I was going to read City of God over the summer, but as I was packing I realized that bigger books are a lot harder to pack, and so I took a few smaller ones instead. I finished it a few nights ago, and here’s some thoughts, quotes, and a summary (it’s a long summary, but it’s a whole lot shorter than 1091 pages!).
1. Augustine is very thorough. Which, if you were a Roman pagan who was against Christianity, the thoroughness would break down most of your strongholds of thought. To an American Christian reader, it was sometimes a little too much information. But, Augustine covers many aspects of different arguments for and against Christianity. He spends a while on the Roman gods and beliefs and shows how utterly useless their gods are and how often contradictory their religion is. He also tended to go on lots of tangents, which were often interesting but made the book a lot longer.
2. Because of his thoroughness, I skimmed a fair bit, so there may have been a few things I missed, but for the most part Augustine is quite biblical. I don’t agree with his position on baptism – that was the main disagreement I have that I found in City of God – though I’ve heard his view on justification wasn’t all scriptural – I kind of see that with his thoughts on baptism. Basically he thought that baptism was a part of salvation and you had to be baptized to be saved (unless you died right after you were saved, then it didn’t matter).
3. Some of his statements were profound, especially in his history of the City of God on earth. He made a lot of parallels between the OT and Christ and the church that I never would have thought of. For example, God’s rejection of Saul and placing David on the throne is a type of God rejecting Israel as His chosen people and instead the church becomes His people. Another type of this is Jacob and Esau.
One thing that really blew my mind was a poetic prophecy by a pagan Sibyl that was about Christ and that was an acrostic for Iesus Christus (and some more, I can’t remember it all).
Augustine’s explanations of predestination were very helpful, too, how we have the free will to choose but we’re so depraved we can’t choose Him without Him calling us first.
The book is divided into 2 parts – the first is apologetic, the second is about the cities of God and men. The first book is 10 books and the second, 12. Each book had a fair number of chapters – mostly short, which made it easier to read.
In the first book, Augustine discusses common grace, suicide, justice, and mercy. He notes that all men have received grace from God, but many use those very graces to profane His name. They were spared by Him in the many calamities that befell Rome, but instead of worshiping, they now profane Him. He wrote about terrors that befell people and how even a violation of purity wasn’t cause for suicide – and that violating chastity without the will’s consent isn’t a violation of character. He concludes that suicide is a sin because it despairs of God’s mercy. It’s a lack of endurance. Consider Job.
In the second book, he discusses disasters in Rome and how they were often blamed on the Christians, even though there was disaster in Rome before Christ was known there. He writes of the immorality of the ‘gods’ and how men followed their example. He asks ‘what merit have these gods, to bring men to worship them?’ The job of the gods was to keep calamity away. Why worship immoral gods who are powerless?
In the third book, Augustine wrote about physical terrors in Rome. He asked, ‘how can the gods be angry at men’s adultery when they do it themselves?’ Another question that stood out was when he asked ‘what glory is there in armed combat between a mother city and daughter?’
The fourth book was more of Roman disasters. He asked, ‘is grandeur great when the subjects of a city aren’t happy?’ He responded to pantheism by saying that if god is everything and in everything, then God is corrupt because man is. He pointed out that felicity isn’t a goddess as the Romans believed, but rather, a gift of the Most High God – worship the Joy-giver, not joy.
In the fifth section Augustine talked about destiny. Greatness is not a chance, destiny, or stars, but providence. Stars give notice of events, but don’t cause them. He discredited astrology by saying that twins are born under the same stars yet are very different in many ways. We have a false sense of choosing; God caused and foreordained everything. The honor of men isn’t worth much; men bestow it on the unhonorable. The citizens of the City of God are useful below.
The point? False gods are unworthy, the true God is worthy.
In book six, Augustine discusses and refutes a man named Varro, answering one of Varro’s works. He asked how if the gods give no hope on earth, how can they give hope for the afterlife? Augustine shows the silliness of worshiping such gods.
In book seven, he discusses who’s who among the gods, and suggests we worship the Creator rather than the creator. He contrasts 4-faced Janus with Christ, the only way.
In book eight, Augustine spends a while talking about Plato’s philosophies. It was all very logical in a way that I loved following, especially that if a philosopher is a lover of wisdom, and God is wisdom, then a true philosopher loves God. He traced the history of philosophy with Aristotle and Socrates, then got to Plato. In many ways Plato agrees with Christianity – God is creator yet uncreated, the wise man knows, loves, and imitates God. Morality is not just body, but mind and body. There are many parallel theologies, but in the end Plato is polytheistic. And a quick point: Don’t worship what you don’t want to be like.
“… the seeker after wisdom will only attain to happiness when he has begun to enjoy God. To be sure, it does not automatically follow that a man is happy, just because he enjoys what he has set his heart on; many are miserable because they are in love with things that should not be loved and they become even more miserable when they enjoy them. But it remains true that no one is happy without the enjoyment of what he loves. … the true philosopher is the lover of God, since the aim of philosophy is happiness and he who has set his heart on God will be happy in the enjoyment of Him.”
Book nine is spent on demons, and what they are. Many Romans believed we couldn’t communicate with the gods because we’re so far below them, but demons are the mediators (Augustine later refutes this by saying that demons aren’t like either men or gods so they can’t mediate. On the other hand, Christ is both God and man). Either that, or they were considered bad gods. Some call angels good demons, but we abide by the language of scripture. They stir the passions of the soul. Augustine discusses how in the Christian, passions are for training and not to excuse sin. You can do the emotion without being affected by it – feeling is a choice. Plato discusses how our words are too poor to define God. Augustine says that the more like Him we are, the nearer we are to Him, and vice versa. Demon actually comes from the word ‘knowledge.’
