Should I truck through City of God or pick something else?

Discussion in 'The Literary Forum' started by johnnythe3rd, Mar 24, 2019.

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  1. johnnythe3rd

    johnnythe3rd Puritan Board Freshman

    Over the past two years my interests have changed substantially. As a younger child, I loved reading fantasy novels and some historical fiction. For a few years I stopped reading altogether thanks in part to the distraction known as video games. The past two years however I have been reading and studying the scriptures more and reading extra-biblical christian literature, albeit at a snail's pace. I have found comfort in sitting on the quiet floor of my university's library and pouring over books on theology. In the past two years I've read through John Bunyan's "Grace Abounding in the Chief of Sinners", "The Confession", Book 1 of Calvin's Institutes, some modern RCC apologetic literature (almost became a papist but that is besides the point), and some other smaller works (such as a book on praying through the scriptures).
    Currently, however, I am struggling through book 1 of "The City of God". My library has a 7 volume set of this work and I really do want to study it from a philosophical and theological perspective. I just find it so difficult to focus on it right now with so much else to do (I am a student after all). Should I push through or should I try to read something else. I'm getting a copy of "Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ" by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen in the coming days. Would it be a decent idea to stick with that or are the two balanced in their hard to grasp concepts?

    (P.S. I love covenant theology and want to study it hence the Coxe book.)
  2. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    It's worth reading but it is very difficult. Augustine expects you to more or less have mastered classical philosophy. The dividends are huge but they aren't immediately apparent. Hmm. I've written study guides on the first few books. I'll post them on my blog and link to them here.
  3. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Sophomore

    You should read Witsius Economy of the Covenants if you are into Covenant Theology. Maybe start off with Jonty Rhodes Covenants Made Simple as a primer. Both will reward you greatly. I would also suggest John Brown of Hadington's little Systematic Theology. It is very Covenant Theology driven.
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I think you should read it and there is no time like the present. Besides, if you do not start now, when will you ever start reading it?

    I read it about 9.5 years ago and need to read it again.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Here are my short notes

    Books 1-4 deconstruct the Roman civic theology narrative that the evils came upon Rome because the people abandoned the Roman gods for Christ. Augustine points out that by Roman standards, the Roman gods were depraved. And in any case, these “gods” had a history of both failing to protect the commonwealth and in punishing its noblest citizens.

    The earthly city is motivated by a lust for domination (libido dominandi). This is rooted in man’s fallen nature (Markus xvi).

    Book 5: refutes astrology. Jacob and Esau were born under the same sign, yet radically different.

    Foreknowledge and free will: the Christian chooses both foreknowledge and liberty (V.9). There is a fixed order of causes in God, yet our wills themselves are in that chain of causes, and thus in a secondary sense human acts of will cause human actions. True, God causes our wills, but our wills, as causes within that chain, cause other effects.

    Roman civil ceremonies and rituals are “civic theologies” (Civ. Dei. 6.7-8).

    Natural theology: that which is neither civic nor poetic theology (6.10). Augustine has already refuted the civic theology, as earlier Rome’s gods were neither moral nor able to save from attackers. Augustine is now addressing the nature of the gods themselves.

    He quotes Varro to the effect that God is to the world what the soul is to the body. Yet Varro also states that both Jupiter and Janus are the main god, so why two worlds?

    Book VII

    One man contains a multiplicity, but that doesn’t mean there are plural men in him.

    Book VIII

    Knowing: “now when a material object is thus seen in the mind’s eye, it is no longer a material object but the likeness of such an object; and then faculty which perceives this likeness in the mind is neither a material body, nor the likeness of a physical object….this faculty is the human intellect, the rational constituent in the soul of man” (VIII.5).

    If our mind is not a physical object, then how can God be a physical object?

    Sections 18-24; gods of the nations are demons.

    Hermes Trismegistus knew this, and probably knew the demons.

    He knew that Egyptian gods were false, yet he lamented their overthrow.

    Book 9

    1. Summary of the argument so far.

    “Only truth and virtue can offer a centre of resistance against turbulent and degraded passions” (which Augustine previously identified with demons).

    Nature of the soul (9.10).

    In this chapter Augustine wants to refute the notion that demons are intermediaries between God/gods and man. His argument is something like this (9,13)

    1. The demons must have attributes common to both man and the gods, if the Platonists’ argument holds.

    2. The demons only have one attribute in common with the gods (eternity) and three with men, so how can they be intermediaries?

