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(De Civitate Dei)
of Saint Augustine of Hippo
The original, squashed down to read in about 20 minutes
Augustine with his mother - painting by Ary Scheffer
(Hippo Regius, modern Annaba, Algeria, c420)
Jesus Christ laid down certain principles, but his teachings were made into a Religion by others - most notably Paul of Tarsus and, here, Augustine of Hippo. Amongst Western Christians, Augustine is considered the Patron of Religious Thinkers, a saint and doctor of the Church, his feast celebrated on August 28th. To the Eastern church he is the Blessed Augustine, remembered on the 15th of June. His 'City of God' is a vast work of some 22 volumes giving a Christian version of a philosophy of history.
For more works by St Augustine, see The Index
I. - THE ORIGIN OF THE TWO CITIES
I write, dear Marcellinus, of that most glorious City of God, both in her present pilgrimage and life by faith, and in that fixed and everlasting seat which she awaits in patience. I write to defend her against those who place their gods above her Founder - a great and arduous work, but God is my aid. I well know what power a writer needs who would show the proud how great is the virtue of humility. For the law of our King and Founder is this: "God is against the proud but gives grace to the humble"; but the swollen and insolent soul loves herein to usurp the divine Majesty, and itself "to spare the subject and subdue the proud." Wherefore I may not pass over in silence that earthly city also, enslaved by its lust of empire.
For it is from this City of the World that those enemies have arisen, against whom we have to defend the City of God; Romans, spared by the barbarians on Christ's account, are haters of the name of Christ. The shrines of the martyrs and the basilicas of the apostles received, in the devastation of the city, not their own people only, but every fugitive; and the fury and greed of the invaders were quenched at these holy thresholds. Yet with thankless arrogance and impious frenzy these men, who took refuge under that Name in order that they might enjoy the light of fugitive years, perversely oppose it now, that they may languish in sempiternal gloom.
Never has it been known, in so many wars as are recorded from before the foundation of Rome to the present day, that an enemy, having reduced any city, should have spared those who had fled to the temples of their gods; not even the Romans themselves, whose moderation in victory has so often been justly praised, have respected the sanctuary of vanquished deities. The devastation and massacre and pillage and conflagrations of the sack of Rome were nothing new. But this one thing was new and unheard of - these savages became suddenly so mild as to set apart spacious basilicas and to fill them with people on whom they had mercy; no one might be killed therein nor any dragged from thence. Who does not see that this is due to the name of Christ and to a Christian age? Who can deny that these sanguinary hordes were bridled by Him Who had said: "I will visit their sins with the rod, but will not take my mercy from them"?
All natures, because they exist and therefore have their manner and species and a certain peace with themselves, are good; and when they are in the places belonging to the order of nature, they preserve the being which they have received.
The truest cause of the felicity of the good angels is to be found in this, that they adhere to Him Who supremely is; and the cause of the misery of bad angels lies in this, that they have turned away from Him Who supremely is, to themselves, who have not supreme being. This vice has no other name but pride, which is the beginning of every sin. They refused to preserve their strength for Him, and so threw away that in which all their greatness consisted. It is vain to seek for an efficient cause for the bad will; we have to do, not with anything efficient, but with a deficiency. The mere defection from that which supremely is to things which are on a lower grade of being is to begin to have a bad will.
Now God founded mankind, not as the angels, so that even did they sin they should not die; but in such a way that did they obey, they should enter, without death, on a blessed eternity; but, did they disobey, they should suffer the most just penalty, both of body and of soul. For though the human soul is truly said to be immortal, yet is there a sense in which it dies when God forsakes it.
Only because they had begun inwardly to be evil did the first of mankind fall into overt disobedience. A bad will had preceded the bad action, and of that bad will the beginning was pride, or the appetite for an inordinate rank. To lift oneself up is in itself to be cast down and to fall. Wherefore humility is most highly of all things commended in and to the City of God, and in Christ her King; but the contrary vice of arrogance especially rules her adversary, the devil, and this is unquestionably the great difference by which the two cities are divided, and the society of the pious from the society of the impious. Thus two loves have founded two cities, the love of Self extending to contempt of God has made the City of the World; the love of God extending to contempt of Self has made the Heavenly City.
II. - THE GROWTH OF THE CITIES
This whole universal time or age, in which the dying give way and the newborn succeed them, is the scene and history of those two cities which are our theme. The City of the World, which lasts not for ever, has its good here below, and rejoices in it with such joy as is possible. The objects of its desire are not otherwise than good, and itself is the best of the good things of earth. It desires an earthly peace for lower ends, makes wars to gain this peace, wins glorious victories, and when victory crowns a just cause, who shall not acclaim the wished-for peace? These things are good indeed, and unquestionably are the gifts of God. But if, neglecting the better things, which belong to the supernal city, they covet these lower ends as if there were none higher, misery must inevitably follow.
All men, indeed, desire peace; but while the society which does not live by faith seeks its peace in the temporal advantages of the present life, that which lives by faith awaits the promised blessings, and makes use of earthly and temporal things only as pilgrims do. The earthly city seeks its peace in a harmony of the wills of men with respect to the things of this life. And the heavenly city also, or, rather, that part of it which travels in this mortality, must use that earthly peace while mortality remains. Living a captive life in the midst of the earthly city, it does not hesitate to respect its laws. Since this mortality is common to both cities, there is a concord between them in the things that belong to it. Only, the heavenly city cannot have common laws of religion with the earthly city, but has been forced to dissent, and to suffer hatred and the storms of persecution.
