Item description for The City of God (Modern Library Classics) by Augustine, Marcus Dods & Thomas Merton...
Overview Draws contrasts from heavenly and earthly cities to depict the good and evil in human nature, as well as in Western society and thought.
Publishers Description One of the great cornerstones in the history of Christian philosophy, The City of God provides an insightful interpretation of the development of modern Western society and the origin of most Western thought. Contrasting earthly and heavenly cities--representing the omnipresent struggle between good and evil--Augustine explores human history in its relation to all eternity. In Thomas Merton's words, "The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints."
This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition is a complete and unabridged version of the Marcus Dods translation.
"The human mind can understand truth only by thinking, as is clear from Augustine." --Saint Thomas Aquinas
1. St. Augustine describes the origin of The City of God as follows: "[in 410] Rome was destroyed as a result of an invasion of the Goths.... The worshipers of many false gods ... began to blaspheme the true God more sharply ... than usual." How does an awareness of the origin of this work as a grand defense of Christianity help us to understand it?
2. What is the meaning of the "two cities," one of which is "of this world," and the other of which is "of God"? How does St. Augustine's analysis of these two cities and their histories help organize and structure this work?
3. St. Augustine elaborates the notion of predestination (that all things are preordained by God), an idea taken up much later by Martin Luther and John Calvin. Discuss this crucial idea and its implications.
4. St. Augustine was deeply interested in the workings of the human mind. How do Augustine's ideas about sense perception, will, intellect, and memory resonate with, or differ from, our own? In what ways does The City of God shed light on your own experience of being human?
5. The concept of doubt was crucial for St. Augustine. How is this concept elaborated in The City of God?
6. Thomas Merton, in his Introduction to this volume, describes the work as follows: 'Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St. Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints." How does this perspective help us to understand St. Augustine's writings?
7. St. Augustine is widely regarded as one of the great stylists in the history of Christian literature. What is your sense of St. Augustine's style-his ability to communicate and render intelligible the complex ideas, arguments, and concepts that constitute The City of God?
Introduction by Thomas Merton
Here is a book that was written over fifteen hundred years ago by a mystic in North Africa. Yet to those who have ears to hear, it has a great deal to say to many of us who are not mystics, today, in America. The City of God is a monumental theology of history. It grew out of St. Augustine's meditations on the fall of the Roman Empire. But his analysis is timeless and universal. That is to say, it is Catholic in the etymological sense of the word. It is also Catholic in the sense that St. Augustine's view of history is the view held by the Catholic Church, and by all Catholic tradition since the Apostles. It is a theology of history built on revelation, developed above all from the inspired pages of St. Paul's Epistles and St. John's Apocalypse.
To those who do not know St. Augustine, the figure of the great Bishop of Hippo (the modern name of the city is Bona) may seem quite remote. And to one who attempts to make his first acquaintance with Augustine by starting to read The City of God from the beginning without a guide, the saint may remain an unappealing personality and his book may appear to be nothing more than a maze of curious, ancient fancies.
St. Augustine began to write this book three years after Rome first collapsed and opened its gates to a barbarian invader. Alaric and his Goths sacked the city in 410. Rome had been the inviolate mistress of the world for a thousand years. The fall of the city that some had thought would stand forever demoralized what was left of the civilized world. Those who still took the pagan gods seriously--and it seems they were not a few--looked about them for a scapegoat upon which to lay the guilt for this catastrophe. The Christians had emerged from the catacombs and had been officially recognized by the convert Emperor Constantine. Nevertheless Christianity remained the object of superstitious fear on the part of many, and it was inevitable that the bad luck that had befallen the Empire should be blamed on the Catholic Church. St. Augustine took up his pen in 413 and set about proving the absurdity of such a charge. This furnished him with the subject matter for the first ten books of The City of God--a work that was written slowly, and appeared in installments over a period of thirteen years. But the topic that first engaged his attention--Christianity versus the official pagan religion of imperial Rome--is not one that will strike us, today, as a living issue. Nor was it altogether worthy of the genius of Augustine. After several years of writing he abandoned this aspect of the problem, and left it to be disposed of by a certain Orosius, who will probably never find his way into the catalogue of the Modern Library. We owe him at least a debt of gratitude for having set Augustine free to write about the problem that really interested him: the theology of the "two cities" and of the intervention of God in human history.
