Augustine’s City of God – Book 1
I am reading through the great Augustine’s ‘great book,’ “The City of God.” It’s around 700 pages, and he wrote it over a 14 year period in his upper 50’s till he was 70. In his time, (early 400’s) Christians were being blamed for the sack of Rome. That somehow, this destruction of Rome was being placed on the Christian religion, is something Augustine shows great surprise at and offers a whole new way of thinking about events like these. Yet, even the Christians were surprised that this event could happen at all. Rome was going to stand forever, at least in many an ancient mind. He spends the first book (think a long chapter) of many, arguing that this could not be the case, and the blame needs to go elsewhere.
What is great about this book so far, is that we get to see what the introduction describes as the first Philosophy of History. Basically, a large angle lens that interprets all of history, and particularly the history of Rome’s fall with meaningful explanation. Augustine’s point is that the kind of religion that Christians follow, is one in which the people are challenged to holiness. They are challenged to live good lives, so much so that if everyone were really a Christian, Rome would not have been able to fall.
However, Augustine’s greater point is that the kingdom of God, which he calls the City of God, is distinct from the City of this World. Where the people of this world act in ways contrary to God’s goodness, it is only inevitable that society will devolve and become vulnerable. He spends time listing how even the non-Christians of Rome that found refuge in the churches, were spared their lives both the invaders. Augustine’s point, seems to be that the real God was able to protect those who came to him, even on the basis of pretense from them losing their lives.
He lists some rather immoral practices that the invaders did during their sacking of Rome, such as rape young women who had dedicated their whole bodies to the Lord. And, as much as he answers questions Pastorally about these events, namely that the women are still pure in the Lord, despite this heinousness happening to them, he also offers a broader point which contrasts the false gods and their behaviors as well as the behaviors of those society looked up to, with the steadfastness of God’s people through trials like these.
Again, he is offering God’s people the edge, because of the City that they are a part of.