Wednesday, August 28, 2019

August 27th, Adult Ed Series on the City of God, Session 5 of 16, Introduction to Books XI-XXII, Creation (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 - one of the most influential books in human history, a book that formed Western Civilization.

In session 5, we begin the study of the second half of the work (Books XI-XXII), and discuss St Augustine's theory of creation and why he does not believe that the "six days" refer to 24 hour periods or any passage of time at all, but to the angelic knowledge of creation.

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 5, Introduction to Books XI-XXII, Creation

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

Note on schedule: Classes August 27th, September 3rd and 10th, and then continuing again in October through till Christmas. In our next three class we will study Books XI-XIV: the six days of Creation in Genesis 1, the fall of the evil angels, the fall of man, original sin and death.
[in preparation for the next set of classes, Fr Ryan recommends reading all of Books XI-XIV.  Note: The reading recommendations will be significantly lessened for Books XV-XXII]

I. Review of Books I-X – The gods of the nations are demons
A. The pagan gods give neither earthly nor eternal happiness, but are demons
B. Why does God allow suffering?
C. Divine Providence/Foreknowledge/Omnipotence and Human Freedom

II. Introduction to Books XI-XXII, the History of the City of God
We need to approach these books with a fresh mindset, almost like starting a whole new masterpiece. The first ten books are important, but the task (disproving pagan myths) was far too mean a one for the mind of St Augustine – now his thoughts sore to the great truths of our faith and the commentary of Sacred Scripture, and the summation of all Christian Dogma. “Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints.” – Thomas Merton.

A. Books XI-XIV, The Creation and Fall, Sin and Death. This is, in many ways, the rich theological storehouse of the work. St. Augustine is the Doctor of Grace, and he here discusses original justice, the fall, original sin, death, baptism, and grace.

B. Books XV-XVIII, The Old Testament Prophecies about Christ, and the testimony given in the New Testament. This is a careful study of the whole of Scripture, also placing the events of salvation history in the context of broader human history.

C. Books XIX-XXII, On the End of the World, the Day of Judgment, and the Resurrection. St Augustine’s speculations about the resurrection and life everlasting have permanently shaped the Catholic view of Heaven and Hell, death and judgment.

III. On the Creation of the World
A. That the world had a beginning
1. Here St Thomas Aquinas offers a corrective to St Augustine. By faith, we know that the world began to be, however by philosophy alone it is not certain – there is no inherent contradiction in thinking that the world (or even man) existed forever, neither is there any contradiction in the truth that the world had a beginning.
2. A world existing from forever, would still not be “eternal” in the way God is eternal
3. Consider St Thomas’ reasoning, and why the world still needs a Creator.

B. The meaning of the “six days” of creation
1. St Augustine seems to be entirely original and unique in his interpretation of the “six days” – every other Father of the Church, and nearly every other theologian tries to interpret the “days” as measurements of time (whether 24 hrs or millions of years). St Augustine sees them as “literally” being metaphors for how the angels came to understand creation.
2. Explanation of how this interpretation is not allegorical or spiritual, but truly literal.
3. How St Augustine comes to this from the study of the Biblical text (reference his commentary on Genesis), and how this also solves all the modern “scientific” objections to Genesis 1.
4. St Thomas seems to agree with St Augustine, even though every other Father says otherwise – and again, St Thomas is not responding to science, but recognizing the nuances of Scripture.

C. Supplement thoughts on certain “scientific” claims about the origin of the universe and of man.  Problems with the “big bang” theory, with evolution, with other theories.

IV. On the creation of the angels
A. They had a beginning, and were created when the world was created
1. Note, We believe that the world was created without the mediation of the angels, but directly by God – compare this with pagan mythology and demiurges.
2. “Let there be light” or “when God made the HEAVENS and the earth” – the creation of the angels. Like the rest of creation, the angels had a beginning (though, as we said before, they could have always existed, if God had so chosen); and as creatures, they are made by God and are not co-eternal or co-equal with God.

B. They were created good, but some sinned and became evil
1. “He saw that it was very good” – all things were created good, and there is nothing which was created evil, nor could anything be wholly evil.
2. This discussion of evil and the reality of evil was extremely important in St Augustine’s journey to the Faith. That evil is not a substance to itself, but rather is a privation of goodness and a lack of being – this helps to answer the “problem of evil”.
3. If evil is a privation, then even the wicked angels must have begun good – for a privation can only follow upon that which was first whole and good. Thus, the nature of the demons must be good by creation, but then depraved by evil choice.
4. Thus, all the angels, and even the devil, were created good, and God only allows evil because he knows how to bring good even from evil.  The devil was “good by God’s creation, wicked by his own will” – and this explains evil in the world, not because of God’s creation and goodness, but because of the evil choices of angels and men.

C. Supplemental thoughts on the fall of the wicked angels (not from City of God)
1. How could angels “fall from heaven” if heaven is forever? The angels were created in the state of grace, but not in heavenly glory. There is the “Empyrean heaven” which is above earth, and there is the “Heaven of the Blessed Trinity” which is heavenly glory. Although created in the state of grace, the angels had a choice. They underwent a test: Their first thought, Self-consciousness (But, oh, how many earth-years could correspond to this single angelic thought!); Second thought, to cooperate or reject grace; either fly to heaven, or fall to hell.
2. The Fall of the Wicked Angels. How many angels fell? Revelation indicates 1/3. Did more angels remain faithful? 2/3 remained faithful. Did angels fall from each of the hierarchies? Yes.
Was Lucifer the greatest of the angels? Yes, and among the seraphim. What was his sin? Pride. What was the pride of the fallen angels?  “I will be like the Most High”. That he desired to be God? Truly in his essence to be a deity? No, for this is an irrational desire. That he desired to be as god to the lesser angels and creation? Yes, he desired to rule over them without being subject to God’s order. And the lesser fallen angels consent to be ruled by Satan so as to have a certain liberty from God’s order. And perhaps moreover: In a rejection of the Incarnation, that a lesser nature (man) should be exalted to be united to God himself in the Person of the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ.
3. “There is, however, one aspect of angelic sanctity which we might almost call its moral side: it is expressed generally as the obedience of the angels – more truly it might be called their “order”; that the spirits keep the order in which they were created, carry out the missions which are entrusted to them, that all their mighty activities are an unceasing dependence on God’s will; above all, that they accept the kingship of a nature lower than their own. They have not rebelled against the exaltation of the human nature in Christ Jesus, and the Catholic Church never ceases to speak of the Mother of God as Queen of the angles. This observance of the order established by God is the true angelic virtue, the one thing in which they might fail; it might even be called their temptation, and if the temptation be overcome, it is their victory. […] Fidelity to God over a great, a mightily debated issue seems to be an essential portion of angelic sanctity.” (Anscar Vonier)


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