Monday, June 30, 2014

"City of God" XIV.12-14

Chapter 12:
It may seem strange that Adam and Eve's sin was punished so severely that human nature itself was changed, yet on reflection this makes sense, given how easy it would have been for them to obey.

Chapter 13:
In fact, the external act of eating the fruit, tiny sin though it was, really reflected an internal sin that had already occurred. They had already committed the sin of pride in their hearts when their bodies took and ate of the fruit. "Our first parents, then, must already have fallen before they could do the evil deed, before they could commit the sin of eating the forbidden fruit."
This internal sin was the result of cutting themselves (and hence, all humans) off from God. When it seemed that they were being elevated by striving to be God, in reality they were being cast down--just as when we humble ourselves before the Lord we are raised up. "The reason for this is that holy lowliness makes us bow to what is above us and, since there is nothing above God, the kind of lowliness that makes us close to God exalts us."

Thus, humility is the key virtue of the City of God here on earth, while pride is the vice most associated with the city of man. "The one City began with the love of God; the other had its beginnings in the love of self."

Fortunately, God provides an "out." When we recognize our own sin (the Puritans would call this "conviction") and reject it, we have the chance to embrace the offer of salvation through the Gospel in faith.

Chapter 14:
Pride, however, resists this conviction because it tries to deny that there is a sin to be forgiven, or at the very least it tries to blame someone else for the sin (as Adam did Eve, and Eve did the serpent). Yet this in no way lessens our guilt before a Holy God.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"City of God" XIV.10-11

Chapter 10:
Was the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden the same that we will experience in heaven? We certainly know that they had no sin--it is entirely improper to think of them as being "afraid" of death. Such emotions did not yet exist. So in the sense of not being sinful, they were indeed the same.

Chapter 11:
Anticipating the Chronicles of Narnia, Augustine tells us that we shouldn't get caught up in what might have happened--we're not told that anyway. Instead, we have to filter our perspective through the lens of God's providence, predestination, and plan:
Our conception of the supernatural City of God must be based on what God foreknew and forewilled, and not on human fancies that could never come true, because it was not in God's plan that they should. Not even by his sin could man change the counsels of God, in the sense of compelling Him to alter what He had once decided. The truth is that, by His omniscience, God could foresee two future realities: how bad man whom God had created good was to become, and how much good God was to make out of this very evil.
God does not change His mind--such Scriptural expressions are figurative and there to help us understand God from a human perspective (Calvin would say that God is speaking to us in baby talk, at our level).

Again, this does not mean that God created evil--that comes from man only. Yet, even evil exists only by the permission of God, since it cannot exist without some good to leech off of. In that sense, we don't remove evil "by the destruction of the nature or any part of it." Rather, we need the freedom of the will that comes when man is touched by Divine Grace and restored to a relationship with God. "For that same reason that God's Son is our Savior He is also our Liberator." Liberator from what? From the punishment for our deception by Satan. And it was deception, because the unfallen man could not have directly exercised his will in sin, but had to be led by crooked paths into the action (first Eve, then Adam, and so they share the guilt but not the sin--Milton echoes Augustine in suggesting that Adam sinned so that he would not be separated from Eve).
"To summarize briefly: though not equally deceived by believing the serpent, they [Adam and Eve] equally sinned and were caught and ensnared by the Devil."

Friday, June 27, 2014

"City of God" XIV.9

Chapter 9:
Rather than getting caught up in the question of whether certain affections are moral or immoral, Christians are able to experience the full range of human existence because we have a properly oriented love:
Among ourselves, according to the sacred Scriptures and sound doctrine, the citizens of the holy city of God, who live according to God in the pilgrimage of this life, both fear and desire, and grieve and rejoice.  And because their love is rightly placed, all these affections of theirs are right.  They fear eternal punishment, they desire eternal life; they grieve because they themselves groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of their body; they rejoice in hope, because there “shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” In like manner they fear to sin, they desire to persevere; they grieve in sin, they rejoice in good works.  They fear to sin, because they hear that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” They desire to persevere, because they hear that it is written, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” They grieve for sin, hearing that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” They rejoice in good works, because they hear that “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” In like manner, according as they are strong or weak, they fear or desire to be tempted, grieve or rejoice in temptation.
And so on.

Even more, we feel this not only for ourselves, but for those in the church that we care for and for those whom we would like to see brought into the church. In this, we only follow the example of Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry. Not, of course that we do so perfectly, since in this life we are still touched by sin and given to disproportionate passions and desires. Nor do we expect the full range of these emotions and affections to extend to eternity, since in heaven all bad emotions will have been refined out of our glorified bodies. While we're here, however, we must live these as we are called to do: "But so long as we wear the infirmity of this life, we are rather worse men than better if we have none of these emotions at all." We must never value coldness or hardness for their own sake.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"City of God" XIV.8

Chapter 8:
There are philosophical divisions of the person into different faculties (emotions, will, reason, etc) with attending virtues--the Stoics especially develop these. While we may as Christians use these categories at times with some profit, we must not be terribly bound by them. What we must remember is that these are all defined (in terms of their value and morality) not in their own categories, but according to their use by the underlying human nature. Bad men, after all, can be joyful and sad--we therefore must not say that joy and sorrow are themselves good or bad.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"City of God" XIV.5-7

Chapter 5:
Again, we see that the true view of the human being is not that flesh = bad and spirit = good, but rather that "The flesh, in its own kind and order, is good. But what is not good is to abandon the Goodness of the Creator in pursuit of some created good, whether by living deliberately according to the flesh, or according to the soul, or according to the entire man, which is made up of soul and flesh."

Any other view of man or morality, Augustine says, comes from "human vanity and not from divine Truth." The Platonists understand this to some point, though again they confuse their categories and still fall short of the full truth. They know enough to condemn fully, but not enough to save.

