On Building an Earthly City

In the Breviary (Monday, Week Three, Morning Prayers), we find five intercessions. The first reads: “Man was created to glorify God through all his [man’s] deeds.” This intercession is mindful of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s principle: “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God and thereby to save his soul.” God, be it noted, does not need man to glorify Him. God expects of all human glorification that it be free, knowing, and loving.

We can glorify God also through our deeds. We are created so that we might freely glorify God as God. The word “deeds” can also be contrasted with man’s contemplative acts. Even though the principal way to glorify God is through prayer and worship, our deeds also glorify God. Our capacity to act is not apart from God, but deeds are not worship unless we intend that they be. We can be contemplatives in action, as Ignatius taught.

The second intercession reads: “We bless you, Creator of all things, for you have given us the goods of the earth and brought us to this day.” The notion that we “bless” God needs some clarity, lest it sound presumptuous. It sounds like the passage in Daniel: “Cold and chill, bless the Lord.” Unlike men, cold and chill do not do something other than be themselves, gifts of God. In addition to deeds, men can thank. Without the goods of the earth, we cannot get through one day. We are “brought to this day.” We need the help of everything else to be where we are.

A petition follows: “Look with favor on us as we begin our daily work.” We ask God to “let us be fellow workers with you.” So we do not ask that God does everything. We have a “daily work” to gain our “daily bread.” Thus, even though we are created to glorify God, our daily work needs to be looked on “with favor.” We can work in harmful and corrupt ways. The work as work still needs our dedication to a proper purpose, both to its end and to our end as its agents.


Then comes the fourth intercession: “Make our work today benefit our brothers and sisters, that with them and for them we may build an earthly city, pleasing to you.” We have to ponder that sentiment. We want our work to be beneficial to others. What are all of us doing in our work? We are building an earthly city that is pleasing to God. Such a statement has overtones of Augustine’s two cities. This atmosphere should make us alert.

Just what is meant by this earthly city that we are supposedly building? Men have been on this earth for a long time. Many earthly cities have come and gone; we have here no lasting city. Can there be two — an earthly city and a heavenly city — both of which are related to our deeds: a temporal judgment and a final judgment?

Obviously, it is possible to work for an earthly city that is counter to the city of God. Good men in the worst regimes can also achieve their ultimate end, which is not an earthly city. And what is it that men who do not work to glorify God seek to achieve? It is precisely an earthly city that is opposed to what the city of God is about. Thus, we can work for a city that in no way glorifies God.

This intercession seems ambiguous. We can say, with Aristotle, that man is by nature a political animal. This would mean that the city and its proper building is a task we ought to achieve, but it is not the highest thing. That city ought to be built in such a way that, within its confines, we can practice human virtue in such a way that we control our vices. Scripture seems to present politics as a zone that, at its best, leaves us alone to achieve our final end, which is not political.

Whenever building the earthly city becomes our chief purpose, we are close to the neo-absolutism that elevates the earthly city to be itself the city of God. This temptation to reverse the priority of the city of God so that it becomes identical with the city of man is very contemporary. This reversal comes about most often when we want to find no intelligence in nature but our own. This leaves us free to construct our own “city” that has no reference to any transcendent end of each created person, no matter what regime or era in which he exists.

The final intercession reads: “Grant joy and peace to us and to all we meet this day.” We can ask this in any earthly city, even the worst, because our end is not an earthly city.


Image: © The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Jewish National & University Library

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).

