Tuesday, November 5, 2019

October 29th -- Adult Ed Series on the City of God, Session 12 of 16 - The Final Judgement (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

In this series, we are discussing The City of God by St Augustine, one of the most important and influential books in Western Civilization and in the theological vision of history and of the Church.

In this session, we begin our discussion of the final four books of the work, in which St Augustine discusses the end of time, the day of judgment, hell, and heaven.

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 12, The Last Judgment

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 come to the conclusion of the book with St Augustine’s discussion of the Day of Judgment, Hell and Heaven, the Resurrection of the body, and the New Heavens and New Earth. We conclude our course at the end of November.

I. St Augustine’s concludes his biblical commentary with reflections on the Gospel
A. Christ himself claimed to be God and showed forth is power in miracles, this doctrine was not something invented by later disciples

B. St Augustine comes very close to the modern apologetical argument: Christ is either liar, lunatic or Lord – and, of these, only Lord really makes sense.

C. Further, neither can any claim that the doctrine of the faith was invented by Peter or the other apostles. They gained nothing in this life but persecution, but their hope was placed in the teaching of Jesus who promised them eternal life. There is no other explanation for the martyrdom of the Apostles than that Jesus really taught what the Gospels present him as teaching – and the Apostles believed he had founded a Church and opened the path to salvation for all who believe in him.

D. Finally, St Augustine shows that, while we look forward to the day of judgement, Christians have never claimed to know when the Lord will return. Neither should anyone strive to discern the day or hour of the judgement.

II. Outline of Book XIX-XXII, The End of the Two Cities
A. What is the supreme good? That it is not in this life, nor in any gains of this life, but only in God and the enjoyment of God in Heaven  (Book XIX)
B. The Day Judgment and questions regarding prophecy about that Day in Scripture (Book XX)
C. The punishment of the damned and the eternity of hell (Book XXI)
D. The reward of the just and the life of heaven  (Book XXII)

III. Brief comments on happiness
A. We will say only a few words about the supreme good and happiness, so as to have enough time to discuss questions about the end of the world etc.

B. Can the supreme good be gained in the natural things of life?
1. The great philosophers put the supreme good not in wealth or power or pleasure, but in the pursuit of true wisdom with virtue, enjoyed in friendship.  This is the highest good of the natural order.
2. However, although this would have fulfilled “pure nature” (if God had made man without grace, but simply in his natural state), after the creation and the fall, not even virtue or peace or friendship can bring about true happiness.  Because of the fall, although not all that man does is sinful (without grace), nothing he does can be truly conducive to his perfect happiness.
3. Thus, perfect happiness can only be gained through the gift of grace, and is found in eternal life with God.
4. Interesting point from St Augustine about Plato and Porphyry: Porphyry knew that perfect happiness cannot be gained in this body in its current state, and Plato knew that happiness cannot be perfect if the soul is separated from the body but the soul must return to the body – these both are fulfilled by the Christian promise of the resurrection of the glorified body!

[Book XIX also contains an interesting discussion of war and peace, and some points about just war theory etc]

IV. Various scriptural references to the end of the world and day of judgment
A. St Augustine discusses various passages and comments on different heretic and orthodox interpretations.

B. The various verses referring to “Twelve Thrones” of the Apostles for Judgment of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. St Augustine specifies that “twelve” means the fulness or completeness of the multitude of saints who will join Christ in the judgement over all the people of the earth. [note: St Thomas discusses how the greatest saints will participate in Christ’s judgment. Some will not be judged but straight away condemned, others will be judged and saved, others will not be judged but will be saved and participate in the judgment of the world]

C. On the resurrection of living and the dead: Those whose souls are alive by grace their bodies will be raised to eternal life, but those whose souls are dead in sin their bodies will be raised to eternal death.   We speak of the “first resurrection” of the soul – meaning, the life of grace in the soul in this life.

D. The question of the 1,000 years of peace: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven… Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:1,6)   [take a moment to read Revelation 20, which discusses the 1,000 years, the first and second resurrection, Gog and Magog, the loosing of Satan, etc]
To all the speculation of the Millenialists, St Augustine emphasizes that we cannot discern the day or the hour of the judgment. Further, to God, 1,000 years are as a day and a day as 1,000 years.  Better yet, the time should be interpreted spiritually – the 1,000 years signifies the fullness of all ages from the Ascension to the day of judgment, and the peace of soul which the saints gain from God’s grace.

E. The discussion of “the image of the beast” or “the inscription on the forehead or hand” are those who belong to the City of Men, the Earthly City – who put their hope in the world and take delight in worldly pleasures.

F. Gog and Magog: “These nations which he names Gog and Magog are not to be understood of some barbarous nations in some part of the world” but rather to all the nations and peoples who belong to the Earthly City and where the devil has found his home in the hearts of men.

V. What do Catholics believe about the Rapture?
There are two judgments, the particular and the universal. Each of us faces the particular judgment at the moment of death – the universal judgment is given to all at the end of time. Thus, the rapture is false, because the universal judgement will happen once and for all. No one will be “left behind”.

VII. What do we believe about other details of the book of Revelation?
A. The Whore of Babylon (Rev 17:1-11ff): Probably refers to Rome (the City on 7 hills), and the beast likely refers to the kings of Rome who persecuted the early Church.  This is not a reference to the Catholic Church in Rome, but to the Pagan Persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire

B. The Two Witnesses (Rev 11:3ff): Refers to Sts Peter and Paul who gave testimony to Christ and suffered martyrdom in Rome.  Also refers to the tradition that Enoch and Elijah will return to preach against the anti-Christ, will be slain, will rise from the dead – and then comes the end.

C. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8): Some Church Fathers say that all are bad and signs of evil persecutions. Others claim that the White Horseman could represent the Lord Jesus himself. In any case, these represent the trials that will befall the earth until the end of time when the King of Peace will return.

D. The Number 666 (Rev 13:18): A numeric device to indicate NERO, the Emperor who persecuted the Church most notoriously.  Also, symbolizes the exaltation of man and the City of Man against the authority of God and the City of God – for man and beast were made on the 6th day, but the 7th day is the Day of the Lord.

E. Who is the anti-Christ? While we believe that there will be many anti-Christs (and already have been – for whoever sets himself up against Christ is an anti-Christ), there will be one particular man who leads that last rebellion against God. St Thomas says he will be a true man, who is perfectly possessed by the Devil – probably will be Jewish, celibate with no children, a great political leader.

VII. Recommended reading for Books XIX-XXII
A. Book XIX, Chapters 4-20, 24-27  Discussion of the supreme good and true happiness, as well as peace among nations and just war theory
B. Book XX, Chapters 1-30  The Judgment as prophesied in the Old and New Testaments
C. Book XXI, Chapters 1-3, 10-27 The punishment of the damned and eternity of Hell
D. Book XXII, Chapters 1-7, 12-24, 29-30  Of the reward of the just, the resurrection to eternal life, the glorified body, and the beatific vision

V. Recommended listening on LibriVox for Books XIX-XXII
Book XIX, Chapters 5-12, 13-21, 22-28
Book XX, All Chapters
Book XXI, All Chapters
Book XXII, All Chapters


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