Century V, Chapter V

C H A P. V.

A Short View Of Augustine's " City Of God."

The subject of this great work is so much of a piece Augusfmt'i with the history before us, the work itself is so re- Ci'J of markable a monument of genius, learning, and piety ° ' united, and deserves so well both of the classical scholar, and the theologian, that the reader will either expect some account of it, or at least excuse me, if I attempt it. Ecclesiastical antiquity has been too much depreciated in our times, and students in divinity have been discouraged from the study of the Fathers. In truth, a selection of them ought to be made ; to praise or dispraise the primitive writers in general is obviously absurd. But Augustine's City of God deserves an unqualified commendation. The young student who shall meditate on it with deep attention, will find it richly to repay his labour; and the following review of its plan and contents may teach him what he is to expect from it.

The capture of Rome by Alaric the Goth, and the subsequent plunder and miseries of the imperial city, had opened the mouths of the Pagans to blas" '*. Jerom's works, vol. i. 91, P. Go.

pheme the true God, and to accuse Christianity as the cause of the declension of the empire. However trifling such an argument may now appear, at that time it had so great weight, that it gave occasion to Augustine, In His Zeal For The House Of God, to write this treatise.

The work itself consists of twenty-two books. The first states the objections made by the Pagans, and answers them in form. It was a remarkable fact, that all who fled to the church called the Basilicae of the Apostles, whether Christians or not, were preserved from military fury. The author takes notice of this singular circumstance, as a proof of the great authority of the name and doctrine of Christ, even among Pagans, and shows that no instance can be found in their history, where many vanquished people were spared out of respect to their religious worship. He justly observes, therefore, that the evils accompanying the late disaster ought to be ascribed to the usual events of war, the benefits to the power of the name of Christ. His thoughts on the promiscuous distribution of good and evil in this life are uncommonly excellent. " If all sin, he observes were now punished, nothing might seem to be reserved to the last judgment. If the Divinity punished no sin openly now, his providence might be denied. In like manner, in prosperous things, if some petitions for temporal things were not abundantly answered, it might be said that they were not at God's disposal. If all petitions were granted, it might be thought that we should serve God only for the sake of worldly things." And in a number of elegant allusions he goes on to show the benefit of afflictions to the righteous, and the curse which accompanies them to the wicked*. He mentions also the propriety of punishing the godly often in this life, because they

* Pari motu exagitatum & exbalat horribiliter ccenum, & suaviter fragrat unguentum, &c. \l is a just recommendation

are not sufficiently weaned from the world, and be- Cent. cause they do not rebuke the sins of the world as . v . they ought, but conform too much to the taste of ungodly men. He answers the objections drawn *rom their sufferings in the late disaster. " Many Christians, say they, are led captive. It would be very miserable, he owns, if they could be led to any place, where they could not find their God." In the same book he excellently handles the subject of suicide, demonstrates its cowardice, and exposes the pusillanimity of Cato. He mentions the prayer of Paulinus, bishop of Nola, who had reduced himself to poverty for the sake of Christ, when the Barbarians laid waste his city, " Lord, suffer me not to be tormented on account of gold and silver; for where all my wealth is thou knowest." For .there he had his all, where the Lord hath directed us to lay up our treasure, and he strongly insists, as the fullest answer to objections, that the saint loses nothing by all his afflictions.

Having sufficiently spoken to the particular occasion, he proceeds, in the second book, to wage Of- Book 2d. Pensive War With The Pagans, and shows that while their religion prevailed, it never promoted the real benefit of men. In this book he proves his point with respect to moral evils. Immoral practies were not discouraged or prohibited in the least by the popular idolatry, but, on the contrary, vice and flagitiousness were encouraged. He triumphs in the peculiar excellence of Christian institutes, because by them instruction was constantly diffused among the body of the people, of which the whole system of Pagan-worship was void. His observations on Stage-plays*, and on the vicious manners . .. of the Romans, even in the best times of their re

of this treatise, that its Latinity is of a superior taste to that of his other works, which were written to the populace ; this was meant for the perusal of philosophers.

* By Roman laws, players could not be admitted into Roman citizenship.

