City of God

( 47 )

Overview

St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was one of the central figures in the history of Christianity, and City of God is one of his greatest theological works. Written as an eloquent defence of the faith at a time when the Roman Empire was on the brink of collapse, it examines the ancient pagan religions of Rome, the arguments of the Greek philosophers and the revelations of the Bible. Pointing the way forward to a citizenship that transcends the best political experiences of the world and offers citizenship that will ...

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Overview

St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was one of the central figures in the history of Christianity, and City of God is one of his greatest theological works. Written as an eloquent defence of the faith at a time when the Roman Empire was on the brink of collapse, it examines the ancient pagan religions of Rome, the arguments of the Greek philosophers and the revelations of the Bible. Pointing the way forward to a citizenship that transcends the best political experiences of the world and offers citizenship that will last for eternity, City of God is one of the most influential documents in the development of Christianity.

Saint Augustine examines the failure of Roman religion and the flaws in human civilization, thus creating the first Christrian philosophy of history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The human mind can understand truth only by thinking, as is clear from Augustine."
– Saint Thomas Aquinas
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140448948
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Pages: 1184
  • Sales rank: 177,884
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

St Augustine of Hippo was the great Doctor of the Latin Church. Born in North Africa in AD 354, he was brought up as a Christian and at 16 went to Carthage to finish his education. Until 387, Augustine followed the Manichean religion and founded his own school of rhetoric in Rome. After his baptism, he returned to Africa and lived in the community he formed there until his death in 430. His written output there includes Confessions and City of God, among over 113 books. Henry Bettenson (1908-1979) (translator) was educated at Bristol University and Oriel College, Oxford. He taught Classics for 25 years at Charterhouse 'Documents of the Christian Church' and 'Early Christian Fathers'. Dr Gill Evans (introducer) teaches medieval intellectual history, medieval theology and ecumenical theology in the Faculty of History at Cambridge. She has published widely in this area.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Thomas Merton


Here is a book that was written over fifteen hundred years ago by a mystic in North Africa. Yet to those who have ears to hear, it has a great deal to say to many of us who are not mystics, today, in America. The City of God is a monumental theology of history. It grew out of St. Augustine's meditations on the fall of the Roman Empire. But his analysis is timeless and universal. That is to say, it is Catholic in the etymological sense of the word. It is also Catholic in the sense that St. Augustine's view of history is the view held by the Catholic Church, and by all Catholic tradition since the Apostles. It is a theology of history built on revelation, developed above all from the inspired pages of St. Paul's Epistles and St. John's Apocalypse.

To those who do not know St. Augustine, the figure of the great Bishop of Hippo (the modern name of the city is Bona) may seem quite remote. And to one who attempts to make his first acquaintance with Augustine by starting to read The City of God from the beginning without a guide, the saint may remain an unappealing personality and his book may appear to be nothing more than a maze of curious, ancient fancies.

St. Augustine began to write this book three years after Rome first collapsed and opened its gates to a barbarian invader. Alaric and his Goths sacked the city in 410. Rome had been the inviolate mistress of the world for a thousand years. The fall of the city that some had thought would stand forever demoralized what was left of the civilized world. Those who still took the pagan gods seriously--and it seems they were not a few--looked about them for a scapegoat uponwhich to lay the guilt for this catastrophe. The Christians had emerged from the catacombs and had been officially recognized by the convert Emperor Constantine. Nevertheless Christianity remained the object of superstitious fear on the part of many, and it was inevitable that the bad luck that had befallen the Empire should be blamed on the Catholic Church. St. Augustine took up his pen in 413 and set about proving the absurdity of such a charge. This furnished him with the subject matter for the first ten books of The City of God--a work that was written slowly, and appeared in installments over a period of thirteen years. But the topic that first engaged his attention--Christianity versus the official pagan religion of imperial Rome--is not one that will strike us, today, as a living issue. Nor was it altogether worthy of the genius of Augustine. After several years of writing he abandoned this aspect of the problem, and left it to be disposed of by a certain Orosius, who will probably never find his way into the catalogue of the Modern Library. We owe him at least a debt of gratitude for having set Augustine free to write about the problem that really interested him: the theology of the "two cities" and of the intervention of God in human history.

The saint does not settle down to treat the real theme of his work until he reaches Book Eleven. And even then, he takes such a broad view of his subject that his approach to the main point seems to us extraordinarily unhurried. He pauses to solve many questions of detail. He embarks on a historical exegesis of the Old and New Testaments in order to show how the "two cities" have entered into the very substance of sacred history. Finally he completes this extraordinary panorama with a view of the final end of the two cities, and of their respective fates in eternity. How many Americans will have the patience to follow him through all of this? Those who do so will certainly find themselves profoundly changed by the experience, because they will have been exposed to a summary of Christian dogma. It is an exposition that can only be fully appreciated if it is read in the spirit in which it was written. And The City of God is an exposition of dogma that was not only written but lived.

