Saturday, November 22, 2014

"City of God" XXII.9-10

Chapter 9:
The miracles of the martyrs are not ends in themselves, they are testimonies ("witnesses") to our faith in the physical resurrection of Christ. To that end, we should not be trusting in the martyrs, but rather in the God who enables them to die in the faith and as witnesses for the faith.

Chapter 10:
Again, it is not the miracles themselves which we should notice--even the demons can do those things. What we should notice is that God whom the martyrs worship. He is the final end of their lives and deaths.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"City of God" XXII.8

[This post covers on chapter that has been split over three days in the reading schedule.]

Chapter 8:
Augustine returns to the question of miracles, and asks why there are no more to confirm our faith. He points out that even if miracles continued, there will always be those who remain willfully skeptical.
And yet, it's not really fair to say that there are no miracles. There have been plenty which have confirmed Christ's ascension into heaven--though since the closing of the canon, they have been rare, small, provincial, and largely reported by Christians (and so somewhat untrustworthy--"too unauthoritative to be received without some difficulty or doubt"). The rare big miracle does happen, but again they can not be turned to for absolute demonstrations in the same way that the miracles of Scripture can.
Augustine then proceeds to give several examples of miracles both big and small. Some involve healing, some involve conversion, and some are tied to the relics of the saints. Augustine will have more to say on this last in the next section (lest we think he's encouraging the idolatry of worshiping the martyrs).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"City of God" XXII.6-7

Chapter 6:
We should not confuse resurrection and ascension with the pagan idea of divine apotheosis. The Romans made Romulus a "god" because he founded Rome. Christians believe that the City of God is divine because it was founded by Christ:
But though Christ is the founder of the heavenly and eternal city, yet it did not believe Him to be God because it was founded by Him, but rather it is founded by Him, in virtue of its belief.  Rome, after it had been built and dedicated, worshipped its founder in a temple as a god; but this Jerusalem laid Christ, its God, as its foundation, that the building and dedication might proceed.  The former city loved its founder, and therefore believed him to be a god; the latter believed Christ to be God, and therefore loved Him. 
This, in turn, leads to a different kind of city and a different kind of citizen body:
The city of Christ, which, although as yet a stranger upon earth, had countless hosts of citizens, did not make war upon its godless persecutors for the sake of temporal security, but preferred to win eternal salvation by abstaining from war.  They were bound, impriRomsoned, beaten, tortured, burned, torn in pieces, massacred, and yet they multiplied.  It was not given to them to fight for their eternal salvation except by despising their temporal salvation for their Saviour’s sake. 
Our City is built on faith, and whenever faith is rejected we fall away from the City. This is in contrast to the city of man, which is built on works, honor, etc.

Chapter 7:
If Cicero rejects Romulus as a "god" as a result of his (Cicero's) more enlightened era, how much more enlightened must Augustine's time be? And yet we find that Jesus is not only not rejected, but increasingly believed in as a God. This is because He is truly Divine, not just the result of a mythical human elevation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"City of God" XXII.4-5

Chapter 4:
Augustine again refutes those who deny the possibility of the bodily resurrection and the need for a physical heaven. In fact, Augustine points out, isn't it more remarkable that spiritual beings have physical bodies now? And if spirit and matter can be united now, how much more so when God resurrects and perfects them?

Chapter 5:
Besides, we have the resurrection and ascension of Christ as proof of the doctrine. If we believe that, there should be no more discussion on the subject. The fact that so many believe this doctrine is evidence that should convince the skeptics--all the more so if they (the skeptics) reject the authenticity of the miracles, for then you have a large number of believers without miraculous support, which is even more proof. [I know, I know, Augustine's not at his apologetic best here, but come on--he's got to be running out of steam by this point.]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"City of God" XXII.1-3

Chapter 1:
Finally, we get to a discussion of the end of the City of God. This will be an "eternal" end, where "eternal" simply means the length of time which does not stop. The highest parts of God's creation (angels and men) were created to be eternal and to live in fellowship with Him forever. We were to feed off of His joy and delight through communion in His presence for all time. However, God also made us mutable, changeable, and with a free will. And using that will, we rejected God and tried to find our happiness and our joy in ourselves. "But, as with the angels, if human nature should choose to fall away from God, misery proportionate to the offense was bound to follow. Here, too, God foresaw the fall, the disregard of His law, the desertion from Good, yet He left man's free choice unchecked..."

