- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 1184 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (January 6, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140448942
- ISBN-13: 978-0140448948
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 2 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 268 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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City of God (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 30, 2003
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About the Author
St Augustine of Hippo was the great Doctor of the Latin Church. Born in North Africa in AD 354, he was brought up as a Christian and at 16 went to Carthage to finish his education. Until 387, Augustine followed the Manichean religion and founded his own school of rhetoric in Rome. After his baptism, he returned to Africa and lived in the community he formed there until his death in 430. His written output there includes Confessions and City of God, among over 113 books.
Henry Bettenson (1908-1979) was educated at Bristol University and Oriel College, Oxford. He taught Classics for 25 years at Charterhouse 'Documents of the Christian Church' and 'Early Christian Fathers'.
Dr Gill Evans teaches medieval intellectual history, medieval theology and ecumenical theology in the Faculty of History at Cambridge. She has published widely in this area.
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For example, on page 971 Augustine skillfully writes, "This is why, as the Lord carried his cross, so Isaac himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which he too was to be placed. Moreover, after the father had been prevented from striking his son, since it was not right that Isaac should be slain, who was the ram whose immolation completed the sacrifice by blood of symbolic significance? Bear in mind that when Abraham saw the ram it was caught by the horns in a thicket. Who, then, was symbolized by that ram but Jesus, crowned with Jewish thorns150 before he was offered in sacrifice?
The book is filled with little nuggets all throughout. Couldn't recommend it more!
Why? Because it's obviously been scanned in from a printed edition and then only tidied perfunctorily. Maybe one page in eight has at least one scanner error (they tend to clump), and running a spell-check program would have caught a good fraction of them. A bored intern who read every word of the text would have caught almost all. It's amusing to read about Flatonists rather than Platonists, and it keeps me on my toes to have "the" replace "die" much of the time, but it soon gets tiresome.
Penguin Classics has stopped caring about their readers. It's pathetic. This Kindle edition is roughly as expensive as the paperback, at least here, and they can't even be bothered to run a spell-checker program on it, let alone pay anyone to proofread it.
If you simply must have this translation in Kindle format, you're stuck with this. I'm certain that Penguin Classics will do nothing to fix these problems.
The City of God, as most know, was written in the aftermath of the Sack of Rome by Alaric and the Visigoths. This sent shock waves throughout the Roman Empire – hitting Christians and Pagans alike. What we often forget too is that, while Christianity had been made the official state religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Theodosius, “Paganism” still outnumbered Roman Christianity. Part of Augustine’s response was to counsel Christians whose faith was shaken by the events and traumatic experiences. The other part was Augustine’s response to the pagan critics – ensuring that the City of God would stand as one of the most comprehensive, and systematic, works of cultural criticism ever penned by a human.
People in the English-speaking world, thanks to the Protestant Reformation, should re-read Augustine without the mediation of Luther or Calvin, and especially Calvin. Americans, in particular, should give Augustine’s work a read. America is often described as the New Rome, or the New Athens. Either way, America is the great superpower and is, in many ways, an empire of old. Although the notion of imperial soteriology has been greatly and grossly exaggerated, some Christians had begun to see the Roman Empire as an instrument of God’s salvific plans. In other words, God works through a nation to achieve his goals. Augustine vehemently opposes this view of seeing sacred history as tied to particular nations of men.
Augustine is thoroughly Catholic. He is Catholic in his hermeneutics and he is Catholic in his ecclesiology. Which means he is Catholic in his ecclesiological hermeneutic which runs throughout the work. It was already common in the patristic period to read the Old Testament in a Christo-centric and ecclesiastic manner, so Augustine is no different when he comments upon how to read the ancient stories (but it is Augustine's authority that is so important). Unlike “fundamentalists” today, who see the OT stories as one of history, Augustine fits in the patristic tradition of allegorical hermeneutics. Yes, Augustine does believe in a literal Old Testament history (he had no reason to think otherwise) but that’s not what he is most concerned with. Instead, he is concerned with the truly “literal” (what we call today as allegorical) reading: The Old Testament stories are all prefigurations and signs of Christ and the Church.
To give an example, in Book XV when he comments on the story of Cain and Abel Augustine doesn’t really care about Cain and Abel as fundamentalists would. Instead, he reads Cain and Abel as a story prefiguring Christ’s death and the Christian Church. Abel is like Christ, the good shepherd who is killed by humanity (archetypally represented by Cain). But Abel is also like the Church, the body of true life for even though Abel was physically killed it was Abel who spiritually lived on, while Cain embodies both physical and spiritual death. This is because, as Augustine tells us, Abel is like the City of God and Cain like the City of Man. Cain’s mark to wander and eventually found the first cities is also Augustine understanding those marked to be forever separated from Christ and his Church – and that city-life is tainted by the sin of fratricide leading to the perpetual lust for domination. But it is important to note, as Augustine does, God does not abandon the reprobate first (per Calvin's double predestination). It is the reprobate who abandon God – like Adam in the garden, or Cain just after murdering Abel, God appears and talks to them, offering a path to repent, but sinful man deflects the blame and doesn’t want to own their actions. Then, and only then, does God depart. (Hence Augustine's single predestination, for God knows who will choose him and forsake him, but he is still present with those who will forsake him until the moment of their forsaking -- whereas in Calvin God has already separated himself from the eternally damned before the beginning of time.)
