Summary of “City of God”Pt. 1 – Part 1, Book 1

A few weeks ago my wife gave birth to my third child and first son, Augustine Gideon Fields. Obviously we named him after Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). I was somewhat familiar the works of Augustine, particularly his treatment on sin and evil, and that he is widely considered to be the greatest Christian thinker who ever lived. But after naming my son after him I decided that I would want to delve into his works more seriously, reading whole books of his rather than specific sections that dealt with whatever topic I was currently studying. So I began to read “City of God.” As I was reading it I realized that his writing style would make it very easy for me to interact with the book. What I’m referring to is that Augustine divided his work into very manageable parts. The book is fist divided into five major parts. Each part is in turn divided into four or five books, and each book is divided into numerous chapters, which are usually only one or two pages long. What I decided to do was, in the space between each chapter, write in a one or two sentence summary of that chapter. This would force me to follow the line of thinking of the book, as well as make it easier to pick up later on in life and find things easier. I then decided that if I’m going to do this work I’ll go ahead and offer it to everyone else to read and post it onto my blog. I may also include a few quotes here and there if I feel they will help.

“City of God” Part 1 – Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness, Book 1 – Christianity Did Not Cause the Fall of Rome

[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on an excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole and note when this is so.]

Preface: Augustine gives the reason for writing this great work. His friend Marcellinus contacted him regarding the claim that it is the fault of the Christians that the city of Rome fell. Augustine would give a defense of Christendom in regard to this accusation. He also gives a general purpose statement regarding the topic and idea of the “City of God,” “In [this work] I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder. I shall consider it both in its temporal stage here below (where it journeys as a pilgrim among sinners and lives by faith) and as solidly established in its eternal abode – that blessed goal for which we patiently hope ‘until justice be turned into judgement,’ but which, one day, is to be the reward of excellence in a final victory and a perfect peace.”

Chapter 1: Augustine begins by pointing out the irony that the same people who blame the Christians for the fall of Rome, would not have survived the fall were it not for the presence of the Christian faith and Christian sanctuaries within the city.

“Even these ruthless men [the barbarians who sacked the city], who in other places customarily indulged their ferocity against enemies, put a rein to their murderous fury and curbed their mania for taking captives, the moment they reached the holy places. Here, the law of sanctuary forbade what the law of war elsewhere permitted. Thus were saved many of those who now cry down Christian culture and who blame Christ for the calamities that befell the city.”

“Many of those whom you see heaping impudent abuse on the servants of Christ would not have escaped the ruin and massacre had they not falsely paraded as servants of Christ.”

Chapter 2: References from history that show the presence of Christians in the city of Rome did more good than harm, for no other barbarian ever gave the order not to kill those who took refuge in sanctuaries. Also, discourse on how the pagan gods and idols were incapable of protecting their worshipers, when in fact it was the other way around. The temple guards were the ones protecting the idols.

“Let them even point to a single barbarian chieftain who captured a town and then ordered his soldiers not to kill those caught in any of the temples.”

“It was not the effigy that guarded the men, but the men who guarded the effigy.”

Chapter 3: Quoting from historians and poets, Augustine shows that even the pious followers of these Roman gods admit that they are “fallen” and “conquered” gods. The only reason the gods are still worshiped is because Rome refuses to let them disappear into obscurity.

“If, then, Virgil describes such gods as vanquished, and, because vanquished, needing a man’s help even to escape, surely it is folly to believe that it was wise to entrust Rome to the safe-keeping of such divinities, and to believe that Rome could never be destroyed unless it lost its gods.”

“It is much more sensible to believe, not so much that Rome would have been saved from destruction had not the gods perished, but rather that the gods would have perished long ago had not Rome made every effort to save them.”

Chapters 4-6: [Editors Summary] “References to Virgil, Sallust, and Livy indicate that it was never customary for the temples or statues of the gods, in ancient Greece and Rome, to be spared in time of war.”

Chapter 7: Reiterating the fact that the forming of places of refuge by the attacking army is utterly foreign to ways of war and mankind. It is only by way of Christian civilization that this could occur.

Chapter 8: An objection: if the city of Rome was so evil, why did God allow the pagan members of its society to survive? Because our God is patient and merciful, and desires for those individuals to turn to Him.

“God’s patience is an invitation to the wicked to do penance, just as God’s scourge is an a school of patience for the good.”

“If [God] visited every sin here below with manifest penalty, it might be possible that no score remained to be settled at the Last Judgement. On the other hand, if God did not plainly enough punish sin on earth, people might conclude that there is no such thing as divine providence.”

Chapter 9: Why did Christians suffer in the fall of Rome? Because they failed to speak out against the evils around them for fear that their security and way of life would be compromised if they did.