Chap, public, as confessed by Sallust, or at least deduced . v' , by fair inference from his writings, are extremely worthy of attention. I have not seen a more just estimate any where of Roman virtue, than is to be found in this and some of the following books. The classical reader will do well to attend to his remarks, after he has made himself master of the historical facts. And, it is only one instance among many of the unhappy propensity of the age to infidelity, that the specious sophisms of Montesquieu concerning the virtue of the Roman republic, are so much sought after and held in such veneration, while the solid arguments of Augustine are scarcely known among us. He eloquently describes what sort of felicity a carnal heart would desire, and in the description, shows the unreasonableness of its wishes. In the same book will be found some valuable remains of Cicero de Republica, a most profound and ingenious treatise, of which a few fragments are preserved by Augustine, and which are introduced by him, to show, that, by Cicero's confession, the Roman state was completely ruined before the times of Christianity. The book concludes with a pathetic exhortation to unbelievers. Hook 3d. In the third book, he demonstrates that the Pagans had no more help from their religion against natural evils, than they had against moral. He recounts the numberless miseries endured by the Romans long before the coming of Christ, such as would by malice have been imputed to the Christian religion had it then existed, some of which were more calamitous than any thing which they had lately sustained from the Goths. Book 4th. In the fourth book, he demonstrates that the Roman felicity, such as it was, was not caused by their religion. Here he weighs the nature of that glory and extent of empire with which the carnal heart is so much captivated, and demonstrates in the most solid manner, that a large extended eni


pire is 110 more an evidence of felicity, than immense property is in private life ; and whoever has been fascinated by political writers, ancient or modern, into an admiration of this false glory, may see it excellently combated by the reasonings of Augustine. The Pantheistic philosophy, of which the old sages are full, is ridiculed, and the futility of all the popular religions exposed. In the conclusion he gives a short view of the dispensations of Providence toward the Jews, and shows the superiority of their felicity, so long as they were obedient, to that of the Romans.

In the fifth book, he describes the virtue of the Bo»k s'bold Romans, and what reward was given to it here on earth —shadowy reward for shadowy virtue. He gives an excellent account of the vice of vain-glory, and contrasts it with the humility of Christians. He demonstrates that it was the true God who dis- . i

pensed his mercies and judgments toward the Romans. A more striking view of the emptiness of warlike grandeur cannot be found than in the account which he gives of the condition of the victors and the vanquished, and in the demonstration that the latter were no way inferior to the former in point of real happiness, except in the crisis of battle.

In the same book, he argues against Cicero, and shows the consistency of the prescience of God with the free agency of man. In this and some other parts of his works, the discerning reader may see some traces of that ingenious work, Jonathan Edwards's Enquiry on Free-will. He takes notice of : the total defeat sustained by Rhadagases, the bar* barous Pagan in Italy, and reminds the Gentiles how insultingly they had declared beforehand, that he would certainly be victorious. His observations on the ill success of the pious emperor Gratian, and the prosperity of Constantine and Theodosins, deserve also our attention. . 1 / j

Having shown, in the first five .books, that Pa- FWefuiiow.


Chap, ganisra could do nothing for men in temporal

t v- , things, in the five following books he proves, that

it was also totally insignificant with respect to the next life*. Here we meet with some valuable fragments of the very learned Varro, who divides religion into three kinds, the fabulous, the philosophical, and the political. Here too we have a clear and historical detail of the opinions of the ancient philosophers 'j*.

Of the remaining books the four first describe the beginning, the four middle the progress, and the four last the issues of the two states, namely, the city of God and the World; the history of both, and the different genius and spirit of each, are throughout conceived with great energy by the author, and are illustrated with copiousness and perspicuity.

Book mb. The eleventh book begins with a just and solid view of the knowledge of God by the Mediator, and the authority of the Scriptures. A number of questions, which respect the beginnings of things, rather curious than important, follow. Amoog these there is, in the twelfth chapter, an accasional comparison of the felicity of the just in this life witfc that of Adam before his fall, which deserves a better character. His metaphysics concerning the origin of evil are interspersed. But the greater part of the book may be omitted with little loss to the reader.

origen Yet his censure of One-en in the twenty-third chapter deserves attention.

