The City of God (Modern Library Series)

The City of God (Modern Library Series)

3.8 47
by Saint Augustine, Augustine, Saint Augustine of Hippo
     
 

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One of the great cornerstones in the history of Christian philosophy, The City of God provides an insightful interpretation of the development of modern Western society and the origin of most Western thought. Contrasting earthly and heavenly cities—representing the omnipresent struggle between good and evil—Augustine explores human history in its relation

Overview

One of the great cornerstones in the history of Christian philosophy, The City of God provides an insightful interpretation of the development of modern Western society and the origin of most Western thought. Contrasting earthly and heavenly cities—representing the omnipresent struggle between good and evil—Augustine explores human history in its relation to all eternity. In Thomas Merton's words, "The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints."

This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition is a complete and unabridged version of the Marcus Dods translation.

Editorial Reviews

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679600879
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/1994
Series:
Modern Library Series
Edition description:
ABR
Pages:
912
Sales rank:
235,535
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.80(d)

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 upon which 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...

What People are saying about this

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 the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints... The City of God, for those who can understand it, contains the secrets of death and life, war and peace, hell and heaven.
From the Publisher
"The human mind can understand truth only by thinking, as is clear from Augustine."
—Saint Thomas Aquinas

Meet the Author

Saint Augustine, a seminal thinker and prolific writer widely regarded as one of the greatest Fathers of the Catholic Church, was born Aurelius Augustinus, a citizen of Rome, on November 13, A.D. 354, in the North African town of Tagaste (today the Algerian village of Souk Ahras). His pagan father, Patricius, was a property owner and minor official; his revered mother, Monnica, was of native Berber descent and a devout Christian. Augustine received a classical Latin education at the local school and later studied rhetoric in the nearby town of Madaura. While a university student in the cosmopolitan seaport of Carthage he fathered a son, Adeodatus, by an unnamed mistress who remained his lover for many years. At the age of nineteen Augustine read Cicero's Hortensius, a now lost treatise that inspired him to seek true wisdom through the study of philosophy. During this period he also joined the pseudo-Christian sect known as the Manichaeans.

Augustine embarked on a teaching career in 374. Over the next years he conducted a school for rhetoric in Carthage and published his first book, Beauty and Proportion (380), a no-longer-extant work on aesthetics. In search of greater horizons as a master of rhetoric, Augustine left for Rome in 383 but soon resettled in Milan. Inspired by the Neoplatonic writings of Plotinus (A.D. 205-270), who had taught that man is awakened to a sense of divine destiny through purification from carnal appetites, and moved by the eloquent sermons of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, he gradually became attracted to Christianity. In 387, having been baptized by Bishop Ambrose, Augustine abandoned teaching and embraced a life of contemplation. His earliest philosophical dialogues, including Against the Academicians (386) and On the Immortality of the Soul (387), date from this time.

Upon returning to North Africa in 388 Augustine established a lay monastery and was ordained a priest at Hippo (now the port of Annaba in Algeria) in 391. Consecrated Bishop of Hippo in 396, he soon began composing the Confessions (397-400), the remarkable chronicle of his conversion to Christianity. Written in the form of a long prayer addressed directly to God, the work endures as the greatest spiritual autobiography of all time. 'The reader who has never met Augustine before ought to go first of all to the Confessions,' reflected Trappist monk and scholar Thomas Merton. 'Augustine lived the theology that he wrote. . . . He experienced the reality of Christ living in his own soul.' Over the next three decades Augustine exerted enormous influence as a thinker, writer, and spiritual leader. He waged an arduous battle against two powerful heresies' Donatism, which sought to set up a schismatic national church in North Africa, and Pelagianism, a doctrine accepting the importance of individual will. In addition to turning out numerous polemical tracts, sermons, and biblical commentaries, he published On the Trinity (416), a profound defense of the crucial dogma of the Christian Church, and Retractions (427), a review of his voluminous writings.

In 426 Augustine completed The City of God, one of the great cornerstones of Western thought. Begun in 413, the book's initial purpose was to refute the charge that Christianity was to blame for the fall of Rome, which had occurred just three years earlier. Augustine produced a wealth of evidence to prove that paganism bore within itself the seeds of its own destruction. He went on to present a cosmic interpretation of history in terms of the struggle between good and evil. As Thomas Merton observed: '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 . . . the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints. . . . The City of God, for those who can understand it, contains the secret of death and life, war and peace, hell and heaven.'

Augustine died on August 28, 430, as the Vandals lay siege to Hippo. Though the city was partly burned, the theologian's vast library, which contained hundreds of his manuscripts, letters, and sermons, escaped destruction. 'Augustine possessed a strong, capacious, argumentative mind; he boldly sounded the dark abyss of grace, predestination, free-will, and original sin,' wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 'Augustine, the first Christian philosopher and, one is tempted to add, the only philosopher the Romans ever had, was also the first man of thought who turned to religion because of philosophical perplexities,' observed twentieth-century political philosopher Hannah Arendt. And celebrated historian Jaroslav Pelikan concluded: 'There has, quite literally, been no century of the sixteen centuries since the conversion of Augustine in which he has not been a major intellectual, spiritual, and cultural force. For more than a millennium and a half, continuity with the thought of Augustine has been one of the most persistent history.'

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The City of God (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Quavadis More than 1 year ago
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.
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