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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Bible’s "Tale of Two Cities" narrated by St Augustine

On my third Ignatius retreat in so many years, I received an epiphany, the type that changes your life and deepens your faith in the Almighty God. After attending a Catechist course at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham I was introduced to portraying the teachings of the Catholic Church in various ways in order to evangelise more effectively. I combined this with a Business Analyst skillset and lots of prayer and fruit began to bloom in a number of ways. 

A few years ago I was able to express pictorially my understanding of salvation (shown above). However, I had arrived at a point where I was unsure as to how to develop the presentation further to obtain a better more fuller understanding. Sure I tried to support its contents with Sacred Scripture; but I knew that there was much more to unravel.

Last year I was very fortunate to go on Pilgrimage to Medjugorje before partaking on the Ignatius retreat that was held in the idyllic countryside of France. Then in a moment of inspiration I asked one of the Benedictine monk conducting the spiritual exercises “What book should I read to better understand society and the world at large?

His answer at the time was received with a little disappointment as I considered the Church’s fore-Fathers as dare I say it abit old fashioned! I should of known better in that St Augustine’s “City of God” was the perfect answer to my spiritual quandary. So much so that you would think the noble Saint had used the illustration as a theme to his literary work. Explaining at length the fall and rise through Christ of mankind. The only aspect not covered is the conflict for souls to be saved (the middle section). Perhaps there is another book(s) which serves this purpose, either published or to be published? Or maybe this is just a matter of devotion to the Virgin Mary and the Divine Mercy to accomplish its more practical aspects.

In the 5thCentury St Augustine wrote the “City of God” as a Bishop, to present a sound argument for Catholic Church’s position on the following key topics:

+ Clarify that Christianity was not to blame for the fall of the Roman Empire;

+ Reveal that even the most evil actions of fallen angels and sinful man cannot thwart the unfolding of God’s eternal plan;

+ Propose that the fall of the Roman Empire was insignificant in the context of the eternal plan of God;

+ Describe the choice we must all make choose to occupy either the City of God or the City of Earth the consequence of which is eternal.

In contemporary terms I have tried to categorise these differences between the Cities of God and of man outlined in the book in the following grid. Consequently this also can provides interpretation and better insight as to what Jesus was referring to, when He spoke about division in the book of Luke:

I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already blazing! [with the Holy Spirit] Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather Division” - Luke 12:49-51; CCC.696.

Theme for reflection therefore is: How should we view this division?

Table of Division

From God
– Mark 11:30
From Men
Heavenly City - CCC.1045
St Augustine
Book “City of God
Earthly City – CCC. 2124
Moral authority
Immoral authority
Walk in the Spirit
Nature of Journey
Walk in the Flesh
The Natural Law –CCC.1954-60
Law of the Land
Good Shepherds
- Moses, Jesus
Dictators - Hitler
Treasures in Heaven
Wealth - Matt 6:19-21
Earthly Treasures
Slavery, Captivity
Values & Principles
Humility, Evangelisation
Power, manipulation
Love, Compassion, Supportive
Hate, Envy, Jealously
Brother’s Keeper
Murder & Pillage
Forgiveness, Merciful
Attitude towards Neighbour
Accusation, Condemnation


 The “City of God” consists of 22 books; each described briefly as follows:
In effect, The City of God is a challenge to human society to choose which city it wishes to be a part of, and Augustine sees his task as clearly marking out the parameters of each choice. Augustine concludes that the purpose of history is to show the unfolding of God’s plan, which involves fostering the City of Heaven and filling it with worthy citizens. For this purpose, God initiated all of creation itself. In such a grand plan, the fall of Rome is insignificant.

Book 1 Augustine censures the pagans, who attributed the calamities of the world, and especially the recent sack of Rome by the Goths, to the Christian religion, and its prohibition of the worship of the gods. He speaks of the blessings and ills of life, which then, as always, happened to good and bad men alike. Finally, he rebukes the shamelessness of those who cast up to the Christians that their women had been violated by the soldiers.

Book 2 In this book Augustine reviews those calamities which the Romans suffered before the time of Christ, and while the worship of the false gods was universally practised; and demonstrates that, far from being preserved from misfortune by the gods, the Romans have been by them overwhelmed with the only, or at least the greatest, of all calamities— the corruption of manners, and the vices of the soul.

Book 3 As in the foregoing book Augustine has proved regarding moral and spiritual calamities, so in this book he proves regarding external and bodily disasters, that since the foundation of the city the Romans have been continually subject to them; and that even when the false gods were worshipped without a rival, before the advent of Christ, they afforded no relief from such calamities.

Book 4 In this book it is proved that the extent and long duration of the Roman empire is to be ascribed, not to Jove or the gods of the heathen, to whom individually scarce even single things and the very basest functions were believed to be entrusted, but to the one true God, the author of felicity, by whose power and judgment earthly kingdoms are founded and maintained.