In reading the creation story of Genesis, Augustine not only emphasis the unity and equality between man and woman, “The woman, then, is the creation of God, just as the man; but her creation out of man emphasizes the idea of the unity between them” (XXII, 17), but it doesn’t stop there. Augustine reads the story of Adam and Eve in the same ecclesiastic hermeneutical lens: “And in the manner of that creation [the creation of Adam and Eve] there is, as I have said, a foreshadowing of Christ and his Church.”
Those interested in the art of patristic hermeneutics, and especially ecclesiological hermeneutics, can be enriched by Augustine’s hermeneutic within the City of God. This is important for Americans, again, to realize the profundity of what Augustine is claiming (who influenced the Catholic tradition as a result): GOD HAS ALWAYS WORKED THROUGH HIS CHURCH! God has never actually worked through a “nation” but always his church. The Church is present at creation, it is present through the Flood (Noah’s Ark), it is present through the patriarchs and prophets, and it is present through the people of Israel before Christ’s crucifixion. There are no chosen nations, so to speak – all the nations, like earthly Jerusalem or Babylon, are destined to failure but the Church and the Church alone is chosen to endure to the end!
But City of God is more than a work of philosophy, theology, and Biblical interpretation, it is among the greatest and most penetrating works of cultural criticism. Again, Americans should read, or reread, Augustine in light of this fact. Augustine does not spare from scrutiny and criticism all of the “sacred myths” of Rome. If Augustine were alive today, speaking of the city of man that is America, he would be equally critical of America’s founding myths: The City Upon the Hill, “The Last Best Hope,” and the veneration of the Founding Fathers and so on.
Augustine doesn't spare the Roman city (archetypal of the earthly city of man) and its foundation of “love of self to the point of contempt of God” from any criticism. The city of man is the city where you can be whatever you want to be, the city where you can do whatever you want to do, the city where everything is permitted, which is the same as to say that nothing is important or sacred. The love of self is the love of nothingness and exhausts itself, always, in death and destruction.
Augustine’s reading of the rape of Lucretia (Book I) and Romulus and Remus (Book XV) are just two of many examples of his withering cultural criticism. Lucretia, for those who don’t know Roman history and mythology, was a young and beautiful noblewoman who was raped by one of King Tarquin’s sons. Defiled by what one had done to her, rather than with her (as Augustine so acutely and deftly puts it), ultimately commits suicide though she had done nothing wrong. Lucretia’s tragedy is the tragedy of the city of man. Lucretia loved her self so much that after the rape she felt like she couldn’t love herself anymore and that if she went on living she would be scorned by Roman society. So she took her life. The love of self drove her to commit suicide. The sin of Lucretia’s suicide is just as much on Tarquin’s son, Lucretia herself, as it is on the Roman people as a whole. The irony is, Augustine sees, is that Lucretia had to die in order to win the praises of the city of man. Only through her death could she be loved again. Lucretia’s importance in Roman myth is that it was her death that galvanized the people to overthrow the Tuscan monarchy and establish the supposedly liberty-loving republic.
In the story of Romulus and Remus Augustine parallels this with Cain and Abel. But Augustine, while noting the similarities, also highlights the difference. The murder of Remus by Romulus was because of love of self. Driven by competition and want for praise of self and all the glory of founding Rome to themselves, this meant that neither could share the praise and glory with one another. Hence, Romulus murdered Remus so as to win all of the laurels and honors of founding Rome for himself. Rome’s foundation is built upon the blood of a murdered family member. What one can’t afford to miss in this reading of the founding of Rome (again archetypal of the city of man) is that the city of man is always internally divided! The city of man is divided among itself in competition as the iteration of the libido dominadi, with competition being seen as the pathway to glory, honor, and fame, etc.
Americans who like to breach bipartisanship and “unity” need to realize that the city of man, founded in its sin and lust for domination, enslaved by its culture of self-love and nothing more, cannot ever be united and unified. This is why earthly citizens need to transcend their citizenship to the only place of true unity: The Unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is also part of Augustine’s criticism of Cicero – a man whom he greatly admired and was a fatherly intellectual figure of sorts (recall in the Confessions that Augustine credits Cicero with turning him away from atheism to belief in God, and in a way, Cicero is responsible for Augustine’s conversion to Christianity). Cicero’s great works: Republic and On Obligations, are very Christian in one sense, but deeply flawed in another. Cicero was right to see the need for justice and unity and strong moral character in order for a society to survive. But he was naïve to think Rome was ever that utopian republic that Cicero speaks of in some of his writings. How can a city founded on the love of self ever be united? Augustine is, although this is somewhat anachronistic, an ardent critic of “individualism” in the modern sense of the word. (Individualism, in Latin: individuum, means to be “indivisible”, i.e. bringing two together as one; just a fun etymological lesson the next time you consider what the implications of “individualism” are to philosophical anthropology.) The hope of nations is not a king, a president, or a congress -- it is the Church, of which Christ is the head of.
