Sunday, March 25, 2018

City of God Part I, by Augustine

City of God, or
Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, 
Part One
Saint Augustine, translated by Henry Bettenson
Written AD 5th Century

Ten years ago I thought it would be really cool to read City of God, by Augustine. I saw the title on a list of great books to read before you die, and I panicked and immediately picked up a copy from my library.

It was not a smart move because I was in no way mentally prepared to read it, let alone commit to City of God. Hence, it sat unread on my nightstand for three weeks until I dejectedly returned it to the library before late fees kicked in.

Fast forward these ten years, when I come face-to-face with City of God again. It is not the first time I have met with Augustine. Just a genre ago, the biographies of the WEM Reading Challenge, I read Confessions -- much shorter, but nonetheless, still deep and rich in content and ideas.

Not only did Confessions pave the way for City of God, but so has my entire reading journey since January 2012. Basically, six years of learning to study books (via TWEM) have finally prepared me to get through this major work. Well, part way.

And now I do feel really cool -- but not in an arrogant way, I promise.

Augustine of Hippo

Susan Wise Bauer suggests reading an abridged version, but I apparently missed that before I had bought a used copy. This tome is divided into two parts. Part One is only 426 pages, broken up into ten books, with smaller chapters inside each book, labeled by informative headings, which are extremely helpful.

While this is an historical read, it is also definitely philosophical.

My initial expectations were that this was about Rome, though I know not how I figured that out. Anyway, it is about Rome, in a lot of ways, but it is also about God's community of Christians on earth.

Summary of what is in Part One

The Pagans blamed the Christians for the fall of Rome, but Augustine described how Christians also suffered; and furthermore, he argued that it was Christianity that ultimately saved Rome.

He lashed out personally against the indecent pagan gods of Rome who offered nothing but immorality and lies to their believers. He reminded his readers how the gods did not protect Troy (Ilium) or Rome from destruction, and he provided examples of the absurdity and uselessness of these numerous gods that were created by man and were really demons.

Augustine also discussed the problems with astrology, as well as the benefits of virtues. He gave a summary of Roman history, where it went wrong, and how God supported the Christian emperors.

The Course of Empire Desolation (1836) - Cole Thomas

There is a book reserved for an explanation of the gods, what they represented, and how they came to be. Augustine writes about Varro, Socrates, and Plato and the Platonist's philosophy, and how Platonists were closest to Christian truth, although they had refused to acknowledge Christ as the only way to salvation. There is another long section on Apuleius an Neoplatonists, of which I knew nothing at all.

A major theme was felicity (intense happiness). Augustine said that God was the giver of true happiness; and since man is so desperate for happiness, he should just worship God. Plain and simple. Instead man invented a goddess of felicity (whom I had never heard of), who should have been successful enough to take the place of all other gods and ideas, but obviously she failed, too.

I left a lot of other topics out. In most cases, Augustine had much to say about what he had to say, and his arguments were very illuminating and interesting. I could sense his emotions; he was rather irritated that he had to write about these arguments at all. Sometimes he was raw and even sarcastic, such as when he suggested that
men should seek to gain virtue from him who alone can grant it and the whole mob of false gods should be sent packing.
Often Augustine broke off topic and went on a tangent about Christian philosophy and truth. For example, he said,
The sacrifice offered to God is a broken spirit; God will not despise a heart that is broken and humbled.
These were my favorite tangents.

About the City of God, he said,
Indeed this house, the City of God, which is the holy Church, is now being built in the whole world after the captivity in which the demons held captive those men who, on believing in God have become like 'living stones' of which the house is being built.
To get an idea of my opinion about City of God, Part One, the majority of pages in my copy looked like this:

Is this book for you?

If you like ancient history, Christian philosophy, and philosophy in general, you can do this.

Truly, it has been enjoyable, but it is looooooooong. I still have another twelve books to read before I am done, which should be about Christmas this year.

City of God Part II


Fanda Classiclit said...

Ah, so I know now that I MUST own and read this book.
Maybe not this year, but eventually I will.
Thanks Ruth, for letting me taking a glimpse of it. :)

Ruth said...

You're welcome, Fanda. This is something I can see you also reading, though definitely a long-term read.

Sarah said...

This sounds like a fascinating book! I definitely hope to read it! Since you've read the full version, do you recommend reading that or the abridged version?

Ruth said...

Sarah, if I could do it over again, since it is my first time...I would have gone with the abridged. Definitely.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I, too, have City of God languishing on my shelves. I want to read it, but it will have to wait its turn. I sometimes write in my books, but I am afraid to do that usually.

Sarah said...

I will start with the abridged version, then. Thank you for the tip!

Fanda Classiclit said...

Just curious, what's the difference between abridged and unabridged? Is it the langauge only?

Ruth said...

Fanda, I believe Bauer says it is just the length of the book -- a lot is left out of the abridged. The translator for my copy is fine, so it would have been just as well if I had the abridged.

Ruth said...

Yeah, I have a few of those on my shelves, too. I know how you feel.

Jillian said...

Sold. Adding this to my TBR.

Ruth said...

Ok. This is the kind of book that could be broken up into 22 separate reading events b/c I believe there are 22 total books. You could read 1 book a month and then put it down. Then the next month, pick it up again and read another book. Trying to read it all at one time could be discouraging and overwhelming. It's broken up that much that you do not need to read through it continually. I should probably take my own advice.

Have you read Confessions? It is so much more personal and deeper bc it is a biography. Anyway, it was quite enjoyable.