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In the year 313 a.d., the Roman emperor, Constantine, issued the Edict of Milan. In it was stated, “The Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government.” (source) From then on, Christians enjoyed a much easier time throughout the Roman Empire and Christianity would go on to be recognized as the official religion. Eventually the Empire would begin to crumble and in the year 410 a.d., the Visigoth’s, a Germanic tribe, would invade Italy and conquer Rome. Who did the people blame for the fall? Why the Christians of course. The complaint: if we had been able to keep the old gods, none of this would have happened.
Sixteen years later in 426 a.d., St. Augustine of Hippo published a response to the allegations: The City of God. “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’ In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all.” (source)
St. Augustine, who we celebrate today, wanted the people then to understand that the first city is the City of Man, where humankind rules and worships it own image and creations, and that the second city is the City of God, the city to come and the city of those who believe, helping Christians to understand that even though Rome has fallen, their future in the City of God is still assured and should be their greatest concern.
It would be nice to see how we’ve changed. That the vision of St. Augustine’s City of Man no longer exists and that we are ushering in the City of God, but we know that is not the case. This City of Man seems to be circling the drain more and more rapidly each day. With that being the case, we could become discouraged, wonder why we put up any effort or resistance at all, but, as with those in the time of Augustine, it’s not over. In the face of so much upheaval, remember the words of the Lord, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
St. Augustine died on this day in the year 430 a.d. He was perhaps the greatest theologian to have ever lived and is responsible for much of what we believe and understand about our faith. In The City of God, he would have us know and understand that our hope is not in humankind, it is in God alone. “So,” as the Apostle Paul writes, “we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen… including the City of God… are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)