This post concludes an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.
City of God 22.11–30.
22.11. Augustine attempts to answer the Platonists’ objections to earthly bodies living in heaven. He discusses ancient reasoning regarding the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Then he demonstrates inconsistencies in the Platonists’ theory.
22.12. In this chapter, Augustine brings up a number of objections to the resurrection of the dead. He will address each of these objections in the coming chapters.
22.13–14. Augustine discusses what kind of bodies the smallest human beings will have at the resurrection. Regarding abortions, Augustine thinks that these babies will be included in the resurrection, but he admits that he has no sure knowledge. (When he talks of abortions, he means spontaneous abortions, not medically induced ones.) If they are included, then their resurrection will be like infants who die. Augustine says that infants who die will receive bodies that conform to how big they would have been if they had survived. It’s worth remembering that infant mortality rates were high at this time, and Augustine probably had to address this issue often as part of his pastoral duties.
22.15–16. How big are these resurrection bodies going to be? Since Christ died and rose at the age of 33, Augustine believes that everyone will have a resurrection body that conforms to what their body would look like at 33 years old.
Augustine writes, “For the most learned authorities of this world define the age of human maturity as being about thirty years; they say that after that period of life a man begins to go downhill towards middle age and senility.” When I first read these words years ago, I found them humorously discouraging. All I have to look forward to is a downhill slide. However, the farther I get from thirty, the more comfort I derive from this passage. My best years may be behind me in this life, but I have an eternal prime of life to which I can look forward.
22.17–18. Augustine answers the question as to whether women will still be women in heaven or will their resurrection bodies be male. Augustine believes that the human race will still be male and female in the resurrection. He looks at the creation of Adam and Eve and finds a foreshadowing of Christ’s creation of his church. Humanity’s maleness and femaleness points to the unity found in Christ, and it seems appropriate that this diversity in unity would still be represented after the resurrection. Christ’s body is made of different parts, but he is head of all.
Augustine is probably the most feminist-friendly of the church fathers. He plainly says, “A woman’s sex is not a defect.” Some other bishops wouldn’t have agreed.
22.19. The resurrection body will be a perfect body. When the Scriptures say that not a hair will perish, it doesn’t mean that Christians will receive back all the hair that they had cut or all the nails that they had clipped. Deformities and unseemly proportions will not exist in these resurrection bodies. The martyrs, however, continue to carry the wounds of their martyrdom because these wounds are not deformities but beautiful marks of their faith.
22.20–21. How will God resurrect bodies that have been cannibalized? Won’t that flesh need to be reconstituted into two different people? Augustine thinks God is powerful enough to sort it all out. He compares being cannibalized with starvation. The starved person’s flesh wastes away, but where does it go? It must be exhaled. We shouldn’t worry though. If some of our flesh can’t be sorted out due to some form of destruction, then God is powerful enough to make more.
This new body will be a spiritual one. Augustine knows that it will be good and beautiful, but he’s hesitant to speculate about what it will be like.
22.22. In this chapter, Augustine talks about how miserable this life is. Our sin is the root of the problem, but it could be worse. God in his compassion restrains humans and does not, in most cases, allow us to be as sinful as we could be. But it isn’t just our own sin and other people’s sins that make this life miserable. The natural world has become a dangerous place that will cause us pain. Jesus is the only person who can save us from this world of misery.
22.23. Everyone struggles with the pain of this life, but Christians have an additional struggle. Christians must also fight against indwelling sin. Pelagius taught that the will was free, and that people could choose to do right. In this passage, Augustine argues the sinful flesh still affects the will of the Christian. Through Jesus, Christians can have a measure of victory over sin, but they will not be free of it until the resurrection.
22.24. The previous two chapters dealt with the misery and pain of this life, but chapter twenty-four lists the blessings of this life.
Augustine sometimes has the reputation of being a downer since he helped articulate the doctrines of original sin and predestination, but chapter twenty-four shows us a different side of Augustine. In this lovely chapter, Augustine marvels at the goodness and beauty of the present life. Augustine understands the problems that afflict the world, but he is also in awe of the wonders of the creation. The human mind, human body, and the natural world are all good gifts that God continues to sustain.
This chapter at first glance seems like a digression, but Augustine brings it back around to the main point of book twenty-two, the eternal state of God’s people. If God provides these blessing to all humans, how much more will the blessings of the redeemed be in the final state.
22.25–26. Augustine briefly falls back into his polemic against the philosophers. The resurrection will be a bodily resurrection, which offends the philosophers who think that the soul needs to free itself from the body. Augustine argues that the philosophers’ objections do not stand because the resurrection body will be incorruptible. Augustine suggests that even Plato would approve of the Christian version of resurrection.
22.27–28. In De doctrina christiana, Augustine defends the benefits of reading Pagan philosophers. He compares reading the philosophers to the Israelites’ plundering of the Egyptians during the Exodus. The Israelites took Egyptian gold with them, while shunning Egyptian idols. Augustine argues that Christians ought to take any truths found in the Pagan philosophers and make use of them for God’s glory while shunning any falsehood or superstition.
Here at the end of City of God, Augustine argues that Plato, Porphyry, and some others glimpsed true things about the Christian’s final state. None of them, however, had the full picture. Yes, we will have bodies. No, we will not return to this world of misery. Therefore, we must live in new incorruptible bodies eternally.
22.29. In what manner will we see God in our eternal state? Augustine says that this final state surpasses our present understanding, but he attempts to say some true things about it anyway. We will have physical eyes, but Augustine is unsure in what ways they will perceive the world differently from our current eyes.
Will we see God with physical eyes since God is a spirit? We will certainly see him while we are in the flesh, and we will certainly see Christ who has a physical form. But Augustine talks about a deeper “seeing” of God. We will see him with our hearts and mind, and we will understand through our spirits his immaterial character and activity.
Augustine writes, “It is hard to say that the saints will then have bodies of such a kind that they will not be able to shut and open their eyes at will; and yet it is more difficult to say that anyone who shuts his eyes there will not see God.” Augustine envisions an eternal state where God’s people have their senses filled with his presence and love.
22.30. In this last chapter of City of God, Augustine tries to describe what the eternal state will be like, but he also works in reminders of what he’s talked about throughout the book.
The reward for God’s people is God himself, and they will find contentment no matter what good gifts God chooses to give them. The will will be perfected. The will will be free, and a truly free will is unable to sin. Christians intellectually will remember past sins and past pains, and they will sing of the grace that was provided through the blood of Christ eternally. Augustine even works in a summary of his chronology of God’s people from books 15 through 18.
Augustine thinks of the resurrection of Christ as inaugurating an eighth day of creation. God has begun to recreate his world and his people. This imagery of an eighth day revolutionized my thinking when I first stumbled across it in Augustine’s writings.
Augustine says farewell to his readers—those who have found the book too long, to short, or just enough. I, for one, count myself among “those for whom it is enough,” and I join Augustine in rendering thanks to God. Amen.