Jerusalem and Babylon

Waters of Babylon, Tissot

From the Exposition of Psalm 63 by St Augustine, Bishop & Doctor

The Israelites were taken captive and transported from the city of Jerusalem to a life of servitude in Babylon. The holy man Jeremiah, however, prophesied that seventy years later they should return from captivity and the city of Jerusalem, over whose fall into enemy hands he had lamented, should be restored.  At that time there were Prophets among the captive people in Babylon, and one of these was Ezekiel.  The people were looking forward to the end of the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah: and indeed when the seventy years were up, the majority of the people did return and the Temple which had been destroyed was rebuilt. But since the Apostle says: “These things happened to them as a warning, and were written down as a lesson for us upon whom the end of the ages has come,” we too must first be aware of our captivity and then of our liberation; we must be aware of Babylon, where we are enslaved, and of the Jerusalem, to which we long to return.

Consider the names of these two cities, Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon means “confusion”, Jerusalem “vision of peace”; now take note of the city of confusion in order to understand the vision of peace.  You endure the former while you long for the latter.  How can these two cities be told apart?  Can we possibly separate them from one another in this world?  They are intermingled; they have been from the very origin of the human race, and shall remain so until the end of time.  What proof have we now then that they are intermingled?  The Lord will make it plain when he places some at his right hand and others at his left; Jerusalem will be on his right, Babylon on his left. Jerusalem will hear him say: “Come, you who have my Father’s blessing, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” Babylon will hear: “Depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Nevertheless, with the Lord’s help we can suggest how believers can distinguish even now between citizens of Jerusalem and citizens of Babylon.  Two loves built these two cities.  Love of God built Jerusalem; love of the world built Babylon.  We have only then to ask ourselves what we love, and we shall learn which city we belong to.  Those who find that they are citizens of Babylon should root out avarice and plant charity; those who find that they are citizens of Jerusalem should endure their captivity, looking forward to their release.  One can truthfully say of a ship riding at anchor that it has made land: though it still moves with the waves, in a certain sense it is ashore, protected from gales and tempests.  On our own pilgrimage we have a similar safeguard against temptations, for hope set fast on the city of Jerusalem will prevent our being dashed against the rocks.

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