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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
29
4.6 out of 5 stars


on 24 August 2017
St Augustine did not miss trick so to speak, this is a must have for Christian readers...
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on 15 September 2017
Always challenging, moving, and interesting. The two Cities are one of the Great Biblical and European themes that should be heard through the cacophony of contemporary politics and religion.
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on 3 March 2017
good
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on 20 April 2017
Augustine’s monumental work was written between 413 and 427AD. It was at a critical point in the Church’s history: Christianity was now the official religion of the Roman empire, but soon after Constantine’s conversion, things were going wrong for the Empire: Rome was sacked in 410.
Was the conversion to Christianity to blame?
City of God is in part Augustine’s response to this crisis, and requires him to tread a fine line. On the one hand, he wants to dismiss the argument that Christianity was bad for the empire, and that paganism should be encouraged again to bring back Rome’s glory days; on the other hand, he does not want to align the truth of the Christian faith with the success of an earthly empire.
What he does is to establish that there are two great cities: the earthly city, and the heavenly city: the latter is the City of God. The City of God is eternal in the sense that it will last forever, but is still now in the process of being populated. At the final judgement, those abiding in the city of God will be those raised at the last day; others will be sent to the fires of hell: and, for Augustine, this is not a metaphor, but a reality as Book 23 makes abundantly clear. However, it is not, for Augustine, superficially obvious who lives where: there are those who right now are insiders to Church life who nonetheless are enemies of the City of God; there are those who are outsiders to the Church at present who will come to be part of God’s city.
Augustine was a prolific writer, but he clearly intends this to be his ultimate compendium. He throws everything into it: philosophy (pagan and Christian), physics (as in his discussion of lodestones), biology, history, geography as well as, of course, theology. With it, he set the standard for the Western Church: City of God provides the base line from which all other theological works are responses, and that is true both of the Catholic and Reformed traditions.
In the first half of the work, Augustine goes to great pains to describe the patterns of pagan faith, both that of the ancient philosophers (and he has some time for Plato and Porphyry in particular) and that of the people on the ground, and he demonstrates they are fundamentally flawed. Along the way, he provides great evidence for the modern reader about what it was like to be ‘inside’ Greco-Roman religion. This section is a must for ancient historians.
In the second half of the work, Augustine traces the growth of the city of God from the dawn of time, as evidenced both in the scriptures and from outer sources. This involves a great deal of commentary on scripture, from which he quotes extensively. By book 19, he has reached the present world, and his discussion on how the Church should interact with the world in this book is probably the part of this work that is studied the most today. In the final books, he takes the story on to the last judgement, and the final state of happy life within the eternal city.
Reading City of God today involves an extended encounter with one of the most brilliant minds in Western civilisation. Part of the fascination is the way Augustine’s thinking elides from modern to medieval to ancient in ways that are unpredictable. Thus, the creation had to have happened in six days, because “six is a perfect number, being the sum of its fractions, a sixth, a third and a half.” (Book XI Chapter 30) Really? This is just wrong-headed on so many levels.
Yet, look at this: “Remove justice and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale?” (Book IV, Chapter 4)
Or again, “Although the miracles of the visible world of nature have lost their value for us because we see them continually, still, if we observe them wisely they will be found to be greater miracles than the most extraordinary and unusual events. For man is a greater miracle than any miracle effected by man’s agency.” (Book X, Chapter 12).
Here (and I could give hundreds of other examples), his wisdom slices across the centuries with ease.
He is, though, a man of his time. One thing that is of importance to the work, in my view, is that Augustine is a creationist. He believes that the world is only about five thousand years old and thus in this book he is more or less writing a summary of the entire history of the world. This allows him to view his work as utterly comprehensive.
Furthermore, for him, the Bible is both historically true and symbolically true. One of myriad examples is a rather beautiful comparison between Noah’s ark and Christ’s body on the cross: he compares the door from which the animals exit Noah’s ark (the transport that saves them) with the wound opening up in the side of Christ’s body, which is also the vehicle of salvation. (Book XV, 26), and argues that the former clearly foreshadows the latter.
The problem is that, for those of us who believe there was no such thing as Noah’s ark, this ingenious symbolism is rather pointless. Or again, early on, there are pages and pages about angels, which are wildly speculative, but argued closely. Vast tracts of City of God are based on assumptions that the vast majority of modern readers do not hold.
Nevertheless, this is a magisterial work, deserving of its classic status and surprisingly readable. Its crux contribution is as the core text for Christian theology, especially political theology, but there is much more to it than this. For Christians taking their faith seriously, there is gem after gem, be it a comment on a verse of scripture, or on thinking about miracles. For historians of the Roman empire, the first half of the book gives an utterly compelling description of intellectual history from a relatively ancient source, as well as all sorts of information about ancient religion.
It is not for the squeamish. Augustine’s understanding of salvation is pretty bleak for most of humanity: believing that God’s mercy will outweigh his justice is a mistake, one drawn out of compassion, but a mistake all the same: he believes the majority of his contemporaries are doomed to the fires of hell.
One does not have to buy into all his conclusions, but engaging with him is mightily worthwhile.
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on 12 April 2014
It is considered by many that St. Augustine's Masterpiece The City of God influenced the western world more than any book
except the Bible.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 May 2016
After about 40 years of 'going to read it, one of these days', I started reading Augustine's City Of God, and have just finished it.

I can only say it was a bit like a foreign holiday... a certain amount of tedium getting from one place to another; not always entirely trusting everything the tour guide says; but with enough 'Wow!' moments to make the whole thing enjoyable and worthwhile.
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on 17 February 2016
Fantastic book.
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on 7 June 2013
The book is vast and will keep you occupied for a lenthy time. The language is sophisticated, but beautifull. Some very complex issues are discussed , some aruments are tedious and unrelevant.
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on 21 December 1998
I read this book for the sake of pleasure, and nothing more. What a surprise I was in for! I've always admired classical texts, and the tradition of rhetoric which has influenced even the greatest speakers of our own times, such as Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. However, I was totally unprepared for the moving experience of St. Augustine's written words. Had I not been a Christian before I read this book, I believe I would have been compelled to convert! The most interesting aspect of this work seems to me, to be that the utilization of such an ingrained, classical tradition as rhetoric was being applied (and rather effectively so) toward what was to become the new paradigm of Western Heritage. All things classical would be replaced by all things Christian, but thus so by the influence of powerful speakers--who were trained in the Classical tradition! This book is an enjoyable read; both for aspiring religious scholars AND lovers of classical culture.
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on 9 August 1998
St. Augustine's immortal classic is incredibly long and very, very hard to follow at times. When I set out to read this a few years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I read it because a professor I had in college that I greatly respected told me he'd never been able to read it all the way through, and I thought my reading it would impress him, or something. It took me forever, but I read it from cover to cover, and it was a rewarding experience. The book is essentially a very long examination of Christian theology, contrasted sharply with Roman paganism. There are very few theological questions that aren't at least touched upon; many of the ideas that would vex Christian philosophers for centuries are first addressed here. Augustine brings a fine, lucid mind and good instinct for argument and rhetoric to the discussion. This book is a must-read for anyone who takes the intellectual component of their Christian faith seriously. Highly recommended.
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