On the city of God against the pagans (Latin: Dē cīvitāte Deī contrā pāgānōs), often called The City of God, is a book of Christian philosophy written in Latin by Augustine of Hippo in the early 5th century AD. The book was in response to allegations that Christianity brought about the decline of Rome and is considered one of Augustine’s most important works, standing alongside The Confessions, The Enchiridion, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity. As a work of one of the most influential Church Fathers, The City of God is a cornerstone of Western thought, expounding on many profound questions of theology, such as the suffering of the righteous, the existence of evil, the conflict between free will and divine omniscience, and the doctrine of original sin.
Augustine was Christianity’s first great political thinker. His seminal work, The City of God (full title: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos = The City of God against the Pagans), as Greg Forster writes, is ”the first real masterpiece of Christian political thought. Its analysis of the nature of politics has been one of the most prominent influences in Christian thinking, particularly in the West, in every era from its publication down to the present day. It is probably the most important work of Christian political thought ever produced.”

In the book, Augustine contrasts the city of God (civitas Dei) with the city of the world (civitas terrena). The “city” metaphors refer to people groups or societies comprised of like-minded individuals. The two peoples are fundamentally distinguished by their two kinds of loves: “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” (14.28). The fallen, earthly community is led by the flesh; the redeemed, other-worldly people by the Spirit. The earthly city seeks its good only in the created world, while the heavenly city seeks its highest good in God. The earthly city has a singular citizenship, while the heavenly city has a dual citizenship.

The City of God must be read against the backdrop of the sacking of Rome, where critics argued that Rome fell after it embraced Christianity and lost the protection of the gods. Augustine argued that the pagan critics were defining goodness on the basis of the satisfaction of their own desires, rather than the true definition which sees that the ultimate good is found in God alone. Augustine shows that everything in history happens for good purposes, if goodness is rightly understood. He pointed to the pagan desire to return to the city of Rome, and argued that their desire was right but their destination was wrong. True happiness could only come in the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God.

One of the reasons that Augustine’s work remains unread today is because of its length and digressions. In lieu of an abridged version, Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary offers a selective reading guide to the book, which I’ve included below for those who want to take up one of the great classics of the Christian tradition.

A Reading Plan for The City of God

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