The City of GOD (Augustine of Hippo)

augustinecitygodThe City of GOD from original latin De Civitate Dei (full title: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos, translated in English as The City of God Against the Pagans) is a book of Christian philosophy written in Latin by Augustine of Hippo (Augustine of Ippona) in the early 5th century AD. The book was in response to allegations that Christianity brought about the decline of Rome and is considered one of Augustine’s most important works, standing alongside The Confessions, The Enchiridion, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity. As a work of one of the most influential Church Fathers, The City of GOD is a cornerstone of Western thought, expounding on many profound questions of theology, such as the suffering of the righteous, the existence of evil, the conflict between free will and divine omniscience, and the doctrine of original sin.

Background

The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many Romans saw it as punishment for abandoning traditional Roman religion for Christianity. In response to these accusations, and in order to console Christians, Augustine wrote The City of GOD, arguing for the truth of Christianity over competing religions and philosophies and that Christianity is not only not responsible for the Sack of Rome, but also was responsible for the success of Rome. He attempted to console Christians, writing that, even if the earthly rule of the Empire was imperiled, it was the City of GOD that would ultimately triumph. Augustine’s eyes were fixed on Heaven, a theme of many Christian works of Late Antiquity, and despite Christianity’s designation as the official religion of the Empire, Augustine declared its message to be spiritual rather than political. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city, the New Jerusalem—rather than with earthly politics.

The book presents human history as a conflict between what Augustine calls the Earthly City (often colloquially referred to as the City of Man) and the City of GOD, a conflict that is destined to end in victory for the latter. The City of GOD is marked by people who forgot earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of GOD, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The Earthly City, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world.

Augustine’s thesis depicts the history of the world as universal warfare between GOD and the Devil. This metaphysical war is not limited by time but only by geography on Earth. In this war, GOD moves (by divine intervention, or Providence for Christians) those governments, political /ideological movements and military forces aligned (or aligned the most) with the Catholic Church in order to oppose by all means—including military—those governments, political/ideological movements and military forces aligned (or aligned the most) with the Devil (the City of Devil).

The book improves universal history according to Augustine’s thesis of World War between those humans that follow GOD and those who follow the Devil.

This concept of world history guided by Divine Providence in a universal war between GOD and Devil is part of the official doctrine of the Catholic Church as most recently stated in the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes document: “The Church . . . holds that in her most benign LORD and MASTER can be found the Key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history…all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness…The LORD is the goal of human history the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings.”

Structure

Augustine provides a brief description of the contents of the work:

However, this great undertaking was at last completed in twenty-two books. Of these, the first five refute those who fancy that the polytheistic worship is necessary in order to secure worldly prosperity, and that all these overwhelming calamities have befallen us in consequence of its prohibition. In the following five books I address myself to those who admit that such calamities have at all times attended, and will at all times attend, the human race, and that they constantly recur in forms more or less disastrous, varying only in the scenes, occasions, and persons on whom they light, but, while admitting this, maintain that the worship of the gods is advantageous for the life to come. But that no one might have occasion to say, that though I had refuted the tenets of other men, I had omitted to establish my own, I devote to this object the second part of this work, which comprises twelve books, although I have not scrupled, as occasion offered, either to advance my own opinions in the first ten books, or to demolish the arguments of my opponents in the last twelve. Of these twelve books, the first four contain an account of the origin of these two cities—the city of God, and the city of the world. The second four treat of their history or progress; the third and last four, of their deserved destinies.

— Augustine, Retractions

As indicated in the above passage from the Retractions, the City of GOD can be further subdivided into the following parts:

Part I (Books I–X): a polemical critique of Roman religion and philosophy, corresponding to the Earthly City
Book I–V: A critique of pagan religion
Book I: a criticism of the pagans who attribute the sack of Rome to Christianity despite being saved by taking refuge in Christian churches. The book also explains good and bad things happen to righteous and wicked people alike, and it consoles the women violated in the recent calamity.
Book II: a proof that because of the worship of the pagan gods, Rome suffered the greatest calamity of all, that is, moral corruption.
Book III: a proof that the pagan gods failed to save Rome numerous times in the past from worldly disasters, such as the sack of Rome by the Gauls.
Book IV: a proof that the power and long duration of the Roman empire was due not to the pagan Gods but to the Christian God.
Book V: a refutation of the doctrine of fate and an explanation of the Christian doctrine of free will and its consistency with God’s omniscience. The book proves that Rome’s dominion was due to the virtue of the Romans and explains the true happiness of the Christian emperors.
Book VI–X: A critique of pagan philosophy
Book VI: a refutation of the assertion that the pagan gods are to be worshiped for eternal life (rather than temporal benefits). Augustine claimed that even the esteemed pagan theologist Varro held the gods in contempt.
Book VII: a demonstration that eternal life is not granted by Janus, Jupiter, Saturn, and other select gods.
Book VIII: an argument against the Platonists and their natural theology, which Augustine views as the closest approximation of Christian truth, and a refutation of Apuleius’ insistence of the worship of demons as mediators between God and man.
Book IX: a proof that all demons are evil and that only Christ can provide man with eternal happiness.
Book X: a teaching that the good angels wish that God alone is worshiped and a proof that no sacrifice can lead to purification except that of Christ.
Part II (Books XI-XXII): discussion on the City of God and its relationship to the Earthly City
Books XI-XIV: the origins of the two cities
Book XI: the origins of the two cities from the separation of the good and bad angels, and a detailed analysis of Genesis 1.
Book XII: answers to why some angels are good and others bad, and a close examination of the creation of man.
Book XIII: teaching that death originated as a penalty for Adam’s sin.
Book XIV: teachings on the original sin as the cause for future lust and shame as a just punishment for lust.
Books XV-XVIII: the history or progress of the two cities, including foundational theological principles about Jews.
Book XV: an analysis of the events in Genesis between the time of Cain and Abel to the time of the flood.
Book XVI: the progress of the two cities from Noah to Abraham, and the progress of the heavenly city from Abraham to the kings of Israel.
Book XVII: the history of the city of God from Samuel to David and to Christ, and Christological interpretations of the prophecies in Kings and Psalms.
Book XVIII: the parallel history of the earthly and heavenly cities from Abraham to the end. Doctrine of Witness, that Jews received prophecy predicting Jesus, and that Jews are dispersed among the nations to provide independent testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Books XIX-XXII: the deserved destinies of the two cities.
Book XIX: the end of the two cities, and the happiness of the people of Christ.
Book XX: the prophecies of the Last Judgment in the Old and New Testaments.
Book XXI: the eternal punishment for the city of the devil.
Book XXII: the eternal happiness for the saints and explanations of the resurrection of the body.

