Thursday, September 14, 2006

City of God and Invisible Cities

St. Augustine presents two very different cities, the earthly city and the heavenly city, in his work, The City of God Against the Pagans. The earthly city is distinguishable from the heavenly city by their differing origins and ends. The earthly city is created by the "love of self extending even to contempt of God" (Augustine 632) and glories only in itself; the heavenly city is created by the "love of God extending to contempt of self" (632) and glories in the Lord. The earthly city is characterized by men who lust for power and mastery over others. These men seek wisdom, which makes them vain and unable to truly know God and give him thanks and praise (632). Men destined for the heavenly city, who live as pilgrims on earth while journeying toward their heavenly destination, "serve one another in charity" and obediently and piously worship God (632). These men do not merely seek the fellowship of other men, as do men in the earthly city (and most of the people in Calvino's cities), but aim for the higher purpose of establishing a rapport with the angels (632) and ultimately with God. Just as Calvino discusses the ends of many of cities in his book, Invisible Cities, St. Augustine also discusses the ends of his two cities. Whereas the earthly city is destined for "eternal punishment with the devil," the heavenly city is "predestined to reign in eternity with God" (634).


There are numerous similarities between St. Augustine's cities and those of Calvino. In both Invisible Cities and City of God, the cities depend on the birth and death of people for existence. In Calvino's city of Laudomia, the city only continues so long as there are people to be born. When the last person is born, Laudomia will disappear (Calvino 142-143). Similarly, the history of St. Augustine's heavenly and earthly cities "extends throughout the whole of this time or age in which the dying pass away and the newly-born taken their place" (634). The earthly city would cease to exist without people to inhabit it, with the pilgrims moving on to the heavenly city. The works of St. Augustine and Calvino are also similar because both advocate allowing cities to grow. Although St. Augustine notes the corruption of the earthly city, he explains that not all goods of this world are undesirable because they are still "gifts of God" (639). Earthly goods become problematic only when men seek these goods at the expense of higher goods, which would eventually provide passage to the heavenly city. It is desirable to allow the earthly city to grow, but its growth must be guided in the direction of the heavenly city through the pursuit of heavenly goods. Similarly, Calvino writes, "There are two ways to escape suffering for it [the inferno of the city]...[A]ccept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it...[or] seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space" (165). St. Augustine and Calvino advocate encouraging earthly cities to grow in the direction of the good by rejecting the inferno, which Augustine charges will enable man to eventually gain passage to the heavenly city.


The cities of Calvino and St. Augustine have a strong connection with Baltimore (and all cities). The people of many modern cities act out of self-interest, which St. Augustine claims is the origin of the earthly city (632). Similarly, the men of Laudomia visit the city of the unborn merely out of self-interest; they wish to know if their descendants will contribute to their "illustrious reputation" (Calvino 142) or erase the shame associated with their name. Men in most cities, including Baltimore, act out of self-interest and become fixated on obtaining earthly goods at the expense of heavenly goods. It is important that Baltimoreans, and the citizens of all cities, strive for the greater good, thereby, according to Augustine, forming a rapport with God.