Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In 410 c.e. Alaric and the Goths sacked Rome, shocking the Mediterranean world and raising charges by pagans, then chafing under the rule of Christian emperors, that Christianity was responsible for weakening the once powerful Roman Empire. Saint Augustine’s The City of God was a sophisticated answer to these charges, pointing out, contrary to the teaching of ancient philosophers, that no earthly political system could be relied upon for the satisfaction of the most important human needs, which are ultimately spiritual rather than material ones. The first ten of the twenty-two books expose the false teachings of the pagans as found in the writings of their poets, politicians, and philosophers, while recognizing the truth that can be observed in them. The second part of The City of God presents a Christian understanding of the origins, progress, and ultimate ends of the two cities: the earthly city of man, represented by Babylon, rooted in vice and sin, governed by selfish love, and destined to conflict, destruction, and eternal death; and the heavenly city, represented by Jerusalem, rooted in grace and virtue, governed by love of God, and destined for peace, salvation, and eternal life.
Augustine asserts that Rome’s problems were of its own making, not a result of Christian teaching. Rome’s own gods did not come to the city’s protection, and Roman pagans sought and found protection from the Goths...
(The entire section is 1032 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Augustine’s The City of God, its title deriving from Psalms, as in 46:4 and 87:3, depicts a Christian world order guided by God’s providence, as presented in the Bible. The Visigoth sacking of Rome on August 24, 410, one of the increasing number of attacks upon the Roman Empire, prompted many citizens, Christian and pagan, to account for these events. Augustine, now bishop of Hippo, was asked to explain. While the Roman Empire worshiped pagan gods, the empire grew to dominate the world; now, almost one hundred years after Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion in 312, the empire is failing.
In books 1 through 9, Augustine examines Roman polytheism. He indicates, for example, that Rome had suffered defeats long before the Christian era and had endured catastrophe. Pagan deities provided no protection then, even though Rome was believed to be partners with these gods. At one time, Romans demonstrated great human virtues, and God’s providence allowed Rome to prosper, but its reward extended to the earthly realm and is subject to change. Moreover, Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire resulted in declining moral standards and few checks upon its government. Emperors, assuming sacred status, undertook any manner of activity; even a Christian emperor could not dedicate the empire to Christ. That Rome attained an empire beyond its control resulted more from continual warfare and the quest for glory and renown than...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Saint Augustine is one of the most important theologians of the Christian church. He was born a Roman citizen in North Africa. Although he was trained as a classical scholar and was a teacher of rhetoric in Rome and Milan, he became a priest under the influence of Saint Ambrose in Milan and then served as bishop of Hippo in North Africa. His extensive writings include commentaries on books of the Bible, sermons, letters, and his famous autobiographical Confessiones (397-401; Confessions, 1620), which recounts his spiritual journey from his youth to his full acceptance of Christian beliefs during his years in Milan. Among these works, The City of God stands out as the most complete exposition of Saint Augustine’s Christian theology.
Saint Augustine wrote The City of God during the later years of his life. The catalyst for writing The City of God was a key event in the history of the Roman Empire: the sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, a barbarian Germanic tribe. This event shook the dwindling confidence of the civilized Roman Empire. The remaining pagan Romans blamed the Christian religion for this catastrophe, and Christians became insecure about their faith. In The City of God, Saint Augustine addresses these charges and fears.
The City of God is more than a defense of Christianity in response to a particular historical circumstance. Saint Augustine planned to write a work...
(The entire section is 1666 words.)