This is Augustine’s own account, in the Retractationes, of the writing of the City of God.
Meanwhile Rome was overthrown by a raid of Goths, led by King Alaric, a most destructive invasion. The polytheistic worshippers of false gods, whom we commonly call pagans, endeavored to bring this overthrow home to the Christian religion, and began to blaspheme the true God with unusual sharpness and bitterness. This set me on fire with zeal for the house of God, and I commenced to write the books Of the City of God against their blasphemies or errors. This work occupied me for a number of years, owing to numerous interruptions of businesses that would not brook delay and had a prior claim on me. At last this large work Of the City of God was brought to a conclusion in twenty-two books. The first five of them are a refutation of their position who maintain that the worship of many gods, according to the custom of paganism, is essential to the prosperity of human society, and that the prohibition of it is the source and origin of calamities such as the fall of Rome. The next five books are against those who, while allowing that such calamities are never wanting, and never will be wanting, to the page of mortal history, and are now great, now small, under varying conditions of place, time, and person, yet argue that polytheistic worship, and sacrifice to many gods, is profitable for the life that follows after death. These first ten books, then, are a refutation of these two vain opinions adverse to the Christian religion. But not to expose ourselves to the reproach of merely having refuted the other side, establishing our own position is the object of the second part of this work, which comprises twelve books; though, to be sure, in the former ten, where needful, we vindicate our own, and in the latter twelve we confute the opposite party. Of the twelve following books, four contain the origin of the two cities, the one of God, the other of this world. The next four contain the course of their history; the third and last four their several due ends. Thus, the whole twenty–two books, though written of two cities, yet take their title from the better of the two, and are entitled by preference Of the City of God.
As mentioned earlier, in Book VIII of the City of God, Augustine gives a history of ancient philosophy with his Platonic roots evident. However, Augustine was not so enamored with Plato that he considered the philosopher above criticism. Witness the following passage from Book XII regarding the opinion of the Platonists, that the angels were themselves indeed created by God, but that afterwards they created man’s body.
It is obvious, that in attributing the creation of the other animals to those inferior gods who were made by the Supreme, he meant it to be understood that the immortal part was taken from God Himself, and that these minor creators added the mortal part; that is to say, he meant them to be considered the creators of our bodies, but not of our souls. But since Porphyry maintains that if the soul is to be purified, all entanglement with a body must be escaped from; and at the same time agrees with Plato and the Platonists in thinking that those who have not spent a temperate and honorable life return to mortal bodies as their punishment (to bodies of brutes in Plato’s opinion, to human bodies in Porphyry’s); it follows that those whom they would have us worship as our parents and authors, that they may plausibly call them gods, are, after all, but the forgers of our fetters and chains – not our creators, but our jailers and turnkeys, who lock us up in the most bitter and melancholy house of correction. Let the Platonists, then, either cease menacing us with our bodies as the punishment of our souls, or preaching that we are to worship as gods those whose work upon us they exhort us by all means in our power to avoid and escape from. But, indeed, both opinions are quite false. It is false that souls return again to this life to be punished; and it is false that there is any other creator of anything in heaven or earth, than He Who made the heaven and the earth. For if we live in a body only to expiate our sins, how says Plato in another place, that the world could not have been the most beautiful and good, had it not been filled with all kinds of creatures, mortal and immortal? But if our creation even as mortals be a divine benefit, how is it a punishment to be restored to a body, that is, to a divine benefit? And if God, as Plato continually maintains, embraced in His eternal intelligence the ideas both of the universe and of all the animals, how, then, should He not with His own hand make them all? Could He be unwilling to be the constructor of works, the idea and plan of which called for His ineffable and ineffably to be praised intelligence?
In Book X, Augustine makes this observation regarding what ultimately happens to the soul in a teleological sense after the death of the body.
How much more honorable, I say, is the belief that souls return once and for all to their own bodies, than that they return again and again to divers bodies?
Augustine here alludes to the fact that the body does not imprison the soul as held by the Platonists, for if that were the case, the soul would have no need to return to the body.
We next look at another passage from Book X of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, per Augustine, the Platonists in their impiety blush to acknowledge.
But the incarnation of the unchangeable Son of God, whereby we are saved, and are enabled to reach the things we believe, or in part understand, this is what you refuse to recognize.
In accord with the opinion of Plato, you make no doubt that in his life a man cannot by any means attain to perfect wisdom, but that whatever is lacking is in the future life made up to those who live intellectually, by God’s providence and grace. Oh, had you but recognized the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, and that very incarnation of His, wherein He assumed a human soul and body, you might have seemed the brightest example of grace.
