The City of God Summary
by Aurelius Augustinus

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The City of God Summary

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

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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...

(The entire section is 1,366 words.)