Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reflections on The City of God

In Augustine's City of God against the Pagans, he proclaims forthright that there are two cities, the city of God and the city of man. In the City of God, the inhabitants share a deep love for the Creator and thus he is the purpose for all of their actions. Love for oneself is characteristic of the city of man, and thus this city's existance revolves around itself, while the other's existance is brought about by something altogether higher and more meaningful. In the city of man, every action has the individual in mind and thus most ambitions are selfish in nature, whereas selflessness and purity embody the actions of anyone living in City of God. Augustine's descriptions of these cities is very broad and can be applied to more than just a city. Immediately it occured to me that he is essentially describing an ideal and virtuous community versus our existing community. Quite simply, it is a comparison of good versus evil and helps us understand where our city stands and what we, as members of a city, should strive for.

Augustine uses the stories of Cain and Abel from the bible and Romulus and Remus of Rome to convey his message about conflicts involving the cities he initially describes. He says that Cain created the city of earth, but that Abel was part of the Kingdom of God. It is interesting that Augustine states that it is possible for one to be a "pilgrim" (635) from the City of God here on earth. He is implying that it is a very good thing for one to be excluded from any deep connection with any city of earth, for we will achieve everlasting life and comfort when we pledge allegiance to the City of God. In my opinion, Augustine uses these stories to demonstrate the difference between the City of God and the city of man, so that we may understand his philosophy a bit better. He explains that the conflict between the cities of heaven and earth can be seen through Cain and Abel, whereas the conflict between earthly cities themselves can be seen through the story of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Therefore, the root of all conflict begins with the idea of the earthly city. Selfish desires and conflicts over power in the earthly city of Rome brought about the murder of Remus by his brother. Likewise, a citizen of the city of earth grew outraged at an innocent member of the City of God, which is plot for the story of Cain and Abel. Augustine seems to be saying that no good can come out of the city of man, because it's purposes involve no love for God alone. The actions of those living by the standards of the earthly city result in murder in both of the stories he uses, therefore showing the reader that earthly cities are full of destruction and end, while the virtuous city, where God is the purpose for all, is eternal.

Augustine's use of the story and his description of two drastically different cities helps answer some of the questions about the meaning of the city itself. He boldly supports a city where God is the primary focus, and suggests that no earthly city can equal this. Therefore, what he creates for us is the ideal city. He suggests that the purpose for the ideal city should be love for God and that everything must be done according to his will. Selfishness and desire for earthly goods are qualities of a city without appropriate meaning and purpose. Augustine's extensive theological research helped him form an ideal city. The violence and evil he experienced on earth probably gave gave him a frame of reference for his ideal city as well. I think that it would be incredibly difficult to even imagine the city of God here on earth, much less live according to its ideals. It derives its existance based on values and morals rather than a physical description, which makes it hard for a human to fully understand. In Calvino's novel, we were able to understand exactly what a city looked like. However, Augustine's description of the city of God in terms of higher ideals and pure qualities is what every city on earth should strive for. When I walk the streets of Baltimore, or any city for that matter, I am often ignored and seen as a mere unimportant bystander, as are most others. Everyone is busy with their daily activities and often forgets the importance of selflessness and, quite simply, human interaction in its simplest forms. Pushing and shoving, people make sure that their daily agenda is fulfilled, and often this agenda has no room for the needs or wants of anyone except themselves. It is possible for us to strive to be pilgrims from the city of God here on earth, even if we can never attain that. If everyone attempted to live according to the guidelines for the City of God as established by Augustine, I believe that each city would find less isolation, greed, envy, violence, and prejudice, among other problems. As a result, maybe destruction would be postponed or avoided in our cities- something that Marco Polo in Invisible Cities would most likely say is impossible.