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Overview

No book except the Bible itself had a greater influence on the Middle Ages than City of God. Since medieval Europe was the cradle of today's Western civilization, this work by consequence is vital for an understanding of our world and how it came into being. St. Augustine is often regarded as the most influential Christian thinker after St. Paul, and this book is his masterpiece, a vast synthesis of religious and secular knowledge. It began as a reply to the charge that Christian otherworldliness was causing the decline of the Roman Empire. Augustine produced a wealth of evidence to prove that paganism bore within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Then he proceeded to his larger theme, a cosmic interpretation of history in terms of the struggle between good and evil: the City of God in conflict with the Earthly City or the City of the Devil. This, the first serious attempt at a philosophy of history, was to have incalculable influence in forming the Western mind on the relations of church and state, and on the Christian's place in the temporal order. The original City of God contained twenty-two books and fills three regular-sized volumes. This edition has been skillfully abridged for the intelligent general reader by Vernon J. Bourke, author of Augustine's Quest of Wisdom. The heart of this monumental work is now available to a much wider audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140448948
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/2004
Series: Penguin Classics
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 1184
Sales rank: 57,945
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 2.14(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Saint Augustine was one of those towering figures who so dominated his age that the age itself bears his name. The Age of Augustine was a time of transition, and Augustine was a genius of such stature that, according to Christopher Dawson, "he was, to a far greater degree than any emperor or general or barbarian warlord, a maker of history and a builder of the bridge which was to lead him from the old world to the new."  He was the ablest religious thinker and controversialist at a period when theological controversy reached a level of intellectual refinement never achieved before or since. He was a tireless preacher and he wrote 118 treatises, including the most famous spiritual autobiography of all time, The Confessions. Of all these works, the one most prized by Augustine was his City of God, a veritable encyclopedia of information on the lives, thoughts and aspirations of ancient and early Christian man.

Marcus Dods (1834–1909) was the Principal of New College in Edinburgh University. He translated Augustine's writings between 1872 and 1876.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968) remains one of the great spiritual figures of our time. He expressed his inner contemplations through his extensive written works, including poetry, letters and journals. His writings commonly deal with issues of social justice and spirituality.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Thomas Merton


Here is a book that was written over fifteen hundred years ago by a mystic in North Africa. Yet to those who have ears to hear, it has a great deal to say to many of us who are not mystics, today, in America. The City of God is a monumental theology of history. It grew out of St. Augustine's meditations on the fall of the Roman Empire. But his analysis is timeless and universal. That is to say, it is Catholic in the etymological sense of the word. It is also Catholic in the sense that St. Augustine's view of history is the view held by the Catholic Church, and by all Catholic tradition since the Apostles. It is a theology of history built on revelation, developed above all from the inspired pages of St. Paul's Epistles and St. John's Apocalypse.

To those who do not know St. Augustine, the figure of the great Bishop of Hippo (the modern name of the city is Bona) may seem quite remote. And to one who attempts to make his first acquaintance with Augustine by starting to read The City of God from the beginning without a guide, the saint may remain an unappealing personality and his book may appear to be nothing more than a maze of curious, ancient fancies.

St. Augustine began to write this book three years after Rome first collapsed and opened its gates to a barbarian invader. Alaric and his Goths sacked the city in 410. Rome had been the inviolate mistress of the world for a thousand years. The fall of the city that some had thought would stand forever demoralized what was left of the civilized world. Those who still took the pagan gods seriously--and it seems they were not a few--looked about them for a scapegoat uponwhich to lay the guilt for this catastrophe. The Christians had emerged from the catacombs and had been officially recognized by the convert Emperor Constantine. Nevertheless Christianity remained the object of superstitious fear on the part of many, and it was inevitable that the bad luck that had befallen the Empire should be blamed on the Catholic Church. St. Augustine took up his pen in 413 and set about proving the absurdity of such a charge. This furnished him with the subject matter for the first ten books of The City of God--a work that was written slowly, and appeared in installments over a period of thirteen years. But the topic that first engaged his attention--Christianity versus the official pagan religion of imperial Rome--is not one that will strike us, today, as a living issue. Nor was it altogether worthy of the genius of Augustine. After several years of writing he abandoned this aspect of the problem, and left it to be disposed of by a certain Orosius, who will probably never find his way into the catalogue of the Modern Library. We owe him at least a debt of gratitude for having set Augustine free to write about the problem that really interested him: the theology of the "two cities" and of the intervention of God in human history.

