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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

The City of God is a religious, political, and philosophical dissertation on the fall of Rome. In this work, divided into twenty-two books, Augustine argues against claims that Christianity caused Rome to fall as he addresses the social and political climate of Rome and events of the time (410 BCE)....

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The City of God is a religious, political, and philosophical dissertation on the fall of Rome. In this work, divided into twenty-two books, Augustine argues against claims that Christianity caused Rome to fall as he addresses the social and political climate of Rome and events of the time (410 BCE). Augustine proposes that Christianity actually helped Rome survive.

Augustine describes the existence of two groups or sub-cities, "The City of God" (believers, the elect) and "The City of Man" (non-believers, pagans), at odds with one another in Rome and society in general. Augustine explains that since the fall of angels in the beginning of time, these two groups have contended for the souls of man everywhere, and these forces continue the fight over the hearts and souls of Romans.

Each of the twenty-two books addresses a spiritual aspect related to the condition of man in relation to God.

For instance, in his first book of the series, Augustine addresses non-Christians who sought shelter and protection in the Christian churches of Rome but then claimed that Christians were to blame for Rome being attacked. He explains to all that injustice does fall upon the unrighteous and righteous.

However, in book two, Augustine does boldly state that, as people of Rome worshiped pagan gods, not the one, true God, they allowed moral corruption into the city. Augustine argues that these pagan gods did not stop the attacks in Rome, in his third book. In books four and five, Augustine explains how Christianity actually benefited Rome.

Next, in books six through ten, Augustine provides a strong defense of Christ being the only answer for salvation, peace, and reconciliation with God as he criticizes pagan beliefs.

Then, in the rest of the books in the series, Augustine discusses The City of God specifically as he references many areas of the Bible, in both the Old Testament and New Testament.

At the end, Augustine provides hope for those who seek to follow Christ by pointing to eternal salvation through Christ.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1032

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 only by fleeing to Christian churches, which the pagan hordes dared not enter or burn. The mythic gods of Romans actually degraded the civic and moral virtues that once characterized the Roman republic. No less a figure than Plato had banished the poets and their mythic gods from his ideal republic for these reasons. Pagan gods, then, failed to protect human souls, to prevent human evils, or to guarantee human happiness even in the possession of the goods of this life. Some pagans understood, more properly, that the gods should be worshiped for the sake of happiness in life after death. By God’s providence, civic virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and courage marked the early Romans, but even these early Romans were oriented toward fabulous and nonexistent gods—to the embarrassment of Roman philosophers such as Seneca, who observed pagan rituals but did not believe in the gods. Enlightened by degrees of wisdom, even the philosophers failed to see that human wisdom and virtue are gifts from God rather than strictly human efforts. Thus, while the natural philosophy of the Presocratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and even the Roman Stoics made significant advances (even in the understanding of the divine), these philosophers also trusted too much to human virtue for its own sake and not enough to the love of God, author of all virtue. Philosophers therefore sought but could not find the full truth, and so genuine happiness eluded them.

In parts 3 and 4, Augustine turns to a full account of true salvation history and the quest for human happiness, found only in the beatitude of God. Following the proclamation of Psalm 87 (“Glorious things are said of you, O City of God”), Augustine begins by discussing the origins of the city of God. Out of love, God created time and space, the whole visible universe, and the invisible world of angelic spirits. Human beings were made in his image, capable of knowing, loving, and choosing to serve him with free will. However, angelic and human intellect and will, though capable of knowing God, can and do, out of pride, freely choose to reject God. Perverse wills choose evil and death, falling into sin, though by their very nature all things created were good. Weakness of will and sin turn the human heart toward disordered love of self instead of life-giving love of God. This Original Sin is the foundation of the city of man. From this bad use of the will—this Original Sin—flows every evil known to man, evils that can be healed only by God’s grace. Amid the city of man, therefore, are those who in humble obedience strive for virtue and the love of God and neighbor, seeking to avoid the endless death of the soul.

In part 4, Augustine traces biblical history, showing how Cain, having killed his brother Abel in envy, built a city in which the wicked make war both with one another and with the good. Abel, a shepherd, built no city, living in charity as a pilgrim in, but not of, the world. Even a good man, amid the city of man, can be at war with others and with himself, as he strives for virtue. Down through the descendants of Cain and Seth, scripture describes the proud, who love themselves, and the humble, who love God. The city of God claims Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, King David, and the prophets who worship God and seek his promise of eternal life, to be fulfilled in the coming of Christ. The city of man rises and falls in the ephemeral empires of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, who idolize themselves and worship false gods. With the coming of Christ, the members of his pilgrim Church strive to advance the city of God.

Finally, in part 5, Augustine treats the ends of the two cities. The city of God, begging God’s grace to avoid vice, seeks eternal life; the city of man, believing in its own virtue, is destroyed by pride. Real human happiness is possible only in abandonment of the will to complete trust in God, rather than in trusting one’s own pitiful strength, which is itself a gift from God. The Christian must live in the earthly city and must obey lawful authority while advancing earthly peace as far as possible. Eternal happiness, however, rests in faith, hope, and love, not in human industry and policy. Those who trust in the latter run the risk of eternal death, which is the fruit of sinful pride. True happiness is attained in the ultimate joy of heaven and eternal life with the God who made us and calls every person back to his heavenly home, where the city of God abides in fullness of praise and joy.

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