Thursday, July 31, 2014

"City of God" XVI.17-20

Chapter 17:
Even early on, the city of man was divided into powerful empires in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Chapter 18-19:
God made promises to Abraham, which given Abraham's deceit (and God's merciful preservation of Abraham and Sarah despite that deceit) leads us to conclude that these promises were not based on Abraham's character, but rather on God's.

Chapter 20:
Which isn't to say Abraham had no Christian virtue, given the kindness with which he treated Lot on their parting.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"City of God" XVI.15-16

Chapter 15:
Here Augustine gives us a fuller exposition of Abraham's departure from Chaldea. While this may drag a bit, I think there's an interesting point to be gained from how Augustine fills out his exposition--namely, he turns to the New Testament explanation of the event given by Stephen. In general, Augustine follows the "Scripture interprets Scripture" rule...

Chapter 16:
God actually made two promises to Abraham: 1) the physical promise of the land; 2) the greater spiritual promise of blessing through the decedent of Abraham.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"City of God" XVI.12-14

Chapter 12:
So we begin the history of the City of God from Abraham, who got his own start in the land of the Chaldeans.

Chapter 13-14:
It may be (based on some of the Apocrypha) that Abraham's family had been persecuted for being faithful to God in Chaldea/Assyria, including Terah who lived to be in his 200s.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"City of God" XVI.10-11

Chapter 10:
We don't know much of the history of the City of God between Shem and Abraham--we know much more about the city of man and its wicked efforts to reach God through the Tower of Babel. Augustine gives us some very wise advice that I think can be applied to all of human history: "We ought to believe that at no time was the world without both kinds of men" (that is, believers and the reprobate). This is good guidance whether we're talking about the Genesis narrative, or the Middle Ages, or, well, any time in world history we wish to study.

Chapter 11:
Hebrew may have been the original language of mankind, given its association with the City of God in Abraham's time...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"City of God" XV.7-9

Chapter 7:
How on earth did animals get to the distant islands of the earth after the flood, especially the ones which people have not yet been to?
Augustine gives many different possible reasonings, but concludes that at the end of the day that's not really the point of the story. The point is that the ark full of animals points to a church saved in Christ composed of a wide variety of peoples.

Chapter 8:
What about genetic anomalies, or even monsters (the "Cynocephalae", for one)? Did they come from Adam, or from Noah? Are they signs that God didn't know what he was doing, or made a mistake, or isn't really in control at all?
Augustine says that we miss the point here. We see one person born with "freakish" traits and cry "monster!", when in reality we lack the wide-ranging perspective that God has which might very well mean that that person, in his proper place, adds to the overall beauty of creation. "The trouble with a person who does not see the whole is that he is offended by the ugliness of a part because he does not know its context or relation to the whole." One might think here of Cindy Crawford's mole. Moles are generally considered ugly aberrations and mars on one's beauty, but I don't know that I've ever heard anyone make that claim of Ms. Crawford...

Chapter 9:
We don't need to worry about men on the other side of the world--if there are even men there at all! Let's stick to what we know, and look for the City of God where we are. (And yes, Augustine does make some geographical and scientific errors here that get compounded in the Later Middle Ages, but we can hardly blame him for accepting the science of his time or for what later writers did with his work.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

"City of God" XVI.4-6

Chapter 4:
The Tower of Babel is a clear misunderstanding of how to reach God on the part of the city of man. They assumed that we could God physically, when in reality the means God has provided for reconciliation with Him is through humility. Not by raising ourselves up but by lowering ourselves to we come to see God.

Chapter 5:
When God "came down" to confound speech at Babel, this did not mean that He moved geographically, but rather that He stooped in dignity to move among men. This was part of the reason He was so angry at the idea of the tower, for He is everywhere and does not need to be built "up" to.

Chapter 6:
God speaks to His attending angels in a way different from that in which He speaks to us: namely, He doesn't have to dumb it down or filter in any way--He speaks and they obey.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"City of God" XVI.3

Chapter 3:
Augustine describes the children of Noah and lays out what little we know of them from Scripture.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"City of God" XVI.1-2

Chapter 1:
Does the City of God, in history, "continue unbroken, or [was it] so interrupted by periods of unholiness that not a single worshiper of the true God remained?"
Scripture is simply unclear between Noah and Abraham.

