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...)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"City of God" XV.13

Chapter 13:
When we find discrepancies in our texts and translations, we may apply a critical approach in a spirit of charity. That is, we should assume honest mistakes rather than malice or intent on the part of authors and copyists. (Though of course if we do find evidence of such malice, we should be honest about that too!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

"City of God" XV.10-12

Chapter 10-12:
Again the problem of the age of the antediluvian peoples is a sticky one. Discrepancies between the Septuagint and the Hebrew texts raise questions about the proper age of these individuals, especially Methuselah, who by one count may have actually survived the flood! The main point is that there were enough people around who lived long enough to actually do the things that Scripture attributed to them. We don't need to get tricky with our math to make up for otherwise improbable events and occurrences.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: "Books" by Larry McMurtry

Imagine three separate books:
1) Stephen King writing about his time teaching high school, in which the narrative involves him going into each teacher's classroom, discussing exactly one thing that will be covered in class that day, and moving on to the next classroom with the previous teachers never mentioned again.
2) A world famous potter who decides to take up selling crockery as well as making it, who then writes a book about all of the other famous (well, "famous") pottery salesmen that he has interacted with, what pieces he bought from them, and other good deals he made in the business.
3) Donald Trump writing a reflection on his time in the business world in which absolute no mention is made of his own wealth or success, other than the occasional oblique reference (i.e. "When my chauffeur moved out we used his room as a guest bedroom," or some such). 
Now imagine these three books are all one book written by a Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winning author writing about being an antiquarian bookseller, and you've got a loose understanding of Larry McMurtry's Books. Books is most certainly not a book for everyone. In fact, if it weren't as well-written as it is (hence the three stars it gets on Goodreads), it would be unreadable. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be nothing more than self-indulgent tripe. In McMurtry's hands, it takes a subject that most people care absolutely nothing about--that is, the selling of rare and expensive books--and turns it into a fairly quick and innocuous read.
And, well, that's the best that can be said about it. Lucidly written with short chapters, other than the occasional personal reflection or comment about a usually-not-very-well-known personage, there really isn't much here of interest. Again, it is well written and by no means painful to read. I just can't bring myself to care about selling antique books.

The stacks at "Booked Up", McMurtry's store in Archer City, Texas.

And that may be part of the problem--selling antique books is selling books as objects, not as books. To be fair, McMurtry seems to also like books as books, that is, as a reader. But it's still off-putting. When I worked in a bookstore (in the now-defunct Borders chain), whenever anyone would come in and say "I want a book that looks good on a coffee table," I'd have to bite back the response "and I want you to get out of my store!" Don't get me wrong, books as objects certainly have their appeal. I love the feel and the smell and the general idea of sitting with a hefty, well-made book while drinking coffee and reading. And now I want to do that. Be right back...

[Later]

Where was I? Right, books as objects. Yes, I am glad that not all books are mass markets (though I would love it if all books were mass market prices!). And I do love used bookstores--my wife and I hit a number of them whenever we go on vacation. It will certainly be a cold day in hell before I voluntarily switch over to eReaders! But with that said, I also cannot stomach the idea of paying $40,000 for a book. (I forget which one that was, but there were a number of them.) The information in it may or may not be worth that much--we'd certainly pay at least that to get a copy of, say, Aristotle's lost work on comedy, or a rediscovered Shakespeare play--but that is not usually what people are spending money on. They're buying books the same way that collectors buy coins or stamps (they still do both of those things, right? at least I didn't go with pogs...). And books simply are not coins or stamps, they're books. Their contents have value that is greater than their physical structure, and to pay that much for the physical structure of a book when the contents are available cheaper elsewhere, well, again, that's off-putting to me. I can't help but suspect that such people have failed to understand the true value of literacy.

Okay, end rant. Again, I do not think this applies to Larry McMurtry, he at least does seem to enjoy both reading and writing (though his reading tastes and mine are vastly different, and I suspect that never the twain shall meet).

So, should you read this or not? Well, I'd say that if you find it like I did (used for less than a dollar), pick it up and skim through it. The vignettes are occasionally interesting enough to be worthwhile, even if the whole isn't as interesting as it could have been. What you probably should not do is pay full price and use it as decoration on a coffee table. Because then I will have to fight you.

