Episode 102: An Old Man’s Book

Augustine’s City of God, Part 2 of 2. The second half of the City of God contains some of Late Antiquity’s most influential writings – most notably Augustine’s take on Original Sin.

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Augustine’s City of God, Books 11-22

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Hello, and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 102: An Old Man’s Book. This is the second of two episodes on Saint Augustine’s City of God, a long treatise written between 413 and 427. Our previous program took us through the first half of Augustine’s magnum opus, which was primarily a long critique of pagan culture and ideology. In this show, as we move through Books 11-22, we will explore Augustine’s central writings on Original Sin, innate depravity, his interpretations of some controversial portions of the Bible, and what he believed about heaven and hell. The chapters of the City of God that we’ll read today, while they are dense and meandering, were the most influential theological writings ever set down by a Christian person after the first century. Put simply, the closing twelve books of the City of God contain a number of doctrines that many of us think are in the Bible, but, indeed, became parts of Catholicism in later centuries, largely due to Augustine himself.

Over the past 25 or so shows of our podcast, we’ve learned where Christianity came from, how it was set down in the New Testament, and how it evolved in the centuries afterward. We’ve learned that while many Christianities flourished during the first few centuries CE, it was during the fourth century that the religion captivated the minds and hearts of Roman leaders just as its doctrines hardened through ecclesiastical councils and the work of the clergymen who attended them. Augustine was central to this process of hardening and codification. Never one to throw up his hands and say, “I don’t know,” throughout the City of God, Augustine attempts to answer questions by skeptical pagans and errant churchmen alike, building an all-encompassing theological system for posterity, and leaving virtually no topic untouched and no Biblical verse uninterpreted.

The long stretch of the City of God that we’re going to look at today makes for pretty challenging reading. The title of this episode – again Episode 102: An Old Man’s Book – comes from a description of the City of God by scholar G.R. Evans.1 Written during Augustine’s 60s and 70s, the later books of City of God meander from topic to topic with all of the confidence of an aging theologian who feels no need for brevity. Thus, while the City of God indeed contains theological ideas that were foundational to later Catholic history, the book also often digresses extensively from chapter to chapter, sometimes with original speculations, sometimes with long stretches of interpreting scriptures, and sometimes with incidental swipes at pagan naysayers. Augustine’s masterpiece’s second half contains doctrine, but it also contains oddments, loose ends, and a fair amount of ideological ax grinding. Thus, because the City of God’s second half is such a long and tangled stretch of prose, before we begin here, let me give you a concise preview of the main three things we’re going to observe Augustine doing today – really the three things that we need to take away from this tail end of this book.

The Main Components of Books 11-22: Original Sin, Exegesis, and Eschatology

First, Augustine is going to set down his doctrine of Original Sin. We all know that Original Sin is basically the idea that Adam and Eve committed a terrible crime that got them kicked out of Eden. What we might not know is that while different generations of Jewish and Christian theologians paid varying degrees of attention to this old Hebrew story, Augustine was absolutely obsessed with it, along with Genesis, more generally. For the ancient world, stories about original sins, like that of Prometheus and Pandora, were a shorthand way for understanding why life can be so hard sometimes. But Augustine’s interpretation of what happened in Eden went beyond this. To Augustine, Adam and Eve eating the apple fundamentally changed human nature into something else. Original Sin freighted all of human posterity with a proclivity for corruption and perverseness that wasn’t there in the original two created humans. Written at a moment when salvation through good works had turned into a divisive issue for theologians, Augustine’s chapters covering Original Sin might be the single most influential thing written in the late Roman world. We’ll look at them in detail a little later, along with Augustine’s role in a related theological debate called the Pelagian controversy – his important writings on Original Sin were actually born in the context of a Christian theological dispute that had come to a boil by about 410.

Claudio Coello’s The Triumph of Saint Augustine (1664).

After Original Sin, the second major project Augustine sets himself up to do in the City of God’s second half is to interpret much of the Old Testament as Christian, through and through. Augustine understood the ancient Jewish history captured in the Hebrew Bible as an imperfect prelude to Christianity. At some junctures in his long book, he tells us that Jews were meant to serve Christians, and, parroting an increasingly popular truism from Late Antique Christianity, that Jews had killed Christ.2 Augustine reads the Old Testament, then, not as a curious student of ancient Hebrew ideology, but as a Christian bent on interpreting every chapter and verse as foretelling the coming of his own savior, and his own religion. Augustine was by no means the first Christian person to offer revisionist readings of the Hebrew Bible. The very first chapter of Matthew quotes the Book of Isaiah as foretelling the birth of Christ.3 But while the author of Matthew was a Jewish person writing about a Jewish savior who was the culmination of Jewish prophecies in what Matthew’s author understood as a new sect of Judaism, Augustine is less at ease with the ancient Hebrew background of the Old Testament. His hundreds of exegeses throughout the City of God, and his other writings on the subject all demonstrate that Augustine understood ancient Hebrew culture as having reached its apex around 500 BCE, after which, other than having produced the scriptures that Augustine knew, it had become a thing of little concern.

The third and final main thing that Augustine does in the City of God is to end the vast book with a long stretch of chapters about heaven and hell. Contrary to what many of us understand, heaven and hell are scarcely given a single verse in the Bible. There are certainly many premonitions of suffering for the enemies of Israel, and for non-Christians in the Old and New Testaments, respectively, just as there are many verses envisioning pleasure and bliss for Israelites or Christians. But if we look for information about the mechanics and topography of hell and heaven in the Bible, even John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, is pretty reticent on the subject. Augustine, however, is not. He is interested in how flesh burns for all time, how bodies might be made to suffer forever, and on the opposite side of the coin, he believed that he knew how heaven worked, too, writing about how we will look when we’re resurrected in heaven – the age that we’ll be, and the nitty gritty of celestial bliss all the way down to our hair and fingernails. Garrulous on all theological subjects, then, Augustine ends the City of God with two long books about heaven and hell.

So, while we’re about to go through – oh, I don’t know, 663 pages of dense and desultory theology, the main things we’re going to focus on will be first, Original Sin; second, Augustine’s style of interpreting the Old Testament; and finally, third, Augustine’s writings on heaven and hell. The City of God covers many more subjects than these, and indeed over the next sixty minutes or so we’ll watch Augustine consider topics that few of us ever would have even thought would have been of concern to a theologian.

But in any case, let’s begin today’s show by opening up where we last left off, at the very beginning of Book 11. Book 11 of the City of God is going to begin with the subject of evil in the world – where it came from, and why it flourished in the cosmos of a beneficent God. The problem of evil is one of the great questions of many religions, and while Original Sin will ultimately be Augustine’s main answer, he takes a little while to get there. Specifically, he begins by talking about the very beginning of the world – the time when not only man, but also angels were created, and how angels, like humanity, also ultimately became divided into those who chose to serve God, and those who fell from grace. Without further ado, then, let’s hear how one of the most vigorous minds in Christian history fixes to solve the ever-prickly problem of evil, at the very heart of the City of God. Quotations in this program come from the Henry Bettenson translation, published by Penguin Books in 2003. [music]

Book 11: Human and Angelic Nature, Numerology

Augustine opens Book 11 of the City of God, and effectively the second half of his great treatise, by addressing a paradox. The Book of Genesis maintains that humanity was fashioned in God’s image. But humanity, Augustine writes, was far from the faultlessness and majesty of God. On this subject, Augustine laments that “the mind of man, the natural seat of his reason and understanding, is itself weakened by long-standing faults which darken it. It is too weak to cleave to that changeless light and to enjoy it” (11.2). And, Augustine argues, the only way for humanity to hold fast to the light of God is through the power of the half-human and half divine Christ.

Augustine Lateran

A fresco in Lateran, Rome that is the earliest portrait of Saint Augustine, dated to the sixth century.

With this opening assurance voiced, Augustine moves on to a slightly more complex topic – one which he also explores in the Confessions. This topic is creationism. Various strands of pagan ideology had poked at the sort of divine creationism that Augustine had accepted as doctrine. Pagan philosophies had frequently proposed that the world, and the souls within it, had always existed, and had not come about at some specific juncture due to divine will. Unwilling to concede these points, Augustine insists not only that God created the world and creates souls, but also, that since the passage of time means the actuation of physical change, there was no time before the creation of the world. A tireless fan of interpreting the first chapters of Genesis – he did so extensively in the Confessions, too – Augustine then explores the meaning of the various days of creation described in the Bible’s first verses. He theorizes that the curious verse in which God rests after the many days of creation do not describe the deity having some Gatorade and a protein snack, but instead, “what is meant is the rest of us who find their rest in him, and to whom he gives rest” (11.8).

The next subject Augustine turns to is angels. Angels, who make occasional appearances in both the Old and New Testaments, were increasingly popular in Christianity after the second century, with Gnosticism and Manichaeism hypothesizing the existence of millions and millions of angels. Angels were important to Augustine’s imagined pair of cities – terrestrial and celestial, because angels, in his imagination, were the first denizens of the celestial city. Augustine digs into Genesis and then one of the final Psalms in order to claim that angels came into being at the very moment of creation, as both the light and the heavens that God made during the world’s first moments. Angels, he writes, are not inevitably beings of light – some of them have turned away from God. But, advancing an idea that he had taken from the pagan philosopher Plotinus, evil was the absence of good, and Augustine writes that when angels left God behind, they fell into that vacuity of goodness which is evil. Contrary to the fickle nature of humans and even angels, though, Augustine writes, the Trinity was pure and undiluted goodness.

Now there was a popular story in early Christianity about angels having fallen from heavenly grace, and Satan having once been one of them. Two New Testament verses – one in Luke and one in 2 Peter, were the grappling hooks from which a gigantic amount of non-biblical narratives were hung over the Late Antique period, narratives like the Questions of Bartholomew and the Life of Adam and Eve. In the Gospel of Luke in the Bible, Christ tells some disciples, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).4 In 2 Peter, the author writes, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Pet 2:4).5 From these little verses, there grew apocryphal legends about a dark heavenly prince who rebelled due to jealousy at humanity, and in Book 11 of the City of God Augustine adds his own adventurous speculations to the Late Antique craze for angels. Augustine asks whether fallen angels once indeed shared fully in a state of grace, concluding that they, like humanity, possessed the power of reason. Humanity, too, Augustine writes – meaning Adam and Eve – had once lived in grace with the power of reason, and Adam “the first man[,] was more blessed in paradise than any righteous man in this state of mortal frailty” (11.12).

Returning to the subject of angels, Augustine begins a series of conjectures about them, asking whether they had foreknowledge of the ramifications of turning away from God. Augustine finds himself a bit puzzled by a second New Testament verse about Satan. Jesus tells his disciples in Chapter 8 of John, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth” (John 8:44). Augustine finds himself puzzled here because the verse seems to imply that God created a being of pure evil, but by means of some exegetical wriggling, in which Augustine claims that “the beginning” in that same verse really means is that Satan chose a wayward path from the very beginning, and that those who disagree with Augustine on this point are fools. The idea of an innate cosmic evil, by the way, was at odds with both the doctrine of quasi-free will that is the heart of Augustine’s theory of salvation we’re about to hear a lot more about. And the idea of an innate cosmic evil, as much as it’s implied by a few verses about Satan in the New Testament, was also a big no-no, because it reminded Augustine of Manichaean dualism, in which an eternal light and an eternal dark spirit warred with one another through several phases of cosmic history.

Having tread carefully around several tripwire verses about the innate evil of Satan, Augustine moves on to more general theorizing about the nature of evil. An important passage on what he believes about good and evil appears in Book 11, Chapter 17 – let’s hear a slightly longer quote from the Henry Bettenson translation:
There can be no doubt that the fault of wickedness supervenes upon a faultless natural state. Evil is contrary to human nature; in fact it can only do harm to nature; and it would not be a fault to withdraw from God were it not that it is more natural to adhere to him. It is that fact which makes the withdrawal a fault. That is why the choice of evil is an impressive proof that the nature is good.

