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City of God

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No book except the Bible itself had a greater influence on the Middle Ages than Augustine's City of God. And since medieval Europe was the cradle of modern Western society, this work is vital for understanding our world and how it came into being.

1186 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 426

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About the author

Augustine of Hippo

1,670 books1,506 followers
Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, in English Augustine of Hippo, also known as St. Augustine, St. Austin, was bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria). He was a Latin philosopher and theologian from the Africa Province of the Roman Empire and is generally considered as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all times. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity. According to his contemporary Jerome, Augustine "established anew the ancient Faith." In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his conversion to Christianity and his baptism in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives. He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war. When the Western Roman Empire was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name), distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine's City of God was closely identified with the Church, the community that worshiped the Trinity. In the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation due to his teaching on salvation and divine grace. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he is also considered a saint. He carries the additional title of Blessed. Among the Orthodox, he is called "Blessed Augustine" or "St. Augustine the Blessed".

Santo Agostinho

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 638 reviews
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
968 reviews17.6k followers
May 26, 2023
This is a truly COLOSSAL book! Why, exactly, do I say that?

Because, you know, there are two ways of getting answers in the world... there’s getting the world’s answers (and that’s sometimes doublethink) and there’s getting SYMBOLIC answers!

Sub specie aeternitatis, symbolic answers are the ONLY important ones. Rather than show the world’s Real face, they Suggest it.

And they’re what Augustine gives us when he divides the world RIGHT UP THE MIDDLE.

If you cut through the layers of your illusions about it, it's all about that one central fact, from which you can then draw your own conclusions:

There are TWO PARALLEL WORLDS on this planet.

One of them is a cold, grasping, calculating - in a word, selfish - world; the other is a world of warm, compassionate, caring, but quite ordinary, human beings.

In a word, a loving world.

Hard to believe?

Take a closer look at the people around you. Some of them uniformly choose to do good. They‘d be lost if they didn’t!

So, why are they JUST SO PLAIN NICE?

It’s not just to please you...

Maybe, just maybe, they think if they lose their way in the world they JUST MIGHT LOSE THEIR SOULS.

‘You’re kidding me, of course! NOBODY’S like THAT any more...’

That’s where you’re wrong, my friend. There are MILLIONS like that.

They’re from the Second City (now I KNOW you’re gonna find that funny)!

NO - we’re not talking standup comedy, for heaven’s sake; it’s the queue that’s forming RIGHT NOW for Heaven - Stage Right!

This Second City is ‘the best of all possible Worlds.’ It don’t get any better than this.

God threw away the mold when He made that city...

The first city Augustine calls the the City of Man: you know it well - its grit, grime and corruption have done some Serious Damage to our planet, and some DEADLY serious damage to our Hearts.

It’s the first city, because unfortunately it’s the only one most folks believe in... and it’s OUR first city, in time.

It’s the familiar city of THE FALL OF MAN.

If ONLY all the people who are still living there knew they had another, better choice of city to live in...

The second, of course, is the City of God. Hence the title.

The fabled Stairway to Heaven (no apologies to Led Zeppelin)!

The City of SALVATION. Now, that’s an overused word!

Did you ever play that Ancient board game Snakes & Ladders? The City of the Man is full of hidden snakes, who will take us down to the Underworld, and hence back to square one.

The City of Salvation, though, is full of Ladders - taking us up to paradise - and the finish line.

Going up, up to our Lost First World - you know, the one we knew when we were very little... so vivid, so clear - so Really There.

And all those many people we hear about who’ve been brought back from near-death by modern medicine have ACTUALLY SEEN IT.

Take the nomenclature as you will - the fact remains that this is no pie-in-sky pipe dream, as turned out so unfortunately for the young female social climber in Zeppelin’s lyrics.

She was going DOWN that UP STAIRWAY. Down on a Snake’s back to Discouragement and Dusty Death. Instead of going UP to SALVATION.

These two worlds DO exist, and they're engaged in an ongoing battle.

To death!


And you know what else?

We must - each of us - choose a side! Here and now - in THIS world.

Which side will WE be on?

The Side of the Winners - or the LOSERS - sub specie aeternitatis?

Will we gain Happiness or lose Everything?

That’s entirely up to each one of us...

So let’s always take the UP Ladder to paradise - rather than ride the back of a Snake, Deep Down Under the Earth into Endless Darkness:

And lose the whole game!
15 reviews
November 18, 2008
ok, this is my one brag book. anybody who gets through this (unabridged only), gets to go to heaven, no questions asked.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,176 followers
November 10, 2017
Once on the beach at Utica, I saw with my own eyes—and there were others to bear me witness—a human molar tooth so big that it could have been cut up, I think, into a hundred pieces each as big as one of our modern teeth.

I’m trying to think of books that might be equal to this one in importance to Western history: Plato’s Republic? the works of Aristotle? Euclid’s Elements? Homer’s epics? There aren’t many. This book arguably set the tone for the entire Middle Ages that followed. It is a vast, sweeping, powerful, and cockamamie book; it is a true classic.

Augustine wrote The City of God over a period of 13 years. He began the work when he was 59, and finished it when he was 72. The work was occasioned by the capture of Rome in 410 by the ‘barbarian’ leader Alaric, king of the Visigoths. It was a brutal defeat for the Romans, with much destruction, rape, pillage, and death. More than that, it was a symbolic defeat, the first time Rome had been taken by a foreign enemy in hundreds of years. Unsurprisingly, the remaining pagans blamed the newly ascendant Christians for this calamity. If the old gods were worshiped, the critics argued, this never would have happened. Rome was never taken when Jupiter was praised and when Nike, goddess of victory, was gracing the Curia of the Roman Senate. (The statue of Nike, the Altar of Victory, had been removed from the Curia by Constantius II, briefly reinstalled by Julian the Apostate, and then removed again.) In short, the Roman Empire was collapsing and it was all the Christians’ fault.

These accusations were what prompted Augustine to begin this work; but as the book grew, so did Augustine’s ambitions. By the middle, the beginning has been forgotten; and by the end, the middle is a distant memory. Because Augustine frequently interrupts his main points to indulge in lengthy digressions, the reader is often mired in pages and pages of side-issues and curiosities. Yet there does remain one vital central idea. It is therefore quite tough to give a fair impression of this book’s contents. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, if I focus only on Augustine’s main thesis, then it will make this chaotic jumble seem too unified and focused; yet if I lose myself in the details, then I’ll omit its most lasting contribution. I even have it easier than most readers, since I read an abridgment—meant to cut out much of the extraneous material. Even so, there is a new topic on almost every page. So I think I’ll follow Russell’s approach in his History of Western Philosophy and give you a taste of some digressions before tackling Augustine’s more major themes.

Early on in the book, Augustine considers whether virgins who were raped in the sack of Rome have lost their virginity. He argues that, as long as they did not consent and did not enjoy it, they are still virgins. Augustine even argues that being raped might have been a good thing for some of them, since it taught them not to be haughty about their virginity. (It's frightening that, at the time, this opinion was considered quite progressive.) He considers whether the extremely long lifespans reported of some Biblical figures (such as Adam’s purportedly 900-year long life) should be interpreted literally, or whether, as some argued, 10 years back then was equivalent to 1 of our years, thus arriving at a more realistic figure for Adam’s age, 90. (Augustine thinks Adam did live 900 years.) In resolving this question, Augustine notes that there are several discrepancies in the ages reported of certain people in different versions of the Bible; specifically, the original Hebrew Bible said one thing, and the Septuagint said another. (For those who don’t know, the Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Bible, done by 70 Jewish scribes in the 3rd or 2nd century BCE at the behest of the Egyptian king, Ptolemy II. The legend says that all 70 scribes completed their translations separately, only comparing them at the end, and they turned out to be all miraculously identical.) Augustine concludes that, though the Septuagint was indeed divinely inspired, where it differed from the original Hebrew, the original should be trusted.

In a lengthy section, Augustine attempts to correlate secular history with biblical history, doing his best to place the events of the Old Testament in the context of Greek and Roman history. He even speculates on the possibility that Plato might have read parts of the Old Testament, since parts of Plato’s Timeaus are so similar to the Book of Genesis. Augustine is against judicial torture, thinking it vile and illogical to torture witnesses and the accused. He anticipates Descartes’s cogito ergo sum: “In the face of these truths, the quibbles of the skeptics lose their force. If they say; ‘What if you are mistaken?’—well, if I am mistaken, I am. For, if one does not exist, he can be no means be mistaken. Therefore, I am, if I am mistaken.” (By the by, Augustine also anticipated Kant’s subjective theory of time, which Augustine put forth in the eleventh book of his Confessions.) Augustine attempts to prove that living, physical bodies can, indeed, be tortured endlessly in the fires of hell, since, as everyone knows, salamanders live in fire, and peacock meat never putrefies. So what’s so miraculous about human bodies endlessly burning in the flames?

I actually can’t resist including a bit more about the peacock meat. Apparently, having heard from someone else that peacock meat never spoils, Augustine set aside a piece of roasted peacock meat when he was served it at a friend’s house. He observed this piece of meat for a whole year, noting that even after all that time it never began to stink; it only got dry and shriveled. Now, presumably the piece of meat had been thoroughly cooked and salted, so make of that what you will. While I’m at it, I also want to include a story Augustine tells about a friend of his who had hemorrhoids and had to have surgery. As the man was fearful of going under the knife, Augustine and several other friends had a loud and fervent prayer session before the surgery. (If I had to get surgery back then, I’d be praying too.) And the surgery was a success!

