Tag Archives: Blogging Augustine

The scattered traces of his being

Have you ever wondered why we are here? Many of us have asked this question at one point or another. As Augustine hits his stride in this first book (XI) of Part 2 of The City of God he asks a number of incisive questions: why do we exist at this moment in time? Why here in this part of space? What is the origin of the two cities? When did time start?

As this book pivots away from ancient discussions on the spiritual realm to the very real existence of planet earth, Augustine is diving head first into deep waters. He is unafraid to tackle the biggest issues head on – the origin of humans, angels, demons, goodness, evil, and philosophy. Through it all he keeps his Rule of Faith to guide him in what is truthful, helpful and appropriate.

Two discussions in particular are worthy of highlighting: his treatment of the origin of pure & fallen angels and his masterful handling of God’s creative purpose (ie the who, how & why of creation).

It fascinating to read how Augustine builds his case using the creation account in Genesis 1. He proposes that time began with creation and that “the world was not created in time, but with time” – hypothesising that there is no time without change and motion, which both started with the act of creation.

Augustine refers to Job 38.7 as evidence that angels existed before stars were made. As the sun wasn’t made until Day 4 he proposes that the “Let their be light” of Day 1 refers to the creation of angelic beings, with the separation to greater and lesser light being the division of the obedient and fallen angels.

“Thus the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became lights, and are called “day”, by participation in the changeless light and day, which is the Word of God, through whom they themselves and all other things were made.”

XI.9

Building on his consideration of creation, Augustine reflects on God’s verdict on his work – declaring it is good. Like an expert surgeon he unpacks this divine declaration, on multiple levels. He recognises that “it is not that God discovered that it was good, after he had made it. Far from it… he is not discovering that fact but communicating it”.

Augustine goes on to say how God experiences things is totally different to us. He is not time bound like us mortals, no rather “he sees in some other manner, utterly remote from anything we experience or could imagine”. He says

“God comprehends all these (ie past, present & future) in a stable and eternal present. And with him there is no difference between seeing with the eyes and “seeing” with the mind, for he does not consist of mind and body”.

XI.21

So, says Augustine “he saw that what he had made was good when he saw that it was good that he should make it”. And why was it good that God should make such things? We find the answer by asking: “who made it, how he made it, and why he made it”. So for the statement Let their be light, the answer to these questions are: God / He said “let it be” / it was good!

“There can be no better author than God, no more effective skill than his word, no better cause than that a good product should be created by God, who is good.”

XI.21

This has tremendous implications as we consider our own existence: “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know we exist, and we are glad of this existence and this knowledge” XI.26.

In a world that has lost its grip on the divine intent and pleasure behind our existence it is no surprise that we are also losing our sense of purpose, inherent self-worth and the preciousness of existence.

If we take one thing away from Book XI it should be that each and every one of us is crafted by the heart of a God of love who is delighted at his good handiwork. We are his prized possession – one he was willing to rescue by sacrificing his only Son. May we discovery this afresh this Easter Sunday.

The royal road

On first impressions a mirror appears an exact copy of the real world. Everything is the same as reality – save for one thing, everything is reversed. The left is the right and the right is the left. Perfect in detail, opposite in order.

So to for this latest section of The City of God, where we travel back in time to a mirror world. In Book 10 Augustine is responding to the views of a philosopher named Porphyry (234-305 AD) who is from the Platonic school of thought.

As I read the arguments it struck me how they were wrestling over issues that are on the whole the exact opposite of what we face today. They were concerned with the spiritual realm of angels and demons as a way to the blessed life, the world today is concerned with the god within ourselves.

They were concerned with finding the one right path to truth, society today has abandoned the idea of an absolute truth. They were concerned with understanding the heavenly realms, we are obsessed with the physical.

If this is the case what benefit is there in studying this mirror world, and what can this book teach us? Much I believe. By stretching our minds over a long span of time we can see that the ancient days were different but similar to our own. Despite the different cultural backdrop mentioned above these discrepancies only serve to highlight where we are still the same after over a thousand years later.