The saint does not settle down to treat the real theme of his work until he reaches Book Eleven. And even then, he takes such a broad view of his subject that his approach to the main point seems to us extraordinarily unhurried. He pauses to solve many questions of detail. He embarks on a historical exegesis of the Old and New Testaments in order to show how the "two cities" have entered into the very substance of sacred history. Finally he completes this extraordinary panorama with a view of the final end of the two cities, and of their respective fates in eternity. How many Americans will have the patience to follow him through all of this? Those who do so will certainly find themselves profoundly changed by the experience, because they will have been exposed to a summary of Christian dogma. It is an exposition that can only be fully appreciated if it is read in the spirit in which it was written. And The City of God is an exposition of dogma that was not only written but lived.
What do we mean when we say that Augustine lived the theology that he wrote? Are we implying, for instance, that other theologians have not lived up to their principles? No. That possibility is not what concerns us here. It is more than a question of setting down on paper a series of abstract principles and then applying them in practice. Christianity is more than a moral code, more than a philosophy, more than a system of rites. Although it is sufficient, in the abstract, to divide the Catholic religion into three aspects and call them creed, code and cult, yet in practice, the integral Christian life is something far more than all this. It is more than a belief; it is a life. That is to say, it is a belief that is lived and experienced and expressed in action. The action in which it is expressed, experienced and lived is called a mystery. This mystery is the sacred drama which keeps ever present in history the Sacrifice that was once consummated by Christ on Calvary. In plain words--if you can accept them as plain--Christianity is the life and death and resurrection of Christ going on day after day in the souls of individual men and in the heart of society.
It is this Christ-life, this incorporation into the Body of Christ, this union with His death and resurrection as a matter of conscious experience, that St. Augustine wrote of in his Confessions. But Augustine not only experienced the reality of Christ living in his own soul. He was just as keenly aware of the presence and action, the Birth, Sacrifice, Death and Resurrection of the Mystical Christ in the midst of human society. And this experience, this vision, if you would call it that, qualified him to write a book that was to be, in fact, the autobiography of the Catholic Church. That is what The City of God is. Just as truly as the Confessions are the autobiography of St. Augustine, The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints.
That is the substance of the book. But how is the average modern American going to get at that substance? Evidently, the treatment of the theme is so leisurely and so meandering and so diffuse that The City of God, more than any other book, requires an introduction. The best we can do here is to offer a few practical suggestions as to how to tackle it.
The first of these suggestions is this: since, after all, The City of God reflects much of St. Augustine's own personality and is colored by it, the reader who has never met Augustine before ought to go first of all to the Confessions. Once he gets to know the saint, he will be better able to understand Augustine's view of society. Then, no one who is not a specialist, with a good background of history or of theology or of philosophy, ought not to attempt to read the City, for the first time, beginning at page one. The living heart of the City is found in Book Nineteen, and this is the section that will make the most immediate appeal to us today because it is concerned with the theology of peace. However, Book Nineteen cannot be understood all by itself. The best source for solutions to the most pressing problems it will raise is Book Fourteen, where the origin of the two Cities is sketched, in an essay on original sin. Finally, the last Book (Twenty-two), which is perhaps the finest of them all, and a fitting climax to the whole work, will give the reader a broad view of St. Augustine's whole scheme because it describes the end of the City of God, the communal vision of the elect in Paradise, the contemplation which is the life of the "City of Vision" in heaven and the whole purpose of man's creation.
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Studio: Modern Library
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 1.25" Width: 5.25" Height: 8" Weight: 1.4 lbs.
Release Date Sep 12, 2000
Publisher Modern Library
ISBN 0679783199 ISBN13 9780679783190
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More About Augustine, Marcus Dods & Thomas Merton
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO(AD 354 430) is among the most influential cultural figures of all time. His development of Christian theology during the formative fourth and fifth centuries shaped church teaching for future generations. Ascending to influence as a teacher of rhetoric in Hippo, Rome, and Milan, Augustine initially embraced Manichean religion, and later came under the influence of Neoplatonism. In AD 387, however, his life dramatically changed direction with his conversion to Christianity. After conversion, he returned to his native North Africa, where he was ordained a priest and later made a bishop. As leader of the Church in Hippo, he preached widely and wrote voluminous biblical commentaries and apologetic works defending Christian faith against its rivals and detractors, along with more personal and pastoral works, such as Confessions."
Augustine has published or released items in the following series...
Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought
Reviews - What do customers think about The City of God (Modern Library Classics)?
