Welcome to Babylon! I know you’re not all happy about it, but here’s something I’ve learned from experience: You’ll get used to it. Indeed, some of you will come to prefer life here to life in your native city — or what you think of, perhaps aspirationally, as your native city. And even if you don’t come to prefer it … well, you could do worse. Indeed you have done worse.
But we’re talking about Babylon, aren’t we? And it’s my job to try to help you understand where you are and how you can flourish in what might seem to be unpropitious circumstances.
Let’s begin in what might seem an odd place: with a man named Aurelius Augustinus. He lived a long time ago, and you might think that his world had nothing to do with Babylon. He was born in North Africa — Roman North Africa. He was a Roman, not a Babylonian. Yet he didn’t see it that way. Not quite.
He wrote a book, a very big book called The City of God, that explored the long and messy relationship between what he called the City of God — that’s a long story — and the City of Man. And that’s where we come in. Because one avatar of the City of Man is Rome — and, Augustine says, another is Babylon. Again and again he describes Rome as “the second Babylon,” and Babylon as “the first Rome.” Babylon wasn’t the native city of the children of Israel, and Rome isn’t the native city of the people of God’s church — even When the Emperor is a Christian.
And yet — here’s the main thing I want you to understand — many Israelites flourished in Babylon, so much so that when they had the chance to return to the Holy Land they declined and stayed right where they were. And many Christians flourished in the “second Babylon,” Rome. How did this happen? That’s a big part of what we’re here to explore. So stay tuned!