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.

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