“Though the good do not fear the wicked to the point of stooping, under intimidation, to their villainies and knavery, they often are unwilling to denounce such things, even when they might convert some souls thereby.”

“Both [the good and the wicked] are scourged, not because both lead a bad life, but because both love an earthly life; not, indeed, to the same extent, but yet both together – a life which the good should think little of in order that the bad, by being admonished and reformed, may attain to eternal life.”

Chapters 10-13: [Editors summary] “Amplifying his contention that physical sufferings and the loss of earthly possessions may be turned to spiritual advantage, Augustine cites the Old and New Testaments to this effect. Massacres and failures to bury the dead are regrettable but are not spiritual evils.”

Chapter 14: Even in times when the Christians are removed from their homes, they still have reason to rejoice because they are still under the care of their God.

Chapter 15: Despite the honor and devotion of Marcus Aurelius Regulus, a Roman General, to his pagan gods, he died a terrible death at the hands of his captors. The Romans should then understand that even if they worship the gods as piously as they say they do, then the fall of Rome was always a possibility.

“But what are we to do with people who boast of having such a fellow citizen, but dread to have a whole city of like quality? If they have no such dread, then let them avow that the very evil which befell Regulus might befall the city also, though it honor the gods no less conscientiously than he did.”

Chapter 16: As for the charge that Christians are responsible for the rape and shaming of Rome’s wives and virgins, the sense of chastity and purity held by the women was not lost because they did not give their consent to the rape, nor did any part of their will desire the carnality of it. Their chastity still remains intact.

Chapters 17-18: [Editor’s summary] “Because chastity is not identical with bodily integrity but is a virtue of the soul, no woman need lose her chastity through violation. Moreover, suicide is not a proper means to use in protecting one’s chastity.” 

Chapter 19: Using the example of Lucretia, Augustine shows that the victim of rape is not made unholy. He then shows that, by way of her suicide, punishing the victim is itself a great injustice.

“Seeing, in this connection, only the foul passion of the one and the chaste will of the other, and regarding not so much the union of bodies as the opposition of wills, he declared: ‘Two persons, but only one adulterer.'”

Chapter 20: Discourse on why suicide is forbidden.

Chapter 21: If it is wrong to kill, then what about the instances in the Old Testament when God commands his followers to kill, or allows governments to enact the death penalty? Augustine’s answer is that God’s followers are but swords in the hand of God. It is God who is the active one in the death of such people.

Chapters 22-26: [Editor’s summary] “Neither in the Bible nor in the pagan moral works is suicide approved. The suicides of Lucretia and of Cato are examples of pseudo-courage. The story of Regulus shows the nobility of a pagan who preferred captivity to suicide. To kill oneself at God’s command is not suicide, but one should be absolutely certain about the divine command.”

Chapter 27: There is only one argument for suicide that could carry any weight. Killing oneself to avoid falling into sin. This argument fails though because the logical conclusion is to exhort all Christians to kill themselves right after receiving salvation.

Chapter 28: Words of encouragement to Christians who have suffered rape. Followed by words of warning to those who are still untouched virgins not to fall into pride because of their condition.

Chapters 29-31: [Editor’s Summary] “The reward for good Christians is not the possession of earthly things. Even the pagan pontifex, Scipio Nasica, counseled moderation in the attack on Carthage, denounced the Roman lust for power, and frowned on the presentation of obscene stage plays.”

Chapter 32: The obscene stage plays corrupted the minds of those who indulged in them.

Chapter 33: The minds of those still in the city of Rome are so corrupted that they do not realize the depths of the evil that has befallen them. While the rest of the world weeps for Rome, those within Rome instead search for more debauchery.

Chapter 34: Those who survived the fall of Rome owe their thanks to the Christian God. Augustine points out that the founders of Rome established an institution to help house it’s own citizens who were in trouble. Those who destroyed the city instituted the same practice, and used the spacious Christian meeting places as places of refuge for Roman citizens who would peaceably surrender. Those who did, did not come under harm.

Chapter 35: The institution stands as an example to Christians: to live with their enemies peaceably, because in those enemies reside future fellow citizens (Christians).

Chapter 36: One more charge against Christianity: They helped to bring about the end of sacrifices to the Roman gods, and this brought about the fall of Rome. Response: Rome had troubles long before the sacrifices came to an end.


That’s it for book 1. Augustine shows that the pagan religion of the Romans was responsible in its own way for the cracks that lead to their downfall. Christianity in no way brought about the fall of Rome. Indeed, it’s presence in the city saved a great many people. Join me next time as I review book two, entitled: “Pagan God’s Never Protected Men’s Souls.”

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