Saturday, November 1, 2014

"City of God" XXI.7

Chapter 7:
We don't need to believe the wonders of each and every report that we hear, we know enough of them are true by first-hand account that we can be amazed that the God that rules over all nature. (We should be especially suspicious of things we read about but cannot confirm by experience.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

"City of God" XXI.6

Chapter 6:
Besides, look at all the wonderful things we human beings can do that, if explained to someone who has no exposure, seem incredible. (And of course, how much more true must this be in our modern world of wonders than even in Augustine's advanced day?)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"City of God" XXI.5

Chapter 5:
Yet more marvels of the physical world are found in books, which relate things far beyond what we would otherwise have access to by personal experience. We believe when we hear of the wonders of India, which is strange and far away. Will we be skeptical then about the claims of Scripture concerning the resurrection and the last judgment?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"City of God" XXI.4

Chapter 4:
Augustine walks through a number of examples of unique physical characteristics that seem improbable (and indeed probably are from a modern perspective), but which nevertheless suggest that God can create a body that can endure whatever He wishes it to. "The truth is that God, who has endowed things with such a marvelous variety of marvelous qualities that their multitude no longer astonishes us, can give to the substance of flesh that qualities requisite for existence in the world to come."


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"City of God" XXI.1-3

Chapter 1:
The last book looked into the Biblical promises of life and joy for the City of God. This book looks at the promises of destruction and hell waiting for those who continue in rebellion. (The last chapter will look to heaven itself.)

Chapter 2:
It's hard enough to believe in resurrection, let alone resurrected bodies that will be able to suffer for eternity. This is contrary to the evidence of those animals (a worm specifically) which currently live in fire--are we not better than worms?

Chapter 3:
We know that it is possible to suffer eternal pain, because there are those in this life who suffer pain but who do not die from it. How much more will that be the case with a resurrected body?

Monday, October 27, 2014

"City of God" XX.30

Chapter 30:
Many, many other passages could be quoted, but that would take too much time.

One of the problems that we have to deal with is the question of who is meant by "The Lord God" when the OT says that "The Lord God" will do something. Is it Christ? Is it God the Father? Is it the Holy Spirit? These answers are not always obvious. Yet, in texts concerning the "last day," Augustine says that generally Jesus is who is meant, and gives a number of proof-texts with interpretations in defense of this position.

In conclusion to this book, Augustine writes:
In connection with the last judgment, therefore, we who believe can be sure of the following truths: Elias the Thesbite will return; the Jews will believe; Antichrist will persecute the Church; Christ will be the Judge; the dead will rise; the good will be separated from the wicked; the world will suffer from fire, but will be renewed. Of course, what we believe is the simple fact that all these things are to be; but how and in what sequence the events are to occur we must leave to future experience, which alone can teach these truths so much better than human intelligence can at present understand.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Roman Emperors: Categorization

So a colleague and I have been kicking around the idea of teaching an "Ancient Roman Politics" class, which means that I've been trying to catch up on my Roman government readings. These are of course few and far between, since the Romans (like modern Americans) weren't really great political thinkers. They were great soldiers, engineers, lawyers, architects, and all other manner of practical occupations, but when it came to being philosophical, well, that was best left to the Greeks.


Anyway, that's an aside. While reading a book about the Roman Empire, I tried to piece together some kind of outline of Roman Emperors. The question is, how do we classify the various kind of Emperors? I don't mean in terms of good vs. bad Emperors, I mean in terms of some kind of unified philosophy of political rule? What kinds of capabilities did the Emperors bring to the administrative table, and what did their rule in general look like?

Unfortunately, the infographic doesn't easily transfer over from Word (no doubt someone with better technological capabilities than me could do it), but this is what I've come up with:

  • Republicans (ruling as exemplars of ancient virtue): Augustus through Marcus Aurelius
  • Tyrants (ruling as kings, for personal profit/pleasure/personal virtue--this one might need some work): Commodus through Elagabalus
  • Military Dictators (ruling as generals first, administrators second): Septimus Severus through Numerian
  • Administrative Bureaucrats (ruling as organizers and unifiers): Diocletian through Theodosius
  • [Western Empire] Puppet Rulers (ruling under the thumb of others, usually a general or staffer, sometimes a barbarian monarch): Honorius through Romulus Augustulus
  • [Eastern Empire] Caesaropapists (ruling church and state alike): Arcadius through Constantine XI
Obviously this is an imperfect list. The "Tyrants" category, for example, implies that there were no good emperors in that stretch, which I'm not sure is the case. Maybe "Autocrats" would be better? The idea is more that the language of the Republic has disappeared, even if the actual style of governing had not changed all that much within the Empire. Instead of pretending to be "Princeps" ("First Citizen"), they were now openly "Imperator."

And of course two of the last three do not account for the rise of Christianity, which has to fit in somewhere. By the time of Diocelation's efforts to consolidate the Empire--including by stamping out dissenting religions--the Christians as a political force have to be accounted for when thinking about the Emperor. In that sense, "What is the Emperor's relationship to minority cultures in the Empire?" becomes a key question. (This would apply to barbarians as well as believers.)

