What’s your confession, and your city of God?
Augustine was another person born mid-century whose impact resounded in the next century, and beyond – baby boomers take note. We love the story of his rejection of his mother’ Monica’s faith, his indulgence as a Manichaean who figured that the body didn’t matter – and his conversion to a faith which still opposed the puritanical self-righteous faith of Pelagius. Augustine is sympathetic to heretics like us.
Augustine’s Confessions are popular as an early psychodrama of the individual ego struggling with concupiscence and virtue. Baptised by Ambrose, he tried monasticism, but became bishop of Hippo (now Algeria) for nearly 40 years, as Vandals surrounded and ultimately sacked the city. (The Vandals get a bad rap as a by-word for plunder and theft – they may not have been worse than the Roman exploiters of Hippo).
Augustine’s ‘City of God’ distinguishes the cities of this world from the ideal city of God, proposing a creative tension between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’, like Plato’s Republic. Unfortunately, Augustine was not a great pastor or administrator, too busy writing these ideals, He’d probably tell you to lighten up about how much he could’ve accomplished there by better management of his church. That’s my line, after a generation of staffing amidst church decline.
Augustine’s vision of sin and grace shapes much of our modern reformation heresy and its reactions. Blame Augustine for ‘original sin’, and ‘total depravity’ – he admits that both the personal and political are beyond his control, and having conceded both, prays, famously:
Grant what thou doth command
And command what thou will.
Recall the personal and political failings of Augustine, as you consider his heresy. His sensual appetites, and public ambitions, were things he rued in decades of restraint and of Vandal sieges. For those of us still tempted to control our own appetites or ambitions, or admitting we can’t, this gospel of grace in response to sin may resonate!
What are your confessions of sin/faith?
What are your visions of a city of God?
What’s besieged for you,
personally and politically,
and your vocation, not your job?