A Deliberate Confrontation With Paganism (Augustine)

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, Revised Edition with a New Epilogue These are great paragraphs about a great book (Augustine’s City of God) found in a great biography (Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown):

“…We should not forget, that together with the ‘Confessions,’ the theme of the title suddenly crystallized into Augustine’s mind; and, once formed, it is written into every line of the book.”

“The ‘City of God’ cannot be explained in terms of its immediate origins.  It is particularly superficial to regard it as a book about the sack of Rome.  Augustine may well have written a book, ‘On the City of God’ without such an event.  What this sack effected was to provide Augustine with a specific, challenging audience at Carthage; and in this way the sack of Rome ensued that a book which might have been a work of pure exegesis for fellow Christian scholars (somewhat like the great commentary on Genesis, in which the idea of a book on the ‘Two Cities’ is raised), became a deliberate confrontation with paganism.  The ‘City of God,’ itself, is not a ‘tract for the times;’ it is the careful and premeditated working out, by an old man, of a mounting obsession.”

“In a sermon which Augustine preached at Carthage in the same year that he sat down to write the ‘City of God,’ we can sense, better than anywhere else, the force and the true direction of the momentum that would lead him to pile up this ‘great and arduous work’ for future generations to puzzle over.  ‘When, therefore, death shall be swallowed up in victory, these things will not be there; and there shall be peace – peace full and eternal.  We shall be in a kind of city.  Brethren, when I speak of that City, and especially when scandals grow great here, I just cannot bring myself to stop….”

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000, p. 311.

shane lems

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