Book 5 Augustine first discusses the doctrine of fate, for the sake of confuting those who are disposed to refer to fate the power and increase of the Roman empire, which could not be attributed to false gods, as has been shown in the preceding book. After that, he proves that there is no contradiction between God's prescience and our free will. He then speaks of the manners of the ancient Romans, and shows in what sense it was due to the virtue of the Romans themselves, and in how far to the counsel of God, that he increased their dominion, though they did not worship him. Finally, he explains what is to be accounted the true happiness of the Christian emperors.

Book 6 Hitherto the argument has been conducted against those who believe that the gods are to be worshipped for the sake of temporal advantages, now it is directed against those who believe that they are to be worshipped for the sake of eternal life. Augustine devotes the five following books to the confutation of this latter belief, and first of all shows how mean an opinion of the gods was held by Varro himself, the most esteemed writer on heathen theology. Of this theology Augustine adopts Varro's division into three kinds, mythical, natural, and civil; and at once demonstrates that neither the mythical nor the civil can contribute anything to the happiness of the future life.

Book 7 In this book it is shown that eternal life is not obtained by the worship of Janus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the other select gods of the civil theology.

Book 8 Augustine comes now to the third kind of theology, that is, the natural, and takes up the question, whether the worship of the gods of the natural theology is of any avail towards securing blessedness in the life to come. This question he prefers to discuss with the Platonists, because the Platonic system is facile princeps among philosophies, and makes the nearest approximation to Christian truth. In pursuing this argument, he first refutes Apuleius, and all who maintain that the demons should be worshipped as messengers and mediators between gods and men; demonstrating that by no possibility can men be reconciled to good gods by demons, who are the slaves of vice, and who delight in and patronize what good and wise men abhor and condemn—the blasphemous fictions of poets, theatrical exhibitions, and magical arts.

Book 9 Having in the preceding book shown that the worship of demons must be abjured, since they in a thousand ways proclaim themselves to be wicked spirits, Augustine in this book meets those who allege a distinction among demons, some being evil, while others are good; and, having exploded this distinction, he proves that to no demon, but to Christ alone, belongs the office of providing men with eternal blessedness.

Book 10 In this book Augustine teaches that the good angels wish God alone, whom they themselves serve, to receive that divine honor which is rendered by sacrifice, and which is called latreia. He then goes on to dispute against Porphyry about the principle and way of the soul's cleansing and deliverance.

Book 11 Here begins the second part of this work, which treats of the origin, history, and destinies of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly. In the first place, Augustine shows in this book how the two cities were formed originally, by the separation of the good and bad angels; and takes occasion to treat of the creation of the world, as it is described in Holy Scripture in the beginning of the book of Genesis.

Book 12 Augustine first institutes two inquiries regarding the angels; namely, whence is there in some a good, and in others an evil will? And, what is the reason of the blessedness of the good, and the misery of the evil? Afterwards he treats of the creation of man, and teaches that he is not from eternity, but was created, and by none other than God.

Book 13 In this book it is taught that death is penal, and had its origin in Adam's sin.

Book 14 Augustine again treats of the sin of the first man, and teaches that it is the cause of the carnal life and vicious affections of man. Especially he proves that the shame which accompanies lust is the just punishment of that disobedience, and inquires how man, if he had not sinned, would have been able without lust to propagate his kind.

Book 15 Having treated in the four preceding books of the origin of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, Augustine explains their growth and progress in the four books which follow; and, in order to do so, he explains the chief passages of the sacred history which bear upon this subject. In this fifteenth book he opens this part of his work by explaining the events recorded in Genesis from the time of Cain and Abel to the deluge.

Book 16 In the former part of this book, from the first to the twelfth chapter, the progress of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, from Noah to Abraham, is exhibited from Holy Scripture: In the latter part, the progress of the heavenly alone, from Abraham to the kings of Israel, is the subject.

Book 17 In this book the history of the city of God is traced during the period of the kings and prophets from Samuel to David, even to Christ; and the prophecies which are recorded in the books of Kings, Psalms, and those of Solomon, are interpreted of Christ and the church.

Book 18 Augustine traces the parallel courses of the earthly and heavenly cities from the time of Abraham to the end of the world; and alludes to the oracles regarding Christ, both those uttered by the Sibyls, and those of the sacred prophets who wrote after the foundation of Rome, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and their successors.

Book 19 In this book the end of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, is discussed. Augustine reviews the opinions of the philosophers regarding the supreme good, and their vain efforts to make for themselves a happiness in this life; and, while he refutes these, he takes occasion to show what the peace and happiness belonging to the heavenly city, or the people of Christ, are both now and hereafter.

Book 20 Concerning the last judgment, and the declarations regarding it in the old and new testaments.

Book 21 Of the end reserved for the city of the devil, namely, the eternal punishment of the damned; and of the arguments which unbelief brings against it.

Book 22 This book treats of the end of the city of God, that is to say, of the eternal happiness of the saints; the faith of the resurrection of the body is established and explained; and the work concludes by showing how the saints, clothed in immortal and spiritual bodies, shall be employed.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

In Times of Trouble and Strife; in Life or Death; Love transcends all!