Chapter 6:
The conclusion, then, is that the faculty of man which binds body and soul together must be of the highest importance. This is the will. Rightly oriented, "the emotions will not merely be blameless but even praiseworthy." If wrongly oriented, "the emotions will be perverse." Here we can see that Augustine agrees with Edwards (or perhaps Edwards agrees with Augustine, though from what I can tell Edwards had never read him) that the will and the affections are functionally indistinguishable and reveal which way our beings are oriented. Pursuing God, for example, results in delight in the good and true joy. Likewise, a properly oriented will enables us to engage with other men the way we ought--we become able to distinguish what God has done in creating them good from what they have done to themselves in rebelling against Him. We become able, as Augustine famously notes, to "hate the sin but love the sinner." To that end, it is our responsibility to encourage our fellow men to turn to God "for, once the corruption has been cured, then all that is left should be loved and nothing remains to be hated."

Chapter 7:
This rightly oriented will is what Scripture means when it talks about the right kinds of "love" or "charity." We don't need to get hung upon on the various words used for "love" in the Bible [and we certainly don't need to get hung up on them in Latin]. We need only to see that "the right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love." Augustine then gives several examples of how Scripture unites these two ideas--of the will and of love.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"City of God" XIV.3-4

Chapter 3:
We must not, like the Gnostics or the Manicheans, think that sin comes from the flesh. Rather, the flesh is sinful because the soul is sinful. "For the corruption of the body, which is a burden on the soul, is not the cause but the punishment of Adam's first sin. Moreover, it was not the corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful; on the contrary, it was the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible." We know this is true because the devil shares all the same sins that we do (albeit in greater form), yet has no flesh himself.

Chapter 4:
But what it is this sin of the soul? It is living to man rather than to God. "When man lives according to himself, that is to say, according to human ways and not according to God's will, then surely he lives according to a falsehood."
When we define ourselves as the chief end of our own being and existence, we find that we have fallen into sin. Our goal in living is always [as even the pagan Aristotle noted--no, Augustine doesn't point this out, but I'm teaching on Aristotle in the fall and it keeps coming up] happiness. "Man indeed desires happiness even when he does so live as to make happiness impossible."
This is one of the aspects of sin, and "the reason why every sin can be called a lie." It promises happiness while dividing us from the very source of happiness Himself--God. "For, when we choose to sin, what we want is to get some good or get rid of something bad. The lie is in this, that what is done for our good ends in something bad, or what is done to make things better ends by making them worse." We pursue goodness, because we know that virtue leads to happiness, but we pursue it in ourselves rather than in God, and so we get neither goodness nor happiness despite our best efforts at it. Hence we have two cities, the city of man which tries to find happiness within creation; and the city of God which tries to find happiness through faith in the Gospel. Again, we must not think of pursuing fleshly desires in a strictly carnal sense, but rather must realize that man as a whole being--spiritual and physical [if the word hadn't been appropriated by worse theology, we could say man as an "existential whole"]--is involved in this pursuit of happiness through sin and rebellion.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"City of God" XIV.1-2

Chapter 1:
Augustine recaps everything he has said so far, especially that God created mankind from two parents so that 1) we would all have the same nature and 2) we might be bound together "by the bond of peace... into one harmonious whole." And yet, because of sin death has appeared and become rooted in human nature. If not for grace, all of us "would have been hurled, by a just punishment, into a second and endless death had not some been saved from this by the gratuitous grace of God."

But, because some are saved, we can say that there really are only two "cities" in the world, despite the wide variety of "religion and morals, language, weapons, and dress." The city of man, which lives "according to the flesh" and is headed for destruction; and the City of God, which lives "according to the spirit and is bound for eternal life." Each city lives according to "its own kind of peace and, when they attain what they desire, each lives in the peace of its own choosing."
Again, we see the repeated theme that mankind is driven by love. In our natural state we love ourselves, sin, and death. Under grace, we love God. This is what at the end of the day divides man from man, and in a very real sense is the only division that actually counts.

Chapter 2:
But what does it mean to live "according to the flesh" as opposed to "according to the spirit"? We must not think of this in mere physical terms--"according to the flesh" does not mean we're condemning the Epicureans, who live only for their own stomachs (though we do condemn that). Nor does "according to the spirit" mean that we agree with the Stoics, who place the good of the soul above all other things.
Scripturally, "according to the flesh" means nothing more and nothing less than living according to human nature. In short, it is to live as if there were nothing higher or more important than man. In this sense, both the Stoics and the Epicureans live according the the flesh. Such a life is evidenced in the sorts of things Paul talks about in Galatians 5 (immorality, idolatry, etc). But! We must realize that such things are not just external, they are rather reflections of a sinful nature. When we remember that, then in some ways (as Paul talks about) even the virtues become signs of a sinful nature. For example, if a person believes that his idol has commanded him to be temperate in his diet, it might appear that he is exercising the virtue of self-control. Yet, even that virtue reflects the sinfulness of his heart, since he is doing it out of the wickedness of worshiping statues.
Living according to the flesh, then, is neither merely a practice of the body nor a delight of the soul, but rather both--an entire inclination of one's nature to embrace self-worship as the highest possible good. (The useful Puritan word for this is "affection", which includes--but is not merely--the idea of love.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

"City of God" XIII.24

Chapter 24:
In this lengthy section, Augustine discusses the question of what it means that God breathed His Spirit into Adam. It does not mean the same thing as when Christ sends His Spirit to the church, even though the language is similar. In conclusion, Augustine recaps the idea that the spiritual life of a Christian flows directly from God, while those who have lived in rebellion against God do live forever in a sense, but spend that eternity in misery in hell.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"City of God" XIII.22-23

Chapter 22:
While it's true that the spiritual nature will dominate the resurrection bodies of believers, it is not true that we shall have no body at all. Even Jesus ate after He was raised from the dead (and Augustine questions certain interpretations of the Apocryphal book of Tobit which suggest that spiritual beings eating is only an illusion).
Again, the life-giving force in these bodies is spiritual, but that does not mean that they are not also physical in nature.

