Chapters 14-15, I suspect, begin to move us toward Augustine’s bigger theme – the cities that humanity inhabits. Augustine discusses captivity – whether it is a real tragedy that Christians were taken into captivity when Rome was sacked and whether the example of Regulus (a Roman general captured in Rome’s battles with Carthage) helps Christians and pagans to understand captivity and devotion to the gods. First, he asks about Christians and captivity. As in his discussion of death in the previous chapters, Augustine says that captivity is only really a tragedy if it leads to separation from God. Which it doesn’t. God showed up for Daniel in Babylon and will show up for the Christian captives. Like death, captivity is only an apparent tragedy and not an ultimate one.
Augustine’s discussion of Regulus deals with Regulus’ virtue and commitment to the gods. He willingly returns to his imprisonment in Carthage because he swore an oath to the gods to do so, and the pagan writers praise him for it. This shows that captivity is a lighter evil than living out life in Rome having lied to the gods. Virtue is more important than avoiding bad circumstances, even to those who disagree with Augustine’s Christianity. (I’m not sure how important this argument would be in actually arguing with one of Augustine’s opponents, but it leads to at least one nice insight.) He ends chapter 15 with a description of Christians that I like – those “who, awaiting a heavenly fatherland with true faith, know that they are pilgrims even in their own habitations.”
Rome is not the fatherland of the Christian. No earthly nation even could be. We have a future heavenly fatherland. We are just pilgrims here, even in our own habitations. We have nothing to fear from death or exile. I look forward to thinking through the political implications of that concept as we go.