But why would God do this? "..because He also foresaw to what good He would turn man's evil. And, in fact, out of this mortal race of men, justly doomed by their own deserts, God gathers, by His grace, so numerous a people that out of them He fills the places and restores the ranks emptied by the fallen angels."
We are lost by the  exercise of our own wills, but restored to God by His grace. And so the City of God will not want for its full complement of citizens.

Chapter 2:
All of creation, both the City of God and the city of man, are governed by the will of God, which has ordained what will be and who will do it. This will is unchangeable, and that is our safety and security (passages in Scripture which seem to suggest that God changes His mind are spoken to us in such a way that we might understand--in fact we are the ones who are changing, not God).

Chapter 3:
So God has promised to lead His people into the City of God, and these promises are unshakable.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"City of God" XXI.27

Chapter 27:
Nor can you offset your sins by good deeds and still expect to get into heaven. We cannot buy our way into heaven, we must repent with a contrite heart focused on God through Jesus Christ. This comes through prayer and by entrance into the body of believers--the "intercession of holy men."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Characteristics of the Covenant

What is the nature of the covenant God makes with those who believe in the Gospel? According to John Flavel:
  1. It is an everlasting covenant, or a perpetual covenant, a covenant of eternity... For Christ being the principal matter and substance of the covenant, there must be in it an everlasting righteousness, everlasting kindness, everlasting forgiveness, and in consequence to all of these, everlasting consolation, in which all the riches and bounty of free grace shine forth in all their splendor.
  2. It is a covenant ordered in all things... Everything being here disposed and placed in the most comely order, both persons and things here keep their proper place: god the Father keeps the place of the most wise contriver and bountiful donor of the invaluable mercies of the covenant: and Christ keeps the proper place both of the purchaser and the surety of the covenant and all the mercies in it; and believers keep their place, as the unworthy receivers of all the gratuitous mercies and rich benefits thereof... Oh it is a ravishing sight to behold the habitude and respect of the mercies in the covenant, to the sins and wants of all that are in it! Here are found full and suitable supplies to the wants of all God's people. here you may see pardon in the covenant, for guilt in the soul; joy in the covenant, for sorrow in the heart; strength in the covenant, for all the defects and weakness in the creature. 
  3. It is a sure covenant, or a covenant safely laid up and kept... Everything is as its foundation is. Now, God's covenant being founded in his unchangeable counsel and purpose, wherein there can be no lubricity, and Christ being the surety of it, it must needs be, as the text calls it, a sure covenant, wherein the faithfulness of God is as illustriously displayed, as his bounty and wisdom are in the two properties of it. And such a covenant as this, so everlastingly, aptly disposed, and sure, must needs deserve precious respect and high esteem from every believing soul. 
--John Flavel, The Balm of the Covenant Applied to Afflicted Saints, in Works of Flavel, Volume 6, pg 89-90.

"City of God" XXI.26

Chapter 26:
To those who argue that as long as you have the right doctrine but no practice you'll still go to heaven, Augustine discusses what it is to truly have Christ. "Whoever, then, has Christ in his heart, so that no earthly or temporal things—not even those that are legitimate and allowed—are preferred to Him, has Christ as a foundation. "
When we love Christ above all else, then we have the sign that we have truly believed the Gospel. When our lives do not match this claim, we have the sign that we are liars:
But if these things be preferred, then even though a man seem to have faith in Christ, yet Christ is not the foundation to that man; and much more if he, in contempt of wholesome precepts, seek forbidden gratifications, is he clearly convicted of putting Christ not first but last, since he has despised Him as his ruler, and has preferred to fulfill his own wicked lusts, in contempt of Christ’s commands and allowances.  Accordingly, if any Christian man loves a harlot, and, attaching himself to her, becomes one body, he has not now Christ for a foundation. 
We are tried by "fire", in that those who stick to the faith and keep their actions pure are those who are shown to have Christ as the sure foundation. Those who pursue sin are shown to be false in their claims to faith. They will not see heaven.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"City of God" XXI.25

Chapter 25:
Nor will baptism get anyone out of hell, whether it's a heretical baptism or one applied by an orthodox church. The same may be said of communion, partaking of Christ's spiritual body in reality with the gathered church will not save anyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"City of God" XXI.24

Chapter 24:
We know the prayers of the saints won't spare anyone from hell, because if they could the demons too would be spared, and we know they won't be. We (and the saints in heaven) only intercede for those for whom God has left open the opportunity for repentance. Scripture is pretty clear that this groups is confined to this life, not the next.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"City of God" XXI.22-23

Chapter 22:
Continuing the theme of the various ideas people have as to why hell might not be eternal for some, there is a school of thought that says that good deeds can offset sins such that one might get to heaven despite being a sinner. So reciting the Lord's Prayer or giving alms, for example, might get you out of hell by offsetting your other sins.