Book iath. In the twelfth book the question concerning the origin of evil is still more explicitly stated; and the opinions of those who pretend to account for the origin of the world in a manner different from the Scriptures, and to give it an antiquity much superior to that which is assigned to it in them, are refuted*

Boot 13th. The thirteenth book describes the fall of man ; but

- * * Bm>k yi. *- Book viii.

questions of little or no moment are interspersed; Cent,. and the subtilty of the learning of his times meetipg . ^ . with his argumentative mind, leads him here, as in various other parts of his writings, into trifling disquisitions. I do not, however, reckon of this sort his account of the difference between an animal and spiritual body, because it throws some good light on the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians.

The fourteenth book contains matter more in- Bx>k 14th. teresting than the foregoing three, though it is not . 1 without unimportant speculations. A just idea of the magnitude of the first sin is given, and the justice of God is excellently vindicated. In the close of this book he contrasts the two states in a very graphical manner. " Two sets of affections have . ; produced two states: self-love produced an earthly one to the contempt of God; the love of God produced a heavenly one to the contempt of man. That glories in man, this in the Lord. That seeks glory from men, to this, God, the witness of the conscience is the greatest glory. That exalts the head in its own glory, this says to its God, Thou


jflEA D. In that the lust of power reigns, in this men Serve one another in love, governors in providing, subjects in obeying. That loves its own strength, this says to its God, I wUl Love Thee, o Loup, MY Strength, JLn that, wise men live according to man, ^nd pursue the goods of body or mind, or both, or if they know God, honour him not as God, nor are thankful. In this, human wisdom is of no account, godliness is all, in which the true God is worshipped, and the reward is expected, in the society of saints and angels, that God may be all in all."

In the fifteenth book, he enters upon the second Book 15th. part of jhe history of the two states, namely, their progress. He describes very justly the two types,

Chap. Sarah and Agar, and illustrates the spirit and genius . v- , of the two sects by the cases of Cain and Abel. He confutes those who would make the lives of the Antediluvians of shorter duration than that assigned them in Scripture. His reflections on the Ark and the Deluge are just, though to us they contain little that is new; and in the last chapter he shows that the literal anil allegorical sense of Scripture ought both to be supported, without depreciating either.

Bool; 18th. The sixteenth book carries on the history of the city of God from Noah to David, and contains important instruction throughout, especially to those who have not read the same things in modern authors.

Book 17th. The seventeenth book may be called theprophetic history. He shows a double sense must necessarily be affixed to the words of the prophets- in which sometimes the literal, sometimes the spiritual, and sometimes both senses are applicable. He justly observes, therefore, that the Scriptures are to be understood in a tripartite sense. And he gives an admirable instance of his views in Hannah's song in the first book of Samuel, in which a king is prophesied of, at a time when no king was in Israel. His comments on the Psalms are excellent also to the same purpose. These views are so remote from the usual mode of reasoning in our times, that they will not easily find credit in the world. But I will venture to affirm, that the more men study the Scriptures, the more they will see the justness of Augustine's remarks, and the necessity of admitting them.

Book 18th. jn t{je eighteenth book he displays much learning in describing the times of the world coeval with those of the church of God, prior to the birth of Christ. He proves the superior antiquity of prophetic authority to that of any philosophers. The remarkable harmony of the sacred writers, in the promotion of one system, and the endless discordancies of philosophers, are ably contrasted. Yet he proves from the earliest times, that the citizens of the new Jerusalem were not confined absolutely to Jewry.

