Reading Augustine’s ‘City of God’. . .and More
In 410 A.D., the Visigoths invaded and sacked Rome, causing great destruction and widespread loss of life. Foreign armies had not entered the city of Rome in almost 700 years, and people began looking for someone to blame. And as has often happened in varying circumstances throughout history, they tried to blame Christians for having replaced the worship of the pagan gods – who allegedly had protected the city – with the Christian God. Christians were also criticized for promoting the softer virtues, like forgiveness and charity, rather than the military power that had made Rome the greatest empire in the world.
St. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo in North Africa at the time and was greatly shaken by the news. It’s hard for us to appreciate the shock people felt at an event so many centuries ago, but it was something like what many Americans experienced at the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Like those more recent attacks, the sack of Rome not only changed life for people at the time, but gave rise to large-scale historical consequences – and new ideas.
St. Augustine was not only deeply shocked by the destruction in the city; he was also greatly moved to respond to the slanders against the Faith and to lay out the Christian view of history. It took him sixteen years to write, but the result is a massive, wide-ranging, and profound work of Christian apologetics – The City of God – which is not only about the sack of Rome, but about the relationship between the sacred and the secular, the Church and the Empire, the two “Cities” – the City of God spread out between Heaven and Earth, and the City of Man which tries to live without God. And much more.