Chapter 23:
In the new creation our bodies will be made fit for heaven, but not unmade from being composed of earth. This change comes when we are grafted by grace into Christ as our new head.
Now we bear the image of the earthly man by the propagation of sin and death, which pass on us by ordinary generation; but we bear the image of the heavenly by the grace of pardon and life eternal, which regeneration confers upon us through the Mediator of God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.  And He is the heavenly Man of Paul’s passage, because He came from heaven to be clothed with a body of earthly mortality, that He might clothe it with heavenly immortality.  And he calls others heavenly, because by grace they become His members, that, together with them, He may become one Christ, as head and body.
Thus we are changed from Adam's offspring and flesh into Christ's.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"City of God" XIII.19-21

Chapter 19:
Would Adam and Eve have died if they hadn't sinned? Augustine gives a resounding "no", since death is the penalty for sin and you can't have a penalty without a crime.

Chapter 20:
The resurrection does not pull our spiritual selves down to the level of our sinful flesh, it rather pulls our sinful flesh up to the level of our regenerate souls. This will be a more glorious existence even than Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden, even accounting for their immortality. This is because Adam and Eve, for all the glory and perfection of their nature, still relied for life on the fruits of the earth. Christians, on the other hand, currently do and will more perfectly in the resurrection bodies rely on God directly for our life.

Chapter 21:
Some people want to allegorize the Garden of Eden:
The trees and fruit-bearing shrubs are turned into symbols of virtues and ways of living, as though they had no visible and material reality and as if Scripture had no purpose but to express meanings for our minds. The assumption here is that the possibility of a spiritual meaning rules out the reality of a physical Paradise.
The problem is that this is one assumption too far. It's true that there is spiritual meaning (as we see Paul doing with the story of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians), but this does not preclude the possibility of a physical truth to the story as well.
But neither does the physical reality mean that there is no spiritual value. The Garden, for example, is a picture of the church, and "the four rivers are the four Gospels, the fruit-bearing trees are the saints... and the tree of life is, of course, the Saint of saints, Christ." [Here I think Augustine is getting a bit silly in his pushing the allegory, but still.]

The point is, such speculations are fine "so long as we believe in the historical truth manifest in the faithful narrative of these events." Which is a wonderful balance for a pastor to strike in his teaching.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"City of God" XIII.17-18

Chapter 17:
Even the (neo-)Platonists know that there must be some kind of immortal physical body. Their argument that it is the earth itself which is immortal does not allow them to escape their own objections that physical material is somehow sinful and wicked. Christians, on the other hand, understand that
To attain to blessedness, then, there is no need to be free of every kind of a body but only of those which are corruptible and irksome, burdensome and moribund, not such bodies as God, in His goodness, created for our first parents but only such as were imposed as a punishment.
Chapter 18:
We should never confuse physical size with condition. The existence of gravity shows us that there is more to the universe than we can see with our naked eyes. The Platonists accept this and understand that 'the lesser gods' can adapt the reality beyond what we can see, so much can God both reform that invisible substance and our visible substance when He brings us into glory.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"City of God" XIII.14-16

Chapter 14:
Although God has created all of us good (He is the "author of all natures, but not of their defects"), we have all sinned in Adam and so deserve the punishment for our sin. "Thus, from a bad use of free choice, a sequence of misfortunes conducts the whole human race, excepting those redeemed by God, from the original canker in its root to the devastation of a second and endless death."
In some ways, this can be intolerable to modern Americans--how dare we be judged for the actions of another? (We forget, of course, that this is exactly what happens in the Gospel, where Christ is judged for our actions...) But this fails to understand the true nature of a human being--we are not isolated individuals cut off from each other. We are better compared to a plant with Adam as our root. If the root is rotten, the whole plant is doomed no matter how bright the leaves. We need to be transplanted into a new root, which is what God does by grace to those whom He will save.

Chapter 15:
On his sin, Adam immediately experienced one kind of death--separation of the soul from God. Years later, he experienced a second, that of separation of the soul from the body. "Ultimately, it will be followed by a second one, unless, by God's grace, man is delivered from it."

Chapter 16:
Some philosophers ridicule the Christian idea that we can be both eternally happy and immortally bodied. Yet they fail to remember that the greatest of the pagan philosophers, Plato, believed exactly the same thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"City of God" XIII.10-13

Chapter 10:
We all have a set amount of time we will live, and from the moment we are born we are moving towards that moment of death. In a sense, in this life we can never be said to be alive at all, since we are always in the process of dying. True life, if there is such a t hing, can only come after this life and after the death which we owe.

Chapter 11:
When we combine our view of life and death with our view of time, some interesting things happen. We are "alive" when the soul is connected to the body, and we are "dead" when the two are separated. Yet, when we look at time we find that it is fluid rather than static, that "you try to lay your finger on the present, and cannot find it, because the present occupies no space, but is only the transition of time from the future to the past." Viewed like this, there is no real "moment of death," just a past when one was alive and a future when one will be dead.
This does not, however, give us leave to say that there is no such thing as dying. Rather than getting caught up in these philosophical obscurities (which are certainly interesting!), we ought instead to use the more common language--"speak in the customary way,—no man ought to speak otherwise"--and talk about death, before death, and life. Here, the Latin language is helpful, because it gives us different forms in which to speak about "death" [which I will not go into here--it's been far too long since I've spoken any Latin].

Chapter 12:
What kind of death did God give as punishment for our disobedience, that of the body or of the soul? "The answer is: every kind of death."
Death of the body is the separation of soul and flesh; death of the soul is being condemned to hell; "total death" is "one in which the soul, deprived of God but united to the body, suffers eternal punishment."
This is the fruit of rebellion against the Lord.

