This is the first of nine successive pages on the City of God.
It is one of the most important of all texts of the Church Fathers, and played a decisive role in the formation of the Christian West. It remains one of the best-known and most influential texts in the Western world, and one of the most often reproduced, in both manuscript and print. It is the longest single work presenting a sustained argument unified around a coherent single theme to survive from Greek or Roman antiquity. The City of God can be regarded as a kind of literary farewell for pagan Roman culture and as a defence of the Christian faith. Its scope embodies cosmology, psychology, political thought, and anti-pagan polemic, Christian apologetics, theory of history, biblical interpretation and apocalyptic themes.
With some degree of literary imagination, Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk, wrote, "The City of God is the story of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints." The City of God (in Latin, De Civitate Dei) by Augustine was a work of monumental importance to the theology and political thought of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation. Approximately four hundred medieval manuscript copies of this work are still in existence, the earliest six of which predate the ninth century, and thirty-one of which come from the ninth century.
Witness to the importance accorded to the City of God is the fact that more medieval copies exist of the City of God than of the Confessions. This is remarkable, considering that the former book is many times greater in length. In the first generation of the new invention of printing (1467-1495) twenty-four editions of the City of God were produced. What inspired the book was the storm of blame against Christians that followed the sack of Rome by Alaric and his Visigoths on 24th August 410. In the year 412 Augustine received from Volusian, the pagan pro-consul of Africa, a series of questions about the Incarnation and other Christian teachings.
The topics arose out of regular gatherings of a group of friends in Carthage, and in his letter Volusian flatters Augustine that he is the only one able to provide answers. Ignorance may be tolerated in other priests, he says, but “when it comes to Augustine the bishop, whatever he may happen not to know is a deficiency in the matter itself.” Shortly afterwards, Marcellinus, the imperial commissioner and a friend of both Volusian and Augustine, wrote to Augustine with additional questions. Marcellinus was a devout Christian who was in Africa to look into the Donatist schism on behalf of the emperor. Marcellinus broadened the question from theology to Christianity’s relation to the political order.
“The preaching and teaching of Christ,” he wrote, “is in no way compatible with the practices of the state, since, as many say, it is clear that it is his commandment that we should repay no one with evil for evil, that we should offer the other cheek to one who strikes us.” Such teachings “are contrary to the practices of the state.” Augustine appreciated that his making a written response would have to include more than addressing the question of why Rome had fallen. There were Christians who still did not know what the Christian faith was about, how it differed from the Roman religions it had replaced. His written response, De civitate dei ("On the City of God"), was a great work of Christian teaching.
It was published in sections over a period of thirteen years. The first books (chapters) were published quickly, and consoled those who feared the Visigoths. The City of God seems to have fulfilled this initial goal. But the work as a whole continued to come forth in instalments, and unfolded a broad vision of history and the Christian religion. For this reason the City of God is often regarded as the most influential work of all that Augustine wrote. It is a huge word painting of the "beginnings, course and destined ends" of the two imagined societies of the chosen and the damned.(Continued on the next page.)
The City of God. This includes a synopsis of every chapter. From the Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1201.htm
A Reading Plan for Augustine’s City of God. One of the reasons that Augustine’s work remains unread today is because of its length and digressions. In lieu of an abridged version, Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary USA offers a selective reading guide to the book, which I’ve included below for those who want to take up one of the great classics of the Christian tradition. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/11/05/a-reading-plan-for-augustines-the-city-of-god
Augustine, The Fall of Rome, and the City of God. A scholarly coverage by Sanderson Beck in the middle section of this large web site. http://www.san.beck.org/AB11-AugustineandRome.html
Augustine and the City of God. Augustine began writing City of God as a defence against those who blamed the Christians for the fall of Rome, but then devoted the remainder of the work to expounding a Christian interpretation not only of contemporary events, but also of the entire sweep of human history… For five pages in 1996 by Mike Bone of Boston University, United States of America in the Dictionary of Modern Western Theology.http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/augustine.htm AN2123