Now for some more meaty issues. Augustine formulates here the idea of original sin, arguing that Adam’s fall changed the nature of humankind, filling us with sinful desires and causing death to enter the world. Augustine thinks, for example, that before the fall, Adam and Eve could choose to have sex without any feeling of sexual desire; all of the physiological prerequisites for intercourse (to use a polite expression) were under just as much control as our arms and legs. In short, Adam could just choose to have an erection without feeling horny. But now, in order to reproduce, we are at the mercy of our desires, which we cannot directly control and which threaten to overwhelm our rational minds. Thus is the sorry state of fallen man. As a consequence of this belief, Augustine also argues that unbaptized infants go to hell; not being cleansed of original sin, they simply must. By the way, there are several memorable passages in Augustine’s extraordinary autobiography, his Confessions, where he chastises his infant self for being so greedy of food and drink, and so selfish of love and attention.

Several other ideas are connected to Augustine’s conception of original sin. Since humankind is fallen, it is impossible for us without God's aid to do good deeds and to achieve salvation; salvation is granted from God, it is a gift of divine grace, not something we earn. Augustine also believed in predestination. God, being omniscient, foreknew which people would end up saved, and which would end up damned. So in addition to anticipating Descartes and Kant, Augustine also anticipates Calvin. (From what I hear, a lot of the Protestant Reformation involved a return to Augustine’s teachings, but I’m not so knowledgeable about this.) I should point out that these ideas weren’t commonly accepted at the time. Just the reverse: many people argued vociferously against these doctrines. Notably, Pelagius, an ascetic from England, argued that humans were not born already damned (or, in other words, there was no ‘original sin’ in the Augustan sense); that humans had absolute free will, and thus were not predestined to be saved or damned; and that the grace of God was not necessary to do good works. Augustine combated Pelagius’s ideas with his typical intolerant zeal, considering them heresies, and succeeded, after a long fight, in making his own opinions orthodox for a long time to come.

As befitting a great Christian thinker, Augustine also tackles some of the perennial problems of Christian philosophy. One of these is free will. Now, without free will, the entire worldview of Christianity collapses, since then there is no fair basis of separating people into the saved and the damned. Yet God is omnipotent and omniscient; this means that when He created the world, He knew exactly what was going to happen. So how can we reconcile these attributes of God with free will? Augustine does so by noting that, although God knows what you will do and whether you will be saved, His knowing doesn’t cause you to make the choices you make.

Augustine also addresses the so-called problem of evil. This is another classic paradox of Christianity, which results from trying to harmonize the undeniable existence of evil in the world with God’s omnipotence and His infinite goodness. If God was truly all-powerful and purely good, why is there evil in the world? Augustine makes several classic replies.

First, he notes that, by allowing some evil in parts of creation, the whole might be, by consequence, even better, as the resulting goodness outweighs the evil. In short, goodness is cheap unless it is tested with temptation; so the presence of some evil is necessary for the existence of good. Augustine also notes that God never causes evil directly, since it is only His creatures that choose evil. For Augustine, as for many others, evil doesn’t really exist; evil is a lack of existence, the same way darkness is a lack of light and cold a lack of heat. Thus, God never created anything evil; all existence, as existence, is good; His creatures, through their own perversity, have sometimes chosen evil. So even Satan himself, insofar as he exists, is good; though his nature has been corrupted by his wicked ways (this corruption presumably being some sort of deficiency in his existence). Augustine even plays with Aristotelian terminology, saying that evil never has an efficient cause (the direct, or proximate, cause of something), but only a deficient cause.

I know that my opinion is not worth nearly as much as Augustine’s in this matter, but I do want to include my thoughts. I don’t find Augustine’s answer to the problem of evil satisfactory. And this is because, even if God is not indeed the proximate cause of evil, He would still be the ultimate cause, since He created the universe with full knowledge that evil would result from His action. It’s like this: If I am a leader of a country, and choose to go to war with another country, I am not the direct cause of people dying—that was presumably the guns and other weapons. And arguably the soldiers on both sides do have some share in the responsibility, since each of them chose to participate, to fight, to kill, to risk their lives, and so on. Yet ultimately it was my decision to send all these people into battle, and I think I would share a large portion of the responsibility and (if the action were unjust) the guilt. If the war was indeed justified and necessary, and the result was good for the world, that would make the action excusable, but it would not negate all of the pain and suffering inflicted on the soldiers, nor would it make me any less responsible for their fate.

Besides, I find this whole business of balancing good and evil, as if weighing a scale, quite absurd. If an innocent person suffers, if a single child is abused or crippled by sickness, how can any amount of goodness elsewhere make that okay? Here’s an example. Imagine there are ten people on an island with very limited food. There is only enough food for each person to stay alive, but not enough to make them energetic and happy. So when all ten people are living there, eating the food available, the total satisfaction-level is around 40%. Now, if nine of them ganged up on the last one, and killed and ate him, it’s possible that, even though there would be a lot of pain inflicted on that one man, the joy experienced by the remaining nine of having real meat, and the extra resources freed up on the island by having one less person, might in the long run make the general satisfaction-level higher—perhaps 60%. Does that justify killing the man? I think not. My point is that the happiness of the many cannot be balanced against the misery of the few, like an accountant balancing an earnings report.

Now, I know this review is already extremely long, but I haven’t even gotten to Augustine’s main thesis—the City of God. Augustine divides up humankind into two metaphorical cities: the City of Man and the City of God. Members of the City of Man are swollen with pride; they think that they can achieve happiness in this life, through satisfying their bodily desires or by practicing human virtue; by creating peaceful cities and just laws; by trade, wealth, power, fame, and wisdom. Yet, noble as some of them may be, this goal is pure vanity. In this life, we are too beset with troubles and uncertainties to have real happiness. States try to create justice, but their laws are frail human creations, constantly failing to attain their goal of absolute justice—since so many sinners go unpunished and so many innocents are unduly condemned—with the result that the laws are always being changed, updated, reformed, and differ from country to country, from place to place, all without getting any closer to their goal. The Stoics attempt to achieve happiness through virtue alone, without any hope of heaven; and yet how often do painful disease, the loss of a loved one, the failure of a scheme, the unquenchable passions in our breast overwhelm our reason and cast us into abject misery? Members of the City of God are not exempt from any of these miseries. However, they know that they are mere pilgrims on this earth. They place their hopes, not in this life, but in the life to come. Thus they are not misled by the vanities of earthly happiness, but act in harmony with God’s will to achieve salvation.

This doctrine, though simple enough, proved to be immensely influential. Augustine not only separates church and state, but subordinates the state to the church. Temporal authority is just the product of consensus, while the authority of the church comes from God. The resultant history of the Middle Ages, with the rising political power of the Catholic Church, owes much to Augustine for its intellectual justification and formulation. Again, the importance and influence of this book could hardly be overestimated.

After spending so much energy reading, summarizing, and responding to this book, I am almost at a loss for how to make a final evaluation. Augustine is obviously a genius of the highest order, and even now it is difficult for me to avoid be sucked into the endless labyrinths of his mind. This is especially impressive to me when I consider that I am not a Catholic, not even a Christian, and disagree with almost everything he says. More than that, although I have immense admiration for his originality and his brilliance, I often find his perspective unhealthy, intolerant, dogmatic, and generally unappealing. Perhaps what I like least about Augustine is his incredible, I would even say his morbid, sense of sin.

In his Confessions, there is a famous section where he berates his child-self for stealing a peach from a peach tree. From his rhetoric, you would think that he committed a genocide; even after all these years, he seems wracked with guilt and filled with shame. To me, as I suspect to many others nowadays, this is absurd, even a bit childish. I admit a part of me wants to admire him for feeling so bad for his misdeeds; but when I really think it over, I do not even find this admirable. The sense of sin is, in my opinion, an unrealistic and unhealthy way of thinking. I think the whole idea of sin is wrong-headed. Sins are not mere bad deeds or mistakes, but, in Augustine’s view, the byproduct of our ‘fallen’ and ‘sinful’ nature, with the power to actively corrupt and taint our immortal souls. In other words, sin is a reflection of our ‘true self’, or at least a part of it, and acting out these evil impulses makes us unworthy human beings, fit for eternal torture.

This makes no sense to me. Sometimes people commit bad actions; but, to me, it is more sensible to focus on why the action was bad, rather than how the person is evil for committing this action. For example, if I get angry and say something hurtful to my friend, I can respond to it by isolating what I said, figuring out why I said it, determining why my friend thought it was hurtful—which requires empathy—and then apologizing to my friend and trying to learn from this experience. Or I might, as Augustine would, start thinking about how I have done an evil thing, pray incessantly, beg God for forgiveness, and for years afterward torment myself with the thought of this wrong action. The first is adult and responsible, the second is self-obsessed and self-absorbed. To me, this endless chastisement for bad actions is immature on many levels.

First, the sin is attributed to your ‘sinful nature’, rather than to a habit of yours or to a mistaken assumption, which I think is plain hogwash, and which also doesn’t help you focus on what really caused the problem; nobody is inherently evil or good: we have bad or good habits, and can change them if we want. Second, since the sense of sin makes people obsess about whether they will be damned or saved, it makes people think about their actions through an intensely selfish lens—their own fate—rather than promoting good behavior through empathizing with those around you. So in summary I find the idea of sin to be counterproductive to living a happy and ethical life.

This is what I find most intensely unattractive about Augustine’s personality. Yet, if I am to practice what I preach, I must not condemn Augustine the man for this behavior, but only a bad habit of thinking he developed. And if I am to weigh everything lovable and unlovable in the scales of my affection, I must admit that I find Augustine to be one of the most compelling personalities and extraordinary thinkers in all of history. This is not a book for just Catholics, or even just for Christians. This is a book for everyone, for all of time. So to repeat the words that lead to Augustine’s conversion to the faith, Pick up and read, pick up and read, pick up and read.
Profile Image for Brian Eshleman.
828 reviews103 followers
January 24, 2021

SECOND READING: Worth absorbing every seven years. He addresses a lot of issues we don't struggle with, but perhaps some of that is BECAUSE of the foundational grace God expressed through patriarchs like Augustine. I certainly found applicable insights even if the presenting issues of the 21st century are somewhat different. His passion comes through, as does his erudition. Extra star. Maybe in 2028 I will give City of God the fifth star I'm sure it deserves. This was just based on my reading experience, asking whether he held my attention for as long as he asked for it. Goodness, he asked for it for a long time.
Profile Image for Briana.
182 reviews
September 23, 2011

I only had to read half of this for school. But it was still really long.

