'The City of God Against the Pagans' by Saint Augustine (415).

Saint Augustine and the Tale of Two Cities, from a medieval manuscript of The City of God.

In The City of God against the Pagans the historical conflict between Jerusalem and Rome is seen as a single but exemplary instance of a conflict which extends throughout the whole of human history, from its first beginnings with Cain and Able, to its final end, between the City of God and the Worldly City. 'History' becomes the story of this eternal struggle, and, ultimately, the triumph of the Heavenly City over the Worldly City, as first epitomized by the Christian conquest of the Glory of Roman, when the standard of the Cross replaced that of the Eagle above the Capitol.  

If the medieval Church was a Pilgrims ship which broke free from the anchorage of the Classical past, and set off on its course, through the malestrom of the world, to the shores of the Heavenly Jerusalem, then its perilious navigation upon the oceans of time was guided by "the twin lights" of Augustine of Hippo and Gregory the Great (i.e., see the recurrence of the nautical theme in the Epistles of Gregory the Great, especially as translated into Saxon by King Alfred the Great). 



Book I

Preface. The Purpose and Argument of this Work.

Here, my dear Marcellinus, is the fulfilment of my promise, a book in which I have taken upon myself the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of that City. I treat of it both as it exists in this world of time, a stranger among the ungodly, living by faith, and as it stands in the security of its everlasting seat.

I know how great is the effort needed to convince the proud of the power and excellence of humility, an excellence which makes it soar above all the summits of this world, which sway in their temporal instability, overtopping them all with an eminence not arrogated by human pride, but granted by divine grace. For the King and Founder of this City which is our subject has revealed in the Scripture of his people this statement of the divine Law, 'God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.' This is God's perogative; but man's arrogant spirit in its swelling pride has claimed it as its own, and delights to hear this verse quoted in its own praise: "To spare the conquered, and beat down the proud.'
Therefore I cannot refrain from speaking about the city of this world, a city which aims at dominion, which holds nations in enslavement, but is itself dominated by that very lust of domination.

Chapter 1. The enemies of Christianity were spared by the barbarians at the sack of Rome, out of respect for Christ.

From this world's city there arise enemies against whom the City of God has to be defended, though many of these correct their godless errors and become useful citzens of that City. But many are inflamed with hate against it and feel no gratitude for the benefits offered by its Redeemer. [...] The sacred places of the martyrs and the basilicas of the apostles bear witness to this, for in the sack of Rome they afforded shelter to fugitives, both Christian and pagan. The bloodthirsty enemy raged thus far, but here the frenzy of butchery was checked... . ...and their monstrous passion for violence was bought to a sudden halt.

God's providence constantly uses war to correct and chasten the corrupt morals of mankind... .

Chapter 2. That victors should spare the vanguished out of respect for their gods, is something unexampled in history.

...it was not because Troy lost Minerva that Troy perished. What loss did Minerva herself first incur, that led to her own disappearance? Was it, perhaps, the loss of her guards? There can be no doubt that their death made her removal possible-- the image did not preserve the men; the men were preserving the image. Why then did they worship her, to secure her protection for their country and its citezens? She could not guard her own keepers.

Chapter 3. The folly of the Romans in confiding their safety to the household gods who had failed to protect Troy.

To worship 'vanquished' gods as protectors and defenders is to rely not on divinities but on defaulters. [...] Anyone who gives his mind to it can see that it is utter folly to count on invincibility by virtue of the possession of defenders who have been conquered and to attribute destruction to the loss of such guardian deities as these. In fact, the only possible cause of destruction was the choice of such pershable defenders [Augustines comments here hearken back to a statements made by Ambrose in his responce to Symmachus's petition to the Christian Emperor to restore the pagan 'Alter of Victory' in the Senate House, and the general argument that Rome was sacked because it had abandoned its household gods and adopted Christianity].

