November 6, 2011

The Two Cities

Cain and Abel: The Earthly City and the Heavenly City
Anonymous Amanuensis ~ French National Library, Paris 

Surprisingly for me (but pleasantly so), my recent post about St. Augustine has been greatly appreciated by the readers of this blog. It is a credit to them, in my opinion. This, in turn, inspires me to write another one. But this time the subject is, so to speak, a bit less theological and a bit more political. In fact, the concept, or—which is the same thing—the theological doctrine of the Two Cities, the “City of God” and the “City of Earth,” is central in Augustine of Hippo’s political philosophy.

Yet, Augustine, who is remembered for bringing into philosophy from the Judeo-Christian tradition a sense of history and novelty which the Greeks and their philosophers had never had, doesn’t ever discuss the best form of government, instead he is interested in God’s role in history, in individuals and among nations and rulers.

As it had been in heaven, with the prideful revolt of the now fallen angels, so it was on earth. Thus, according to St. Augustine, the two-fold division of the universe into the Heavenly City and the Earthly City originated. The world in which we live is a mixture of the two cities, and here is the biggest challenge, because, in Augustine’s view, in the spiritual life of each individual Christian, there must be a balance between living an active Christian life, made up of societal involvement, and a contemplative life, that is to say, contemplation of God. But now let’s hand over to the bishop of Hippo himself. Here is how he describes the nature of the two cities (The City of God, Book XIV, Chapter 28):

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. 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. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, I will love You, O Lord, my strength. And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,— that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride—they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. [Romans 1:21-25] But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, that God may be all in all. [1 Corinthians 15:28]

And in the Literal Commentary on Genesis (XI, 15,20) he writes:

These are the two loves: the first is holy, the second foul; the first is social, the second selfish; the first consults the common welfare for the sake of a celestial society, the second grasps at a selfish control of social affairs for the sake of arrogant domination; the first is submissive to God, the second tries to rival God; the first is quiet, the second restless; the first is peaceful, the second trouble-making; the first prefers truth to the praises of those who are in error, the second is greedy for praise, however it may be obtained; the first is friendly, the second envious; the first desires for its neighbor what it wishes for itself, the second desires to subjugate its neighbor; the first rules its neighbor for the good of its neighbor, the second for its own advantage; and these two loves produce a distinction among the angels: the first love belongs to the good angels, the second to the bad angels; and they also separate the two cities founded among the race of men, under the wonderful and ineffable Providence of God, administering and ordering all things that have been created: the first city is that of the just, the second is that of the wicked. Although they are now, during the course of time, intermingled, they shall be divided at the last judgment; the first, being joined by the good angels under its King, shall attain eternal life; the second, in union with the bad angels under its king, shall be sent into eternal fire. Perhaps, we shall treat, God willing, of these two cities more fully in another place.

To conclude (or to begin), not that I want to establish an explicit link between the above quoted passages and our own times, but nevertheless I suppose we had better learn the lesson Augustine taught some 1,600 years ago.