Relevant quotes

“GOD is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
 
 
“Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but what is worse, as many masters as he has vices.”
 
 
“What are kingdoms without justice? They’re just gangs of bandits.”
 
“There are wolves within, and there are sheep without.”
 
 
“What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith.”
 
“And yet, will we ever come to an end of discussion and talk if we think we must always reply to replies? For replies come from those who either cannot understand what is said to them, or are so stubborn and contentious that they refuse to give in even if they do understand.”
 
 
“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.”
 
 
“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.”
 
“Every good man resists others in those points in which he resists himself.”
 
 
“He that becomes protector of sin shall surely become its prisoner.”
 
“His knowledge is not like ours, which has three tenses: present, past, and future. GOD’s knowledge has no change or variation.”
 
“For a prohibition always increases an illicit desire so long as the love of and joy in holiness is too weak to conquer the inclination to sin…”
 
“This joy in GOD is not like any pleasure found in physical or intellectual satisfaction. Nor is it such as a friend experiences in the presence of a friend. But, if we are to use any such analogy, it is more like the eye rejoicing in light.”
 
“For the human race is, more than any other species, at once social by nature and quarrelsome by perversion.”
 
 
“The bodies of irrational animals are bent toward the ground, whereas man was made to walk erect with his eyes on heaven, as though to remind him to keep his thoughts on things above.”
 
 
“… the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the LORD.”
 
 
“For what is the self-complacent man but a slave to his own self-praise.”
 
 
“…It is no less impossible for us not to taste as bitter the death of those whose life for us was such a source of sweetness.”
 
 
“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?”
 
 
“No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task.”
 
 
“Greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to gold; nor is lust a defect in bodies which are beautiful and pleasing: it is a sin in the soul of the one who loves corporal pleasures perversely, that is, by abandoning that temperance which joins us in spiritual and unblemishable union with realities far more beautiful and pleasing; nor is boastfulness a blemish in words of praise: it is a failing in the soul of one who is so perversely in love with other peoples’ applause that he despises the voice of his own conscience; nor is pride a vice in the one who delegates power, still less a flaw in the power itself: it is a passion in the soul of the one who loves his own power so perversely as to condemn the authority of one who is still more powerful.”
 
 
“…The Devil would not have begun by an open and obvious sin to tempt man into doing something which GOD had forbidden, had not man already begun to seek satisfaction in himself and, consequently, to take pleasure in the words: ‘You shall be as GODs.’ The promise of these words, however, would much more truly have come to pass if, by obedience, Adam and Eve had kept close to the ultimate and true Source of their being and had not, by pride imagined that they were themselves the source of their being. For, created gods are gods not in virtue of their own being but by a participation in the being of the true GOD. For, whoever seeks to be more than he is becomes less, and while he aspires to be self-sufficing he retires from Him who is truly sufficient for him.”
 
 
“When men cannot communicate their thoughts to each other, simply because of difference of language, all the similarity of their common human nature is of no avail to unite them in fellowship.”
 
 
“It is this Good which we are commanded to love with our whole heart, with our whole mind, and with all our strength. It is toward this Good that we should be led by those who love us, and toward this Good we should lead those whom we love. In this way, we fulfill the commandments on which depend the whole Law and the Prophets: ‘Thou shalt love the LORD Thy GOD with thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind’; and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ For, in order that a man might learn how to love himself, a standard was set to regulate all his actions on which his happiness depends. For, to love one’s own self is nothing but to wish to be happy, and the standard is union with GOD. When, therefore, a person who knows how to love himself is bidden to love his neighbor as himself, is he not, in effect, commanded to persuade others, as far as he can, to love GOD?”
 
 
“…Since divine truth and scripture clearly teach us that GOD, the CREATOR of all things, is Wisdom, a true philosopher will be a lover of GOD. That does not mean that all who answer to the name are really in love with genuine wisdom, for it is one thing to be and another to be called a philosopher.”
 
 
“What could be more hapless than a man controlled by his own creations? It is surely easier for a man to cease to be a man by worshiping man-made gods than for idols to become divine by being adored.”
 
 
“But it must not be supposed that folly is as powerful as truth, just because it can, if it likes, shout louder and longer than truth.”
 
 
“He who lives according to GOD ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice nor love the vice because of the man.”
 
 
“…Since the mind, which was meant to be reasonable and intelligent, has, by dark and inveterate vices, become too weak to adhere joyously to His unchangeable light (or even to bear it) until, by gradual renewal and healing, it is made fit for such happiness, its first need was to be instructed by faith and purified.”
 
 
“So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the Church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world’s hostility, but comforted by the mercy of GOD. Nor does this state of affairs date only from the days of Christ’s and His Apostles’ presence on earth. It was never any different from the days when the first just man, Abel, was slain by his ungodly brother. So shall it be until this world is no more.”