“City of God” Part Five – “The Ends of the Two Cities,” Book Twenty-One – “End and Punishment of the Earthly City”
[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on one of his legendary excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole in italics and note when I am doing so.]
Chapter 1: Augustine explains why he is treating the topic of eternal punishment rather than eternal reward first.
“In the present Book, therefore, I must try, with the help of God, to discuss in some detail the kind of punishment which the Devil and those who belong to the city of the Devil are to endure… It seems harder to believe that the bodies of the damned are to remain in endless torment than to believe that the bodies of the saints are to continue without pain in everlasting felicity.”
Chapter 2: A statement of the difficulty in convincing non-believers that the body can exist eternally in punishing fires without being consumed.
Chapter 3: [Editor’s Summary] Criticizing the Platonic denial of the resurrection of the body, Augustine explains how the soul may feel pain from the fires of hell.
Chapter 4: Augustine looks at various natural phenomena to show that it is not implausible for entities to not be consumed by fire.
Chapters 5-6: [Editor’s Summary] Additional descriptions of the marvels of nature and of human art are here used to argue that even greater wonders may be worked by God’s power.
Chapter 7: The opponents of Augustine are inconsistent in that they already believe in beings capable of working out miracles, yet deny that an omnipotent being could allow a body to burn indefinitely.
Chapter 8: [Editor’s Summary] Another argument, using details taken from Varro, shows that God may work wonders exceeding the powers of nature.
Chapter 9: Augustine concludes the argumentation that the body will burn eternally in hell. He does so by looking at Isaiah 66.24 and the quotation of that same passage by Jesus. He then summarizes his arguments thus far.
“Suffice it to say that argument enough was given above to prove, first, that living creatures can continue in fire without being consumed and in pain without suffering death; second, that this is in virtue of a miracle of the omnipotent Creator; and, third, that anyone who denies the possibility of this miracle is simply unaware of the Source of all that is wonderful in all natures whatsoever. This Source is God.”
Chapters 10-22: [Editor’s Summary] Augustine reviews the objections of both pagans and some Christians to the view that hell’s fire is everlasting.
Chapter 23: In response to the claim that those in hell will eventually be purified and have no further need of punishment, Augustine shows from Scripture that the words of God Himself require the punishment to be never ending.
“The fact is that there is no way of waiving or weakening the words which the Lord has told us that He will pronounce in the last judgement: ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.’ In this way he showed plainly that it is an eternal fire in which the Devil and his angels are to burn.
Chapters 24-27: [Editor’s Summary] Detailed answers are given to the various objections against belief in everlasting fires in hell. It is stressed that God’s mercy will not disrupt divine justice.
Next time: “The Eternal Bliss of the City of God”