But God, who is supremely good in his creation of natures that are good, is also completely just in his employment of evil choices in his design, so that whereas such evil choices make a wrong use of good natures, God turns evil choices to good use. Thus when the Devil, who was good as God created him, became bad by his own choice, God caused him to be cast down to a lower station and to become a derision to the angels of God; and this means that the Devil’s temptations prove to be for the benefit of God’s saints, though the Devil longs to injure them thereby. (11.17)
It’s a complex little passage, but the gist of it is that in Augustine’s mind, evil springs up as an errant turn away from our natural propensity toward God and good, and even as such the manifestation of evil still serves a role in the Christian God’s plan. To underscore this point, Augustine advances the rather weird parallel that just as the rhetorical law of antithesis creates pleasant figures in literary composition, the oppositional interplay of good and evil is part of the marvellousness of the created world. And, serving up another strange parallel, Augustine notes that Plato was said to have first divided philosophy into physics, logic, and ethics – three parts – just like the Trinitarian deity. Right, and Neapolitan ice cream has vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – a team of three – just like the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Think on that a while. I don’t mean to be irreverent. But Augustine is about to get into numerology and the Bible, a topic in the City of God that has not proved one of the more luminous to posterity. So, Augustine next broaches the subject of the number six – a perfect number, he says. The creation of the world took six days. Augustine writes that the subcomponents of the number six are its sixth, its third, and its half all added together, and thus, jaw-droppingly, “one, two, and three added together make six” (11.31). Seven, Augustine tells us, is also a perfect number – the day of God’s resting. Augustine informs his reader that the number seven is special because “three is the first odd whole number, and four the first whole even number, and seven is made up of these two” (11.32). And just in case you’re muttering under your breath, yes, Augustine is wrong, indeed one is the first odd number, and two the first even number, and also, yes, one and two together make three – just like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, all added together. Coincidence? Yes, absolutely. Let’s move on from this idiotic little grotto of the City of God. As you may know, this sort of numerology, called gematria, was popular in Late Antiquity, giving us the 666 of the Book of Revelation, 6 being the number of members in the band Iron Maiden, the three sixes being present because there are three strikes in the game of baseball, a sentence which makes exactly as much sense as the gibberish Augustine writes in the City of God, Book 11, Chapters 30-31.

Anyway, from there Augustine turns toward the subject of existence. Existence, he says, is a privilege, and quite a privilege at that. He introduces the idea of distraught and miserable people, and whether they would want immortal life. On this subject, Augustine writes, “If those wretches were offered immortality, on the condition that their misery would be undying, with the alternative that if they refused to live for ever in the same misery they would cease to have any existence at all, and would perish utterly, then they would certainly be overjoyed to choose perpetual misery in preference to complete annihilation” (11.27). In other words, all humans would prefer to be intensely miserable for all eternity rather than simply winking out of existence. The reason that Augustine makes this rickety claim is to stress that we cling to existence, as all things do, because we are the willingly created productions of the Christian God – even the angels cast far down to the depths of darkness for betraying him. Right, that takes us through the bumpy road of Book 11 – now, let’s turn the page, and go on to the next few books. [music]

Books 12-13: Human Nature, Innate Depravity, and Original Sin

We are now in Book 12 of the City of God, and really, Books 12-14 contain by far the most important theology in this treatise, so we’re going to spend a lot of time with them, and then go through the rest of the book more quickly. Books 12-14 are the ones in which Augustine sets down the bulk of his ideas on human reason and free will, on the creation of humanity, and on Original Sin and the long shadow that it cast over human history. This little trio of books was very possibly the most influential thing written during Late Antiquity, having served as Catholic doctrine ever since. So let’s get focused, and watch Augustine do his thing.

Lucas Cranach the Elder-Adam and Eve 1533

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (1533). The first few chapters of Genesis were Augustine’s obsession, and the idea that human nature itself was actually changed by the eating of the fruit in Eden was his own idea.

In the broad hierarchy of created existence, Augustine writes, existing as a sentient, rational being is among the highest privileges. And yet in spite of the gifts of sentience and reason, some of us have a perversion in our power of rationality. All nature and existence comes from God – angelic as well as human, but only good can exist as its own undiluted thing. On this subject, Augustine writes, “good may exist on its own, but evil cannot. The natures which have been perverted as a result of the initiative of an evil choice, are evil in so far as they are vitiated, but in so far as they are natures, they are good” (12.3). The point he wants to convey is thus that “We must not, in the rashness of human folly, allow ourselves to find fault, in any particular, with the work of that great Artificer who created all things” (12.4).

In a memorable thought experiment, Augustine imagines two men looking at the body of a beautiful woman. One man resists the temptation to pursue sex with her. The other gives into temptation. The thought experiment is set out to demonstrate that all three were products of God’s design, in their nature good. There was no sudden upsurge of cosmic evil anywhere. But the second man made an evil choice due to an errant will, and that sort of situation is often at the root of evil in the world. To quote Augustine, in the situation of such a bad choice, “one should not try to find an efficient cause for a wrong choice. It is not a matter of efficiency, but of deficiency; the evil will itself is not effective but defective” (12.7). To return to an earlier point, as an ex-Manichaean, it was especially important for Augustine to move Christianity away from the sense that evil was an eternal cosmic force, and a moment later, he writes that even the transgressions of angels were the results of their faulty wills.

And also as a staunch Biblical Christian, Augustine could not tolerate the popular pagan belief that the world was profoundly ancient. On the contrary, Augustine writes, “we reckon, from the evidence of the holy Scriptures, that fewer than 6,000 years have passed since man’s first origin” (12.11), and other accounts which held the world’s history to have been longer than this were “packed with fairy-tales. . .which our opponents may decide to produce in attempts to controvert the authority of our sacred books” (12.11). Other pagan thinkers hypothesized that the world was destroyed and then created anew over a period of long cycles, and people were reincarnated during this process – the Book of Ecclesiastes had even been quoted to support this. Reincarnation was at odds with Augustine’s idea of salvation, and cyclical worlds with his apocalypticism, and Augustine so he angrily deploys Biblical verses to contradict these adversarial theories, and chips away at Platonic doctrines on creation and reincarnation.

Now throughout the Confessions and even in other books of the City of God, Augustine just can’t get enough of arguing for the Genesis story of creation. Again, he had an almost indescribable passion for the opening of Genesis. He spends perhaps a hundred pages in total across these two works delving into every single granule of the first page of the Bible – evidently the idea of a world or universe having always been in existence was very unsettling to him, and in the second half of Book 12 he returns again to hammering home Old Testament creationism, with a special emphasis that humanity, second only to angels in God’s order, was created in God’s image.

But, as we move onto Book 13, we learn that this divine creation so important to Augustine quickly went awry. Death, Augustine writes, was the punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve, and “the first human beings would certainly not have suffered [death], if they had not sinned” (13.3). And in order to explain why the transgression of some humans flashed forward to affect the rest of humanity, Augustine writes the following about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit of Eden. Here is, in my opinion, the most important thing Augustine ever wrote – his central definition of Original Sin – again in the Penguin Henry Bettenson translation, published in 2003.
[B]ecause of the magnitude of that offence [of eating from the Tree of Knowledge], the condemnation changed human nature for the worse; so that what first happened as a matter of punishment in the case of the first human beings, continued in their posterity as something natural and congenital.

This is because the descent of man from man is not like the derivation of man from dust. Dust was the raw material from the making of man; but in the begetting of a human being man is a parent. Hence, although flesh was made out of earth, flesh is not the same as earth, whereas the human parent is the same kind of thing as the human offspring. Therefore the whole human race was in the first man, and it was to pass from him through the woman into his progeny, when the married pair had received the divine sentence of condemnation. And it was not man as first made, but what man became after his sin and punishment, that was thus begotten, as far as concerns the origin of sin and death. . .[H]uman nature in [Adam] was vitiated and altered, so that he experienced the rebellion and disobedience of desire in his body, and was bound by the necessity of dying; and he produced offspring in the same condition to which his fault and its punishment had reduced him, that is, liable to sin and death. (13.3)
Thus put plainly, Adam and Eve were perfectly fine to begin with, but Original Sin corrupted their nature, which they in turn passed down to posterity. Augustinian Original Sin is a doctrine rooted in something like a Lamarckian view of evolution – the idea that if you spend a lot of time at the bench press, your babies will have big pecs and shoulders, or, more pertinent to Augustine, that if your distant ancestor led a risqué lifestyle, then you and your babies will lead risqué lifestyles, the behavior of an older generation actually changing the hard coding of the nature of later generations. It’s an idea that has zero scientific credibility, but of course, Augustine was a theologian and not a scientist.

At best, to Augustine, the experience of biological life is a slow diminution toward death, as “For what else is going on, every day, every hour, every minute, but this process of death?” (13.10). While Augustine writes that in all cases, death is a lamentable part of existence, he writes that the “second death,” or the damnation of the soul, is avoidable if one converts to his branch of Christianity. This was the death suffered by Adam and Eve, and it is the one to which their descendants have subsequently been inclined. And to quote just one more passage on Original Sin – just for clarity’s sake since this is an incredibly important part of the City of God, Augustine writes,
[W]e were all in [Adam], seeing that we all were that one man who fell into sin through the woman who was made from him before the first sin. We did not possess forms individually created and assigned to us for us to live in them as individuals; but there already existed the seminal nature from which we were to be begotten. And of course, when this was vitiated through sin, and bound in death’s fetters in its just condemnation, man could not be born of man in any other condition. (13.14)
There, again, you have Augustinian Original Sin – Adam and Eve were created with pure and goodly natures, but they sinned, and as a result, all of their progeny have subsequently been born with corrupt natures. Now stories about original transgressions, like Prometheus taking the fire from the gods, and Tantalus taking ambrosia from the gods, both in the pursuit of divine knowledge, date from about the same period as the first chapters of Genesis. These explanatory narratives were deployed to help make clear why life on earth was so tough, and when the terse Hebrew story of Adam and Eve was set down, this would have been one of the functions that it served, along with explaining why the snake was condemned to crawl on its belly. By the time of Saint Paul, Christians had taken up the narrative as an etiology or origin story of sin – Paul writes in the Book of Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).6 What Augustine adds to this story is both a personal preoccupation with the early chapters of Genesis, and a concerted severity in his understanding of what happened when the first humans transgressed. To Augustine, the human act of Original Sin corrupted divinely created nature forever. Augustine’s argument has had its dissidents for a long time – both due to its fierce cynicism as well as the wobbly logic behind it, and we’ll come back to Augustinian Original Sin and where it came from later in this episode.

While Augustine’s role as a devotee and promoter of Original Sin is well known, in the City of God he also rallies behind other ideas, some of them quite a bit more obscure. One of these is corporeal resurrection. Corporeal resurrection is a thoroughly Biblical doctrine – we today tend to think that the Bible says that we will go to heaven or hell at the moment of our death, which it does not say at all. Instead, the Book of Revelation prophesies earthly resurrection for all pious Christians, and graphic deaths for all lapsed, or non-Christians. Augustine, in the City of God, gets behind corporeal resurrection. He knew that Platonic philosophy, and its much later Christian affiliates Gnosticism and Manichaeism, theorized a severance between body and soul at the moment of death. To Platonism and Neoplatonism, Augustine strongly insists that people’s bodies are parts of their afterlives, though during these afterlives, “these bodies will be such that no trace of corruption or frustration will affect their flesh” (13.19).

After death, Augustine writes, dwelling among celestial rivers, people will not need to eat, though they’ll be able to if they want to. All roads in theology seem to lead Augustine back to Genesis, and, reading Genesis once more, Augustine spends some time interpreting this verse: “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). This verse seemed to suggest an inert physical body animated by a soul, which Augustine has just been arguing against – he’s just been championing bodily resurrection against Greek naysayers of the Platonic variety, and to Augustine, the Old Testament God exhaling into the mud-man’s nose can be interpreted as the Christian Holy Spirit animating Christian believers. [music]

Book 14: Original Sin, Sexuality, and Sex in Eden

With much of the doctrine of Original Sin advanced by this point – and we’re at the start of Book 14, now, Augustine offers a general statement about how he saw the world. He writes,
[A]lthough there are many great peoples throughout the world, living under different customs in religion and morality and distinguished by a complex variety of languages, arms, and dress, it is still true that there have come into being only two main divisions, as we may call them, in human society. . .There is, in fact, one city of men who choose to live by the standard of the flesh, and another of those who choose to live by the standard of the spirit. (14.1)
Those who lived by the flesh, Augustine writes, quoting some verses by Paul (Gal 5:19-21), partook in all sorts of sins – generally sins that involved sensory indulgences.

