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City of God: Book Fifteen

jmstaller's picture

Editor's summary: Argument—Having treated in the four preceding books of the origin of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, Augustin explains their growth and progress in the four books which follow; and, in order to do so, he explains the chief passages of the sacred history which bear upon this subject. In this fifteenth book he opens this part of his work by explaining the events recorded in Genesis from the time of Cain and Abel to the deluge.

Of the Two Lines of the Human Race Which from First to Last Divide It. Of the Children of the Flesh and the Children of the Promise. That Sarah’s Barrenness was Made Productive by God’s Grace. Of the Conflict and Peace of the Earthly City. Of the Fratricidal Act of the Founder of the Earthly City, and the Corresponding Crime of the Founder of Rome. Of the Weaknesses Which Even the Citizens of the City of God Suffer During This Earthly Pilgrimage in Punishment of Sin, and of Which They are Healed by God’s Care. Of the Cause of Cain’s Crime and His Obstinacy, Which Not Even the Word of God Could Subdue. What Cain’s Reason Was for Building a City So Early in the History of the Human Race.

Of the Long Life and Greater Stature of the Antediluvians. Of the Different Computation of the Ages of the Antediluvians, Given by the Hebrew Manuscripts and by Our Own. Of Methuselah’s Age, Which Seems to Extend Fourteen Years Beyond the Deluge. Of the Opinion of Those Who Do Not Believe that in These Primitive Times Men Lived So Long as is Stated. Whether, in Computing Years, We Ought to Follow the Hebrew or the Septuagint. That the Years in Those Ancient Times Were of the Same Length as Our Own. Whether It is Credible that the Men of the Primitive Age Abstained from Sexual Intercourse Until that Date at Which It is Recorded that They Begat Children. Of Marriage Between Blood-Relations, in Regard to Which the Present Law Could Not Bind the Men of the Earliest Ages. Of the Two Fathers and Leaders Who Sprang from One Progenitor. The Significance of Abel, Seth, and Enos to Christ and His Body the Church. The Significance Of Enoch’s Translation. How It is that Cain’s Line Terminates in the Eighth Generation, While Noah, Though Descended from the Same Father, Adam, is Found to Be the Tenth from Him. Why It is That, as Soon as Cain’s Son Enoch Has Been Named, the Genealogy is Forthwith Continued as Far as the Deluge, While After the Mention of Enos, Seth’s Son, the Narrative Returns Again to the Creation of Man.

Of the Fall of the Sons of God Who Were Captivated by the Daughters of Men, Whereby All, with the Exception of Eight Persons, Deservedly Perished in the Deluge. Whether We are to Believe that Angels, Who are of a Spiritual Substance, Fell in Love with the Beauty of Women, and Sought Them in Marriage, and that from This Connection Giants Were Born. How We are to Understand This Which the Lord Said to Those Who Were to Perish in the Flood: ‘Their Days Shall Be 120 Years.’ Of the Anger of God, Which Does Not Inflame His Mind, Nor Disturb His Unchangeable Tranquillity. That the Ark Which Noah Was Ordered to Make Figures In Every Respect Christ and the Church. Of the Ark and the Deluge, and that We Cannot Agree with Those Who Receive the Bare History, But Reject the Allegorical Interpretation, Nor with Those Who Maintain the Figurative and Not the Historical Meaning.

whoedebel's picture

the way back

Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
The Lord is not yet ready give up working with Cain. In great mercy the Lord expresses strong disapproval with Cain’s attitude. He poses a question, which seems to imply that there is no just cause for Cain’s present feelings. He is angry with his brother because his offering has been accepted, and frustrated at himself because his offering has not been accepted. He is in the presence of the just and merciful God, who has searched the heart for sincerity in his offering. Submission, self-examination, and amendment of what has been wrong in his approach to God alone would benefit the occasion. To this, accordingly, the Lord will direct his attention with the next sentence.

If thou do well, shalt thou not be accepted?
To do well is to retrace one’s steps, giving consideration to one’s ways, and seeking to discover wherein one has been wrong; then to amend his offering and his intention accordingly. (Kind of like a confession) He has not yet considered the relation, in which he stands with God as a guilty sinner, one whose life has already been forfeited, but to whom the hand of mercy is reaching out. Accordingly he has not felt this in his offering, nor has he given expression to it in the nature of his offering. Yet, the Lord does not immediately reject him, but with long-suffering patience directs his attention to this attitude, that his life might still be amended. On making such amendment, the Lord holds out to him the clear and certain hope of acceptance. But the Lord will do more than this. As Cain seems to have been of a particularly hard and un-attending disposition (St Augustine will call it obstinate), he will complete his expostulation, and deepen its awful solemnity. He will do this by committing the other alternative, very possibly not even considering the consequence of his action.

I should always be prepared in my life’s passions to question if I have not placed myself in the very path of life that Cain took. Then I must develop the gratitude that I did not carry it out as far as Cain did. I believe that this commentary of St Augustine captures the role that emotions play in our lives.