Monday, December 9, 2019

November 26th, Adult Ed Series, City of God, Session 16 of 16, Review and Other Works of St Augustine (Father Ryan Erlenbush)

We conclude our several month long series on the City of God and discuss how knowledge of this great work will help us appreciate other writings of St Augustine.

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 16, Review of The City of God
in the Context of St Augustine’s Other Writings

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

Note on schedule: Last session! Hope you enjoyed our course!

I. Review of Introduction
A. Why read The City of God? It is arguably the most important book for the medieval period outside of the Bible – it has shaped civilization.
B. Who was St Augustine? AD 354-430, convert after a sinful youth, Bishop of Hippo.
C. The Fall of Rome, AD 410 - to the outwardly Christian Visigoth King Aleric. The sack of Rome is the historical event which inspired St Augustine to write of the city of men which will pass away and the City of God which endures forever.

II. Notes and suggestions on reading The City of God
A. Size of the work: The work is made up of 22 books, each consisting of about 30 chapters (up to even 54 chapters) which are generally about one or two pages long. Thus, the total work (in our “Modern Library” edition) is nearly 900 pages.

B. Historical timeline: St Augustine started writing in 413 (three years after the fall of Rome) and continued for about fourteen years until 426, ages 59 to 72! Many interruptions as he worked on the project, some of which are noted in the text itself. Also, it was published in stages, as is sometimes evident from the writing.

C. General Outline:
We can approach these two parts (Books I-X and XI-XXII) almost as two distinct works, one in which he shows the falsity of paganism and a second in which he defends the true Faith. We will focus much more intensely upon the second part of the work, in which St Augustine presents the Catholic view of Scripture and of human history.

D. The five part division of City of God (from St Augustine himself)
1. The Pagan gods and Earthly Happiness (Books I-V) – ancient history
2. The Pagan gods and Eternal Happiness (Books VI-X) – paganism and philosophy
3. The Origin of the Two Cities (Books XI-XIV) – angels/demons, Original Sin, death
4. The Development of the Two Cities (Books XV-XVIII) – Old Testament to Christ
5. The Ends of the Two Cities (Books XIX-XII) – the End of the World and Judgment

III. Other Great Works of St Augustine that bear on City of God
Confessions (about 400): The story of his life not only the historical details, but most especially as a moral, intellectual, and spiritual journey. Concludes with four books of philosophical and theological reflection (including an extended commentary on creation, time, good and evil, and Genesis 1 and 2).

Enchiridion (410): On Faith, Hope and Love. On living the Faith, and on the central beliefs of the Catholic Church.

Literal Commentary on Genesis (401-415): St. Augustine had attempted many commentaries on Genesis, but in this, he finally comes to his masterful understanding of the Creation!

Commentary on the Psalms (finish 418): A line by line commentary on each of the Psalms. Warm and masterful – very helpful for the priest/monk/nun and even the laity who pray the psalms daily.

On Christian Doctrine  (397-426): A careful discussion of theories of biblical exegesis. St Augustine explains how a Catholic ought to read the Scriptures and proper methods of interpretation.

IV. Other important works of St Augustine
A. On the Harmony of the Gospels (410): An attempt to reconcile the various passages of the four Gospels to set all the events of our Lord’s life in proper order. This is especially important for understanding St John’s Gospel which relates many different things than the other three.

B. Commentary on the Gospel of John (416): The greatest work of speculative theology and biblical interpretation excepting only St Thomas’ commentary on the same.

C. On the Trinity (400-416): Sometimes considered the most profound work of St Augustine, in which he especially develops the image of the Trinity in man (being/memory, knowledge, will).

D. The Letters of St Augustine – most especially his letters with St Jerome, which show so clearly his personality, charm, intellectual honesty and brilliance, and especially his great love of God and of man.

E. Many, many others!  On the Freedom of the Will. On Galatians. Over 300 Sermons. Etc.

Excerpt from Confessions on the Creation (an Allegorical Interpretation)
Confessions, Book XIII, c.37:
“be fruitful and multiply” ... But if we treat those words as taken figuratively (the which I rather suppose the Scripture intended, which does not, verily, superfluously attribute this benediction to the offspring of marine animals and man only), then do we find that multitude belongs also to creatures both spiritual and corporeal, as in heaven and in earth; and to souls both righteous and unrighteous, as in light and darkness; and to holy authors, through whom the law has been furnished unto us, as in the firmament which has been firmly placed between waters and waters; and to the society of people yet endued with bitterness, as in the sea; and to the desire of holy souls, as in the dry land; and to works of mercy pertaining to this present life, as in the seed-bearing herbs and fruit-bearing trees; and to spiritual gifts shining forth for edification, as in the lights of heaven; and to affections formed unto temperance, as in the living soul.
You will notice, if you read Confessions, that many of the pagan falsities St Augustine attacks in City of God books I-X are ones that either he or his friends had fallen to before he became a Christian.

