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An Explanation of Augustine’s Conception of the City of God, a Dichotomy Between the Heavenly City and Earthly City.

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By Addawray
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St. Augustine was an influential philosopher who lived in the fourth and fifth century AD. He conceived the world to be made up of two cities namely the earthly city and the heavenly city (the city of God). The city of God as conceived by Augustine is founded on the hope of heavenly peace and spiritual salvation. The main purpose of the city of God is to save mankind from sin and sufferings. This city is inhabited by holy persons and angels sacrificing self-interest and worshiping God only. These angels and holy persons do not look after their personal interest and have great regard for morality and ethics. The earthly city on the other hand was conceived by Augustine to be founded on appetitive and possessive impulses that are found in the lower categories of animals. The inhabitants of the earthly city are basically concerned with their personal interest. They do not have regard for morality, virtue and ethics. The inhabitants of the earthly city are usually willing to do anything so long as their parochial interest will be served. The inhabitants of the earthly city are more or less slaves of their desires and thus forget the will and wishes of God. They also forget to worship him.
The behavior and attitude of the inhabitants of the heavenly city is that of goodliness and sacrifice. Because the heavenly city is inhabited by angels and holy persons, goodliness and sacrifice are virtues that are very common there. The inhabitants of the heavenly city are good towards each other and sacrifice their personal interest for the good of others and society at large. Jesus the Christ is perceived to have been a citizen of the heavenly city and as such had the virtue of sacrifice. He gave off his life on the cross so that mankind will be saved from eternal condemnation. If he were to be of the earthly city, he may not have sacrificed his life for others. Goodliness, honesty and sacrifice are unknown virtues in the earthly city. The earthly city is rather full of evil, ruthless, dishonest and selfish interest seeking people. In the earthly city the people selfishly pursue their interest even at the detriment of society. For instance, some public officials will selfishly siphon monies meant for the poor and needy in the society into their private accounts to satisfy their desire for more money. Again in the earthly city, some individuals may be having more resources than they actually need but will be unwilling to share with some the numerous people who do not have any at all.
The heavenly city is not raged by feuds and conflicts. Several conflicts arise as a result of competing selfish interest with no individual or group willing to let go of their interest. But because the heavenly city is devoid of selfish people such conflicts do not arise. Peace is bountiful in the heavenly city as well as good relations among the inhabitants of the heavenly city. According to Augustine’s conception of the world, eternal peace can only be found in the heavenly city. On the other hand, the earthly city is characterized by feuds, animosity and conflicts. Feuds and animosity according to Augustine are very common among the princes, administrators and common people. Because of the selfish nature of the inhabitants of the earthly city, there are always several conflicting interests which breed animosity among the inhabitants. There is no absolute peace in the earthly city because they continuously make arms to make war and make war to make peace. When war is made to achieve peace, such peace when achieved will only last for a short while. The heavenly city and the earthly city are thus distinct in this regard.
According to Augustine’s conception of the world every man is a citizen of two cities. That is the city of God and the earthly city. He further points out that man is made up of spirit (soul) and flesh. The flesh of man inhabits in the earthly city and remains there even at death whereas the soul of man moves up to the heavenly city at death. The flesh which is of the earthly city according to Augustine will pass away whereas the soul which is of the heavenly city is eternal. Thus the heavenly city is eternal while the earthly city is transient.
In conclusion, there is a great dichotomy between Augustine’s conceptions of the heavenly city and the earthly city as elucidated above.

Reference 1. Gerald O’Daly, Augustine’s City of God: A Readers Guide, Clarendon Press, 1999 2. Saint Augustine; Marcus D. D. Dods, The City of God (Modern Library, 1950)

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