Chapter 2:
In the children of Noah, we see prefigured the City of God and the city of man, as well as a lesson on how to read Scripture in general [a lesson which I do not completely buy, but which is at least worthy of discussion]:
The object of the writer of these sacred books, or rather of the Spirit of God in him, is not only to record the past, but to depict the future, so far as it regards the city of God; for whatever is said of those who are not its citizens, is given either for her instruction, or as a foil to enhance her glory. Yet we are not to suppose that all that is recorded has some signification; but those things which have no signification of their own are interwoven for the sake of the things which are significant.  It is only the ploughshare that cleaves the soil; but to effect this, other parts of the plough are requisite.  It is only the strings in harps and other musical instruments which produce melodious sounds; but that they may do so, there are other parts of the instrument which are not indeed struck by those who sing, but are connected with the strings which are struck, and produce musical notes.  So in this prophetic history some things are narrated which have no significance, but are, as it were, the framework to which the significant things are attached.
The point of Scripture is to teach us what matters about God and His City--if there is anything there that seems superfluous, it is there to highlight what does matter. I would rather say that if there is anything there that seems superfluous, it is because we lack the wisdom/holiness to understand what it is trying to teach us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"City of God" XV.25-27

Chapter 25:
In this excellent little section on God's anger (reprinted below from CCEL), Augustine notes that God's anger is not the Lord losing control, but rather is His response to and punishment of sin. This is never disconnected from reason (even when focused on irrational animals), but rather is designed both to teach us about God and about what sin deserves and, presumably, give us a chance to repent when we hear that it's coming.
The anger of God is not a disturbing emotion of His mind, but a judgment by which punishment is inflicted upon sin.  His thought and reconsideration also are the unchangeable reason which changes things; for He does not, like man, repent of anything He has done, because in all matters His decision is as inflexible as His prescience is certain.  But if Scripture were not to use such expressions as the above, it would not familiarly insinuate itself into the minds of all classes of men, whom it seeks access to for their good, that it may alarm the proud, arouse the careless, exercise the inquisitive, and satisfy the intelligent; and this it could not do, did it not first stoop, and in a manner descend, to them where they lie.  But its denouncing death on all the animals of earth and air is a declaration of the vastness of the disaster that was approaching:  not that it threatens destruction to the irrational animals as if they too had incurred it by sin.
Chapter 26:
So when the anger of God was poured out on the world in a flood, God likewise provided us with a picture of His mercy in Noah and the ark, which is a picture of Christ and the church.

Chapter 27:
We must understand the story of the flood both as literally true and as being a picture of something higher than itself--namely of the destruction of the city of man and the salvation of the City of God.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"City of God' XV.23-24

Chapter 23:
In the giants and nephilim and other such creatures and beings and people as described in Scripture, we see on display all the characteristics valued by the city of man: power, size, sexual lust, and so on:
And it pleased the Creator to produce them, that it might thus be demonstrated that neither beauty, nor yet size and strength, are of much moment to the wise man, whose blessedness lies in spiritual and immortal blessings, in far better and more enduring gifts, in the good things that are the peculiar property of the good, and are not shared by good and bad alike.
Chapter 24:
God even sets the lifespan of those in the city of man, as we see when He gave the antediluvians a hundred and twenty years to live before He destroyed all but Noah and his family.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"City of God" XV.21-22

Chapter 21:
Even the structure of Genesis puts the emphasis on the heavenly city, rather than the earthly one-- the latter "begins and ends with a murderer," the former "begins with the man who hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God, for the invocation of God is the whole and highest preoccupation of the City of God during its pilgrimage in this world."

