A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Steve West
Augustine’s The City of God is one of the most influential works in the history of literature. It is a towering achievement of Christian philosophy that defends Christianity in light of the pillage of Rome. Augustine critiques and attacks pagan religion and morality, and rebuts those who were blaming Christians for the sack of Rome. He develops a biblical theology of two kingdoms, the city of the world and the City of God. Augustine traces out the origins, historical advance, and eternal ends of the two cities. Despite human sin, the City of God will conquer and be victorious. The final culmination of the city of man is in eternal punishment, but the final state of the City of God is consummated Glory.
The City of God consists of two parts which are divided into numbered books. Part 1 contains Books 1-10, and Part 2 contains Books 11-22.
Summary: Part 1, Books 1-5
Part 1: Book 1
This work will defend the City of God against those who prefer their own gods as the founders of their city. The city of this world is controlled by a lust for domination. During the sacking of Rome, even the enemies of God were sheltered and safe in Christian holy places, yet now those who were saved are blaming Christ for the destruction. Never before have invaders spared people out of respect for their gods—it is only the Christian God who has been honored this way. Rome entrusted her defense to gods who had been conquered before! Pagan temples in Rome were violated, but Christian places were sanctuaries. Only the name of Christ stopped this aspect of traditional warfare. God in grace often blesses the righteous and the wicked, but he also allows both to experience disasters. In disaster, however, the righteous are refined and purified, whereas the wicked are destroyed. Even the good need to be weaned away from their love of temporal things and comfort, and they need to learn to speak up against evil (sometimes they refrain because they don’t want to lose temporal advantages or be rejected). A righteous person is content with God regardless of circumstances, and losing temporal goods is inevitable at death. Treasures in heaven are not plundered by invaders. We will all die, and so our lifespan in this world is not overly consequential. Although we want to treat the bodies of the dead with respect and bury them, believers who were slain and unburied have lost nothing and will be resurrected. Those who were taken into captivity are still with God, and stand in the tradition of Daniel and others. The celebrated story of Marcus Regulus claims that he endured captivity and torture for the gods—if this is a mark of honor for him, and the gods are still praised, why are Christians jeered at if they have gone into captivity trusting in God?
If women were violated, they are still pure because they did not consent and their morals were unsullied. Some killed themselves to avoid this, and their act is understandable, but those who chose not to take their own lives were completely justified in their decision. Purity is a property of the mind, and unwelcome acts upon our bodies do not defile it. Romans praise Lucretia as chaste even though she was raped, and she is honored for committing suicide: but why should someone innocent self-inflict the death penalty? If Christian women are chaste—although violated—why should they die? Suicide is murder, and Christians are forbidden to murder. Those who did commit suicide may have had good intentions, but they were not wise. Cato’s suicide is a mark of weakness rather than strength and honor, and his friends advised him against it. If God ordains that we live under the power of captors, we can accept that, and we do not see the rightness of trying to avoid the sins of another by committing a great sin ourselves. There is never a valid reason for suicide. Those who were violated are still chaste, and God will use this circumstance to help them grow in virtue.
To the taunt that God did nothing to help his people, we reply that our God is everywhere and does what he pleases. He uses all circumstances for his people’s good, and he provides them with an everlasting reward. Prosperity in Rome has actually led to degeneration and disintegration rather than to genuine peace and blessing. People have been jockeying for power and positions. Violent games and entertainments have been destroying virtue. Even in the face of destruction people went daily to the theatres, and continued to seek entertainment after the siege! It is insane that people with this appalling level of morality can blame Christians for the fall of Rome. God in his grace preserved many pagan lives in Rome by allowing them to shelter with his servants; this kindness should lead to repentance.
Part 1: Book 2
No matter how clear the evidence and argumentation, there are always many people who will continue to object and debate, refusing to acknowledge the truth. No matter what happens, some people blame Christians for it. Pagan gods never taught people proper morality or rebuked them for depravity. In fact, the gods were celebrated with immorality and obscenities. Even “the Mother of the gods” was celebrated in ways that nobody would want associated with their human mother. When people gather at pagan temples they are not taught to be modest and chaste. Philosophers may speak about control, but people are more influenced by their gods. The gods not only do not condemn this behavior, they engage in it themselves and set the example. If these stories of the gods are untrue, they are still believed and imitated without correction. In Greece, actors often received honor and power, since they were pleasing the gods. In Rome, libel laws protected people from being slandered in plays, but the gods were. . .[...]
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City of God