Tough going, but worth it May 14, 2008
It took me about five months of off-and-on reading to slog through City of God--it was time well-spent. Here is one of the rare 1000-page books that not only deserved its length, but could have been longer.
What astounded me about reading St. Augustine was how relevant he is, even after 1600 years. The vast majority of what he discusses throughout this monumental book still matters--only the particulars have changed. In his day, pagans blamed Christians for wars and the collapse of civilization. Rationalists and materialists denied the supernatural, insisting that all religions were the same, and mocked those that believed in it. And Christians themselves, under pressure and guilt from what seemed to be the entire known world, expressed doubts about their faith. Sound familiar? Only the particulars of all these situations have changed--in the broadstrokes, Christianity is still fighting many of the same battles in which Augustine saw combat.
This edition from Penguin Classics (I fully realize that this site will post this review on the Modern Library edition and other places that it doesn't belong) is very good. Henry Bettenson's translation is smooth, fast-moving, and heavily footnoted. While I found the footnotes very helpful--especially in the hundreds of places in which Augustine quotes from scripture and other authors, like Virgil and Plotinus--some of them struck me as unnecessary, particularly those criticizing Augustine's etymologies and those pointing out which gods or goddesses are or are not found outside Augustine's work. The most helpful notes were those describing puns or other untranslatable portions of the book.
Like I said, City of God is very heavy reading and a great deal of work to get through, but the reward should outweigh the time it takes to read the book.
The Best Kindle Edition of This Work Mar 21, 2008
For those without a Kindle this review will have little to offer except to say that this edition comes with a preface by Thomas Merton which for me was a welcome surprise. I usually don't bother with introductions.
Kindle users, I looked at every Kindle edition of this work and this is without question the best formatted version. The only drawback is the lack of titles for each "book" in the table of contents. Instead they are just numbered; I, II, III, IV, and so on. There are also hyperlinked "footnotes," which I did not notice in other editions.
I apologize to Kindle non-owners, but this site has not yet presented away to comment specifically on electronic editions, and many public domain books--classics--are not yet properly formatted for the Kindle (which despite a few hitches is a five star device).
Unworthy printing of a most worthy version Nov 2, 2007
This is not the most attractive edition of St. Augustine's monumental City of God but it is worth getting anyway for the introduction by Etienne Gilson. The translation is quite good and, though it is somewhat abridged, this doesn't pose too great a problem as Bourke has inserted into the text a brief description of the material that he cut out so you can go to an unabridged edition if you choose.
City of God Aug 31, 2007
This is an apologetic text in defence of the Chritian faith. In this book, Augustine persuasively informed his audience (readers) regarding the history of creation from the fall of humanity to their redemption provided they recognized him as God of their lives. This is possible only as they abandon all forms of idolatries lest they experience a catatrosphe similar to what led to the fall of Rome. Augustine's concept of the two cities are in contrast to each other, viz, the city of God versus the city of Satan. The former is governed by God, and the later by the Devil that also governs the minds of many un-regenerated. Thus, Augustine appealed, in his 22 volumes that are now in a single volume, to join him "in rendering thanks to God" through this great work! Pastor Moses Oladele Taiwo, Ph.D. Professor of New Testament and Head of the Department of Urban Christian Ministry, New Life Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC 28203. Tel: (704) 334 6884 Ext.106.
Some things are better read about than read Aug 16, 2007
I read this for a book group I was in, and was rather peeved at being forced to blow so much time on what is essentially useful only to the Classical historian or Scholasticism buff. Realistically, Augustine is just a particularly eloquent proponent of a religious argument we all get in Sunday School at age 10: The things of this world are transitory and passing, but the things of the next world are eternal and more valuable. You can almost hear the monotonous cadence.
If what you want is to add to your already-considerable knowledge of the particulars of late Roman civilization, then this is the book for you. If you're in seminary and reading Aquinas, and you're thinking, "I'd certainly like to know more about his major intellectual influences," then this is the book for you.
But if what you want is an increased familiarity with the major ideas of Western civilization, then do yourself a favor and go pick up a pair of textbooks: one on ancient history, the other on classical philosophy. Augustine of Hippo will get a few pages in each one, and that's honestly all he's worth. Plowing through the entirety of The City of God for simple philosophical or theological curiosity would be like reading the complete works of Louis Agassiz just to see what scientific racism was like. Both efforts would be fruitful, in one sense, but in another sense you'd have spent an awful lot of time learning about antiquated theories.