Chapter 23:
And yet, we see that the church has never accepted the idea of hell as mere purgation when it comes to the devil. This is not because we are hateful or anything like that--we want all who can be saved to be saved. It is because we wish to be faithful to Scripture, where God has clearly and repeatedly said that hell will be eternal, everlasting, for ever and ever, etc.
"Thus is is Scripture, infallible Scripture, which declares that God has not spared them."
Where Scripture speaks we must bow our emotions and thoughts to the Wisdom of its Author. And if it's true that the devil will never be purged of sin by the fires of hell, how much more true must it be of lesser beings such as men? We do not want to be charged with believing that "men's imaginings have more weight than God's words!" Rather than trying to make ourselves feel better about something we don't like, we ought to "bow in obedience, while yet there is time, to the command of God."
Besides, we have a vested interest as believers in "everlasting" actually meaning "everlasting"--would we want it to be qualified we we speak of "everlasting" joy or "everlasting" life? "Therefore, since the eternal life of the saints is to be endless, there can be no doubt that eternal punishment for those who are to endure it will have no end."

Friday, November 7, 2014

"City of God" XXI.18-21

Chapter 18-21:
There are some who say that God will not punish forever those who remain His enemies--even the devil and the demons--because of the intercession of the saints. Not an "intercession of the saints" in the wicked sense meant by Catholics where an overflow of merit is distributed like coins to beggars, but the sort of intercession all believers are to do for their unbelieving neighbors. Just as Jonah "interceded" for Nineveh (sort-of), and the Ninevites repented, so will believers in the City of God intercede for those in hell, while those in hell will repent and all will go to heaven.
Likewise, some argue that everyone who has been baptized and taken communion, however heretical their beliefs may be later in life [and is there a better argument against baptizing infants than that?], they will be saved by their baptism and connection with the body of Christ.
Some restrict this salvation to those who have been baptized and taken communion in the "true" church, even if they later turn heretic.
And some argue that so long as one holds to legitimate beliefs and liturgical practices (baptism and communion), then our outward actions have no bearing on our salvation.

All of these are, obviously, wrong.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"City of God" XXI.15-17

Chapter 15:
Our hope, however, is not just in an end of suffering--it is in the heaven that Christ has bought for us. And Augustine is worth quoting here:
For there is but one Son of God by nature, who in His compassion became Son of man for our sakes, that we, by nature sons of men, might by grace become through Him sons of God.  For He, abiding unchangeable, took upon Him our nature, that thereby He might take us to Himself; and, holding fast His own divinity, He became partaker of our infirmity, that we, being changed into some better thing, might, by participating in His righteousness and immortality, lose our own properties of sin and mortality, and preserve whatever good quality He had implanted in our nature perfected now by sharing in the goodness of His nature.  For as by the sin of one man we have fallen into a misery so deplorable, so by the righteousness of one Man, who also is God, shall we come to a blessedness inconceivably exalted.  Nor ought any one to trust that he has passed from the one man to the other until he shall have reached that place where there is no temptation, and have entered into the peace which he seeks in the many and various conflicts of this war, in which “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.”
This is not a life or a war we would have chosen by ourselves, nor is it one we pursue for worldly benefit:
Now, such a war as this would have had no existence if human nature had, in the exercise of free will, continued steadfast in the uprightness in which it was created.  But now in its misery it makes war upon itself, because in its blessedness it would not continue at peace with God; and this, though it be a miserable calamity, is better than the earlier stages of this life, which do not recognize that a war is to be maintained.  For better is it to contend with vices than without conflict to be subdued by them.  Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any thought of deliverance.  We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and, kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it.  But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice. 
Instead, by God's grace and mercy we are promised a future home in the City of God where we will have to the fullest the peace that we merely taste here and now. There, the satisfaction of our hearts desires will be met and we will have the fullness of that for which we burn now.