Chapter 30. Those who complain of the Christian era really wish to wallow in shameful self-indulgence

...why is it that you put the blame on this Christian era, when things go wrong? Is it not because you are anxious to enjoy your vices without interference, and to wallow in your corruption, untroubled and rebuked?

Chapter 32. The establishment of stage spectacles.

The gods ordered theatrical shows to be put on in their honour to allay a plague which attacked the body [In 364-364 B.C. (Liv., 7, 2)], while the pontiff [Scipio] stopped the erection of a theatre to prevent a plague which would infect the soul. If you have enough light in your minds to prefer the soul to the body, choose whcih you should worship! [...] For this disease attacks not the body but the character. It has blinded the minds of the suffers with such darkness, and has so deformed and degraded them, that quite recently, when Rome was sacked, those who were infected with this plague, and who managed to reach Carthage as refugees, attend the theatres every day... ! I wonder if posterity will be able to believe this, when they hear of it!
[Note: in this connection see also Salvian's On the Government of God, end of Chapter 6.]

Chapter 33. The vices of the Romans were not corrected by their country's overthrow.

What insanity this is! This is not error but plain madness. When, by all accounts, nations in the East were bewailing your catastrophe, when the greatest cities in the farthest parts of the earth were keeping days of public grief and mourning [The effect of Rome's fall on the Eastern world is described by Jerome: 'A fearful report reached us from the West, that Rome was under seige... . My voice chokes, and sobs interrupt me as I dictate this. The city which has taken captive the entire world is itself taken captive; or rather it perished with hunger before it fell to the sword, and only a bare few remained to be taken prisoner...' (Ep., 127, 2)], you were asking the way to the theatres, and going in, making full houses, in fact, behaving in a much more crazy fashion than before. It was just this corruption, this moral disease, this overthrow of all integrity and decency, that the great Scipio dreaded for you, when he stopped the building of theatres, when he saw how easily you could be corrupted and perverted by prosperity, and did not want you to be relieved from the enemy's threats [he resisted the efforts to destroy Carthage]. He did not think that a city is fortunate when its walls are standing, while its morals are in ruins. But the temptations of wicked demons had more effect on you than the precautions of men endowed with foresight. Thus you refuse to be held responsible for the evil that you do, while you hold the Christian era responsible for the evil which you suffer. You seek security not for the peace of your country but for your own impunity in debauchery. Prosperity depraved you; and adversity could not reform you. Scipio's desire was that you should be threatened by the enemy, to prevent you from wallowing in sensuality. But now that you have been crushed by the enemy, you have not restrained your sensuality. You have learned no salutary lesson from calamity; you have become the most wretched, and you have remained the most worthless, of mankind.

Book XIV

Chapter 5. The Platonic theory of body and soul; more tolerable than the Manichean view, but to be rejected because it makes the nature of the flesh responcible for all moral faults.

The Platonists, to be sure, do not show quite the folly of the Manicheans ['Who ascribed the creation of flesh to an evil power, opposed to God, and co-eternal with him']. They do not go so far as to execrate earthly bodies as the natural substance of evil, since all the elements which compose the structure of this visible and tangible world, and their qualities, are attributed by the Platonists to God the artificier.

Chapter 9. The agitations of the mind, which appear as right feelings in the lives of the righteous.

At this point, we may examine that condition which in Greek is called apatheia [note: see Cicero, Tusc. Disp., 3, 6, 12.], which might be translated in Latin by impassibilitas (impassibility) if such a word existed. Now, bearing in mind that the reference is to a mental, not a physical condition, if we are to understand it as meaning a life without the emotions which occur in defiance of reason and which disturb the thoughts, it is clearly a good and desirable state; but it does not belong to this present life. [...] ...since this state of apatheia will not come until there is no sin in man, it will not come in this present life.