    3. This is even worse for the so-called “good” demons. If the demons were both good and eternal, then they couldn’t be intermediaries, since eternal felicity would bring them closer to the gods.
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  6. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    His insights are brilliant. Great wisdom in what’s probably his greatest work. However, I’ve bounced around a lot and taken a few breaks. I’ve never actually read the whole book cover to cover. Probably 75%
  7. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    I did my Master's Thesis on Augustine - parts of ch.19 are tremendous for his views on loving God, human happiness, and the appointed end of the City of God.

    The work is laborious. Ch.1-10 are mostly an apologetic against the Roman attacks on the Christians and counterattack on various Christian antagonists and pointing out hypocrisy and unbelievability of competing philosophies and religions.

    Ch.11-22 are where it gets more interesting as he lays out his view of God's master plan for humanity. However, Augustine often goes on what we might consider "tangents" as he traces out his thinking and questioning of issues on paper. It can feel like a tough slog sometimes wading through these and he can get somewhat speculative at times. I've picked up and put down this second "volume" several times in favor of reading more pressing material. I want to get through it all at some point but there isn't always an immediate payoff like you might get with a more concise and modern writer. For an excellent and clear translation, the one by New City Press (albeit expensive) is tremendous.

    For most people, I would recommend reading a summary, especially if your passions are directed elsewhere at the moment.

    For Covenant theology - Witsius is going to be the guy for a very in-depth Presbyterian view and Coxe/Owen for aspects of the 1689 Federalist/Particular Baptist view.

    However, if you are fairly new to Covenant Theology, I highly recommend reading the relevant chapters in Berkhof's Systematic Theology first. He is very concise yet, in my opinion, lays a very solid foundation for the Presbyterian/traditional Reformed view that you can then build on with other works. Even though I am a Baptist, I would probably recommend reading this first before moving to the Particular Baptist argument so you have a good grounding of what they are arguing against and where they see differences.

    Depending on how recently that was, I might recommend you get a strong foundation in Reformed systematic theology in general before branching out to the more difficult works. I would recommend Berkhof personally. A strong systematic foundation will help you no matter what you read.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2019
  8. johnnythe3rd

    johnnythe3rd Puritan Board Freshman

    Well I'd say very recently but it was in itself only a few month long stint. Last July I started to seriously consider the Catholic Church due to their reverence for the sacraments. Both August and September I spent praying a rosary daily and reading RCC apologetics. Providentially, Cru had a sermon one Thursday night on the Glory of God and I was convicted in my sin of idolatry and quit the RCIA program I had just that week joined. I wasn't in it overly long but I will admit that it was a major game changer for me. It was actually because of that time of moving towards the RCC that I found James White (haven't finished any of his books but I've watched a lot of his videos on Youtube) and consequently read the 1689 London Baptist a couple times through before being baptized in a Calvinistic (not a reformed they do not affirm the confession) Baptist church which I love. Are there any Particular Baptist systematic theologies that are good? I haven't actually found any in general.
  9. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    Personally I think John Gill and James Boyce (the classic Particular Baptist systematics) aren't of the same caliber as Berkhof. Helpful but a tier down in my opinion.

    Really though, there is going to be a lot that us PBs agree with in Berkhof and if you are well versed in the 1689 LBCF, you are going to be aware of the differences.

    Honestly, that is kind of a big red flag for me (I apologize saying that without knowing you and your situation but I am being honest). I became a Christian 24 years ago out of the Catholic Church and the more I grow and mature, the more I realize what a damnable heresy the Catholic system of doctrine is. What got me out of it was 1) the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit 2) hearing the gospel clearly presented and responding 3) reading the Bible like crazy 4) sitting under very solid Bible teaching.

    If you are not yet a year out of Catholicism, I would suspect you need to get really grounded in some areas that might be a higher priority than Covenant Theology. It sounds like you've read works from other people but how well grounded in Scripture are you? Have you read the Bible all the way through at least once?
  10. johnnythe3rd

    johnnythe3rd Puritan Board Freshman

    To hopefully give some more context (or quite possibly another red flag or two) before starting to go to Mass I was raised in the Salvation Army, which is anti-sacramental (they claim to be nuetral but they really are against baptism and the lord's supper). November 2017 I started reading the scriptures more and studying church history after professing a call to officership (ministry) in the salvation army. It was then that I slowly started to realize how important baptism and the lord's supper were to both the New Testament Church and the Early Church as a whole. I gravitated towards the catholic church because I saw reverence, false reverence as their's is idolatry. I've read the Bible all the way through once since then but do feel I need to work through it slower and properly study it more. So long story short my going towards the RCC, which I never officially joined Praise God, was primarily reactionary against my anti-sacrament upbringing.
  11. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Sophomore

    On top of my previous recommendations, I would add William Ames' Marrow of Theology and Thomas Watson's Body of Divinity. I would actually suggest those two before my other recommendations.
  12. Andrew35

    Andrew35 Puritan Board Freshman

    I've been reading City of God on and off for about 13 years. I'm only about halfway through. Every time I pick it up, I read a short section and get something to enjoy and reflect on for a while.

