Sample History Essay on Augustine on the Earthly City

Augustine on the Earthly City

While in the City of Hippo, Augustus learned of the destruction of Rome and the rumor that attributed the destruction to the people’s negligence towards Roman traditional idols. This information brought confusion among the Christians in Hippo, to whom Augustus was the Bishop. In clarifying the misconception and encouraging the faithful to shun fear and worry, He preached a series of sermons and wrote books. He encouraged the flock not to worry about their plight as citizens of Rome because they were citizens of a peaceful, spiritual Jerusalem that God built and cannot destroy.

Until his death in 430A.D, while serving as Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine completed 118 books on themes such as the nature of God, Free will and determinism, Church doctrine, Christian life, and most importantly for this study, the bases of social life in relation to the political order. Like renowned philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine was a thinker who maintained an argumentative method of expression. This method popularized his writings among political theories as well as other members of the public[1].

The City of God became the most popular of all his writings among both secular and religious extremists. This popularity led to the reproduction of the masterpiece into several languages while emphasizing on the major (and exciting) issues available[2]. In the book, Augustine relates the role of the modern man in relation to not only existing culture and religion but also the expected Empire that is not made or controlled by humans. He is among the earliest thinkers to explore the postmodern strategies and efforts in reconciling politics and religion.

Various political leaders have acknowledged and supported aspects in Saint Augustine’s thoughts. While some people use the ancient philosopher’s writings to argue in support for a distinct separation between the Church and State, others choose to incorporate a few of his ideas in governance. To date, the debate rages and is persistent especially in countries such as the United States of America, where the efforts to restore the nation back to principles of the Scripture over the years have failed[3].

The works of Augustine’s philosophical notions have created a vast amount of knowledge for studying especially for political realists. Although most of the works are not translated into English yet, a thorough study on the available writings reveals a lot of valuable information to worldwide efforts to solve crisis and cultivate harmony in the human race.

Social life

Using both political and social theories, Augustine enhanced the importance of friendship and its lack of it in society. His philosophy focuses on how to love and trust rather than on the argument of the need for humans to exercise care for others. His theories did not attempt to explain whether people should be social. Instead, they viewed political life as a way of social and ethical platform where the people interact and cooperate. Rather than condemn evils in society, the Bishop chose to acknowledge the role of social ills in shaping the society especially through interacting[4]. For instance, civil life, he stated, enhanced the human ability to love, reason and control our affairs effectively.

Augustine was quite conclusive on the issue of humans as social beings. He emphasized the importance of relationships among humans basing on the writings of early philosophers. While still dwelling on earth, Augustine noted, the Christian pilgrims obtained unity through social life. During the era of the earliest Christians and apostles, for instance, the tight fellowship and consistent meetings created a social community that was so effective that it preceded the Christian community. Referring to not only the Christian community but also the rest of the humans as the citizens of the City of Man (earthly kingdom), he emphasized on the importance of creating a lasting and effective bond among Christians through focusing on their social lives (Bethke 2012, 286).

The existing bond among all humans is according to Augustine, the solution to a lasting peace on earth. This unity brings harmony among humanity with the consideration of people of all kinds, states and disabilities indiscriminately. However, pride and the desire to rule and have dominion discourage the efforts of creating peace and unity[5].

Augustine viewed society as a species of friendship where all people seek to gain and share the benefits. The difference between peace and war, he noted, depended on the level and type of relationship between the parties involved. The more cohesive a relationship is, the greater the possibility of achieving a lasting peace and other benefits. For Christians, their unity brings them closer to realizing the will of God. The aim was that one man should not combine many relationships in his one self, but that those connections should be separated and spread among individuals, and that in a way, they should help to bind social life more effectively by involving in their plurality a plurality of persons.