Chapter 13:
At the moment of rebellion, when Adam and Eve disobeyed, man died. We see this in their taking fig leaves (Augustine thinks they were just the first things at hand that could be used as clothes) and covering themselves up--a sign that the soul had lost its mastery over the body and required outside assistance in attempting to suppress the deadly desires of the flesh. ""From this moment, then, the flesh begin to lust against the spirit. With this rebellion we are born, just as we are doomed to die and, because of the first sin, to bear, in our members and vitiated nature, either the battle with or defeat by the flesh."

Friday, June 13, 2014

"City of God" XIII.5-9

Chapter 5:
Just as death is not good but can be used for good, so the Law is not evil but can increase evil in us. That is, the Law (which acts as a restraint on sin--the "second" use of the law) is not evil, but "increases an illicit desire so long as the love of and joy in holiness is too weak to conquer the inclination to sin; and, without the aid of divine grace, it is impossible for man to love and delight in sanctity."
We all know this is true: what is our instinctive reaction when someone tells us not to do something? To do it. Or, to use the example I use in the classroom, how do we behave on the roads? We all know that the general purpose of highway safety laws is to encourage us to drive safely. And yet, knowing that we ought to drive safely, few of us really put effort into doing so. And when we make those highway safety laws more specific, as say with an explicit speed limit, our guilt in breaking the general purpose of the law (safe driving) is amplified as we break the specific law in question (the speed limit). "Thus, a sinner or a sin, by reason of the commandment, might become immeasurably worse."

What we see overall is that ones relationship to the Law and to death is defined not so much by either of those things as by the state of our hearts:
The Law is good because it is the prohibition of sin; death is evil because it is the penalty of sin. Wickedness makes a bad use not only of evil, but also of good. In the same way, holiness makes a good use not only of good, but also of evil. Thus, sinners make a bad use of the Law, although the Law is good, while saints make a good use of death, although death is an evil.
Chapter 6:
Physical death--the separation of the soul from the body--"is not good for anyone." And yet, however terrible this process may be (and it is terrible--we must not romanticize the punishment for sin!), "if it is suffered with faith and piety, it increases the merit of patience... Although death is the punishment of sin, sometimes it secures for the soul a grace that is a security against all punishment for sin."
Again, the evil of death can be turned to the glory of God and the good of those who believe in Him.

Chapter 7:
Here, we have a partial correction to the previous problematic view of baptism in chapter 4: "those unbaptized persons who die confession the name of Christ... receive the forgiveness of their sins as completely as if they had been cleansed by the waters of baptism." Here we see that Augustine clearly understands that salvation has to do with the orientation of the heart, not the outward symbol of the Gospel (again, not to slight that symbol!). Even more, we know that such men who confess Christ are not "unbaptized" in the sense that they are unsaved--they are 'baptized' by the Spirit in their regeneration. That they have not been baptized by the hand of man has no bearing on their salvation.

Now, that said, denying Christ in the face of persecution is not necessarily the unpardonable sin. "If through fear of death they did deny Christ, even that sin could be canceled by the baptism which washed away even the heinous outrage of those who killed Christ." It is better to hold to Christ even in the face of persecution, but giving in to weakness and temptation is not a sign that one has not been regenerated by the baptism of the Spirit. The atonement is sufficient to cover even this sin, though we should not give into the sin but should instead understand that death has been defeated and that as believers through Christ the evil of death is not "something to be feared," but rather is "something to be endured."

Chapter 8:
After all, why should a Christian fear physical death when we will never face the true, second death? "His motive in facing a partial death is to escape total death and, above all, a death which is eternal." "Death," Augustine writes, "is good for no one, but it may become meritorious if suffered to retain or to gain some good."
When we look to a higher good than the good of continuing in this life--namely, the eternal life found in the presence of God--we find that death loses its sting.

Chapter 9:
It can be hard to pinpoint the moment of death, and even harder still to define "dying," since we're all moving towards the (temporary) separation of soul and body. It's perhaps just easiest to use conventional language and say that we recognize "dying" when we see it, usually by recognizing the pain that it brings on.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"City of God" XIII.1-4

Chapter 1-2:
We now have to speak of "death", which applies to mankind but not to angels.

Of course, in a sense man is immortal. We understand that man, soul and body, will live forever once he is created. That we die in the physical meaning of the word is a temporary situation for redeemed and reprobate alike. Which means that we have to ask exactly what it means that man "dies." This really applies only to the physical body, since the soul lives forever and the body (temporarily) disintegrates when God withdraws His sustaining power from it.
And yet, we also have to speak of a "total death for man, a death of body and soul, namely, when a soul, abandoned by God, abandons the body. In this case, the soul has no life from God and the body no life from the soul. The consequence of such total death is the second death..."

This death culminates when "soul and body are reunited, never to be separated again." But how can we speak of a body as "dead" if the soul is in torment but the body has not yet been resurrected? Well, that is a trickier proposition, but really we can talk that way because from the moment a person dies separated from God by sin, everything about that person's existence (both just as a soul and as a resurrected soul and body) is focused on pain. And we really can't talk about something as "life" if the animating force is nothing but suffering.
What's more, physical death can be a good thing: "It can be said of the first death, the death of the body, that it is good for saints and bad for sinners, but of the second that it is certainly good for no one and non-existent for the saints."

Chapter 3:
It is dangerous to say that death is "good for the saints", since death is clearly a punishment for sin. How can we say that a punishment is good? "Besides,if it could not have happened except to sinners, it should not even happen to the saints, let alone be good for them. For, why should those who deserve no punishment be punished?"
Augustine answers this by noting that had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have died. But their sin was so great that it echoes down through all of their progeny, along with their guilt. Which isn't to say that we ourselves aren't individually guilty as well--"No one was to be born of them who was less a sinner than they were." So great was Adam's rebellion "what was originally a penal condition for the first parents who sinned became a natural consequence in all their descendants."
This is because of the nature of the connection between human beings. As having sprung from the same parents, we share with them the same nature. (This also explains why Adam and Eve in their unfallen state could have different natures from the rest of us--they were made of dust, while we were made of them.) This is not to say that Adam was reset to childhood when he sinned, but that his nature was corrupted so much that "it suffers from the recalcitrance of a rebellious concupiscence and is bound by the law of death." So too with all of Adam's children, who share his nature. As Bishop Ryle said,
We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him - a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins - a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth-sin and the crushing effects of the fall. 
Even infants if they are in heaven (which Augustine does not here expand upon) are there not because they are sinless or innocent, but "through the grace of the Mediator Christ." The atoning work of Christ on the cross alone is the fount of salvation from our own rebellious natures. (I won't link to it, what with being too lazy to look it up, but Augustine has a wonderful passage in the Confessions where he talks about observing babies and what sinners they are, even before they can speak or communicate beyond a scream.)