Imagine you're in a math class. And the teacher says, "Now we're going to learn about numbers: one plus one is two, two plus two is four, etc." And you think, "Yeah. Okay. I get that." Then all of a sudden, while your mind wanders around, the teacher says, "So now that you've got that, let's talk about calculus." And then your brain explodes from the jump that it just made.

This is sort of how City of God treated me. Augustine would say, "So God created angels, the world, Adam and Eve..." and I think, "Yeah. Okay. I get that." And then all of a sudden, Augustine says, "So God made us out of nothing, which is why our souls are mutable, but evil cannot exist outside of goodness, so nothing is not the same as non-existence" or something confusing like that. And then my brain explodes from trying to comprehend eternity.

Also, it does not help when Augustine goes on one of his many tangents. Like, "So about God's will. Some people think it's like fate. It's not. Hey, speaking of fate, you know why astrology is wrong? Because twins are born under the same stars and they don't live identical lives! Ha! So there! But back to God's will." Except with 5 million times more words. And you spend all this time reading about astrology and twins before coming back to the main point.

I did appreciate all the thought that Augustine put into his writing. It sounds like he very much loved the Bible. Which is really cool. And he goes through a lot of really exciting concepts.

It's just...so long...
Profile Image for James Violand.
1,212 reviews61 followers
July 9, 2014
This is one of my favorite works. Yeah, I know you're skeptical, but here me out. I've begun my quest to read the basic works of western man beginning with Gilgamesh and in sequence reading through to the present. It's a lifelong ambition. I've read most of the ancient works of some repute, including Roman histories from Greek and Roman historians. When I arrived at 411 AD, I picked up The City of God. Shortly after the first sack of Rome, Augustine wrote it not as an apology for the claim that Christianity was responsible for the decay of Rome, but as a defense against that allegation. He then summarizes the histories as recorded to show internal corruption, incompetence, immorality and the quest for wealth caused the decay - not Christianity. I read the same material he did! That's way cool! I knew exactly what he was saying and with what facts he prosecuted his claim. Then he projected that even if the City of Rome were to fall, Christians can look forward ultimately to their City of God. A great book.
Profile Image for Fonch.
365 reviews289 followers
December 3, 2020
dedicated with affection to Galiciius and Manny.

Ladies and gentlemen this review is written after a long time, though not as much as my most recent review"Most Picante Murder" https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... by Karina Lumbert Fabian https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... . I finished reading this book on March 25, and started it in February, instigated by my friend Galicius, as the group that presides over Manny with which I am joined by a great friendship, even though my presence is much greater in Catholic Book Club, than in Catholic Thought. However, as you know, Catholic groups do not compete between us and Manny and John are joined by a deep friendship and mutual admiration. But returning to the matter before Manny Catholic Thought's group, I had chosen the monumental work of the Bishop of Hippo, as a reading of the group, and Galicius strongly asked me to read it. I must admit that I had bought "The City of God" and that I had a magnificent edition made by bibliotheca Homolegens (which as you know came back to life) https://homolegens.com/ and it was a book to which I had great respect. Just like a colossal, mythical magical creature. It was a book, which I planned to read someday, being honest later than soon, but Galicius asked me to do so and I said yes not being aware of the great challenge it posed. As people can see it took me more than a month to finish it, and the work was so magnificent, and so great that I overwhelm. It will most likely be not only this year's most important reading, but one of the most crucial readings of my life. You know I try to write reviews of all the books I read, but two factors influenced this year, which prevented me from reviewing certain books. One was the CoVid, which made me un comment on certain books, and the other factor was that I was far behind in my challenge this year, most likely, that even by far I reached 200 books, and forget about last year's 231 books, however, yesterday I received a post from Galicius reminding me and encouraging me to write a review of this cyclopea work, and the truth is that I had posted in goodreads some comments saying that I was going to write a review of"The City of God" and that I was going to dedicate it to Galicius and Manny, and I am hostage to my words. It's true, I can't always keep my promises. For example, due to the up and down trend of twitter We will burn the Clergy (this topic I will discuss when writing the reviews of Baldur's Gates I and Baldur's Gates Shadows of Amn, being in the first especially revindicative due to the turn that Dungeons and Dragons has taken on certain issues of political character and which I do not wholely approve of https://www.goodreads.com/series/4190... , and I will have a great impact on this point. However, I would like to ask Twitter a question if it had been the homophobic, racist, or sexist tendency I would have allowed it? Twitter does not realize that attacking a religion and its faithful is as reprehensible and is as great an act of intolerance as those acts it reported earlier. If Twitter were to let go and protect any kind of freedom of expression, it would understand their conduct, but I would find it hard to censor accounts that differed from their political opinions and tweets they didn't like, so they haven't been neutral or without freedom of expression. So he accused Twitter of intolerance and of promoting catholicism and intolerance against a population sector and the disrespect of other identity lobbyists to this day, the most persecuted group is Christians, so action must be taken against those who promote acts of fanaticism and intolerance against our faith, because it violates those human rights in which I do not believe , but that these progress they claim to defend and take on them. Burning the Clergy was trending on twitter in Spain I swore I was getting out, because I was already planning to make an account of Parler, but in the end, although I tried I was unable to do it and I was also horrified by the influence of Ayn Rand https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... thinking (which for me because of the atheism of his doctrine, his philosophy is totally incompatible with Christianity, without the communism fighting being much better, in fact it is very much worse) on this social network, so for the time being I am still on twitter. I also told Galicius in Goodreads that his plea caught me at a bad time, because my father is working on the thesis of one of his doctorandos and because of my father's advanced age I have to help him, and at this moment I could not occupy a review of"The City of God",however, I was thinking at night about many questions, especially when I was going to write it? Because I'm sorry, but what's immovable is that my last reviews were going to be those of Baldur's Gates, and I couldn't say my word, but I was bound by this promise, so I've decided to take advantage of the downtime (something that shouldn't be despised, because you usually get a lot out of them) to write this review, which I dedicate with affection if they accept Galicius and Manny. Manny. The first thing about "The City of God" is that it is a very densed work, which, although its most important purpose is to be an apologetic work and evangelization. This work is written by St. Augustine to replicate and respond to the Gentiles, who accused Christianity of bringing it to its decline and extinction, and of being responsible for the taking of Rome by the Barbarians in this case the Visigoths of Alarico. This is a thesis taken up by Gibbon https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (Jack Reacher would say he was angry with the Catholic Church, because he didn't buy her poney who always kept an ignited hatred against Catholicism, because he wanted to be Catholic and Dad did not leave him and out of spite he became a Freezer and is responsible for making the authoritative opinion that Christianity produced the fall of the Roman Empire, when it had been brewing for a long time, even when Rome was at its peak. My friend Professor Alfonseca in his novel The Seal of Eolo" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... in this novel my friend comes to a conclusion that after the plague suffered in the time of Marcus Aurelius in the second century Rome never lost its zenith again, and from there it was cost below gradually and staggered, being the key year 235 in my opinion, because the murder of Alexander Severus (that emperor that everyone asks for and proclaims , but as it implements its principles of tolerance, included with the hated Christians everyone ends up abhorring it, but in my opinion it is a key piece, to understand the Roman Empire and its final evolution). The death of this great emperor, who is about to wipe out the Parths produces a power vacuum that leads Rome to a time of civil wars, and which devalues the untouchable figure of the emperor, who had been reinforced by the Flavian and Antonine dynasties, and that his figure is discredited. Rome embarks on a series of internal, and external wars, purchasing power falls, and the middle classes are becoming scarcer, suffering from acculturation, and a distrust of administration, and due to the increasingly decaying of demographic collapse to those barbarians to which it fights, it also does not achieve a religion that brings together the empire definitively. . So when Christianity came to be the official religion it was already wounded. But not because of external attacks, but because like every living being it perishes as my teacher Santos Crespo Ortiz de Zarate said of exhaustion. I believe that the right thesis and that We Catholics accept is that of Will Durant https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...# This has generated a great debate, why there are even people, who say that the empire does not fall, or that it is continued, by those German tribes, which are more Roman, than the Romans themselves. This is defended by the great Hilaire Belloc https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... in his wonderful Essay, also of obligatory reading "Europe and faith" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7... why, in spite of all, a half of the empire is saved, and let us be aware no one learned of the deposition of the last emperor of the West Romulus Augústulo in 476, since nominally the Roman Emperor was that of the East. However, we have to go to dates after the year 409. At the beginning of the text it is more or less historical and St. Augustine wonderfully sums up the history of the entire Roman Republic, and shows the great disasters suffered by the Republic, which were not small, for this it resorts to the great Latin historians. This line will be brilliantly continued by his disciple Orosio https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... historically coded, but this work is much more. We do not see a folded Saint Augustine defending himself from the criticisms of the heathen, but we see St Augustine attack, who holds the gods of Rome accountable not only for not existing, but for being demons who subdue men and take them away from the true God and that when Rome suffers setbacks of not coming to his aid. It is very interesting that it alludes to the time of Numa Pompilius, and that it refutes Varro. Another of the great virtues of the book is that St. Augustine is the son of his time does not reject the knowledge of his time, but loves him and reveres him and uses him. At the same time, it purifies him from his mistakes. He has no qualms about correcting Plato with affection, and Cicero for example https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show.... . However, St. Augustine does not stop by doing an analysis of the Republic, but uses this book to explain to Christians, and non-Christians the doctrine by refuting many of the trends in vogue at that time I think of the stoics (with which it is very hard), the epicureans (being softer with these) and the neoplatonics I think of Porfirio, and Jamblico, also refutes Apuleyo https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... It makes it crystal clear St. Augustine and opposes the transmigration of souls, which Plato defended, and his followers, and also affectionately corrects his colleague Origins without animosity https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... This work is not only a compendium of History, nor of Philosophy, and although the purpose is apologetic, and evangelizer encompasses all the knowledge of his time. I believe that the book's most positive quality, in addition to its erudition and the diversity of subjects it deals with, is common sense. Of course, this book contains biological, scientific, errors. Many by the way are not the fault of St. Augustine, but of the Latin authors he employs. Among them Pliny https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... I actually passed extracts while I read this book to Alfonseca because he was hallucinated from St. Augustine's answers to time, creation. According to this work will be compatible a creation of the world of millions of years. It is true that according to St. Augustine the comienzxo of human life would be between 5000-6000 BC, but it is not very wrong, and you will tell me. How dare you, Fonch write that? Are you a denier of Darwin's theories? Well, yes, they're not very wrong, I believe in Darwin's Evolution theories, but I don't believe in Darwinism, which has brought us down many of the aberrations present perpetrated by himself, Galton, his son Leonard and Haeckel. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... It is incontestable that the origin of humanity comes from millions of years ago, and that life began in Asia, and we will continue to find older remains than Homo Toumai, Lucy, and Homo Afarensis. But, even if it sounds nonsense, it is not very wrong St. Augustine it is true that there are civilizations before the year 6000 BC I think Chatal Huyuk, Obeid, and civilizations in Asia, but the first great Summer civilization already enters the stipulations of St. Augustine (in fact what it does is define the Bronze Age, which is when the great summer, Babylon, Akadia, Assyria civilizations begin, in fact he is very insistent with King Nino), and certainly corrects the Egyptian priest Manethon. Egypt is not more than 5000 years old. It is very curious, that he also defends the philosopher Evemero https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ev%C3%A... https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evemerismo indeed if Lightfoot and Ussher had read St. Augustine more closely, they would not have made the mistakes they made https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... and freed Anglicanism from public shame in the 19th century with Darwin. Not to mention the great knowledge, which St. Augustine has of philosophy and one thing, which has surprised me very pleasantly is that he does not reject Aristotle and praises him even https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... but clearly believes that Plato is closer to Christianity, and that is why he focuses more on Plato so according to this book he does not reject the Tomism or conversion made by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albert the Great of Aristotle many of translations and misinterpretations interested by the Arabs as the case of Averroes https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... In fact until the 5th century St. Augustine incorporates the philosophy of his time, and if he reads Jostein Gaardner's "The World of Sofia" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... he can spend the 6th century reading St. Augustine. There are great moments in reading "The City of God," like his rebuttal of astrology, stoicism with the theme of twins. I was surprised by St. Augustine's mastery and his notions of hippocratic and Galénic medicine. Of course nonsense is dismantled, such as the Earth being flat, although it is agnostic, (continue)
Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews400 followers
February 1, 2021
Ever wondered how sex worked in the Garden of Eden? Why Seth's genealogy lists more people than Cain's? Why there were three levels on the ark?
Yeah, me neither.
But now apparently I do.
And those topics only cover like a chapter of this book.
Like many people who took a Western Civ class, I knew Augustine pre-dated the Enlightenment and Enlightenment obsession with rationalism. He lived in an era where the mystic lived hand in hand with the everyday. Where martyrs' bones performed miracles and the Roman gods were still worshiped. I just somehow wasn't expecting how often this book could jump from a profound, insightful, theological statement that the church still holds to today to an analysis of why 9 is such a magical number.
While loosely connected by the topic of "City of God v. City of Man," this book quite broadly covers philosophy, history, myth, apologetics, and Pythagorean theory. Topics range from the founding of Rome to the calling of Abraham to prophesies about the apocalypse.
Despite how overwhelming I found it at times, I am glad I read it. Besides its theological value, this book truly represents something incredible as a compilation of philosophical arguments and historical explanation. I am sure I didn't even scratch the surface of what it all has to offer. But I did learn from it. And now I've got some great random facts to pull out of my back pocket if anyone ever asks what day God created angels.
Profile Image for Michael O'Brien.
307 reviews82 followers
June 24, 2022
St. Augustine is considered to be one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. So it is with hesitation I write this review the way I am doing --- understanding that. But I got to call the shots as I see them.