Moreover, if apatheia is the name of the state in which the mind cannot be touched by any emotion whatsoever, who would not judge this insensitivity to be the worst of all moral defects? [...] Then if apatheia describes a condition in which there is no fear to terrify, no pain to torment, then it is a condition to be shunned in this life, if we wish to lead the right kind of life, the life that is, according to God's will. But in that life of bliss which, it is promised, will be everlasting, it is clearly right that we should hope for this condition.

Chapter 13. In Adam's transgression the evil will preceeded the evil act.

...could anything but pride have been the start of the evil will? For 'pride is the start of every kind of sin.' And what is pride except a longing for a perverse kind of exaltation? For it is a perverse kind of exaltation to abandon the basis on which the mind should be firmly fixed, and to become, as it were, based on oneself, and so remain.

Thus, in a surpsing way, there is something in humility to exalt the mind, and something in exaltation to abase it. It certainly appears somewhat paradoxical that exaltation abases and humility exalts.

That is why humility is higly prized in the City of God and especially enjoined on the City of God during the time of its pilgrimage in this world; and it receives particular emphasis in the character of Christ, the king of that City [cf. Phil. 2, 8-11.]. We are also taught by the sacred Sciprtures that the fault of exaltation, the contrary of humility, exercises supreme dominion in Christ's aversary, the Devil. This is assuredly the great difference that sunders the two cities of which we are speaking: the one is a community of devout men, the other a company of the irreligious... . In one city love of God has been given first place, in the other, love of the self.
We can see then that the Devil would not have entrapped man by the obvious and open sin of doing what God had forbidden, had not man already started to please himself. That is why he was delighted also with the statement, 'You will be like gods.' In fact they would have been better able to be like gods if they had in obedience adhered to the supreme and real ground of their being, if they had not in pride made themselves their own ground [editors note: the concept of 'baseless pretension' finds its paradigm here].

Chapter 16. The evil of lust, in the specifically sexual meaning.

lust... excits the indecent parts of the body. This lust assumes power not only over the whole body, and not only from the outside, but also internally; it disturbs the whole man, when the mental emotion combines and mingles with the physical craving, resulting in a pleasure surpassing all physical delights. So intense is the pleasure that when it reaches its climax there is an almost total extinction of mental alertness; the intellectual sentries, as it were, are overwhelmed. [cont.]

Chapter 17. The nakedness of the first human beings, and the feeling of shame after their sin. 

It is right, therefore, to be ashamed of this lust, and it is right that the members which it moves or fails to move by its own right, so to speak, and not in complete conformity to our decision, should be called pudenda ('parts of shame'), which they were not called before man's sin; for, as Scripture tells us, 'they were naked, and yet they felt no embarrassment.' This was not because they had not noticed their nakedness, but because nakedness was not yet disgraceful, because lust did not yet arouse those members independently of their decision. The flesh did not yet, in a fashion, give proof of man's disobedience by a disobedience of its own.
It was not that the first human beings had been created blind... . ...their eyes were open, but not wide enough open, that is to say, not attentive enough to recognize what a blessing they were given in the garment of grace, inasmuch as their members did not know how to rebel against their will. When this grace was taken away, and in consequence  their disobedience was chastised by a corresponding punishment, there appeared in the movements of their body a certain indecent novelty, which made nakedness shameful. It made them self-conscious and embarrassed.
That is what Scripture says of them... 'The eyes of both of them were opened and they recognized that they were naked. And they sewed together fig leaves and made aprons for themselves.' 'The eyes of both', it says, 'were opened', not to enable them to see (they could see already) but to enable them to distinguish the good which they had lost and the evil into which they had fallen. Hence the tree itself, which was to make this distinction for them if they laid hands on it to eat the fruit in defiance of the prohibition, got its name from that event, and was called 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. For experience of the distress of sickness reveals the joys of health in a clearer light.
And so 'they recognized that they were naked'-- stripped, that is, of the grace that prevented their bodily nakedness from causing them any embarrassment, as it did when the law of sin made war against their mind. Thus they gained a knowledge where ignorance would have been a greater bliss if they had trusted in God and obeyed him and thus had refrained from an action which would force them to learn by experience the harm that disloyalty and disobedience would do. The consequence was that they were embarrassed by the insubordination of their flesh, the punishment which was a kind of evidence of their disobedience, and 'they sewed together fig leaves and made aprons (campestria) for themselves.'

