our worship to be natural and supernatural, for both God and the Human to be worshipped, and for nature to be the context for our worship of the One True God. The world is sacramental in this way: nature does (as the Romans knew) point out the character and activity of God. God is not the soul of the world, but the world is the locus of God’s self-revelation. Nature, in other words, participates in Grace, or the supernatural, by God’s Word and Spirit. And the clearest self-revelation of God is the Word made flesh, the great God-man, the Incarnate Son of God. The Natural and the Supernatural together in one person. Augustine and the Romans were both on to something in their different ways. Augustine knows that our explanations require both Nature and Supernature, and so he talks about great men and demons. The Romans know that the world points us to something beyond itself, and so they worship waves as they come in and then again as they go out. As Hebrews describes, this earth is a shadow for the heavenly worship that is ongoing and eternal.
The premodern pagans may have forgotten the natural reasons for their worship of false gods/demons; the modern world has cut the supernatural head off the top of the world entirely. We now think that our naturalistic explanations are enough. It is a new and interesting way for the demons to regain control of the world – the demons don’t exist, no Divine figures do – and so we can once again worship great men, or even lesser men, or anything else we might want to worship. The demons no longer have to wait for our invitations (which they are unlikely to get since we don’t believe they exist), they just sneak into our false worship.
A quote for the day: “No doubt it was avarice which assigned this name [“Money” or “Pecunia”] to Jupiter, so that whoever loved money might seem to love no ordinary god, but the king of all things himself. It would be a very different matter if Jupiter were called Riches; for riches are one thing and money another: we call men rich who are wise, just and good, even if they have little or no money. It is by reason of their virtues that they are rich, because, through them, they are content with what they have even if the things necessary for bodily life are lacking. The greedy, however, are poor, for they are always grasping and always wanting.”
May you be blessed with Riches,