Wednesday, June 22, 2005

City of God

Recently read St. Augustine's City of God. It's a pretty good workout; my impression is that I've only sampled something, without having enough time to properly consider his wide-ranging discussion. Augustine's takes on human nature, the meaning of eternal life and eternal punishment, within an explication of the "meaning" of history. He writes of all human history as a single narrative. It's also a work of Biblical exegesis, as Augustine treats Scripture as a historical document. For Augustine, creation is good, creation exists in time and has a history. Indeed, since God enters into history to show man His love, history itself is sanctified, through the City of God.

The book contains the parallel histories of what Augustine terms the City of God and the City of Man, both descended from Adam. The City of Man is founded on murder (specifically fratricide, the murder of a brother, viz. Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus). The City of Man has been deceived and debased, fallen under the sway of pagan gods, which appear to be either demons or, at best indifferent or benign spirits that are mistakenly worshipped.

Augustine wants to explain the ways of God to man, but he does this from some humility, expressing his speculation in doubt. City of God also shows Augustine to be interested in the goods of Greek and Roman philosophy and rhetoric and in purging the negative elements of these while and Christian revelation. He's always intent on removing the possibility of gnostic/Manichaean distortions of Christian texts, such as St. Paul's admonitions not to "live according to the flesh" but rather "according to the spirit." Augustine is clear that this does not mean disdain for the body, but that one should refuse to live according to human ways, and consent to live by God's will.

Again, there's no way to give an adequate summary of a book like this, but it is surprising readable (if voluminous). I'm sorry I waited as long as I did to read it.
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