City of God, Book 11: God’s Good Creation

Book 11 starts Part II of Augustine’s City of God. Here the author sets out to describe the origins and the ends of the two cities – the City of God and the earthly city. The City of God is a glorious, eternal City that cannot be shaken, founded on the love of God. Those of their earthly city prefer their own gods to the True God.

It was to provide a path to the Celestial City that God “who is himself Truth, took on manhood without abandoning his godhood, and thus established and founded this faith, so that man might have a path to man’s God through the man who was God…As God he is the goal; as man he is the way.”

Augustine provides a brief defense of the canon, acknowledging that it is through Scripture we come to know of this City and the path to it. These Scriptures have “an outstanding authority in which we put our trust concerning those things which we need to know of our good, and yet are incapable of discovering ourselves.”

A good portion of Book 11 is given to a discussion of God’s creative work. The first discussion regards creation in time or the creation of time. Augustine sides with those who assert that “the beginning of the world and the beginning of time are the same thing.” He contends, “without motion and change there is no time, while in eternity there is no change, who can fail to see that there would have been no time, if there had been no creation to bring in movement and change.”

Discussing the days of creation, Augustine is, shall we say, less than literal. Of the first three days, before sun and moon, he considers that kind of light measured off these days. He considers that we are called sons of light (1 Thess 5:5), and so concludes that this light could refer to the Heavenly City and the holy angels. But, what then does the evening refer too? “The knowledge of the creature is a kind of twilight compared with the knowledge of the Creator; and then comes the daylight and the morning, when that knowledge is linked with the praise and love of the Creator; and it never declines into night, so long as the Creator is not deprived of his creature’s love…Scripture never says, ‘Night came’; but, ‘Evening came and morning came, day one.'” Here he personifies the different parts of the created order as being created (evening), then coming to a knowledge of their Creator (morning), repeating over six days.

The seventh day of rest is not be be understood as a rest from toil, for God didn’t toil in creation, merely speaking into being. Instead, “the ‘rest of God’ means the rest of those who find their rest in him, just as the ‘joy of the house’ means the joy of those who rejoice in the that house.”

Following this is lengthy discourse regarding holy angels, which are a large portion of the Heavenly City, and a more blessed portion since they’ve never had to go on pilgrimage in this world. Here is explores the possibility that the angels are the lights created on first day prior to the sun, moon and stars. Those impure angels who turned away from God’s eternal light are darkness – “evil is not a positive substance, the loss of good has been given the name evil.” Again, later in the book, “There is no such entity in nature as ‘evil’; ‘evil’ is merely the name for the privation of good.”

After a brief discourse on the Trinity and God’s simplicity, which I’ll revisit later, Augustine returns to consider the blessedness of angels in the beginning and their fall. The devil was God’s creation, though he was created without sin. Augustine considers the meaning of the words “He sins from the beginning” (1 John 3:8) and concludes that the beginning is the beginning of sin, not the beginning of creation. He writes, “not that we are to think that he sinned from the first moment of his creation, but from the first beginning of sin for sin first came into existence as a result of the Devil’s pride.”

The holy angels are more blessed now than they were in the beginning. In the beginning, their blessedness was a mutable blessedness, shown by the fact that some fell and forfeited it. Those that did not fall have been confirmed in their blessed condition and cannot fall now; hence, they are even more blessed than at the beginning, as it is now for them not possible to sin (non posse peccare). This is true of the Christian too. Not that we have reached the state of non posse peccare, but that we are assured of it in glory. This makes us more blessed than the first man in the Garden, who “in all that bliss or paradise, had no certainty about his future.”

Given God’s extensive foreknowledge, including his knowledge of free choices to pervert his good, why would God create man or angel who would fall into evil? Simply, because he had use for them. “The beauty of the universe,” claims Augustine, “is made richer by God’s providence, through the opposition of contraries.” The antithesis “enriches the course of world history” in much the same way as antithesis enhances a work of poetry.

In Genesis, the divinely inspired author points out that God created the light (angels in Augustine’s interpretation) but not the darkness. He separated the light from the darkness for, “It was certainly only God who could have made the distinction; for he alone could foresee that some angels would fall, before that fall happened, and that they would be deprived of the light of truth and would remain in the darkness of their pride.”

God delighted in his creation as an artist in his work of art. “God’s happiness was increased by the novelty of his own creation.” Later, beautifully, Augustine adds, “There can be no better author than God, no more effective skill than his word, no better cause than that a good product should be created by God, who is good.” These “two societies of angels” exist, though “one good by nature and rightly directed by choice, the other good by nature but perverted by choice” are the Light and Darkness of Genesis 1. The Light is the beginning of the City of God. Augustine clarifies that there is, presently, a division in the City of God, “We are speaking of the City of God which is not on pilgrimage in this mortal life, but is eternally immortal in heaven, consisting of the holy angels who cleave to God, who have never deserted nor ever will desert him.”

Back to Augustine’s discussion of the Trinity. For Augustine, the Trinity is foundational for understanding God, his creation, and mankind as image bearers. God exists in Trinity, but remains simple, meaning not that it (the Trinity) “consists solely of the Father, or solely of the Son, or solely of the Holy Spirit…What is meant by ‘simple’ is that its being is identical with its attributes, apart from the relation in which each person is said to stand to each other.” A very important statement appears in the same section, “When each is regarded in himself, not in relation to the other, his being is identical with his attributes.” There is an “inseparable unity in persons” and this “whole united Trinity is revealed to us in its works.”

Augustine sees witness to the Trinity in the threefold division of philosophy into physics (metaphysics), logic, and ethics. Also, and artist needs natural ability, training, and the use of his talents to be a good artist – also testifying to God as Three in One. We, as humans, also bear witness in our image – we exist, we know we exist, and we are happy to exist. He sees the first chapter of Genesis as bearing witness to the Trinity also (it’s a bit convoluted, so I’ll quote): “‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. This interpretation would take ‘in the beginning’ as meaning not that this was the start of creation (since the angels were already created) but that he made al things ‘in his Wisdom’. For this Wisdom is the same as his Word, who is called ‘the beginning’ in Scripture [John 1]…I am delighted with the idea that the Trinity is emphasized even in the very first chapter of the sacred book of Genesis.”