In De Civitate Dei, Augustine of Hippo wrote,1

Quis non hic Christum, quem praedicamus et in quem credimus, quamlibet sit tardus, agnoscat, cum audiat Deum, cuius sedes est in saecula saeculorum, et unctum a Deo, utique sicut unguit Deus, non visibili, sed spiritali atque intellegibili chrismate? Quis enim tam rudis est in hac religione vel tam surdus adversus eius famam longe lateque diffusam, ut Christum a chrismate, hoc est ab unctione appellatum esse non noverit?

which I translate as,

Who here, however slow he may be, does not recognize Christ whom we preach, and in whom we believe, when he hears [that he is] God, whose throne is for ever and ever, and [he is] anointed by God, as God indeed anoints, not with a visible, but with a spiritual and even intelligible chrism (chrismate)? For who is so ignorant in this religion, or so deaf to its far and wide-spread fame, that he has not known that Christ (Christum) is named from chrism (chrismate), this is, from anointing?

My question concerns the phrase cum audiat Deum. I recognize this to be the preposition cum followed by a verb conjugated in the subjunctive mood, active voice, 3rd person, singular number, from the lemma audio, followed by a noun declined in the accusative case. Because I do not believe this should be translated as “when he hears God” (before researching Lewis & Short, my initial translation was “when he hears [that he is] God”), I reviewed Lewis & Short’s entry for the verb audio and noted the following:

D. To hear thus and thus, i. e. to be named or styled somehow (as in Gr. ἀκούω; and in Engl. to hear, as Milton: Or hear'st thou rather pure ethereal stream, P. L. III. 7); and with bene or male (as in Gr. καλῶς or κακῶς ἀκούειν; cf. Milton: For which Britain hears ill abroad, Areop.; and Spenser: If old Aveugles sonnes so evil hear, F. Q. I. 5, 23), to be in good or bad repute, to be praised or blamed, to have a good or bad character: “benedictis si certāsset, audīsset bene (Bene audire est bene dici, laudari, Don.),” Ter. Phorm. prol. 20: “tu recte vivis, si curas esse quod audis,” Hor. Ep. 1, 16, 17: “rexque paterque Audisti coram,” id. ib. 1, 7, 38; so id. S. 2, 6, 20; Ter. Hec. 4, 2, 24; id. Phorm. 2, 3, 12; Cic. Att. 6, 1; id. Fin. 3, 17, 57; id. Leg. 1, 19; Nep. Dion, 7, 3: “Ille, qui jejunus a quibusdam et aridus habetur, non aliter ab ipsis inimicis male audire quam nimiis floribus et ingenii afluentia potuit,” Quint. 12, 10, 13 al.—In a play upon words: erat surdaster M. Crassus; “sed aliud molestius quod male audiebat,” Cic. Tusc. 5, 40, 116; so, “minus commode: quod illorum culpā se minus commode audire arbitrarentur,” Cic. Verr. 2, 3, 58.—

Could cum audiat Deum be translated as “when he is named ‘God’”?


Sancti Aurelii Augustini Episcopi. De Civitate Dei, Libri XXII. Vol. 2. Lipsiae: Teubneri, 1877.


1 De Civitate Dei (“On the City of God”), Book 17, Ch. 16, p. 238

1 Answer 1


I think you may be overthinking this a bit: this particular meaning of audire is idiomatic, but derives pretty directly from the base meaning. I think the bolding of the L&S entry gives somewhat the wrong idea of the construction, as if one could say: "Audio Brianus" = "I am named Brian."

By far the most common usage of this idiom is with an adverb, particularly bene and male:

Ab inimicis male audio.

I have a bad reputation among my enemies. (Lit: I hear badly from my enemies.)

The examples given in Lewis and Short very rarely cite a usage without an adverb. Here are two I found, though:

tu recte vivis, si curas esse quod audis. (Hor. Ep. 1:16)

You live uprightly, if you take care to be what others say of you. (Lit: ...be what you hear.)

Note, however, that this meaning is so established that it can be used with the nominative:

Saepe uerecundum laudasti rexque paterque
audisti coram nec uerbo parcius absens; (Hor. Ep. 1:7)

You have often praised me as modest, and you have heard me
call you king and father in your presence, nor am I more sparing in my words in your absence.

(Lit: You have heard king and father)

Two notes:

  1. The subject of the audio is the one who is "regarded as X"
  2. In the case of a noun, nominative is (probably) more appropriate.

Now let's look at your example sentence, which I will pare down to its essential structure:

Quis Christum non agnoscat, cum audiat Deum?

There are two reasons, based on the above two observations, why I believe your proposed translation will not work:

  1. Deus should probably be nominative.
  2. More important: the subject of audiat would be Christus, which does not make sense. Obviously, the quis who agnoscat is not God, so we have to assume that the subject becomes Christus. All of a sudden, cum is not restrictive but explanatory (pardon the non-technical terms). The translation becomes:

Who does not acknowledge Christ, since [Christ] is known as God?

Augustine's point is obviously dependent on the subject of the first clause (quis) hearing something. Using Ockham's razor and the above observations, it is much simpler to supply an (often excised) esse and translate as:

Quis Christum non agnoscat, cum audiat [eum esse] Deum.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.