Wednesday, August 14, 2019

July 30th -- Adult Ed Series on the City of God, Session 4 of 16, Divine Providence and Human Freedom (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 4 -- Review of key concepts of Books I-X. St Augustine's treatment of the foreknowledge of God and how to reconcile the certainty of divine providence with the reality of human free will. 

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 4, Divine Providence and Human Freedom

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

Note on schedule: We take a month off now, resuming classes August 27th, September 3rd and 10th, and then continuing again in October. When we return next month, we begin the study of Books XI-XXII, in which St Augustine comments on the Scriptures beginning with Genesis and continuing through the Old and New Testaments to Revelation. In the three classes from late August to mid September, we will discuss 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]

I. Review of Last Class – The gods of the nations are demons
A. The pagan gods give neither earthly nor eternal happiness, but are demons
          1. The Romans suffered many misfortunes when they worshipped these gods.
2. 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.

B. Why does God allow suffering?
1. 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. 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.
2. Though the wicked and the righteous may suffer the same things, they suffer in different ways – to the benefit of the righteous, but to the ruin of the wicked.

II. Divine Providence/Foreknowledge/Omnipotence and Human Freedom
A. Book V, Chapters 8-11; Here we see St Augustine’s brilliance as a philosopher and theologian. He tackles what is likely the most difficult philosophical question, and what sets up one of the most difficult theological questions: If God knows all things and causes all things, and if his will is supreme and irrevocable, how can man truly have free will? The further theological question is: If God’s grace is what saves us, how can man’s free will truly cooperate and merit salvation? The first question has been answered falsely by Cicero, the second by Luther and Calvin.
1. The dilemma: If God foreknows all things including the actions of men, then these actions are certain to occur. But if these actions are certain, then they are not really free, since man cannot do otherwise than what God knows he will do. Therefore, if God foreknows all things, then man is not free.
2. False answers (Cicero’s error): To preserve the free will of men, Cicero denies that God knows the future.

B. St Augustine’s reply: A god who does not know the future cannot truly be called “God” – therefore, we must maintain both that God knows the future and that man is free.
1. God not only foreknows all our actions, but he even foreknows that we will freely choose them. God not only causes our free actions, but he causes them to be chosen freely by us.
2. Man is free when he does that which he wills to do, and God gives man this power. And God directs the wills of men and orders them according to his providence, so that we freely do that which we will to do, in accord with his design. Thus, man’s actions are both free and foreknown by God.
2. Further, prayer is of value even though God already knows what he will do – for there are many things that he wills to do in response to the prayers which he foreknows and wills that we should offer.

C. Further theological development, St Thomas Aquinas
1. St Thomas and the Scholastics will develop this further: For there are two orders of causality – primary and secondary causality. The action of the primary cause does not take away from or nullify the action of secondary causes. Examples: A pen in the hand, or a servant delivering a message.  The secondary causes have power to act precisely because they are guided by the primary cause.
2. If God were acting upon man’s will in the way that other creatures do, this would go against the freedom of man. Example: As when a parent forces a child or a master his dog.
3. There is no competition between God and man, like two men carrying a table (50%-50% or 80%-20% etc). More like my hands lifting a glass (100%-100%).

D. The Protestant heresy and Divine Predestination
1. This is at the root of the heresy of Luther and Calvin regarding grace and free will. They deny that human free will has any role in salvation – grace alone by faith. But God has willed that we freely participate with his grace and merit.
2. Similarly, though we can accept a proper type of predestination, Calvin is mistaken when he thinks God determines heaven or hell irrespective of man’s choices. For grace does not take away human freedom, and God wills all to be saved.
3. There argument for merit from the humanity of Christ: If human acts do not gain salvation, then the human acts of Christ did not gain grace. But our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross is a human act, and did gain grace for us all. Therefore, human actions in union with divine grace merit salvation.

III. The place of Jesus Christ in history as Mediator between God and men
A. St Augustine defends honoring the saints and their relics
1. Book I, 13-14. We honor the saints and their relics, but we do not worship them or offer Mass to them. It is the honor of the saints to be placed in the altar, not the honor of the Lord to be offered on an altar with relics.
2. Book VIII, 27. We honor the saints because their God is our God, and our God has done a mighty thing in making them to be saints. We are praising God for his great works in the lives of the saints.

B. Jesus is the Mediator, being fully God and fully man
          Book IX, 15. It was necessary that our mediator be blessed to bring us out of misery, but also that he be mortal to join us in our misery from which he would deliver us.  Thus, necessary that he be man to be one with us, and necessary that he be God that he might deliver us.

V. Recommended chapters for special focus, all of Books XI-XIV (133 pages)
Book XI: Chapters 1-34
Book XII: Chapters 1-27
Book XIII: Chapters 1-24
Book XIV: Chapters 1-28
[note: The reading recommendations will be significantly lessened for Books XV-XXII]

VI. Recommendations for listening to City of God on LibriVox  (about 6 hours)
All of Books XI-XIV


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