In the book, it is evident that Augustine condemns one’s focus on their affairs and criticizes the ties of confined groups. He instead upholds the indiscriminate concern for neighbors and strangers regardless of circumstances or their differences. This concept arises from God’s decision to create numerous unique beings rather than dwell alone. According to Augustine, God acknowledged the need for plurality and sociality rather than dwelling in loneliness[6]. He valued the existence of humans so much that, against his knowledge on their weakness and potential disobedience to his Word, He proceeded to create them out of His image[7].

The uniqueness of humans is an aspect that brings them together to share their differences rather than keep them apart. While affection and similarities between people kept them together, greed and pride divided them. These relationships strengthened with the spread of humans across the globe. With the introduction of numerous languages, the author asserts, it became less possible to find reconciliation and harmony. This confusion (of numerous languages) did not deter humans from seeking sociality and collaboration to find harmony.

No human in this earthly kingdom, Augustine noted that has the right to have dominion over another one despite their statue, origin, or race. Living in a time when slavery is rampant and accepted, Augustine insisted that the decision and urge to utilize slaves did not come naturally to anyone. It was cultivated over time against the conscience and natural instinct to treat all people equally. For Augustine, humans are naturally social. However, there is no description of the acceptable level of the social order. He also differed with the analogy that men (as the ultimate authority in their households) naturally formed the political authority. According to his opinion, family authority came naturally while political authority comes due to someone’s status as a ruler (Elshtain 2012, 286).

War and Peace

Augustine gives a comprehensive study on the difference between good and evil. He insists that no evil is natural. Instead, it is man’s intention to deviate from godly ways and satisfy their pride and ego. The humans, therefore, become the agents of the falling away from good as they propagate ill (Schaff 2002, 13). The greatest of all evils is the desire and resolution to destroy. The aspiration to destroy leads to war making war a tragedy regardless of the course[1].

Using the City of Rome as his prime example, Augustine describes the peace existent in the mighty impregnable city as a perversion to real peace. To him, the period of mere lack of war does not qualify the claim to peace. He notes that the Roman Empire had a reputation of conquering and controlling her neighbors to obtain stability and peace[8]. Her lust to dominate other peoples leads to numerous battles with for instance, the Greeks. These battles involved much bloodshed and loss of thousands of lives by the word. The reasons for battled ranged from desire to control, revenge or simply satisfy the leaders’ bets. The situation eliminated justice and any fair or reasonable course for war and instead created a large-scale arena for crime that was also justified[9].

With the excuse of defending Rome from possible harm, successive emperors maintained strained relationships with neighbors and consistent battles over minor issues such as territories. Even with occasional justifiable causes to engage in war, the extent of destruction and damage was unreasonable, insisted Augustine. His strong opposition to justifying war and the use of force as a solution to problems is evident in their entire book[10]. This trait led to his popularity as a political realist with ideas that were later adopted by the modern International relations (such as the security dilemma theory).

The consistent wars, threats and rumors of war cultivated constant fear and worry among the public and defenseless peasants. For the authorities, fear and worry called for preparation to war with the aim of defending their possessions. This situation developed into an endless series of wars with each war leading to another as the losers sought to revenge and even the score. With each war came the hatred, disgust and ultimately, the rise of racial and ethnic discrimination (Brown 2010, 6).

While some rulers began battles with justifiable reasons (such as rescuing innocent captives from an enemy), other cruel leaders were led by unwarranted aggression, pride to attack, and sustain warfare. Augustine admits that, in rare occasions, war is justifiable. However, it requires a selfless ruler to determine when it serves enough justice and calls it off to avoid unnecessary damage, death, and destruction. Basin on the common principle of war that forbids killing unjustly to gain good, Augustine strove to oppose the glory and praises that come with victory in a war (even with justifiable causes). Instead, he insisted that the end of war should be sorrowful and filled with regret and not glory. Finding peace is more important to mankind than any other thing, Augustine concluded (Brown 2010, 15).