Now, Augustine here is trying to bifurcate the whole world into Christians of his denomination, and everyone else. A potential problem for this subdivision is that other ideologies had already existed that had a lot in common with Christianity – generally speaking, asceticism and an emphasis on intellectual and spiritual discipline over hedonism. Most famously, stoicism was Christianity’s intellectual uncle. But stoicism, Augustine writes, had it wrong. The goal of the Christian was the reverence of God and the pleasure of the afterlife. But on the way to this goal, the median Christian experienced a range of emotions – anxiety, fear, bitter sadness, and also joy and gladness, all of which were out of step with stoicism. Stoicism, after all, had preached general emotional temperedness and aloofness from worldly life, but Augustine emphasizes that this emotional temperedness was quite different than the passionate spiritualism of Pauline theology and the theology of other authors of the New Testament. Stoic indifference, Augustine writes, was impossible for the self-conscious Christian, anxious about his or her own salvation or damnation.

The first humans, however, Augustine writes, were not plagued with such anxieties. But, returning once again to Genesis’ first chapters and the subject of Original Sin, Augustine writes that “the first evil act of will, since it preceded all evil deeds in man, was rather a falling away from the work of God to its own works, rather than any substantive act” (14.11). If you’ll remember from Genesis, Adam and Eve cover themselves up, following their fruity meal, as the Bible puts it “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen 3:7). To Augustine in the City of God, Adam and Eve tied on loincloths because with the knowledge of the forbidden fruit came also sexuality and sexual desire. Prior to the fruit, Augustine writes, “lust did not yet arouse [their] members independently of their decision. The flesh did not yet, in a fashion, give proof of man’s disobedience by a disobedience of its own” (14.17). This, importantly, is Augustine’s interpretation – that only the tree of knowledge gave Adam and Eve sexual desire for one another.

The subject of Adam and Eve’s sexuality steers Augustine toward one of his generation’s favorite topics – sex. Augustine writes that people in all cultures cover their genitals, and have sex in private. Even marital sex for the purposes of childbearing, which was the only sex allowed for a Christian person, was attended with a sense of shame and uncleanness, hence it taking place in private. Erections, Augustine writes, were involuntary – they were evidence of how completely lust had property over a part of the human body, and as such, erections were disgraceful. He writes of a hypothetical man that this man would rather be seen irrationally angry in a public forum than having sex as evidence of the disquieting uncontrollability of human physiology under the force of sexual desire.7

While Augustine does take upon himself to declare that Adam and Eve were virginal in Eden, Augustine also realizes that there are problems envisioning Adam and Eve wearing chastity belts prior to being kicked out of the garden. For one, in the Bible, God tells the teeming population of organisms in Eden, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22). And for two, Augustine can’t quite bring himself to argue that God’s entire plan, prior to the sin of Adam and Eve, was for there to be just two folks in the world, for all of history. And so Augustine begins the following discussion.

Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve (1507). Augustine, along with other theologians of his generation like Jerome, invented the novel idea that Adam and Eve were chaste in Eden.

I will pause here for a moment and tell you this. Sometimes, when I actually read works in their entirety – works that are very dense and long, like the City of God, that I suspect other people don’t actually read all the way through all too often – I find things, and am incredulous that they are not more well known. What you are about to hear – Augustine’s deranged vision of the way that sex in Eden might have taken place – is one of those things. Augustine, picturing Adam and Eve in Eden, writes that the two could have had completely passionless intercourse to produce offspring. Prior to sin, Augustine writes, erections and natural and bodily lubrications could have taken place “at the bidding of the will,” as with “craftsmen engaged in all kinds of physical tasks, where. . .strength and speed are developed by active training” (14.23). Ruling their bodies with their minds, Adam and Eve might have copulated mechanically and with no sexual passion, all of their descendants forever after doing the same thing. In Augustine’s words, in an alternate history without Original Sin, “the will would have received the obedience of all the [body’s] members, including the organs of sex. . .the man would have sowed the seed and the woman would have conceived the child when their sexual organs had been aroused by the will” (14.23,24). In such a perfect world, sex would have been as pure and shameless as scattering seeds on a field.

Augustine then offers us some ideas about how erections might be controlled purely by the will, as other parts of the body could be. He emphasizes that if men hadn’t lost control of their penises due to Original Sin, “Then man himself also may have once received from his lower members an obedience which he lost by his disobedience” (14.24). And, really going for it in the City of God, Book 14, Chapter 24, Augustine invites us to consider all of the things that humans can do with their bodies: “Some people can move their ears. . .There are those who imitate the cries of birds and beasts and the voices of any other men. . .I know from my own experience of a man who used to sweat whenever he chose. . .A number of people produce at will such musical sounds from their behind[s] (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region” (14.24). Thus, Augustine asks, with people being able sweat voluntarily, and emit stinkless, marvelous musical farts, was it such a stretch to believe that people could also have, in a perfect world, had joyless, mechanistic sexual intercourse through calculatedly exercising their wills over their vaginas and penises?

Augustine’s ecstatic vision of the passionless coitus of Eden actually proceeds even further from here. The frigid and ardorless copulations of Eden would have also scarcely even meant the loss of virginity. After all, menstrual blood could flow through a hymen without the loss of virginity – thus “the male seed could have been dispatched into the womb, with no loss of the wife’s integrity” (14.26). The entire process of insemination and pregnancy “might have been united. . .by an act of will, instead of by a lustful craving” (14.26). And yes, it really says all of that. Augustine’s demented writings on prelapsarian sex mark the apex of three generations of theologians who had worked themselves into an unwholesome frenzy over human sexuality, the writings that they left behind on the subject generally more perverted and pernicious than the prosaic part of human existence that they were so bent on condemning. To move on, with a few more words about the opposed nature of the City of God to the sublunary world that we all live in, Augustine wraps up Book 14, and, effectively, the third of the five main parts of the City of God. [music]

Books 15-16: Exegesis of the Pentateuch, the Roots of the Two Cities, and Giants

Books 15-18 of the City of God, to which we’ll now turn, are Augustine’s history of the world up to the coming of Christ, with an overall focus on the ancient roots of his central two cities. As he puts it at the outset of this long section of the treatise, “I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standards, the other of those who live according to God’s will” (15.1). This long section of the City of God, a mixture of exegesis and personal speculation, allows Augustine to trace his twin cities nearly back to the moment of creation. Let’s go through this section – meaning the 300 or so page swath of text between Books 15 and 18 – pretty quickly. These books have a bit of clever exegesis from time to time, but overall Augustine’s main operation in them is appropriating many of the Hebrew Bible’s stories for Christian purposes and then tracing out his bi-racial view of humanity – the race that’s like him that’s going toward heavenly rewards, and then the other race that’s doomed to eternal suffering.

The two races, he writes, had roots in Cain and Abel. Later, Abraham’s illegitimate son Ishmael represented the inferior race, and Isaac, the superior race, due to the circumstances of their births. Returning to Cain and Abel, Augustine tells us that it’s no surprise that just as Cain founded a city, Romulus also founded a city after killing his brother. Augustine then offers a revisionist treatment of the Cain and Abel story. In the actual Bible, God likes the scent of Abel’s meat better than Cain’s vegetables, and Cain, jealous at his brother’s preferred treatment, kills Abel. Augustine’s reading is that what God really didn’t like wasn’t Cain’s crops, but instead, Cain’s inward proclivity toward evil. Then Augustine offers a second revisionist reading. In the Bible, Cain flees after killing his brother and then takes a wife in the Land of Nod, a story that has not made a lot of sense for the past 2,500 years, since Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel and Seth were at that point the only folks on the planet. Augustine writes in response that “the writer of this sacred history had no need to mention by name all the people who may then have existed” (15.8). It’s a weird theological can of worms to open up, and so Augustine doesn’t dwell on it, instead moving on to defend the multi-century life spans of the Bible’s early patriarchs, first by a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid, and then with a personal anecdote. Augustine writes that bones of enormous sizes have been discovered – and that he himself once saw a gigantic human molar – one the size of a hundred human molars. Thus, since human giants had demonstrably once existed, Augustine writes, clearly, humans might have once had immense life spans. Dashing through the Genesis tales of long lives, Augustine gives it all an enthusiastic thumbs up. Some, he tells us, alleged that the Bible’s stories of outrageous life spans were just Jewish fables. But where numerical errors existed between the third century BCE Septuagint, and the seventh or sixth century BCE original Hebrew version, the fault was not with the Septuagint, which was a sacred text, so named because seventy translators had all created seventy identical Greek translations from the Hebrew original, but instead, the error of a copyist. Side note – as you may remember from our program on Jerome, Augustine’s contemporary Jerome had a more grown-up attitude toward Biblical languages, preferring to learn Hebrew for himself and work out his own translation rather than to vigorously defend the accuracy of a translation from Hebrew to Greek without speaking either language, as Augustine does for us in the City of God (15.13).

Gustave Doré’s 1866 illustration of Lucifer falling in an edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The story, based on two verses in the New Testament and one in the Old, inspired a massive amount of apocryphal literature about giants and fallen angels during the late Second Temple and early Christian periods.

Augustine also has much to say about the Biblical Flood. Apocryphal narratives had existed since the second century BCE, like 1 Enoch, that alleged that the Flood happened because celestial angels had coupled with human females and produced rampaging giants. These apocryphal tales attached themselves to three verses at the beginning of Genesis, Chapter 5 – “the sons of God [or angels] saw that [the daughters of men] were fair; and they took wives for themselves. . .The Nephilim were on the earth in those days. . .when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown” (Gen 5:2,4).8 It’s a bizarre little aside in the Bible, a playground for weird YouTube documentaries on ancient aliens, and in reality probably a fragment of an old narrative like Hesiod’s Theogony in which titans and hecatoncheires were rumbling around in the world and had to be stopped by Zeus that never quite meshed well with its surrounding contents in the early chapters of Genesis.

On the subject of divine angels mating with human females, Augustine says that yes, this probably happened – after all, “it is widely reported that [satyrs] and Pans. . .have often behaved improperly towards women, lusting after them and achieving intercourse with them. These reports are confirmed by many people” (15.22). With this doubtless unimpeachable evidence related to hearsay about creatures from Greek mythology, together with unbreakable confidence in the infallibility of scripture, Augustine writes that lustful angels and their giant offspring indeed did once run rampant over the earth, prompting the Biblical Flood. The old flood story, according to Augustine, had allowed ancient Jewish writers to prophecy the coming of Jesus and Christians, as Noah’s ark was “Without doubt. . .a symbol. . .of the Church which is saved” (15.26). Indeed, even the dimensions of the ark, in terms of its cubits, matched the dimensions of the crucified Christ, and the entry door to the ark “surely represents the wound made when [Jesus] was pierced with the spear” (15.26). Now, even in Augustine’s time, the old ark story had its dissidents – some had pointed out that all of earth’s known species – even in Late Antiquity – wouldn’t fit in one boat, and others had wondered what all of the animals would eat when shut into their little doomsday kennels in the hull. Augustine, through conjecture and recourse to the pseudoscientific zoology of the fourth century and long before, works to defend the ark narrative down to chapter and verse, and, evidently satisfied with the results, moves on to Book 16.

This next book begins by tracing the racial differences of the species through the sons of Noah. Two of these, Shem and Japheth, were good, but the middle son, Ham, who saw his father drunk and naked in the Bible was evil, and so his descendants were, too. After a stop at the Tower of Babel narrative to offer us a conventional interpretation that it is a tale about hubris being chastened, Augustine goes on to assert that the one language once spoken by all people had been Hebrew, and then, in his narrative, reaches the story of Abraham, a point in the Bible at which Augustine writes that “we find more evident promises from God which we now see fulfilled in Christ” (16.12).

Retelling how Abraham journeyed from the city of Ur in the southeast of modern day Iraq to the land of Canaan, Augustine comes to a thorny verse in Genesis and feels compelled to deal with it – God proclaims to Abraham in Chapter 17 of Genesis, “[E]very male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old. . .Any uncircumcised male. . .has broken my covenant” (Gen 17:12,14). The commandment, to Augustine, should be interpreted as a general directive to convert to Christianity, the circumcision in question being a visible and formal sign of salvation. Abraham’s grandchildren, Esau and Jacob, also hold an exegetical lesson for Augustine. Augustine recollects that when the two children were in the womb, Rebecca was told that the first born of the twins would be subordinate to the younger twin, or as Genesis tells it, “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). Augustine interprets this verse as meaning “that the older people of the Jews was destined to serve the younger people, the Christians” (16.35). A moment later, with the triumphalism of his generation of churchmen, Augustine, still thinking of brothers holding dominion over brothers, writes, “It is Christ whom the nations serve, and to whom the princes do reverence. He is lord over his brother, since his people have dominion over the Jews” (16.37).