For all the respectful adoration or vehement animosity aimed at Baroness Lady Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. To me she was an inspiration in my life as was I am sure the case for many others like me. With passion and utter vigour she, in her own way, encouraged people to do something with their lives. She was a pioneer of the “yes [you] can” ethos. Her leadership style of strength and conviction created a landscape for people to pursue something better! One of optimism and hope! Just get up and do it! This is quite meaningful when viewed from the perspective of religion, as Baroness Thatcher was a committed Christian of the Methodist denomination, a person of loyal faith.
However, her weakness in hindsight was that the ‘you’ should have been ‘we’! A point not lost on the Obama Administration I might add. It is debateable that more emphasis on the 'Common Good' and particularly compassion towards thy neighbour rather than own personal wealth and standing, to be more selfless than selfish. Would maybe have mitigated the level of resentment and universally increased condolences. Nevertheless her accomplishments were staggeringly commendable by any measure.
Therefore as the historians start to establish her legacy, I contemplate the extent to which her passion in the life of politics was a case of ‘my will’ or ‘Thy will’? (In reference to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; Luke 22:42). She also was double-crossed in the end when she was forced to step down from office as Prime Minister, after being betrayed by some of her closest friends and colleagues.
The sense of loss is something everyone one has to endure to various degrees in our lives. However, as Christians and religious depending on how we answer this choice of duty we can look upon our own loss as God’s gain, by providing Him with an opportunity to make us complete again. In a similar way he brought Our Lord back from the dead to life everlasting. So we mustn’t waste these opportunities by allowing loss to corrode our souls with bouts of hatred, rather to cherish them by relying on our faith in the victory of righteousness over wickedness. And that God will always meet our every need, through His ever giving and everlasting providence.  
The following is an excerpt from the books “The Story of a Soul – Study Edition [Commentary Notes - Marc Foley O.C.D.]” – by St Therese of Lisieux and “The Search for Meaning” by Dr Victor Frankl; which collectively puts life and death into a thought provoking perspective that illustrates why love will always conquer hate.
The former is an autobiography of a cloistered nun who Pope Pius X proclaimed the “Greatest Saint of modern times” after enduring many sufferings in her life. She died an agonising death of tuberculosis at the tender age of 24. The latter being a Jewish psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor who wrote a thesis on his experience in the death camps of WWII.
As Therese recounts the time that she stood before her mother’s coffin, the memory of standing before Mother Genevieve’s [Carmel’s Mother Prioress] coffin come to her mind, she reflects upon the vast difference between the two experiences. As a four year old child who had just lost her mother, the coffin “appeared large and dismal”. In contrast, as an adult, who had “grown up…the coffin appeared smaller…[and now, the reality of death, seen through faith, was an occasion] to contemplate heaven”. As Therese looks back upon her four year old self, who had been shattered by the death of her mother, she stands in amazement that she has survived this loss. “All my trials had come to an end and the winter of my soul had passed on”.
Like Therese, there are moments when we take a backward glance upon our lives and stand in amazement that we were able to survive a devastating loss. “Black grief closed over my heart,” wrote St Augustine on the death of a friend. “Everything I had shared with my friend turned into hideous anguish without him. My eyes sought him everywhere, but he was missing; I hated all things because they held him not…All this is over now, Lord and my hurt has been assuaged with time.”
Like Therese and Augustine, all of us have experienced losses, which at the time; we felt that we did not have the strength to bear. For when we are overwhelmed with black grief, it is beyond the power of imagination to believe that the winter of our soul will ever pass. Therese experienced time’s healing hand as she cast a backwards glance upon her mother’s death, but she experienced something else, the faith that pierces the dark veil of death. “I had no need to raise my head to see and, in fact, no longer raised it but to contemplate heaven which to me was filled with joy”.
In less than a year after Therese had penned these words, the thought of heaven would not fill her soul with joy but with anguish. During her night of faith, when she doubted the existence of heaven, she wrote, “that the thought of heaven, up until then so sweet to me, was no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment”. Yet, in the midst of her darkness, when she felt that she lived “in a country that is covered with thick fog”, God’s light would periodically “shine through even in the midst of the darkest storm…[and for a brief moment] heaven was a calm and serene and I believed I felt there was a heaven and that this heaven is peopled with souls who actually love me, who consider me their child”. Therese is describing an experience of God’s love that pierces through our pain during times of our deepest darkness and for a moment, we know that love is eternal.
On a cold winter morning, as he and his fellow inmates were marching to their work site in Auschwitz, Vickor Frankl had such an experience.
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly:
“If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imaging it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is ultimate and highest goal to which man can achieve. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know this bliss, be it only for a brief moment in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation...for the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning of Bavaria. “Ex lus in tenebris lucet” and the light shineth in the darkness.”
Baroness Margaret Thatcher RIP.