Moreover, our nature itself testifies that a man is incomplete unless a body be united with the soul. This certainly would be more credible, were it not of all things the most common; for we should more easily believe in a union between spirit and spirit, or, to use your own terminology, between the incorporeal and the incorporeal, even though the one were human, the other divine, the one changeable and the other unchangeable, than in a union between the corporeal and the incorporeal. But perhaps it is the unprecedented birth of a body from a virgin that staggers you?
Why is it then, that when the Christian faith if pressed upon you, you forget, or pretend to ignore, what you habitually discuss or teach? Why is it that you refuse to be Christians, on the ground that you hold opinions which, in fact, you yourself demolish? Is it not because Christ came in lowliness, and ye are proud?
It would seem from this passage that the City of God should be required reading for most of the Academy since Augustine is addressing them directly with his last question.
The final three books of the City of God deal with eternal realities of judgment, hell, and heaven, with the torments of the damned discussed in horrific detail; hell and heaven are the respective terms for the earthly and heavenly cities. The earthly city consist of all those selfishly choosing themselves instead of God, the city of man, while the heavenly city consists of all who have their priorities in order, recognizing the purpose of their creation, and especially the consequences for willfully violating that purpose by disobeying the laws of God, laws that were given to them out of God’s unconditional love for His creation. Simply put, one who has chosen the earthly city has chosen hell; one who has chosen to serve God rather than self has chosen heaven. We turn to Book XVI for proof.
Lot was delivered out of Sodom, and a fiery rain from heaven turned into ashes that whole region of the impious city, where custom had made sodomy as prevalent as laws have elsewhere made other kinds of wickedness. But this punishment of theirs was a specimen of the divine judgment to come. For what is meant by the angels forbidding those who were delivered to look back, but that we are not to look back in heart to the old life which, being regenerated through grace, we have put off, if we think to escape the last judgment?
In Book XIX, Augustine asks what is the worth of a mind that is incapable of discerning good from evil, i.e., a mind that has been anesthetized to the truth wherein there is no longer any concept of right or wrong – a modern propagandized politically-correct atheistic mind that is the goal of an academy which is more concerned with indoctrination than education. This is an academy where social engineering experiments take precedence over societal common good given the celebration and promotion of the filth of self-destructive hedonistic lifestyles to especially include homosexuality as a civil right in an affirmative action civil rights sense – a nonsensical principle where any semblance of right reason prevails.
For though the soul may seem to rule the body admirably, and the reason the vices, if the soul and reason do not themselves obey God, as God has commanded them to serve Him, they have no proper authority over the body and the vices. For what kind of mistress of the body and the vices can that mind be which is ignorant of the true God, and which, instead of being subject to His authority, is prostituted to the corrupting influence of the most vicious demons?
St. Augustine’s City of God deals especially with the final things, death, judgment, heaven and hell. It is as relevant to America today as it was to those living for whom Augustine wrote it. It is a roadmap that has a very big fork in it. One way leads to a city where eternal bliss is the promise for those faithful to their Creator. The other leads to a city where eternal damnation awaits those whose selfishness in the extreme has caused them to worship the god in their mirrors. This selfishness goes by many names today in America, reproductive rights, gay rights, suicide rights, i.e., almost any form of hedonistic debauchery imaginable with the word “rights” appended to it – all of which are “wrongs”, in total ignorance of the fact that with “rights” talk comes responsibilities, which cannot be ignored. Sadly, many in the Church need to rediscover Catholic giants such as Augustine and Aquinas because they have lost their Catholic compasses, making them indistinguishable from their pagan counterparts.
I recently had the misfortune of having an e-mail exchange with the President and chief spokesman for a major American university claiming to be Catholic where these gentlemen defended the sanctioning of a sexually explicit, filthy play with clear lesbian overtones on their campus. It demeaned women in the crudest terms possible. I was told by these pseudo-Catholics, one of whom was a priest, that they are not in the business of censoring such filth on their campuses or they would have to censor Joyce’s Ulysses or Norman Mailer’s books and plays. I replied that it is one thing to discuss controversial material; it’s something else to go out of your way to de facto promote it on your campus. One does not have to stick his head in a toilet to know the nature of the emanating odor. It seems to me that along with Joyce and Mailer, the students on that “Catholic” campus ought to be exposed to the City of God so that they will at least have a fighting chance to see what city they are currently living in with the consequences for doing so. They might just want to move for the sake of their immortal souls.