Summary of Augustine’s City of God
• Eternal life is the supreme good
• Eternal death the supreme evil
• Actions leading to one to avoid the other mean living rightly
• Belief that good can be found in life is shallow and a rejection of God
• There is too much misery in life to base good on worldly happiness
• Thinking too much leads to self-corruption and vanity.
• Our senses can be tricked and use of reason is fallacious
• Temperance cannot be attained until after death, because only then can the flesh cease to “lust against the spirit”.
• Prudence cannot sort good from evil, because good is not known in life, and found only after death, in resurrection to eternal life.
• Neither temperance nor prudence can remove evil from the world or our own lives.
• If Fortitude were virtuous then people would not die, which means they sought to leave life (this is getting deluded)
• Stoics three virtues are flawed and cannot be virtuous
• Peripatetics, the Old Academy and Varro advocates are intelligent but wrong
• Fortitude leads to suicide, because it makes it a priority to survive or to commit to death if not (deluded again)
• Life which includes any ills or evils cannot be happy
• Virtues are the best possessions in life to have and lead to the supreme good of eternal life
• Virtues listed and including Justice are meaningless compared to the hope of eternal life through Piety and patience for death.
• The final happiness is the only true happiness, and belief in anything else is deceit and pride.
Contrast between Augustine and Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics
Aristotle’s version of temperance, prudence and fortitude meant using the golden mean to live between the two extremes of excess or deficiency. Aristotle’s virtue ethics meant assessing each situation as it came, and choosing the reasonable decision based on your ability. Aristotle seemed to teach that the faculty of human reason would lead to living a good life and being happy. In contrast, Augustine would oppose the use of reason as thoughts which lead to corruption, self-deceit and pride, and the pursuit of happiness or a good life as vanity.
Augustine’s definition of “good” is starkly opposed to the definition of the Greek philosophers he sought to dethrone in the mind of society. Augustine opposes the pursuit of the “good” defined by others, but encourages that defined by himself, which he calls Piety. Their versions of “good” are starkly opposed. Augustine sees eternal life as “good” and any action leading to that as right. He sees eternal death as “evil” and any actions that lead to it or that fail to avoid it as wrong. What’s interesting and ironic about all this, is that Augustine should have gone farther and undone his own position. According to Christian theology, only Jesus can rid man of sin and save them from evil, and no action we take could ever be pious enough to save ourselves. I wonder how many years after Augustine it would be, before the church began to equate salvation with an impossible-to-attain virtue. To Augustine, salvation was something that could be achieved by works. Augustine must have read the book of Hebrews, and yet he chose to take the position he did. How ironic!
And now for something you’ll really enjoy!
“Thus, in 1884, Pope Leo XIII again condemned Freemasonry and its association with the Kulturkampf in Humanum genus: “This twofold kingdom St. Augustine keenly discerned and described after the manner of two cities, contrary in their laws because striving for contrary objects; and with a subtle brevity he expressed the efficient cause of each in these words: “Two loves formed two cities: the love of self, reaching even to the contempt of God, and the love of God, reaching to contempt of self, a heavenly one.” At every period of time each has been in conflict with the other, with a variety and multiplicity of weapons and of warfare, although not always with equal ardour and assault. At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly associated organization and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purpose, they are now boldly rising up against God himself.” (Herbert, A Light in the Darkness, 2020)