I recently finished reading Augustine’s The City of God, and I have to say that I honestly enjoyed it, despite Augustine’s sometimes annoying detailed analysis of the seemingly insignificant. I say seemingly because Augustine was not an author to waste his time going on tangents or covering topics that were not of the utmost gravity in a Christian’s life. So, I probably found him tedious only because I am not as disciplined as I wish I was in learning the more serious aspects of life.
Now, although the entire book was a fascination to read, and I suggest all should read it for it’s literary and spiritual insights, I would say that the entire ordeal could be sufficiently summarized in chapter twenty-eight of book fourteen – which literally amounts to a slightly long paragraph, covering no more than half a page. Here, Augustine made quite a significant distinction between the City of God and the City of Man. So, I will summarize the main points of his comparison in order to demonstrate both his skill as a writer and to lead into my takeaways for this book.
According to Augustine, while the City of God is founded on the love for and glory of God, the earthly city is founded on the love for and glory of self. The earthly city is ruled by selfish kings who rule for their own ambition and love of ruling, while the heavenly city is ruled by kings who rule with love for each other and for their subjects. Primarily, however, the City of God and the City of Man are different because the inhabitants of the latter glorified their own wisdom with selfish pride, changing “the glory of the incorruptible image of God into an image made like corruptible man”, while the inhabitants of the former claimed no such human wisdom, but only sought righteousness and godliness, looking for a heavenly, rather than an earthly, reward.
In his elaborate comparison of the two cities, Augustine used Romans 1:21-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:28 to more clearly demonstrate the depravity of man in the earthly city. Romans 1:21-25 states, “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” According to Romans 1:18, some of the results of men “suppressing the truth in wickedness” were that God’s wrath was unleashed against them (vs. 18), their foolish hearts were darkened (vs. 21), they became foolish in their own “wisdom” (vs. 22), and finally God gave them over to a debased mind and to the lusts of their hearts (vs. 24). Because they exchanged “the truth of God for a lie” (vs. 25), God gave them up to their vile passions (vs. 26), so that men and women exchanged their natural uses for unnatural purposes. In committing homosexuality, as described in verses 24-27, the residents of the earthly city sought to worship only themselves and their desires, and did not regard with humility and fear the power of the one true God. Thus, in their heinous acts of homosexuality they were also committing the grievous sin of idolatry. It is no surprise that Augustine chose to use these verses in Romans to exemplify the City of Man because such sins as homosexuality and idolatry are rampant in a selfish city set on glorifying itself and meeting its need alone, with no regard to the power and presence of an almighty God.
In 1 Corinthians 15:28, Paul reminds believers that everything has been put “under the feet of Christ”. In other words, all things ever created are under His dominion and authority. He is Lord of all. First of all, the context of this verse must be understood for a more clear view of its meaning. In the preceding verses of chapter 15, namely verses 12-27, Paul establishes a foundation reassuring readers of the resurrection of Christ and of His position as the second Adam by asserting, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (vs. 20-22) In these verses, Paul establishes the groundwork from which he continues to argue that because of His resurrection, Christ has dominion over all the earth and all of creation, which means every living thing submits under and serves Him. While in Romans 1:21-25 Paul speaks of people glorying in their own folly and sin and serving only their own selfish appetites, in 1 Corinthians 15:28 Paul explains how everything ought to glorify Christ because He is Lord of all. The two themes could not be more clearly opposing, and perhaps this was Augustine’s ultimate purpose in using these verses: the Romans passage exemplifies the City of Man, steeped in its licentious habits, while on the contrary, the 1 Corinthians passage exemplifies the City of God, defined by its heavenly focus on glorifying Christ.
Augustine did not simply compare the two cities to demonstrate the flaws of the City of Man and the strengths of the City of God. Rather, Augustine took time to make such a distinction between the two cities in order to warn believers never to fall into the sins and lascivious conducts of the City of Man. By using Scripture to warn followers of Christ to avoid such behavior, Augustine gave credence to his point of view and supported his analogy with something no Christian could argue against – the final Word of God. Additionally, by presenting believers with an alternate life to live – one of holiness and righteousness as part of the City of God – Augustine did not leave his readers without hope. Rather, he used Paul to give them hope – hope of a brighter and more holy future in the ultimate celestial City of God.
So, in summary, here are my takeaways for this amazingly intuitive book:
~ Augustine’s detailed analyses are not superfluous, and readers should feast on this book slowly, deliberately, and with an expectation that topics may not be as shallow as they may first appear.
~ The City of God is defined by the focus on, love for, and glory of God.
~ The City of Man is defined by the focus on, love for, and glory of self.
~ Christians should passionately despise the lifestyles and attractions of the City of Man, constantly remember that they are members of a greater and holier City, and fervently strive to do righteousness and seek holiness before God.
Comment below and let me know if you have read this book
and what you think about it!