Augustine, City of God, Book XI

“Of This Part of the Work, Wherein We Begin to Explain the Origin and End of the Two Cities.”

“The city of God we speak of is the same to which testimony is borne by that Scripture, which excels all the writings of all nations by its divine authority, and has brought under its influence all kinds of minds, and this not by a casual intellectual movement, but obviously by an express providential arrangement. For there it is written…” As in other works by Augustine on things divine, he immediately makes it clear that faith in the revealed truth of God is a prerequisite for what will be said. It will be reasonable, for it is faith seeking understanding of the God who is Author of both faith and reason, but it is not a logical deduction arrived at by the power of the unaided human mind.

As we turn to book XI of Augustine’s de Civitate Dei, the Bishop of Hippo “will endeavor to treat of the origin, and progress, and deserved destinies of the two cities (the earthly and the heavenly, to wit), which, as we said, are in this present world commingled, and as it were entangled together. And, first, I will explain how the foundations of these two cities were originally laid, in the difference that arose among the angels.”

In Book XI, it seems no subject of the Christian faith and of philosophical thought is barred entry. Time and Space, Matter and Form, Infinite and Finite, and a host of other philosophical issues are brought to the fore almost immediately. Likewise, the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Creation, and Grace are immediately debated against a would be opponent.  The central doctrine, however, would seem to be that man is created by God and for God, and the two cities, intermixed as they must be in this life, are of those who worship themselves and those who worship the one true God.

Creation of the universe by God and the non-eternal state of this creation are first laid out. Time and space did not exist “before” God created, and it is to this effect that many of the philosophical arguments are brought out and developed.

After setting forth and discussing, in the fashion typical of Augustine (winding ones’ way and neglecting no turn in the arguments), the topics listed above, among others, he turns to the creation of the angels. Augustine has already, by this point, shown that, according to the Scriptures, it seems clear that the angels were created at the very beginning of the “days” we read of in Genesis. The angels, being pure intellectual creatures and immaterial, either immediately fell or were immediately perfected in grace, depending on whether they chose God or self as their object of worship. Satan himself was not created evil, but rather, through pride, lost the sight of God. All angels were, from the moment of their creation, beings of light.

“But angels are not the only rational or intelligent creatures who we think should be called blessed.” Augustine moves here to the creation of man, in the state of original blessedness, original justice.  Man was created with certain gifts from God.  He was created with natural gifts, preternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. A natural gift is that which is proper to the structure of nature.  A preternatural gift is that which goes beyond the structure of the nature of the material universe (from “praeter naturam”, beyond nature).  A supernatural gift is that which goes beyond any created nature, and belongs only to God, and this is grace.

Even though he has already refuted the pagans (But to the enemies of this city we have replied in the ten preceding books, according to our ability and the help afforded by our Lord and King) he will refer back to them and continue to examine their arguments and errors. Likewise, the errors of the heretics, and especially of the Manicheans, are repeatedly condemned.

The goodness of God and that all good is from God is a central theme in Augustine as a whole, and that all being is good insofar as it is being (contra his early Manichean beliefs). This theme is central to Book XI as well. God is the creator of everything, including the material world. “Since, therefore, what He sees is good would not have been made unless it was good before He made it, we must say: He teaches, He does not learn, that it is good.”

Of course, goodness is what we seek, and we recognize the good in things and then love them.  For the Creator, the “order” is reversed: He loves and therefore it is good. It is often said that “one thing would not be better than another, unless God loved it more,” and it is hard to deny this for, the contrary answer would be that God somehow recognizes goodness in something and is moved to love it. For the immutable God, this is simply absurd.  It would imply a change in God.

“So if we ask ‘who made it?’ the answer is ‘God’; if we ask ‘how?’ the answer is that God said: ‘Let it be. And it was done’; if we ask ‘why?’ the answer is ‘Because it is good.’”

Augustine will return to the Scriptures and expound on their meaning. He will return to “the philosophers” and discuss the truths and errors of their thought; the Platonists, although having error in their doctrine as well, are “the closest to the truth.” He will discuss the writings and teachings of the Fathers of the Church. For if one is, after faith, seeking understanding, no subject, no topic, is out of play. God created all (all that exists; not evil, for example, for it doesn’t ‘exist’ but is rather the lack of existence where existence should rightly be), and all existing things point in some way to God. If we want to know, live, and share the faith, we do not avoid questions of philosophy, of science, of culture. Augustine meets all of these head on in turn. Book XI of The City of God is a perfect example of such an endeavor.

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