Friday, August 8, 2014

"City of God" XVI.36-37

Chapter 36:
Yet again, we learn allegorically from the actions of the patriarchs. Specifically here, we learn from Isaac--even from his mistakes--about marriage and contentment:
We may also learn this, not to compare men by single good things, but to consider everything in each; for it may happen that one man has something in his life and character in which he excels another, and it may be far more excellent than that in which the other excels him.  And thus, according to sound and true judgment, while continence is preferable to marriage, yet a believing married man is better than a continent unbeliever; for the unbeliever is not only less praiseworthy, but is even highly detestable.  We must conclude, then, that both are good; yet so as to hold that the married man who is most faithful and most obedient is certainly better than the continent man whose faith and obedience are less.  But if equal in other things, who would hesitate to prefer the continent man to the married?
It is interesting to see how the Christian view of marriage has shifted, mostly thanks to the Reformation. It used to be assumed that the truly holy path was to remain single and serve God in chastity (though not so much in isolation--hermeticism was never really endorsed).  Today, we assume the better path is that of family life, and that the way to best serve is in the home. I can see merits to each side, though I might have a slight preference for the latter.

Chapter 37:
In Jacob and Esau, we see how God chooses the lesser over the greater and the younger over the older, despite the world's contrary expectation.
We also see here an example of the limitations of Augustine's hermeneutic:
 But what is the blessing itself?  “See,” he says, “the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord hath blessed:  therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:  let nations serve thee, and princes adore thee:  and be lord of thy brethren, and let thy father’s sons adore thee:  cursed be he that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations.  It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled.  Isaac is the law and the prophecy:  even by the mouth of the Jews Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood.  The world like a field is filled with the odor of Christ’s name:  His is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples:  His is the plenty of corn and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of His body and blood.  Him the nations serve, Him princes adore.  He is the Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews.  Him His Father’s sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for He Himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh.  He is cursed that curseth Him, and he that blesseth Him is blessed.  Christ, I say, who is ours is blessed, that is, truly spoken of out of the mouths of the Jews, when, although erring, they yet sing the law and the prophets, and think they are blessing another for whom they erringly hope.
While everything Augustine says here is true, I think it's a stretch to interpret it quite this way. The blessing of Jacob as a type to all nations is probably true and a good read, but "Isaac is the law and prophesy" is starting to stretch it a bit much. And when we get to "His is the blessing of the dew of heaven", well, I think Augustine might have overreached a bit.
Still, by and large an excellent section!

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