Definitely a keen intellect and a very learned man. However, as I found to be the case from reading similar tomes from Augustine's contemporaries, Sts. Athanasius and Ambrose -- they tend to be verbose --- with paragraphs that can run on for as much as a page and a half. Also in common, they tend to intellectualize a great deal. Not content to successfully make a great point, but to go at the issue they're arguing against --- or for their own points --- from a dozen different angles. Augustine doesn't just double tap an opponent's errors or inconsistencies --- it seems to be that he'll beat it to death, long after the point's been more than made.

As I'll say again, these are just my impressions -- nothing more. If you're a theologian or philosophy major and you feel differently about them and that I've got this wrong, that's fine.

In the first part of this book, Augustine does battle primarily with polytheism and its adherent Greco-Roman philosophers. These, seeing the now unmistakable signs of the collapse of the Roman Empire, were blaming Christianity for this. So Augustine proceeds from defending Christianity to attacking their own premises, particularly with respect to the even more grotesque contradictions and inconsistencies within the Greco-Roman polytheistic religion. So many of its gods, for example, had absurdly mutually conflicting areas of jurisdiction. For example, he points out the door --- the Romans had a good of entrances, a god of doors --- and even a god of hinges. Then he points out the absurdity of their beliefs in goddesses of luck and of victory --- alongside those of a god of war, Mars, and a supreme god, Jupiter. If the goddess of luck determines our fortunes --- then what need have we of Jupiter --- what's his job then? And of war --- if the goddess of victory determines winners and losers in battle, then what's Mars' job? And he goes on from there to take a wrecking ball to the whole Greco-Roman religio-philosophical construct.

Augustine also goes into history --- showing the many times, long before Christianity, where prominent Romans and Greeks blasphemed the gods --- and got away with it. Or other times when even Rome itself fell, long in the past, to barbarians, notwithstanding their devotion to their various gods and goddesses. By the end of it, he eviscerates polytheism so much so that one's left with an impression that only 2 logically consistent, yet diametrically opposed belief systems remain -- that of a monotheistic belief in a Supreme Being -- or philosophical systems, presumably Greco-Roman, fallen into an abyss of various alternative, contradictory, oft mutually exclusive, explanations for a godless cosmos.

In intellectual rigor, Augustine excels, but, as I'd said, he tends to belabor points greatly --- taking chapters or even books to say what I've read contemporary monastics from his time express in an essay or even an aphorism. Perhaps, with papyrus being extremely costly, they had not the paper to use, but, clearly, this posed no problem for Augustine.

The second half of the book, Augustine then gets to the theme of this book --- that the human race is essentially divided into 2 great cities: the city of the world --- with those who are of the world --- the City of God, those who in this life have chosen to serve God.

He starts from Creation and builds a timeline --- going through the Biblical timeline and, alongside, goes over the development of the great human civilizations contemporary with it: those of Egypt, then Assyria and Babylon, then Rome.

It's a fascinating idea --- but, unfortunately, from my point of view as the reader, he gets bogged down into details --- getting off into long tangents about various things from each timeline, going into things from some event in ancient Roman history, then analyzing it at length. The effect is to weaken the point that he trying to make by watering it down the impact---- and the point he's trying to make is that these are 2 great civilizations --- contrasted with each other, having no commerce with each other --- and as time continues, inevitably in contest with each other for the hearts and souls of mankind.

In the very last part, he addresses heresies or misunderstandings by both pagans and even some supposed Christians about the nature of salvation and of the afterlife. For Evangelicals: let's just say, Augustine was no fan of "Once saved, always saved" --- a belief that evidently was being taught also in the 4th Century during his time, fell out of view, and comparatively only recently gained favor again in some circles.

Here with these issues, Augustine tends to get sidetracked into addressing issues --- brought up by unbelievers from his time --- for which a definite answer cannot definitely known for sure, but which, nevertheless, he proceeds to do anyway. Like, in Heaven, will we be the same height there, we were here --- or will be babies that die show up in Heaven as babies there, or as adults, for example? Here, with Augustine, I think we see what may be a very first divergence of Western Christianity from the Eastern that will eventually lead to what would become the Roman Catholic Church's development of things like "Purgatory", "Limbo", and other rulings of intricate canon law --- the belief that the Church absolutely must have an answer for every question. Whereas, in the Eastern --- which eventually would become known as the "Orthodox", there's more a willingness to admit, "It's a mystery" --- or we don't know --- but simply trust in God that He will do what is just and merciful --- without trying to use the limited human intellect to grasp the eternal and the infinite and unknowable.

St. Augustine had broadened my horizons, and given much to think about. But this book was a real plod to get through. It does deserve its place as one of the great works of Christian writing, but --- forgive me for saying this --- if they'd had editors back then, Augustine might have benefited from one.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,862 reviews43 followers
January 8, 2018
I had no idea what I was getting into when I began this book. It sometimes felt like it would never end, but it was a great experience. First, I discovered how early on very basic Christian doctrines were lost. I loved what he says about the trinity. I was fascinated by how he defined demons (man-made gods). I would define a demon as a devil's angel. Also interesting to me was Augustine's take on the God of Israel's name being the conjugated Hebrew verb "to be" rendered "I am that I am." To me, this seems a very obvious way of showing that He is the only God who actually, in fact, exists - the only God who is not "the workmanship of man's hands" as it were.

There is an awful lot of time wasted on incredibly menial an irrelevant questions - like whether God can count infinite numbers - whether He knows they exist (Really? Why?). Then there were bits I found very entertaining, like Augustine's insistence that woman is weaker than man, and it was she who succumbed to temptation because Adam was too strong, and Solomon was too strong - he had to be led into temptation by his wives - or that Aaron wouldn't have made the golden calf without Miriam's making the decision first. Most convenient and amusing, I thought.

However, there were also really beautiful and profound parts:

"Pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation - when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself."