Thus modesty, from a sense of shame, covered what was excited to disobedience by lust, in defiance of a will which had been condemned for the guilt of disobedience; and from then onwards the practice of concealing the pudenda ['parts of shame'] has become a deep-rooted habit in all peoples, since they all derive from the same stock.

Chapter 19. Anger and lust were not part of man's healthy state before his sin.

This explains why the Platonists, who approached the truth more nearly than other philosophers, acknowledge that anger and lust are perverted elements in man's character, or soul, on the ground that they are disturbed and undisciplined emotions, leading to acts which wisdom forbids, and therefore they need the control of intelligence and reason. This third rational division of the soul is located by them in a kind of citadel, to rule the other elements, so that with the rational element in command and the others subordinate, justice may be preserved in the relation between all the parts of man's soul. [c.f. Plat., Rp., 586 d-e.]
These philosophers therefore admit that the two divisions of the soul are perverted, even in a wise and disciplined man. Consequently, the mind by repression and restraint bridles them and recalls them from courses they are wrongly moved to gollow, while it allows them to follow any line of action permitted by the law of wisdom. Anger, for example, is allowed for the purspose of imposing compulsion, when that is justified, and lust is permitted for the duty of procreation. But in paradise before man's sin these elements did not exist in their perverted state. For then they were not set in motion, in defiance of a right will, to pursue any course which made it necessary to hold them back with the guiding reins, so to speak, of reason.
The situation now is that these passions are set in motion in this fashion, and are brought under control by those who live disciplined, just, and devout lives, sometimes with comparative ease, sometimes with difficulty. But this control entails coercion and struggle, and the situation does not represent a state of health in accordance with nature, but an enfeebled condition arising from guilt.

Chapter 20. The ridiculous indecency of the cynics.

Human nature then is, without any doubt, ashamed about lust, and rightly ashamed. For in its disobedience, which subjected the sexual organ soley to its own impulses and snatched them from the will's authority, we see a proof of the retribution imposed on man for that first disobedience. And it was entirely fitting that this retribution should show itself in that part which effects the procreation of the very nature that was changed for the worse through that first great sin.

Chapter 23. Would procreation have taken place in paradise, if no one had sinned?

In Cicero's discussion of the different types of government, in his book On the Commonwealth [De Rep., 3, 25, 37. See above], the author takes an analogy from human nature. He says, it will be remembered, that the members of the body are governed like children, because of their ready obedience, while the perverted elements of the soul are coerced like slaves under a harsher regime. ...this lust we are now examining is something to be the more ashamed of because the soul, when dealing with it, neither has command of itself so as to be entirely free from lust, nor does it rule the body so completely that the organs of shame are moved by the will instead of by lust. Indeed if they were so ruled they would not be pudenda-- parts of shame.
As it is, the soul is ashamed of its body's resistence... .

...if anyone has indecent thoughts in approaching what I am now writing, it is his own guilt that he should beware of, not the facts of nature. He should censure the actions prompted by his own depravity, not the words impossed on me by necessity.

Chapter 28 The Character of the two cities.

We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self. In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly city glories in the Lord. The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its higher glory in God, the witness of a good conscience. The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the Heavenly City says to its God: 'My glory; you lift up my head' [Ps. 3, 3.].

