Chapter 30.—What Kind of Things Even Their Worshippers Have Owned They Have Thought About the Gods of the Nations.
Cicero the augur laughs at auguries, and reproves men for regulating the purposes of life by the cries of crows and jackdaws. 182 But it will be said that an academic philosopher, who argues that all things are uncertain, is unworthy to have any authority in these matters. In the second book of his De Natura Deorum, 183 he introduces Lucilius Balbus, who, after showing that superstitions have their origin in physical and philosophical truths, expresses his indignation at the setting up of images and fabulous notions, speaking thus: “Do you not therefore see that from true and useful physical discoveries the reason may be drawn away to fabulous and imaginary gods? This gives birth to false opinions and turbulent errors, and superstitions well-nigh old-wifeish. For both the forms of the gods, and their ages, and clothing, and ornaments, are made familiar to us; their genealogies, too, their marriages, kinships, and all things about them, are debased to the likeness of human weakness. They are even introduced as having perturbed minds; for we have accounts of the lusts, cares, and angers of the gods. Nor, indeed, as the fables go, have the gods been without their wars and battles. And that not only when, as in Homer, some gods on either side have defended two opposing armies, but they have even carried on wars on their own account, as with the Titans or with the Giants. Such things it is quite absurd either to say or to believe: they are utterly frivolous and groundless.” Behold, now, what is confessed by those who defend the gods of the nations. Afterwards he goes on to say that some things belong to superstition, but others to religion, which he thinks good to teach according to the Stoics. “For not only the philosophers,” he says, “but also our forefathers, have made a distinction between superstition and religion. For those,” he says, “who spent whole days in prayer, and offered sacrifice, that their children might outlive them, are called superstitious.” 184 Who does not see that he is trying, while he fears the public prejudice, to praise the religion of the ancients, and that he wishes to disjoin it from superstition, but cannot find out how to do so? For if those who prayed and sacrificed all day were called superstitious by the ancients, were those also called so who instituted (what he blames) the p. 81 images of the gods of diverse age and distinct clothing, and invented the genealogies of gods, their marriages, and kinships? When, therefore, these things are found fault with as superstitious, he implicates in that fault the ancients who instituted and worshipped such images. Nay, he implicates himself, who, with whatever eloquence he may strive to extricate himself and be free, was yet under the necessity of venerating these images; nor dared he so much as whisper in a discourse to the people what in this disputation he plainly sounds forth. Let us Christians, therefore, give thanks to the Lord our God—not to heaven and earth, as that author argues, but to Him who has made heaven and earth; because these superstitions, which that Balbus, like a babbler, 185 scarcely reprehends, He, by the most deep lowliness of Christ, by the preaching of the apostles, by the faith of the martyrs dying for the truth and living with the truth, has overthrown, not only in the hearts of the religious, but even in the temples of the superstitious, by their own free service.
De Divin.ii. 37.80:183
Cic. De Nat. Deorum, lib. ii. c. 28.80:184
Superstition, from superstes. Against his etymology of Cicero, see Lact. Inst. Div. iv. 28.81:185
Balbus, from balbutiens, stammering, babbling.