Thursday, April 17, 2014

"City of God" VIII.22-23

Chapter 22:
At the end of the day, we must worship no one and nothing other than God--not even spiritual beings who appear to be above us.

Chapter 23:
Nor can we worship idols, even if we think they are a means of approaching spiritual beings:
 And I know not how he has become so bewildered by that “darkening of the heart” as to stumble into the expression of a desire that men should always continue in subjection to those gods which he confesses to be made by men, and to bewail their future removal; as if there could be anything more wretched than mankind tyrannized over by the work of his own hands, since man, by worshipping the works of his own hands, may more easily cease to be man, than the works of his hands can, through his worship of them, become gods.  For it can sooner happen that man, who has received an honorable position, may, through lack of understanding, become comparable to the beasts, than that the works of man may become preferable to the work of God, made in His own image, that is, to man himself.  Wherefore deservedly is man left to fall away from Him who made Him, when he prefers to himself that which he himself has made.
The works of our own hands, as you can find pretty much anywhere you care to look in Scripture, are not to be worshiped. I've mentioned before that we are often quick to spiritualize these sorts of passages (I make an idol out of food/work/whatever), and that Augustine (along with most of the church fathers) offer a good corrective to that tendency. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't talk about idolizing work at all, just that such is not the primary meaning of "idolatry." That meaning involves using statues and images in worship, and is strictly forbidden for Christians. How, Augustine asks, can we ever hope to worship God through items made by human hands? Such is the mark of an unregenerate heart and someone on a slippery slope back towards the errors of paganism.

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