Augustine then, rumbling forward through Genesis, hurries through the tale of Jacob having sex with all four women in his uncle Laban’s household, perhaps not having a great exegetical solution to this ancient story. Reaching the tale of the Israelites’ residency and bondage in Egypt, Augustine retells the narrative of Moses leading them out of slavery and then Joshua leading their martial campaigns in Canaan, reminding us that while Abraham’s promise from God was that his descendants would rule over Canaan, the real promise was Christianity’s looming dominion over the whole earth. [music]

Books 17-18: Exegesis of Judges, Samuel, and Some World History

Alright, so, we’ve followed Augustine, through the Pentateuch just now in his bullheaded efforts to map out the origins of Christianity, and his titular City of God, in the earliest Hebrew scriptures. What we see is, predictably, Christian exegesis or Christian revisionism of the Bible’s oldest stories. This sort of exegesis had been going on in Christianity since the earliest epistles of Saint Paul and the opening pages of the Book of Mark, in which this and that verse of the Prophetic Books is interpreted as prophesying the coming of Jesus. All told, Augustine’s metaphorical “City of God” in his exegeses between Books 15-18 is a sort of Christian zeitgeist, no different really than Justin Martyr’s logos from three centuries before.

As Augustine moves from the Pentateuch into the Historical Books, the first figure he really seizes onto is the mother of the judge Samuel. Samuel’s mother Hannah is one of the Bible’s many barren women granted a miraculous birth through God, and to Augustine, Hannah, with her eventual fecundity, was a symbol of the Christian church – Augustine interprets a long monologue by Hannah minutely in one of the longest chapters of the City of God. Speaking of the Jewish priesthood established in various early books of the Hebrew Bible, Augustine writes that this “priesthood has been superseded. . .because the [Christian] priesthood which succeeded, on the rejection and supersession of the old order, is proclaimed as eternal in its stead” (17.6).


Pieter de Grebber’s King David in Prayer (c. 1635-40). David hearing of the birth of an important son (Solomon in the Bible) was low hanging fruit for Augustinian exegesis – Augustine, naturally, interprets it as actually being about the coming of Christ.

Continuing his Christian revisionism, Augustine reaches a juncture of 2 Samuel at which King David is told that he’s going to have a very special son. Specifically, in the Bible, God tells David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish a throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12-13). In the Old Testament, these verses foretell the coming of Solomon and the construction of the First Temple. Augustine’s interpretation is, of course, that God isn’t telling David about Solomon’s pending years on the throne, but instead about the coming of Christianity and its ministers, which will dominate the earth forever. After all, Augustine writes, Solomon’s reign didn’t exactly result in peace everlasting for ancient Israel in the Bible – things continued their usual historical seesaw between prosperity and privation long after Solomon lived.

While Augustine retrojects his religion into various moments of the Bible’s Historical Books, he finds the Psalms to be rife with opportunities for pinpointing passages foretelling the coming of Christianity. If we were really enthusiastic Augustinian scholars, we would get the Psalms on one side of our desk and then Book 17 of the City of God on the other and see how Augustine reinterprets these ancient Hebrew poems as actually, indeed, Christian ones. But, you’ve heard enough to understand that Augustine knew how to do close reading, and that he could tirelessly bulldog for Christian exegeses of whichever chapter and verse of the Hebrew Bible he happened to have in front of him. Dashing through the Psalms, then skipping through Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon, then stopping briefly in the Song of Songs in order to show us what he perceives to be Christian odds and ends, Augustine changes topics slightly.9

Abraham was the patriarch of all of the Israelites, and he came from the Mesopotamian metropolis of Ur. The subject of Abraham’s origins leads Augustine into a history of ancient world empires. Augustine didn’t have a lot of reliable sources to draw from on this subject – his text relies greatly on a historical account by his Christian predecessor Eusebius – and so Augustine’s summary of ancient world history is a bit factually faulty. Faulty as his history is, though – and we’re at the beginning of Book 18, by the way – Augustine’s intentions at this juncture of the City of God are, for a moment, driven by historical curiosity. Augustine seeks, for instance, to tell of what was going on in Ancient Egypt when Jacob died, who was ruling in Assyria when Moses was born, and that kind of thing. While it’s an appreciable move toward comparative history based on the modest sources Augustine had at his disposal, Augustine pretty quickly gets himself toward one of his favorite hobby horses – the falseness of pagan, and especially Greek, ideology. For instance, he writes that as the Israelites spent their time in Egypt and then ventured into Canaan under Joshua, “ceremonies in honour of false gods were established by the kings of Greece” (18.12).

What follows is a throwback to topics Augustine has already visited five hundred pages ago in the City of God – a history of pagan ideology with a bit more concerted attention to Greek, rather than Roman myths and religion. Touching on ancient legends about Greek history long before the Trojan War, and the bygone history of Argos, and the ancient Greek world’s uncountable number of stories of miraculous transformation, Augustine concludes, fairly mildly, that “Stories of this kind are either untrue or at least so extraordinary that we are justified in withholding credence” (18.18). Pressing onward with his comparative history, Augustine writes that Aeneas arrived in Italy around the time of the period of the Judges in the Old Testament, that Rome was founded around the time of the reign the Judahite monarch Hezekiah. Augustine, quoting a text of questionable provenance, writes that an ancient Sibyl from Crete uttered many foretellings of events central to Christian history, going on to assert that the Babylonian Captivity ended around the time Rome transitioned from a monarchy to a republic. And coming to the 500s BCE, Augustine reaches the subject of the Bible’s prophetic books. [music]

Book 18: Exegesis of the Prophetic Books, Augustinian and Late Antique Antisemitism

In an earlier program, we learned about the Bible’s Prophetic Books. We learned that they can be subdivided into oracles of doom for the foes of ancient Judah, but also the ancient Judahites themselves, and then oracles of better times for Judah, with a small handful envisioning special events and a special intermediary figure who will be the cause of such better times. It is toward the latter verses of the Prophetic Books that Augustine hurries in Book 18 of the City of God, wanting, as Christians had since the first century, to show that the coming of Jesus had been foretold centuries prior to his birth. Beginning with the books of Hosea and Amos, and then, inevitably, famous verses in Chapters 52-54 of Isaiah, Augustine makes the usual Christian argument that key passages in these texts had announced the coming of Christ and Christianity. Then, Augustine does the same for other Prophetic Books – Micah, Jonah, Joel, Obadiah, Nahum, and Habbakuk, adding for the final prophet a long exegesis of the book’s central poem. Never one to skimp on thoroughness, Augustine marches onward to the books of Jeremiah and Zephaniah, identifying verses that have Christian sounding stuff in them, then Daniel, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

This tour of the Prophetic Books and comparative world history is, in a nutshell, all undertaken for the predictable purpose of emphasizing the total originality, and ideological superiority of the ancient Israelites, and afterward the Christians. While in Book 18, Augustine gets a fair number of historical parallels correctly within a century or two, ideological jingoism also leads him to make some totally false statements. He claims, for instance, that Hebrew is the world’s oldest written language and the learning of ancient Hebrew culture is the most ancient of all. If we value archaeology as a source of information at, then, we must contradict him on this point, as the oldest Sumerian proto-cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs are more than two thousand years older than the oldest archaeological remnants of Hebrew script. Not above textual pugilism, Augustine writes that those who hold Ancient Egypt to be the more antique civilization are liars.

Then, comparing Hebrew apples to Greek oranges, Augustine writes that while the Bible is absolutely ideologically harmonious in every way, ancient Greek philosophers disagreed with one another all the time. And on the subject of ancient Jewish and Greek people, Augustine again comes to the subject of the Septuagint. The Greek Septuagint, as we’ve learned, was a translation from Hebrew to Greek of the Old Testament undertaken at some point in Egypt in the mid-200s BCE. By Augustine’s age, actual Hebrew speakers had been critiquing the Septuagint for various mistranslations and omissions for a long time. But just as modern proponents of the King James Bible have held fast against the NRSV and other translations, Augustine remained tied to the old Septuagint, believing the ridiculous legend that seventy bilingual Jewish Greek speakers had created seventy identical translations independently, which had thereafter become the Septuagint. And just to show how utterly intellectually thuggish Augustine can be when he wants to defend something central to his ideological agenda, here’s a quote from Book 18 about the Septuagint, again the Penguin Henry Bettenson translation:
If then we see, as we ought to see, nothing in those Scriptures except the utterances of the Spirit of God through the mouths of men, it follows that anything in the Hebrew text that is not found in that of the seventy translators is something which the Spirit of God decided not to say through the translators but through the prophets. Conversely, anything in the Septuagint that is not in the Hebrew texts is something which the same Spirit preferred to say through the translators, instead of through the prophets, thus showing that the former and the latter alike were prophets. (18.43)
In other words, I like the Septuagint, so if it varies from the original Hebrew text, that’s because it was God’s will. While Saint Jerome can be just as venomous and uncivil than Augustine, Jerome also took the time to learn Hebrew and master Greek, perhaps precisely to avoid such indefensible reasons for relying on an antiquated translation.

John Chrysostom, Miscellany

John Chrysostom in Puncho’s Miscellany (1796). Chrysostom’s Adversus Judaeos was part of a large body of Late Antique texts by Christian clergymen that espoused antisemitic views, such as we see from time to time in the City of God.

What follows in Book 18, however, is far more disquieting than Augustine’s flag waving for the Septuagint. As readers of the Old Testament and students of ancient Jewish history know, the First Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed around 586 BCE, and the Second Temple went up toward the end of the 500s BCE. For Augustine’s generation of Christians, this was effectively the end of anything of particular interest in ancient Jewish history. After the Babylonian Captivity, Augustine writes that “the Jews by race. . .had no prophets from that time onwards, and [were] afflicted by many disasters, at the hands of foreign kings and even at the hands of the Romans” (18.45). Today, after centuries of historical scholarship, we know that a great deal of the Hebrew Bible was written long after the Babylonian Captivity, with books like Daniel, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Judith set down as late as the 100s BCE, and that the apocalyptic Enochian corpus, which shows up in the Dead Sea Scrolls, proves that exceedingly Christian-sounding stuff was on the ground in and around modern day Israel in the two centuries before Jesus lived. While Augustine can definitely be pardoned for not knowing when Persian and Greek loan words started appearing in the Hebrew and Aramaic verses of Second Temple literature – this is advanced stuff – the way that his generation of Christians imagined Jewish culture flaring and petering out after the 500s BCE is less pardonable.

First, there were some Jewish folks who lived in the first century who were pretty important to Christian history. Their names included Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, Matthew, Luke, and more, every single one of them, for goodness’ sake, Jewish, the authors of the New Testament themselves largely devout Jewish students of the Hebrew Bible, even if their theology, at the time, was a little bit new agey for the streets and temples of Jerusalem. It was, however, key to Augustine and his predecessors to imagine a silence between the final prophetic book of the Old Testament, Malachi, and then the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, as such an imaginary gulf created the illusion that ancient Jewish culture had peaked with the creation of the scriptures that Christianity had appropriated from it, and then withered into the sidelines to await the triumphant arrival of people like Augustine himself. We’ve seen throughout the City of God that Augustine must have his own ideology first and best always on all points. And though Augustine knew latter day Jewish history, down to the Hasmonean period and Herodian monarchy, Augustine still subscribed to the old godfather of antisemitic sentiments that, regarding Jesus, “the Jews. . .killed him and refused to believe in him” (18.46) – that’s Augustine in Book 18 of the City of God. It is a statement, and has always been a statement, akin to saying that a distillery exploded in Mexico City, and so the Mexicans killed tequila. On the contrary, Mexicans invented tequila, perfected it, and shared it with the world, and combining tequila with a bit of margarita mix does not mean that its origins aren’t, immutably, Mexican, just Christianity, during the apostolic generation, before it evolved to proselytize more widely, was a Jewish religion, created by, for, and about Jewish people.