The City of Rome, Augustine tells us through the stories of Romulus and Remus, Lucretia, and Aeneas, is founded on death and domination. Domination exhausting itself into death is really the only thing the city of man knows. Augustine's analysis and criticism of Roman myth, culture, and sacred literature is among the most penetrating and thoughtful cultural criticism any human writer has ever produced.
Furthermore, in dealing with theology, Augustine – ever the Catholic – knows that God is Truth itself. (The idea of God as Truth itself is Catholic dogma.) In reading the narrative of the Fall and Sin in Genesis Augustine, again, deploys that allegorical hermeneutic. What did it mean for Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? It was not to gain consciousness as existentialist theologians of the 20th century say (for man was already lonely in Genesis 2 which is why God made woman to make him whole: indivisible.) Augustine understands the Fall to be man’s attempt to decide for himself what is good and what is evil, in the false hope that being the “measure of all things” will bring him happiness.
Augustine’s anthropology is defined by eudemonia. All humans seek happiness. Happiness is the end of human existence. This is why heaven, in Catholic doctrine, is the place of enduring and eternal happiness. Salvation is about happiness! But what is sin? Sin is misdirected desire at love and happiness according to Augustine. Humans do what they do out of a misguided belief that it will make them happy. The ultimate rebellion of man is thinking that he can simply claim his actions to be “good” so as to make him happy. That is what Augustine understands the first sin to be about; and that is ultimately what all sin is about. The City of God, Augustine tells us in Book XIV, is about living in union with the Truth of God's orderly creation. The city of man, by contrast, lives in falsity and darkness: It cares not about the Truth but only about the self as the measure of all things. Once more, thoughtful people today can see just how prescient Augustine was in understanding the ways of the city of man - the city that prefers falsity and ignorance in the never to be satisfied quest for happiness precisely because this quest, which places man (instead of God) at the center of all things perpetuates man's rebellion against nature itself.
To live by God’s standard, Augustine says in Book XIV, is to live by nature’s standard – the standard of Truth itself. To live in union with the Truth, to live as God intended, is the only way to be truly happy. To live by the standard of man, is to live by the standard of falsity.
Lastly, on the issue of image of God (imago Dei), Augustine (and Catholic doctrine affirms this) understands a crucial aspect of the imago Dei to mean that humans possess the gift of reason. Reason is what makes us like God. It is what separates humans from the rest of the created order. Animals may possess sense. They may be able to love in the way that animals can show affection. They may have simple thought processes. But animals do not possess rationality like humans do (e.g. ability to come to know the good and the true and live by that standard).
Part of the Fall of Man, for Augustine, is man’s rejection of Reason. Since God is Reason and Reason is God (Logos theology) and Christ is the Wisdom itself (Christ as the Logos), the rejection of human reason in the garden story (by man wanting to decide for himself what is good and evil to bring about his joy), man actually rejected his own reason. Rather than use his reason to understand himself and the world, thereby living in union with the Truth of the created order whereby he would be happy, man rejects the rational order of creation and tries to define for himself what is good, what is evil, and who he is and who is not. This is what has led to the disordered affairs of body and soul in Christian anthropology. All desire seeks happiness and is, technically, good. But human reason is what guide desires to its end (finding bliss only in God). In rejecting human reason we become “fallen,” we become nothing less than brute animals who give into our impulses over and over again – only to be disappointed in the end.
The idea of the Fall as the Fall of Human Reason is one of the reasons why actually literate scholars of Christian philosophy and theology (whether they are believing scholars or not) see the so-called “New Atheist” movement as nothing but a “secularization” of Christianity. Think about dunces like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who know almost nothing of religious hermeneutical traditions and their longstanding philosophies: That narrative that humans were once great and rational beings who have since fallen into darkness, ignorance, and superstition and now have to embrace the “light” of science and truth to lift themselves out of the pit of despair and darkness – guess where that narrative comes from? Yep, Christianity.
For the world was void and left in darkness until the light of Christ gave it form in creation. The world was brilliant in its light and the people knew God before descending into darkness and ignorance (see Romans 1). Having rejected reason they have given themselves over to their passions and are left to wallow in despair (also see Romans 1). What saves man from this wretched state of ignorance and darkness? The “Light of Christ.” It’s the same story just retold.
Augustine’s City of God is, without overstatement, a work that outshines most other works. There is no other work of antiquity, Christian, Greek, Jewish, or Roman, that is as comprehensive and systematic, as penetrating in its criticism, and as influential in its legacy, as Augustine’s City of God. It is a long and arduous read at times, this much is true. There are things that Augustine says that we now know not to be true. But that shouldn’t prevent anyone from reading one of the classic works of Western literature, philosophy, criticism, political philosophy, and theology. It is thought-provoking, tragic, ironic, and hopeful, all in one.