Finally, I'm not at all satisfied with my characterization of the Eastern Empire, but this is a result of my ignorance. I just don't know that much about the Byzantine Emperors, though I suspect that a similar pattern to the one traced out above might apply.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"City of God" XX.27-29

Chapter 27-28:
When thinking about the last judgment, we have to remember the proper role of the Law. Namely, it is a spiritual role. We are not just judged because we fail to outwardly obey the commandments, we are judged because we are inwardly rebels and hate God.

Chapter 29:
The coming of Elijah [i.e. John the Baptist] announces the salvation that will come through Jesus.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"City of God" XX.25-26

Chapter 25-26:
When the OT (Augustine speaks here of Malachi) talks about the last day, the deliverance of God's people through it is discussed in terms of the sacrifice of a repentant heart. The same is true for us, though we don't want to get too caught up in the specifics of typology. Instead, we just need to say that Christ is the only reason anyone is delivered through judgment into heaven.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"City of God" XX.24

Chapter 24:
Even the Psalms get in on the apocalyptic act. Again, Augustine's point is that the message of the Psalms is in harmony with the rest of Scriptures. He especially argues against Porphyry, who seems to have claimed that the Christians were really just heretical Jews who didn't know their own pedigree.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"City of God" XX.22-23

Chapter 22:
What does it mean to say that those in heaven see the punishment of the wicked? Admittedly, it is disturbing to us to think of those in heaven triumphing over those in hell as they are in conscious, eternal torment (just ask someone--Christian or non-Christian--what they think the most off-putting part of Christianity is and see if they don't say the doctrine of eternal punishment). Augustine suggests that it's not so much that the redeemed in heaven actually see the punishment of the reprobate, as it is that they know that it's going on and admit the justice of it.
If anything, Augustine is a bit light here. I think it's probably better to say that the saints in heaven will see with refined sight. That is, one of the reasons we struggle with the idea of non-Christians spending eternity in hell is that we have too light a view of sin. We tend to think that it's not so bad, and that the idea of eternal punishment must be overkill. When we remember that it is rebellion against a perfectly holy and infinite God it's easier to see the true desserts of our moral wickedness. And of course as believers we see this every time we look at the cross--that is what we deserved, and what all who reject Christ will receive.

Chapter 23:
Augustine says that if you want to know more about the Antichrist as explored in Daniel, you should read Jerome's commentary (part of which is found here). Jerome was responding to Porphyry, who had argued that Daniel was actually a later author writing during the Maccabean period anachronistically (much like the contemporary historical critical school would argue) rather than during the Persian period prophetically. Augustine's point is that Daniel is in line with other apocalyptic writings of Scripture.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"City of God" XX.21

Chapter 21:
Even the Old Testament (Augustine here is dealing with Isaiah) anticipates and prophecies the last judgement and the doom that awaits the unbelievers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"City of God" XX.20

Chapter 20:
What does it mean to say that all believers will be resurrected, but also that those who are alive will Christ returns will meet him in the air? Augustine says that there is some mystery here, but the key thing to remember is:
The manner in which this shall take place we can now only feebly conjecture, and shall understand it only when it comes to pass.  For that there shall be a bodily resurrection of the dead when Christ comes to judge quick and dead, we must believe if we would be Christians.  But if we are unable perfectly to comprehend the manner in which it shall take place, our faith is not on this account vain.  Now, however, we ought, as we formerly promised, to show, as far as seems necessary, what the ancient prophetic books predicted concerning this final judgment of God; and I fancy no great time need be spent in discussing and explaining these predictions, if the reader has been careful to avail himself of the help we have already furnished.
Just because we do not perfectly understand the mystery does not mean that the mystery is false. Which would be a wonderful way to conclude a discussion of eschatology, but Augustine has more to say on the subject.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"City of God" XX.18-19

Chapter 18:
Augustine discusses Peter's treatment of the end of the world, and explains that when the world burns the flames will not harm us, because we will be in the heavenly presence of God.

Chapter 19:
When Paul writes of the antichrist in 1 Thessalonians, he doesn't exactly mean the Roman Empire, instead he means the great deceiver who will come at the end and lead people astray immediately before Christ returns.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"City of God" XX.15-17

Chapter 15:
When the dead are resurrected from the sea, death, and hell, the idea is not that God lost them in each of these places and had to go find them. The idea is more that He knows exactly where everyone is even after death, even if they're lost at sea and even if they're in hell. God is sovereign over everything, so we need not fear someone escaping the last day.

Chapter 16-17:
When we think about the new heaven and the new earth, we should think about a place of unchanging joy (which is why there is said to be "no sea" there--there is none of the chaos that marks the ocean). What's more, this shall be a place of joy and peace, with no sorrow or death and where the saints shall dwell in eternal life in the direct presence of God Himself.