Sunday, July 28, 2019

July 23 -- Adult Ed Series on the City of God, Session 3 of 16, St Augustine's Reply to Paganism and the Problem of Evil (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

In this series, which will continue for about six months, we are discussing the City of God by St Augustine of Hippo - certainly, one of the most influential books in the history of the Church, a book that formed Western Civilization.

Session 3 -- The key concepts of Books I-X of the City of God. St Augustine's reply to paganism and his argument that the gods of the nations (Zeus, Neptune, Juno, etc) are actually demons. St Augustine's discussion of suffering, and why God permits bad things to happen to good people.

Listen online [here]!
(handout below)


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 3, St Augustine’s Reply to Paganism and the Problem of Suffering

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 and Overview of The City of God. 3. Key concepts of Books I-X, St Augustine’s reply to paganism and the problem of suffering. 4. Divine Providence and review of Books I-X. [subject to revision]

I. Review of Last Class – St Augustine’s theology and City of God
A. Key points of St Augustine’s theology and the City of God
          1. The problem of evil and of suffering.
          2. Original sin, actual sin, and death
          3. The interpretation of Scripture
          4. Other: Purgatory, veneration of the Saints, Baptism, etc.

B. Notes and suggestions on reading The City of God
1. Size of the work (22 books, about 900 pages), written over fourteen years.
          2. General Outline:
Part I, Books I-X. A defense of Christianity and a polemical critique of pagan religion 
Part II, Books XI-XXII. The City of God traced from Genesis to Revelation.

II. Main argument of Books I-X: The gods of the nations are demons.
A. The Pagan gods and Earthly Happiness (Books I-V) – ancient history
St Augustine proves that the pagan gods did not protect Rome and the roman people from both moral and political ruin as well as much suffering. In this, St Augustine sites many examples from pagan history of pagan worshipers who suffer much and are not delivered, as well as the moral vices of the nation perpetuated by the worship of pagan gods.
B. The Pagan gods and Eternal Happiness (Books VI-X) – paganism and philosophy
St Augustine proves that pagan worship does not lead to true happiness nor to eternal life. In this, St Augustine cites a certain Varro, whose works have largely been lost – thus, more than perhaps any other author, St Augustine tells us about the practices of paganism in the Roman State.

III. The two main ways St Augustine proves that the gods of the nations are demons
A. The Romans suffered many misfortunes and wars when they worshipped these gods.
1. Many individuals who worshipped the gods still suffered horrible pains/death.
2. The Roman State, while worshipping the gods, still suffered from wars and discord and other natural evils.
B. The gods and the worship of the gods led the people into sin and vice, bringing about their unhappiness and the ruin of the nation.
1. The myths about the gods include many stories of vice and wickedness, which then induce men to sin in these ways.
2. The rituals of pagan worship often involve various sinful practices.
3. The plays which “honor” the gods involve many sinful practices – especially sexual excesses and drunkenness.
4. Even when the Roman State worshipped the gods, the nation fell into moral ruin and vice – such that the foundations were weak because of moral corruption.

IV. Why does God allow suffering? Also, why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people?
1. St Augustine must confront the particular crisis of his day: Why did God allow Rome to fall? Why did God allow so many Christians to suffer horribly at the hands of the barbarians?
2. St Augustine notes that, what had never been known before, those who took refuge in the Christian churches were spared, and many who called on the name of Christ were shown mercy by the barbarians.  (Alaric was an Arian Christian)
3. Another question: Do we lose anything of virtue if we suffer violence? Did the Christian virgins lose anything of virtue when they suffered rape?
4. In fact, St Augustine points out that suffering can often be permitted by God to bring about the sanctification of individuals. While material blessings (power, wealth, etc) are shared by both the good and the bad, true happiness is found only by the virtuous.
5. The same suffering that brings sorrow to the wicked purifies and strengthens the virtuous – even as the same material successes that bring moral ruin to the wicked are of no hinderance to the virtue of the just.
6. If the virtuous always received material blessings, then many would follow God for the wrong reasons, seeking only material blessings. Further, material blessings do not bring true happiness, but only God alone. Thus, when God gives material things to both the bad and the good, we learn that we ought not to place our hope in these things – but when true happiness is given only to the good, we learn that we must seek virtue above all.

V. Recommended chapters for special focus, from Books I-X  (about 90 pages)
Book I: Chapters 1-14, 35-36
I.1-7, Overview of the sack of Rome
I.8-12, Why bad things happen to good people
I.13-14, Honoring the bodies of the saints
I.35-36, Membership in the City of God and overview of the book

Book II: Chapters 2-14
II. 2, Review of Book I
II.3-14, Good example of St Augustine’s polemical style arguing against paganism

Book III: Chapters 1, 31
III.1, Overview of the history of the world before Jesus Christ
III.31, That Christ is not to be blamed for the fall of Rome

Book IV: Chapters 1-3, 18-34
IV.1-2, Review of Books I-III
IV.3, True happiness is not a vast empire or worldly power
IV.18-25, Of the goddesses “Virtue” and “Felicity/Happiness” and proof that true happiness only comes from God
IV.33-34, God gives power to both good people and bad, but only the good are happy

Book V: Chapters 1-11
V.1-7, Against astrology – A good example of St Augustine’s polemical arguing against pagan worship and superstitions
V.8-11, Brilliant explanation of Divine Providence and Divine Foreknowledge, and human free will

Book VI: Chapter 12
VI.12, An overview of Book VI, that the pagan gods don’t give eternal life

Book VII: Chapter 30-33
VII.30, The one God created all things, but remains only one God
VII.31-33, The place of Jesus Christ and Christians in human history and in the history of salvation

Book VIII: Chapter 27
VIII.27, We honor the saints, but worship only God alone

Book IX: Chapters 14-23
IX.14-15, How Christ is the mediator between God and man, being Divine and Human
IX.19-23, The knowledge that angels and demons have

Book X: Chapters 4-20
X.4-8, Of sacrifices offered to the true God
X.12-20 Of God’s manifestation or revelation of himself to men

VI. Recommendations for listening to City of God on LibriVox  (about 4 ½ hours)
Book I. Preface, Chapters 1-15
Book II. Chapters 1-17
Book III. Nothing.
Book IV. Chapters 19-34
Book V. Chapters 1-12
Book VI. Nothing.
Book VII. Nothing.
Book VIII. Nothing.
Book IX. Chapters 13-23

Book X. Chapters 1-17


Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.