Outline of City of God, Books 1-10

Books 1-4 deconstruct the Roman civic theology narrative that the evils came upon Rome because the people abandoned the Roman gods for Christ. Augustine points out that by Roman standards, the Roman gods were depraved.  And in any case, these “gods” had a history of both failing to protect the commonwealth and in punishing its noblest citizens. 

The earthly city is motivated by a lust for domination (libido dominandi). This is rooted in man’s fallen nature (Markus xvi).

Book 5: refutes astrology.  Jacob and Esau were born under the same sign, yet radically different.

Foreknowledge and free will: the Christian chooses both foreknowledge and liberty (V.9).  There is a fixed order of causes in God, yet our wills themselves are in that chain of causes, and thus in a secondary sense human acts of will cause human actions. True, God causes our wills, but our wills, as causes within that chain, cause other effects.

Roman civil ceremonies and rituals are “civic theologies” (6.7-8).

Roman natural theology: that which is neither civic nor poetic theology (6.10). Augustine has already refuted the civic theology, as earlier Rome’s gods were neither moral nor able to save from attackers.  Augustine is now addressing the nature of the gods themselves.

He quotes Varro to the effect that God is to the world what the soul is to the body.  Yet Varro also states that both Jupiter and Janus are the main god, so why two worlds?

Book VII

One man contains a multiplicity, but that doesn’t mean there are plural men in him.

Book VIII

Knowing: “now when a material object is thus seen in the mind’s eye, it is no longer a material object but the likeness of such an object; and then faculty which perceives this likeness in the mind is neither a material body, nor the likeness of a physical object….this faculty is the human intellect, the rational constituent in the soul of man” (VIII.5).

If our mind is not a physical object, then how can God be a physical object?

Sections 18-24; gods of the nations are demons.

Hermes Trismegistus knew this, and probably knew the demons. 

He knew that Egyptian gods were false, yet he lamented their overthrow.

Book 9

1. Summary of the argument so far.

“Only truth and virtue can offer a centre of resistance against turbulent and degraded passions” (which Augustine previously identified with demons).

Nature of the soul (9.10).  

In this chapter Augustine wants to refute the notion that demons are intermediaries between God/gods and man.  His argument is something like this (9,13)

  1. The demons must have attributes common to both man and the gods, if the Platonists’ (i.e., Middle Platonism) argument holds.
  2. The demons only have one attribute in common with the gods (eternity) and three with men, so how can they be intermediaries?
  3. This is even worse for the so-called “good” demons.  If the demons were both good and eternal, then they couldn’t be intermediaries, since eternal felicity would bring them closer to the gods.

Book 10

This is the final book in the first half of the City of God. It includes Augustine’s sustained attack on the pagan magus Porphyry.

In one sense the Platonists were correct: the soul is the part of man that participates in the highest good. When rightly ordered, the soul uses the body with respect to God, and in doing so the soul itself becomes a sacrifice.

Note: later Christian thinkers would not accept this idea of the body as merely an instrument of the soul.

The Chaldeans, pace Porphyry, could not have been dealing with good gods. And even if they were, they could not reach them.  They needed theurgy–liturgical, magical rites. This was supposed to purify the soul, otherwise they were open to dark gods. This raises a problem, though. Why were not their good gods strong enough to deliver the people from fear (10.10)?

God used Israel to educate the human race, so to move from visible to invisible (10.14).

Christians exorcise demons. We do not propitiate them (10.22).

Union and Distinction in Maximus (Review)

Melchisidec Toronen gives us a useful snapshot and handbook for Maximus the Confessor. While the back has some drawbacks, it is clear and to the point (almost to a fault). Toronen gives a lucid summary of his own argument: “The greatness of the notion of ‘union without confusion’ lies in the fact that it can accommodate at once both unity and differentiation within one being. ‘No’ to confusion means ‘yes’ to difference, and hence to natural integrity; ‘yes’ to union means ‘no’ to separation, and hence also ‘yes’ to personal integrity” (Toronen 120).

He begins surveying the literature and notes several problems with von Balthasar’s account and those following in his footsteps: Toronen acknowledges, with von Balthasar and Thunberg, that Maximus was a Chalcedonian. He simply denies that Chalcedon was the frame for everything Maximus said. “Yes to Chalcedon, no to pan-Chalcedonianism.”

Toronen nicely suggests that Maximus used Porphryry’s Tree as a conceptual model to discuss created reality (not uncreated, though!). This, among other things, allows Maximus to speak of “difference,” not division relative to Christ.

We get a decent discussion of hypostasis, logos, and tropos. One’s “logos” is its principle of essence (Maximus, Ep. 15). Toronen explains that “The principle of essence is what is common to all the particulars but the particulars have some characteristic features of their own which individuate them in relation to one another” (Toronen 53). Further, he nicely distances Maximus’s use of “person” from modern personalism, both in theology and philosophy. The latter two relegate the actions of person to the hypostasis, not the nature.

He gives a good, if frustratingly short account of Monad and Triad. Monad and Triad are both on the side of the uncreated. Going back to the Porphyryan tree, accidents do not apply on the side of the uncreated. And the “generic” is something substantial in God, not abstracted from particulars (64). The Triad is a Monad by virtue of the logos of its essence, and the Monad is a Triad according to the logos of its existence.

Some Criticisms

At times it appears Toronen merely lists arguments from Maximus without actually analyzing them or taking them beyond surface level (see his talk on Circle and Radii, pp. 39). Further, his section “Today” begins by explaining differences between the Fathers and modern personalist theologians, but then just stops (66-68). I grant that “union and distinction” are important for Maximus. I’m just not sure they carry all the weight Toronen wants them to. Nonetheless, this is a fine book and can serve as a good introduction to Maximus.