On August 24, the year 410, the unthinkable happened: The Goths, under the leadership of Alaric, sacked Rome. Although, by historical standards, it was a fairly “restrained” sacking, there was nothing restrained about response to the news that the “eternal city” had been pillaged.
Pagans blamed the downfall of Rome, and other calamities as well, on Christianity. This prompted a reply by a North African bishop that shaped the course of Western civilization. That bishop was, of course, Augustine of Hippo, and his reply was the classic apologetic book entitled The City of God.
To fully appreciate Augustine’s masterpiece, you need to understand the man and his times. And I can think of no better guide than my friend Ken Boa.
You see, Augustine understood clearly and enunciated the classic Christian truth about the fallen nature of man and the pervasiveness of sin.
As Ken tells listeners to his Great Books Audio CD Series, for Augustine sin is a revolt against God and refusing to accept one’s status as a creature. This rebellion causes us to turn away from things that are divine and truly abiding and, instead, turn to things that are changeable and uncertain.
Our desires, and not the love of God, become the center of our existence. Sound familiar? This self-centeredness, absent the grace of God, blinds us to the truth and enfeebles our will and will cripple our institutions.
In the book, Augustine contrasts the City of God versus the City of Man. While the first, the City of God, understands its rebellious nature and therefore submits to God and His purposes, the second city—the secular one—is simply trying to “rival God.”
The City of God is “social” and “seeks the common welfare.” The City of Man is “selfish” and seeks “selfish control...for the sake of arrogant domination.” The City of God “desires for its neighbor what it wishes for itself,” while the City of Man “desires to subjugate its neighbor.”
Augustine makes a great apologetic defense of Christianity and its powerful influence in the welfare of the state. And he makes a powerful critique of the City of Man. Rebellion against the true God is what led to the fall of Rome and other earthly cities. The Romans worshipped false gods, and it was their pride and corruption, not Christianity, that brought catastrophe on Rome.
Contrary to what ancient and modern pagans believe, it is Christians who make the best citizens. We know that the various earthly cities are transitory. We do not see earthly governments as a means to power, wealth, or self-aggrandizement.
Christians fulfill the requirements of citizenship out of obedience to God and love for Him, and in the hope of creating the kind of society where we can live peaceable and godly lives. Of course, this kind of society is good for our non-Christian neighbors as well, which is exactly the point.
There is so much more about the City of God than I can cover here. For one thing, it influenced me to write a book of my own entitled Kingdoms in Conflict, now republished as God and Government.
So The City of God is indispensable to an understanding of a proper Christian worldview. And Ken’s introduction is an indispensable companion to this work