Also "...Though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked." (Very similar metaphor in Isaiah 28 - the parable of the Lord, the Farmer) He continues to say that "...So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them." Beautiful!

Also, "No sin is committed save by that desire or will by which we desire that it be well with us and shrink from it being ill with us. That therefore is a lie which we do in order that it may be well with us, but which makes us more miserable than we were. And why is this, but because the source of man's happiness lies only in God, whom he abandons when he sins." I really liked these nuggets.

Augustine seems to spend a lot of time trying to prove points that I feel are completely irrelevant – e.g. is it possible for a human body to burn eternally in fire and not be consumed? He goes on to explain that because there is a specimen of worm that not only lives in a hot spring, but nowhere else, a body could last eternity in fire and not be consumed. Who cares about this stuff? And why does it matter? And why is it for us to figure out? The mechanics of how God does things – those are the things I feel are much better left to faith.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books223 followers
May 30, 2021
It gives an incisive, highly perceptive critique on the prevailing ways of the world, which have not changed as much as we like to believe. But in advocating an ideal alternative, he makes the ancient case for theocracy, be it formal or informal. If our fallen minds are so inherently prone to inhumanity, then we should submit ourselves to guidance by higher minds.
Profile Image for Chris Comis.
366 reviews13 followers
February 10, 2009
One of the best books ever written. Augustine wrote this just as Rome was coming to an end. Part of the impetus was to show that the City of God was not confined to the Roman Empire, but would outlast any earthly empire. The amount of detail he poured into describing the pagan culture of his time was also amazing. Also, he offers some fascinating theological insights towards the end of the book.

If you want to understand Western Christendom, you really have to read this book from cover to cover.
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews795 followers
December 6, 2016
Any star rating is entirely meaningless. This is a ludicrous book, astonishing in scope, and in desperate need of an editor to make sense of it. I simply can't; it's overwhelming. Arid stretches of rhetoric suddenly cough up a fascinating philosophical argument, which then itself belches forth more arid rhetoric, and so on. Augustine takes the ancient pagan beliefs to pieces by showing that they simply can't be rationalized--then immediately forgets the obvious lesson and tries to rationalize Christianity in order to defend it. Who the hell am I to criticize, though?

That said, I'd much rather read about this book than read it again. Never before have I felt the ancient's wisdom so strongly: this is not a book, this is 22 books, and trying to read it as one is the definition of hubris.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,004 reviews1,118 followers
October 28, 2020
Ironically, I switched my major at Grinnell College from history to religion because of this book. We had just read Thucydides in the Historiography class, the last course required to complete the major, when Professor Kintner assigned 'De civitate Dei'. That weekend, opening the tome and beginning to read, I decided it was simply too much. Augustine's approach seemed to be psychotic polemics, not history. Being a junior and having accumulated a lot of religion credits almost by chance, I determined a switch was doable in the time remaining and that I'd learn more of the history I was interested in by making the switch.

Years later, working part-time for Ares Press, a publisher of books about the classics and ancient history, and seeking employment at a great books college which included 'De civitate Dei' in its reading list, I picked up the book again and this time read through the thing.

It wasn't fun, nor was it particularly interesting, but it did make a lot more sense that it would have when I was twenty. The Grinnell religion degree, the subsequent M.Div. and graduate program in philosophy all helped to prepare me for the thought-world of Augustine.
Profile Image for John.
814 reviews129 followers
March 11, 2012
Augustine is widely considered the most important of the early church fathers. He was born in North Africa in 354 A.D., became the Bishop of Hippo and wrote a vast number of works—most notably Confessions, On Christian Doctrine, On the Trinity, and City of God. Augustine’s legacy particularly in the Protestant tradition, cannot be underestimated, as his works left an indelible impression upon the Reformers—a legacy that Protestants still draw upon today. Indeed, the very nature of the argument concerning Christ and Culture was framed by Augustine in City of God.

City of God was Augustine’s last major work, finished in 426 A.D., having begun writing thirteen years prior. It is a massive volume, a little over one thousand pages of translated Latin. The work is broken up into twenty-two books, or chapters as we would call them today. Each book is then broken up into small chapters. This organization allows the reader to move through the book topically, and makes it easy to read in small sections.

The first half of the work focuses on Rome and pagan theology and philosophy—critiquing and exposing it as demon worship. The second half of the work focuses on the two cities—the City of God and the City of Man. First time readers will find the second half the most rewarding and the easiest-going. But there is profit in the first half—even for the modern day reader.

Augustine is one of the pre-eminent Christian thinkers in the church, and his insights into pagan philosophy, though often arcane and hard to follow without a good understanding of pagan philosophy and religion, is sharp and incisive. Augustine’s understanding of the human heart and his skill in biblical exposition through these sections are excellent. His thought is often provocatively simple and straightforward. For example, when answering critics that argue that certain events have led to the slaughter of Christians, he writes,
“Well, if this be hard to bear, it is assuredly the common lot of all who are born into this life. Of this at least I am certain, that no one has ever died who was not destined to die some time. Now the end of life puts the longest life on a par with the shortest. For of two things which have alike ceased to be, the one is not better, the other worse--the one greater, the other less. And of what consequence is it what kind of death puts an end to life, since he who has died once is not forced to go through the same ordeal a second time? And as in the daily casualties of life every man is, as it were, threatened with numberless deaths, so long as it remains uncertain which of them is his fate, I would ask whether it is not better to suffer one and die, than to live in fear of all?” Book I Chapter 11

In the first half of the City of God, Augustine comments on the burial of the dead, gives counsel for victims of rape, discusses suicide, argues in favor of capital punishment, argues that a kingdom without justice is a robber, discusses the foreknowledge of God and the freedom of man, discusses the sovereignty of God, and discusses sacrifice among many other topics. These arguments are foundational to the Protestant project and the advancement of Christian thought in the world. Yet it is the second half of the book that has left the more profound mark in western civilization—Augustine’s discussion of the two cities.

The two cities have been at odds since the fall of Lucifer and the descent of some angels into demons, who then tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Augustine writes that the,
“…two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’” Book XIV Chapter 28

Augustine traces the history of the two cities—the City of God and the City of Man. The City of God is a small, but faithful remnant. The City of Man follows those disobedient to God—in biblical times the majority of people. This contrast was perhaps most evident in the flood that covered the earth, when God spared only Noah and his family. This chronicle of the origins and history of the two cities is essentially a commentary on Genesis and the Old Testament—and a fine one at that. It is clear that as one commentator has said that, “Augustine taught the west to read,” meaning that Augustine’s hermeneutical method is the foundation for those that have followed in his formidable footsteps.

One of the most helpful insights from the two cities division is his understanding of the overlap of the two cities. As Augustine writes, the two cities are at odds—their telos, or end, are in opposite directions—the City of God toward the glory of God, the City of Man toward glory of self. This divergence leads to conflict in understanding justice, the purpose of culture, the goal of education, and so on. So while the two cities have very different ends in mind, there is some overlap in interests. Toward the conclusion of book XIX, he writes,

“Wherefore, as the life of the flesh is the soul, so the blessed life of man is God, of whom the sacred writings of the Hebrews say, "Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord." Miserable, therefore, is the people which is alienated from God. Yet even this people has a peace of its own which is not to be lightly esteemed, though, indeed, it shall not in the end enjoy it, because it makes no good use of it before the end. But it is our interest that it enjoy this peace meanwhile in this life; for as long as the two cities are commingled, we also enjoy the peace of Babylon. For from Babylon the people of God is so freed that it meanwhile sojourns in its company. And therefore the apostle also admonished the Church to pray for kings and those in authority, assigning as the reason, "that we may live a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and love." And the prophet Jeremiah, when predicting the captivity that was to befall the ancient people of God, and giving them the divine command to go obediently to Babylonia, and thus serve their God, counselled them also to pray for Babylonia, saying, ‘In the peace thereof shall ye have peace," [1305] --the temporal peace which the good and the wicked together enjoy.’” Book XIX, Chapter 26

So ultimately the two cities can, and in the best scenario, will cooperate with one another in seeking peace. But there is great danger here, as he warns earlier in book XIX. He warns of the City of Man, “For, in general, the city of the ungodly, which did not obey the command of God that it should offer no sacrifice save to Him alone, and which, therefore, could not give to the soul its proper command over the body, nor to the reason its just authority over the vices, is void of true justice.” (Book XIX, Chapter 24) It stands, therefore, that justice will only reign in the City of God.

Ultimately, as Augustine concludes The City of God, he reminds us that the City of Man is perishing and that only the City of God will endure. Therefore the citizens of the City of God ought to labor unto the City of God, forsaking the purposes of the City of Man for the enduring, Heavenly City. Jesus says as much when he says, “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)

Augustine’s model is a helpful one. Christians ought to labor in advancing the City of God now, for the City of God is not only a future place, but a present one—with a history of faithful saints. Those that have been faithful to God from Abel forward have labored in the City of God. The choice is not between the present and the future as so many believe. Culture, government, and family are not simply present realities as opposed to the church and Christ’s kingdom as eternal realities. The options are faithfulness and unfaithfulness. Creating art, establishing justice, and having a family, are not earthly things—they are either labors in the City of God to the glory of God, or labors toward the City of Man to the glory of self.

Faithful Christians understand, as Augustine did, that all of life is the establishment and advancement of the City of God, in incremental steps, toward the ultimate fulfillment of the new heavens and earth. Things we may perceive as of only temporary value such as civil law, art, music, war, food, drink, sex, friendship, work are in fact of eternal significance if offered to the glory of God and his eternal city. Let us exert ourselves to the glory of God by offering our labors unto the City of God.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,291 reviews175 followers
August 8, 2021
Man, that took FOREVER.

Basically ditto Amy's review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

For the average layman, I would not recommend reading the entire thing. It's long swaths of boring rambling punctuated by moments of brilliance. As I read, I marked the sections that I felt were worth discussion, and I'll list them below. It's a work you can easily jump into and out of to pull out greater ideas. I can sense how much Luther pulled from this!