We still are lost! We are still looking for the secret to a blessed life. We still debate the validity of the historical record of the New Testament (despite overwhelming evidence). We still need help to find the path to life.

At one point Augustine notes that despite his great learning Porphyry admits “no doctrine has yet been established to form the teaching of a philosophical sect, which offers a universal way for the liberation of the soul; no such way has been produced by any philosophy, or by the moral teaching of the Indians or by the magical spells of the Chaldeans…this universal way had never been brought to his knowledge in his study of history (X.32).”

Ironically, here we are over a thousand years later and still the world is looking for the answer to life – now within the dark corners of our souls. Not much has changed!

Down through the ages Augustine teaches that there is indeed a “royal road, which alone leads to that kingdom whose glory is not the tottering grandeur of the temporal, but the secure stability of the eternal.”

Porphyry dismissed Christianity as the “universal way” because he lived at a time when it was being persecuted and thought this would “soon lead to the disappearance of this way…not realising that this persecution which so influenced him, and he was afraid of suffering if he chose to follow that way, in fact tended to strengthen Christianity and commend it more forcefully”.

As we approach Easter this is the perfect time to discover the truth that so evaded Porphyry – that there is indeed a Royal Road that is open to all – a universal way to find truth, please God & live a blessed life. It is this road that leads to “the eternal dominion of the glorious City of God in the deathless enjoyment of the vision of God”. May we discover it this Easter and find the life that it brings to all who journey on it.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:13-14‬

All About Augustine in 2012

Its been two years since I blogged my way through Calvin’s Institutes and I have decided the time has come to make 2012 the year of Augustine! The two books people are most familiar with are his autobiography, Confessions and the City of God. The City of God is Augustine’s defence of Christianity from the accusation that it was the cause of Rome’s fall to the Barbarians in 410 AD. It’s a long book consisting of 22 books across 1000 pages. I’ve split up the book into a daily reading plan and will write a post for each of the 22 books.

After being consumed by Calvin’s Institutes during 2009 I know that classic theology texts are not everyone’s idea of fun. So the question needs to be asked: “Why bother spending so much time and energy reading and writing about a book written 1600 years ago? What possible relevance could it have for our world today?” I hope to be able to answer this better by the end of 2012, but for now, here are five reasons I believe this is a valuable  exercise:

  1. Augustine was writing at the time of changing cultural philosophy. He was writing during the ascendancy of Christianity in the Roman Empire, over the previously established paganism. His arguments for why this happened and explanation of the relative fortunes of each will surely be instructive for our time when we see the opposite trend. Christianity is now in the decline in Western Europe and secularism is taking its place. How will Augustine’s explanations stand the test of time?
  2. Calvin continually referred to Augustine. In the Institutes that I read in 2009, Augustine was the one person that John Calvin referred to again and again as the most reliable and informative church father on the many theological issues that he discussed. I am intrigued to read Augustine himself and uncover more of what Calvin saw in the writing and teachings of this great teacher.
  3. I want to take the road less travelled. Short attention spans and Wikipedia are the order of our day. Who can be bothered reading an ancient text for enjoyment – just read the wiki and move on. We can only read a certain number of books in our lifetime – I want to read the ones that are the greatest theology books ever written. With my commute I can manage to read 3 or 4 pages a day for a year and get through an all-time classic on the train instead of playing Angry Birds.
  4. Augustine is a central figure of both protestant and catholic traditions. He is someone whom both traditions call upon for different reasons. I believe that understanding him better will help me appreciate my own roots, and also those who have drawn from these same roots on the other side of The Reformation divide.
  5. It will deepen my theological understanding. Like reading Calvin’s Institutes, reading this book from the 5th century will challenge my understanding of Christian theology and how to apply it to our current time. By challenging myself to write a 700 word post summarising the main points and demonstrating its relevance to our own day it will stretch my ability to apply ancient truth to modern life. Taking historic Christianity and speaking into today’s world is my aim – how better to develop this passion than with such a book?

So, here I go, look out for the first post on Book 1 in the next couple of weeks, let’s see what Augustine brings us during 2012…