The City of God is a book written by St. Augustine of Hippo between the years 413 and 426. Also known as De Civitate Dei, The City of God is widely considered Augustine’s greatest work. He wrote the book in response to the charge by the Romans that the sack of Rome by the Visigoth Alaric in AD 410 was due to the city’s inhabitants having forsaken the classical Roman religion and adopting Christianity. Augustine set out to answer this allegation at the request of his friend Marcellinus.
In Books 1–5 of The City of God, Augustine demonstrates that the prosperity of the state was not due to its adherence to the old polytheistic worship, since the Romans had suffered disasters long before the birth of Christianity. He also reminds the Romans that whatever success they had achieved was due to the providence of God, even though they were ignorant of Him. In Books 6–10, Augustine argues that the worship of the Roman gods was not necessary in order to attain eternal blessing. The Roman gods could not aid their devotees in either the temporal or the spiritual realms; in fact, it was the God of Christianity who had given them what temporal blessings they enjoyed.
Augustine’s philosophy of history is found in Books 11–22, in which Augustine sets forth his idea of two contrasting cities, the City of God and the City of Earth. The City of God, according to Augustine, consists of all human and celestial beings united in their love for God and their seeking to glorify Him. The City of Earth is comprised of those beings who love only themselves and seek their own glory and good.
In Books 15–18 Augustine traces the progress of the two cities through biblical and secular history. The remaining books of The City of God present the destiny of the two cities: judgment comes, and those who dwell in the City of God will enjoy eternal happiness and those of the City of Earth will be consigned to everlasting punishment. The City of God does not address the role of the Jewish people in prophecy; in fact, Augustine believed that the church age is actually the millennium.
The City of God is widely accepted as one of the most important apologetic works of all time. Its message is clearly biblical in presenting the struggle between the spiritual and secular realms. For those who live in the City of God, their story is the story of Christianity—their redemption and salvation from sin through the grace of God. For those in the City of Earth, their story is one of judgment and damnation. These two destinies are clearly presented in the Bible (see Daniel 12:2; Matthew 7:13– 14; 25:46).
It should be noted that The City of God may seem, at least to the modern reader, very long (1,184 pages in the paperback edition), and the language difficult to understand at times. Those who are familiar with the history of Rome and the Middle Ages will have an easier time with it. That said, the fact that the book is still being published and read today is testimony to its timeless themes and applications.