...in the earthly city its wise men who live by men's standards have pursued the goods of the body or of their own mind, or both. ...exalting themselves in their wisdom, under the domination of pride-- 'they became foolish, and changed the glory of the imperishable God into an image representing a perishable man... '-- for in the adoration of idols of this kind,... they worshipped and served created things instead of the Creator, who is blessed for ever.' [Rom. 1, 21ff.] In the heavenly City, on the other hand, man's only wisdom is the devotion which rightly worships the true God, and looks for its reward in the fellowship of the saints, not only holy men but also angels, 'so that God may be all in all' [1 Cor. 15, 28.].

Book XV

Chapter 1. The two lines of descent of the human race, advancing from the start towards different ends.

I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standards, the other of those who live according to God's will. I also call these two classes the two cities, speaking allegorically. By two cities I mean two societies of human beings, one of which is predestined to reign with God for all eternity, the other doomed to undergo eternal punishment with the Devil. But this is their final destiny, and I shall have to speak of that later on. At present,... I should undertake to describe their development from the time when that first pair began to produce offspring up to the time when mankind will cease to reproduce itself. For the development of these two societies which form my subject lasts throughout this whole stretch of time, or era, in which the dying yield place to the newly-born who succeed them.
Now, Cain was the first son born to those two parents of mankind, and he belonged to the city of man; the later son, Abel, belonged to the City of God. It is our own experience that in the individual man, to use the words of the Apostle, 'it is not the spiritual element which comes first, but the animal; and afterwards comes the spiritual', and so it is that everyone, since he takes his origin from a condemned stock, is inevitably evil and carnal to begin with, by derivation from Adam; but if he is reborn into Christ, and makes progress, he will afterwards be good and spiritual. The same holds true of the whole human race. When those two cities started on their course through the succession of birth and death, the first to be born was a citizen of this world, and later appeared one who was a pilgrim and stranger in the world, belonging as he did to the City of God. [...] ...in the individual man, as I have said, the base condition comes first, and we have to start with that; but we are not bound to stop at that, and later comes the noble state towards which we may make progress, and in which we may abide, when we have arrived at it. Hence it is not the case that every bad man will become good, but no one will be good who was not bad originally.

Scripture tells us that Cain founded a city, whereas Abel, as a pilgrim, did not found one. For the City of the saints is up above although it produces citizens here below, and in their persons the City is on pilgrimage until the time of its kingdom comes. At that time it will assemble all those citizens as they rise again in their bodies; and then they will be given the promised kingdom, where with their Prince, 'the king of ages', they will reign, world without end.

Chapter 2. The children of the flesh and the children of the promise

There was certainly a kind of shadow and prophetic image of this City which served rather to point towards it than to reproduce it on earth at the time when it was due to be displayed. This image was also called the holy city, in virtue of its pointing to that other City, not as being the express likeness of the reality which is yet to be. ... the Apostle says, when writing to the Galatians,

Now tell me, you who want to be under Law; have you not listened to what the Law says? We are told in Scriptures that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave-woman, one by his free-born wife. The slave-woman's son was born in the course of nature, the free woman's as a result of a promise. These facts are allegorical. For the two women stand for two covenants. The one bearing children for slavery is the covenant from Mount Sinai; this is Hagar. Now Sinai is a mountain in Arabia and it stands for the present Jerusalem; for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother. [...] Now we, my brothers, are sons of the promise, as Isaac was. But just as at that time the son who was born in the course of nature persecuted the son who was spiritually born, so it is now. But what does Scripture say? 'Send away the slave woman and her son; for the son of the slave shall not be joint-heir with the son of the free woman'. Thus you see, brothers, that we are not the sons of a slave-woman, but of the free woman, by reason of the freedom bought us by Christ's liberation.

One part of the earthly city has been made into an image of the Heavenly City, by symbolizing something other than itself, namely that other City; and for that reason it is a servant. For it was established not for its own sake but in order to symbolize another City; and since it was signified by an antecedent symbol, the foreshadowing symbol was itself foreshadowed. Hagar, the servant of Sarah, represented, with her son, the image of this image.

