Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hump Day History: St. Augustine’s City of God

I think actually finishing The City of God will be one of my greatest reading accomplishments. It’s long and, to be honest, not always riveting. I’m no literary critic and, since so many have found it so valuable for so long, I assume the problem’s with me, not the good saint’s work. Despite plodding through this book with one ‘book’ per week (his books are 40-60 pages each), there are some fantastic nuggets that are worthy of thought, or are at the very least, inspiring.

I’ve been tagging pages of note throughout the book. We’ll hit one of those each week, but there’s going to be a little bit of context needed for each one. So, instead of starting at the beginning (probably more like the middle since I was lost for the first half of the volume), I’m going to start where I’m reading (book XX of XXII – that’s 20 of 22 for you Arabic numeral-types). We’ll go back and hit the other stuff, but the context will be more fresh for me if we start where I am. And, honestly, that saves me some work. I’m all about that.

Again, I’m an Augustine novice so if you actually know something about him, your input is coveted.

Today I’m reading in Book 20, which is dealing with God’s judgment and this quote, regarding Satan’s 1000 year binding before his final loosening and defeat (see Rev. 20, I believe). For those wondering why God would bind Satan and then loose him for one last brouhaha, here’s what St. Augustine says,
“…if he were never loosed, his malicious power would be less patent, and less proof would be given of the steadfast fortitude of the holy city: it would, in short, be less manifest what good use the Almighty makes of his great evil. For the Almighty does not absolutely seclude the saints from his temptation, but shelters only their inner man, where faith resides, that by outward temptation they may grow in grace. And He binds him that he may not, in the free and eager exercise of his malice, hinder or destroy the faith fo those countless weak persons, already believing or yet to believe, from whom the Church must be increased and completed; and he will in the end loose him, that the city of God may see how mighty an adversary it has conquered, to the great glory of its Redeemer, Helper, Deliverer” (pp. 722-723).
Theodicy (answering the problem of evil) is one of the profound challenges of theism and this isn’t intended to be a full explanation by Augustine, but it does seem to be one angle on the issue. Great heroes need great villains. By releasing Satan, God’s greatness is highlighted. This leads to other problems, I suppose (like why create Satan if he’s going to fall, etc…), but in a theo-centric theology (it’s funny that there’d be any other kind) the highlighting of God’s goodness and greatness is a good reason for Satan to be bound, unleashed, and finally abolished from the earth.

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