The Motive of Peace in “The City of God”

In his book, “The City of God,” Saint Augustine of Hippo writes to defend Christianity against pagan claims of abandonment from God. When the city of Rome fell in 410, many citizens argued that it was Christianity’s fault, but Augustine says that the blood was on the hands of those who oppose God by searching for peace in earthly things. He also puts the city of Rome in a comparison with the heavenly City to show the differences of true happiness through peace between the two cities.

Augustine begins his writing by expressing his response to the people’s claim of God being at fault. Augustine says that the pagan believers “were more attached to the seductions of foul spirits” which is the reason that they “take no blame for the evil they do, but blame Christianity for the evil they suffer” (208). This quote explains the reason the city becomes corrupt. Because of the citizens sinful ways, the joy of the city is crushed by the enemy. The absence of joy emphasizes the search for joy which- when not focused on God- causes that search to be in earthly things. This also explains Augustine’s response to the pagans when he tells them that they “still wallow in sin even in the depths of sorrows” (208). The sin becomes stuck in a cycle when the unjust search for happiness causes more sin which causes more searching and so on. Augustine says that in God, that search is unnecessary.

As Augustine continues, he describes the only way that one can find the sufficient source of happiness: peace with God. He begins by explaining that, even when Rome was under the praise of the pagan gods, the one true God was always in control. The old pagan heroes of Rome were moral, and Augustine says that the “splendid of the Empire” was a small reward of “temporal glory” for the “praiseworthy efforts of virtue by which they strove to attain” (212). This reward was from God, but because they praised others, the glory was only short-term. The pagans received their reward and basked in it, so they now “have no right to complain of the justice of the true and supreme God,” Augustine says (212). On the other hand, “the reward of the saints is altogether different” (212). While on earth, they suffered hatred and afflictions by standing for God and loving him supremely. This love and admiration was rewarded with citizenship in the City of God, something much more lasting than the pagan’s reward. Resisting the search for happiness in earthly substances pays off for the righteous. Augustine says that in God’s City, “there reigns that true and perfect happiness” and it can only be explained as a “gift of God” (212). This becomes the basis of Augustine’s comparisons between earth and Heaven.

One of Augustine’s main objectives in “The City of God” is to not only display the differences between Rome and the heavenly City but also to show how Rome should have mimicked the heavenly City. Augustine first describes how the earthly citizens use perishable means to ease the pain of the “supreme evil” (214). There is no reason to ease the pain when one can eradicate it altogether. The earthly city seeks a limited amount of happiness and digs deeper and deeper in the wrong direction for the true treasured goal. The heavenly citizens morally use the happiness of earth as a stepping stone to the promised peace of God. Earth’s city “has flowered from a selfish love” and from a “lust for domination” while God’s City is “rooted in the love of God” and in “service to one another in charity” (209). Shaping the earthly city of Rome after the holy City of God makes sense to Augustine. He says that “the only real peace is for those who find their joy in God” and reaching this peace leaves man “perpetually endowed with life” (216). It is pointless to continue to tire one’s self by chasing after the very thing that God is offering him or her. In God’s City, peace is fully sufficient. All things chase after this peace so it makes sense to Augustine to strive to be like the holy City. The only way this can be done is “by religious faith where citizens adore one God alone and serve him with complete dedication,” Augustine says (215). The earthly city must let go of its boasting acts and “refer every good act done” to God (216).

“The City of God” is a platform for Augustine that he uses to stand for, defend, and proclaim God. Throughout his work, Augustine shows that peace apart from God has many shortcomings. The only way to obtain true peace is to be in God’s presence. The fall of Rome is just the ending consequences of the temporal glory given to the moral heroes of the earthly empire of Rome. The only indestructible, eternal reign is that of God in his heavenly City. This City holds the “supreme good of eternal life” and fulfilling peace which, according to Augustine, can only be found in God (214).

Works Cited ·

Saint Augustine “from The City of God.” Rosemary Mims Fisk, John Mayfield, and W.J. Wallace (eds), Samford University Core Texts Reader, Vol. 1, ISBN: 9781581529999

Augustine’s Cities: Living According to God vs. Living According to Man

In The City of God, Augustine goes to great lengths to explain the distinction between living according to God and living according to man using an analogy of two cities. With this distinction, he shows that living according to God is superior because it offers the promise of salvation and true happiness after death, something that cannot be attained according to Augustine if one decides to turn away from God and live according to man. He makes this argument by defining the three parts of the human being and explaining their role in a person’s decision to serve God or the self. He also uses his interpretation of original sin as evidence for the repercussions of turning away from God.

