[2.6.7] St Augustine on Two (Plus One) Cities

St Agustine’s (354-430 AD) City of God (De civitate dei) is not a political treatise, however elaborates on some political issues. Here he describes the human community with a methaphor of two cities, which co-exist in the earthly realm, the city of God and the earthly city:

  • The city of God is the eternal community of humans with true love (caritas, love of God). This is not to be equated with the institutional church.
  • The earthly city is the temporary community of the humans with wrong love (cupidity)
  • The two cities co-exist and are intermingled in the frame of the political state, which is a punishment for the fallen man, but also has the role in upholding relative justice.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main components of Augustine’s view on the earthly city, the city of God and the political state:

Augustine on two (plus one) cities
EarthlyCity The earthly city is a metaphor for the community of the persons with the wrong kind of love (love of self, of power, etc.). This community is temporary.is part of the PoliticalState
CityOfGodThe city of God is a metaphor for the community of the persons with the right love (love of God). This community is eternal.is part of the PoliticalState
PoliticalStateBecause the citizens of the earthly city and of the city of God live intermingled, the two cities are also intermingled, and are the two parts of the political state, which “is a divinely ordained punishment for fallen man, with its armies, its power to command, coerce, punish, and even put to death, as well as its institutions such as slavery and private property. God shapes the ultimate ends of man’s existence through it.  The state simultaneously serves the divine purposes of chastening the wicked and refining the righteous.  Also simultaneously, the state constitutes a sort of remedy for the effects of the Fall, in that it serves to maintain such modicum of peace and order as it is possible for fallen man to enjoy in the present world.”
Justice Justice can be true or relative.
TrueJusticeTrue justice, according to Augustine, “is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else.”TrueJustice characterizes CityOfGod
RelativeJustice“No earthly [political] state can claim to possess true justice, but only some relative justice by which one state is more just than another.  Likewise, the legitimacy of any earthly political regime can be understood only in relative terms:  The emperor and the pirate have equally legitimate domains if they are equally just.” (Mattox)RelativeJustice characterizes EarthlyCity
PersonA human person living its earthly or eternal life, who “was brought into existence to endure eternally. Damnation is the just desert of all men because of the Fall of Adam, who, having been created with free will, chose to disrupt the perfectly good order established by God. As the result of Adam’s Fall, all human beings are heirs to the effects of Adam’s original sin, and all are vessels of pride, avarice, greed and self-interest.” (Mattox)
CitizenOfEarthlyCityA Citizen of the Earthly City is characterized by: “wrong love. A person belongs to […] the earthly city or city of the devil if and only if he postpones love of God for self-love, proudly making himself his greatest good (De civitate dei 14.28). (Mendelson)is subkind of Person; member of the EarthlyCity
CitizenOfCityOfGod A Citizen of the City of God is characterized by: “right or […] love. A person belongs to the city of God if and only if he directs his love towards God even at the expense of self-love” (Mendelson). They are “pilgrims and foreigners”.is subkind of Person; member of the CityOfGod
Love Love is a crucial and overarching notion in Augustine’s ethics. It is closely related to virtue and often used synonymously with will […] or intention (intentio). […] love is a force in our souls that attracts us to the true beauty we find nowhere else but in and above ourselves; it drives us to ascend from the sensible to the intelligible world and to the cognition and contemplation of God […].” (Mendelson)
Caritas“love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]). The former is called love in a good sense (caritas), the latter cupidity or concupiscence (cupiditas), i.e., misdirected and sinful love (De doctrina christiana 3.16).”(Mendelson) is Love; characterizes CitizenOfCityOfGod
Cupidity“love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]). The former is called love in a good sense (caritas), the latter cupidity or concupiscence (cupiditas), i.e., misdirected and sinful love (De doctrina christiana 3.16).” (Mendelson)is Love; characterizes CitizenOfEarthlyCity


First published: 23/1/2020

[2.6.6] St Augustine on Will and Predestination

St Agustine (354-430 AD) writes extensively about the importance of the will and free will a series of books (De civitate deiDe ordineDe beata vitaConfessionesDe trinitate), here are some highlights of his thoughts (see also [2.5.1]):

  • Love directs will towards an object (God, neighbor, self, etc.).
  • Will appears if assent (in the stoic sense) is given to the impulse (see [2.2.1])
  • First-order volitions within the human soul aimed to concrete objects can conflict, second-order volitions can solve this conflict.
  • Divine grace is necessary for restoring the freedom of the will for the fallen humankind.
  • God provides grace to the elected ones, who will be able to achieve salvation, and avoid damnation (theory of double predestination).

