A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Steve West
Augustine’s The City of God is one of the most influential works in the history of literature. It is a towering achievement of Christian philosophy that defends Christianity in light of the pillage of Rome. Augustine critiques and attacks pagan religion and morality, and rebuts those who were blaming Christians for the sack of Rome. He develops a biblical theology of two kingdoms, the city of the world and the City of God. Augustine traces out the origins, historical advance, and eternal ends of the two cities. Despite human sin, the City of God will conquer and be victorious. The final culmination of the city of man is in eternal punishment, but the final state of the City of God is consummated Glory.
The City of God consists of two parts which are divided into numbered books. Part 1 contains Books 1-10, and Part 2 contains Books 11-22.
Summary: Part 2, Books 11-16
Part 2: Book 11
By God’s grace and love we prefer his City to earthly cities, but the unconverted still worship their false gods and prefer this world. We can only know God through the mediator who is both God and man. God has given us the authoritative Scriptures so that we can know reality. The visible world was created by the invisible God. Creating the world did not change God, nor alter his eternal, immutable plan. Both the world and souls are brought into existence without changing God’s plan. God was not idle for an infinite temporal past, since there was no time before God created it (just as there was no space before God made the world). There was no change or alteration before creation since there was no time. God created the world with time, not in time. We don’t know exactly what the days in Genesis 1 were like, but they do show growth in knowledge as creation develops. The Seventh Day of God’s Sabbath rest points forward prophetically to the rest his people will have in him.
Angels make up the greater part of the City of God, so we need to spend time considering them. They were created when God made them as partakers of his light, before he created anything else. God exists as a Trinity, and his nature is simple, meaning that his substance and qualities are indivisible. The righteous angels are blessed, since they will live in righteousness forever. They must have known that they would persevere in their joyous relationship with God forever, or else their uncertainty would have hindered their joy—this entails that the angels who fell would not have had such assurance and foreknowledge of their future state. Satan was not created with an evil nature, but he fell because he sinned in pride. Having a rational nature is good, so even the choice of evil shows that the original nature was good, since choosing requires a good faculty. God can use the evil choices of fallen beings to further his own good designs. The universe is more glorious given the contrasts provided by opposite pairs: God’s goodness is seen more clearly against the background of evil. Evil arose through choice, not through God creating an evil nature. God declared his creation good because it reflected his artistic skill—he did not merely see that it was good, he communicated goodness to it when he made it. He knew that it was good to make before he made it. Many things that seem to be harmful and evil in our world actually have positive functions when used in proper spheres. Evil is a privation of good. God is good and created good things. When it comes to creation, the question Who? is answered “God”; the question How? is answered “through his Word”; and the question Why? is answered “because it is good.”
The Father begets the Word, and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. They are consubstantial and co-eternal. This is not tritheism since there is only one God. The entire Trinity is involved and revealed in the work of creation. Philosophy divides into natural, rational, and moral domains, and this corresponds with nature, training, and use. For true happiness we need wisdom, and that is a gift from God. Human beings exist in the faint image of the Trinity. We exist, we know we exist, and we are glad of it—about these things we cannot be mistaken, since only a being that exists can make a mistake. Existence and life are natural goods, which is why we do not want to die. We love existence and knowledge, but we should also love our love (since we should love what’s good and love is good). Existence, knowledge, and love reflect the Trinity. The angels have a certainty about the Triune God that surpasses our own certainty about ourselves. Numbers are important, and the numbers 6 and 7 in the creation account both signify the perfection of God’s order. When God created light he created the good angels, and he separated them from the apostates who are in darkness. The Genesis account can refer to God separating physical light and darkness, as well as spiritual beings who are in the light or fallen.
Part 2: Book 12
All created angels share the same nature, but some are evil because of a rebellious act of their will. God’s enemies do not harm him, but they harm themselves in rebellion against goodness. Existence is good, so any nature created by God, who is the supreme Good, is good: perversion comes through turning away from God’s goodness. Not everything in creation has a rational nature, but everything is good in its place. Evil does not occur because of a defective nature, but rather because of defective choices that turn from God. An efficient cause for the will’s decision to reject God cannot be found, since the choice is deficient not efficient—you may as well try to hear silence.. . .[...]
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City of God