Augustine begins by defining the composition of a human being. According to Augustine, every man is made up of two parts, the flesh and the spirit. The flesh consists of both the soul and the physical body, while the spirit is the rational part of the human being that has the free will to serve either the flesh or God. Augustine does not believe that the soul is inherently better than the body, stating that “it is not only because of the flesh that the soul is moved by desires and fears, by joy and sorrow, but that it can also be agitated by these same emotions welling up within the soul itself” (303). This means that the soul is affected by emotions and is corruptible in the same way that the body can be controlled by its appetites and desires. Because the soul is just as fallible and imperfect as the body, Augustine does not believe it to be superior. All three parts – the soul, body, and spirit – comprise a human being, and no part alone can make up a man in the absence of the others.

With the two parts of the human being established, namely the flesh and the spirit, Augustine creates an analogy of two cities, each representing one way a man can live. The first is to live in the City of Man, which is to live “according to the flesh” (295). This way of life results when man lives for the sake of himself, rather than God. He has turned away from God, thinking it is better for him to concern himself only with the needs and desires of the flesh, resulting in failure to serve God. Augustine views this as an arrogant, self-centered way to live, because he believes it happens when a man thinks he can live a more fulfilling and pleasurable life without God. He condemns the decision to live in this manner, saying “there is a wickedness by which a man who is self-satisfied as if he were the light turns himself away from that true Light which, had man loved it, would have made him a sharer in the light” (311). This suggests that Augustine equates living according to man with completely turning away from God due, to the belief that the human being is complete without Him. He criticizes the man who chooses this way of life as being blind to God’s salvation and wisdom, which he may have participated in had he accepted God into his life.

The City of God, in contrast with the City of Man, is a state in which man lives according to God. This way of life arises when man embraces and serves God, even to the negation of self. By that, Augustine means that man chooses the subjection of the body and worldly desires in order to orient himself toward God. This is done in the hopes that denying oneself in this life will lead to everlasting peace in the next life. In this metaphorical city, the spirit looks above the flesh to exist for the purpose of serving God and controls the pleasures of the flesh in order to honor Him.

The two cities represent two different loves, one that loves the self and one that loves God. The City of Man is a “selfish love” (321) in which man rejects the necessity of God for attaining true happiness and salvation and instead believes that happiness is achievable through human wisdom alone. Conversely, the City of God recognizes that God is the highest form of truth and knowledge; it is only through Him that humankind has any hope of eternal peace and sanctity.

Although Augustine recognizes that man has been given the ability to choose whether or not the spirit should serve God, it is clear that he thinks that human beings can only live righteously by living according to God. He reasons that only through a life of service to Him may one attain access to His kingdom and eternal beatitude after death. Even the most virtuous and “wise men in the city of man live according to man” (322), meaning that although they may live respectable lives they will still be condemned to damnation after death since they will fail to receive salvation from God.

Not only will living in service of God allow for peace after death, but it also eases the minds of His followers while alive because it gives them hope in a greater existence after death. Augustine claims that human beings, “now compelled to feel the misery of so many grievous ills on earth, can, by the hope of heaven, be made both happy and secure” (442). This means that although life can be unpleasant, even miserable at times, there is always hope for serenity in heaven if one lives in service of God. Those who choose to believe that the greatest happiness is found during a worldly existence and selfishly indulge in bodily pleasures are excluded from both the peace of mind that comes with the hope of an eternal existence and subsequently “will not attain the kingdom of God” (297) after death.

Denying God’s ultimate power in favor of living according to man is exactly what happened in the case of Adam and Eve, which Augustine deems the original sin. Eve turned away from God’s might when she decided to eat the forbidden fruit, and Augustine believes that this act was committed because Eve thought she knew better than God. Her actions were disobedient and represented the misconception that human beings can be more knowledgeable than God and self-sufficient without Him. Augustine uses this example to show how not living in service of God results in severe negative consequences. After all, Adam and Eve, like all other human beings who choose to live according to man, had made themselves each a “deserter of eternal life” and “doomed to eternal death – from which nothing could save [them] but grace” (313). To choose to live according to man, therefore, is to choose to be exiled from heaven and God’s salvation.

Although human beings may seem to be naturally sinful creatures who cannot resist the urge to fulfill bodily pleasures while choosing to neglect their duties to God, Augustine argues that this is not the case. If the human body were inherently sinful then that would imply that the Creator made human beings fundamentally bad. Since Augustine believes that all things made by God must be good, the flesh cannot be blamed for the sins of human beings. That is why the original sin of Adam and Eve was not caused by “a corruption of the body” (299), but instead was their choice to disobey God’s commandment. Because of that their bodily desires alone were not to blame for their sin; rather, it was a flaw in their spirit. Because the spirit has free will, it is up to each person to decide whether to live according to man or according to Him. Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God was caused by the spirit turning away from Him in an act of pride.

