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.

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