Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 1243 pgs.

Summary: Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote The City of God against the pagans in response to pagan apologists arguing that the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 was caused by the Romans embracing Christianity.

Augustine responded by:

  • Proving the irrational nature of pagan theology and the inadequacy of speculative philosophy.
  • Coordinating secular “universal history” with biblical history.
  • Developing a basic biblical theology and Christian view of history.
  • Developing and expounding a systematic theology with a clear anthropology, eschatology, epistemology, soteriology, doctrine of nature and grace, and theology proper.
  • Arguing for the trustworthiness and necessity of biblical revelation.
  • Developing a Christian political philosophy.
  • Arguing for the superiority of Christian ethics with historical examples.

In all of his argumentation Augustine proves familiar with both the academic and general practice of the pagans, the natural and speculative philosophers, and Christian sources in both Latin and Greek. (Augustine’s supposed ignorance of both Greek and Aristotle is often overstated.)

His most basic point of departure was to argue for a conflict between the City of God and the City of man.

Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to the contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory: the other says to its God, ‘Thou are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’ In the Earthly City, princes are as mastered by the lust for mastery as the nations which they subdue are by them, in the Heavenly, all serve one another in charity, rulers by their counsel and subjects by their obedience. The one city loves its own strength as displayed in its mighty men; the other says, ‘I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.’ (14:28, pg. 632).

The two cities will remain in conflict and to some degree are entwined until Jesus Christ returns and the New Jerusalem takes its place in the new heavens and earth. All of the citizens of the City of God will enter heaven and all the citizens of the City of Men will go to hell.

Benefits/ Detriments: Seminal to all subsequent theology. The organization is classical rhetoric rather than common loci or topical. The flurry of primary source documentation may be confusing but worth the effort to master. Be sure to note his assumption of esoteric writing when interacting with Varro and Varro’s modern caustic hermeneutic.

Recommended for late high school students, academically minded pastors; Christian philosophy students and pastors. Tolle Lege!

Shane Walker is preaching pastor at First Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin. This post appeared on the blog of Andover Baptist Church in Linthicum, Maryland.