Augustine Project Week Twenty-Four

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 13.14–24.

13.14–15. Augustine discusses the condition of man after the Fall. Adam sinned, which brought death to himself and all his posterity.

Augustine returns to themes that he’s already discussed at length in City of God. When he discussed the fall of the demons, he already talked about how a good will can pervert itself, so he only has to allude to it here. He’s already covered the idea that the human soul is not preexistent, so it’s simple for him to point out that all humans have a fallen nature because they derive from Adam. And his idea that the act of forsaking God is a kind of death is related to his idea that sin is the encroachment of non-existence into existence, which he discussed earlier. Many discussions that seem tangential are actually part of the greater argument.

13.16. This chapter begins a section in which Augustine discusses how Christians ought to view earthly bodies. He emphasizes the importance of the body, and idea that was lacking in the philosophers as well as many Christian bishops. It’s still a doctrine that Christians often neglect.

13.17–18. In these chapters, Augustine addresses some of the concerns of the philosophers about the human body. How is it that an earthly body can live forever? How is it that an earthly body could live in the heavenly realms?

Augustine uses Plato’s Timaeus, which was written almost 800 years before, as his interlocutor. Augustine shows that Christians are not ignorant of classic philosophical thinking on the body. His method here is consistent with other places. Embrace the philosophers where one can, but reject their ideas that are inconsistent with Scripture.

13.19–20. Augustine talks about humanity’s first bodies and how these differ from restored bodies of the future state. These future bodies will be perfect because they will be perfectly subjected to the spirit. Our current bodies subject our spirits to the passions of the flesh, which is the reverse of how Augustine thinks it should be.

13.21. In this chapter, Augustine defends both the spiritual interpretation of the creation account and its historicity. The historicity is not negotiable for Augustine, but the historical record can give rise to multiple valid and spiritually beneficial interpretations.

Many modern-day people claim that Augustine would embrace a form of theistic-evolution because of his interest in science. Passages like this one suggest otherwise to me. We’ve also seen Augustine be critical of the philosophical science of his day. It’s not that one cannot argue against science. It’s just that one ought to know the science before attempting to argue against it.

Augustine demanded a historical garden with a historical Adam and Eve. I’m not sure it’s profitable to speculate about what Augustine would believe today, but we can explore what he did believe and whether his arguments are still compelling.

13.22–23. What kind of bodies will Christians have post-resurrection? Augustine argues that Christians will have spiritual bodies, which will differ both from present bodies and the body of Adam prior to the Fall.

Augustine must speculate some in these passages, but he tries to tie his speculations to the teachings of Paul. Augustine believes that the spiritual body will differ from Adam’s original body in that the spiritual body will be wholly dependent on the spirit. Adam’s pre-Fall body depended on food.

Gaining this spiritual body is part of the process of being fashioned into the likeness of Christ, who, Augustine reminds us, rescued people from the second death by God’s grace.

13.24. Augustine finishes book thirteen with a discussion of God breathing life into Adam. What exactly does this breathing mean? Does it mean that God was giving Adam his Holy Spirit, in the same way that Jesus breathed on his disciples in John’s Gospel?

Augustine is probably arguing against some of the ideas of Origenism, which as I’ve noted earlier had fallen out of favor within the church. He’s also attempting to maintain a strong western-style Trinitarianism in his interpretation. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son in eternal communion with one another. The human spirit/soul is not of the same substance as the Holy Spirit. Our souls are not a piece of God.

Augustine argues that this breathing into Adam is merely the imparting of a rational spirit, not the gift of the Holy Spirit. Man’s rationality sets him apart from the animals, who also have souls. Man’s soul is of a different.

Word choice informs Augustine’s argument, but he sticks to the Greek and Latin texts. He doesn’t even mention the original Hebrew. Augustine felt that the Septuagint translation was inspired, so reference to it was good enough.

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