    Sometimes I think we focus too much on "finishing" a book. What's the hurry? Take your time. Enjoy it.

    It is observed that 'a corrupt society has many laws;' I know not whether it is not equally true, that 'an ignorant age has many books.'

    When the treasures of ancient knowledge lie unexamined, and original authors are neglected and forgotten, compilers and plagiaries are encouraged, who give us again what we had before, and grow great by setting before us what our own sloth had hidden from our view."​

    -from Samuel Johnson, The Idler
  13. johnnythe3rd

    johnnythe3rd Puritan Board Freshman

    Oh yeah, I completely forgot about Body of Divinity. I was meaning to get that off of Audible. I've read bits of A Godly Man's Picture but haven't finished it. I went ahead and grabbed Body of Divinity and listened to the intro and part of chapter 1 on my walk home from work. I hope to finish chapter one tomorrow. Thank you for the suggestion.
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  14. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Your library has a 7-volume set of Augustine's City of God - sounds like that's the Loeb Classical Library edition. It's also available in an unabridged paperback version by Oxford World's Classics, I believe.

    As for wanting to read it both theologically and philosophically, my advice is to not try that, at least not the first time you read it. For reading it through the first time, just let it wash over you, so to speak, as if you were reading a novel. Don't sweat the details or worry about things you don't understand. Just read it to get the basic ideas he's expressing. You can always go back later and read it with more depth - which will be easier, having read through it already once.
  15. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    If you don't mind my asking, how old are you brother?
  16. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    My suggestion is to immerse yourself in some of the Works by a few Puritans: For example:
    • Richard Sibbes
    • Thomas Brooks
    • Stephen Charnock
    • Thomas Boston
    • Thomas Manton
    • Thomas Watson
    • The 6 Volume set of Puritan Sermons (originally titled Morning Exercises at Cripplegate)
    Or, even start with a single work, such as The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall (one of the best I've read on sanctification).
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  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Study notes for Book 19

    From Bonds of Imperfection

    A thing’s end is its perfection. The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.

    “Moral philosophy must be social philosophy.”

    Book 2 flashback: traditional Roman teaching had no inherent tradition of moral teaching.
    res publica:

    true right (ius) implies obedience to the true God; for right-ness (iustitia) “is the virtue that assigns everyone his due, and there can be no rightness when the worship owed to the Creator is offered instead to unclean demons” (53).

    The whole of Book 19 can be summarized along three points:

    1. An eschatological claim: the supreme good is perfect peace (19.11-12)

    2. A negative conclusion: relative to the perfect peace, our life is most unhappy.

    3. A qualification of this negative conclusion: we can have relative happiness if we make our life a means to the summum bonum.
    Communis Usus

    • each city has its own end.

    • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends. The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17: the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household
    Consensus of Wills

    But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time? For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end. There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

    Ius and Iustitia

    Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21). There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56). Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.

    If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16). This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs; sorry, Reconstructionists).

    O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium). I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa. Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward.

    (10) ?

    (9) peace of the heavenly city

    (8) peace of the city

    (7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

    (6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

    (5) peace with God

    (4) Body-soul union

    (3) rational soul

    (2) irrational passions

    The relation between peace and order is one of definition. The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

    Household (Domus)

    It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands. Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility.

    Augustine does not try to “transform” society. It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way. Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).
  18. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    When I noticed that Josh had contributed to this thread, I was going to respond to him by saying that he should read The City of God, as it would ensure that he had less time to post lousy jokes on PB.

    Sadly, he posted something sensible and ruined my fun. :violin:
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  19. johnnythe3rd

    johnnythe3rd Puritan Board Freshman

    I am only 21, so I do understand that I am young and have time to learn more and more God willing.

    Thank you everyone for responding. I'm going to focus on Body of Divinity for now.
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  20. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Sophomore

    That book changed my life. It confirmed what I was discovering in the pages of Scriptures, in which contradicted what I heard being preached each Lord's Day
  21. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I might search out the name of your minister for the purposes of church disipline. The WCF clearly says immersion is not necessary :lol:
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