What do we mean when we say that Augustine lived the theology that he wrote? Are we implying, for instance, that other theologians have not lived up to their principles? No. That possibility is not what concerns us here. It is more than a question of setting down on paper a series of abstract principles and then applying them in practice. Christianity is more than a moral code, more than a philosophy, more than a system of rites. Although it is sufficient, in the abstract, to divide the Catholic religion into three aspects and call them creed, code and cult, yet in practice, the integral Christian life is something far more than all this. It is more than a belief; it is a life. That is to say, it is a belief that is lived and experienced and expressed in action. The action in which it is expressed, experienced and lived is called a mystery. This mystery is the sacred drama which keeps ever present in history the Sacrifice that was once consummated by Christ on Calvary. In plain words--if you can accept them as plain--Christianity is the life and death and resurrection of Christ going on day after day in the souls of individual men and in the heart of society.

It is this Christ-life, this incorporation into the Body of Christ, this union with His death and resurrection as a matter of conscious experience, that St. Augustine wrote of in his Confessions. But Augustine not only experienced the reality of Christ living in his own soul. He was just as keenly aware of the presence and action, the Birth, Sacrifice, Death and Resurrection of the Mystical Christ in the midst of human society. And this experience, this vision, if you would call it that, qualified him to write a book that was to be, in fact, the autobiography of the Catholic Church. That is what The City of God is. Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St. Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints.

That is the substance of the book. But how is the average modern American going to get at that substance? Evidently, the treatment of the theme is so leisurely and so meandering and so diffuse that The City of God, more than any other book, requires an introduction. The best we can do here is to offer a few practical suggestions as to how to tackle it.

The first of these suggestions is this: since, after all, The City of God reflects much of St. Augustine's own personality and is colored by it, the reader who has never met Augustine before ought to go first of all to the Confessions. Once he gets to know the saint, he will be better able to understand Augustine's view of society. Then, no one who is not a specialist, with a good background of history or of theology or of philosophy, ought not to attempt to read the City, for the first time, beginning at page one. The living heart of the City is found in Book Nineteen, and this is the section that will make the most immediate appeal to us today because it is concerned with the theology of peace. However, Book Nineteen cannot be understood all by itself. The best source for solutions to the most pressing problems it will raise is Book Fourteen, where the origin of the two Cities is sketched, in an essay on original sin. Finally, the last Book (Twenty-two), which is perhaps the finest of them all, and a fitting climax to the whole work, will give the reader a broad view of St. Augustine's whole scheme because it describes the end of the City of God, the communal vision of the elect in Paradise, the contemplation which is the life of the "City of Vision" in heaven and the whole purpose of man's creation.

Continued...

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Table of Contents

City of GodChronology
Introduction
Further Reading
Translator's Note
Arrangements and Contents of the City of God
Abbreviations Used in References

Concerning the City of God, Against the Pagans

Part I
Book I
Book II
Book III
Book IV
Book V
Book VI
Book VII
Book VIII
Book IX
Book X

Part II
Book XI
Book XII
Book XIII
Book XIV
Book XV
Book XVI
Book XVII
Book XVIII
Book XIX
Book XX
Book XXI
Book XXII

Index

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

City of God opens a vast window on a range of religious, scientific, historic, and aesthetic concerns. E. L. Doctorow’s novel promises to strike readers as a wonderfully unusual novel with a liberating narrative technique that breaks many of the so-called "rules" of the novel and also echoes and riffs on styles and themes from a wide range of literary and historical antecedents. The works of such disparate authors as John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Walter Benjamin, Tony Kushner, Elie Wiesel, and Jorge Luis Borges might be discussed alongside City of God with fruitful results.

A novel as thematically playful, nonlinear, and wide-ranging as City of God invites a similarly atypical approach to discussing it in a reading group. Hardly a narrative suitable for chapter-by-chapter analyses and succinct plot summaries, Doctorow’s novel concerns itself centrally with the kind of capital "M" mysteries (the natures of God, creation, and human destiny) that finally defy satisfying solutions. Casting readers as apprenticing detectives to the Reverend Dr. Thomas Pemberton, the self-anointed Divinity Detective, City of God allows for a lot of intellectual "play" and features what Doctorow has called a "kitchen sink" prose style. The book conflates all sorts of literary forms and genres and serves up a stew of fragmented biographical sketches, Homeric verse poems, prayers, and jazz-like improvisations on pop standards, all of which orbit around the narrative’s central issue—the mystery of the stolen cross.

