Saturday, July 6, 2019

July 2 -- Adult Formation Series on the City of God, Session 1 of 16, Introduction to St Augustine

In this series which will continue over about 6 months, we are discussing what is likely the most influential theological work in the history of the Church (excepting only the Summa of St Thomas) -- The City of God, by St Augustine.

Session 1 - Who is St Augustine? When did he write the City of God? And Why?
[The handouts for this session are below.]

Listen online [here]!


Adult Faith Formation Series:
The City of God, by St Augustine of Hypo

“Glorious things are said of thee, o City of God!” (Psalm 86:3)

St Augustine is the greatest thinker of the early Church. Unrivaled in his theological insights, the bishop of the small diocese of Hypo in northern Africa is without a doubt the most influential theologian of the first thousand years of the Church. His greatest work, The City of God, is a masterpiece of Christian apologetics (defense of the faith) and biblical commentary.

However, many are intimidated by The City of God due to its length and the breadth of study, which ranges from ancient history and mythology to a theology of history and biblical commentary.  In this series, Father Ryan will highlight the most important portions of the book, and guide you through it in a way that will be easily followed and understandable. We will spend at least sixteen sessions considering this book, but all will be posted online, and it will not be necessary to attend every session in order to benefit from the series.

In this series, which will continue on and off over the next six months, we will discuss a wide range of topics and questions such as:
If God knows everything, even the future, how can our actions be truly free? Did God really create the world in six twenty-four-hour days? Was there a time before the creation of the world? Did people before the flood really live to be more than 300 years old? Just how many animals did Noah bring on the ark? Do we have to believe that every kind of land animal was preserved through the ark?

Writing after the fall of Rome and destruction of that City, St Augustine seeks to give hope to the Christian world as he leads us through the books of the Old Testament to the coming of the Messiah.

Whether you want to read the entire book, or simply read the sections that Father Ryan highlights, or even if you don’t plan to read any of it but only want to receive an overview of St Augustine’s work – this series will be easily adapted to suit your interests!

Schedule of Classes, meeting on Tuesdays at 7 PM to 8 PM:

Introduction to The City of God
July 2nd,  Who is St Augustine? When did he write The City of God, and why?
July 9th,  St Augustine’s theology and his influence on the Catholic Faith
July 23rd, Overview of the book, suggestions on how to read The City of God
July 30th, Key concepts of St Augustine’s theology of history and reply to pagan worship (Books I-X)

Key Concepts of Books I – X
August 27th, St Augustine’s argument that the pagan gods are actually demons
September 3rd, Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people?
September 10th, Divine Providence: How can God know the future if man is truly free?

Through the nine Tuesdays of October and November, and possibly into December, we will study the second part of The City of God (Books XI-XXII). This is the real heart of the work and we will study it much more slowly and in an in-depth fashion. Here, St Augustine will discuss what the true City of God is, and guide us through a commentary of the Bible.


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 1, Introduction to St Augustine and his time

The gods of the nations are demons. (Ps 95)
Glorious things are said of thee, o City of God! (Ps 86)

Note on schedule: Four introductory sessions in July. 1. Who is St Augustine? 2. St Augustine’s theology. 3. Overview of The City of God. 4. Key concepts of Books I-X. [subject to revision]

I. Why read The City of God?
From “Memoria Press” teacher guide for The City of God: “Few books receive more than one printing. A fortunate few may receive a second printing, and an even fewer number receive multiple reprints. The reason for this is simple: most books have a life-span of a few years at best, finding an audience for a time, until a lack of interest or irrelevancy pushes them out of print. Then there is a small number of books that achieve the elite status of classic. … timeless classics to be studied as long as mankind populates the earth. But even among the classics there are a few authors whose literary greatness shapes the very course of civilization. To such a class belongs Augustine. … To study the City of God is to study the source of some of Western society’s greatest and most cherished beliefs. This is the source that serves as the fountainhead of all that followed, and it is unlikely that it will ever be equaled.”