Chapter 4:
But if we have grace, why do we even have to face physical death--the punishment for sin? Augustine gives a couple of reasons, first that (as he expands on in his treatise on baptism) salvation is by faith alone, and if we were to immediately receive the fulfillment of our hope, we could hardly call what saved us "faith"--it would be sight instead.
Likewise, Augustine (again, speaking as a pastor) invites us to wonder at the majesty of God who takes something as awful as the punishment of death and turns it to something good. Specifically, he turns it to something good for us and for His glory: "Who would not run to join the infants about the be baptized, if the main purpose of Christ's grace were to save us from bodily death?" Everyone would be on board with that, and we would have no way to distinguish the true believers from those who just wish to avoid physical death.*

Finally, and most importantly, what was once a mark of our shame and our sin and our rebellion against God has become a means of sanctification and a sign of obedience:
But now, by a greater and more wonderful grace of the Saviour, the punishment of sin serves the purposes of sanctity. In the beginning, the first man was warned: 'if you sin, you shall die'; now, the martyr is admonished; 'die that you may not sin.'.... Thus, by the ineffable mercy of God, the penalty of sin is transformed into the panoply of virtue and the punishment of the sinner into the testing of the saint... The saints choose to suffer for their faith what the first sinners had no choice but to suffer for their infidelity. The sinners would not have died unless they sinned; the saints will sin unless they die.
Not that we rush to embrace death like mindless fanatics! "This does not mean that death, which before was an evil, has now become something good." Rather, we understand that "God has rewarded faith with so much grace that death, which seems to be the enemy of life, becomes an ally that helps man enter into life."
The grace of God is so overwhelming that even death, the "last enemy to be destroyed", temporarily serves God as an ally in the salvation of His people.

*[And here we may note that Augustine's false view of baptism--and one quite at odds with his view of grace and salvation, though admittedly not at odds with his view of ecclesiology--trips him up a bit here. A more Biblical view of baptism understands that it does not regenerate, and so having to sort through who of the baptized are "true believers" and who are not has nothing to do with one's being dipped in water and everything to do with faith. Not that baptism is unimportant--let us never slight the ordinance commanded by our Lord!--but that we need rather to examine the faith of the person in the Gospel and its expression in love as the marks of salvation.]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"City of God" XII.26-28

Chapter 26-28:
God not only created us (we were not created by the angels), He created our bodies as well. Not as punishment as the neo-Platonists would have it, but as part of His will and His plan for creation.

[Note: You'll note that my numbering is off here. My fault entirely, I've not been good at keeping up which chapters in which edition go with which headings. Apologies for that, and hopefully things work themselves out in the next book.]

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"City of God" XII.22-25

Chapter 22:
We see in the creation of man a couple of points of interest to us. (Augustine does seem to believe in a historical Adam of some sort, but--as with the Genesis creation narrative that deals with the universe--at least in the beginning of his discussion he sticks with the theological and pastoral applications.) As already stated, God's creation of man was pleasing to God without changing His nature. Here Augustine adds that it was better that humanity came from one man than from many men. The nature of this creation teaches us that:

  1. Man's nature is "a mean between the angelic and bestial." That is, we are neither purely solitary (as some animals) nor purely communal (as others), but instead are individuals in a community with a choice. This choice, in turn, reflects the telos of man: if we choose to obey God, we become more like the angels and ascend to heaven without even dying along the way. On the other hand, " if he offended the Lord his God by a proud and disobedient use of his free will, he should become subject to death, and live as the beasts do,—the slave of appetite, and doomed to eternal punishment after death."
  2. Because we all spring from one man, our society comes not just from similar natures, but from "family affection." That the first woman was made from the first man just drives this point home, "that the whole human race might derive from one man." 
Chapter 23:
When God created man, He made us in His image. This was an act of His power and creativity, though not necessarily in a sense that we can understand by human analogy. Men must work with pre-made materials, even when we're creating something original. God, on the other hand, works and creates from nothing but His own wisdom and power. 

Chapter 24:
We must finally be done with atheists and Platonists, whom we dismiss as blasphemers and idolaters.

