Wednesday, October 16, 2019

October 8th, Adult Ed Series on the City of God, Session 9 of 16, From Noah to Abraham (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

In this series, we are considering the City of God by St Augustine - one of the greatest works of theology, and perhaps more influential on the Middle Ages than any other book excepting the Bible.

Session 9: St Augustine traces the history of the City of God in Scripture, from Noah to Abraham.

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 9, Book XV & XVI: From Noah to Abraham

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 are now in the final portion of the book, in which St Augustine will make a commentary on the whole of Scripture moving through the Bible much more quickly than he has until now. We will meet every Tuesday in October and November, focusing for one month on the commentary on Scripture found in Books XV-XVIII and the second month on the discussion of the Last Things found in Books XIX-XXII.

I. Overview of the Biblical History from Noah to Abraham (Genesis 6-25)
The Great Flood (Genesis 6-8), and the covenant with Noah and his descendants (Genesis 9-10). The increasing wickedness of men and the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The Call of Abraham and his life up to the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 12-16).

II. Notes about the Flood
A. Recreation, with water and the wind/spirit over the waters, and all men coming from Noah and his three sons.
B. Clean vs unclean animals – seven and two taken, for the sacrifice to be offered.
C. Noah as a sign calling the people to repent for 120 years.
D. Flood as the sign of the day of judgment.

III. Allegorical Interpretation of the Ark, “The other peculiarities of the ark’s construction are signs of features of the Church.”
A. The Ark was 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. This ratio (10 x 1 2/3 x 1) is very roughly the same as a man lying on his back (5 1/2ft by 1 1/2ft by ½ ft [66” x 18” x 6”]). This symbolizes the body of Christ, lying in death. And the animals and all life came from the opened side of the Ark, even as salvation came from the opened side of Christ.

B. The Ark is made with three levels, which represent different aspects of the Church or of the future human race. These can symbolize faith, hope and love. Or again, this represents the married, the widows, the virgins in the Church. Many other possibilities.

III. Historical Interpretation of the Ark
A. St Augustine insists that there must be a literal and historical basis for the account of the Flood. This is relating true history, because God really did establish a covenant with Noah.

B. As to particulars, St Augustine is open to various options. Various ways that waters could have covered the earth (both rain and aquafers, we add polar caps melting). Did all the animals of the earth really fit into the ark? No, because at least birds and fish are excluded (though, in some verses it looks as though they are included) – and St Augustine points out that bugs/insects need not be included. How was there enough food for all those animals? Possible that God miraculously sustained the animals without food.  Even possible that God could have recreated many animals that were not in the ark (as St Augustine mentions in XVI.7). What seems most important is to maintain that all human beings were wiped out, excepting Noah and his family – since it is the sins of men that called down God’s wrath.

C. Other questions (not so much from St Augustine): Was it a sin when Noah was drunk? No, because he was the first to invent wine and discover that it causes intoxication.  What does it mean when Ham “uncovered his father’s nakedness”? Could indicate a sexual sin, or mocking his father’s drunkenness, or some other rebellion against his father  (allegorically, foreshadows how the Jewish rulers mocked Jesus in his nakedness and death on the Cross).  How long ago was the Flood and other ancient events? According to Traditional Christmas Proclamation: Creation, 5199 BC; Flood, 2957 BC; Abraham, 2015 BC; Moses and the Exodus, 1510 BC; David’s anointing, 1032 BC.  Vatican II martyrology states more generally that the Flood was “several thousand years” before Christ.
Notes regarding the generations of men from Shem, Ham, Japheth – the Jews/Arabs/Middle East, the Africans, the Asians/Germans/Indians/Native Americans. Various facial characteristics and skin/hair colors, etc.

IV. The Tower of Babel
A. St Augustine (and many other saints) believe that Hebrew was the language of the ancient world. What is essential is to maintain that there was a single language among men. From strife and rebellion, the single people were dispersed and many confusing languages were formed.

B. St Augustine sees a connection between the Tower of Babel and the future city of Babylon. This historical Tower represents the rebellion of man against God. 
Further notes beyond what St Augustine says: Pagan religions try to reach up to take heaven, and relate that the gods fight man down; but our religion teaches that God descends to be among men and to life man up, even after he had sunken deep into the earth and wandered like sheep.  
Additionally: Pentecost heals the confusion of Babel.

V. The early portion of the story of Abraham
A. Notice that a new era dawns with Abraham – there is a chosen people from among the nations. Additionally, with Abraham the scriptural narrative comes closer to what we know as “history.” 

B. The great call from paganism to monotheism. St Augustine grants that Abraham may have even been a pagan, worshiping many gods – but insists that he rose up above this to knowledge of the true God (by human reason). But all changes when God reveals himself and calls Abraham apart.

C. The promise of God to Abraham: 1) The Land.  2) Many descendants.  3) That he will be the Father of all nations and all shall be blessed (this is the promise of the Messiah).
The people are said to number as the sands of the sea (meaning, many many descendants), and as the stars of the sky (meaning not only great number, but also exalted).

D. Abraham and Lot. They peacefully part ways, but Abraham chose better, for Lot chose the land that was rich but the people were wicked, whereas Abraham chose the poorer land that was yet not wicked. Thus, Lot suffers in wars induced by the King of Sodom, and is nearly destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah – but both times Abraham intervenes for his nephew.

VII. Recommended reading for Books XV-XVIII  (about 101 pages)
A. Book XV – From Cain and Abel to the great Flood  (26 pages)
Chapters 1-10, Of the two Cities, Cain and Abel and the Giants before the Flood
Chapters 12, 14-16, Of the great ages of the early men and the question of marriage of relatives
Chapter 22, The “sons of God” and “daughters of men”
Chapters 26-27, The Ark

B. Book XVI – From Noah to Abraham and down through the Judges (22 pages)
Chapters 1-4, From the Flood to the Tower of Babel
Chapters 7-9, Various questions about the natural world in relation to the Creation and the Flood
Chapters 16-21, The three promises God made to Abraham
Chapters 22-26, 31-32, Various moments in Abraham’s life
Chapters 35-37, 39, Jacob and Esau
Chapter 43, Moses

C. Book XVII – From David through the Kings and Prophets  (23 pages)
Chapters 1-3, Of the prophecies of the Old Testament
Chapter 4, Samuel the Prophet
Chapter 6, King Saul
Chapter 8, King David
Chapter 14-17, Of the Psalms
Chapter 20, King Solomon

D. Book XVIII – Comparison of Sacred History with World History, the Gospel and Age of the Apostles  (20 pages)
Chapter 1, Summary of the preceding books
Chapters 28-30, 34-35, Prophecies about Christ and the Church
Chapters 42-43, Of the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament
Chapters 46-53, Of the Birth of Jesus, his Gospel, the preaching of the Apostles and the spread of the Church until the final great persecution at the end of time

V. Recommended listening on LibriVox for Books XV-XVIII  (about 6 hours)
Book XV, Chapters 1-7, 8-14, 22-27 
Book XVI, Chapters 1-8, 21-31, 32-43
Book XVII, Chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9-16
Book XVIII, Chapters 32-39, 40-47, 48-54


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