City of God (book)

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City of God
City of God Manuscript.jpg
The City of God, opening text, manuscript c. 1470
Author Augustine of Hippo
Original title De Civitate Dei
Country Roman
Language Latin
Subject Christian philosophy
Publication date
completed work published 426 AD

De Civitate Dei (full title: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos, translated in English as The City of God Against the Pagans) or The City of God is a book of Christian philosophy written in Latin by Augustine of Hippo in the early 5th century AD. It is one of Augustine's major works, standing alongside The Confessions, The Enchiridion, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity. Augustine is considered the most influential Father of the Church in Western Christianity, and The City of God profoundly shaped Western civilization.

Background[edit]

Augustine wrote the treatise to explain Christianity's relationship with competing religions and philosophies, as well as its relationship with the Roman government, with which it was increasingly intertwined. It was written soon after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. This event left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many saw it as punishment for abandoning traditional Roman religion for Catholic Christianity. It was in this atmosphere that Augustine set out to console Christians, writing that, even if the earthly rule of the Empire was imperiled, it was the City of God that would ultimately triumph. Augustine's eyes were fixed on Heaven, a theme of many Christian works of Late Antiquity.

Despite Christianity's designation as the official religion of the Empire, Augustine declared its message to be spiritual rather than political. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city, the New Jerusalem—rather than with earthly politics.

The book presents human history as being a conflict between what Augustine calls the City of Man and the City of God, a conflict that is destined to end in victory for the latter. The City of God is marked by people who forgot earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The City of Man, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world.

Though The City of God follows Christian theology, the main idea of a conflict between good and evil follows from Augustine’s former beliefs in Manichaeanism, a philosophy based on the idea of primordial conflict between light and darkness or goodness and evil.[1] In the case of City of God, it is the City of God (representing light) and the City of Man (representing darkness). Though his book follows an ideology of Manichaeanism, he still distances himself from them by calling them heretics: “… I say, so just and fit, which, when piously and carefully weighed, terminates all the controversies of those who inquire into the origin of the world, has not been recognized by some heretics …”[2] Later, when Augustine converted to Christianity he at one point accepted Neo-Platonism.[3] He ends up adding an idea of Neo-Platonism with a Christian idea in The City of God when he says: “As for those who own, indeed, that it was made by God, and yet ascribe to it not a temporal but only a creational beginning …”[4]

Structure[edit]

Augustine provides a brief description of the contents of the work:

However, this great undertaking was at last completed in twenty-two books. Of these, the first five refute those who fancy that the polytheistic worship is necessary in order to secure worldly prosperity, and that all these overwhelming calamities have befallen us in consequence of its prohibition. In the following five books I address myself to those who admit that such calamities have at all times attended, and will at all times attend, the human race, and that they constantly recur in forms more or less disastrous, varying only in the scenes, occasions, and persons on whom they light, but, while admitting this, maintain that the worship of the gods is advantageous for the life to come. But that no one might have occasion to say, that though I had refuted the tenets of other men, I had omitted to establish my own, I devote to this object the second part of this work, which comprises twelve books, although I have not scrupled, as occasion offered, either to advance my own opinions in the first ten books, or to demolish the arguments of my opponents in the last twelve. Of these twelve books, the first four contain an account of the origin of these two cities—the city of God, and the city of the world. The second four treat of their history or progress; the third and last four, of their deserved destinies.

—Augustine, Retractions[5]

In other words, the City of God can be divided into two parts. Part I, which comprises Books I-X, is polemical in style and is devoted to a critique of Roman cultures and mores (Books I-V) and of pagan philosophy (Books VI-X). Interpreters often take these first ten books to correspond with the Earthly City, in contrast to the City of God discussed in Part II, which comprises the remaining twelve books. Part II is where Augustine shifts from criticism to positing a coherent account of the relationship between the City of God and an Earthly City subordinated to it.

As indicated in the above passage from the Retractions, the City of God can be further subdivided into the following parts:

Part I (Books I-X):
a) Books I-V: criticism of Rome
b) Books VI-X: criticism of pagan philosophy
Part II (Books XI-XXII):
c) Books XI-XIV: the origins of the two cities
d) Books XV-XVIII: their history or progress
e) Books XIX-XXII: their deserved destinies

Editions[edit]

English Translations
  • The City of God against the Pagans. Translation by R. W. Dyson. New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-46475-7
  • The City of God. Translation by Henry Bettenson. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1972.
  • The City of God. Translation by Gerald G. Walsh, S. J., et al. Introduction by Étienne Gilson. New York: Doubleday, Image Books, 1958.
  • The City of God. Translation by Marcus Dods. Introduction by Thomas Merton. New York: The Modern Library, a division of Random House, Inc., 1950.
  • The City of God. Translation by John Healey. Introduction by Ernest Barker. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1945.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Manichaeism
  2. ^ City of God. Book XI, Chapter 22. Internet Archive
  3. ^ Neoplatonism and Christianity
  4. ^ City of God. Book XI, Chapter 4.Internet Archive
  5. ^ Augustine, Retractions, excerpt drawn from http://www.archive.org/details/city_of_god_ds_librivox

External links[edit]

Texts about The City of God