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History > City of God by Augustine (426 CE) - #19

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message 1: by Kendra (new)

Kendra (kendrary) | 146 comments Mod
"A masterpiece of Western culture, The City of God was written in response to pagan claims that the sack of Rome by barbarians in 410 was one of the consequences of the abolition of pagan worship by Christian emperors. St. Augustine responded by asserting, to the contrary, that Christianity saved the city from complete destruction and that Rome’s fall was the result of internal moral decay. He further outlined his vision of two societies, that of the elect (“The City of God”) and that of the damned (“The City of Man”). These “cities” are symbolic embodiments of the two spiritual powers—faith and unbelief—that have contended with each other since the fall of the angels. They are inextricably intermingled on this earth and will remain so until time’s end. St. Augustine also developed his theological interpretation of human history, which he perceives as linear and predestined, beginning with creation and ending with the Second Coming of Christ.

The City of God was one of the most influential works of the Middle Ages. St. Augustine’s famous theory that people need government because they are sinful served as a model for church-state relations in medieval times. He also influenced the work of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin and many other theologians throughout the centuries." Source

We will be spending two months on this second book by Augustine, in part due to it's length, but also due to the time of year.


message 2: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Anyone who can get through it in two months deserves a medal! ;-)


message 3: by Kendra (new)

Kendra (kendrary) | 146 comments Mod
Cleo, I was confused by your comment and then looked at my own copy of the book. Turns out it is an abridged edition... Sticking with this copy might be a good idea.


message 4: by Cleo (last edited Dec 02, 2018 08:31AM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
LOL! Augustine is pretty tedious in this one but having the background is a necessity to understand where he's coming from and going.

Having read a few terrible abridgements (Les Miserables pops to mind), I won't read them anymore no matter how long the book is. Often they miss huge pieces that really have an impact on how one views the book and ideas contained within. I'm still only halfway through this one but I'll keep plugging along and eventually finish. And we can always come back to this thread, right?


message 5: by Kendra (new)

Kendra (kendrary) | 146 comments Mod
It's funny - my copy of The City of God says "For the modern reader" on the cover. What is that suppose to mean?! Are you saying the "modern reader" can't handle the complete text? I am offended!


message 6: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Kendra wrote: "It's funny - my copy of The City of God says "For the modern reader" on the cover. What is that suppose to mean?! Are you saying the "modern reader" can't handle the complete text? I am offended!"

Yes, I would think that's what they're saying. And they may also have dumbed down the translation. Rather sad commentary on modern society, I'd say ....


message 7: by Kendra (new)

Kendra (kendrary) | 146 comments Mod
In book 8 chapter 8, Augustine discusses Plato and Platonic thought about God, ethics, and wisdom. Augustine seems to really like Plato's approach and a lot of what he believes/says about God.

Interestingly, I've read in a few places, authors who combat common/perpetual Christian ideas as unbiblical which found their source in Plato. Obviously Plato has strongly influenced Western thought and he clearly crossed over into Christian thought as well.


message 8: by Cleo (last edited Jan 03, 2019 07:36PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Sorry Kendra, I missed your comment until now. I think it's ridiculous as a Christian to discount Platonic though. The more you read about Plato and the more classics you read in general, you can see how his thought is woven through the ages. You even see it all through C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. I found this online:

"Platonism is part of the vital structure of Christian theology . . . . [If people would read Plotinus, who worked to reconcile Platonism with Scripture,] they would understand better the real continuity between the old culture and the new religion, and they might realize the utter impossibility of excising Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces. The Galilean Gospel, as it proceeded from the lips of Jesus, was doubtless unaffected by Greek philosophy . . . . But [early Christianity] from its very beginning was formed by a confluence of Jewish and Hellenic religious ideas.” ~ Dean Inge, Professor of Divinity

Dante apparently displayed a good knowledge of Aristotelian thought as did St. Thomas Aquinas.

You can't separate Christianity from these early Greek philosophies and I believe it's only recently that Christians try to do so. To deny the obvious connection seems rather pointless.


message 9: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Finally started City of God. Really surprised to find myself enjoying the first book very much. I skimmed a bit to where he is talking about rape and suicide and contrasting them with purity and self sacrifice. He's such an interesting and original thinker, with such a clear line of argument. It's been a while since I read Plato but it reminds me very much of Socratic argumentation style.


message 10: by Gini (new)

Gini I've been reading the sample I pulled down trying to decide if I want to go further. Seemed to be struggling with some of the arguments trying to make sense of the rape etal by conquering forces. Like it wasn't your idea so the purity remains intact? So your really OK. What? Trying not to say it, but he's clueless on that count. Otherwise, it reads well.


message 11: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 12, 2019 02:21AM) (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments I've been wondering whether the violated woman in this case that he's talking about isn't also the city of Rome, metaphorically speaking. But you of course also have to think that he doesn't really have a clue about structural stuff, and that he's living in a violent time. So the difference to him between rape and (say) having an eye put out (which also must have happened during the sack of Rome) is the *moral* aspect of sex. This is really different to how we see it, although the argument that the rape victim "wanted it" is still current in some places. He's also arguing that experiencing violence is humbling, and that many people benefit from being humbled -- either because they were currently proud or because they were starting on a path to pride. That also led me back to considering whether he was talking about Rome really.