Chapter 25:
If we are to think in categories of Platonic forms, then God alone is the Creator of the forms themselves; all we can do is tinker with the appearances. God continually upholds the forms of all things by His creative power. If He were ever to withdraw this power, existence would "straightaway relapse into... nothingness." This is known as the doctrine of Occasionalism, later held by the Cambridge Platonists, the Catholic theologian Malebranche, and Jonathan Edwards. The idea is that creation is not something that God started and then stepped back from in any way. The Deists of course argued for a Divine origin and then abandonment of the cosmos. But Augustine and Edwards argue that not only does God not abandon the world at its creation, He is always engaging in the act of creation. 
All things, Edwards writes (418-419), 
are truly immediately created or made by God; so must the existence of each created person and thing, at each moment of it, be from the immediate continued creation of God. It will certainly follow from these things, that God's preserving created things in being is perfectly equivalent to a continued Creation, or to his creating those things out of nothing at each moment of their existence. If the continued existence of created things be wholly dependent on God's preservation, then those things would drop into nothing, upon the ceasing of the present moment, without a new exertion of the divine power to cause them to exist in the following moment. 
Anyone who has ever talked about being "dependent" on God and doesn't mean this, is to some extent being inconsistent, thoughtless or (presumably less often) dishonest.
If there be any who own, that God preserves things in being, and yet hold that they would continue in being without any further help from him, after they once have existence; I think, it is hard to know what they mean. To what purpose can it be, to talk of God's 'preserving' things in being, when there is no need of his preserving them? Or to talk of their being dependent on God for continued existence, when they would of themselves continue to exist, without his help; nay, though he should wholly withdraw his sustaining power and influence?
Where Augustine pursues the pastoral route, Edwards pushes the idea relentlessly to its logical conclusion:
It will follow from what has been observed, that God's upholding created substance, or causing its existence in each successive moment, is altogether equivalent to an immediate production out of nothing, at each moment. Because its existence at this moment is not merely in part from God, but wholly from him; and not in any part, or degree, from its antecedent existence.
Where you and I reflexively think of ourselves as continuing to exist from one moment to the next on our own steam, perhaps buoyed by the laws of nature, but still relatively independently, Edwards insists that we are recreated from one moment to the next by nothing less than the weight of God's creative power and will. We are not, as Satan in Paradise Lost suggested, our own creators, not even once we're born. At every moment we depend upon God's power, will, wisdom, and love to sustain us even in our being.

Monday, June 9, 2014

"City of God" XII.21

Chapter 21:
The idea of recurring cycles of existence is completely at odds with any conception of heaven as a place of eternal bliss. It would be cruel to pull someone from heaven and thrust them back into the sufferings and miseries of earth. To take from them the joys of the infinite radiance of God, and return to a life of sin and the possibility of hell is the worst thing one could do.
Again speaking pastorally, Augustine notes the devastation this idea has on one's hope:
For who would not be more remiss and lukewarm in his love for a person whom he thinks he shall be forced to abandon, and whose truth and wisdom he shall come to hate; and this, too, after he has quite attained to the utmost and most blissful knowledge of Him that he is capable of?  Can any one be faithful in his love, even to a human friend, if he knows that he is destined to become his enemy? God forbid that there be any truth in an opinion which threatens us with a real misery that is never to end, but is often and endlessly to be interrupted by intervals of fallacious happiness.  For what happiness can be more fallacious and false than that in whose blaze of truth we yet remain ignorant that we shall be miserable, or in whose most secure citadel we yetfear that we shall be so?  For if, on the one hand, we are to be ignorant of coming calamity, then our present misery is not so short-sighted for it is assured of coming bliss.  If, on the other hand, the disaster that threatens is not concealed from us in the world to come, then the time of misery which is to be at last exchanged for a state of blessedness, is spent by the soul more happily than its time of happiness, which is to end in a return to misery.  And thus our expectation of unhappiness is happy, but of happiness unhappy.  And therefore, as we here suffer present ills, and hereafter fear ills that are imminent, it were truer to say that we shall always be miserable than that we can some time be happy.
Fortunately, the truth stands against this error, and Christ has rescued us for real and from all danger of hell--in this life and for all eternity.

Having dismissed the idea of reincarnation and cyclical existence (which would include most modern scientific worldviews), Augustine briefly mentions the debate over whether the number of believers is set by God, or changes over time. He does not respond to this debate here, and only points out (again, pastorally) that in either case there must have been a point at which man was created. If man were eternal, we could never have such a debate. And it is to this creation which we are now to turn.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"City of God" XII.18-20

Chapter 18:
There was a time when man(kind) was not. Some philosophers argue that since God created man, and since God is infinite, and since an infinite God must always be creating, man must also be eternal. Besides, if there came a point when God made man, does that not imply a change at least in God's will? Clearly, these philosophers argue, there must be some kind of cycle on which the world operates in order to keep God unchanging and un-idle.
Augustine's reply is fantastic:
Even though reason could not refute, faith would smile at these argumentations, with which the godless endeavor to turn our simple piety from the right way, that we may walk with them “in a circle.”  But by the help of the Lord our God, even reason, and that readily enough, shatters these revolving circles which conjecture frames.  For that which specially leads these men astray to refer their own circles to the straight path of truth, is, that they measure by their own human, changeable, and narrow intellect the divine mind, which is absolutely unchangeable, infinitely capacious, and without succession of thought, counting all things without number.  
In other words, once again these philosophers are failing to take into account the nature of eternity as compared with finite time. We are trying to judge God as if He were a man. We see this especially in the idea (seemingly held by these philosophers) that God can be changed. In a way that does not apply to mankind (later theologians would call this one of God's "incommunicable" attributes), when God does something different it does not effect a change in His nature. Because He is already an infinite being, God can on one day create a universe, on the second day step into it Himself in the person of one of its creatures, and on the third day destroy that universe and be no less infinite than when He started. Unless we keep that in mind, we will always get caught up by man-centered philosophical arguments:
But in God the former purpose is not altered and obliterated by the subsequent and different purpose, but by one and the same eternal and unchangeable will He effected regarding the things He created, both that formerly, so long as they were not, they should not be, and that subsequently, when they began to be, they should come into existence.  And thus, perhaps, He would show, in a very striking way, to those who have eyes for such things, how independent He is of what He makes, and how it is of His own gratuitous goodness He creates, since from eternity He dwelt without creatures in no less perfect a blessedness.
Chapter 19:
Even infinite concepts, such as numbers, are known by God. In fact, when we remember that it is only relative to us as creatures and not to God as Creator that the infinitude of numbers is incomprehensible, this objection quickly disappears and the pastoral application of God's relationship to these sorts of categories becomes clear:
 But in God the former purpose is not altered and obliterated by the subsequent and different purpose, but by one and the same eternal and unchangeable will He effected regarding the things He created, both that formerly, so long as they were not, they should not be, and that subsequently, when they began to be, they should come into existence.  And thus, perhaps, He would show, in a very striking way, to those who have eyes for such things, how independent He is of what He makes, and how it is of His own gratuitous goodness He creates, since from eternity He dwelt without creatures in no less perfect a blessedness.
If God can know the infinite set of numbers which He has made (and Scripture clearly says that He can), then we see clearly 1) that He can care well for us, who are finite; and 2) that He is in no way dependent on His creation. "Numbers" rule God no more than we do--He is their sovereign because He is their creator (if we may speak of 'numbers' in such a way).