In book ten, Augustine discusses why men worship the gods and how they do it. Is worship for ourselves ofr the gods? ‘Religion’ comes from the Greek relegre – which means to re-elect. Augustine talks about sacrifice, how we’re to sacrifice only to YHWH, and it’s a symbol of what’s required – He doesn’t need our stuff but desires us to give self for Him (Psalm 51:18). And a profound statement – God opposes some miracles that greater ones might be done. Miracles inspire and instruct, and arouse worship. Small sacrifices are a symbol of Christ, the supreme sacrifice. Signs of salvation God’s way are all over.
Summary of the first half:
Books I-V: The object is to refute that gods do good in this life.
Books V-X: the object is to refute that gods do good in the afterlife.
(Can you see his tangents?)
Into the second half, which is meant to discuss the histories of the City of Man and City of God.
In book eleven, Augustine discusses creation. He notes that there was no night during creation week, because the darkness of sin was not yet there. When God said something was good, He wasn’t discovering information, but communicating its goodness. Evil arose from choice, not nature. The temporal is meant to be used more than enjoyed. Irrational beings are for loveliness and structure. It’s not enough to know what’s good, you must know it. Six is the number of perfection – it’s the sum of its parts. Seven is completeness, sanctification by rest, not work.
Book twelve opens with a discussion of happiness, which Augustine says truly comes from clinging to God. The dangerous is useful when rightly employed. Lust is not a problem of beauty but of the soul. If you adjust what you do to your current strength, you’ll fade.
Death is the main topic of the thirteenth book. Augustine says the soul dies when it’s abandoned by God. All sinned in Adam because the seed of all men was in Adam when he sinned. Also, the sin altered human nature. Death is the glory of those reborn. Death in hell is the death that never dies.
“… For what we mean by eternal life is the condition of unending felicity. If the soul lives in the eternal pains with which the unclean spirits themselves will be tormented, that is not eternal life, but eternal death. The greatest and worst of all deaths is where death does not die. Now since the soul, being created immortal, cannot be deprived of every kind of life, the supreme death of the soul is alienation from the life of God in an eternity of punishment.”
Augustine says in book fourteen that except for grace, all would die the second death. Putting man’s highest in the flesh or the mind is wrong – whichever extreme you choose. He discusses our influence on our emotions, which are a mix of choice and nature. He asks, too – what does happiness mean if you’ve never had pain? Even evil is turned to good account. A paradox: Exaltation is a fall (Proverbs 18:12). We put fornication as a worse sin than anger, but it’s not so.
In fifteen, Augustine begins to discuss some of the contrasts between the City of God and City of Men. There are two types of people: those who live by man’s standards, and those who live by God’s. It’s the flesh versus the promise, Hagar versus Sarah, Cain versus Abel. Augustine deals with the lifespan of antediluvian man, the number of offspring of people, sibling marriages. In cities of man, there’s generations, in the City of God, there’s regeneration. The ark represents Christ, our savior. These shadows aren’t merely historical, but they’re not merely allegorical, either.
The sixteenth book continues to trace the City of God on earth. He talks about how Esau’s rejection and Jacob receiving the blessing – the older serving the younger – is a type of the nation of Israel being replaced by the church (he doesn’t continue to say exactly what he means by this. In my opinion, the church is now God’s chosen people, but Jews can enter just the same as any other unbeliever). Moses is a type of Christ because he left ‘heaven’ of the palace to save his people.
Book seventeen continues this train of thought. Samuel and Eli are another type of Israel being exchanged for the church, Eli being Israel and Samuel being the church. Saul is another example of this. Augustine makes many more parallels between Old Testament events and prophecies and Christ and the church.
In book eighteen, Augustine begins to discuss the history of the city of man. This got really tedious as it was a lot of ‘this person lived when this was happening in the Bible and this king and this king and this king….” He noted that faith is strengthened by heresy, because it solidifies belief and weeds the church.
Book nineteen seems to be a jumble of thoughts. If truth is hidden, human judgment is rotten. The aim of war is peace. Justice is found where God rules.
Book twenty begins a discussion of the punishment of the soul, and end times. He spends a long while on the antichrist, mostly refuting people who were saying after a certain number of antichrists the world would end and other things like that. The saved are deprived of life only to receive it straight away. Augustine also looks at old testament prophecies of judgment day, and the huge rift between the godly and ungodly.
The twenty-first book discusses the punishment of the wicked. If you can desire, you can hurt. Some things must be believed without rational proof. He wonders if hell is material or immaterial. We’ve no right to criticize God’s judgment, because it’s just. Hell is NOT purification, and you can’t escape from it even by the intercession of the saints. If you claim to follow Christ, but live in worldliness, it shows that Christ isn’t really your foundation. If we love others for His name’s sake, we can’t love them more than Him.
The final book dealt with heaven. Here I wish Augustine had spent less time on what our bodies would be like and more on God. I felt that he really neglected to talk about the ruler of the City and focused on us a little much. The city of God is eternal – not just that the city will never end, but its citizens will also be eternal. Heaven is truly seeing God and true Sabbath rest.
“And now, as I think, I have discharged my debt, with the completion, by God’s help, of this huge work. It may be too much for some, too little for others. Of both these groups I ask forgiveness. But of those for whom it is enough I make this request: that they do not thank me, but join with me in rendering thanks to God. Amen. Amen.”
And one quote I couldn’t fit in anywhere: “A city is [not] fortunate when its walls are standing when its morals are in ruins.”
And one of my favorite quotes ever, which is actually from Augustine, though I didn’t see it in City of God: “”Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in Thee.”