"City of God" XV.8-9

Chapter 8-9:
Augustine discusses the long lifespans of the antediluvians and their accomplishments in building cities and generally establishing civilization. This is possible, he argues, because 1) their lifespan was longer and 2) their size was greater. We know this because we can see their bones around to this day. Any pagans who want to take issue with that had best disbelieve Homer and Virgil too, since they likewise argue that men were once much larger in size.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"City of God" XV.6-7

Chapter 6:
Nothing so far is to say that the City of God is full of perfect people--"even good men can be sick, suffering from that disobedience... which is the penalty of a primal disobedience which, therefore, is a wound or weakness in a nature that is good in itself."
Thus, we have to be "growing in grace and living by faith during [our] pilgrimage on earth." This is why God has given us His Word, to help us walk through this world growing in holiness and grace. This is the "medicine" we receive "during [our] pilgrimage on earth while praying for the peace of [our] heavenly fatherland"--that along with the holy Spirit, who works within this internal medicine of the Word.
All told, Augustine has a wonderful doctrine of sanctification on display here--we hear the Word preached externally, and it is applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit: "Even though God makes use of one of His obedient creatures [the preacher]... it is only by His interior grace that He moves and rules our mind."

This is how, as we pass through this world, we can begin to tell citizens of the Heavenly city from citizens of the worldly one. Christians pass through this world with God at work in their hearts, yearning more and more for an increase in the application of the Word and the arrival of the peace of heaven, either by our getting there or by Christ's return.

Chapter 7:
Nor is this to say that the city of man is left without a word from God. Even Cain was warned, and he sinned anyway, both in his bad sacrifice and in his refusal to heed God's warning, and of course in the murder of his brother.
Here we have the very heart of the earthly city. Its God (or gods) is he or they who will help the city to victory after victory and to a reign of earthly peace; and this city worships, not because it has any love for service, but because its passion is for domination. This, in fact, is the difference between good men and bad men, that the former make use of the world in order to enjoy God, whereas the latter would like to make use of God in order to enjoy the world--if, of course, they believe in God and His providence over man, and are not so bad as those who deny even this.
What Cain should have done, Augustine says, is sacrificed again, this time the right way: "he should have made a change in himself in order to imitate his brother." Instead, he worshiped himself by giving in to sin: first envy, then anger, then finally rejection of God's Word and murder. Cain gave in to his passions and fleshly appetites rather than submitting to God. This desire to serve our own flesh is likewise what God curses Eve with, and "was the founder of the city of earth." 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"City of God" XV.3-5

Chapter 3:
Ishmael and Isaac are pictures of the city of man and the City of God. Yet God is sovereign over both of them, Ishmael by nature and in the city of man, Isaac by grace and the promise and in the City of God.

Chapter 4:
The city of man is fleeting and will be punished, "nevertheless, while history lasts, it has a finality of its own." Despite the fact that it seems to be always at war with itself, in fact it pursues peace and what it believes to be the highest good. This highest good is pride, which is the source of all contention and war in the world and the source of the lust for power and domination.
For all this, we say that civilization is a good thing: "It is wrong to deny that the aims of human civilization are good, for this is the highest end that mankind of itself can achieve.... The things of earth are not merely good; they are undoubtedly gifts from God."
Yet, even as peace is pursued misery is the result, since the peace in question is pursued through war, domination, pride, and all manner of sin.

Chapter 5:
Even the origins of the city of man have to do with sin, as Cain killed his righteous brother Abel. Why should we be surprised that the whole long history of man is so sordid and wicked? It was founded in blood and will continue in blood until it finally receives its deserved punishment. Until then, the city of man will hate the City of God simply for being what it is: "the root of the trouble [between Cain and Abel] was that diabolical envy which moves evil men to hate those who are good for no other reason than that they are good."
This is seen to be especially wicked when we realize that good is something that can be shared with no diminishment [compare this to the first part of Augustine's On Christian Doctrine, where he makes the same statement about Scripture interpretation]. Cain then gains nothing by slaughtering Abel, though he could have had the goodness at no cost to Abel and great benefit to himself. "What is more, goodness is not merely a possession that no one can maintain who is unwilling to share it, but it is one that increases the more its possessor loves to share it." Abel, Augustine assumes, would have delighted to bless his brother with the truth and been the better for doing so.
So we have the wicked fighting the wicked, and the wicked fighting the good; and because of continuing indwelling sin, we likewise have the good sometimes fighting the good [I like to think that Augustine has the Donatists in mind here]; how much more should we long for the City of God, where true peace will be established!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series Volume 2, Augustin "City of God" and "Christian Doctrine"

So I have to begin with a confession of cheating. Not the sort of cheating that makes me go apoplectic on my students, more the sort of "cheating" where I resolve to memorize five Bible verses a day and sometimes only do two, one, or none. Basically, my goal has been to read one volume of the Church Fathers in the Schaff/Robertson set in order over every school break (i.e. two per year). Overall, this should take me about 18 years if I stay on track.



