The city of God

The City of God: Book 7: Chapters 30-32

Chapter 30

At this point, I must mention various operations of the one true God; It was because of these that the pagan philosophers, who were making a serious effort to interpret the indecent and immoral mysteries, made for themselves so many false gods. First, then, it is the God we worship who constituted, for each of the natures He created, an origin and purpose of its being and powers of action. He holds in His hands the causes of things, knowing them all and connecting them all. It is He who is the source of all energy in seeds, and He who put rational souls, or spirits, into the living beings He selected, and He who gave us the gifts of speech and language.

The God we worship chose certain spirits and gave them the power of foresight, and through them He makes prophecies. To others He gave the gift of healing. He controls the beginnings, progress, and endings of wars, when they are needed for the punishment or reformation of mankind. He rules the universal element of fire, so vehement and violent, yet so necessary for the equilibrium of nature. He is the Creator and Ruler of all the water of the universe. He made the sun, the brightest of all luminous bodies, and He gave it an appropriate energy and motion.

His sovereignty and power reach to the lowest things. All things that grow and sustain animal life, both liquids and solids, He produced and made appropriate for different natures. He gave us the earth, the fertility of soil, and foods for men and beasts. All causes, primary and secondary, come within His knowledge and control. He gave to the moon its phases, and in the air and on the ground He provided ways for traveling. He endowed the human intelligences which He created with a knowledge of the arts and sciences which help both life and nature. He instituted mating and marriage for the propagation of life, and to communities of men He gave the boon of fire, to keep them warm and give them light and make their efforts easier.

Such, at least, are the activities which the acute and learned Varro sought to distribute among the select gods, by appealing to those so-called natural interpretations, some of which are traditional and some of which he made up out of his own head. The truth is that all these actions and energies belong to the one true God, who is really a God, who is wholly present everywhere, is confined by no frontiers and bound by no hindrances, is indivisible and immutable, and, though His nature has no need of either heaven or of earth, He fills them both with His presence and His power.

Yet, the Creator of every nature has so ordained that each of His creatures is permitted to have and to exercise powers of its own. Although without Him they could not exist, their essence is different from His. He does many things by the ministry of angels, but their only source of beatitude is God Himself. And He Himself, and not the angels, is the source of men’s beatitude, even though He sometimes uses angels as messengers to men. It is from this one true God that we look for everlasting life.

Chapter 31

I have already said something of the general blessings of God, which, in the natural course of things, come to the good and the bad alike. However, beyond this bounty, He has reserved for the good a special sign of His great love. We can never sufficiently thank Him for the gifts of nature: that we exist and are alive, that we can enjoy the sight of earth and sky, that we have a reasoning mind by which we can seek Him who has made all these things. Yet, for the greater gifts of grace there are not hearts enough or tongues enough in all the world even to try to thank Him. For, when we were burdened and broken by our sins, and our minds were turned from His light and blinded by the love of the darkness of iniquity, He did not leave us to ourselves, but sent to us His Word, who is His only Son, so that, by His birth and passion in the flesh He assumed for our salvation, we might learn how highly God esteemed our human nature, and that we might be cleansed from all our sins by His unique Sacrifice and, by His Spirit, have Love poured into our hearts, so that, with all our warring over, we might come to everlasting rest in the supreme blessedness of gazing on His face.

Chapter 32

This mystery of eternal life, from the beginnings of the human race, has been announced to all whom it concerned by messengers of God, using outward signs and sacred symbols appropriate to particular periods. A little later, as though to enact this sacred Mystery, the Hebrew people was gathered into a single community in which all that was to happen from the coming of Christ until our day and beyond our day was foretold by men, some of whom had knowledge and some of whom had not. Still later, this nation was dispersed among the Gentiles to carry with them the witness of the Scriptures in which the future Redemption in Christ was foretold.

Thus, all that was fulfilled in Christ is being fulfilled before our eyes, and all that remains still to be fulfilled was not only preannounced in spoken prophecies and in the precepts of moral and religious life as contained in Holy Scripture, but was likewise symbolized by the Jewish rites, priesthood, tabernacle or temple, altars, sacrifices, ceremonies, festivals, and all the rest that belongs to the service which is due to God and which in Greek is properly called latreía—and all was with a view to the eternal life of those who believe in Christ.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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