Augustine continues with his condemnation of the gods. He uses Virgil’s legend that Aeneas took Troy’s gods and preserved them as he founded Rome. “Why use gods who failed at Troy to defend Rome?” Augustine wonders. His theme has been pretty consistent – peoples and cities made and protected the gods; the gods are worthless at protecting cities and peoples. In chapters 4-5 he goes on to say that the custom is (and always has been) for a conquering army to destroy or take a city’s gods when it captures a city. This, because sacking a city is a sign that my gods are stronger than yours. My gods are better than yours, proved by the fact that I just beat you in battle. The worldview that Augustine is describing shows a very strong alliance between a city and her gods.
The Christian reality differs from the Roman perspective that Augustine is attacking. God is not aligned with any particular city or people group. He chose Israel and is covenant faithful with the nation but He has initiated the defeat and exile of the nation and the destruction of the temple. He has reconstituted Israel around the person of Christ so that the geopolitical state of Israel is no longer true Israel, according to the New Testament. And He is fundamentally aligned not with any particular nation-state (or city-state, as in ancient Greece or Rome), but with the New Jerusalem, the City of God. Augustine says: “Go ahead and take those mythical gods! Go ahead and destroy the city of Rome! Even with a Christian emperor, Rome is not the place where the One True God has chosen to dwell. She is not the primary location of God’s engagement with humanity. God protects His people.” And there is more to say about this, because God’s protection over His people does not seem to be located in the here and now but in preserving their faithfulness into eternity.
So, when we align the purposes and values of God with the purposes and values of our nations, we are making a category mistake. God is above our nation-state. God transcends our small goals and ends. God overcomes our petty political squabbles and reconciles irreconcilable enemies. We also can make a citizenship mistake, by supposing that our citizenship in our nation is a primary citizenship. I look forward to hearing what Augustine has to say about our citizenships in our earthly nation-states, but we can say with confidence that our primary citizenship as the people of God is in the New Jerusalem and not in geopolitical nation-states. I am primarily a citizen of the City of God and only secondarily of the USA. When these are in conflict, as they constantly are, my citizenship as an American takes a back seat.
That’s more than Augustine has said thus far. I look forward to reading on. Blessings,