message 12: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Just wanted also to pop in an say that my local (well, when I'm in the US) library has a 24-video series from Great Courses about City of God. I also found episode 3 of this course on YouTube about the sack of Rome. I also found out that there's a reader's guide by someone named Daly published in 2008 - this I haven't found in the library yet. But anyway, extra resources are always good...


message 13: by Gini (new)

Gini I had gotten the idea that he was on the defensive, so to speak, trying to justify why those humilated had not been protected by their God. Not sure about Rome, although the idea works. He does go on to ask why the Roman gods didn't protect her and the citizens in earlier days. Is that a rhetorical technique or not? Doesn't seem very elegant. But I'm in over my head with this so I think I may wait a while to finish this one.


message 14: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Right, but by discussing the indictments against Christianity he's laying the foundations of the whole work -- the first half is what have we been getting wrong (that's the 11 books called the Refutation) and then well if that's wrong what should we do instead (the City).

It's definitely a great book though, both in scope and in style.


message 15: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 16, 2019 06:56AM) (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Hope you guys don't mind I'm commenting as I read. In Book Two, which so far is about how immoral Roman gods are and how they also encourage their followers to immorality, I find myself considering sex and sexuality. I mean Augustine *really* has a problem with it. Once you stop thinking of sex as inherently wrong, a lot of his reasoning falls away. If sex is not inherently wrong, then the Roman gods are not immoral. Or maybe not? It's really hard for me to exactly understand what he's objecting to.

For example, he's really got it in for Cybele, the Roman mother of mothers (here called Berecynthia):

"I myself, when I was a young man, used sometimes to go to the sacrilegious entertainments and spectacles; I saw the priests raving in religious excitement, and heard the choristers; I took pleasure in the shameful games which were celebrated in honour of gods and goddesses, of the virgin Cœlestis and Berecynthia the mother of all the gods. And on the holy day consecrated to her purification, there were sung before her couch productions so obscene and filthy for the ear—I do not say of the mother of the gods, but of the mother of any senator or honest man—nay, so impure, that not even the mother of the foul-mouthed players themselves could have formed one of the audience." (Book II.4) (he continues on in this vein through book II.5, and then turns to how awful plays and players are).

We are so far away in culture, but where does this all come from? I'm just kind of baffled.

My theory is that the earlier Goddess cultures of Mesopotamia celebrated sex and mothers as a key part of their cults, and that these were seen as inimical to Judaism and then on to Christianity. Like there were two near Eastern traditions in conflict. In support of this I remember reading in the Bible (Old Testament) about how the Jewish people should tear down the Asherah poles (Asherah is a mother goddess of the near east). But actually I don't have evidence for this. I just don't know! And I find myself scratching my head over it.

Or maybe it's because you lose control? Give in to an animal nature instead of a spirit? (which doesn't explain why it's worse for women, which it clearly was in Rome given how much time he spends discussing whether rape victims are impure). Controlling women's sex lives is also about retaining control of your children and property, so you can see it as a moral extension of a property concern. Rome certainly was very patriarchal.


message 16: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Great questions, Elizabeth and not easily answered but I do have a few thoughts. I'm heading off to work but I'll try to get back and answer as soon as I can! :-)


message 17: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 17, 2019 12:01AM) (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Looked up Asherah a bit more. Apparently she was the wife of El and in some areas Yahweh, and then also relatedly the wife of Ba'al. And she was celebrated as some kind of pillar or tree of life next to an altar (like the altar/tree always occurred in pairs) and there were both female and male sacred prostitutes for celebrating fertility rites (which I remember from reading Gilgamesh). So as a part of monotheism this earlier Israelite polytheism was destroyed -- I can guess that sexual rites and sexuality itself thus also represent an earlier religious tradition. Both Judaism and Christianity are of course highly restrictive when it comes to sex -- right there in the ten commandments, but maybe the reason has to do with developing an alternative to the polytheistic society. As well as cementing the patriarchal culture -- in other words monotheism and patriarchy going hand in hand -- by controlling who women have sex with, the father's role as head of the family can be maintained (and God the Father's role as head of the world also??). That this gets translated to morals is where I'm scratching my head.

And also, like, this is the big lie. That the Father, alone, is the creator, is so bassackwards from life. Birth is practically the original miracle (hello Christmas) and to build a whole system where the mother is simply a vessel for the father, going against how many tens of thousands of years of veneration of the life-giving mother with big belly and milk-filled breasts (as attested by figurines), and to instead cast the mother as a sinner (unless she's a virgin) is mind-blowing to me. And yet here we are.