In speaking of the times of Christ and the propagation of the Gospel, he observes*, " In this malignant world, in these evil days, whilst the church is procuring future dignity by present humility, and is disciplined by the incentives of fear, the torments of pain, the fatigue of labours, and the dangers of temptations, rejoicing only in hope, when her joy is sound, many reprobates are mixed with the good; both are collected into the Gospel-net, and both, included in this world as in a sea, swimpromiscuously till they reach the shore, where the bad shall be severed from the good, and in the good, as in his temple, God shall be all in all."—Christ chose disciples meanly born, obscure and illiterate, that whatever great things they should do, he might be in them, and do all. One he had among them, whose evil he turned to good, by making it an instrument of his passion, and affording an example to his church of enduring evil. His holy church being planted, so far as his bodily presence required, he suffered, died, rose again, showing by his passion what we ought to sustain for truth, by his resurrection what to hope for in eternity; and this is an additional lesson to the great mystery of redemption, by which his blood was shed for the remission of our sins. He proves that the faith of the Gospel is strengthened by the dissensions of heretics ; and after some observations on Antichrist, as just as might be expected in his time, he concludes with a remark on a Pagan prophecy, which affirmed that the Christian religion would only continue three hundred and sixty-five years. " What may be doing, says he, at the end of this period in other parts of the

* Chap. xlix.

Chap, world, it may be heedless to inquire. I will .- y , mention what I know; in the renowned city of Carthage, the imperial officers, in the year following" the predicted extinction of Christianity, overturned the temples of the idols, and brake the images. And for the space of thirty years since that time, the falsity of the pagan divination being notorious, occasion hath been given to render the progress of the Gospel still more triumphant." Book i£tb. The four last books describe the issues of tbe two states. The nineteenth deserves the studious attention of every scholar, who would accurately distinguish between theology and philosophy. He contrasts the ideas of happiness exhibited by both with great clearness, and, while he does justice to all the good that is found in secular systems, he points out their fundamental errors. The principles of evangelical virtue are stated; the miseries of life are described, and both the true relief against them which the Gospel proposes is exhibited, and the false consolations of philosophy are justly exposed. In fine (for my limits admit not a longer detail) the reader will find here the mass of secular philosophy reduced to order, its errors detected, and the very picture of the Christian state and genius delineated.

Bouk aoth. Tlie twentieth book undertakes to describe the last judgment. But as the vigorous and discursive genius of the author led him to handle a multitude of intricate questions, and to undertake the exposition of some of the most difficult prophecies in the Scripture, for Which the early times in which he lived were unequal, through want of the evidence of their accomplishment, almost the whole is very uninteresting.

T\Ti?"l In the two last books he gives his ideas of the b^>k».° d" punishment of the wicked, and of the happiness of the righteous in a future state. The former, though it has a mixture of curious questions, more subtil than important, will from the eleventh chapter Cewt.

to the end deserve a careful perusal. I have not y- t. seen in so small a compass, a sounder answer to the objections of men against the Divine justice in punishing sin eternally, than is to be found in the eleventh and twelfth chapters. It appears that the Lord's Prayer was daily used by the church* in his time, and though he seems to give an unsound interpretation of our Lord's words, of making Friends


confesses his interpretation would be dangerous in practice; and he protests against the ideas of those who imagine they can atone for their sins by alms. He refutes various presumptions of men who expect to escape the damnation of hell without a sound conversion.

In the last book, which describes the eternal rest LaitBooi. of the city of God, he dwells a little on the external evidences of Christianity, and in speaking of miracles, he describes some which were wrought in his own time. One of them, the healing of a disorder, seems peculiarly striking, because it was in answer to prayer. I have again to regret the scholastic and subtil taste of his times interwoven with most important matter. The twenty-second chapter gives as striking a proof, drawn from facts, of human . apostasy as I have seen. The reflections in the two next chapters are also admirable. And he closed with a delightful view of the eternal felicity of the church of God.

Should the very imperfect scetch I have given of this work, one of the greatest efforts of genius and learning in any age, induce any classical scholars to peruse it with candour and attention, and, by the blessing of God, to imbibe some portion of the heavenly spirit of the author, I shall have cause to rejoice. One caution I must however give in reading it, which, indeed, isgenerally necessary in reading the • Chap. last.

Chap. Fathers, and it is that which I would keep steadily . ^' . in view throughout this history. We must forget our Own times, spirit, taste, and manner. We must transplant ourselves into those of the author, and make allowances for his modes both of thinking and speaking, which are extremely different from our own. Without this reasonable degree of candour, to which, however, few minds are sufficiently inclined, it is impossible to make a just estimate of the works which pass under our examination.