Reading Augustine with Collin Garbarino
The older I get, the more convinced I am that Augustine is the greatest theologian of them all, from his analysis of human psychology to his reflections on human culture. I started the new year committed to rereading The City of God and just noticed that Collin Garbarino, over at First Thoughts, is doing the same and is also setting up a Facebook page for those who wish to join him.
The book is a one of the triumphs of classical literature, among other things an exhaustive pastoral response to the fall of Rome, and has had a reach far beyond Christian circles It was, for example, one of the few volumes kept by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his rooms at Cambridge. Readers might also be interested in looking at James J O'Donnell's introduction and summary of the work, available online here, Gerard O'Daly's reader's guide, and Jean Bethke Elshtain's reflections on this, and other Augustinian themes, in her brief but thoughtful Augustine and the Limits of Politics.
Here is a taster, from Book II, Chapter XX, describing Roman attitudes in ways that are oddly reminiscent of this present age:
But the worshipers and admirers of these gods delight in imitating their scandalous iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquility; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependents, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man's property, than of that done to one's own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed. Let them be worshiped as they wish; let them demand whatever games they please, from or with their own worshipers; only let them secure that such felicity be not imperiled by foe, plague, or disaster of any kind.