Thus we find in the earthly city a double significance: in one respect it displays its own presence, and in the other it serves by its presence to signify the Heavenly City. But the citizens of the earthly city are produced by a nature which is vitiated by sin, while the citizens of the Heavenly City are brought forth by grace, which sets nature free from sin. [...] This difference is... symbolized in Abraham's two sons: the one, Ishmael, son of the slave named Hagar, was born in the course of nature, whereas the other, Isaac, son of Sarah, the free woman, was born of fulfilment of a promise.

Chapter 3. The barrenness of Sarah, made fertile by the grace of God.

Sarah, as we know, was barren, and, despairing of her changes [?] of children, she was eager at least to have from her slave-girl what she realized she could not have from herself; and so she gave her slave to her husband to be made pregnant by him.

The fact that a nature in this condition had no right to any fruit of posterity signifies that human nature corrupted by sin, and therefore rightly condemned, did not deserve any true happiness for the future. Isaac therefore, who was born as a result of a promise, is rightly interpreted as symbolizing the children of grace, the citizens of the free city, the sharers in eternal peace, who form a community where there is no love of a will that is personal and, as we may say, private, but a love that rejoices in a good that is at once shared by all and unchanging- a love that makes 'one heart' out of many, a love that is the whole-hearted and harmonious obedience of mutual affection.

Chapter 4. Conflict and peace in the earthly city

The earthly city will not be everlasting... . It has its good in this world, and rejoices to participate in it with such gladness as can be derived from things of such a kind. And since this is not the kind of good that causes no frustrations to those enamoured of it, the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by the pursuit of victories that bring death with them or at best are doomed to death. For if any section of that city has risen up in war against another part, it seeks to be victorious over other nations, though it is itself the slave of base passions; and if, when victorious, it is exalted in its arrogance, that victory brings death in its train.

...that city desires an earthly peace...; and it is that peace which it longs to attain by making war. [...] This peace is the aim of wars...; it is this peace that glorious victory (so called) achieves.

Chapter 5. Of the first founder of the earthly city, whose fratricide was reproduced by the founder of Rome.

The first founder of the earthly city was, as we have seen, a fratricide; for, overcome by envy, he slew his own brother, a citizen of the Eternal City, on pilgrimage in this world. Hence it is no wonder that long afterwards this first precedent-- what the Greeks call an archetype-- was answered by a kind of reflection, by an event of the same kind at the founding of the city which was to be the capital of the earthly city of which we are speaking, and was to rule over so many peoples. For there also, as one of their poets says when he mentions the crime,

Those walls were dripping with a brother's blood.

For this is how Rome was founded, when Remus, as Roman history witnesses, was slain by his brother Romulus. The difference from the primal crime was that both brothers were citizens of the earthly city. Both sought the glory of establishing the Roman state, but a joint foundation would not bring to each the glory that a single founder would enjoy. [...] Therefore, in order that the sole power should be wielded by one person, the partner was eliminated... .

In contrast, the earlier brothers, Cain and Abel, did not both entertain the same ambition of earthly gains... ; for Abel did not aim at power in the city which his brother was founding. But Cain's was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil.

Thus the quarrel that arouse between Remus and Romulus demonstrated the division of the earthly city against itself; while the conflict between Cain and Abel displayed the hostility between the two cities themselves, the City of God and the city of men. Thus the wicked fight among themselves; and likewise the wicked fight against the good and the good against the wicked. But the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight among themselves. However, while they are on their way towards the perfection they have not yet attained, there may be fighting among them inasmuch as any good man may fight against another as a result of that part of him which makes him also fight against himself. And in the individual it is true that 'the flesh has desires which resis the spirit, and the spirit has desires which resist the flesh' [Gal. 5. 17.]. Accordingly, spiritual desire can fight against the carnal desire of another person, or carnal desire against another's spiritual desire, just as the good and the wicked fight against one another. Or even the carnal desires of two good men (who have obviously not yet attained perfection) may fight, just as the wicked fight among themselves... .