The City of God

by Aurelius Augustinus

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The characters of the The City of God by Aurelius Augustinus are the people of classical Rome and their ancestral divinities. The author contrasts these unfavorably with a heavenly city of God as conceived by the Christians, and he praises the Christians' morals, beliefs, and divinity.

Rome has just been sacked and pillaged, and many of the Roman people blamed Christians, and their prohibition of offerings to Rome's ancestral deities, for the calamity. Augustus, with the zeal of a convert, ably defends his people and tries to lay the blame for the disaster squarely on the Romans for their moral dissipation. Were not their gods and goddesses licentious? Augustus condemns the Olympian deities for not providing better moral guidance to their worshippers, like the Christian God does. And why blame the Christians? Did not Troy fall too, although they worshipped the same gods?

He condemns Roman pride and love of power while lauding Christian humility. He mocks the goddess Minerva for not protecting her own statue, while he praises the barbarians for sparing some Christian churches and the refugees seeking safety there. He praises the ideal of early Roman virtue but casts doubt on its actual historical existence. He addresses his Christian audience philosophically, asking why they suffered rape, robbery, torture, and death like everyone else. His solid grasp of classical history and philosophy, as well as his thorough grounding in Christian teaching, makes him a persuasive apologist for Christianity, at least from the Christian point of view. His partiality and seeming lack of real empathy and compassion for the Romans who had not embraced the new religion tend to somewhat undermine his case. He must have poured salt in their wounds by calling their traditional divinities demons. This can only have deepened the divide within the already prostrate Western empire. That being said, he does a creditable job of defending his religion against its critics through his harsh polemics against the corruption of Roman society, which he lays in part at the feet of its traditional religion.

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