Chapter 16:
God, however, does not leave us alone in this conflict. For children, there is grace and protection that comes directly from God. And I think we've all seen this, how many new believers are there who wander near to heresy, wander near to sin, wander near to all manner of dangerous things in life, only to be snatched away by what appears to us to be dumb blind luck, but what is really surely the direct hand of Providence?
As we mature, we see our danger and our inherent sin (both illuminated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and strive according to God's command and by His Spirit to subdue our sins and live according to His Holy Word:
Accordingly vices are then only to be considered overcome when they are conquered by the love of God, which God Himself alone gives, and which He gives only through the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who became a partaker of our mortality that He might make us partakers of His divinity. 
We as believers then know that the only suffering we will endure is prior to the final judgment, while unbelievers will be judged afterward forever (though to varying degrees according to their own sins).

Chapter 17:
Some Christians are so tenderhearted as to deny the eternity of hell (Origen was one such believer). We must not support this heresy, though we should of course deal gently with our delicate and erring brothers and sisters. Fortunately, they are quite often inconsistent with themselves, and where they come to believe that someday all people will be in heaven, they deny this to Satan and the demons. But what kind of division is that? Certainly not one supported in Scripture...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"City of God" XXI.11-14

Chapter 11:
Eternal judgment is not unjust because it lasts longer than the crime committed (we don't even do that in human justice); but it is just because it is proportional to the crime:
And just as the punishment of the first death cuts men off from this present mortal city, so does the punishment of the second death cut men off from that future immortal city.  For as the laws of this present city do not provide for the executed criminal’s return to it, so neither is he who is condemned to the second death recalled again to life everlasting. 
Chapter 12:
Really, the only reason hell seems overly harsh to us is because of how wicked we are in our natures:
The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good which might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.  Hence the whole mass of the human race is condemned; for he who at first gave entrance to sin has been punished with all his posterity who were in him as in a root, so that no one is exempt from this just and due punishment, unless delivered by mercy and undeserved grace; and the human race is so apportioned that in some is displayed the efficacy of merciful grace, in the rest the efficacy of just retribution.   
As things worked out, God's justice and mercy are both shown, which could not have been the case if all had been saved, or if all had been left damned. And because so many more remain damned than are saved, those of us who are saved by grace through faith should be all the more grateful to God for His mercy to us.

Chapter 13:
Some of the Platonists argue that "hell" is simply a place of purgation, where mankind are finally purified and made ready for heaven. Christians doctrine, on the other hand, teaches that hell is permanent, and that only in this life and prior to the last judgment is suffering purifying. Augustine mentions that there may be some who are headed for heaven but suffer after death. This is not, however, a full-fledged doctrine of purgatory, not least because he is clear that no one suffers after the last judgment, and in no way does suffering justify.

Chapter 14:
Indeed, this life itself is purgatorial. In this world our life is suffering and purifying. If there is suffering after death for believers, it is only for the very, very few who did not suffer in this life. (I assume that Augustine believes that all Christians need to have at least some extent of similar circumstances for the sake of sanctification, and those of us who have not truly suffered need to catch up with our martyred and persecuted brothers and sisters.) Those non-believers who do not suffer have even worse in store for them...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"City of God" XXI.9-10

Chapter 9:
What's more, we know that hell will happen and will last forever and involve physical punishment, because God has said that it will. We don't want to allegorize those passages away to make ourselves feel better--hell will be physical suffering as well as spiritual suffering. God is capable of doing this, since he is "the Source of all that is wonderful in all natures whatsoever."

Chapter 10:
But if the fire of hell is material, how will evil spirits suffer in it? The answer is that 1) the fire is not just physical, it's also spiritual; 2) even now those in hell are suffering without having a body--the structure of the spiritual world is such that the physical world can affect it as well.

Monday, November 3, 2014

"City of God" XXI.8

Chapter 8:
Of course there are wonders in the world, some might respond to the previous chapters, but that's not the same thing as saying that acts contrary to nature can occur. It might be wonderful that human beings can emulate singing from their rear ends (see Book XIV for that tidbit), but that is just a strange part of our nature. And strange is not the same thing as against. We cannot, for example, stick our hands in a fire and come away unburnt--that would be contrary to nature.

Augustine replies that God made nature, and can adjust it as need wishes. We know that He has done this once already when He cursed the earth and changed it to its present state. He can, if and when He wishes, likewise change us so that we are other than we are now, while still being the same people.