Chapter 20:
The final proof, however, against such a cyclical worldview, is the eternal life of believers. More on this in the next chapter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"City of God" XII.16-17

Chapter 16:
If God is "Lord", and if He is so eternally, does that imply that there have always been creatures for Him to be "Lord" of? And if so, are not creatures co-eternal with God? (Even if not always the same creature, just "creatures" in general.)
As stated in a previous book, we have to remember that "time" itself is also a creation, so in a sense it's improper to speak of creation as existing before "time", so there may very well have been a time before God created anything for Him to be Lord of. And yet, we might still think of there as having always been something or someone which God created out of nothing for Him to rule over, though we don't want to push this too far into speculation:
I return, therefore, to that which our Creator has seen fit that we should know; and those things which He has allowed the abler men to know in this life, or has reserved to be known in the next by the perfected saints, I acknowledge to be beyond my capacity.
Chapter 17:
What God has before time is His Word, which is truly eternal and which was spoken before time began. So God can promise a salvation which was from eternity past without getting us too caught up in the question of how we could have been promised salvation before we existed to be saved.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"City of God" XII.14-15

Chapter 14:
[Okay, I confess I've lost track of the discrepancy between the chapters in the different editions, so I'll be going with the Walsh edition for the remainder of this Book]

Some philosophers argue for an eternal cycle, and while this is true to an extent, it is not the whole truth. We do see in the events of this world (both natural and historical) a sort-of cycle, in which similar events happen, similar creatures are born in nature, and similar personalities develop, and so on. Yet, we also see that there is a transcendent realm in which there is no repetition, and those of us who (through Christ) are lifted up to it are raised above this cycle of death in the world into something lasting and permanent. So however much there may appear to be cycles in this world, it is never more than an appearance of the truth.

Chapter 15:
Besides, we as believers know that the human race had an origin and beginning, and that we are not eternal creatures going on forever in an endless loop. So much Scripture tells us.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"City of God" XII.10-13

Chapter 10:
Some people claim that man and the universe have always existed. When pressed about the invention of things that are obviously new (new developments in technology, founders of cities, and so on), the reply is that there was an intervening time of destruction when old technologies were lost and cities were destroyed, and that we live in an eternal cycle through which we return to the state of barbarism and rise to civilization. "Of course," Augustine replies, "all this is opinion, not science."

Chapter 10/11:
[Here there is a discrepancy in different editions of Augustine in the chapter numbering]
Augustine points out that the ancient chronologies of Egypt and Assyria are incorrect, and that only Scripture can give us the true nature of man's early history.

Chapter 11/12:
Whatever one thinks about the nature of the world's beginning--whether it was eternal, there are multiple worlds (parallel universes?), or just the one running in cycles, all are "forced to conclude that the human race arose without human procreation." That is, all theories must somehow deal with the idea of the origin of humanity outside of itself. Even if it is some kind of evolutionary cycle (though Augustine does not use that particular phrase), we must account for man's beginning.

Chapter 12/13:
Some people ask why man has been around for so short a time compared to how long creation appears to have been in existence--even angrily, as if God has somehow wronged us by His delay. Augustine points out that such arguments are pointless from the perspective of eternity, in comparison with which the distance between the creation of the universe and our creation as human beings (seemingly vast from our perspective) approaches zero. This of course is true when any finite something is compared with infinity, be however large the finite something may...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"City of God" XII.7-9

Chapter 7:
Therefore (as a result of everything in chapter six), we can't really speak of an "efficient cause of an evil will"--such is "like trying to see darkness or hear silence." This is not to say we can't know anything about an evil will, since of course we can know something about darkness and silence, but it is to say that we don't really have a "something" to know--"only the privation."

Chapter 8:
Therefore, God Himself can never do evil because He is in His nature "can never and nowhere be deficient in anything, while things made out of nothing can be deficient." God is the fullness of Being, while we are deficient when we reject this fullness and embrace instead some lesser good, and so become deficient in our natures. This is something we do to ourselves, "that is why the punishment which follows is just, since the defection was not necessary but voluntary." Augustine here is relentless in his condemnation of our fallen wills:
Thus, [for example] greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to gold; nor is lust a defect in bodies which are beautiful and pleasing: it is a sin in the soul of the one who loves corporal pleasures perversely, that is, by abandoning that temperance which joins us in spiritual and unblemishable union with realities far more beautiful and pleasing... In a word, anyone who loves perversely the good of any nature whatsoever and even, perhaps, acquires this good makes himself bad by gaining something good and sad by losing something better.
How much, then, do we deserve hell when we sin through what is good?

Chapter 9:
Augustine here restates the fact that an evil will is one which has turned away from God. He now asks how the good, unfallen angels managed to remain unfallen while their fellow angels turned to evil. Did they do something within themselves that gains them extra merit for the generation of a good will? Of course not, because if they didn't have the good will to begin with at their creation, they had an evil will (which, we should remember, is the absence of a good will). We must, then, conclude that God gave them an extra benefit, namely in order for them not to fall God must "first awaken in the will a greater longing for this union [with God] and then fill the will with some of His very Being in order to make it better." All angels, in other word, were made equally good and equally desirous of union with God, but some angels were given, for lack of a better phrasing, extra grace that they might more greatly desire union with God, and had that desire met. Others had sufficient desire, but chose to turn it in a different, evil, direction. (And yes, this is yet another unsatisfactory explanation--and Edwards' lengthy recapitulation of the argument isn't much better.)