The plot of City of God, such as it is, will likely seem confusing to readers because it is so fragmented and jittery, and because the narrative, especially at the outset, rarely supplies us with the standard clues to establish who is speaking and what the situation is. A useful metaphor which could be discussed and assigned to the novel is that of an intricate puzzle, the assembly of which is up to the reading group to perform together. Perhaps more than any book since Joyce’s Ulysses, City of God all but defies critical distillation or reduction. And like Ulysses, City of God is more than anything a work of skilled mimesis, mirroring in prose the nature of one New York writer’s consciousness and concerns at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

ABOUT E. L. DOCTOROW

Named for Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Lawrence Doctorow occupies a central position in the history of American literature. On a shortlist that might also include Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow is generally considered to be among the most talented, ambitious, and admired novelists of the second half of the twentieth century. Long celebrated for his vivid evocations of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American life (particularly New York life), Doctorow has received the National Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howell Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal.

Doctorow was born in New York City on January 6, 1931, and, like the novelist Everett in City of God, attended the Bronx High School of Science. After graduating with honors from Kenyon College in 1952, he did graduate work at Columbia University and served in the U.S. Army, which stationed him in Germany. In 1954, he married Helen Setzer. They have three children. Doctorow was senior editor for New American Library from 1959 to 1964 and then served as editor in chief at Dial Press until 1969. Since then, he has devoted his time to writing and teaching. He holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at New York University and over the years has taught at several institutions, including Yale University Drama School, Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of California, Irvine.

With The Book of Daniel, his third novel, Doctorow emerged as an important American novelist with a strongly political bent. A fictional retelling of the notorious Rosenberg spy case, the novel deftly evokes the complex anxieties of Cold War America, shuttling back and forth in time from the 1950s, when Paul and Roselle Isaacson are convicted and electrocuted, to the late 1960s, when their troubled son, Daniel, a grad student at Columbia, must deal with the consequences of his unusual birthright. The Book of Daniel was adapted in 1983 into the film, Daniel, starring Timothy Hutton and directed by Sidney Lumet. Four years after The Book of Daniel came Ragtime, a dazzling reimagining of the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century by means of a plot that, like City of God, ingeniously brings together real-life figures—such as Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, and Emma Goldman—with an array of invented characters. Ragtime was named one of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century by the editorial board of the Modern Library and was adapted into a successful Broadway musical in 1998.

Widely acclaimed for the beauty of his prose, his innovative narratives, his feel for atmospherics, and above all for his talent for evoking the past in a way that makes it at once mysterious and familiar, Doctorow has created one of the most substantial bodies of work of any living American writer.

PRAISE

"The greatest American novel of the past 50 years . . . reading City of God restores one's faith in literature."
Houston Chronicle

"Sparkles with Mr. Doctorow's rich language and ideas."
The Wall Street Journal

"City of God blooms with a humor and a humanity that carries triumphant as intelligent a novel as one might hope to find these days." —Los Angeles Times

