The empire that had conquered the world was now crumbling under barbarian attacks. For some, the end of Rome was the end of the world. Believing the disaster was the vengeance of the old gods, pagans blamed the Christians. To answer these fears and accusations, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, decided to write books on the subjects. He wrote 22 books over the course of 12 years.
“But give me now your attention, if your mind, inebriated by its deep potations of error, can take in any sober truth.”—Book 1, Ch 32
I didn’t know much about The City of God, and started it expecting something like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a theological piece. Yes, there was theology, but there was also a little bit of absolutely everything. Sometimes, in the midst of all that was going on, I forgot the main thread. But then Augustine would bring the topic to its theme: the superiority of God’s perfect and eternal kingdom over the fallen and fleeting kingdoms of man.
“For, though the voices of the prophets were silent, the world itself, by its well-ordered changes and movements, and by the fair appearance of all visible things, bears a testimony of its own, both that it has been created, and also that it could not have been created save by God, whose greatness and beauty are unutterable and invisible.”—Book 11, Ch 4
The variety of topics covered was fascinating. Augustine first examines the mythology/history of ancient Rome, showing the weakness of paganism while giving me an education in the classics. It remined me of how little I know of Livy and Plutarch. Then Augustine discussed textual criticism, especially relevant since Jerome had finished his famous Vulgate translation around that time. There were many other subjects explored, among them musical flatulence and peacock meat.
Tells again about the Sabine women, and also tells the story of Rome’s interaction with nearby Alba. Romulus sounds like such an unsavoury character. On another note, is this surviving Horatti the same one who held the bridge? (I hope not.) (He is. The story of him holding the bridge is dramatic, but the story of him killing his grieving sister is far less heroic)—My notes for book 3
The Rome of Augustine’s day is long since gone, and its old gods with it. But a good chunk of The City of God is just as relevant today as it was then. But aside from edification, The City of God is also an interesting historical resource. All around, this tome is well worth the time.
“And though it [vanity] be able, if it like, to shout more loudly than the truth, it is not, for all that, more powerful than the truth.”—Book 5, Ch 26