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here by restating ineradicable facts, but forgive me, I’ve spent a lot of time in Literature and History trying to gently trace out the creative and rich evolutionary history between these two religions, especially during the Second Temple period. Thus, when I hear Saint Augustine, in possibly the most famous work of Christian theology ever, state that ancient Jewish men and women did next to nothing for five hundred years and then killed Christ, a myth that is as malicious and stupid as it is pervasive, I’m entirely willing to pause for a moment to lay some unusual [censored] emphasis on how much damage it’s done to human civilization for the past millennium and a half.

Well, with all of this history and more amassed through the sprawling and disorganized 800 pages of the City of God so far, Augustine then steers toward the subject of the coming of the antichrist. Augustine believed that Christians had endured ten central persecutions up until the 420s CE, and that a final one was coming. However, unlike the Book of Revelation, Augustine is not willing to throw any numbers out there to definitively forecast judgment day, instead, triumphantly proclaiming that his religion had grown by leaps and bounds since the apostolic generation and leaving it at that. [music]

Books 19-20: The Futility of Community and Friendship; Eschatology

We are now through four out of five of the main parts of the City of God, and a modest 843 pages through the current Penguin edition. Augustine’s main agenda in the final four books of this treatise is to talk about eschatology, or the end times. His view of the end of history is rigorously binary, as is the Book of Revelation’s. Those like him will enjoy the pleasures of the afterlife, and those unlike him will be punished for eternity. While making this claim is, ultimately, the goal of the final 300 pages of the City of God, Augustine takes a predictably circuitous route in order to get there.

Augustine evidently hadn’t read any new books by non-Christian sources in the second half of the 420s, because he begins Book 19 of the City of God by diving back into the pages of the pagan skeptic Marcus Varro, using Varro’s work to argue that various strands of pagan philosophy had found the supreme good in themselves, or, just as erroneously, in the societies and people around them. Augustine says that seeing good in other people, and human society is a mistake, as a good person “cannot but feel grievous anguish. . .at the wickedness of the traitors [around him], when by experience he knows their utter viciousness. . .safety is not to be found in the home. . .the city [is] filled with civil lawsuits and criminal trials. . .bloodshed. . .sedition and civil war” (19.5). Not the most optimistic statement ever made about humanity, but in making it he references an equally cynical verse from the Book of Matthew – Jesus says, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matt 10:36). Human society, then, to Augustine, was of little use as an ethical compass. While he admits that dear and honest friendships are a blessing, he also writes that friendships bring about anxiety, as when one has a friend, “there is. . .bitter fear, that their friendship [might] be changed into treachery, malice and baseness” (19.8). These are profoundly cynical statements, but to be fair to Augustine, the past two centuries of Roman history, and especially the past fifty years of it that he had lived through, would not have given very many people a sense of bountiful optimism as to the future of humanity without the aid of some miraculous intervention.

This miraculous intervention, to Augustine, would begin with Christian households – households that sought posthumous, rather than earthly pleasure. The only way that one might exercise control over his or her horrific natural propensities was to be a Christian And while pious Christians still faced the daily anxieties of temptation and worry about salvation, the alternative was much worse – the eternal pain of damnation.

And having come to the subject of damnation, Augustine comes to the subject of salvation and end of the world. As we discussed in past episodes, the New Testament offers four schemas for salvation – salvation by good works, salvation by grace, predestination, and then apocalyptic bodily resurrection, and later theologians augmented these four with some variations. By the time Augustine came along, then, there were numerous overlapping and sometimes contradictory Christian doctrines out there regarding salvation, together with a growing, but non-Biblical consensus that humans immediately go to heaven or hell after death based on their earthly actions. Many Christian theologians, like Augustine did, have complex stances on how salvation functions. If they steer too far to the left, toward salvation by good works, then being saved is basically a self-guided ethical process with no deity required. If they steer too far to the right, toward predestination, then God is heavily involved, but the individual’s actions, not so much. If they are interested in what the Bible actually has to say, then they have to deal with Revelation’s ever-looming judgment day and the Old Testament doctrine of corporeal resurrection and the glorification of the chosen on Earth. Augustine knew all of this, and throughout the remainder of the City of God, he’s going to thread the needle through various scriptural passages about the apocalypse – we’ll talk a bit about Augustinian salvation at the close of this show.

Augustine was a skilled exegete, and he could, as we’ve seen throughout these episodes on the City of God, make the Bible say whatever he needed it to. Thus, when dealing with the Bible’s many verses referring to a looming apocalypse, Augustine writes, “I pass over a large number of passages which seem to refer to the last judgment, but turn out to be ambiguous. . .They may refer, for example, to the coming of the Saviour. . .or the reference may be to the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem” (20.5). Plunging into some of the words of Christ in Matthew and John, Augustine uses an imagination trained in metaphors to suggest manifold possibilities for Gospel passages referencing the end of times, suggesting that Christ’s coming brought the end times with resurrection, though it was a resurrection of souls rather than bodies, and thus there are in fact two rebirths and resurrections written of in the Scriptures. Reading Revelation’s talk of a thousand-year delay before corporeal resurrection, Augustine emphasizes that some verses in the Bible equate a day of divine time to 1,000 years of mortal time, and vice versa (2 Pet 3:8). He writes that maybe the 1,000 years means 1,000 CE, or maybe it means the whole history of the world.

Now one of the wackier passages of the Book of Revelation comes when John of Patmos tells us that Satan will be loosed to maraud and stomp around the world with all of his strength prior to Armageddon for precisely three years and six months (20:8; Rev 11:2). It’s a colorful, theologically strange assertion, and Augustine nudges some verses around in order to prove that actually, Satan will be bound first, prior to this prophesied marauding, and thus the rampaging in question will be limited in scope and potency. A lot of Revelation, according to Augustine, is about things that are already happening – there is a battle between good and evil – the City of God and the earthly city – going on right now. After a nearly line-by-line journey through much of Revelation, Augustine explores the apocalyptic verses in 2 Peter, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and then, switching Testaments, Isaiah, Daniel, Psalms, and Malachi.

A massive amount of Book 20 of the City of God is pure exegesis. Exegesis is challenging to read – you have to know the primary text – in this case with Augustine, the Bible, in order to understand what the interpreter is up to with his interpretation. And I imagine that if I actually explained, in detail, Augustine’s interpretations of this and that verse of the 2,000+ pages of the Bible, this episode would crash and burn pretty quickly. So let me zoom out for a moment and make some general remarks about what Augustine undertakes with his interpretive work in these final books of the City of God. Augustine was a horizontal dualist with a severe and dour attitude toward earthly existence. He had absorbed from his Late Antique Christian culture ideas about salvation and damnation that are not well represented in the Bible. As a Christian interpreter of the Old Testament, he needs to retroject his own religion into the Hebrew Bible, chapter after chapter, and book after book, telling us that this verse and that verse don’t really mean what they seem to, but, in fact, have salvific and apocalyptic ideas that match those of himself and his generation. Some of his exegetical work is fairly clever. Some of it is puerile. All of it is self-interested argumentative work – the aggressive pillaging of an archive in order to support a prefabricated agenda. As such, reading Augustine’s exegetical work, in the City of God as well as his in massive body of commentaries, I think even if you are a devout Catholic, can be exhausting. His attention to detail and the consistency of his agenda are robust. But as an older person, his mind was intensely goal-driven rather than curious – to him, words could be extracted from texts to support his worldview, or deprecated or ignored because they did not do so. Book 20 of the City of God, as with hundreds and hundreds of pages of the treatise, is an efficient search for Scriptural passages pertinent to Augustine’s agenda. If you know the Bible well enough, you know where he is going to go, and when, and why, and watching him operate is as predictable as, say, watching a Marxist literary critic read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, or a feminist unpack Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. And while post-Enlightenment readers have found the City of God to be grim and tedious in equal parts up to Book 20, its final books, 21 and 22, which deal with damnation and see Augustine imagining the horrific punishments of others not like him, don’t exactly give his book a happy or broadly appealing ending. [music]

Books 21-22: The Eternal Pains of Hell, Physical Resurrection in Heaven

The Bible contains quite a few verses that imagine the gory suffering of various others, or out groups – Moabites, Philistines, Edomites, and others in the Old Testament, and then non-Christians in the New Testament. As intense as these verses are, they are also diverse and ambiguous. Augustine opens Book 21 with quotes from the central New Testament verses that corroborated his Late Antique view of immediate posthumous judgment. Let’s hear them. First, Jesus says in the Gospel of John that “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (5:28-9). That one seems to reference an apocalyptic final salvation based on works. The second passage Augustine quotes to begin his discussion of damnation is from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus promises, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:41-2). This verse, also, seems to reference apocalyptic salvation and damnation based on works.

Hortus Deliciarum - Hell

Herrad of Landsberg’s Hell from Hortus Delicarium (1180). Though other Late Antique Christian texts expressed doubt that the New Testament God would subject sinners to eternal torture, eternal torture is an idea that Augustine vigorously supports in the City of God.

The idea of eternal torment interested Augustine greatly, as he spends the next fifty pages of the City of God discussing it. Ever a thorough speculator, Augustine first sorts out how an immortal soul – without a body – might be scourged with fire. Volcanic formations on Sicily, he writes, burned for long periods of time without disappearing. Augustine writes – and warning, this is strange – that he was once served roast peacock in Carthage, and he was informed that peacock meat didn’t go rancid, and so he brought a piece of peacock meat home with him and found that it merely became dehydrated after a long period of time, rather than spoiling. But human flesh, Augustine admits, isn’t a volcano, or a little cube of peacock meat. To support the notion that sinners will burn forever, he conjectures that perhaps before sin, people’s bodies were immortal, and that God, upon judgment day, will return humans to this original constitution so as to facilitate their eternal torture.

On the subject of the eternality of torture, Augustine concedes that some Christians have said that eternal torture is really a bit much for such a short period of earthly existence. To this criticism, he replies, “Now the reason why eternal punishment appears harsh and unjust to human sensibilities, is that in this feeble condition of those sensibilities under their condition of mortality man lacks the sensibility of the highest and purest wisdom” (21.12). An odd statement, as Augustine seems otherwise to believe himself eligible in understanding the workings of time and God in the creation of the world and the constitutions of angels, subjects which themselves might be thought a little bit dense for our thick skulls to ponder.

As a Roman, through the works of Virgil and Plato, Augustine had been acquainted with older doctrines of posthumous punishment. In the old Greco-Roman imagination, though, the punishments of the underworld had been a purifying process – a temporary reckoning generally designed to get sinners onto the right track. Augustine emphasizes that this is incorrect. Mortals could either convert to Christianity and repent, or be roasted for all eternity, though he writes that the flames might be slightly hotter depending on the severity of one’s misdeeds (21.16).

Not only pagans, but also Christians leading up to Augustine had objected to the idea that the forgiving and kindly Jesus of the Gospels would stand over the great human barbecue of hell with a look of satisfaction on his face. Popular apocryphal texts like the Apocalypse of Paul, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the Apocalypse of the Virgin all resisted what eventually became Christian doctrine – that hell was an eternal and unrelenting brutality. These milder reactions to the doctrine of hell are, Augustine writes, an “error, prompted by tenderness of heart and human compassion” (21.17). Those who do not believe in eternal torture, Augustine writes, “are pleading their own cause, promising themselves a delusive impunity for their own disreputable lives by supposing an all-embracing mercy of God towards the human race” (21.18). Additionally, some Late Antique Christians, like the theologian Origen, had theorized that God was so forgiving that he would one day show mercy to demons and even Satan himself. This idea, too, was false in Augustine’s mind. No Saints will rescue sinners from the fires of hell, nor sacraments, and even Catholics who have lapsed in their belief or committed sins will be scorched for eternity. Always captivated by symmetrical sounding rhetoric, Augustine asks how eternal life can be eternal, if eternal punishment ends up being transitory.

Having got squarely behind the doctrine of eternal torture in hell, Augustine then moves on in his treatise’s final book on the subject of eternal pleasure in heaven. Heaven, like immediate posthumous salvation and damnation, is a non-Biblical doctrine. Various apocryphal apocalyptic books written in and after the first century had offered their visions of this and that exalted individual who got to see the celestial city and its various rivers of milk and honey, but, although the Bible mentions the heavens as the dwelling place of God, it never tells us that people will go upward to cohabit with God and angels – the Bible’s doctrine of salvation is, when given its only lengthy treatment in Revelation, an earthly glorification.