This particular summer, however, saw the birth of my first born. And rather than try to keep up with the amount of reading of a 19th century translation necessary to finish a volume in a timely manner while trying to change diapers, I decided to skip ahead to the volume containing Augustine's City of God and On Christian Doctrine. This is because I'm currently in a group reading through City of God in a year (linked below) already, as well as having read it before--and On Christian Doctrine is fairly short. Which means that instead of two months worth of reading, I have a few paragraphs a day all year and a few days of ~10 pages/day over the summer (recently finished, hence the review).

The downside of this shift is that I've broken the order--I should have been on Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5, Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novation, Appendix. (I'm particularly intrigued by the Church Father named "Appendix," who I assume either wrote short essays only loosely related to the subject, or was a physician specializing in useless body parts...) Instead, I've had to jump ahead to the volume that is most easily finished in the time available and hope that I'll be able to get back on schedule this fall. Fortunately, God is forgiving...

Anyway, on with the (short) review!

City of God:

No review here of City of God, partially because reviewing a masterpiece like this is far beyond my abilities, and partially because I'm currently blogging through it (but not "reviewing" it in any strict sense of the term) with Collin Garbarino. And you should too.
The best I can do here is quote from the introduction to this volume:
Some who have read the opening chapters of the City of God, may have considered it would be a waste of time to proceed; but no one, we are persuaded, ever regretted reading it all.  The book has its faults; but it effectually introduces us to the most influential of theologians, and the greatest popular teacher; to a genius that cannot nod for many lines together; to a reasoner whose dialectic is more formidable, more keen and sifting, than that of Socrates or Aquinas; to a saint whose ardent and genuine devotional feeling bursts up through the severest argumentation; to a man whose kindliness and wit, universal sympathies and breadth of intelligence, lend piquancy and vitality to the most abstract dissertation.
So take up and read, ya lazy bum!

On Christian Doctrine:

This "little" (for Augustine, at any rate) book covers two main subjects: how to read Scripture, and how to explain it to others.

In terms of how to read Scripture, we need to have the right tools at our disposal. Specifically, this means that we need to know 1) what Scripture is about ("things"), and 2) how Scripture teaches us ("signs"). What we find when we read Scripture correctly is that it is about the Triune God and how man is only at peace when in a proper relationship with Him. "We have wandered far from God; and if we wish to return to our Father's home, this world must be used, not enjoyed." In Scripture we find the truth about us, that we are sinners; the truth about God, that He is holy and has opened up the way of salvation for us; and the truth about salvation, that we will only ever be truly satisfied when we find our peace with God.
The "signs" Scripture uses are varied so that the maximum number of people may have access to the things, though all of them require some level of dedication if we want to understand them. Great care must be taken both to grow wisdom (Augustine provides a seven-step path, including 1) fear; 2) piety; 3) knowledge; 4) resolution; 5) counsel; 6) purity; 7) wisdom), and avoid false interpretations. In general, Augustine seems to say that we should go with whatever method best helps us to rightly understand Scripture, even if we have to steal our method from non-Christians.

In terms of how to explain it to others, we are to use rhetoric, but not rely on it. That is, we are to make Scripture clear, attractive, and practical, without falling into the trap of mere sophistry. We should always ultimately rely on the substance of the Bible rather than our own rhetorical ability, but we should also develop our rhetorical ability so any defects in our speaking don't get in the way of the substance we're trying to convey.

Overall, this is an excellent little piece and well worth the short time it takes to read.

"City of God" XV.1-2

Chapter 1:
This book will set out the history of the two cities from the beginning to their end (which will be discussed at the end of City of God).
Both cities are paralleled in Cain and Abel--the one of the city of man and the other of the City of God. We all start out in the city of man and the stock of Cain, but can be bought through regeneration in Christ into the City of God and the family of Abel:
The fact is that every individual springs from a condemned stock and, because of Adam, must be first cankered and carnal [a better translation here is 'wicked and worldly'], only later to become sound and spiritual by the process of rebirth in Christ.
This transition from the first city to the second is one that comes directly from God, as He by grace transforms us from wicked vessels into holy ones, who have no home in this world but (as Abel) long for the heavenly City of God.

Chapter 2:
Yet, it is not as if the heavenly City has no place on earth-- "A shadow, as it were, of this eternal City has been cast on earth, a prophetic representation of something to come rather than a real presentation in time. Yet this shadow" despite being just a symbol is still real. We see this over and over in Scripture as the authors write about how this heavenly City defines us and shapes our actions now. We see the community of the City of God being gathered even in this world not necessarily in visible form, but active enough that its "presence serves as a shadow of the heavenly City." The former city is shaped by nature, "flawed by sin" and includes the whole world. The latter City is shape and built only by grace.