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Reading Augustine’s ‘City of God’. . .and More

In 410 A.D., the Visigoths invaded and sacked Rome, causing great destruction and widespread loss of life. Foreign armies had not entered the city of Rome in almost 700 years, and people began looking for someone to blame. And as has often happened in varying circumstances throughout history, they tried to blame Christians for having replaced the worship of the pagan gods – who allegedly had protected the city – with the Christian God. Christians were also criticized for promoting the softer virtues, like forgiveness and charity, rather than the military power that had made Rome the greatest empire in the world.

St. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo in North Africa at the time and was greatly shaken by the news. It’s hard for us to appreciate the shock people felt at an event so many centuries ago, but it was something like what many Americans experienced at the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Like those more recent attacks, the sack of Rome not only changed life for people at the time, but gave rise to large-scale historical consequences – and new ideas.

St. Augustine was not only deeply shocked by the destruction in the city; he was also greatly moved to respond to the slanders against the Faith and to lay out the Christian view of history. It took him sixteen years to write, but the result is a massive, wide-ranging, and profound work of Christian apologetics – The City of God – which is not only about the sack of Rome, but about the relationship between the sacred and the secular, the Church and the Empire, the two “Cities” – the City of God spread out between Heaven and Earth, and the City of Man which tries to live without God. And much more.

Augustine treated virtually the whole range of questions raised by God’s action in his Creation. And produced one of the most influential books in the whole Catholic tradition, a work with many important insights about both private and public affairs, especially in a troubled time such as ours today, but really for all Christians and people of good will living at any time in our fallen world.

Which is why The Catholic Thing will be offering my eight-week course on his book [1] beginning November 2.

The City of God is a long work, over 1000 pages in most modern translations – too long to be read in its entirety in a course of manageable length. One of our founding editors, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. used to insist that everyone should read the whole thing at least once, and he did so – with his undergraduate students at Georgetown – in a mere 19 days, as he explains in this column (click here [2]).  But since most of us here are adults with busy schedules and multiple responsibilities, we’ll be reading about 300 pages of carefully selected excerpts over eight weeks (plus a couple of breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas).

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Augustine is such a great genius that reading anything by him will enrich your life. The City of God is perhaps his fullest exposition of the many things Catholics and all people of goodwill face in our pilgrimage towards our ultimate destiny.

But things this Fall won’t stop there.

As TCT readers know, since our founding over a decade ago, we’ve been committed not only to engaging current issues and controversies, but to recovering – with a contemporary freshness – some of the vast riches of the Catholic tradition. Last year, I offered three courses on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and another on St. Augustine’s Confessions. Fr. Gerald Murray added a course based on his recent book Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society [3].

If you missed any of these offerings, be of good cheer. This week we are also bringing online a new webpage – TCT Courses [4] – where all previous courses will also be available in a format we’re calling OnDemand. You can enroll in those courses at low cost – we’ve worked hard to make these offerings as widely available as possible to our readers – so that you may follow those lectures at your own pace, whenever it’s convenient. And you can even come back later – there’s no time limit – to rewatch any course in which you’ve enrolled.

And there’s still more.

TCT Courses has begun to administer the offerings of the International Catholic University –  which was one of the brainchildren of a TCT founding editor and legendary Notre Dame philosopher, the late great Ralph McInerny. Our TCT regular Randall Smith has been serving as ICU’s president, and we’re delighted to be starting this collaboration with two wonderful lecture series: Ralph McInerny’s own Introduction to Thomas Aquinas [5] and the late Fr. Joseph Koterski’s lectures on JPII’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor [6] (“The Splendor of Truth’), which will become available later this week.

All Catholic things are of perennial value. But the latter course is particularly relevant at this moment since many of the worrisome changes we’re hearing about coming out of Rome might be said to be direct challenges to the arguments in favor of objective truths and universal moral rules that JPII put forward in Veritatis Splendor.

And other ICU courses will join our online list before long. So there’s a whole feast from our Catholic tradition coming to you soon. Please take a minute to look over the various offerings I’ve described here. I’m excited about them and believe you will be too.

If you have questions about current offerings or need assistance accessing past purchased courses, contact Hannah Russo at courses@frinstitute.org [7].

And Godspeed.

 

*Image: St. Augustine in His Study [8] (aka The Vision of St. Augustine) by Vittore Carpaccio, 1502 [Dalmatian School of SS. George and Typhon (Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni), Venice, Italy]

You may also enjoy:

Aaron Urbanczyk’s St. Augustine on “Why We Read” [9]

Charles Williams’ City of Man [10]

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.