Addressing various naysayers, Augustine writes that indeed our bodies will enjoy resurrection, and, even though the idea that clunky material bodies will be transferred upward to heaven is both non-Biblical and counterintuitive, that this is exactly what will happen. Other naysayers, Augustine tells us, have criticized Christianity in general on the basis that while the Gospels and Acts are full of miracle stories, miracle healings and exorcisms are no longer happening. In response, Augustine tells us that in Milan, back in 386, a blind man had his sight restored, and how he himself, in Carthage, once knew a church official to have been miraculously healed. Also in Carthage, Augustine writes, a woman had her breast cancer miraculously cured, and a man had his gout cured at the moment of his baptism. He briefly shares numerous miracle tales akin to those in the New Testament and apocryphal acts literature – a paralyzed man able to walk again, a man in a coma restored to life by having a demon exorcised from him, a virgin of Augustine’s diocese who had a demon exorcised from her, various other people cured by the relics of Saint Stephen, a woman who came back to life after dying, and on and on. As we’ve learned, Late Antique Christians had an unquenchable appetite for miracle stories, and Augustine piles them on thick here in the final book of the City of God, assuring us that all of them are true.

With the sequence of formulaic miracle stories wrapped up, Augustine turns again to the subject of corporeal resurrection. Corporeal resurrection had some issues, as an argument. Not all of us are thrilled with our personal appearances, after all, and Augustine writes that critics of corporeal resurrection poked fun at it by asking about what our fingernails and hair and other minute aspects of our personal appearance might look like at the moment of corporeal resurrection, and whether we’d be resurrected as fat, or old, or disfigured, and so on. Augustine assures readers that none of this needs to trouble them, as “All human beings possess [a] limit of perfection, in that they are conceived and born with it. . .all human beings will rise again with a body of the same size as they had, or would have had, in the prime of life” (22.14, 15). And thus when we die, whether we’re infants, or old and decrepit, or whatever, we will be resurrected in a state of the fruition of the best thing that we might have become, with all imperfections removed. Augustine even assures his elderly ecclesiastical readers that they will get their hair back in heaven (22.14). In terms of age, all resurrected people would be exactly Christ’s age in physical form upon their moment of resurrection. In the afterlife, Augustine writes, women’s bodies – particularly their private parts, will be different, so as to not stoke male lusts – instead, they “will arouse the praises of God” (22.16). I’m quite curious as to how Augustine knew all of this, but it seems that he worked in mysterious ways.

After laying out how he things bodily resurrection will work, Augustine continues to slug it out to the very end of the City of God, telling us why Plato and the Neoplatonist Porphyry are wrong about bodily resurrection, and how they contradict one another. But by and large, the closing passages of the City of God turn toward the optimistic and exuberant, writing of heaven as an unending Sabbath where, after being restored, “we shall have leisure to be still” (22.30). Coming to the very end of his long book, Augustine remarks with the old, humble self-consciousness of the Confessions as to the City of God’s length, writing “It may be too much for some, too little for others. Of both these groups I ask forgiveness” (22.30). And I want to close our summary of this theological monolith with a quote from just a little bit earlier in Book 22 – a quote in which Augustine, shedding aside, for a moment, his theological pugilism and some of the severity he had adopted later in life, marvels on the beauties of the physical world. Augustine writes,
How could any description to justice to all these blessings? The manifold diversity of beauty in sky and earth and sea; the abundance of light, and its miraculous loveliness, in sun and moon and stars; the dark shades of woods, the color and fragrance of flowers; the multitudinous varieties of birds, with their songs and their bright plumage; the countless different species of living creatures of all shapes and sizes, amongst whom is the smallest in bulk that moves our greatest wonder – for we are more satisfied at the activities of the tiny ants and bees than at the immense bulk of whales. Then there is the mighty spectacle of the sea itself, putting on its changing colours like different garments, now green, with all the many varied shades, now purple, now blue. (22.24)
It’s a disarmingly reverent passage about the majesty of Earth, showing up as it does at the end of a text that otherwise adopts such a dire attitude toward mortal existence. And in it, Augustine invites us all to remember that whatever we make of our lives here together, we are awfully lucky to be alive, and see the oceans, the forests, the birds and flowers, and the little ants and bees. [music]

Augustinian Original Sin and the Apocalypse of Sedrach

So that takes us to the very end of Saint Augustine’s City of God, an enormous swathe of Late Antique prose that, as important as it is, not many of us actually invest the time to go all the way through. We’ve spent a lot of time on Augustine by this point, and more generally, a lot of time on the solidification of Roman Catholicism across the 300s and early 400s. We have learned that by the end of his life, Augustine had become an intellectual attack dog and system builder all at once – one bent on dismantling all history and culture that was non-Christian in nature, and in turn, cementing the more nebulous parts of Christian ethics and cosmic history into a fully codified whole.

In the remainder of this program, which has involved a lot of disparate material, I want to focus on one big takeaway from the portions of the City of God that we read today. This takeaway is Original Sin – specifically, the historical context of Augustine’s writings on Original Sin in the first few decades of the 400s CE. Original Sin is a deceptively familiar idea to us today, one that tumbles down to us in various ways, whether we learn it in a church, or academic setting, or elsewhere. Although it seems like a timeless part of Christian theology, it was one that developed over the course of centuries, and reached its final formulation under Augustine himself.

So let’s start simple, by reviewing what Augustine tells us about Original Sin in the City of God. As we learned earlier, Saint Paul, in the Book of Romans, wrote the most important Bible verse on Original Sin. That verse is “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Rom 5:12). The verse from Saint Paul, as important as it was to Augustine, doesn’t really tell us anything that the Book of Genesis doesn’t. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve eat the apple, the naughty snake is cursed to crawl on its belly, Eve is sentenced to endure the discomforts of bearing children, Adam is sentenced to work, and as God tells Adam toward the end of Chapter 3 of Genesis, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread / until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). To be very clear, that is what the Bible actually tells us about the tragedy that unfolded in Eden in the early days of creation. Adam and Eve screwed up, they were punished, and their progeny had to suffer the long-term consequences of their exile from Eden.

Centuries after Saint Paul lived and worked, Augustine made up some additional things about Original Sin. Once again, as we heard earlier, Augustine wrote that “[B]ecause of the magnitude of [Adam’s] offence, the condemnation changed human nature for the worse. . . .[H]uman nature in [Adam] was [corrupted] and altered, so that he experienced the rebellion and disobedience of desire in his body, and was bound by the necessity of dying; and he produced offspring in the same condition to which his fault and its punishment had reduced him, that is, liable to sin and death” (13.3). That is the core of Augustinian Original Sin in the City of God – God created Adam and Eve as good and sinless, but eating the forbidden fruit actually altered the genetic and moral fibers of humanity, such that all of human posterity, ever since, has been blighted with an inbuilt capacity for wickedness.

It is a strange, brittle argument, and has been recognized as such for a long time. Logically, in Augustine’s mind, his version of Original Sin allowed for a fundamentally good God, and placed the blame for all of the evil in the world on one malfeasant choice, which had in turn avalanched down to all posterity. The argument thus freed God in Augustine’s imagination from any culpability in human sin. It allowed Augustine to steer around the notion of an eternal cosmic evil like Manichaeism’s – in the opening books that we read today Augustine also writes about angelic Original Sin, and how Satan’s evil choice, just like Adam’s, stained his posterity with a proclivity toward evil. And Augustinian Original Sin also allowed Augustine to stake out a shifty position on the continuum between free will and predestination – generally emphasizing that yes, we have free will, but our free will is screwed up due to something that happened ages ago, so keep coming to church, and don’t get too comfortable thinking that you can save yourself through reason and good moral choices alone.

And while Augustinian Original Sin is a cornerstone doctrine at the foundation of one of Earth’s great living religions, it has had its dissidents. Around the 900s or 1000s CE, in a late Christian revelation called the Apocalypse of Sedrach, a speaker asks God a series of questions that pulverize Augustinian Original Sin in about sixty seconds. The speaker of the Apocalypse of Sedrach asks God this:
[W]hy. . .[did you] make [Adam], my Lord? Why [did you] weary [your] undefiled hands and create man, since [you did] not intend to have mercy on him?. . .Of [your] will Adam was beguiled, my Lord: [You commanded your] angels to make approach to him. . .if [you loved] man, why [did you] not slay the devil. . .? Who is able to fight an invisible spirit?. . .O Lord. . .stop the chastisements. . .if [you will] have no mercy on the sinners, where are [your] mercies, where is [your] compassion, O Lord?. . . [You], O Lord, [did] create man. [You knew] of what sort of mind he was and of what sort of knowledge we are, and [you made] it a cause for chastisement. . .How is it, O Lord?. . .and why [do you] retaliate on man? or [do you] not in doing so render evil for evil?10
The general argument here in the tenth or eleventh century Apocalypse of Sedrach is simple. You cannot create turtles and then condemn them for walking slowly and retreating into their shells when they’re scared. You created them that way. You cannot put a kitten in an empty room with an open can of tuna and then vent your wrath on it for having a snack. You put the kitten in the room with the treat. More pertinent to Adam and Eve, you cannot clone an adult man and woman, put them in a biosphere, and then excoriate them for breaking into a snack machine full of Doritos and Coca Cola. You made them, you made the biosphere, you put the snack machine there, and you’re to blame for any perceived failures in the system. Even with Augustine’s add-on doctrine that Original Sin somehow corrupted the nature of humanity, it’s easy enough to say that God created beings with a readily corruptible nature and then put them in an environment that speedily allowed them to corrupt themselves, and thereby their progeny. A thousand years ago, the author of the Apocalypse of Sedrach knew all of this, writing, once again, “[You], O Lord, [did] create man. [You knew] of what sort of mind he was and of what sort of knowledge we are, and [you made] it a cause for chastisement.” [music]

Augustine, Original Sin, and the Pelagian Controversy

Now, I finally get to tell you a story about Late Antique theology that I’ve wanted to for these past five episodes. Original Sin, whatever its long perceived logical fallacies, as Augustine formulated it, came out of a very specific moment of theological history – a moment during which Catholicism was deciding how salvation worked, and what sort of an attitude it would have toward human nature. Long before the Apocalypse of Sedrach, Augustine’s contemporary, a Christian monk and theologian named Pelagius, seems to have shared Sedrach’s more compassionate, and sanguine view of the human condition. We know that Pelagius was active roughly between about 390 and 420. Likely from Britannia, Pelagius showed up in Rome in the 380s – the same decade that Augustine and Jerome had. Remaining in the old capital much longer than his more famous contemporaries, Pelagius didn’t leave Rome until 410, when the Visigoths sacked the city, fleeing to Carthage. Enmeshed increasingly in theological controversies, Pelagius departed Carthage for Palestine within a few years, winding up in Jerusalem by 415. By this point, Pelagius had been embroiled in theological scuffles with Augustine and Jerome. The controversies surrounding him brought Pelagius to the forefront of a council in mid-415, and a synod in late 415, the first in Jerusalem, and the second near modern day Tel Aviv. He was acquitted of heresy at the second. Perhaps moved to stake out a clear and eloquent theological position, shortly after this, Pelagius wrote a book called De libero arbitrio, or On Free Will. The book does not survive, but from what we can gather, the rather optimistic tone that it struck about human nature and the fundamental power of human reason, out of step with the pessimistic ideology of Jerome and Augustine, led to the Augustine himself seeking Pelagius’ excommunication. Due to Augustine’s interventions, Pelagius was excommunicated in 417 by Pope Innocent I. The next year, after Innocent I died, Pelagius tried to get an acquittal by the next Pope – Pope Zosimus. But due to the interventions of Augustine, his fellow North African bishops, and their ally, the Roman Emperor Honorius, Pelagius remained condemned, Augustine himself making sure at the Council of Carthage in 418 that Pelagius was denounced as a heretic. Pelagius thereafter went to Egypt, and he disappeared from the historical record.

Pelagius with caption

Pelagius in a possibly seventeenth-century illustration, complete with condemnatory doggerel underneath. Modern scholars view Pelagius’ ideology, from what little we know about them, to be broadly consonant with New Testament teachings.

As with so many figures from early Christian history who ended up being condemned as heretics, most of what we know about Pelagius comes from what others wrote about him, those others being his ideological adversaries. According to a late text by Augustine, Pelagius, living in Rome back in about 405, had heard a quote from Augustine’s own Confessions in a sermon. Augustine had written, on the subject of salvation by divine grace, “My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will.”11 This particular Augustinian quote emphasizes the role of grace in saving the believer – in it, Augustine himself appears quite passive and only feels that God can save him. Pelagius, evidently, objected to the idea of salvation by grace, placing a much stronger emphasis on free will. Pelagius, it seems, did not share Augustine’s grim view of humanity as stained forever by Original Sin. To Pelagius, the rigorous exercise of reason and moral choice were the most important keys to salvation, and though the physical world and momentary whims might confront us with immoral impulses, our wills empowered us as active agents in our own salvation, rather than passive supplicants for divine grace.

