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De Civitate Dei

god, city, augustine, roman, mind, die, political and view

DE CIVITATE DEI, The City of God.' Augustine's characteristic theological system is to be looked for elsewhere in his writings against Pelagius and the Donatists: the depths of his individual religious experiences are re vealed with keen powers of self-analysis in 'The Confessions.' The title of the present work suggests that Augustine had in mind the kind of composition of which Plato's 'Republic' is the supreme example. Such a detailed ideal construction of a newly-organized polity was, however, far from the author's mind. For this reason to appeal to 'The City of God' as a preliminary outline of mediaeval politics is to misunderstand the point of view from which it was written. Neither Plato nor More nor Campanella nor Harrington, nor the various recent constructions of a new order of society along socialistic lines, can be used to render intelligible the purpose Augustine had in view. There are political and sociological elements in Augustine's work as there are theological and philosophical presuppositions, but there is no systematic development of any of these factors; not because Augustine had an unsystematic mind like Clement of Alexandria, but because he prepared 'The City of God' as a complete armory of Christian apologetic adapted for the questions debated between Christians and Poly theists in the 4th century. Just because the book was written to meet peculiar contemporary conditions, it is full of what appears to the modern reader as extraneous and tedious material. 'The City of God' is primarily an attack on paganism in the form in which paganism was still supported in the age after Christianity had become, under Constantine, the recognized religion of the Roman state. Augustine planned on a large scale an argument in rebuttal against the claim made by the ad herents of old-fashioned polytheism that the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire had brought about political ruin and ethical de moralization. To make the anti-pagan case complete, copious quotations are made from the historic records of the Roman people to show that they had always been debarred and that their political schemes had failed. Augustine extensive literary sources, but as he is dealing with what was to him a practical every day issue, he often draws examples and illus trations from actual life. He describes the manufacture of silverware, he tells of miracu lous cases of healing, relates wonders he has witnessed himself, notes in detail examples of heathen astrology and thaumaturgy, mentions the invasion of the Goths under Alaric and refers to the civil wars due to the dynastic quarrels in the family of Constantine. All this

varied material is treated from a special point of view which itself is closely related with the generally misunderstood title of the book. Ac cording to Augustine the summum bonum is man's supernatural union with God. All rational beings enjoy the privilege of this union either under normal or transcendent conditions. 'The City of God' then is the community of all spiritual beings, angels as well as men, who are within the sphere of divine grace. In sketching such a community of souls, questions of a visible, social organization are altogether unimportant. All the emphasis is laid upon the contrast between the city of earthly beings, whose end is destruction, and the city of God, in which the souls of the elect realize the true laws of their own being. There is nothing in the book which leads one to infer that Augus tine looked for a reorganization of society under the influence of the Church as a result of the downfall of the Roman Empire. Incident ally in the course of his argument Augustine introduces judgments on the actual social order as he knew it which are of permanent interest. He touches on aesthetic questions, discusses family and state relationships, examines the foundation of the right of private property and the justification of class distinctions. To this extent 'The City of God' has a permanent place in sociological thought, because it gives expression to the reflections of a keen and original mind on the last stage of ancient civili zation.

Among the many translations of 'The City of God' the most satisfactory is that of Marcus Dods in T. and T. Clark's (Patristft Library.> A reprint of the 17th century revision by John Healey will be found in Dent's 'Temple Classics.> The Latin text appears in a con venient form in Teubner's series of classical texts. The best critical edition is that published in the 'Latin Ecclesiastical Writers) (Vienna Academy Collection). Among modern works the following are especially useful: Carlyle, R. W., and Carlyle, S. J., 'History of Mediaeval Political Theory); Bertrand, L., 'Saint Augus tin); Troeltsch, E., 'Augustin die christliche Antike im Mittelalter); Mausbach, I. 'Die Ethik des HI. Augustin); Schilling, O., 'Die Staats and Soziallehre des Augustins) ; Hardy, Georges, 'Le De Angus, S., 'Sources of the First Ten Books of Augustine's City of God> ; Eucken, R., 'Die Lebens auschauungen der grossen Denker.>