There is general agreement that Books 1-3 of the City of God appeared before September 413 (just three years after the sack of Rome), Books 4-5 by 415, Books 6-10 by the year 417, and Books 11-13 by 417 or 418. Opinions vary as to the completion date of the final nine Books - possibly by the years 422, 425 or 429. Augustine wrote the City of God as a series of progressive arguments in twenty two books (what we would call "chapters" today). Like all great authors, he took great pains to make his arguments as clear and concise as possible, even though the full text runs to nearly a thousand pages. In composition, the City of God comprises twenty-two Books (described as "chapters" in today's terminology). It has two main sections, Books 1-10 and Books 11-22.
The first section (Books 1-10), Augustine asserts that Roman religion was unable to ring happiness to its adherents. It is a declamation against the classical pagans and their gods. He examined paganism and its history in the light of Christian teaching and ideals, and laid bare what paganism was, and inevitably must be, and what its effects were on human nature. And in contrast he set forth the positive hope and achievement of the Christian religion and the Catholic Church. In this section Augustine attempted to counter the arguments he would expect to receive from a Classical protagonist. This then became the prelude for his Christian "city building" in the second and larger section of the City of God. In the second section (Books 11-22), Augustine focused directly on his comparison of the two cities, the City of Man and the City of God. The section is chronological, and in it Augustine offered a selective narrative of world history (Books 15-18) and utilised the Bible all the way from Genesis to the Apocalypse.
For the content of the City of God, Augustine offered the theme phrase, "Two loves gave birth to two cities." (City of God, 14.28). His world view was that, for a Christian, the place of the human species in the world differs greatly from that which had motivated the classical Greek and Roman societies. The City of God contrasts two cities: the City of God (represented by "heaven") and the City of Man (exemplified in the former Greek and Roman classical society). The City of God is the "city of heaven", the eternal Jerusalem on the next life. The City of God is invisible to us here. And not of this earth; it is otherworldly. And it will be only in the City of God in the next life that those chosen by God will find their real resting place. By contrast, the earthy City of Man is shot through with evil, and for a Christian is a picture of considerable gloom. At the core of the whole book is the one scriptural theme: the fall of angels and humans, which itself was the consequence of a corruption of loves, has introduced division into the soul of every human being.
In the natural state, man is now a stranger to himself, and incapable of knowledge of oneself. Humans might think themselves to be virtuous but actually they are filled with pride and disorder. Left to itself, human society would be nothing but the city of this world - the City of Man. As such, all human beings are cut off from God and destined to die in body and soul. But the grace of God and the saving actions of Christ (as highlighted in the vivid contrast between Christ and the demons in Book 10 of the City of God) have nurtured a fragment of the original excellence of the human species. This spark exists in a portion of the human race, and has always done so. God has seen individuals (including Jewish figures in the Old Testament) who have carried in this life the banner of the City of God. Amidst the desolation sin in the world, these figures have held out the hope that the journey to the Jerusalem of heaven is possible. They witness that individuals need not resign themselves to citizenship in a corrupt City of Man, but may already participate in the citizenship of heaven, with faith and hope in its full restoration.
And rare indeed in philosophical works are passages like the one in the City of God where Augustine marvels at how some people can move their ears, others can perfectly mimic the voices of other men, and some can even "produce musical sounds from their behind." Overall, two "cities" used in his imagery are in contrast. The "city of earth" is the opposite of the "the city of heaven." The city of earth is a place of sin, disorder, and strife. It is the negation of the virtues of heaven, just as Satan is the negation of God. This city of earth is a spiritual (or "Platonic") reality, but not a physical reality. It is fundamentally incorrect to presume that Augustine simply equated the "city of earth" with the actual physical world and human society. The physical world and human society, which he described as "the State," is neither the city of earth nor the city of heaven. The State hovers between the two spiritual cities, and will tend to slide towards the "city of earth" unless people deliberately and consciously struggle to achieve the goals of goodness, order, and peace which accompany the "city of heaven." The "city of heaven" can never be perfectly achieved on this earth. There can never be a heaven on earth, but a relative goodness, order, and peace can be achieved which would mirror and imitate the absolute goodness, order, and peace in heaven.
Certainly, Augustine never suggested that on earth the church equated with the "city of heaven" and the State with the "city of earth." Even so, the argument of Augustine and his imagery of the "two cities" was commonly - conveniently?! - read and understood incorrectly in the Middle Ages as a justification for papal claims to temporal sovereignty. To the contrary, Augustine regarded the Church as a separate assembly of travellers whose eyes are fixed on the "city of heaven" and the next life while enduring as well as possible the imperfections of this world. Augustine was not greatly interested in the study of politics or political theory; however, when interpreted most strictly, he would in this way appear to be in favour of the complete separation of Church and State. (Continued on the next page.)