Let’s take a moment to hear the details of what Augustine had to say about Pelagius, then read a bit of the sole surviving document that was probably written by Pelagius himself. Augustine tells us that Pelagians “do not maintain free will by purifying it, but demolish it by exaggerating it.”12 To Augustine, the Pelagians were so preoccupied with punctilious attention the exercise of free will in correct action that “they wish the law to be understood as grace” (4.11). And on the subject of Pelagians being unduly preoccupied with following laws, Augustine records Pelagius as having written that “No man can be without sin unless he has acquired a knowledge of the law.”13 A major sticking point for Augustine was evidently Pelagius having written that “A man is able, if he likes, to be without sin” (16). Later, Pelagius seems to have qualified this same statement by explaining “that a man could be without sin, and could keep God’s commandments if he wished; for this capacity has been given to him by God. But [I, Pelagius] never said that any man could be found who at no time whatever, from infancy to old age, had committed sin” (16). And finally, to return to the topic of Original Sin, Pelagius had evidently written that “Adam was created mortal, and would have died whether he had sinned or not sinned; [and] Adam’s sin injured only himself and not the human race. . .[thus] newborn infants are in the same condition as Adam was before the fall” (23). Those are again summaries of Pelagius and Pelagianism from Augustine himself, and you can see what got Augustine’s hackles up when it came to Pelagius. To Augustine, Pelagius awarded humanity with too much agency with Pelagius’ doctrines of free will, at the same time elevating the following of rules or moral laws as more important than divine grace. In Pelagius’ view, humanity was not forever defiled by the actions of Adam, but instead, each human began with a clean slate and a robust power of moral choice. For Augustine, who believed that humanity was forever tainted with Original Sin, unbaptized infants were indeed condemned to hellfire, contrary to what Pelagius had evidently written.14

So that’s a quick summary of what Augustine left behind about Pelgianism. Let’s now pick up a different book, and take a quick look at Pelagius’ own work. We don’t have much of it – a single, long letter written around 413 to a Roman girl who had recently taken a vow of chastity is about all that survives. It’s quite a nice letter. As scholar Brinley Roderick Rees writes, Pelagius’ letter to the Roman girl Demetrias contains no “sign of condescension or self-regard. . .none of the slick showmanship of a Jerome or of the world-weary detachment of an Augustine. The impression we get, and which [the girl] Demetrias must have got [from the letter], is that of an older, wiser friend, writing with deep feeling and sincerity from his own lifetime of experience.”15 So let’s have a very quick look at this single primary source of Augustine’s foe Pelagius. Pelagius, in his letter sent circa 413, writes that it takes most of us a little while to get our moral compass oriented, and even after we do, “That old habit now attacks our new-found freedom of will, and, as we languish in ignorance through our sloth and idleness, unaccustomed to doing good after having for so long learned to do only evil, we wonder why sanctity is also conferred on us as if from an outside source.”16 You’ll notice there that while Pelagius emphasizes the importance of free will, he also emphasizes something else – that the desire and capacity to do good are both divine in origin, something with which Augustine would have agreed. And on the mechanics of free will and personal choice, Pelagius left behind quite a moving passage – a passage about the difference between contemplating things, and actually doing them. This is a slightly longer quote, but it will help us start to wrap up this discussion of Augustine and the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius, again around 413, when Augustine began the City of God, wrote:
One has to make a distinction. . .between those of one’s thoughts which the will favours and embraces affectionately, those which are wont to flit past the mind like an insubstantial shadow and merely show a glimpse of themselves in passing – the Greeks call them typoi, ‘impressions’ – and also those, to be sure, which offer promptings to a mind which is resistant and unwilling and as glad when they are expelled as it was sad when they were admitted in the first place. In those which show themselves only fleetingly to the mind and reveal themselves as if in flight, there is no underlying sin at all and no sign of fight; but with those which the soul struggles against for some time and which the will resists, we can expect an even contest. Either we consent to them and are conquered or we reject them and conquer them and win a victory in battle.17
What Pelagius offers there is a very simple and lucid explanation of moral choice. Within the space of consciousness, we are confronted with a churn of possible decisions and impulses. What matters is not the magic lantern show of possibilities that flit in front of our minds at any given moment, but instead, what we do. There’s nothing fanatical or blasphemous by any standards in these quotes from Pelagius, and indeed, even in a report that Augustine wrote on Pelagius’ tribunal in December of 415, Pelagius simply seems to have practiced a slightly more humanistic Christianity than Augustine did. More modern assessments of Pelagius, from historians like John Ferguson and Carol Harrison, have shown that nothing in particular that’s been attributed to the ancient British theologian was out of step with New Testament teachings, although Pelagius’ emphasis on the importance of individual volition was different than Augustine’s own.18

Pelagius’ humanistic Christianity, though, as the 410s stretched into the 420s, did not win out. Pelagius had emphasized that Augustine placed too much emphasis on salvation by grace, and so, from 416 to 418, Augustine trenched down into his novel version of Original Sin and used his influence with the Latin clergy and Emperor Honorius to get his rival harried and then excommunicated. While the old Roman Empire had given Augustine a sterling education, perhaps an even more potent bequest that he took from Rome was a need for domination, and this need could not brook theological competitors who had chiseled at one of the pillars of his freshly finished dogma. It is fitting, perhaps, that Original Sin as a doctrine has these inglorious and secular origins. It was born out of Augustine’s own intense pessimism toward human life on earth, a pessimism that had been honed first through Manichaeism, then Platonism and Neoplatonism, then Catholicism, and then sharpened even further through altercations with Pelagius himself. As scholar James Wetzel writes about Augustine, in an assessment that I believe is intended to be complementary, in the City of God, Augustine “shows himself to be anything but a dully literalist reader of the holy writ. Indeed one might say on the contrary that he is remarkably, if not wildly, inventive.”19 Wildly inventive Augustine certainly was, and the notion of the human species as forever morally hobbled in nature due to one person’s antediluvian choice was his signature contribution to world thought. [music]

Christian Soterilogy and Theodicy, as of August 28th, 430 CE

So, now that we’ve learned some of the details of the Pelagian Controversy, and how Augustine’s writings about Original Sin came about over the course of this controversy, I want to zoom out for a moment. We’ve read a lot from the Latin church doctors Jerome and Augustine, and of course more generally on the history of early Christianity. By the time Augustine died in the summer of 430, Roman Catholicism was finally nearing what it would remain through much of the Middle Ages, and I want to spend the last few minutes of this show considering some of the cogs and wheels of the finished religion, as the last generation of Romans in the western empire were born and came of age.

We will, before too long, be leaving Christian theology behind together, as we move into the tail end of Late Antiquity, and toward sixth century Gallic history, and soon afterward, Bede, the Exeter Book, Beowulf and the Early Medieval period more generally. While Christianity will continue to be a part of our greater story, at this point we’ve engaged with its history and primary texts long enough that I think it’s time, in large part, to move on to the broader cultural history of the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth centuries. Before we do that, though, let’s spend a final moment considering the state of Roman Catholicism on August 28th, 430 CE, the day that Saint Augustine died, as Vandal invaders held Hippo Regius under siege.

I should add that I have waited about a hundred episodes to write the following three paragraphs, and that they are a concise distillation of – gosh – twenty years of studying Christian and more broadly Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern theology. Here are those paragraphs.

There are two evergreen issues in Christian theology that each century’s thinkers seem compelled to revisit and reformulate. The first is how salvation works. It has long been something of a puzzle to Christianity that Christ appeared on Earth as a savior figure, and then left, with history grinding onward as usual, but for the new salvific religion engendered in the first century CE. As we saw when studying the New Testament epistles and then Revelation, the Bible offers four different schemas for salvation – these are salvation by good works, salvation by grace, predestination, and apocalyptic general salvation. Around 200, Tertullian tinkered with Christian soteriology further, emphasizing that martyrs ascended to heavenly bliss immediately after death without having to wait until judgment day. And toward the late 300s, Jerome and his contemporaries tinkered with it further still, hypothesizing that celibate clergymen like themselves would enjoy greater pleasure in the afterlife than the common Christian riffraff who had families and secular careers. Thus, the Bible and early church fathers had numerous varying ideas about salvation. Augustine’s writings on the subject of salvation are often situational – when writing against Pelagius, he is more liable to emphasize salvation by grace, but elsewhere Augustine is more liable to emphasize the power of individual rational choice, and thus salvation by good works, and toward the end of this life, he seemed increasingly congenial to predestination.20 Late Antique Christians like Augustine, then, by 430, had complex and cautious creeds in regards to salvation. Place too much emphasis on good works, and you err on the side of Pelagius, awarding too much power to human agency. Place too much emphasis on grace, and you develop a cryptic system in which human agency has no place. Christian theologians leading up to Augustine, again from the Pauline epistles forward, had slid back and forth on a horizontal axis between salvation by good works and salvation by grace, with predestination and apocalyptic salvation also floating in from time to time. The result was that Late Antiquity imparted an amorphous and often ideologically incongruous body of texts about salvation to the Middle Ages, texts with as many logical fissures and trap doors as they had good solid answers – a yarn ball that could produce any color of thread needed, depending on the situation at hand. And that is a summary of how Christian salvation worked, as of August 28th, 430 CE, and how I believe it still works to this day.

Jules Bastien Lepage, Job, 1876. Huile sur toile

Jules Bastien Lepage’s Job (1876). Since the Exilic period, Bible writers and readers had been engaging with theodicy. Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin deploys one of the three standard solutions to the conundrum – that humanity is at fault for humanity’s sufferings.

The second evergreen issue in Christian theology that persisted from the first century forward was the problem of evil. In the City of God, Augustine deploys the three standard Christian answers to this conundrum. The first is that God works in mysterious ways, and we can’t hope to understand the scope of his plan – that solution comes up on Book 1. Also in Book 1 is a second standard Christian solution to the problem of evil – the notion that suffering is purification, or that Christians become steeled in their faith through the adversities of life on earth. And while these two familiar solutions to the problem of evil appear in Book 1 of the City of God, the other thousand pages of the treatise generally use a third solution, and a very ancient one – that evil exists because we brought it on ourselves. This theme is laced around the story of the Israelites from the Book of Exodus forward – God issues a dictate, and the Israelites ignore it or are inconsistent in following it, and disaster is brought upon them – through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Kings, this is the standard narrative mechanism of much of the Hebrew Bible. Augustine, with his trademark version of Original Sin, updated this old formula, writing that evil exists in the world because of the bad choices of the angels and Adam and Eve, and our suffering is our own fault, and not God’s. And while all of that is likely clear by this point, the problem of evil often received a fourth solution during the Middle Ages, and this solution would have greatly displeased Augustine. This fourth solution was Satan.

Augustine dealt with Satan very carefully, for reasons we’ve discussed. Manichaeism, with its Zoroastrian roots, had been his youthful faith. And Manichaeism held that a war between good and evil, both of them represented by coeternal divine beings, divided the cosmos. While, as we’ve seen, Augustine emphatically held that Satan was not eternal with God, nor was Satan created evil, during the calamities of the Middle Ages, from Viking invasions to horrible pandemics to famines to year after year of unstable human life beneath the feudal system, Satan was an awfully convenient explanation for why so many Christian people had it so hard, sometimes at the expense of Augustine’s more complex solutions to the problem of evil. While, on the desks of educated Catholic theologians like Augustine, the religion was an orderly monotheism, helmed by a majestic deity who persisted outside of time over all things, Satan, among the less educated clergy and certainly among artists and laymen, was an unruly presence, as theologically useful as he was sometimes discrepant with Augustine’s omniscient and omnipotent God. As of August 28th, 430 CE, then, the Christian solutions to the problem of evil that had been deployed had been, (1) mysterious ways, etc., (2) suffering is a blessing in disguise, (3) we brought it on ourselves, and (4) Satan. To my knowledge, Christian theology has not generated other solutions to theodicy than these four. The only other candidate has been the “evil is the absence of good” or privatio boni argument. This argument was made famous by Augustine himself and later Aquinas. But the “evil is the absence of good” argument is mere semantic child’s play that simply renames evil as “the absence of good,” and thus it is not a solution to anything at all.