My completely arbitrary list of what struck me as most interesting...
Book One: Preface, points 8, 9, 10, 11, 36
Book Two: Points 2, 13, 23
Book Three: Points 1, 20, 31
Book Four: Point 23
Book Five: Points 9, 10, 19
Book Six: Points 1, 5
Book Seven: Points 27, 30
Book Eight: Points 6, 8, 23, 24
Book Nine: Point 15
Book Ten: Points 5, 24, 25, 29
Book Eleven: Points 21, 23, 25
Book Twelve: Point 6
Book Thirteen: Points 4, 5,
Book Fourteen: Points 2, 3, 13, 17,
Book Fifteen: Points 1, 7, 14
Book Sixteen: Points 37, 43
Book Seventeen:
Book Eighteen: Points 35, 41, 50
Book Nineteen: Points 12, 17, 21,
Book Twenty: Point 30
Book Twenty-One: Points 15, 25, 26
Book Twenty-Two: Points 2, 17, 22, 24
Profile Image for booklady.
2,230 reviews65 followers
August 12, 2016
Read this back in the 1990's but now I want to reread it. I know I would get a lot more out of it.
Profile Image for David Boyce.
33 reviews5 followers
August 6, 2011
Evolution was a religious Idea. Back in 410 Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa was the first to describe evolution by natural selection. "We see a constant succession, as some things pass away and others arise, as the weaker succumb to the stronger, and those that are overwhelmed change into the qualities of their conquerors; and thus we have a pattern of a world of continual transience."

This book is a tremendous work. At 1090 pages long it is a vast collection of religious musings and thoughts. Though it starts with a rather tedious microscopic analysis of the sins of the day it slowly transforms into a detailed bible study and finally a theological, philosophical and even scientific treasure troth.

Saying that though, there are a few bits in it that seem a bit fifth century and are a bit dated when viewed with today's eyes. At one point he comically rejects the idea that people live on the other side of the world. However considering its age those parts that we now know to be incorrect are few and far between.

In some ways he is my hero. He brought theology and observations about the world together. Being in one sense the first clergymen to realise that science and religion were complementary. Augustine says in the book that god is the author of all natures. There are no argument that Dawkins is presently using that Augustine didn't unpick by logic 1600 years ago.

Augustine does though lay the foundation for the catholic church's Galileo's heresy trials. Augustine suggests in this book that authority or at least agreement between learned men provides a strong fortress from which a particular point of view can be defended. Augustine failed to realise that the fortresses themselves could and would be built above fallacious points of view.

Augustine criticised the idolisation of the pontiff. He recounts stories of ancient meteorite falls in Italy. The unbelievable range and scope of this book will make it one of the most interesting books you will ever read.
Profile Image for Lance Kinzer.
80 reviews2 followers
August 13, 2017
What is there to say about perhaps the greatest book ever written, other than Thanks be to God.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books229 followers
Currently reading
October 10, 2021
See my reading plan here ( #cityofgod2019 ). I read parts of this in an graduate English seminar at Baylor in 2012.

i: brief biography
vii–viii: chronology
- 312: Constantine (Con.) becomes Xn and declares Roman Empire a Xn empire
- 325: Council of Nicaea
- 354: A born
- 361–3: brief return to paganism under Julian the Apostate
- 384: A becomes professor of rhetoric in Milan
- 386: A converts to Xnity
- 395: A becomes bishop of Hippo (North Africa)
- 410: sack of Rome (A age 56); encounter with many exiles
- 413: begins to write CoG
- 430: death

ix: "More than any other single episode the sacking of Rome gave Augustine a reason to write the City of God" (exiles asked "how he could explain this collapse of a Christian empire")

I. Augustine and His World
x: Ciceronian ["cardinal"] virtues; Quintilian's understanding of the connection between virtue, speaking, and citizenship; Julius Caesar killed in 1c for fear that he would seize "a more permanent and 'presidential' power"—ironic that later emperors did just that (Roman Republic slowly shifted to an Empire over centuries)
xi: Pliny's panegyric to Emperor Trajan compares T to Jupiter (benevolent god); Roman syncretism made Xns stand out (wouldn't treat emperors as gods)
xi–xii: mid-3c (century before A's birth), Roman legions were being challenged/defeated
xii–xiii: Roman Empire became too large and functionally split between Greek East (Diocletian) and Latin West (Maximianus)—two Augusti, with a Caesar beneath each of them; xii, n2: A learned a little Greek, but never spoke/read it well
xiii: Con. (early 4c) united imperial powers; capitals on either side of the Mediterranean world; Praetorian Prefects > vicarii > provincial governors; mystery to bureaucratic administrators (approaching them required passing through literal veils)
xiii–xiv: Con. had to navigate how not to be a god-emperor (see p. xi), but one who served God
xiv: Eusebius (E; first Xn biographer; wrote Con.'s biography) met Con. at Council of Nicaea (325); E set Con. as an example for emulation ("It was not a new idea that the imitation of the great man or saint might encourage attempts at moral self-improvement. It is to be found in the secular classics too."); theme of E's bio is that Con.'s life shows God's blessing (Con. was a better emperor bc he served a higher purpose); the problem with E's thesis (that temporal success = God's favor) is that A faced the opposite condition (failure of the Xn Empire) and had to account for it
xv: senectus mundi (old age of the world) —> lamentation that the golden age had passed
xvi: "the sense of senectus mundi...sets...the tone of the world in which A wrote his apologia and tried to answer the critics who said Christianity was what the modern world might call a 'failed experiment.'" [amazing that when "Xn" Rome fell, some people thought that was the end of the Xn experiment]
xvi: "So, where E had been able to point triumphantly to the overcoming of God's enemies, A was faced with the problem of showing a sophisticated and skeptical readership experiencing the collapse of their world, that quite the reverse pattern of events was now the will of God and that in this case divine lessons lay in the punishment rather than in the reward of Christians."
xvi: A wrote "open letters" to Marcellinus (M), "but M was asking for something more substantial"—so he got CoG (at least first few books)
xvii: assumption that citizens would be good public speakers; A's regret re: his taste for drama (fiction/fable/deceit)
xviii: rhetoric lecturer in Carthage (371)—viewed that career as deceitful as well
xviii: common for people to be baptized toward the end of their lives (avoid mortal sin); A's baptism was delayed; A found Genesis unsatisfactory stylistically
xix: Roman syncretism led to its destruction; premodern assumption of a world filled with spirits, both local and cosmic
xx: Plotinus denounced astrology; A renounced his earlier fascination with it
xx: Roman paganism was syncretistic (Greek, Egyptian)
xxi: Mithraism (from Persian/Indian sun-worship) entered Rome in mid-1c ("superficial" parallels with Xnity)
xxi–xxii: Sallustius on gods: need to have good character to study the gods; myths teach deeper truths; mundane and supramundane gods
xxii–xxiii: philosophically speaking, Christians were both separated from pagans (1c Jew Philo's problem with an eternal world) and fascinated by them (undiminished giving [Neoplatonic] and supernatural beings [Celsus])
xxiii–xxiv: Manichean syncretism (from Persia)—dualism (eternal battle between good and evil) —> seems to explain existence of evil well, but incompatible with Xn God; included Gnostic mistrust of matter (including the body), which led to asceticism (Porphyry and vegetarianism; cf. Jerome and celibacy)
xxv–xxvii: A was surprised by Faustus's rhetorical sophistry (383); A went to Italy to teach rhetoric (deceived his mother) and became a professor in 384; similarly surprised by Ambrose's rhetorical skill in preaching; mother arrived in 385; converted to Xnity in 386 (garden; tolle lege); resigned as rhetoric teacher
xxvii–xxix: baptized in 387; mother died; returned to Hippo and founded a sort of monastic order; son died; ordained priest in 391; consecrated as Bishop of Hippo in 395 (d. in 430 at age 76)
xxix–xxxi: Tertullian (Athens vs. Jersusalem) and Cyprian rigorists—no return for those who apostatize; Decius's decree required sacrifices to pagan gods (250–51); Diocletian's edict closing Xn churches and confiscating Scriptures; persecution ended in 305; Donatist issue
xxxi–xxxiii: Pelagius (from Britain?): effort makes one good (attractive to followers of Jerome's asceticism); A emphasized grace and the inability of sinners; practice of delaying baptism changed in A's lifetime (part of the path to remission of sins)

II. Augustine's Book
xxxiii: Books 1–10 are against pagan arguments; Books 11–14 are about the origin of the Two Cities [2C]; Books 15–17 are about the growth of the 2C; Books 18–22 are about the purposes of the 2C
xxxiv: written/published episodically
xxxiv–xxxvi: genre possibilities include letter, apologia, philosophical dialogue, and catechism
xxxvi: A "win[s] assent by recasting familiar ideas" (such as "true sacrifice")
xxvii: education began with Latin literary classics (to develop rhetorical style), and some philosophy; A used his knowledge of the three styles (high, middle, low) in his writing; digressions were virtues
xxxviii: exegesis (Tichonius and figurative interpretation [see On Christian Teaching); four-fold method didn't arrive until Gregory the Great (literal/historical, plus three allegorical) [see his dedicatory letter in Moralia (literal, moral, and allegorical; later thinkers split allegorical into typological and anagogical)]

III. The Plan of the Book
xxxix: A thought of this as his magnum opus (see p. 5)
xl: pagans A encountered blamed barbarian invasion on Xns who prohibited sacrifices to pagan gods; Ep. 118.2.11 showcases his knowledge of pagan literature, but his point is that Xnity surpasses anything in paganism
xl–xli: Books 1–10 address those who think barbarian invasion is the fault of Xns (it's not like famine/disease/war didn't happen under their "watch")
xlii: "gods" are angels (good and bad); obedient humans will move from a mean (between angels and beasts) to fellowship with angels (12.22); Books 6–10 concern alternatives to Xnity
xliii: Books 11–22 include more Scripture bc A assumes that anyone still with him has accepted his previous arguments; Books 11–14 are about the origin of the CoG, and Books 15–17 are about its growth; Books 18–22 concern the earthly city and its mixture with the CoG