The saint does not settle down to treat the real theme of his work until he reaches Book Eleven. And even then, he takes such a broad view of his subject that his approach to the main point seems to us extraordinarily unhurried. He pauses to solve many questions of detail. He embarks on a historical exegesis of the Old and New Testaments in order to show how the "two cities" have entered into the very substance of sacred history. Finally he completes this extraordinary panorama with a view of the final end of the two cities, and of their respective fates in eternity. How many Americans will have the patience to follow him through all of this? Those who do so will certainly find themselves profoundly changed by the experience, because they will have been exposed to a summary of Christian dogma. It is an exposition that can only be fully appreciated if it is read in the spirit in which it was written. And The City of God is an exposition of dogma that was not only written but lived.

What do we mean when we say that Augustine lived the theology that he wrote? Are we implying, for instance, that other theologians have not lived up to their principles? No. That possibility is not what concerns us here. It is more than a question of setting down on paper a series of abstract principles and then applying them in practice. Christianity is more than a moral code, more than a philosophy, more than a system of rites. Although it is sufficient, in the abstract, to divide the Catholic religion into three aspects and call them creed, code and cult, yet in practice, the integral Christian life is something far more than all this. It is more than a belief; it is a life. That is to say, it is a belief that is lived and experienced and expressed in action. The action in which it is expressed, experienced and lived is called a mystery. This mystery is the sacred drama which keeps ever present in history the Sacrifice that was once consummated by Christ on Calvary. In plain words--if you can accept them as plain--Christianity is the life and death and resurrection of Christ going on day after day in the souls of individual men and in the heart of society.

It is this Christ-life, this incorporation into the Body of Christ, this union with His death and resurrection as a matter of conscious experience, that St. Augustine wrote of in his Confessions. But Augustine not only experienced the reality of Christ living in his own soul. He was just as keenly aware of the presence and action, the Birth, Sacrifice, Death and Resurrection of the Mystical Christ in the midst of human society. And this experience, this vision, if you would call it that, qualified him to write a book that was to be, in fact, the autobiography of the Catholic Church. That is what The City of God is. Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St. Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints.

That is the substance of the book. But how is the average modern American going to get at that substance? Evidently, the treatment of the theme is so leisurely and so meandering and so diffuse that The City of God, more than any other book, requires an introduction. The best we can do here is to offer a few practical suggestions as to how to tackle it.

The first of these suggestions is this: since, after all, The City of God reflects much of St. Augustine's own personality and is colored by it, the reader who has never met Augustine before ought to go first of all to the Confessions. Once he gets to know the saint, he will be better able to understand Augustine's view of society. Then, no one who is not a specialist, with a good background of history or of theology or of philosophy, ought not to attempt to read the City, for the first time, beginning at page one. The living heart of the City is found in Book Nineteen, and this is the section that will make the most immediate appeal to us today because it is concerned with the theology of peace. However, Book Nineteen cannot be understood all by itself. The best source for solutions to the most pressing problems it will raise is Book Fourteen, where the origin of the two Cities is sketched, in an essay on original sin. Finally, the last Book (Twenty-two), which is perhaps the finest of them all, and a fitting climax to the whole work, will give the reader a broad view of St. Augustine's whole scheme because it describes the end of the City of God, the communal vision of the elect in Paradise, the contemplation which is the life of the "City of Vision" in heaven and the whole purpose of man's creation.

Continued...

Table of Contents

City of GodChronology
Introduction
Further Reading
Translator's Note
Arrangements and Contents of the City of God
Abbreviations Used in References

Concerning the City of God, Against the Pagans

Part I
Book I
Book II
Book III
Book IV
Book V
Book VI
Book VII
Book VIII
Book IX
Book X

Part II
Book XI
Book XII
Book XIII
Book XIV
Book XV
Book XVI
Book XVII
Book XVIII
Book XIX
Book XX
Book XXI
Book XXII

Index

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Merton

Here is a book that was written over fifteen hundred years ago by a mystic in North Africa. Yet to those who have ears to hear, it has a great deal to say to many of us who are not mystics, today, in America... The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints... The City of God, for those who can understand it, contains the secrets of death and life, war and peace, hell and heaven.