Four full centuries after the death of Christ, then, Roman Catholicism had reached its Late Antique completion. Even by the year 400, with its communication networks, its connections to kings and emperors, its vast capacity for organizing human resources and turning tithes and donations into livable salaries and charity operations, it was one of the great institutional engineering feats of human history. Some of its doctrines awaited further work, and indeed Augustine’s writings on salvation and the problem of evil were revisited often in later centuries. But at the core of Augustine’s entire output was something we actually haven’t discussed directly very much, and that is hermeneutics, or the interpretation of scripture, perhaps the single most important of all topics, when it comes to sacred literature. Let’s quickly talk about Augustinian hermeneutics before we go today, a topic which, as bookish as it sounds, is a surprisingly rich one.

Augustinian Hermeneutics

Gerard Seghers (attr) - The Four Doctors of the Western Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430)

Gerard Seghers The Four Doctors of the Western Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Perennially depicted as bookish, Augustine is gilded and dour here as he hunkers over the pages of De Civitate Dei

Augustine could get the Bible to say whatever he needed it to. As a quick and simple example, in Book 11, Augustine takes a look at an early verse of Genesis – the one that says, “God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Gen 2:2). On the subject this familiar story about God resting after the immense operation of creating the world, Augustine writes this: “[W]hen God is said, on the authority of the prophetic narrative, to have ‘rested,’ what is meant is. . .the rest of those who find their rest in him, and to whom he gives rest” (11.8). It’s a curious interpretation, and not in any way whatsoever supported by the text, which simply says that God took a break after the six days of creation. And these sorts of personal interpretations are absolutely everywhere in the works that Augustine left behind – God might be profound and incomprehensible, but Augustine and his contemporaries could brazenly insist that the Bible meant absolutely anything that they wanted it to, with scarcely a trace of self-consciousness. Looking at the epistle of 1 John, Augustine was troubled by the Bible’s statement that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). He didn’t like the statement, because it implied that God had created something evil, and so Augustine wrote that what the verse actually meant was that the devil chose evilness very early on, even though this is not what 1 John, Chapter Three, verse eight, of the New Testament actually said.

Those of us who study literature are quite familiar with this sort of roughshod, self-serving interpretive work. Reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a Marxist might see the white whale as embodying the bloated malignancy of capitalism; a feminist, as male hubris; an ecocritic might see the whale as the distressed earth; a psychoanalyst, as a huge penis. I could say that the whale in Moby Dick represented space aliens, or the lost city of Atlantis. When we start interpreting texts in ways that serve our ideological agendas, then texts become trampolines useful only insofar as they enable our partisan gymnastics. And throughout the City of God, Augustine is utterly shameless about forcing biblical verses that contradict him to lie still and say what he wants them to say. While interpreting the Holy Writ is something that anyone who reads and discusses sacred scriptures needs to do to some extent, Augustine’s undisguised agenda, and his compulsion to create conformity out of a book that took a thousand years and numerous civilizations to write make his hermeneutical work sometimes border on the boorish and insulting. While not quite an anti-Semite of the same caliber of his contemporary Saint John Chrysostom, Augustine, as we’ve seen, cared little for ancient Jewish history other than that it had resulted in his own religion. Around the year 400, he wrote that Jewish people should not be killed outright – “not by bodily death shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish. . .[but at] the end of. . .time, the continued preservation of the Jews will be a proof to believing Christians of the subjection merited by those who, in the pride of their kingdom, put the Lord to death.”21 With this attitude toward his living Jewish contemporaries, then, Augustine saw the Hebrew Bible as something to loot and pillage, and his interpretations of it are often as sloppy in baseless assertions as they are arrogant in their disregard of the book’s original context. Hermeneutics, then, as boring as the topic sounds, were one of the main tools that Augustine used in the City of God to fashion his novel city’s parapets and guard towers.

I called this program “An Old Man’s Book” because I think that while the City of God captures the theologian’s completed and padlocked ideology during his final decades of life, there’s a reason that the earlier Confessions is a far more popular book today. The Confessions shows Augustine more inquisitive, vulnerable and mentally agile. Fresh from the heterodox world of Neoplatonism and pagan ideology, Augustine in the Confessions is more curious than he is dogmatic. By the time he wrote the City of God, though, he had heard his own voice across thousands of pages and sermons for decades, and the latter book shows more partisan anger than ingenuous joy regarding the Christian God. In the City of God, Augustine’s style is discursive and oratorical, rather than bright and inquisitive. The City of God’s narrator is person accustomed to writing texts for congregations and audiences predisposed to agree with him, and in it, he often assumes that he’s built an emotional and argumentative momentum that is not there for a modern reader familiar with the same materials as he is. Tireless in his anger at heterodoxy, and at the same time irritating with his dull casuistries and muddy hermeneutics, the narrator of the City of God was no longer a curious person, but instead a dictatorial one.

Religion and Philosophical System Building

Having spent so much time with Augustine over these past four episodes, let’s bid him farewell with one final and very simple observation. This will be my own observation, by the way, but here goes. I think that the philosophical system building that Augustine sopped up from Plato and Plotinus wasn’t always useful for his theological work.

I think many of us are religious because we don’t need every nut and bolt of the universe accounted for, because the rituals, the majesty and the communities of our faiths capture our hearts, and that’s enough, and because we are perfectly comfortable saying, “I don’t know” to questions that Augustine just couldn’t leave alone. I think that there are topics that become less clear the more you write about them, and that Augustine’s rationalistic compulsion to explicate, which led Augustine to wax on about musical farts and joyless, machinelike sex, is often more counterproductive to a religion’s vitality than anything else. Religions need intellectualism, and rationalism, but they also need mysteries and secrets. They need codification, but they also need to flourish in diverse ways in the minds of different believers – believers who know that they don’t have it all figured out, but also know that what they are doing is intensely beautiful to them and brings meaning and magic to their lives. 1,600 years ago, Augustine tried to crunch an all-encompassing system down onto posterity. In hindsight, the City of God is uneven, impressive, interminable and overbearing. Because all of us, Catholics of all stamps included, want, to some extent, to decide how to believe what we believe, and how to best be what we are.

Moving on to Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy

Well that, folks, wraps up the heart of our programs on Late Antique Christian theology. I know I was a little hard on old Augustine, but he himself wasn’t especially obliging to his rivals, and his theology is far from warm and fuzzy, and he has cities and churches named after him all over the globe, so I suspect he can take it. In the next program, we are going to jump about a century into the future, and travel from Augustine’s Hippo Regius up north to Ostrogothic Italy, after the fall of the western empire.

Over the course of the 400s, 500s, and 600s CE, as the Mediterranean world and Europe transformed, a few books were written that would become fixtures in the libraries of the Middle Ages. One of these was the City of God, whose ideas we can see popping up all over the intellectual work of the medieval period. Next time, though, we’re going to read another fixture of the medieval library, and this will be the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy, set down in 523 CE in an Ostrogothic prison cell, is a long dialogue in which a condemned man enjoys the comforting words of a female figure who is the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge. Erudite, intelligent, and yet at the same time theologically nonpartisan, the Consolation of Philosophy had one foot in the pagan past and the other in the Christian future. While it more of a synthetic than an original work, the Consolation of Philosophy nonetheless has had an enduring appeal ever since Boethius left it behind. So next time, we’ll learn about what was happening on the Italian peninsula in the generations after the final Roman emperor left town, get introduced to Boethius and his world, and then explore the contents and later history of another of Late Antiquity’s most famous books.

Thanks for listening to Literature and History. There’s a quiz on this program in your podcast app and on the website if you want to review. For you Patreon supporters, following on the heels of our last Patreon bonus, I’m recording the rest of Thomas Bulfinch’s summary of Norse mythology. After these past five shows on some of the most heavy duty Christian theology ever written, I am, like I imagine a lot of you are, missing literature, and we’re about to get into quite a lot of it. For everybody, I have a decently funny song coming up – stay on if you want to hear it, and if not, thanks for coming to class.

Still here? Well, I got to thinking about exegesis – the art of interpreting, most often, sacred literature. Interpretation is something that all English majors like me are taught to do at a young age. What does Othello’s handkerchief represent? What about Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter? What about the conch shell that Piggy and Ralph find in Lord of the Flies? As you saw in this episode, Augustine felt free to say absolutely anything he wanted to about the Bible in order to sledgehammer it into conformity with Late Antique Catholicism. I like exegesis. But I also find it to be a pretty teenage way, sometimes, of interacting with literature – a circus act in which people do trapeze performances over the actual turf of literary and cultural history, rather than trying to understand that history as it existed during its own time. So I wrote this song, which is called “My Exegete Girlfriend,” in which a woman who is overly fond of Christian exegesis like Augustine’s watches the original Star Wars films, and interprets absolutely everything she sees as Christian in nature. I hope you like it, and Boethius and I will see you next time.

[“My Exegete Girlfriend” Song]


1.^ Evans, G.R. “Introduction.” Printed in Augustine. City of God. Translated by Henry Bettenson and with an Introduction by G.R. Evans. Penguin Classics, 2003, p. xxxiii.

2.^ E.g. 16.35 and 18.46.

3.^ Matt 1:23 quotes Is 7:14.

4.^ Printed in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael Coogan et. al. OUP, 2001, p. 117. Further biblical verses will be taken from this NRSV translation with citations for chapter and verse in this episode transcription. The verse referencing Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 describes an old myth, popular in ancient Canaan, about the deities Helel and Shahar (the former being the morning star) and has nothing to do with Satan, notwithstanding Christian exegetical efforts to appropriate it.

5.^ Augustine quotes this a bit later in 11.33.

6.^ Augustine also quotes Pauline verses on Adam and Christ in 1 Corinthians.

7.^ Augustine’s Manichaean influences may come across quite strongly in his writings on sexuality in the City of God. New Testament verses on sex follow the Ancient Mediterranean’s general ethical attitude toward sex – that it’s kind of yucky, a distraction from what’s most important, and best to concentrate on intellectual and spiritual matters, rather than going around being promiscuous. Manichaeans and other purist sects like the Gnostics, however, really had it in for intercourse, viewing it as the foulest and most typifying transgression that the material world had to offer, and so perhaps in Augustine’s writings on Adam and Eve remaining chaste in Eden, he borrowed ideas from a Christian splinter group that he otherwise disparaged.

8.^ Augustine also quotes Baruch 3:26 on the same subject.

9.^ This is at the cusp between Books 17 and 18.

10.^ Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8. Christian Literature Company, 1886, pp. 177, 178. The many brackets are a result of my updating the translator’s faux Elizabethan English.

11.^ Augustine. Confessions (10.29). Translated and with an Introduction and Notes by Henry Chadwick. Oxford World’s Classics, 1991, p. 202.

12.^ Augustine. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (1.8). Printed in Delphi Collected Works of Saint Augustine. Delphi Classics, 2016. Kindle Edition, Location 74472. Further quotations from this text will be noted parenthetically with section numbers in this episode transcription.

13.^ Augustine On the Proceedings of Pelagius (2). Printed in Delphi Collected Works of Saint Augustine. Delphi Classics, 2016. Kindle Edition, Location 69934. Further quotations from this text will be noted parenthetically with section numbers in this episode transcription.

14.^ As Augustine maintains in On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and The Baptism of Infants (1.35). Elsewhere (e.g. City of God (13.3)) he stakes out more moderate positions.

15.^ Rees, Brinley Roderick. Pelagius: Life and Letters. Boydell Press, 1998, p. 35. Rees discusses the letter’s authorship extensively, emphasizing that Pelagius may have had some compositional help with it – see pp. 29-35.

16.^ Ibid, p. 44.

17.^ Ibid, p. 66.

18.^ See Ferguson, John. Pelagius: A Historical and Theological Study. University of Michigan, 1956, p. 182, and Harrison, Carol. “Truth in a Heresy?” The Expository Times 112(3): pp. 78-82.

19.^ Wetzel, James. “Angels and Demons.” Printed in Meconi, David Vincent, Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Augustine’s City of God. Cambridge University Press, 2021, 146.

20.^ See Bettenson (2003), p. vii.

21.^ Augustine. Reply to Faustus (12.13). Delphi Classics, 2016. Kindle Edition, Location 53656.