The two cities lay at the heart of history. Indeed, the history of the two cities is the heart of world history. And the heart and its loves lies right at the center of all this. A heart which loves God constitutes the person who is a member of the city of God. A heart which loves itself—in the narcissistic sense—constitutes the person who is a member of the city of man.
When I look across the nation at those centers of learning which are truly serious about the Lordship of Christ, I am not particularly encouraged. There are a number of them, and I hope they continue to press on, and I hope additional centers of learning join their rank. Colorado Christian University is one of those places which is serious about the lordship of Christ in relationship to the educational endeavor.
Now, I do not want to depress us when we have an embarrassment of riches—the insights of Augustine—to explore. But it is nonetheless worth recognizing that we live in perilous times, and that therefore exploring the insights of someone like Augustine is all the more important.
Professor Clary has already shared the classic quotation from page 1 of Confessions: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”1
It is hard to overestimate how significant this insight from Augustine has been in Western culture—and especially in Christian theology. Augustine’s basic point was that God makes us as creatures who can only be satisfied when we are finding our ultimate joy and happiness and satisfaction in God. Augustine’s point has been essentially affirmed by the universal Christian church.
So, Christians have taken this insight and spent the last 1600+ years praising the God of Scripture, for this God creates us by grace, and creates us in such a way that we really find ultimate joy, happiness, and satisfaction.
One of the truest tragedies of human existence is that while we live in a world where we creatures truly can experience ultimate joy and fulfillment, we willingly choose to not find our joy and fulfillment in God—the only one who can provide such joy and fulfillment.
But Augustine’s maxim—”you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”—gets worked out, or applied, in a certain way in City of God. In that work, we learn that Augustine’s notion of the heart and of the heart’s loves is—on Augustine’s view—at the center of world history.
City of God is one of the works for which he is most well-known. In this work, Augustine was—at least in part—offering an apology for or defense of the faith. Rome had fallen to the Visigoths in A.D. 410. Some detractors of the faith had argued that Rome had fallen because Rome had abandoned their traditional gods, and had embraced the Christian God. Augustine’s City of God responded to this criticism.
Augustine summarizes his understanding of the two cities—the city of God and the city of man—in Book IV of City of God. He writes:
Two loves, then, have made two cities. Love of self, even to the point of contempt for God, made the earthly city, and love of God, even to the point of contempt for self, made the heavenly city. Thus the former [the love of self] glories in itself, and the latter [the love of God] glories in the Lord. The former [love of self] seeks its glory from men, but the latter [love of God] finds its highest glory in God, the witness of our conscience. The former [love of self] lifts up its head in its own glory; the latter [love of God] says to its God, “My glory, and the one who lifts up my head” (Ps. 3:3). In the former [love of self] the lust for domination dominates both its princes and that nation that it subjugates; in the latter [love of God] both leaders and followers serve one another in love, the leaders by their counsel, the followers by their obedience. The former [the love of self] loves its own strength, displayed in the power of men; the latter [love of God] says to its God, “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Ps. 18:1).”2
The longer I have read Augustine, the more I am struck by the radical nature of what he is saying here. Augustine is saying that the present world is constituted by two cities—the city of God and the city of man. Augustine equivocates a bit here and there when defining the two cities, but at one level the cities are:
- The city of God (those persons who know and love God)
- The city of man (unbelievers, those persons who will never come to Christ)
At other times the two cities are:
- The city of God: those things exclusively dealing with spiritual/eternal things
- The city of man: those things relating to our everyday, earthly existence
The main point is that Augustine sees all of world history as the history of these two cities, including their interplay and their intermingling. But also—and this is key to our discussion at this symposium—at the center of those two cities, and hence at the center of world history, is the human heart.
That is, the two cities lay at the heart of history. Indeed, the history of the two cities is the heart of world history. And the heart and its loves lies right at the center of all this. A heart which loves God constitutes the person who is a member of the city of God. A heart which loves itself—in the narcissistic sense—constitutes the person who is a member of the city of man.
Augustine goes on in this same section to write of the two cities:
In the former, then [the city of man], its wise men, who live according to man, have pursued the goods either of the body or of their own mind or of both together; or, at best, any who were able to know God ‘did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish heart was darkened. Claiming to be wise’—that is exalting themselves in their own wisdom, under the domination of pride—’they became fools; and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of a corruptible man or of birds or of four-footed beasts or of serpents’—for in adoring idols of this kind they were either leaders or followers of the people—‘and worship and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever.’ (Rom. 1:21-23. 25). In the latter [the city of God], in contrast, there is no human wisdom except the piety which rightly worships the true God and which looks for its reward in the company of the saints, that is, in the company of both holy men and holy angels, in order ‘that God may be all in all’ (1 Cor. 15.28).
I suspect we all recognize the main biblical passage Augustine is quoting in this passage. Augustine is quoting from Romans 1—one to which Augustine often turns.
It is completely appropriate for Augustine to turn to Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 here. For Paul’s point—at least in part—is along the following lines. God has created the world. God proceeds to reveal Himself through the created order, and reveals Himself to all persons. But—and this is key—people suppress the knowledge of God. That is, people suppress, hold down, squash the knowledge of God. And because of the suppression of the knowledge of God, God’s wrath is being revealed against such persons. For Scriptures considers such persons guilty. And as a consequence of such suppression, Scripture says that these persons “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom. 1:22). These persons also became idolaters: they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23).
Paul goes on to argue that as a result of suppressing the knowledge of God, God gives people up the “lusts of their hearts” and to both lesbianism and male homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27).
Paul’s point in Romans 1, echoed by Augustine, is quite clear. People either love God, or they suppress the knowledge of God and their foolish hearts become darkened. Or put another way, there are only two human paths:
- Loving God
- Loving God
- Being given up to the lusts of one’s hearts
- Loving God
- Being given over to homosexuality
In short, having one’s heart right is key. Indeed, the human heart—if Augustine is right—is at the center of world history. It is also the case, as Paul sees it, that if one does not love God as one ought, there are serious consequences indeed. Indeed, there is an unmistakable and intractable moral component to loving God fully with one’s heart. This is important to keep before us. Central to the Pauline/Augustinian notion of the heart is the truth that how we manage or shepherd or direct our hearts is fundamentally a moral reality. And that a failure to manage or shepherd or direct our hearts as we ought can result in horrific consequences, the most significant of which is the judgement of God itself.