Reading that -- I do apologise if it gives offence. I'm not religious but I do know that religion gives strength and solace to many. I'm only considering this as a historical document rather than as a revealed truth and I appreciate there will be many points of view. I hope you don't mind.


message 18: by Gini (new)

Gini Creator is in a different category than the birth person or father (capitalized or otherwise), though. Have to remember that in the Christian thought and that's where Augustine is coming from historically. Father is not the creator per se, God is. The Father is a person of the triune God and one that most resembles his role in human history.
Birth is a miracle even today. But not in the same league as creation itself. Sounds like you're responding to an idea of original sin. That's an odd teaching that I can't explain except that it is linked to being related to Adam.
Trying to read someone like Augustine without his context is difficult to say the least. Glad your giving it go.


message 19: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 19, 2019 06:47AM) (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments Yes, perhaps it is original sin that I'm questioning. Thanks for giving a name.

Is anyone else reading City of God?


message 20: by Cleo (last edited Jan 19, 2019 11:15AM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "We are so far away in culture, but where does this all come from? I'm just kind of baffled. ..."

Augustine was steeped in Plato and Plato often condemned drama unless it completely mirrored the society which you were trying to create. Plato didn't even like Homer. So that's probably part of Augustine's outlook. I would also say, on a holy day of purification, why would you want to include obscenity, filth and impurity? The Romans had some pretty over-the-top celebrations so his comments don't surprise me.


message 21: by Cleo (last edited Jan 19, 2019 11:21AM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "how they also encourage their followers to immorality, I find myself considering sex and sexuality. I mean Augustine *really* has a problem with it. Once you stop thinking of sex as inherently wrong, a lot of his reasoning falls away...."

I don't believe Augustine saw sex as inherently wrong. I'm going out on a limb to say what I think he would have believed BUT I think he would mean sex is wrong under certain circumstances and outside of God's ordained view of it. Sex was/is meant to be pure but it is man who has twisted and bent its meaning. Augustine experienced both "living the good life" and later living a life based on faith so he would have valuable insights into both.


message 22: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "But actually I don't have evidence for this. I just don't know! And I find myself scratching my head over it...."

Not sure if this helps:


2 Kings 23:
"Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant. And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. ..."



message 23: by Cleo (last edited Jan 30, 2019 08:36PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: " Controlling women's sex lives is also about retaining control of your children and property, so you can see it as a moral extension of a property concern. Rome certainly was very patriarchal. ..."

I know more about Greek culture than Roman but there were certain similarities. The Greek were all about protecting their citizens and community as a whole. So contrary to what we can think coming from a modern mindset, the intent wasn't to "control" but "protect". If their actions exhibit a control it's most often can be secondary.


message 24: by Cleo (last edited Jan 19, 2019 11:42AM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Looked up Asherah a bit more. Apparently she was the wife of El and in some areas Yahweh, and then also relatedly the wife of Ba'al. And she was celebrated as some kind of pillar or tree of life next to an altar ..."

I think these theories are reasonably recent based on some statues found on an archeological dig. She's not linked to Yahweh from any historical Christian documents that i know of.

Elizabeth wrote: "That this gets translated to morals is where I'm scratching my head. ..."

The first word that comes to mind is "fruit". Lol! So does your fruit tree bear good fruit or withered fruit or no fruit at all. Simplified, sex in a pure context can breed giving and trust and loyalty and lasting pleasure and joy and stability and commitment, etc. etc. (good fruit) which adds to a person's life and happiness. Sex in an impure context can breed instability, momentary pleasure, mistrust, self-loathing, insecurity, unhappiness, etc. etc. (bad fruit) From a purely logical perspective, I think perhaps man was trying to get as close to the former as possible but being imperfect did not necessarily put a perfect structure in place. Very simplistic, but there you go! ;-)


message 25: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 249 comments Mod
Sorry for the late answers. I'm working on a deadline for a client so my time is more limited than I'd like! :-)


message 26: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) I hope to read The City of God this month and am very interested in all your comments.
As far as the creation vs birth situation, I believe the first is a spiritual creation and the second is a physical one meaning all things are spiritual and physical. The two are necessary for completeness as Christ showed when He came into the world and took upon Him physical form. Some past beliefs have got hung up on one or the other, thinking one is superior to the other, which is where disagreements came in. I think that each deserves equal weight and both spiritual and physical are to be respected and cared for in a way that does not diminish from the other. Christ's teaching is the blueprint for how to do this.


message 27: by Elizabeth (last edited Feb 19, 2019 11:05AM) (new)

Elizabeth (ejvc) | 33 comments So Cleo (late response, sorry) the view might be that *desire* is wrong, rather than sex? I'm just reading Bede right now and in a letter from Pope Gregory the pope says that three elements are necessary for sin: 1) the suggestion (which comes from the Devil); 2) the desire (which comes from the flesh); and 3) the consent (which comes from the soul). Jesus says that the desire is also sinful; Gregory says that if you have sex just for children, which is of course lawful , you can't help the desire; the desire in this case (according to him) is *permitted* which is different than *commanded*. (this is in a section where he answers questions to St Augustine the first bishop of the English about whether women can come to church and receive communion during their period or after they've given birth).

So if we focus on desire, according to Gregory it is wrong because it disorders the mind.


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