  • Mother of Two Sons

    and cause me to surface my deepest longings for His Kingdom to Come on Earth as it is in Heaven. Sometimes I wonder Father, if we underestimate the Power of God that is within us… when I think of the Universe minus man, it seems that it all lives and breathes and has its being… God supplies and sustains… is it not man that has yet to understand his/her greatness, his/her proper position in the Kingdom that is the problem? Hasn’t our fixation on the Fall instead of upon the Original design of God, Oneness with Him, a little less than the angels, that keeps man down? I remember when I entered the convent, a place where the 10 commandments were accepted, along with the magesterium of the Church and of course JESUS was sweet King, Bridegroom and His Spirit, indwelling Love, it was an amazing foretaste of Heaven, until the Mother Superior, decided she had to break down the character defects of the new postulants and first year novices. It was an extreme boot camp and fortunately my garden, ever desirous to please, soul was rarely on the receiving end of the chastisement! I really didn’t question her approach, I was young. All these years later I realize that even our religion has served as an obstacle to the realization/manifestation of this prayer of Jesus to the Father…. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven…. So the building we are to be involved in should lay the foundational structure upon which an exponential leap forward into the Heavenly Kingdom becomes desired by all souls. It seems at this point, the way we have gone about it, even the Catholics are not sure they want to go to Heaven, yet…. “I don’t want to leave this wonderful Earth”. Sure there is the percentage who are scared and weary from the sinful burdens of our day, who would take the first plane possible… but where are the builders of His Kingdom?

    God is not offended/intimidated by the atheists of our day, the new Agers of our day… in fact I believe that they, might, like Saul, be given the extreme reward of being knocked of their Truth-Seeking Campaigning High Horse, and meet Jesus, who will bring the fulness of understanding to their concsiousness. Saul was not required to abandon all that which he understood about God up to that point in his life, Paul was brought into a newer ever expanding knowledge and understanding of God through his encounter with Jesus Christ.
    I think that we have been stripped of our core power to build any relevant city by, yes a preoccupation about our sinful nature, instead of mastering our incredibly creative and loving redeemed nature and the false teaching and understanding of money and wealth. Our Churches have disassociated themselves from everything practical except becoming a law enforcing mouthpiece and one step up from a government tax on the people…. this is dispicable to God! And most Catholics, though they have a lot of opinions on the BIG Stuff, Abortion, Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, One holy catholic and apostolic Church.. and they will fight to restore an ethereal experience of the Mass…. but the builders, where are the builders? Builders melt the hardest of hearts with their presence, because they are so full up with Him; they start and run businesses that are structured to elevate everyone by their contribution to their mission… instead of creating an exact replica of the secular People at the Top get the highest portion of money and the real hard-working people who actually make the product are paid at a level in which they cannot support themselves or their family. We are finding ourselves as a Nation in a position, because those who love HIM, have spent their time focused on not sinning, instead of on building, collaborating, dreaming and manifesting a business, community, that resembles more of Heaven than Hell… that the government is proposing to force the correction through imposition of taxes…. make no mistake about it, the government motive is not Heavenly, not by any stretch of the imagination! What I am saying is the masses, instead of standing up years ago, in their proper position as equal and valuable to the CEO, COO, etc. and not through a proxy UNION, but with their feet and determination, one by one, NOW, they are VICTIMs and are vulnerable to be duped by a secular government system into believing it will bring them JUSTICE in wages, etc….
    I have tried Father, to build models that could be duplicated into every Catholic Church across the country, for example, The Center of Excellence for Children, after school model… but she is stuck on her old models…. I know that I am not the only builder out here….. in fact, He has revealed to me that we will make an exponential leap in this regard in this decade…..

    We must not relinquish our responsibility to build His Kingdom and must undermine this current Government takeover of our country through taxation.. we must get out and VOTE against all candidates Catholic or otherwise who support abortion, homosexual marriage and yes, even carte blanche amnesty!!! And we need to create corporations with equitable to everyone compensation, starting with the Catholic Church herself. God will inspire those who seek His blueprints… OBAMA is not THE ONE; Jesus and His Body The Church (all believers) are THE ONE through which the transformation will take place!

    So perhaps Father, I am just in my own LaLa Land…. but it is a Garden of His Lovingness that is mine, not because I am sinless, for that is not true, but because He so longs that all souls, all Creation walk and live in His Lovingness on a 24/7 basis.

  • Tom

    Recall who founded the first city in the Bible: Cain, after receiving God’s mark of protection. He was an agriculturist who killed off his herding brother. We know that agriculture is necessary to urban life; we also know that highly urban societies like the Netherlands and Germany have higher IQs than pastoral ones. We also have that image of God, painted on a background in the shape of a brain, reaching out to touch a clearly-living Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to provide that spark of Divine wisdom.

    Adam’s son Cain was blessed with that intelligence, and God saw fit for it to be applied in building a city. Higher urban intelligences are thus a continuing sign of His presence.