When St Augustine makes a fault, it is glaring, easy to correct, and the correction often contradicts only him, not any other Church Father.
Often? I do not recall even once when something he shares with other Church Fathers but not all is necessarily an error.
Lack of attention or slight dishonesty are two possibilities for the one he makes early in book I of City of God, when he calls Virgil absurd for saying that all hope was lost for Troy when the idol was stolen, since all hope had already vanished when Priam was killed at a Pagan altar by Pagans presumably also worshipping that divinity. But when he describes this as already having deprived Troy of hope before the idol was stolen, he forgets that in Virgil it happened after the idol was stolen.
Shall we say that lack of attention or slight dishonesty are more likely in a saint?
Actually lack of attention only admits that man is not the God who never slumbers. Whereas even slight dishonesty about truth* is a kind of admission that the truth, thus also God who identifies Himself with the truth, is slightly inadequate. Be that impiety far from us! Thus, insofar as it was a mistake, we must put it down to slight inattention.
Here we find another mark of the mistakes of Saint Augustine. They are inadequate to refute the point he is making. Their correction does not make him wrong where he wanted to be right, only where he happened to be wrong. As when his being wrong on non-existence of antipodes (but are there even exact antipodes 180° E/W and 180° S/N from Carthage? and is it even probable when it came to the sack of Troy that the idol was calmly stolen before Priam had been violently killed?**) he is still right on all men descending from Adam and Eve, and from Noah and his wife and their three sons and daughters in law.
Even if the idol had been stolen well before Priam was killed at an altar in a temple that was sacked – like later the Temple of Jerusalem – it remains true, as he pointed out, that hope had vanished for Troy even before they stole the idol. The horse of wood had already entered the walls, the garrison had already been massacred, the invasion had already taken place. Few if any cities have survived such a bad pass, unless it be Rome at the invasion of Brennus. Speaking of Brennus, I wonder if Brennos – as it should have been in Gaulish, and in the Latin back then too – is not the same name as Irish Gaelic Brian and as Welsh British Bran.***
But returning to the idol stolen at the sack of Troy, this idol in the Pagan view transferred its loyalties with no problems or qualms. When an image of St James was stolen from one village in Austria (Upper Austria I think) to the neighbouring one, it walked back through the snow. That is, the living man was seen walking and after that the image was seen restored. No, one cannot compare Christian Saints (or their images even) with Pagan Idols.
BpI, Georges Pompidou
St Clare of Assisi
*It is not the same with slight dishonesties about economic justice in poor men. Especially not if honestly admitted – and repaired as soon as possible.
**Here we can ask if St Augustine might have made the mistake by attributing the probable sequence of events to a poet who had not been quite on par but whom he was not willing to accuse of historic error when it came to the doings of men or of monsters.
*** If you like historic linguistics, here is my analogy: br-en-n-(-os) > br – ee – n > br – ia – n like c-en-t-(-om) > c – ee – t > c – ia – d and br-en-n-(-os) > br – an – n like c-en-t-(-om) > c – an – t.
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