Again, both of these cities are under the sovereign rule of the Lord:
God fashions two kinds of pottery: the vessels fashioned by His wrath and fit only for contempt and the vessels made by His mercy and meant to be honored. To the former He pays in punishment the doom they earn; to the latter He bestows, as a gift of grace, a destiny they never could have deserved.
What's more, this division between the two cities is intentional on God's part:
God's purpose in this [division] is that the heavenly City, during its exile on earth, by contrasting itself with the vessels of wrath, should learn not to expect too much from the freedom of the power of choice, but should trust in the 'hope to call upon the name of the Lord God. 
Chapter 22:
The two cities, however, are mingled together in this world. We can discriminate between them by examining their different responses to beauty. The earthly city desires physical beauty. And while physical beauty is no bad thing--indeed, it is a gift from God-- it is not to be considered the most important kind of beauty. The most important kind of beauty, the love of which sets the heavenly city apart from the earthly one, is the love of virtue.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"City of God" XV.20

Chapter 20:
Why does the Bible even bother to tell us about Cain's line, if they're to be destroyed in the Flood? Basically, because of the type it provides of the relationship between the city of man and the City of God. Augustine presents several possible interpretations (some which he's already noted) of the reasons specific things are noted in the Scriptures. The big point, however, is that Cain's line represents sin and rebellion, while Seth's represents restoration and faith in God.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"City of God" XV.17-19

Chapter 17:
Adam, then, was the source of both cities--the one headed by Cain and his descendants (who have only a very limited family tree in Scripture, symbolizing their dedication to earthly peace and ownership of the passing world. The other headed by Abel and Seth, focused on the heavenly things, persecuted by the earthly city, and founded by "resurrection" of the soul by the hand of God. ("Seth," Augustine says, means "resurrection.")

Chapter 18:
In Abel, Seth, Enos, and Enoch, we see types of those who are brought into the Heavenly City by "the election of grace".
 Consequently no one ought to trust in himself that he shall become a citizen of that other city which is not dedicated in the name of Cain’s son in this present time, that is to say, in the fleeting course of this mortal world, but in the immortality of perpetual blessedness.
That is, we must not look to ourselves for the reason we are in the City of God--that is the nature of Cain's city. Instead, we must look to God Himself as the source of our salvation. This salvation will one day be fulfilled by our translation from this earthly city into the heavenly one, just as Enoch typified.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"City of God" XV.16

Chapter 16:
Obviously, the first men had to take their siblings and children as spouses, though this is denied to us now. "Just as this is the best thing to do when natural necessity compels it, it becomes all the more wicked when moral obligation condemns it."
Augustine gives us evidence of this:
This can be proved as follows. The supreme human law is love and this law is best respected when men, who both desire and ought to live in harmony, so bind themselves by the bonds of social relationships that no one man monopolizes more than one relationship, and many different relationships are distributed as widely as possible, so that a common social life of the greatest number may best be fostered.
That is, when there are only a few people in the world, we have to just love who we can as best we can. When the number grows, we are bound to go outside of our families to love others well.  "Thus, once there was no necessity for the old arrangement, it ceased to have any moral validity." Even custom and tradition get on board with this new state of affairs:
In general, custom has great power both in provoking and preventing the play of human passion. In this matter, custom keeps concupiscence in bounds and, therefore, any detraction from or destruction of custom is branded as criminal. Thus, unjust as it is to encroach, out of greed, on another's property, it is still more wicked to transgress, out of lust, the limits of established morals. 
 Thus, the foundation of the earthly city is certainly this act of marriage and child-rearing. Yet, the foundation of the heavenly City is regeneration:
The union of male and female is, then, so far as mortal living goes, the seed-bed, so to speak, from which a city must grow; but, while the city of earth needs only human generation, the City of heaven demands a spiritual regeneration to escape from the taint of the generative act.
 While Augustine perhaps puts too much of the weight of original sin on the sexual act, his point is still a good one. The physical and natural continuation of the human species is necessary to the flourishing of the city of man--just try having an underpopulated nation and see where it gets you! However, no one enters that way into the Kingdom of God. That comes by faith, which is the result of grace converting the soul away from self worship and to belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"City of God" XV.14-15

Chapter 14:
We should, however, trust most of the Biblical Genesis chronology. They knew what a "day" and a "year" were, and had the same sort as we do. We need not assume that a "900 year" life span really means a "90 year" one or anything of that nature.

Chapter 15:
Along with these longer life-spans, we should assume an appropriate adjustment of all the aspects of human life. That is, instead of puberty starting at 13, it starts at 130, instead of menopause starting in the, well, whenever it starts (I'm a dude, I don't have to know that stuff) it starts in the 500s, 600s, or 700s, or whatever. This maintains the same humanity that we've got while drastically increasing the available child-bearing years (I assume that gestation is still 9 months...)