This post covers the conclusion of Parts One and Two of “City of God.” If you will recall, the reason that occasioned the writing of “City of God” was that the pagan Romans were blaming Christianity for the fall of Rome. Augustine has worked extensively to show that not only was the Christian faith NOT responsible for the fall, but that the pagan system of worship was in fact barren, hollow, and ineffectual in bringing about any good, be it physical or spiritual. Now that Augustine has examined the theological content of the two systems of belief, in this book he now turns to the topic of what it means to actually partake in the worship of God/the gods. In this area too he shows that Christianity is still the superior option.
“City of God,” Part Two – “The Pagan Gods and Future Happiness,” Book Ten – “Christian Worship Contrasted With Platonic Theology”
[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 I am doing so.]
Chapter 1: Prologue to the topic of worship. All men desire to be happy, and it is understood that true happiness comes from serving and worshiping God. But, which god deserves worship?
“That all men desire to by happy is a certitude for anyone who can think. But, so long as human intelligence remains incapable of deciding which men are happy and how they become so, endless controversies arise in which philosophers waste their time and toil.”
“Therefore, whoever they are, these immortal and blessed beings who dwell in heaven, if they do not love us and desire us to be happy, then, undoubtedly, we owe them no service; but, if they love us and desire our happiness, then, indeed, they will wish our happiness to flow from the same source as theirs. For, how could our happiness have any other source than theirs?
Chapter 2: The Platonists agree with Augustine that only the Supreme God, or “soul of the universe” as some call it, is the source of true happiness. Rational mortal beings cannot shine this light of purpose and happiness on themselves.
Chapter 3: Augustine describes the characteristics of Christian worship. Namely, devotion in all areas of life. He also calls on the Platonists to follow the logical conclusion of worshiping only the highest God, who is the source of everything.
Chapters 4-5: [Editor’s Summary] Sacrifice has always been associated with the worship of God. Augustine explains that God is not benefited by sacrifice but accepts such offerings as evidences of a contrite heart.
Chapter 6: Discussion on the correct understanding of sacrifice. Namely: every good deed that is aimed at God. Augustine then elaborates on how the body and the soul can be offered as living sacrifices.
“Our body, too, is a sacrifice when, for God’s sake, we chasten it, as we ought, by temperance, that is when we do not yield our members as ‘instruments of iniquity unto sin,’ but as a means of holiness to God.”
Chapter 7: Angels, having a proper love of God, do not desire to have sacrifices offered to them. They instead encourage mankind to offer sacrifices to the true God.
Chapters 8-18: [Editor’s Summary] Old Testament miracles are obviously different from the ‘wonders’ wrought by pagan magic. Porphyry’s views on theurgy [a form of white magic practiced by early neoplatonists] are described and condemned. Augustine insists that God uses the angels to work true miracles but that magic is the work of bad spirits or demons. It is not reasonable for pagans to reject the testimony of authentic miracles.
Chapter 19: The sacrifices that God truly desires are invisible inward leanings of the heart. When demons are attempt to direct worship to themselves, it is not because they desire the sacrificed objects, but because they desire to steal away the honor and glory that rightfully belongs to God.
[personal note: this is perhaps the best chapter in the book thus far.]
“There are some who think that, though these visible sacrifices may be suitable for other gods, for the God who is invisible, greater and better, only invisible, greater and better sacrifices, such as the offering of a pure mind and upright will, are appropriate.”
“When we direct our prayers and praise to Him, we use words which have meaning and, at the same time, we offer in our hearts the things that our words signify.”
“It is not the odors of dead victims that these spirits love but divine honors. For, certainly, of such odors they have a great supply everywhere and, if they wish more, they are able to provide them for themselves.”
Chapter 20: Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrifice. Old Testament sacrifices and pagan sacrifices are but mere imitations of this better sacrifice.
Chapters 21-30: [Editor’s Summary] After further comparison of the power of demons with that of holy men, Augustine addresses Porphyry directly and accuses him of failing to assent to the truth which he knew about the One God. He was intellectually dishonest in teaching theurgy. This apostrophe is not to convince the dead Porphyry but to convince his living followers. Augustine almost begs the Neoplatonists to accept Christ.
Chapter 31: Argumentation for the claim that the human soul was created and began to exist at one point, as opposed to the view that the soul has coexisted with God eternally.
Chapter 32: As his way of drawing Parts One and Two to a close, Augustine gives his concluding remarks that Christianity still stands against the accusations of the Roman Pagans. He feels Part One (books 1-5) adequately showed that the gods could not bring about any sort of material gain to their followers, and in Part Two (books 6-10) he showed that it is illogical to think that the gods could bring about any sort of benefit in the afterlife. He gives an exhortation to turn to Jesus Christ, as this is the only way to enter into relationship with God.
“In these ten Books, perhaps, I may not have lived up to the expectation of all, but, to the extent that the true God and Lord has deigned to help me, I have satisfied some, at least, by my refutation of the objections of the pagans who prefer their own gods to the Founder of the holy City, which I undertook to discuss. The first five of these ten Books were directed against those who think that the gods should be worship for the sake of the goods of this life, and the following five against those who believe that the gods should be worshiped for the sake of the life after death.”
Next time: Part Three, “The Origin of the Two Cities” – Book Eleven, “Creation and the Two Societies Angels.”