For Augustine the purpose of history dovetailed into his broader world view.
In his world view that centres on God, all of history has direction and meaning within the unfolding of the grand plan of God for the human species and for all of Creation. Although Augustine contributed greatly to the introduction of Neo-Platonism into Christian thought, his way of viewing history remained strongly non-Platonic. The classical view of history generally was that it was cyclic, and that the same cyclic patterns repeated themselves with variations.
Augustine stood unhesitatingly within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and held that history was essentially linear. History had a beginning and would have an end. This was as it was portrayed in the Bible by the linear sweep from the beginning (Genesis and Creation) to the end of time (Apocalypse and Judgment). In his Confessions, Augustine looked back chronologically on the significant "secular" events along the path to his conversion to the Christian Faith. These events included, for example, his bad behaviour as an adolescent, the death of a friend, his moving to Rome, an inconvenient illness, obtaining a position in Milan, etc. Yet in the hindsight of his Confessions Augustine came to see that these apparently secular events were used for religious purposes by God. As it was with secular events in his personal journey towards God, so too Augustine saw happening through the secular events of nations the work of God in coaxing whole nations to choose the grand design of God for the human race.
Thus in his major book, City of God, his purpose was to show that it was within the plan of God - divine providence - that pagan Rome would fall and that the Christian religion would merge from its ashes. More broadly again, the City of God exposes very clearly the world view of Augustine that the plans of God are at the centre of the purpose of history and civil government. In other words, according to Augustine all of history has direction and meaning within the unfolding of the grand plan of God for the human race and for all of Creation. The course of history could advance the plan of God even if the protagonists of the day, whether through their ignorance of God or their lack of foresight, did not recognise it.
For Augustine, history was neither so secular nor so exclusively "of this world" that individual events and history generally could not have a religious purpose, role or significance. The argument that temporal authority in any form should essentially advance human interaction with God became the basic political theory of the Middle Ages and beyond. It was not until the Renaissance that the Church was dramatically confronted by the Augustinian viewpoint subsequent to that held by Augustine. This viewpoint was that there was good to be cherished in creation and in human events, regardless of their perceived position on a continuum of the priorities of God. This change was assisted by an overflowing of earlier Augustinian thoughts on individuality and human freedom and, paradoxically, some re-visiting of the classical viewpoint of pagan Rome that did not regard human history as closely bound to any plan of God. By now it should strike the reader that Augustine does not offer a philosophy of history of the sort that is found, for example, in a philosopher such as Karl Marx. The concern of Augustine is not with articulating a notion of history that views its progress as intelligible, or that sees it as developing according to immanent processes that are themselves accessible and worthy of study.
For Augustine human history is but a part within the larger framework the cosmic plan of God for the universe. It is merely the unfolding over time of a divine tapestry of which the end is as certain as the beginning - from the first universal creation to the final universal judgment. To any scholars of today looking back into Augustine for indications of his philosophy of history and political theory, Professor James O'Donnell (Georgetown University, Washington D.C.) has some advice. He warns them that Augustine did not write his books in order to address their problems, and that he never set out specifically to expound upon a philosophy of history.
He states, "Any Augustinian philosophy of history or theory of politics extracted from these pages (of the writings of Augustine) will suffer from grave defects at the outset; not only will his ideas bear the marks of the times in which they were conceived, but they will only lend themselves to the very notion of a philosophy of history or politics with the greatest difficulty and with the most glaring of gaps. AN2312