Quotes from On Christian Doctrine
“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”
“The wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the holy scriptures--and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and careful investigation of their meaning. Some people read them but neglect them; by their reading they profit in knowledge, by their neglect they forfeit understanding.”
“Faith will falter if the authority of holy scripture is shaken; and if faith falters, love itself decays. For if someone lapses in his faith, he inevitably lapses in his love as well, since he cannot love what he does not believe to be true.”
“I say to those who fail to understand what I write that it is not my fault they do not understand. Suppose they wanted to see the new moon, or not the old one, or a star that was very faint, and I pointed it out with my finger but their eyesight was too weak to see even my finger - surely it would be wrong from the to be annoyed with me for that reason? As for those who manage to learn and assimilate these rules but are still unable to see into the obscure passages of divine scripture, they should consider themselves capable of seeing my finger but not the star to which it points. Both types of objector should stop blaming me and pray for insight to be given to them by God. Although I can move a part of my body as to point to something, I cannot improve their eyesight to make them see even my pointing finger, let alone what I want to point out.”
“It is the duty, therefore, of the eloquent churchman, when he is trying to persuade the people about something that has to be done, not only to teach, in order to instruct them; not only to delight, in order to hold them; but also to sway, in order to conquer and win them.”

Commentary on Psalm 3
A psalm of David, when he fled from the face of Absalom his son.
1. The words, I slept, and took rest; and rose, for the Lord will take me up, lead us to believe that this Psalm is to be understood as in the Person of Christ; for they sound more applicable to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, than to that history in which David's flight is described from the face of his rebellious son. And, since it is written of Christ's disciplesThe sons of the bridegroom fast not as long as the bridegroom is with themMatthew 9:15 it is no wonder if by his undutiful son be here meant that undutiful disciple who betrayed Him. From whose face although it may be understood historically that He fled, when on his departure He withdrew with the rest to the mountain; yet in a spiritual sense, when the Son of God, that is the Power and Wisdom of God, abandoned the mind of Judas; when the Devil wholly occupied him; as it is written, The Devil entered into his heartJohn 13:27 may it be well understood that Christ fled from his face; not that Christ gave place to the Devil, but that on Christ's departure the Devil took possession. Which departure, I suppose, is called a flight in this Psalm, because of its quickness; which is indicated also by the word of our Lord, saying, That you do, do quicklyJohn 13:27 So even in common conversation we say of anything that does not come to mind, it has fled from me; and of a man of much learning we say, nothing flies from him. Wherefore truth fled from the mind of Judas, when it ceased to enlighten him. But Absalom, as some interpret, in the Latin tongue signifies, Patris pax, a father's peace. And it may seem strange, whether in the history of the kings, when Absalom carried on war against his father; or in the history of the New Testament, when Judas was the betrayer of our Lord; how father's peace can be understood. But both in the former place they who read carefully, see that David in that war was at peace with his son, who even with sore grief lamented his death, saying, O Absalom, my son, would God I had died for you! 2 Samuel 18:33 And in the history of the New Testament by that so great and so wonderful forbearance of our Lord; in that He bore so long with him as if good, when He was not ignorant of his thoughts; in that He admitted him to the Supper in which He committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood; finally, in that He received the kiss of peace at the very time of His betrayal; it is easily understood how Christ showed peace to His betrayer, although he was laid waste by the intestine war of so abominable a device. And therefore is Absalom called father's peace, because his father had the peace, which he had not.
2. O Lord, how are they multiplied that trouble me! Psalm 3:1. So multiplied indeed were they, that one even from the number of His disciples was not wanting, who was added to the number of His persecutors. Many rise up against me; many say unto my soul, There is no salvation for him in his God Psalm 3:2. It is clear that if they had had any idea that He would rise again, assuredly they would not have slain Him. To this end are those speeches, Let Him come down from the cross, if He be the Son of God; and again, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Matthew 27:42 Therefore, neither would Judas have betrayed Him, if he had not been of the number of those who despised Christ, saying, There is no salvation for Him in His God.
3. But You, O Lord, art my taker. It is said to God in the nature of man, for the taking of man is, the Word made Flesh. My glory. Even He calls God his glory, whom the Word of God so took, that God became one with Him. Let the proud learn, who unwillingly hear, when it is said to them, For what have you that you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do you glory as if you had not received it? 1 Corinthians 4:7 And the lifter up of my head Psalm 3:3. I think that this should be here taken of the human mind, which is not unreasonably called the head of the soul; which so inhered in, and in a sort coalesced with, the supereminent excellency of the Word taking man, that it was not laid aside by so great humiliation of the Passion.
[…] 5. I slept, and took rest Psalm 3:5. It may be not unsuitably remarked, that it is expressly said, I, to signify that of His own Will He underwent death, according to that, Therefore does My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from Me; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. John 10:17-18 Therefore, says He, you have not taken Me as though against My will, and slain Me; but I slept, and took rest; and rose, for the Lord will take me up. […]


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