Like Jesus, Augustine emphasized the selfless value of accepting to suffer wrong rather than committing the same. For Augustine, it was better to avoid revenge after exploitation and unfair treatment rather than engaging in war with the excuse of revenging. He, therefore, discouraged revenge and retaliation as a form of solving a problem or injustice. Naturally, not many people are able to hold themselves from retaliation and revenging not only for their personal reasons but also for their loved ones such as family and compatriots[11].


Symbol of the City of God

Augustine’s sentiments in the City of God are cautionary especially for the Christians, who focus their hope on a peaceful earthly city. His book comes at a time when Rome suffers destruction and the Christians feel that God is responsible for securing the City He adores. In his efforts to clarify rumors from truth and encourage the faithful to focus on attaining access to the spiritual City of God, he gives a comprehensive study on the differences between the two distinct cities, their characteristics, the inhabitants, and the rulers.

First, he explores the earthly city with emphasis to the moral degradation and wickedness. The compares Rome to the ancient cities that after declining the warning from the prophets, suffered destruction. He condemns Rome to destruction from God. Later, he studies the heavenly City in comparison to the earthly one (Martin 1972, 18). The good and benefits the City of God offers are vast and desirable by any human. Using scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments, Augustine relates the Gentile Christians with Abraham, the father of faith, and God’s promises for a lasting City.

Saint Augustine seeks to uphold and defend the city of God rather than the pagan city of humanity (with emphasis on the city of Rome). In his writings, he clearly calls for the active participation of Christians in politics to form a strong bond between the Church and the State. By comparing the two cities (a natural and spiritual one), he shows the similarities of both cities as well as the benefits of loyalty to either of them. Since no one has the right to have dominion over other humans, people do not possess a kingdom on earth.

The earthly kingdom, he explains, begins with the Fall (of Adam and Eve) and not with Creation. It is, therefore, a consequent of sin and focuses on opposing loves compared to the City of God (also the heavenly Jerusalem). For instance, while the earthly city (represented by Rome) entails the love for material gain, greed for praise and dominance, wars, slavery and violence, the City of God (represented by Jerusalem) consists an everlasting peace. Here is where all people are not only equal but are also in harmony with all creation and God as the sole administrator and controller of everything (both seen and unseen).

City of God

In the second part of his book, Augustine focuses on the desirable City of God as the ultimate gift for the faithful believers. Tracing the history of the both cities and linking them to the story of Abel and Cain through to the time of Noah and his ark, Augustine explains that the City of God is a sign of relief and freedom for the faithful. When God promised Abraham that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, Augustine strives to prove that the spiritual meaning of the promise to the spiritual seed of Abraham is the City of God. He goes on to cite scripture that prove the connection between Jesus Christ as the descendant of Abraham who establishes the City of God for all who would believe Him with the faith as that of Abraham.

The book gives an explicit study of the prophets and their prediction to Christ’s birth. The prophets’ claims were all directed towards the hope of restoration of a city of peace where the Messiah will reign and eliminate all evil and strife. Since the promise God made to Abraham, the consequent stories built up the examples and illustrations of people who anticipated the arrival of the Prince of Peace who is also the Messiah that would establish this coveted city. Augustine links the writings of the prophets to the coming of the Christ and the importance of a spiritual kingdom.

After placing Christ at the Center of focus and concern, the author proceeds to explain the nature of Christ, His role and the Church He desires after He leaves earth. He is quick to note that the people who lived before Christ’s arrival too, had an opportunity to access entry to the City of God. He explains that God made providence for such people such that, even with the absence of the Messiah, they would obtain favor with God and belong to the coveted glorious city. The standards that God set at every age were appropriate to qualify one who obeyed the statutes availed to them now into obtaining entrance to the city, which He also called the spiritual Jerusalem[12].