IV. The City of God
xliv: citizenship involves a bond of common interest (see 15.8; lots of OT/NT references)
xlv: politics is a result of the fall
xlvi: ability to choose good is erased by the fall (but predestination isn't incompatible with free will); Jerusalem vs. Babylon
xlvii: "The good City of God is somehow enhanced by the existence of its dark sister-city, which would never have existed but for the sin of Lucifer and Adam." #felixculpa
xlvii: visible church is a mixed community (we don't know who's who); relationship between true citizenship and rewards is unclear, because otherwise people would choose God for the wrong reasons
xlix: themes of captivity/liberation (exile/return, longing for home) are commonplace in ancient literature—peregrinus; Donatist controversy (can an unworthy vessel channel God's grace?)
l: CoG is universal history; seven stages (Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Abraham to David, David to Babylon captivity, Bab cap to X, X to end of the world, final Sabbath)
li: movement between microcosm and macrocosm
lii: we can only glimpse the CoG now; saints in CoG will derive comfort from know that they escaped torment; hierarchy doesn't disappear in the good city, but jealousy does
liii: fight temptation by replacing your desires

V. Augustine's Readership, Augustine's Influence
liii–liv: interest in Conf and CoG grew in 10c; copies found in monastery/cathedral libraries; decline of empire has an educational value for Xns
lv–lvii: A influenced Gregory of Tours, Gregory the Great, Anselm, John of Salisbury, Jacobus de Voragine (Golden Legend), Nicolas of Cusa, Calvin
lvii: RCC fights with Reformers over A; published in English for the first time in 1610
lvii: CoG is "a source of a main stream of ideas about every Christian's need in every age to work out for him- or herself the relationship between the world of political present reality and the world to come"; encouragement "to form the habit of setting what they do in the context of eternity"

Book 1
Preface: to Marcellinus; defending the CoG against those who prefer pagan gods; quotes the Aeneid (spare conquered; beat down proud); city of this world is dominated by its lust for dominion
1.1: world's city vs. CoG; barbarian who sacked Rome [Alaric] spared Xns who claimed sanctuary in sacred places; some who escaped now blame X and Xns, but they're inconsistent, bc they didn't praise X for either their escape or the good that happened before; God uses war
1.2: no examples of pagans sparing pagans who seek sanctuary in temples (see n8); Priam wasn't spared, though he clung to an altar [see Aeneid 2 and Inferno 12]; Diomedes and Ulysses killed temple guards; Minerva didn't protect those who guarded the palladium
1.3: Virgil is a great poet and was read by children to form their minds (Horace); Juno mentions "Troy's vanquished gods," and Aeneas calls them "conquered gods" (the poets weren't lying); it's irrational to say that Rome was sacked because the gods weren't honored—actually, Rome's gods would have perished long before if people hadn't been trying to preserve them
1.4: Troy, the mother of Romans, couldn't save its people, although they honored the gods; the sanctuary of Juno (queen of the gods) was used to hold prisoners; maybe the Greeks spared people in temples, but if so, Virgil lied
1.5: Sallust (truthful historian) makes no mention of sparing those in temples
1.6: other historical acts of kindness/tenderness are recorded
1.7: sack of Rome was unique in that large basilicas were filled with spared religious people; Christ honored
1.8: good and evil occurs to the virtuous and vicious alike (A gives reasons); difference is in the response (nature of those who suffer)
1.9: Xn suffering leads to moral improvement; "strangers" and "heavenly country" language; unfortunately, even virtuous people often love this life too much; good example of Job
1.10: saints aren't ultimately harmed by loss of temporal goods
1.11: Xns don't fear death, which is inevitable

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Book 5

Book 6

Book 7

Book 8

Book 9

Book 10

Book 11

Book 12

Book 13

Book 14

Book 15

Book 16

Book 17

Book 18

Book 19

Book 20

Book 21

Book 22
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
976 reviews579 followers
May 14, 2022
Only an Englishman strives for happiness and as Varro will show as summarized by Augustine there are 288 possible specific philosophies which can possibly actualize our happiness and none of them are going to help us reach our earthly desire for happiness in this plane of existence, and Nietzsche was correct to say that about the English and mock them for their wrong headedness and Augustine gets it too.

Aeneid will flee Troy carrying his father’s body and will carry it with him to found Rome, we bring our past with us as we create our future through our present. Augustine tells his story by using Aeneid, Virgil, Cicero, Cato and a pantheon of other Roman characters and Gods, while bringing Livy’s history to life.

Reading parts of this book was as if I were rereading the fantastic stories of Livy. It doesn’t really matter if the rape of Lucretius never happened, or Brutus killed his two sons for the sake of the Roman republic or not, or if the Sabine women were really raped; what is important is that all Romans know the stories and believe them to be true, and that contributes to making the Romans who they are and it is through that lens and with those beliefs that Augustine formulates his vision.

Cato commits suicide. Augustine will say suicide is always wrong and therefore Cato committed a mortal sin. Dante is more forgiving. Dante is generous to Cato and puts the pagan Cato in purgatory. Augustine has at most hints for a kind of purgatory in his eschaton, but will just say suicide is wrong and unforgivable and is murder and will even state for Cato as well as Judas they will have what is coming to them.

Dante forgives Cato because Cato killed himself for what Dante thought were the right reasons of trying to return Rome to its glory from what Caesar would allow, while Augustine does not forgive Cato since Augustine will never compromise or excuse any breach in protocol towards heavenly perfection. The City of God’s first word is glorious but it does not refer to earthy glory but heavenly glory.

Mercury, messenger of the Gods, also means speech, since he facilitates communications between gods and humans. Those kinds of tidbits are everywhere within this book. Augustine does not want to alienate his pagan audience and he gives the pagan defender Varro (d. 27 BC) a fair summation, a summation of pagan religion that I have never seen better presented. Unfortunately, I’ll never get to read Varro’s pagan analysis in more detail anywhere else since his works on the pagan religion have been lost.

Augustine slips into a lot of magical thinking and has a weird fixation on number-ology and thinks there is magic with certain numbers and argues convincingly to that effect until you realize that is just silly, and he is always willing to accept the fantastic supernatural from the past and from his present. I ignored the voodoo stuff in this book. There’s a lot of that in this book.

I don’t really care whether Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but I do care how he allegorically (typologically) pre-configures Christ. When learning a foreign language as an adult, first you translate word for word, then you learn to think in that language without translating. Jonah was mad because the Ninevites did repent and God did not destroy the city, but the real meaning for all of this gets explained through Augustine’s decoder ring as if one had learned a foreign language and the reader through Augustine connects history with the present and the future kingdom to come, at least all according to Augustine.

Augustine will tell his reader that pathos comes from the Greek for perturbations and the passion that leads to pathos is a perturbation from reason and man is a rational animal and that means when we let our passions rule, we are acting contrary to human nature, and passionate thinking is a perturbation against human nature.

I’ll bet you that Augustine said at least 10 different times that all is vanity and nothing changes under the sun by quoting from Ecclesiastes, The Preacher (my favorite book of the Bible). We are trapped, and happiness is elusive (except for an Englishman), and as with Aeneid we carry the weight of the past with us as we await the future from a present that gets filtered by our own expectations that are shaped by how we felt about the past. Only as we step out of ourselves and see beyond our earthly nature can we begin to feel our real purpose, or when we enter the heavenly kingdom and get to experience our past, present and future as one, at least as according to Augustine.

Augustine has taken all of what was known at his time period and written a book that combines that knowledge such that a student in say about 425 CE could read this book and get the single best encyclopedia of what it meant to be Roman during that time period.

I started reading this book about five years ago and stopped it after page 300. I thought, how absurd, I don’t need an argument that astrology is bogus because twins behave differently, and what was all this stuff about Bible citations, and besides I didn’t believe his religious view point whatsoever. Now I realize I was wrong to have stop. His immanent critic of pagan religions is masterful. His defense of his own beliefs could never be immanently refuted. He also has this masterful presentation of the psychology of human beings. In some ways, he precedes Freud in that respect, and just as with Freud one can not overturn psychoanalysis by using the language of psychoanalysis, one can only refute it when one gets out of its tautologies. Augustine’s religious beliefs are irrefutable when looked at with his own assumptions and his masterfully deceptive tautologies, and this time as I was reading the book, I realized it was best just to sit back and enjoy the ride, because Augustine knows how to tell his story while astutely revealing human nature and our predicament, and for him he uses a typography of a heavenly city of God.

I once heard a historian say that Augustine reconciles the theology of Paul of Tarsus with the polity of Cicero and the philosophy of Plotinus. After having read this book, I don’t think it is as true as I once thought it was. Augustine does quote from Cicero a lot, and Plotinus (and even more from Porphyry a student of Plotinus), Augustine actually goes in his own direction differently from Cato and Plotinus and doesn’t really quote from Paul a lot while definitely never contradicting him but never quite seeming to appeal to him any more than he has to.

For those who enjoy re-reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, I would highly recommend reading this book. Augustine contextualizes a lot of the characters that will end up in the Comedy and even his concept of Hell where only those who are there want to be there while they are only vaguely aware of time passing and his concept of Heaven where the past, present and future all happens simultaneously and sin is not present though free will does exist but it is not ever contrary to the will of the divine since the ultimate state of being is reflecting in the divine creator’s presence eternally and experiencing his love reciprocally and sin will be allowed but never practiced because the alternative is never thought of since the person has exactly what they want forever and a day.