II. Who was St Augustine?             
A. 13 November 354 -- Born in Tagaste, modern day Souk-Ahras in north east Algeria, North Africa. A roman citizen. Father (Patricius) was a pagan, mother (St Monica) was a devout Catholic who gained her husbands conversion on his death bed. Augustine’s baptism was deferred out of a misplaced idea that it would be better to be baptized after reaching adulthood so that the sins of youth could be washed away. He received an excellent education in ancient learning and excelled as a superior student (sent to Carthage, best school in region). We know more about St Augustine than any other early Church figure, because of his work Confessions in which he gives us the story of his life.

B. Became a Manichaean heretic, accepting a form of dualism – believing that a good God made the soul and the spiritual world, but an evil god made the body and material world. Also fell into many sins of the flesh, fathering a child with his mistress with whom he lived out of wedlock for some fifteen years.  Monica remained fervent in prayer for the conversion of her son.

C. Tole, lege! Augustine’s conversion is gained in 386 and he is baptized in 387. Monica lived to see her son and grandson baptized, but died (387) before Augustine was ordained a priest (391) and bishop (396) – he served in Hippo for thirty-four years until his death (28 August 430). Hippo Regius is modern day Annaba (north eastern Algeria).

D. St Augustine died in the midst of a siege against the city of Hippo. The city fell to the Vandals which led to much suffering and a revival of Arianism in the city.

E. As bishop, wrote against Manichaeism, against Donatism, against Pelagianism, and against Arianism. Hippo is a small, out of the way Diocese, but St Augustine was the most important theologian of the early Church!

III. The historical context of the Fathers of the Church. Patristics, from pater “father”

A. Who are the “Fathers of the Church”?  The greatest saint theologians of the early Church. They must qualify in certain respects: Orthodoxy of teaching, holiness of life, and antiquity – additionally, cited as an authority by the Church herself and by other Fathers, Councils, Popes, etc.

B. Some famous Fathers include: Sts Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin, Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil the Great, etc.

C. The universal agreement of the Fathers holds great authority and is a sure guide in the interpretation of Scripture and witness of doctrine.

D. This early age of the Church was a unique time: The formation of the Canon of Scripture, of the Creeds, of the Liturgy, of norms of Church life and administration (the primacy of Rome, the calling of Ecumenical Councils, etc).

IV. The Fall of Rome, AD 410 - “The City which had taken the world was herself taken.”
A. We can scarcely understand how devastating the fall of Rome to the outwardly Christian Visigoth King Aleric was. First time in 800 years, the sack of Rome stood for the end of the age of the ancient world. “The womb of the world had become her tomb.”

B. St Augustine and St Jerome as well as many other contemporary writers comment on the destruction of the City with much dismay. It is clear that this event rocked the Christian world as well as the pagan – the unthinkable had happened, and a sadness fills the world.

C. Yet, in the sacking of the City, a wonderful mercy was shown: The soldiers granted sanctuary to both Christians and pagans who fled to the Catholic churches! And many who called on the name of Christ were spared death, and worse!

D. The sack of Rome is the historical event which inspired St Augustine to write of the city of men which will pass away and the City of God which endures forever.

V. Brief notes and suggestions on reading The City of God
A. Size of the work: The work is made up of 22 books, each consisting of about 30 chapters (up to even 54 chapters) which are generally about one or two pages long. Thus, the total work (in our “Modern Library” edition) is nearly 900 pages.

B. General Outline:
Part I, Books 1-10. A defense of Christianity and a polemical critique of pagan religion (Books 1-5, against pagan religion; Books 6-10, against pagan philosophy). 
Part II, Books 11-22. The City of God traced from Genesis to Revelation, and the Final Judgment (Books 11-14, the Creation and the Fall; Books 15-18, Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and his testimony about Himself in the Gospels; Books 19-22, The Final Judgement).

We can approach these two parts (Books I-X and XI-XXII) almost as two distinct works. We will focus much more intensely upon the second part of the work, in which St Augustine presents the Catholic view of Scripture and of human history.

C. Recommended chapters for special focus, from Books I-X
Book I: Chapters 1-14, 35-36
Book II: Chapters 2-14
Book III: Chapters 1, 31-32
Book IV: Chapters 1-3, 18-34
Book V: Chapters 1-11
Book VI: Chapter 12
Book VII: Chapter 30-33
Book VIII: Chapter 27
Book IX: Chapters 14-23
Book X: Chapters 4-20


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