Monday, January 17, 2022

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists, 1.22-23: Saturn & Jupiter


Image: Depiction of Saturn (Greek: Chronos), the Roman god of time, often depicted as partially shrouded and carrying a reaping hook. He was also the father of Jupiter or Jove (Greek: Zeus) who dethroned him as king of the gods. Ancient pagans tried to associate the Christian God with Saturn or Jupiter.


This episode is a continuation of this series after a fairly significant break of c. four months (the last recorded episode was September 20, 2021). In his introduction to this work, S. F. D. Salmond described the Harmony as one of Augustine’s “most toilsome” works. After some preliminary information on the Gospels, much of Book 1 has to do with rather tedious Christian apologetics against pagan polytheistic religion. Nevertheless, we will continue to persevere in the series alongside the listener and trust we will be edified in the process. From this point I am going to do the episodes in an audio-only format on

1.22: Of the opinion entertained by the Gentiles regarding our God:

Augustine surveys pagan misunderstandings of the Christian God. Some associate him with Saturn, and point to the worship of the Jews on the sabbath (Saturn’s day-Saturday).

The famed Roman scholar Varro, however, associated the God of the Jews with Jupiter (Greek: Zeus). In Roman mythology, Saturn was the father of Jupiter. Saturn had eaten all his children at their birth, lest they usurp him. Jupiter, however, was hidden by his mother and eventually attacked his father, conquered and expelled him, and freed his divine siblings from Saturn’s body. Jupiter then became the king of all gods.

Augustine argues that whether pagans think the God of the Bible is Saturn or Jupiter they have a problem. If they think he is Saturn, how can the reconcile the fact that Saturn never forbade the worship of other gods? If they think he is Jupiter, they should remember that, according to Roman mythology, even after Jupiter dethroned Saturn, he did not forbid worship of Saturn.

1.23: Of the follies which the pagans have indulged in regarding Jupiter and Saturn:

In this chapter Augustine pokes holes in the mythology and theology of paganism. He notes that though popular pagan religion relies on the stories of the gods as fables, the more sophisticated see deeper meaning. Their interpretations, however, are not consistent. Some follow a platonic view and see the Ether (God) as a spirit and not body. Others follow the Stoics and see its as body (pantheism?).

He cites writers of the past like the Greek Euhemerus and the Latin Cicero who suggested that the gods were originally men who moved from heaven to earth, as they did with Romulus and the Caesars.

Nevertheless, Augustine notes that the pagans assert they worship Jupiter (a vivifying spirit that fills the world) and not a dead man.

Saturn, they say, was also not a man but the equivalent of the Greek God Chronos (representing time). Augustine offers the jibe that by making this defense the pagans admit that one of their chief gods is literally temporal (time).

He notes that the Platonic philosophers have countered the Christians by arguing that Saturn comes from the names for fulness (satis) and mind or intellect (nous), so Saturn is “fullness of intellect.” Jupiter then comes from the “the supreme mind” and is the spirit that serves as “the soul of the world.”

If this is the case, Augustine retorts, they should tear down the images and capitol dedicated to Jupiter and erect them to Saturn. Instead, Saturn is a deity typically maligned as evil by the pagans.


Augustine continues to deconstruct the mythology and theology of paganism, pointing to the rational inconsistencies of pagan intellectual interpretations of the myths of Saturn and Jupiter. His ultimate point will be to suggest that the God of Christianity is superior to the myths of paganism, however one might try to interpret them.


No comments: