Saint Augustine as a theological interpreter of history

Light of truth

Fr Joseph Pallattil

Augustine developed a Christian philosophy of history, which is one of St Augustine’s most significant contributions to Christianity. Augustine is a theological interpreter of history, because he is interested in the plan of God rather development of human kind. He defined the purpose of history as God providing salvation to humanity after the fall of Adam.

The philosophy of history formulated by Augustine can be found in his influential book, ‘the City of God.’ Augustine’s philosophy of history is linear. This history has an origin and an end. History was originated from creation by God out of nothing. He believed that the goal of history is the Kingdom of God. This history is moved by two forces: external force and internal force. External force that moves history is God’s providence and internal forces that move history are desires and loves of individual who make it up.

Augustine sees history of human race as the history of two camps: the Kingdom of God and kingdom of devil. It is the dialectic of these two camps. One camp is that of those who love God and prefer God to self and the other camp is that of those who prefer self to God. One camp is in forming the City of God, and other in forming the City of world. The camp which is forming the City of God is known as City of Jerusalem, the camp which is forming the City of world is known as Babylon, which is the kingdom of confusion, violence and wickedness. Those who are moving towards the city of God live life as pilgrims. For them, this world is a temporary one. There true home is heaven. Those who reflect the values of the earthly city are happy by making their home here.

The city of God advances from the innocent Abel through Abraham, up to the advent of Christ, while the terrestrial city proceeds from Cain’s fratricide and develops in the history of the great Empires, all created and maintained with violence, including the roman Empire. The criterion of membership in the city of God and its antagonist, the earthly city, is right or wrong love. A person belongs to the city of God if and only if he directs his love towards God even at the expense of self-love, and he belongs to the earthly city or city of the devil if and only if he postpones love of God for self-love, proudly making himself his greatest good.

What is the importance of this theory of History by Augustine in our life? This is up to our choice. The Kingdome of God (will of God) and the kingdom of devil (selfish and evil will) are the choices. We have to choose. One leads to life and grace, the other leads to death. When we surrender our selfish worldly will in front of the plan of God, we are moving towards the City of God.

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