Archive for September 18th, 2008

I have heard so much in the past of Christians discussing the significance of The City of God in terms of eschatology and the author’s development of his view of the Kingdom of God, but I think the first few books within The City of God are also important in its own right for another aspect which should not be ignored: The importance of Christian apologetics against those who slander the faith. While Augustine was dealing with objections coming from Polytheists, the first two hundred pages of reading should be an example for Christians today to defend the truth in our cultural context.

In the opening of The City of God, Augustine jumped right into a defense of Christianity against the charge from pagans that Rome was sacked due to the recent neglect of the many Roman gods, since Christianity have so successfully flourished that idols and pagan temples were not what they once were. The opening thrusts of his argument began his observations of how even before Christianity, these pagan gods and temples didn’t even protect their followers which Augustine documents from history that the Romans themselves know. Moreover, Augustine expressed how ridiculous it was that the very gods in their temple who can not be protected are cherished by pagan critics as the ones who would protect the land. Rather than the gods protecting men, it was the other way around with men protecting the gods’ temple and idols. This being the first primary source that I have read from the church fathers, I was surprised at the nature of the work being so apologetics driven. His attack on paganism was reminiscent of the rhetoric against idols that is found throughout the Bible. In addition, I also appreciated the glimpse of the context in which Christianity flourished in the fourth century, and the church’s struggle with pagan slanderers.

This goes on until chapter eight of the first book where Augustine gives a treatment of why Christians also suffered with the Roman ordeal as well. Augustine saw the chief reason was not so much for Christians indulging in the bad life as it was for Christians’ love of an earthly life. The various suffering of the Christians which the pagans have taken the opportunity to use as evidence against the Christian faith are addressed: What about Christians whose dead bodies are disrespected? What about Christians who are held hostage in captivity? What about the rape of Christian women, has the victim sinned? He deals at length with one particular challenge, that it is better to commit suicide than be violated by rape. I find in his rebuttal a great example for the Church today of having Christians who can model themselves like Augustine that would not be afraid to tackle the tough ethical objections by the enemies of Christ. In addition, the discussion of suicide to prevent the violation of rape was also something I never have thought of thoroughly and through the introduction of Augustine’s writing, I would agree with his answer that suicide is not the right option to prevent being rapped.

In some sense the next few books appear to be repetitive of what was written in Book one, where Augustine presents with further historical evidences for his arch-counter-argument against the pagans and neutralized their assertion that Christianity was the cause of all the misfortunes that have befallen on Rome. It was impressive to see how Augustine was familiar with Classical history and well versed in the literatures of the Romans and the Greeks to make his case that troubles and degeneration of Rome occurred even before Christ as the Roman’s own record testified. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to see Augustine response to the pagan’s accusation by making their own argument self-defeating from their own history.

To Augustine, the depravity of Rome with their false gods was the reason for the trials of Rome, not Christianity. The sacking of Rome should be viewed as God’s deliverance of the people from being enslaved to these immoral, demonic gods. I think in our times today, Western culture are resistant to the idea that catastrophe can be the result of the judgment of God. Something can be learned from Augustine here. Although not every disaster is the result of God’s judgment as we learn in Job, the church should warn our culture that they need to search their hearts to see if they are right with God before ruling out the possibility of God’s judgment, because the living God of the Bible does bring judgment upon sin.

In the course of expanding his argument, Book Two dealt with the immoral nature of their gods which was a disservice to their followers since the gods were unable to lay down moral precepts for its adherents. The immorality of the gods were shamefully re-enacted in the theatre. The Romans had no standard of morals from these gods, but instead the stories and plays about the gods were divine warrant for all sorts of immorality. My mind could not help but to think back of biblical example of how though idolatry is a sin itself, it often leads to further wickedness.

Augustine’s attention to Rome’s fanatical obsession with the degenerate theaters reminded me of what can probably be today’s parallel: movies, television and the internet. His description of the immoral content of the theatre without going through unnecessary explicit details still managed to leave me morally repulse. It made me wonder of whether Augustine’s era is any different than our contemporary era with how people relish the public viewing of gross immorality, behaviors which they themselves keep private in their own lives. Augustine found that the immoral theatre was softening the Romans with pleasure and plenty and led the pagans to take the easy way out by blaming Christians for the invasion of Rome instead of blaming it on their own immorality.

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