We're making big changes. Please try out the beta site at beta.ccel.org and send us feedback. Thank you!

City of God: Book Fourteen

jmstaller's picture

That the Disobedience of the First Man Would Have Plunged All Men into the Endless Misery of the Second Death, Had Not the Grace of God Rescued Many. Of Carnal Life, Which is to Be Understood Not Only of Living in Bodily Indulgence, But Also of Living in the Vices of the Inner Man. That the Sin is Caused Not by the Flesh, But by the Soul, and that the Corruption Contracted from Sin is Not Sin But Sin’s Punishment. What It is to Live According to Man, and What to Live According to God.

That the Opinion of the Platonists Regarding the Nature of Body and Soul is Not So Censurable as that of the Manichæans, But that Even It is Objectionable, Because It Ascribes the Origin of Vices to the Nature of The Flesh. Of the Character of the Human Will Which Makes the Affections of the Soul Right or Wrong. That the Words Love and Regard (Amor and Dilectio) are in Scripture Used Indifferently of Good and Evil Affection. Of the Three Perturbations, Which the Stoics Admitted in the Soul of the Wise Man to the Exclusion of Grief or Sadness, Which the Manly Mind Ought Not to Experience. Of the Perturbations of the Soul Which Appear as Right Affections in the Life of the Righteous. Whether It is to Be Believed that Our First Parents in Paradise, Before They Sinned, Were Free from All Perturbation.

Of the Fall of the First Man, in Whom Nature Was Created Good, and Can Be Restored Only by Its Author. Of the Nature of Man’s First Sin. That in Adam’s Sin an Evil Will Preceded the Evil Act. Of the Pride in the Sin, Which Was Worse Than the Sin Itself. Of the Justice of the Punishment with Which Our First Parents Were Visited for Their Disobedience. Of the Evil of Lust,—A Word Which, Though Applicable to Many Vices, is Specially Appropriated to Sexual Uncleanness. Of the Nakedness of Our First Parents, Which They Saw After Their Base and Shameful Sin. Of the Shame Which Attends All Sexual Intercourse.

That It is Now Necessary, as It Was Not Before Man Sinned, to Bridle Anger and Lust by the Restraining Influence of Wisdom. Of the Foolish Beastliness of the Cynics. That Man’s Transgression Did Not Annul the Blessing of Fecundity Pronounced Upon Man Before He Sinned But Infected It with the Disease of Lust. Of the Conjugal Union as It Was Originally Instituted and Blessed by God. Whether Generation Should Have Taken Place Even in Paradise Had Man Not Sinned, or Whether There Should Have Been Any Contention There Between Chastity and Lust. That If Men Had Remained Innocent and Obedient in Paradise, the Generative Organs Should Have Been in Subjection to the Will as the Other Members are. Of True Blessedness, Which This Present Life Cannot Enjoy. That We are to Believe that in Paradise Our First Parents Begat Offspring Without Blushing. Of the Angels and Men Who Sinned, and that Their Wickedness Did Not Disturb the Order of God’s Providence.

Of the Nature of the Two Cities, the Earthly and the Heavenly.

jmstaller's picture

City of God 14: Good and Evil Passions

Returning to the major themes of City of God 12, in Book 14 Augustine begins to expand on the universal binary of good and evil, represented in the archetypal split between angels, which in the material realm coalesces as “two different kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures.” One of these cities is for “those who wish to live after the flesh;” the other is for those who “wish to live in the spirit” (14.1-2); “the one being the society of the godly men, the other of the ungodly, each associated with the angels that adhere to their party, and the one guided and fashioned by love of self, the other by love of God” (14.13.1). In the final chapter of this book it becomes clear that these two cities are ordered by contrasting value systems:

    In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all (14.28.1).

This social ethic is consonant with what we find also in the scriptures (cf Luke 22.24-27, John 13.1-15, Philippians 2.1-11). In this sense Augustine’s description of the heavenly kingdom seems to be oriented towards those who are involved in official church capacities and what he perceives as the ethical duty of those involved in church leadership and education.

As Augustine has elaborately argued, the capacity to enter or exit the holy city lies within the internal capacity of human beings to make independent moral decisions. In this book he devotes considerable attention to human nature—not just its rational and intellectual capacities, but its psychological tendencies. Some of these insights seem like they would be useful to pastoral workers who want to teach people to make good—that is, constructive—choices. His grasp of human psychology is fairly elaborate, and while of course his categories are not precisely modern, he provides some basic guidelines for a healthy emotional and spiritual disposition:

    The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, it is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, it is sadness. Now these [e]motions are evil if the love is evil; good if the love is good (14.7).

