Augustine Project Week Twenty-Three

This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.

City of God 12.21–13.13.

12.21 is one of Augustine’s longer chapters. He argues that it is blasphemous to think of an endless cycle of ages in which souls alternate between misery and happiness. He uses Christian arguments, but he also turns the Platonists own arguments against them.

This philosophical discussion is the background to his discussion of the special creation of man.

12.22–24. Man’s creation is special. God made humans halfway between the beasts and the angels. Augustine conceives of a creation in which God created multiple individuals of each kind of animal, but when it came to making humans, he only made one pair. This reinforces the idea that all men are brothers. Showing the extent of sin, Augustine notes that though we are all brothers, humans treat each other worse than the animals treat each other.

Note Augustine equates the Image of God with the possession of a rational soul.

12.25. Augustine clarifies that angels do not create. This reinforces the idea that only the one true God deserves worship, an idea that Augustine discussed at length earlier in City of God.

12.26–28. Here at the end of book twelve, Augustine wraps up his discussion of creation. In book thirteen he will begin discussing the Fall.

God is the creator of both body and soul. Augustine uses Platonic categories to talk about this creation, but he begins with Christian presuppositions. These Christian presuppositions lead him to conclusions different from the Platonists.

Humanity began with one man, Adam. Even his wife, Eve, was derived from him. Augustine believes that this doctrine teaches the unity and harmony that God intended for his people. He hints that this teaching has an even deeper theological meaning that he will address later. In book twenty-two, Augustine says that Eve being taken out of Adam symbolizes the fact that the Church finds its source in Christ.

13.1–4. Much of this book discusses the Fall and death.

Augustine claims that there are two kinds of death, God’s abandonment of the human soul and the human soul’s abandonment of its body. Additionally, humans might experience two death events. Everyone suffers the first death. The second death will be experienced by the wicked on the Day of Judgment.

Augustine talks a bit about the baptism of infants and absolution from sin, and he encourages the reader to pick up his book on that topic. For Augustine, infant baptism is a secondary doctrine. The primary doctrine is that all humans are born with a sinful nature. The promotion of infant baptism was one of Augustine’s strategies in his fight against Pelagius who taught that humans were born morally neutral. Infant baptism was far from the norm at this time. Augustine, Ambrose, and Gregory of Nazianzus all had Christian parents (although Augustine only had one), but all were baptized as adults. Augustine’s doctrine paved the way for broader practice of infant baptism.

13.4 exhibits Augustine’s typical rhetorical delight for turning things on their head. This notion that Christianity inverts the fallen order should be familiar by now.

13.5–9. Augustine explains that death is still objectively evil, even if God and his saints can turn it to good purposes. Augustine speaks specifically about the martyrs here.

This passage seems to be a mild rebuke of Ambrose’s De Bono Mortis. A generation before Augustine started City of God, Ambrose wrote a small book claiming that Christians should view death as a good thing because it frees people from a sinful body. The book is heavily influenced by Platonic ideas. Augustine respects Ambrose too much to call him out by name, but he disagrees with him now and again on a number of topics.

Also, Augustine specifically says that God’s grace can even cover a denial of Christ in the face of persecution. He probably mentions this because the Donatist sect in North Africa split with the Catholics over the issue of what to do with Christians who had lapsed in the persecution. The Donatists wanted to treat them more harshly than the Catholics did. Augustine spent much of his career as a bishop trying to end the schism.

13.10–11. Augustine meditates on death and how we talk about death. He attempts some philosophical precision, but then admits that its best to conform our speech to normal usage and the usage in the Scriptures.

13.12–13. Augustine begins to discuss how this death was applied to the first sin.

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