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main components of Augustine’s theory of the Will:

St Augustine on will
Love“In a more general way, love means the overall direction of our will (positively) toward [an object:] God or (negatively) toward ourselves or corporeal creature (De civitate dei 14.7; […]).” directs Will; in relation with Object
Will“Augustine comes closer than any earlier philosopher to positing will as a faculty of choice that is reducible neither to reason nor to non-rational desire. ..
Like memory and thought, will is a constitutive element of the mind (see 6.2 The Human Mind as an Image of God). It is closely related to love and, accordingly, the locus of moral evaluation. We act well or badly if and only if our actions spring from a good or evil will, which is equivalent to saying that they are motivated by right (i.e., God-directed) or perverse (i.e., self-directed) love (De civitate dei 14.7).”
FirstOrderVolition“Augustine admits both first-order and second-order volitions, the latter being acts of the liberum voluntatis arbitrium, the ability to choose between conflicting first-order volitions (Stump 2001; Horn 1996; den Bok 1994). Like desires, first-order volitions are intentional or object-directed and operate on all levels of the soul.”is subkind of Will; mediates between Love and Object
SecondOrderVolitionSecond-order volition “acts of the liberum voluntatis arbitrium, the ability to choose between conflicting first-order volitions”. is subkind of Will; chooses between conflicting FirstOrderVolitions
AssentToImpulse“The mechanics of the will in Augustine’s moral psychology is strongly indebted to the Stoic theory of assent [to impulse], which it however modifies in at least one respect. As in Stoicism, the will to act is triggered by an impression generated by an external object (visum). To this the mind responds with an appetitive motion that urges us to pursue or to avoid the object (e.g., delight or fear). But only when we give our inner consent to this impulse or withhold it, does a will emerge that, circumstances permitting, results in a corresponding action. The will is the proper locus of our moral responsibility because it is neither in our power whether an object presents itself to our senses or intellect nor whether we take delight in it (De libero arbitrio 3.74; Ad Simplicianum 1.2.21), and our attempts to act externally may succeed or fail for reasons beyond our control. The only element that is in our power is our will or inner consent [to impulse], for which we are therefore fully responsible. Thus, a person who has consented to adultery is guilty even if his attempt actually to commit it is unsuccessful, and a victim of rape who does not consent to the deed keeps her will free of sin even if she feels physical pleasure (De civitate dei 1.16–28). Augustine therefore defines sin as “the will to keep or pursue something unjustly” (De duabus animabus 15). The second stage in the above structure, the involuntary appetitive motion of the soul, is reminiscent of the Stoic “first motions”, but it also corresponds to the “impulse”, which in Stoicism does not precede consent but follows it and immediately results in action. Temptations of this kind are, in Augustine, not personal sins but due to original sin, and they haunt even the saints. Our will must be freed by divine grace to resist them (Contra Iulianum 6.70)”characterizes Will
GodChristian God provide grace to the choosen ones (predestination).provides Grace
Grace“Divine grace is necessarry for restoring the freedom of the will for the fallen human: “By c. 400 CE, Augustine had come to the conclusion that our ability to make choices was seriously impaired by the fallen condition of humankind and that it made little sense to talk about free will without reference to grace. The optimistic-sounding claim in the first book of De libero arbitrio (1.25–26; 29) that it is in our power to be good as soon as we choose to be good because ‘nothing is as completely in our will as will itself’ was probably never the whole story; already in book 3 of the same work Augustine says that the cognitive and motivational deficiencies caused by Adam’s sin […] seriously compromise our natural ability to choose the good […], he radicalizes this to the idea that original sin makes us unable to completely subdue our sinful volitions as long as we live, so that we live in a permanent state of “akrasia” or weakness of will (De natura et gratia 61–67; De civitate dei 19.4; De nuptiis et concupiscentia 1.35). But he never questions the principle that we have been created with the natural ability to freely and voluntarily choose the good, nor does he ever deny the applicability of the cogito argument to the will (cf. De civitate dei 5.10) or doubt that our volitions are imputable to us. What grace does is to restore our natural freedom; it does not compel us to act against our will.”is necessary for freedom of the Will
ObjectThe Object of Love


  • All citations from: Mendelson, Michael, “Saint Augustine“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 16/01/2020
Updated: Added God and predestination 01/05/2020