I was surprised to find an eloquent defense of the human passions: joy, despair, love, happiness, as part of a healthy psychology (14.9.1), in contrast to the ethos of Stoicism, which fosters emotional detachment or suppression. To illustrate the value of emotions Augustine cites two major biblical examples: Paul and Jesus. There is lengthy tribute to Paul in 14.9.2, essentially a character profile generated by canonical exegesis, with citations from Romans, Philippians, and 1-2 Corinthians, encouraging readers to recognize the emotional dimensions of Paul’s language—he was not, says Augustine, a dispassionate man. Likewise Augustine profiles Jesus’ emotional makeup, citing instances from all four gospels that indicate Jesus himself displayed authentic emotion, demonstrating at the very least that emotions may be properly expressed, rather than necessarily suppressed (14.9.3).

Emotions, says Augustine, are not only normal, but necessary: “But so long as we wear the infirmity of this life, we are rather worse men than better if we have none of these emotions at all” (14.9.4). He seems to be combatting a notion of holiness or sinless perfection that encourages a total departure from all types of emotionality. Citing 1 John 1.8, Augustine writes, “he who thinks he lives without sin puts aside not sin, but pardon” (14.9.4). He talks about healthy fear and unhealthy fear, using the language of “anxiety” and “clean fear” (14.9.5).

Early in this book Augustine noted that pride was the peculiar sin of Satan, and therefore the chief of sins (14.3); later this seems to be the unspoken character defect that motivated Satan to rebel in the first place, “preferring to rule with a kind of pomp of empire rather than to be another’s subject” (14.11.2); this is also the same defect which led human beings to originally sin: “And what is the origin of our evil will but pride?” (14.13.1).

Augustine treats lust as the negative type of all desires (14.15.2), but acknowledges its specifically sexual connotations (14.16.1). Here is that strange notion of sex without pleasure as a spiritual ideal among married Christians (cf 14.22.1-2). This seems like a red flag. Similarly Augustine’s conflation of sin, sexual desire, and shame: after realizing they were naked, Adam and Eve experienced spontaneous sexual desire contrary to their conscious will, and “there began in the movement of their bodily members a shameless novelty which made nakedness indecent: it at once made them observant and made them ashamed” (14.17.1). His presumption of basic sexual modesty as a shared cultural value among all the nations seems out of place in this present age (cf 14.18.1, 14.20.1).

There is an interesting reflection on human reactivity to sexual attraction: “when sexual intercourse is spoken of now, it suggests to men’s thoughts not such a placid obedience to the will as is conceivable in our first parents” [i.e., before the Fall] “but such violent acting of lust as they themselves have experienced. And therefore modesty shuts my mouth, although my mind conceives the matter clearly” (14.26.1); in one of my editions a section of this passage has been left apparently untranslated, and while my Latin is imperfect I think I get the topical gist of “utero conjugis salva integritate feminei genitalis virile semen immitt” and “ex utero virginis fluxus menstrui” (ibid). To be fair, he does preface this with an elegant disclaimer/apology for speaking graphically (14.23.3).

Augustine refers to Genesis 2.24, wherein “two become one flesh,” interpreting this to mean (in the Lord’s affirmation, Matt 19.4-5) that sex between a husband and wife is the natural and proper function of marriage, even if the institution of procreation has been tarnished by the lure of carnal pleasure (14.22.1). This could be a valuable section for someone researching traditional Church teaching regarding the value of the family unit.

Some of these passages read like Augustine resented his own sexual impulses as a sign of his own spiritual weakness, as a dimension of his physical existence that could not be reconciled with his theory of spiritual purity. Or maybe it is better to say that his theory of spiritual purity (health?) required Augustine to interpret his sexual impulses as expressions of an unclean will.

Heaven seems to represent the promise of a personal, eternal security: “But even the righteous himself does not live as he wishes, until he has arrived where he cannot die, be deceived, or injured, and until he is assured that this shall be his eternal condition” (14.25.1). His description of pre-fall paradise is essentially the absence of anything that threatens the well-being of the person, including negative emotions like “sadness” and “foolish joy.” There is also no need for sleep: human beings are in a maximum state of blissful production (14.26.1), which seems consonant with Augustine’s tendency to value something according to its utility (cf 11.16.1).

Follow Justin on Twitter