Here at the beginning of book 15, Augustine looks at the origins of the City of God and the City of Man. He holds up their origins and examines them from a few different angles in just these few chapters – Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, sin and forgiveness, the differing ends and goods of the two cities. Each of these angles offers helpful understanding about the two cities and how they operate and relate to one another. Cain and Abel show that the City of God is founded in righteousness and submission to God, while the City of Man is founded in envy and fratricide (Augustine points out that Cain kills Abel and then starts founding cities, just as the city of Rome was founded when Romulus killed Remus – fratricide is a feature of great cities in this telling). Ishmael and Isaac show that the City of God is a city of sonship and true worship, while the City of Man is a city of slavery and law. Augustine points out that all humans sin, but sin goes right into the heart of the City of Man, while forgiveness works its healing power to change humanity in the City of God.
I am interested by Augustine’s brief but helpful comments here on the ends and goods of the two cities. For Augustine, there is ultimately only one End and Good for all humanity – God Himself. But, the City of Man claims various other ends and goods and seeks those as ultimate. Because that City does not seek after eternal goods it will not last into Eternity:
“But the earthly city will not be everlasting; for when it is condemned to that punishment which is its end, it will no longer be a city. But it has its good in this world, and it rejoices to partake of it with such joy as things of this kind can confer. And because this is not the kind of good that brings no distress to those who love it, the earthly city is often divided against itself by lawsuits, wars and strife, and by victories which either bring death or are themselves short-lived.”
Its goods, however, are genuine goods, just not ultimate ones:
“Indeed, when victory goes to those who fought for the juster cause, who will doubt that such victory is a matter for rejoicing and that the ensuing peace is something to be desired? These things are goods, and they are without doubt gifts from God. But if the higher goods are neglected, which belong to the City on high, where victory will be secure in the enjoyment of eternal and supreme peace: if these are neglected, and those other goods desired so much that they are thought to be the only goods, or loved more than the goods which are believe dot be higher, then misery will of necessity follow, and present misery increased by it.”
The purposes and ways of the earthly city are self-seeking:
“They suppose that they are by this means [giving sacrifices] purchasing God’s help, not in healing their base desires, but in fulfilling them. And this is the way of the earthly city: to worship a god or gods so that, with their aid, that city may reign in victory and earthly peace, not by the counsel of charity, but with lust for mastery. For the good make use of this world in order to enjoy God; but the evil, by contrast, wish to make use of God in order to enjoy this world: those of them, that is, who even believe that God exists and cares for things human; those who do not believe this are in a still worse plight.”
May we be among those who make use of this world to enjoy God. Blessings,