Therefore, this heavenly city, a pilgrim upon earth, calls out citizens from all peoples and collects a pilgrim society of all tongues, careless what differences there may be in manners, laws and institutions by which earthly peace is achieved and maintained, destroying none of these, but rather serving and fulfilling them. Even the celestial city, therefore, uses the earthly peace, and uses it as a means to the heavenly peace; for that alone can be called the peace of a rational creature which consists in a harmonious society devoted to the enjoyment of God and one another in God.
As for that uncertainty with regard to everything, which characterises the New Academy, the City of God detests all such doubting as a form of madness, since she has the most certain knowledge of those things which she understands by mind and reason, however that knowledge may be limited by our corruptible body. She believes also the evidence of the senses, which the mind uses through the body, for he is miserably deceived who regards them as untrustworthy. She believes also the holy Scriptures, which we call canonical.
It is no matter to the City of God what dress the citizen wears, or what manner of life he follows, so long as it is not contrary to the Divine commands; so that she does not compel the philosophers, who become Christians, to change their habit or their means of life, which are no hindrance to religion, but only their false opinions. As for these three kinds of life, the contemplative, the active, and that which partakes of both qualities, although a man living in faith may adopt any of them, and therein reach eternal reward, yet the love of truth and the duties of charity alike must have their place. One may not so give himself to contemplation as to neglect the good of his neighbour, nor be so deeply immersed in action as to neglect the contemplation of God. In leisure we ought to delight, not in an empty inertia, but in the inquisition or discovery of truth, in such a way that each may make progress without envying the attainments of another. In action we ought to seek neither the honours of this life nor power, since all that is under the sun is vanity; but only the work itself, which our situation enables us to do, and to do it rightly and serviceably.
According to the definitions which Scipio used in Cicero's "Republic," there never really existed a Roman republic. For he briefly defines a republic as the estate of the people - "res publica" as "res populi," and defines the people as a multitudinous assemblage, united by consent to law and by community of advantage. So, then, where justice is not, there can be no people; and if no people, then no estate of the people, but only of a confused multitude unworthy of the name of a people. Where no justice is, there is no commonwealth. Now, justice is a virtue distributing unto everyone his due. Where, then, is the justice of the man who deserts the true God and gives himself over to unclean demons? Is this giving everyone his due?
But if we define a people in another way, and consider it as an assemblage of rational beings united by unanimity as to the objects of their love, then, in order to ascertain the character of a people, we must ascertain what things they love. Whatever it loves, so long as it is an assemblage of rational creatures and not a herd of cattle, and is agreed as to the objects of its love, it is truly a people, though so much the better as its concord lies in better things, and so much the worse as its concord lies in inferior things. According to this definition, then, the Roman people is indeed a people, and its estate is a commonwealth. But what things that people has loved in its earlier and later times, and how it fell into bloody seditions and into social and civil wars, breaking and corrupting that concord which is the health of a people - of these things history is witness. Yet I would not on that account deny it the name of a people, nor its estate the name of a republic, so long as there remains some assemblage of rational persons associated by unanimity with regard to the objects of love. But in general, whatever be the nation in question, whether Athens, Egypt, Babylon, or Rome, the city of the ungodly - refusing obedience to the commandment of God that no sacrifice should be offered but to Him alone - is without true justice.
For though there may be an apparent mastery of the soul over the body, and of reason over vices, yet if soul and reason do not serve God as He has commanded, they can have no true dominion over the body and its passions. How can the mind which is ignorant of the true God, and instead of obeying Him is prostituted to impure demons, be true mistress of the body and the vices? Nay, the very virtues which it appears to itself to possess, by which it rules the body and the vices in order that it may obtain and guard the objects which it desires, being undirected to God, are rather vices than virtues. For as that which makes flesh to live is not flesh but above it, so that which enables man to live in blessedness is not of man, but above him.
III. - THE DESTINY OF THE JUST
Who is able to tell of the creation, with its beauty and utility, which God has set before the eyes of man, though here condemned to labour and sorrow? The innumerable loveliness of sky, earth and sea, the abundance and wonder of light, the sun, moon and stars, the shade of trees, the colours and fragrance of flowers, the multitude of birds of varied hue and song, the many forms of animals, of which the smallest are more wonderful than the greatest, the works of bees more amazing than the vast bodies of whales - who shall describe them?
What shall those rewards, then, be? What will God give them whom He has predestined to life, having given such great things to those whom He has predestined to death? What in that blessed life will He lavish upon those for whom He gave His Son to death? What will the state of man's spirit be when it has become wholly free from vice; yielding to none, enslaved by none, warring against none, but perfectly and wholly at peace with itself?
Who can say, or even imagine, what degrees of glory shall there be given to the degrees of merit? Yet we cannot doubt that there will be degrees; and that in that blessed city no one in lower place shall envy his superior; for no one will wish to be that which he has not received, though bound in closest concord with him who has received. Together with his reward, each shall have the gift of contentment, so as to desire no more than he has. There we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise. For what other end have we, but to reach the kingdom of which there is no end?
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● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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