Reading Group Guide

1. St. Augustine describes the origin of The City of God as follows: "[in 410] Rome was destroyed as a result of an invasion of the Goths.... The worshipers of many false gods ... began to blaspheme the true God more sharply ... than usual." How does an awareness of the origin of this work as a grand defense of Christianity help us to understand it?

2. What is the meaning of the "two cities, " one of which is "of this world, " and the other of which is "of God"? How does St. Augustine's analysis of these two cities and their histories help organize and structure this work?

3. St. Augustine elaborates the notion of predestination (that all things are preordained by God), an idea taken up much later by Martin Luther and John Calvin. Discuss this crucial idea and its implications.

4. St. Augustine was deeply interested in the workings of the human mind. How do Augustine's ideas about sense perception, will, intellect, and memory resonate with, or differ from, our own? In what ways does The City of God shed light on your own experience of being human?

5. The concept of doubt was crucial for St. Augustine. How is this concept elaborated in The City of God?

6. Thomas Merton, in his Introduction to this volume, describes the work as follows: 'Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St. Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints." How does this perspective help us to understand St. Augustine's writings?

7. St. Augustine is widely regarded as one of the great stylists in the history of Christian literature. What is your senseof St. Augustine's style-his ability to communicate and render intelligible the complex ideas, arguments, and concepts that constitute The City of God?

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The City of God (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a nonbeliever, but I became aware of Augustine and Aquinas when taking Philosophy 100C and Philosophy of Religion at UCLA for my BA in Philosophy. What I enjoy most about Augustine in this work is that he often sounds very rational and open-minded, indeed, almost modern in his frank discussions of human behaviors. For example, he says things about sexuality that you might not expect a Doctor of the Church to say, like sex, being created by God, is not evil but it is lust which is sinful. This work also contains his famous quote about time 'If no one asks me what time is, I know. If someone asks me, I do not.' I suppose that is the mark of a great author, in that they transcend the times they live in and have something to say to all generations. At over 1000 pages, this book definitely requires a time committment on your part, but is certainly worth the investment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not let the atheist and secularist reviewers tell you that you don't need this, or any authoritative teaching. God wants to love us, but does that mean our fate is guaranteed? We can do nothing to win God's love, but we need to do everything to earnestly want God's love. The battle for a compassionate and God-loving heart cannot be won by you alone, but can never be lost by those who never cease to battle. Augustine will teach you this, and so much more. New to this? Despair not: "How late have I loved Thee..." the Saint laments. Savor the place where God has brought you and give thanks for having been preserved to this moment. A great book from a great mind and a great soul. You do need this book.
Quavadis More than 1 year ago
Preface and introduction essays are crucial to understanding this brilliant work, an exemplary work from the Church Fathers whose writings helped to unfold the teachings of the Church.
ostrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My goodness, what a difficult book. To some degree, it was a response to the fact that Rome was sacked by barbarians.
Carolfoasia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh my word, this is a masterpiece. I had read his Confession years ago, but I wish I had read this first. I would have been more interesting in finding out about his life after reading this. It is rich in doctrine. After reading Greek/Roman Lives and all the conflict and stife, it was lovely to sit down with a man who knew God, the Word, and knew how superior God is to the Greek/Roman gods! It dovetailed so nicely with my time in the prophets this year too! So many things come from this book. If you want to understand Western Civilization, this book is a must read.
Hamburgerclan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of those classics that I felt obliged to read someday. I found a cheap copy and after a while I finally picked it up and plowed through it. It was rather interesting: in the early 5th century, Rome was sacked by barbarians from the north. Some folks tried to blame it on the Christians, saying that this was punishment for turning away from the old gods. City of God was Augustine's refutation of the accusation, and further exposition on the nature of those people faithful to the true God. The "city" of God, as he called it. Anyway, it had a lot of interesting ideas. Like any historical work, it was a kick to read something from the past. I was impressed by Augustine's sophistication (you'd think that by now I would have shed the modernist prejudice that our ancestors were a bunch of yokels) and was intrigued when he offhandedly referred to some of the Greek and Egyptian deities as historical people with inflated reputations. Oh, if I only had all the time in the world to investigate these things! Anyway, as enjoyable as this (abridged) version was, I'll have to rate it as very good waiting room material. It was a great read, but it really didn't change my life or even shake up my thinking for a bit. Guess I'm just too orthodox.--J.
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