Augustine On the Ordering of Nature and the Providence of God

Written in the years following the sack of The City in 410, The City of God's full title included the phrase, "Against the Pagans", and is a rebuttal of those who blamed the Christian prohibition of the worship of pagan gods for the fate suffered by Rome at the hands of the Goths.

Written in the years following the sack of The City in 410, The City of God’s full title included the phrase, “Against the Pagans”, and is a rebuttal of those who blamed the Christian prohibition of the worship of pagan gods for the fate suffered by Rome at the hands of the Goths.

CAPUT XI.—De universali providentia Dei, cujus legibus omnia continentur.

Deus itaque summus et verus cum Verbo suo et Spiritu sancto, quae tria unum sunt, Deus unus omnipotens, creator et factor omnis animae atque omnis corporis: cujus sunt participatione felices, quicumque sunt veritate, non vanitate felices: qui fecit hominem rationale animal ex anima et corpore; qui eum peccantem nec impunitum esse permisit, nec sine misericordia dereliquit; qui bonis et malis essentiam etiam cum lapidibus, vitam seminalem etiam cum arboribus, vitam sensualem etiam cum pecoribus, vitam intellectualem cum solis Angelis dedit: a quo est omnis modus, omnis species, omnis ordo; a quo est mensura, numerus, pondus; a quo est quidquid naturaliter est, cujuscumque generis est, cujuslibet aestimationis est; a quo sunt semina formarum, formae seminum, motus seminum atque formarum: qui dedit et carni originem, pulchritudinem, valetudinem, propagationis fecunditatem, membrorum dispositionem, salutem concordiae: qui et animae irrationali dedit memoriam, sensum, appetitum; rationali autem insuper mentem, intelligentiam, voluntatem: qui non solum coelum et terram, nec solum angelum et hominem; sed nec exigui et contemptibilis animantis viscera, nec avis pennulam, nec herbae flosculum, nec arboris folium sine suarum partium convenientia, et quadam veluti pace dereliquit: nullo modo est credendus regna hominum eorumque dominationes et servitutes a suae providentiae legibus alienas esse voluisse.

–Aurelii Augustini, De Civitate Dei 5.11.

Chapter 11. Concerning the universal providence of God in the laws of which all things are comprehended.

Therefore God supreme and true, with His Word and Holy Spirit (which three are one), one God omnipotent, creator and maker of every soul and of every body; by whose gift all are happy who are happy through verity and not through vanity (veritate non vanitate); who made man a rational animal consisting of soul and body, who, when he sinned, neither permitted him to go unpunished, nor left him without mercy; who has given to the good and to the evil, being (essentia) in common with stones, vegetable life (vita seminalis) in common with trees, sensuous life (vita sensualis) in common with brutes, intellectual life (vita intellectualis) in common with angels alone; from whom is every mode, every species, every order; from whom are measure, number, weight; from whom is everything which has an existence in nature, of whatever kind it be, and of whatever value; from whom are the seeds of forms and the forms of seeds, and the motion of seeds and of forms; who gave also to flesh its origin, beauty, health, reproductive fecundity, disposition of members, and the salutary concord of its parts; who also to the irrational soul has given memory, sense, appetite, but to the rational soul, in addition to these, has given intelligence and will; who has not left, not to speak of heaven and earth, angels and men, but not even the entrails of the smallest and most contemptible animal, or the feather of a bird, or the little flower of a plant, or the leaf of a tree, without an harmony, and, as it were, a mutual peace among all its parts;—that God can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside the laws of His providence.

–St Augustine of Hippo, On the City of God, 5.11. (trans. Marcus Dods)


All that without even using a microscope or a telescope, too. Poor, benighted ancients. Didn’t even have electricity and iPads and Google and bumper stickers to answer all their questions instantly.

This passage is also cool for being an amazingly long single sentence, in which the subject, the first word—Deus—is separated from the verb—est or credendus est—by a whopping 183 words.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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