Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume II/City of God/Book XV/Chapter 4

Chapter 4.—Of the Conflict and Peace of the Earthly City.

But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will no longer be a city when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford.  But as this is not a good which can discharge its devotees of all distresses, this city is often divided against itself by litigations, wars, quarrels, and such victories as are either life-destroying or short-lived.  For each part of it that arms against another part of it seeks to triumph over the nations through itself in bondage to vice.  If, when it has conquered, it is inflated with pride, its victory is life-destroying; but if it turns its thoughts upon the common casualties of our mortal condition, and is rather anxious concerning the disasters that may befall it than elated with the successes already achieved, this victory, though of a higher kind, is still only short-lived; for it cannot abidingly rule over those whom it has victoriously subjugated.  But the things which this city desires cannot justly be said to be evil, for it is itself, in its own kind, better than all other human good.  For it desires earthly peace for the sake of enjoying earthly goods, and it makes war in order to attain to this peace; since, if it has conquered, and there remains no one to resist it, it enjoys a peace which it had not while there were opposing parties who contested for the enjoyment of those things which were too small to satisfy both.  This peace is purchased by toilsome wars; it is obtained by what they style a glorious victory.  Now, when victory remains with the party which had the juster cause, who hesitates to congratulate the victor, and style it a desirable peace?  These things, then, are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God.  But if they neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better,—if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase.