Here at the end of book 5, Augustine explains that God is sovereign over the rise and fall of empires and over the beginnings and ends of wars. He goes on to talk about the happiness of Christian rulers and then shows how two Christian emperors, Constantine and Theodosius, were successful and happy as emperors. For me, the money quote of this section of text is the description of happy Christian emperors:
“But we say that they are happy if they rule justly; if they are not lifted up amid the praises of those who pay them sublime honors, and the obsequiousness of those who salute them with an excessive humility, but remember that they are men; if they make their power the handmaid of His majesty by using it for the greatest possible extension of His worship; if they fear, love, worship God; if more than their own they love that kingdom in which they are not afraid to have partners; if they are slow to punish, ready to pardon; if they apply that punishment as necessary to government and defence of the republic, and not in order to gratify their own enmity; if they grant pardon, not that iniquity may go unpunished, but with the hope that the transgressor may amend his ways; if they compensate with the lenity of mercy and the liberality of benevolence for whatever severity they may be compelled to decree; if their luxury is as much restrained as it might have been unrestrained; if they prefer to govern depraved desires rather than any nation whatever; and if they do all these things, not through ardent desire of empty glory, but through love of eternal felicity, not neglecting to offer to the true God, who is their God, for their sins, the sacrifices of humility, contrition, and prayer. Such Christian emperors, we say, are happy in the present time by hope, and are destined to be so in the enjoyment of the reality itself, when that which we wait for shall have arrived.” (from the CCEL translation – <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.V.25.html>)
“If they make their power the handmaid of His majesty.” Put that way, the Christian emperor is happy in the same way that all the rest of us are happy, by using whatever it is that God has given us in His service. I want to focus there and on the last line of the quote – they “are happy in the present time by hope, and are destined to be so in the enjoyment of the reality itself, when that which we wait for shall have arrived.” All that we are and have is a gift from God to be used for His purposes and in the service of His glory. And our happiness is not related, ultimately, to our success in this life or in the success of the kingdoms we build for ourselves. We allow too many things to make us unhappy. I see this in people that I disciple or counsel – “I’m unhappy because things are falling apart”, “she makes me so unhappy”, “if only I had more success in school/business/relationships….” We put our hopes in our circumstances and then give up our happiness when God graciously tears down those idols. God made us for something better, as Augustine is continually pointing out (here, in his Confessions, in his letters and sermons). To which Kingdom are we orienting our lives? In which King have we put our hopes?
The last line is such a nice way of putting things – we are happy now because of our firm hope in the glorious Kingdom to come, and we will be more happy when reality itself shows up. If we are orienting ourselves toward the City of God, toward Jesus and His Kingdom, then we cannot help but be happy in a deep and firm way. If we are putting our hopes in and orienting ourselves toward a false reality, a current kingdom where we or anyone other than Jesus is King, then we cannot help but be disappointed and left in unhappiness. There is no reality in such things, they are illusions that shrink our souls and turn us into lesser creatures than that ones God made us to be. Our happiness now is in our hopes for the future; our happiness then is in His certain and imminent return. Praise be to God! Come, Lord, Jesus.