Summary of “City of God” pt. 5 – Part 1, Book 5

Today is a special post! It marks the completion of Part One of “City of God!” This was certainly the most complex and difficult book to deal with so far in this series, but Augustine finishes on a strong note in his argument that the pagan gods did nothing good for the citizens of Rome.

“City of God,” Part 1 – The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness, Book 5 – Providence and the Greatness of Rome

[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on one of his legendary excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole in italics and note when this is so.]

Preface: Why would a good God allow Rome flourish when the empire would not bring true happiness to man?

Chapter 1: Discussion on the topic of fate, in sense that it is determined by the orientation of the stars. Augustine also criticizes the view that the stars only control fate because they are put into their places by God in order to work out His will.

“Divine providence alone explains the establishment of kingdoms among men.”

“As for those who speak of fate, but mean by fate the will and power of God, they should keep their conception but change their expression.”

Chapter 2: Discussion on whether or not horoscopes have any effect on the health and behavior of twins. If twins are born under the same horoscope, one would expect their lives to be almost identical. But since this is not the case, astrology is thus proven false.

“And so it is that, if one twin is born so quickly after the other that the same part of the horoscope remains for both, I have a right to expect to find a total likeness, which, as a fact, is never to be found in twins.”

Chapters 3-7: [Editor’s Summary] The pretensions and unreliability of astrologers are demonstrated by various arguments, notably by a consideration of the divergent careers of twins. Hippocrates’ views on the medical history of twins are criticized. It is wrong to think that fate determines the destinies of men.

Chapter 8: By way of quotes, Augustine shows that many poets and philosophers, when they refer to fate, actually have in mind a supreme divine being, not the movement of the stars.

Chapter 9: Fate vs. the will of God. Cicero rightly argued that astrology and horoscopes are nonsense. However, he went too far. He made the claim that the future cannot be known by anyone, to the point that he denies the existence of any god. Augustine argues that it is indeed possible to have both free will and a God who knows the future.

“[Cicero] makes a masterly refutation of the conjectures of the astrologers – for the simple reason that their mutual contradictions are their best refutation.”

“Thus, His motive for rejecting foreknowledge of the future was to avoid unworthy, absurd and dangerous implications for human society. He narrows down the choices of a devout mind to one or other of these alternatives: either the power of choice or foreknowledge. It seemed to him impossible that both could exist. If one stands, the other falls. If we choose foreknowledge, we lose free choice; if we choose free choice, we must lose knowledge of the future.”

“To make it certain, he denied foreknowledge. Thus, to make men free, he made them give up God.”

“Our stand against such bold and impious attacks on God is to say that God knows all things before they happen; yet, we act y choice in all those things where we feel and know that we cannot act otherwise than willingly.”

“As He is the Creator of all natures, so is He the giver of all powers – though He is not the maker of all choices.”

“It does not follow, therefore, that the order of causes, known for certain though it is in the foreknowing mind of God, brings it about that there is no power in our will, since our choices themselves have an important place in the order of causes.”

“The fact is that one who does not foreknow the whole of the future is most certainly not God.”

“our conclusion is that our wills have power to do all that God wanted them to do and foresaw they could do. Their power, such as it is, is a real power. What they are to do they themselves will most certainly do, because God foresaw both that they could do it and that they would do it and His knowledge cannot be mistaken.”

Chapter 10: Arguing that humans do in fact have freedom of the will. Followed by discussion on how it is possible for this to coexist with foreknowledge.

“The fact is that we do many things which we would most certainly not do if we did not choose to do them. The most obvious case is our willing itself. For, if we will, there is an act of willing; there is none if we do not want one. We would certainly not make a choice if we did not choose to make it.”

“There was justice in instituting rewards and punishments for good and wicked deeds. For, no one sins because God foreknew that he would sin. In fact, the very reason why a man is undoubtedly responsible for his own sin, when he sins, is because He whose foreknowledge cannot be deceived foresaw, not the man’s fate or fortune or whatnot, but that man himself would be responsible for his own sin. No man sins unless it is his choice to sin; and his choice not to sin, that, too, God foresaw.”

Chapter 11: If God went as far as to give humanity reason and intellect and expertly designed the bodies of all of the animal Kingdom, then why think God wouldn’t give as much consideration to the empires of man?

“How, then, can anyone believe that it was the will of God to exempt from the laws of His providence the rise and fall of political societies?”

Chapters 12-14: [Editor’s Summary] “The original Romans were honorable people. Their achievements sprang from a love of liberty and a desire for domination. Roman literature shows that the second urge outgrew the first. The contrast with the peaceful tendencies and high ideals of the early Christians is striking.”

Chapter 15: One of the reasons Rome prospered was because the early Romans were honorable and did much good in order to advance the republic and thereby  enhance the living conditions of their fellow citizens. Because they were pagan, though, they could not be blessed with eternal life in Heaven. So instead God lavishly blessed them during their earthly life.

Chapter 16: Another reason for the growth of the Roman Empire was to motivate believers to think about, by way of comparison, on how great life in Heaven will be with the Father.

“It was, then, not only to reward the Roman heroes with human glory that the Roman Empire spread. It had a purpose for the citizens of the Eternal City during their pilgrimage on earth. Meditating long and seriously on those great examples, they could understand what love of their Heavenly Fatherland should be inspired by everlasting life, since a fatherland on earth has been so much loved by citizens inspired by human glory.”

Chapter 17: Given the short span of human life, the difference between conqueror and conquered matters less and less. The idea of an eternal city does much more to motivate man to virtue and honor.

Chapters 18-19: [Editor’s Summary] “Various outstanding men contributed to the greatness of Rome. Whatever these good men achieved was accomplished under Divine Providence.”

Chapter 20: Criticism of views of some philosophers, specifically, that virtue is subordinate to pleasure. This is then contrasted with the Christian, who hates the evil in himself and gives thanks for the evil that has been corrected.

Chapter 21: Augustine’s conclusion is that the power to give a nation an empire or a kingdom can only come from the same God who is capable of blessing the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans despite all of their flaws.

Chapters 22-23: [Editor’s Summary] “The history of various ancient wars (Punic, Servile, Social, and Mithridatic) is here reviewed to show how all human events are governed by God’s mercy and justice.”

Chapter 24: The Christian Emporers were blessed not by their empires, but by the fact that they were just, merciful, and moral. The fact that they knew they had a perfect city ahead of them tempered their behavior and ambitions in their earthly life.

Chapters 25-26: [Editor’s Summary] “The Christian emperors, Constantine, Jovian, Gratian, Theodosius, Valentinian, and the rest, also enjoyed the favor of divine providence. Some readers of the preceding books are writing rebuttals claiming that the gods grant favors in a future life: Augustine will reply to this argument [in the next section of this work].

And so finishes the first part of “City of God,” “The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness!” Join me next time as I begin to cover part two of this work in “The Pagan Gods and Future Happiness” with the first book “Eternal Life and the Inadequacy of Polytheism.”

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