The Purest Form of Human Society in Augustine's City of God

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The city of God is a book that one can read many times and every time discover an enormous amount of wisdom which is hard to comprehend probably in a lifetime. Augustine uncovers many interesting topics which are worth to consider and contemplate about. One of the major and the most interesting topics that Augustine brings up in his book is about the two cities. I found it fascinating to read and learn about them throughout the whole book. Augustine may talk about grace, divine plan, creation or faith. But, it all ultimately comes back to the two cities that we, as Christians live in, two realities under which we breathe every day, two loves that build up our lives. Even though, this topic might sound too obvious to write about, I was happy to do some research on it, and learn how Augustine is revealing these cities and how do his observations - that are more than 1,500 years old - can still be relevant and are related to the world we live in. How does the fading away Roman Empire still mirrors the “empires” we build in our modern world? How much are we different from people who lived centuries ago? And how much are we alike? I believe this book is an amazing resource of a human thought and development, and most importantly it uncovers God’s plan in everything. So, let us begin discovering these two cities.

In his work on the City of God, Augustine writes about two types of love that lie at the base of two cities: “Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. ”(On the City of God, XIV, 28). The truth of human existence and good life, according to Augustin, is not realized in the state, as was the case with Plato and Aristotle, it is revealed in religion and the Church. The perfection of man is not that he is a irrational animal, but that he is an individual being, realizing the divine demand for freedom. Augustine in his book clearly explains that the true existence of man is not political, but religious, expressed in the direct relationship of man to God and love for him. However, it would be a simplification to identify the Heavenly city with the Church, and the Earthly city with a specific state (Roman Empire).

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As we know, Augustine, seeing a withering Rome, used it as an example trying to explain how our society works. In our time, the same Rome could be considered New York, London, Paris, any big or small city. Nowadays it is not about a specific state anymore, but the people in it, who willfully corrupt their life with carnal lusts. On the other hand, the Church is the earthly embodiment of the City of God, but the City of God is not identical with the visible image of the Church, just as the Roman state cannot be identified with the city of Earth, a state of the damned and doomed. The meaning of Augustin’s teachings consists precisely in the fact that not one of the two cities is irreducible to a certain external institution. The border dividing both cities is invisible, it belongs to the spiritual order. “... This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognising that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace... ”(On the City of God, XIX, 17). The city of earth is a spoiled part of humanity, forgetting about its spiritual calling and turning to self-defication. How familiar does this earthly city sound for us? I can definitely relate to it. Moving to New York from a small town in Ukraine, I was afraid to drown in this limitless abundance of entertainment and fun that NYC offers. I was afraid I’ll forget God and start to put trust in money or myself, turning to self-defication. But thanks be to God who gives us wisdom and faith that I didn’t fall off and still is a follower of Christ Jesus. It was a good lesson for me, because it helped me to realize that all cities are struggling and are sinful in their own way. No matter where I go, I know that my true citizenship is in Heaven, and all the earthly cities will fade away. On the contrary, the city of Heaven includes those who are dedicated to the truth and virtues both in the bosom of the Church and outside it.

According to Augustine, the kingdom of sin and the kingdom of good are inextricably linked in this world, the citizens of both cities are outwardly indistinguishable from each other, and belonging to one city or another is invisibly predetermined by God. Moreover, Augustine reflects on the calling of a man and a humanity in these two cities. How interesting that we can observe this trend in our time. In the last twelve books, Augustine's reflections turn into a large-scale interpretation of history. History appears as a struggle between the earthly city, the state of this world, the secular community, on the one hand, and the city of God, the state of God, the divine community, on the other. It is in this great confrontation between the worldly state and the divine state that the mysterious basis and meaning of history lies, which is at the same time the history of the struggle of the saint and the non-saint. As Solomon kept saying in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the Sun. Meaning that this struggle was, is and will be from the beginning to the second coming of Christ.

So, when did it all begin? When did our struggles occur? Augustin suggests that the origin of the two communities dates back to the time when the fall of the proud angels, endowed with mixed nature, led to the fact that along with the state of God a second community appeared - the state of the devil. Then the need arose to fill in the gap created as a result of the overthrow of the angels - and at the expense of the elected representatives of the human race - until the former number of citizens of the divine community is restored. However, Adam, who at the same time belonged to both the divine and the secular states, repeated the sin of the pride of the fallen angels with his first sin, and an earthly secular state appeared among people as the complete opposite of the divine state. The first representatives of these antagonistic states were, on the one hand, the righteous Abel, on the other - the town planner and fratricide Kain. Then, respectively, Israel and the pagan peoples. The city of God Jerusalem and the city of the devil Babylon. And, finally, at the last stage of history - Rome (new Babylon) and the Catholic Church, according to Augustine. In our time, I believe, the city of the earth is the modern world. We no longer have a separate Сonquerer City, but each city from small to large is itself in sin and resists God. It would be foolish to say that a particular city is worse than another. They are equally sinful. No one seeks God. If the earthly and heavenly cities throughout history didn’t change as much, can we say that earthly and heavenly Cities are alike? Augustine claims that by their very nature, the heavenly city and the earthly city are fundamentally different from each other:

  • They have a different master and ruler: the first has God, the second has gods and demons.
  • They have different citizens: in the first there are chosen righteous people who profess the one and true God, in the second there are rejected worshipers of gods and self-lovers.
  • They have a different position: the first - love of God, based on humility, brought to contempt for oneself, the second - love of self based on pride, brought to contempt for God. Evil - is love for oneself, arrogant arrogance; Good - is love for God, meaning desire and love of the True Good. This is equally true both in relation to the individual, and to a man as a social being. The people who live together with God create the City of Heaven.

But not one of Augustine's cities is on the Earth in its purest form, but represents a mixed city in which there is a struggle between the attraction to the inaccessible (something beyond our understanding) and accessible, following purely earthly desires. Augustine’s State emerges as a result of the deprivation of the sacred, religious beliefs, which correlates with the infinitely spiritualized community of saints and religious needs and moral recognition of its legitimacy. To a certain extent, for Augustine, the state is a formal reflection of the rule of reason, for which Christian religious values are the main foundation. Although already in Augustine we encounter a division of individual interests and the common good and benefit, however private interest is mediated by the striving for the Ultimate Good, by which it is being balanced. The fundamental non-functional nature of Christianity attaches absolute importance to moral and ethical values and norms and the natural law established by the church. It is Augustine's reflection that creates the basis for the development of further secular tendencies (both the “city of Earth” and the “city of God”), a substantiated spiritual and social split between society and man.

After all, while at the moment, we humans, like a tender leaf, are wavering between these two world cities, we still have hope that we will find peace and tranquility and will praise God in His City forever and ever! And just so, Augustine insists at the end of the City of God on the dogma of the resurrection. The flesh will be reborn again. Although transformed, integrated, it will still remain flesh. Our story will end with the day of the Lord, which will be the eighth day, sanctified by the coming of Christ, will be eternal rest for us. There will be joy and lightness, peace, love, and unity with God. Amen.

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