A remarkably complex book that is equally entertaining and enjoyable as long as I was willing to see it on its own terms and get past my own prejudices against all religions.
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews878 followers
August 30, 2016
Could not finish it. Don't care to. It's a rather lengthy and often times boring read. I got enough of the gist by making it about halfway through and then skipping around through the rest. His unsurprising righteous indignation about the truth and beauty of 4th century Christian doctrine and the falsity and demoralizing nature of "paganism" makes me want to run for the bathroom. But when I look upon it as a book written by a man whose mind would've been blown by the mere revelation that the Earth is indeed spherical rather than a dinner plate shaped planet in the apple of God's eye, well, then I can appreciate it a little more on other levels that don't so dramatically offend my need for more plausible understandings of reality. It was really only enjoyable as a historical record of the tail end of the protracted decline of the Roman Empire and the impending rise of Christianity.
Profile Image for Rob Roy.
1,323 reviews23 followers
April 4, 2013
This is a monumental work of theology. Written just after the sacking of Rome, it starts by answering how God could allow a Christian city to fall. This proceeds with a detailed attack on paganism, and a defense of Christianity. He belabors these points, but then goes on to a treatise on Christian theology which sets a decided uncompromising tone. He endorses the predestination arguments later made by Calvin, and shows a narrow moral view. What you get is an excellent view of the early Christian Church, a church and time very different from today.
Profile Image for Simon Stegall.
217 reviews10 followers
April 13, 2021
I get a similar feeling reading Augustine to when I read ancients like Homer and Thucydides: call it nostalgia if you must, but I think it’s something more akin to having a conversation with, say, a foreigner from an obscure country. What is it like over there? What are your buildings made of? What kind of animals lurk in your fields? What do you wear, eat, see? When I’ve had those conversations I’ve noticed that the most interesting aspect is not really the exotic differences (though those can be fascinating), but the recognition which eventually comes: that all our accidents of culture are underlaid by an ocean of similarities. In fact, the cultures most dramatically different from ours merely show forth human nature (that archaic term) in a way which ours isn’t equipped to do (including even the cannibalistic ones, though what they express is happily relegated, in our culture, to horror movies).

I know I’m not going to get top marks from anthropologists here, but I think that’s a much happier explanation than mere nostalgia for why I loved Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War so much. Despite their pockmarked cosmologies, their scientific ignorance, their pre-everythingness, these people were really just people like you and me, and it’s amazing to read the words of someone so foreign and yet so familiar. And don’t give me that bunk about “nostalgia for an imaginary West”... Murasaki Shikibu gives me the same feeling of meeting a friend across centuries as does Homer.

Anyway, on to Augustine. I can’t possibly rate this book, because it’s just too huge. Augustine was a ranter, and it shows. Inevitably, there were parts of City of God which I loved and parts I simply had to skim. Things I liked: discussions of various paganisms in Rome; an extremely interesting non-literal interpretation of Genesis; wacky and wonderful explanations for various pseudo-scientific occurrences, like the incombustibility of salamanders; general preponderance of myths and folklore; philosophical ruminations on existential stuff; Augustine’s vitriolic roasting of certain opponents, which froths into the hilarious. Things I didn’t like so much: endless refutations of extinct heresies; endless discussions of futile speculations like whether or not the flames of hell are metaphorical or physical; endless citing of OT prophets; endless… ness? It’s a long book, there’s gonna be dry stuff.

As far as theology, one has to remind oneself that this is a foundational text, not a definitive one. You will not find a rigorous theory of justification here. Usually when Augustine wants to defend something, he cites a Bible verse. This gives his logic a slightly circular feel, but you have to keep in mind that he was, for the most part, attacking weird pagan ideas which really could be refuted with a “because the Bible says.” If you want a logically robust elucidation of the Trinity or predestination, you’re gonna have to go to Aquinas or Calvin (depending on your persuasion).

There is, however, one really interesting idea which permeates the book, coming in again and again. Augustine himself seems to be working it out over the course of the book, and he gets more articulate in this respect as the pages tick on. As early as page 14, he writes:
When the good and the wicked suffer alike, the identity of their sufferings does not mean that there is no difference between them. Though the sufferings are the same, the sufferers remain different. Virtue and vice are not the same, even if they undergo the same torment. The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain; and oil is not mistaken for lees because both are forced out by the same press… Thus the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme; the good, in the same affliction, offer up prayers and praises. This shows that what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of the sufferings. Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends.

Italics mine, because this is a key point that Augustine is pleased to develop and emphasize over and over again, more succinctly put on page 177:
The reason why God gives worldly dominions to both the good and the evil is this: to prevent any of his worshipers who are still infants in respect of moral progress from yearning for such gifts from him as if they were of any importance.

Italics mine once again, because wow, that is an unusual view. Right? We are used to talking about “common grace” and all that, and about how God provides temporal gifts, but Augustine doesn’t want you to get it twisted; he says that God’s temporal gifts are not of "any importance." I’ve heard this described as latent gnosticism carried over from his time with the Manicheans, and there’s probably truth to that, but I prefer to think of it as the Apocalyptic Mood (a la Ecclesiastes or Kierkegaard, maybe) of Christianity. It’s a mood from which many Christians, especially in opulent America, could potentially learn.

But ok, there’s a reason why Catholics have redlined large portions of Augustine. Does he just hate the physical world and place all emphasis on the world to come?

I don’t think so. I’m not a theologian, so I’m not going to declare anything definitive, but from a literary perspective it seems to me like a matter of emphasis. Augustine does not say that material goods are not good, only that they are not important, ie. they cannot bring you closer to God, and in many cases become idols contrary to that goal. Consider this excellent bit on Cain and Abel:
Now it is not easy to find out in which of these respects Cain displeased God. The apostle John, when speaking of those brothers, said, 'Do not be like Cain, who was on the side of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason? Because his deeds were of evil intention, and his brother's were righteous.' This gives us to understand that God did not approve his gift, because it was wrongly 'divided' in this point, that he gave to God something belonging to him, but gave himself to himself. This is what is done by all those who follow their own will, and not the will of God; that is, those who live with a perverted will instead of an upright heart, and yet offer a gift to God. They suppose that with this gift God is being bought over to help them, not in curing their depraved desires, but in fulfilling them. And this is the characteristic of the earthly city-- to worship a god or gods so that with their assistance it may reign in the enjoyment of victories and an earthly peace, not with a loving concern for others, but with lust for domination over them. For the good make use of this world in order to enjoy God, whereas the evil want to make use of God in order to enjoy the world. (p 604)

All font alterations mine, obviously. Augustine's point seems, essentially, to be one Luther probably liked: the penitent heart is both the only thing that saves, and also the highest good a person can attain.

Finally, on page 1003, Augustine explains that the saints, whom Catholics believe pray for us just as I might pray for you, should not be petitioned for earthly goods. This is because saints, in their perfectedness, would only pray for the highest good for us, that is, “that God may grant them penitence and that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the Devil.” In other words, Augustine seems to be implying that the highest prayer only seeks reconciliation with God and reformation of the heart, not the alleviation of temporal suffering. In other other words, don't ask me to pray for you when you get sick, because I'm just going to pray that you gain a penitent heart.

See, on one level this seems cruel and heartless. Yet on another level it strikes me as very wise. But that's what it's like to read ancient books.
Profile Image for Isaac.
370 reviews
October 8, 2014
I don't really know how to review something like this in a format that I've used primarily for rating fiction, but I'll give it a shot.

The three stars are not meant as some kind of snobbish modern judgment on The City of God but my attempt to balance its theological and historical significance with the difficulty and not infrequent irrelevancy of the material. Augustine was adept at philosophy and rhetoric, keen in his exegetical analysis, and thorough in his argumentation, but many of the topics discussed and many of the frequent digressions, excurses, and flights of fancy are tedious to the modern reader, even a sympathetic one.

A suggestion: If you're interested in the theology of the work, skip the first ten chapters. Seriously. I hate skipping stuff, especially when I'm trying to get through classic works. I plowed through every word of this thing and I assure you -- you don't need to. You won't miss anything. Augustine's arguments against the Roman gods and the ancient Roman worldview(s) are really tough to get into. He spends a great deal of time explaining and then arguing against theories about the world that we would never dream of countenancing, with disproportionate amounts of time devoted to refuting very minor sub-points of philosophical systems.

Things pick up a bit at ch. 11, where some of Augustine's famous emphases emerge, such as the nature of evil as privation of good and the doctrine of original sin. We also get his take on biblical history with a hearty dose of typological interpretation that treads on and across the border with the allegorical not infrequently.

The book is full of intriguing observations and theological insights. The last three chapters deal with final judgment and the eternal state in ways that continue to be influential in contemporary theology. Augustine's eschatology is, I think, a major piece in the development of amillennialism. Perhaps sometime I'll come back here and put in a few of my notes.

Let me conclude for now with a quote that had me laughing out loud. It comes from the section describing the surprising operations of the human body in special cases that hint at how we shall live once our resurrected bodies submit entirely to our redeemed wills.
Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing (XIV.24).
Profile Image for James.
6 reviews31 followers
September 24, 2016
This book weighs in at over 1,000 pages - 22 books in the original. Fortunately for the reader, St. Augustine frequently wanders from his main theme, for many pages at a time, providing fascinating explorations of why the number 11 symbolises sin (short answer: it transgresses the perfect 10 of the Decalogue); of how the Ark of Noah is an allegory of Christ; of the creation and fall of the angels, and of much, much more.

These questions are digressions, but they do help to make the book palatable to the modern reader. Perhaps the best way to read is to plunge into the book a few hundred pages in; beginning at the beginning is like beginning the Bible at Genesis 1: one is likely to get bogged down part way through. St. Augustine wrote the book during the years 413-426: if he could take 13 years writing his baggy but entertaining monster, the reader can hardly be expected to digest it in a single gulp.

The "City of God" should on no account be confused with the "Mystical City of God", an even more voluminous work by a 17th-century Spanish nun named Maria of Agreda.
Profile Image for Daddy-O.
25 reviews21 followers
April 10, 2022
All we see is a prefiguration of that which we believe.
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