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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.

tomgroeneman's picture

The Origin of War

Gen. 4:8-10

Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.

It is a fact, then, that in the heart of every man there lies a wild beast which only waits for an opportunity to storm and rage, in its desire to inflict pain on others, or, if they stand in his way, to kill them. It is this which is the source of all the lust of war and battle.
[Schopenhauer, On Human Nature: Human Nature]

This quote from a philosopher summarizes my view of the implications of Cain killing Abel. Because of the sinful nature, we all have the potential to become like Cain; or the opposite is also true, because of the grace of God we all have the potential to become like Abel. We see that it did not take the sin principle at work in fallen man very much time to run its course resulting in murder/fratricide. In fact, in the very next generation to Adam and Eve man became capable of such a horrible crime. We will see the progression of sin in later generations result in the destruction of the entire race because of their wickedness when God even regrets that He made man (Gen. 6). Sin is a ruthless taskmaster and in Cain's case he allowed it to dominate him even though God had warned him when he was jealous and angry about the offerings. Sin is no joke and its ability to bring tragedy on man should not be trivialized or underestimated.

The text here seems to indicate that Cain's act was premeditated. It does not say exactly what he told Abel but it does show him leading Abel into the field away from the protection of God and their parents where he slew him. Acts of violence are justified by some people but there is a strong tradition of peacemaking and non-violence in the Christian Church. Anabaptists were ground breakers during the Reformation when both Protestants and Catholics were killing them for their beliefs. The founder of the Mennonites, Jacob Menno, was an ardent pacifist and whenever the drums of war beat loudly in America, the Mennonites are first on the front lines of protest against men committing the same crime of Cain against his fellow man. I see in the story of Cain and Abel a metaphor that depicts the human tragedy of war and I believe the Bible here demonstrates its root in sin.

God, still the loving Father and Creator, seeks out Cain and asks him what has happened to his brother? Apparently, God was still in close contact with man after the Fall and spoke with him directly. Cain first lies and says he does not know and then he denies that he has any responsibility for his brother. The word 'keeper' here is the same word used when The Israelites are instructed to keep the Law:
A primitive root; properly to hedge about (as with thorns), that is, guard; generally to protect, attend to, etc.: - beware, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep (-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch (-man).

The answer to Cain's question is of course an emphatic Yes! This principle is further confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament on several occasions, mainly in His parable of the sheep and goats.
Matt. 25:40
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

God then declares that Abel's blood has its own voice that cries out to him from the ground where it was shed. This is how the writer of Hebrews can say that Abel still speaks to us today. The prophetic witness of a righteous, faith filled life carries on beyond the grave or martyrdom and its voice is not a mere whimper but a loud, gut wrenching emotionally charged shout throughout the ages. The Hebrew word used here is the same one the book of Exodus uses to describe the cry of the Israelites to God in their bondage in Egypt. The Psalmist also uses it several times in prayers.
A primitive root; to shriek; (by implication) to proclaim (an assembly): - X at all, call together, cry (out), gather (selves) (together).

When I was in elementary school, our class took a trip to visit the site of the American Civil War battle Gettysburg. My memories of the day are clear. The site is like a well maintained park with rolling hills and lush forests. There is very little evidence that brother had killed brother there in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. But in the air I could detect an almost tangible voice of the many men who had died there. In this now peaceful setting, the violence of man against man permeated the atmosphere in such a way that I was forever impressed as a young man that violence is never the solution of our problems but only exacerbates them. In a similar way, I have heard testimony from people who have visited Auschwitz and the overwhelming consensus is that there is no explanation, no answer to the riddle of man's inhumanity to man, no statement of apology or defensive rationale; only Auschwitz, it is just there.

Tom Groeneman