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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • One critic has written that City of God is a story about storytelling—about the ubiquity of narrative; about the whole of language existing as a storytelling tool to reflect and respond to reality; about consciousness perceived as a narrative (hi)story. Do you agree with this characterization? Discuss the dozens of stories that comprise Doctorow's book, from the story of the universe to Yehoshua's ghetto narrative, highlighting the interplay that exists among them.
  • Discuss the structure, language, and imagery of City of God. In what ways does it mimic or recreate the rhythms of contemporary thought and life? How might Doctorow's structure—full as it is of spiraling ideas, images, and themes which recur and continually double back on themselves—be viewed as a sort of jazz-like innovation on the Wagnerian leitmotif? To what end do these spiraling repetitions of theme progress? How do they all relate to and riff upon the central mystery of the missing cross?
  • When Pem goes to the cancer ward just after leaving the priesthood, he encounters a group of dying people singing twentieth-century standards. Discuss the implications of this scene. Why does it affect Pem the way it does? What does it mean when the pop song, that most "self-referential" and instantly recognizable of all musical genres, is transformed into a sort of secular hymnal?
  • Compare and contrast the spiritual and metaphysical quests of Pem, Everett, and Sarah.
  • Chart the course of Pem's relationship with Sarah Blumenthal, from their first meeting at the synagogue where the stolen cross is discovered, to their wedding reception at the close of the book. What qualities attract Pem to Sarah? Sarah to Pem? And in terms of the book's major themes, what are the implications of their union? How does their marriage affect Everett? What is it about these two ecclesiastics that Everett finds so fascinating?
  • "You say all history has contrived to pour this beer into my glass," says the nameless Vietnam veteran to Everett. Later, Pem speaks of "a great historically amassed communal creation." And finally, much earlier in the novel, Rabbi Joshua asks, "Is time a loop? Do you have the same feeling I have—that everything seems to be running backwards? That civilization is in reverse?at is going on in all of these lines? What theme is Doctorow underscoring here?
  • How might the Jewish notion of Messianic time, in which all of history becomes meaningful retrospectively by the sudden and unexpected coming of the Messiah, be linked to the themes in City of God?
  • City of God is one of those perfect books for reading clubs and discussions among friends, because much of the power in this novel derives from what the author leaves unsaid, from what lies in the spaces between the characters' perceptions, and from the ways Doctorow invites the reader to draw her/his own conclusions and make her/his own conjectures. Discuss your reactions to Doctorow's characters and their relationships to each other. What techniques does the author use to develop the novel's central characters? What particular qualities make these people so believable and/or affecting?
  • Discuss the book's extended portrait of the man who discovers that his life is gradually becoming a movie. What is going on here? Fill in the blanks of Doctorow's metaphor.
  • Pem ferociously struggles with the Judeo-Christian tradition—in much the way his real-life forebear, James Pike, did—because it appears to him to be more a narrative about power, genocidal destruction, and the renunciation of human reason and intellect than about faith, hope, and love. "I take the position that true faith is not a supersessional knowledge. It cannot discard the intellect. . . . How can we presume to exalt our religious vision over the ordinary pursuits of our rational minds?" Interpret Pem's remarks here to the bishop's examiners. Then re-read Pem's crowning toast at the wedding, the culmination of his struggle. How does this impassioned and captivating speech serve to bring together the myriad fragments that have preceded it in City of God?
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Customer Reviews

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( 47 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2005

    A thought-provoking book

    I'm a nonbeliever, but I became aware of Augustine and Aquinas when taking Philosophy 100C and Philosophy of Religion at UCLA for my BA in Philosophy. What I enjoy most about Augustine in this work is that he often sounds very rational and open-minded, indeed, almost modern in his frank discussions of human behaviors. For example, he says things about sexuality that you might not expect a Doctor of the Church to say, like sex, being created by God, is not evil but it is lust which is sinful. This work also contains his famous quote about time 'If no one asks me what time is, I know. If someone asks me, I do not.' I suppose that is the mark of a great author, in that they transcend the times they live in and have something to say to all generations. At over 1000 pages, this book definitely requires a time committment on your part, but is certainly worth the investment.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    You do need this.

    Do not let the atheist and secularist reviewers tell you that you don't need this, or any authoritative teaching. God wants to love us, but does that mean our fate is guaranteed? We can do nothing to win God's love, but we need to do everything to earnestly want God's love. The battle for a compassionate and God-loving heart cannot be won by you alone, but can never be lost by those who never cease to battle. Augustine will teach you this, and so much more. New to this? Despair not: "How late have I loved Thee..." the Saint laments. Savor the place where God has brought you and give thanks for having been preserved to this moment. A great book from a great mind and a great soul. You do need this book.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Preface and introduction essays are crucial to understanding this brilliant work, an exemplary work from the Church Fathers whose writings helped to unfold the teachings of the Church.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2001

    God is everywhere

    I have a little poem I would like to say about this book: Come sing with sweet rejoicing, come sing with love. We're not afraid of voicing all the things we're dreaming of. Oh, high and low and everywhere we go. We can build a beautiful city, yes we can, yes we can. We can build a beautiful city and call it ours, and call it the city of man. We won't need alabaster. We won't need gold. We've got our special plaster, so take my hand, I'll take you home. Oh, high and low and everywhere we go. We can build a beautiful city and call it ours, and call it the city of man. Such powerful words, but it does tell us we can build the city of God. Read this book. It is really old, written a few later after Jesus' death by St. Augustine. He was very creative for a time of 'oldness' for a writer. I think that this book sends out a good message to everyone, and every Christian person should read it. Buh Bye!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Rennee to jordon

    Hey

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Lucas

    Hurro.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Jordan

    Here. Take one. *Tosses you a bottle of pills and some water.* The procedure will be nothing less than excrutiatingly painful, for anyone who's awake, of course. Take that and it'll knock you out in a few minutes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    Fantastic book

    Excellent...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    10.48!?

    Tooo expensive..... btw nice poem :)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    Terrible scan of no value

    Do not waste your time

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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