Now, however unsatisfying this answer may be, Augustine's pastoral point is a good and true one: both unfallen angels and redeemed man are dependent for their state on the grace of God alone. It is this outpouring of God's love into the hearts of men and angels that unites us into "a single community, one City of God, which is also His living sacrifice and His living temple." Which brings us from the unfallen angels to mankind, to which Augustine now will turn.

Monday, June 2, 2014

"City of God" XII.4-6

Chapter 4:
When we talk of good and evil wills, we are not of course speaking of plants, animals, and the "natural" world, which lives and dies in accord with "the harmony of the universe." That there is change and decay in nature is no bad thing per se. In fact, it is simply it's place in the scheme of creation.
If the beauty of this order fails to delight us, it is because we ourselves, by reason of our mortality, are so enmeshed in this corner of the cosmos that we fail to perceive the beauty of a total pattern in which the particular parts, which seem ugly to us, blend in so harmonious and beautiful a way.
I would suggest that Augustine here is perhaps understating the effects of sin--there is ugliness in the death and decay of the animal world, though it is an ugliness that flows out of our rebellion, not theirs.
That said, Augustine's response is exactly the right one:
That is why, in those situations where it is beyond our power to understand the providence of God, we are rightly commanded to make an act of faith rather than allow the rashness of human vanity to criticize even a minute detail in the masterpiece of our Creator.
It is not our place to blame God for the violence of the natural world. Yet, even with this rough natural reality, we see a display of God's glory in His created handiwork. The ugliness of the plague of frogs by no means lessens the beauty of their place in the ecosystem. That fire can destroy, hurt, and kill does not detract from its beauty or usefulness. Our problem when we make such judgments is one of perception. When we look as humans with small and selfish eyes, we see a world that does not meet our standards. But when we look at God, we see the world recast as it really is under His Divine sovereignty and as it exists by His Holy will.

Chapter 5:
Thus, all of creation is good simply because a good God made it--everything that is has "its own measure of being, its own beauty, even, in a way, its own peace." What's more, when each does what it is assigned to do in the created order "it best preserves the full measure of being that was given to it." When plants and animals die, they are promoting the good of those beings that will live forever as they push history and life along its ordained path to its culmination in the City of God. They "follow the direction of Divine Providence and tend toward the particular end which forms a part of the general plan for governing the universe."
The conclusion from all this is that God is never to be blamed for any defects that offend us, but should ever be praised for all the perfection we see in the natures He has made.
If we do not see such perfection, that is our sinful eyes and not a defect in Him or in His good work in creation.

Chapter 6:
Augustine in this chapter takes on one of the most difficult and subtle problems in all of philosophy--the problem of the origin of evil in the will. (If you want to read the definitive work on this, Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will is the book to grapple with.)
Augustine begins by pointing out that the angels fell when they choose a lesser, dependent, and relative being (themselves) over "Him whose Being is absolute." This is the very definition of pride: elevating the unworthy over the worthy.
But how did they do this? It was an act of their wills, to be sure, but what was the cause of that act? "If one seeks for the efficient cause of their evil will, none is to be found. For, what can make the will bad when it is the will itself which makes an action bad?" We judge something as "evil" when it is done with a bad will driving it. If I electrocute someone with the intent of damaging them because I enjoy hurting people, we understand that is an evil action. If I electrocute someone with the intent of restarting their heart, we understand that is a good action. The virtue of the action is determined by the will that drives it.

But, if we ask ourselves "what caused that first evil willing?" If we assume that there was a prior act of evil willing, we quickly get lost in an infinite regression because we then have to ask "what caused the cause of the first evil willing?" Instead, Augustine has to conclude that there could not have been a "will" behind the first evil willing. (He also dismisses the possibility that a good will caused the first evil willing--"one would have to be foolish to conclude that a good will makes a bad will.")

But! We also cannot assume that the evil will has always existed: "If I am told that nothing made the will evil but that it was always so, then I ask whether or not it existed in some nature."
If the will was not tied to some nature, then it did not exist at all--there is no abstract, empty will floating around out there somewhere in the ether. The will is tied to existing beings and requires a nature to exist.
Likewise, the first evil will must have come from a good nature, since in order to be "evil" it must have done some damage: "it vitiated, corrupted, injured that nature, and, therefore, deprived it of some good." If the nature was evil to begin with, then an evil will would do it no damage, and as a result we couldn't really call it "evil." So either way, the evil will could not have existed from eternity past.

Therefore, Augustine concludes, "the only remaining suggestion is that the cause of the evil will was something which had no will." But this "something" must, by the rules of logic, be either superior, inferior, or equal to the will. If it is "superior, then it was better", and therefore must be good and could not force the will to turn to evil. The same is true if it is equal. Therefore, whatever this something is that corrupts the will must be some inferior thing.

Now, as we've already established repeatedly, everything that was created was created good--including this inferior thing that corrupts the will. Which raises the question: "How, then, can a good thing be the efficient cause of an evil will? How, I ask, can good be the cause of evil?"

Augustine's answer to these questions has become the definitive (if somewhat unsatisfying--to me, at any rate) Christian answer to the problem of evil:
For, when the will, abandoning what is above it, turns itself to something lower, it becomes evil because the very turning itself and not the thing to which it turns is evil. Therefore, an inferior being does not make the will evil but the will itself, because it is a created will, wickedly and inordinately seeks the inferior being.
That is, evil enters not in a thing that exists, but in an action that we take--an inclination of souls and mind that chooses a lesser good (still a good thing, since all of creation is good!) over God. And so in a sense, when we choose a lesser good--a part of creation rather than the Creator--we are ultimately choosing not to obey the mandate of our nature, but are rather embracing the nothingness out of which we are made and filling our souls with a vacuum bereft of goodness.

Again, the book to read here is Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will, in which he takes Augustine's idea and point by Scripturally relentless point drives home its implications for human anthropology. And if you've made it this far, here's your reward for patience/punishment for stubbornness: my short(-ish) summary of Edwards' work.