Reading ancient authors like our brother Augustine, we should never forget what a fraught and deadly world they lived in, how close to the edge, at all times, they were. Death was a live option and physical pain their prairie home companion.
How bad was it? Augustine tells us in Chapter 22 of Book XXI of his City of God, which starts with a rousing chorus of “the whole human race has been condemned in its first origin” and then gets down to the really bad news.
Our human life — “if life it is to be called,” he sighs — is gnawed by a “host of cruel ills.” What’s worse, we’re all idiots, marinating in “dreadful ignorance.” Okay. Can I check out now? Nope: “No man can be delivered [from life] without toil, pain, and fear.”
But what if I’m an optimist? Surely the glass is — yeah, right.
Life on earth, says Augustine, is just a dead man’s march of:
“… gnawing cares, disquiet, griefs, fears, wild joys, quarrels, lawsuits, wars, treasons, angers, hatreds, deceit, flattery, fraud, theft, robbery, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, murders, patricides, cruelty, ferocity, wickedness, luxury, insolence, impudence, shamelessness, fornications, adulteries, incests.”
“Sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppression of the innocent, calumnies, plots, falsehoods, false witnessings, unrighteous judgments, violent deeds, plunderings.”
Okay — so we need to fix things, get to work!
“Inactivity, sloth, laziness, negligence, are vices which shun labor, since labor, though useful, is itself a punishment.”
But we can rely on the helping hand of our brother, right?
“At their hands we suffer robbery, captivity, chains, imprisonment, exile, torture, mutilation, loss of sight, the violation of chastity to satisfy the lust of the oppressor, and many other dreadful evils.”
Ah. Then all we have left is the solace of the natural world!
“… Extremes of heat and cold, storms, floods, inundations, lightning, thunder, hail, earthquakes, houses falling … countless poisons in fruits, water, air, animals.”
Oh, well. I’ll just stay inside with my dog.
“The madness which the mad dog communicates, so that even the animal which of all others is most gentle and friendly to its own master, becomes an object of intenser fear than a lion or dragon!”