Today we ended book 7. Augustine closes the book with a discussion of King Numa Pompilius, who got involved in necromancy in order to speak with the demons, instituted various rituals based on his conversations, and then wrote down the rituals and the reasons for performing them. The history of that written material is apparently great fodder for the imagination – Numa buried the writings, they were discovered in a field by a farmer, the local magistrates and then the Roman Senate looked them over, and then all involved decided to burn them. Augustine does not know what Numa wrote but the story itself is exciting. Why would Numa write this material down but bury it? Why would the Senate want it burned? Augustine proposes that Numa knew that he was dealing with demons and not gods and that his writings would have proved it. If that were the case, then the whole structure of Roman religion would have been shown to be demonic. No one wants to overthrow the system that gives them power and authority, so the structure stays in place but the evidence that it is a lie goes away.
As we know in this post-Modern world, the Romans or Augustine can spin the evidence any way they want to. Obviously, I am intrigued by Augustine’s account of the gods and demons but I can see why others would reject it. Ultimately, though, only the truth of the Gospel can cut through the lies and spin. The Romans will not give up their account of truth just because the history makes their rituals look bad. This is the point Augustine makes in chapter 33 – the Gospel alone can reveal the truth about the demons. The Word come from outside creation is different than our competing accounts of reality. You and I may disagree and offer different perspectives; God is what is and creates what is and gives us Truth – a non-perspective that enters human perspectives in order to communicate reality with us and to invite us to participate in full reality. Praise be to God, who is Truth!