Augustine proposes two ways a human being can live: according to man or according to God. To illustrate this point he creates two cities, each of which embodies the characteristics of one way of life. In the City of Man, people have turned away from God and selfishly believe life is sufficient without Him. Conversely, in the City of God everyone recognizes the might of God and serves Him devoutly in hopes of achieving eternal beatitude after death. Augustine warns that the fate of those living in the City of Man is eternal damnation because they have not earned God’s graces and thus will not be saved. However, when the spirit embraces God and desires only to serve Him, one may live with the promise of a blissful existence in heaven and freedom from earthly misery after death.

Formal Elements in City of God

In Fernando Meirelles’ film City of God (2002) the audience is introduced to and follows the life of Rocket, and his affiliation with Li’l Zé (formerly Li’l Dice), a gang leader in the City of God. In one of the final scenes of the film, a continuation of the opening scene, a battle breaks out between the two rival gangs in which Rocket is caught in the middle. Shots are fired on both sides and police become involved, resulting in the arrests of Carrot and Li’l Zé. Through the lens of Rocket’s camera, the audience witnesses the police take Li’l Zé’s money and possessions as bribes and set him free. Upon his being freed, Li’l Zé is approached by the Runts who brutally murder him both with the intent to take over the drug business, and out of revenge for the murder of one of their own. After the Runts are gone, Rocket approaches Li’l Zé’s bullet-hole-riddled body, and captures the only images of the take down of the tyrant gang leader.

Meirelles uses several formal elements to heighten the authenticity of emotion throughout the film. In the final few scenes in particular, Meirelles utilizes shadow and low angles to depict the clumsiness and nervousness that Rocket is experiencing as he witnesses Li’l Zé’s interaction with the police and the Runts. Rocket is seen only through the cutouts in the wall with his face obstructed by either the presence of his camera or the wall itself, as the policemen, who are cast entirely in shadow, walk down the stairs toward Li’l Zé. After snapping a few pictures, which are caught in brief freeze frames as he takes them, Rocket is seen hurriedly attempting to adjust the settings on his camera from a low angle initially, and then a close-up on his fingers as they fumble with the dials in an attempt to make sure he gets every shot he can and does not miss a single detail.

Another interesting choice of formal element Meirelles uses in the film, is the idea of the camera capturing all of the action of this scene through the lens of Rocket’s camera. The audience experiences this event quite literally through the eyes of Rocket as he is attempting to capture these crucial moments for the City of God. The lens of the camera produces a white circle in the center of the shot as a means of focusing the image, and the audience experiences this. The viewer is able to see the shift in focus of the image as Rocket attempts to steady his hands and the camera in order to get the perfect shot through the cutouts in the wall; which often obstruct the view of the camera in a blurry outline. In between pictures, the camera will switch points of view from Rocket’s to an objective view where the audience catches a glimpse of Rocket through the cutouts in the wall, with his camera ready in his hands and his eye peaking just over the lens at the events unfolding.

Lastly, Meirelles utilizes diegetic sound to capture the snap of the camera over the sound of the conversation between Li’l Zé and the police officers. While the conversation is still audible, the click of the camera takes precedence over the mumbled conversation when Rocket’s point of view is in effect. Meirelles does this for two reasons: the first, is to solidify the audience’s understanding that this is all taking place in Rocket’s point of view, and the snap of the camera is going to be louder to his ears than the conversation taking place. The second, is to further drive one of the main themes of the film; a picture is worth a thousand words. In most cases, the images Rocket is capturing say more about life in the City of God and the corruption of the police than any interview with a citizen or officer could.

Through the use of several formal elements, Meirelles was able to heighten the authenticity of emotion within the film and further the audience’s understanding of the corruption in the City of God. The utilization of shadow over the police officers as they walked down the stairs evoked a sense of fear of being caught within the audience. The low angle and close-up shots of Rocket fumbling with the camera presented feelings of anxiety over being caught and urgency to capture the next image. Anxiety could also be felt every time the camera clicked, for fear that the police or Li’l Zé would hear it and come after Rocket. However, none of these elements would have had nearly the same emotional impact on the audience had the camera not been in Rocket’s point-of-view for the near entirety of the scene. Meirelles’ choice to film through Rocket’s lens made this scene the most impactful piece of the film.