When Jesus Christ came and dwelt among people who barely recognized Him and His role to save them, He began a new system of salvation. Augustine asserts that Christ sowed the seed of the Gospel through suffering, dying and rising. After Him, the early Christians followed suit and suffered for the sake of the Gospel. Their insistence on their beliefs also cost most of them their lives in the cause of truth. By resurrection, the author observes, Christians learned to hope for eternity and to shun from revealing the depth of mysteries by which they are cleansed from all sin and qualify for the City of God without efforts but by Grace[13].

He describes the events of the time of judgment when God finishes his work on earth and condemns the evil while securing the faithful. In the City of God, he notes, the inhabitants will not only have peace but also be as immortal as the angels are. God will also restore the glory that the first man lost when he disobeyed God and plunged his descendants to sin and shame. In the City of God there will no longer be the possibility to sin as the humans will be perfect (a state that no one can achieve on earth)[14].


Rome and Jerusalem

During the destruction of Rome, some Christians attributed the problem to pagan worship and were confused why a loving God would let a great holy City fall. In his clarification, Augustine (the Bishop at Hippo) preached a series of sermons to explain the difference between an earthly kingdom and a heavenly (spiritual) kingdom. He asked them not to worry about Rome because they were citizens of a better heavenly City of Jerusalem that has everlasting and unimaginable peace incomparable to Rome.

After the fall (of Adam and Eve), Augustine explained, the human race was divided into two major symbolic cities. One city, called Jerusalem, he noted, consisted loyal angel serving God in harmony and peace while the other, called Babylon (represented by Rome) consisted the demons (rebellious angels) serving the Devil. Augustus noted that the citizens of both cities dwelt together in a mixed population but would by separate during God’s judgment. Although they appeared mixed on earth, the inhabitants of these cities were distinct and unique in both Character and origin. Just as the Jew return to their homeland according to the ancient prophets’ prediction, the Christians would possess the heavenly City of Jerusalem. He succeeded in convincing his congregation to stop hoping in the glamour of Rome that was not eternal and focus on attaining entrance to the eternal City of God.

Jerusalem is holy and social where the welfare of citizens is crucial for the sake of a celestial community. On the other hand, Rome represented selfishness, greed, and arrogant desire for dominance. The City of God entailed submissive subjects who are also calm and considerate to their fellow human beings. In contrast, Rome consisted people who are restless, trouble making and envious people who are inconsiderate and strive for praise and glory[15].

Augustine portrayed the glorious City of Jerusalem as of the just where all creation is in harmony and only God as the authority commanding and administering order in the entire creation. People are in not only harmony but equal without competition as is the case in the earthly kingdom represented by Rome.

Both God and the Devil, Augustine asserted, influenced Rome. While God’s influence called for peace and Love, the Devil wicked influence enhanced the lust for material gain and wars. In blaming the wicked and degrading Roman Culture (of slavery, robbery and wars), he harshly criticized the people of fraud calling them the most successful brigands in the history of earth up to that time. Like the ancient cities written in the Old Testament that practiced such evils, Augustine condemned Rome to perish if the dwellers do not repent and turn away from their wicked ungodly ways[16].



Augustine, and R. W. Dyson. The city of God against the pagans. New York: Cambridge      University Press. 1998

Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21. (Pages-1-20) Confessions.

Jean Bethke Elshtain. Why Augustine? Why now? HeinOnline. 2012

Montague Brown. Augustine on Freedom and God. Saint Anselm College press. 2010

Philip Schaff. Augustine City of God and Christian Doctrine. New York Christian Publishing.      2002

[1]                Confessions.

[2]              Philip Schaff. Augustine City of God and Christian Doctrine. New York Christian Publishing. 2002

[3]              Jean Bethke Elshtain. Why Augustine? Why now? HeinOnline.2012

[4]              Philip Schaff. Augustine City of God and Christian Doctrine. New York Christian Publishing. 2002

[5]                Confessions.

[6]              Montague Brown. Augustine on Freedom and God. Saint Anselm College press. 2010

[7]              Jean Bethke Elshtain. Why Augustine? Why now? HeinOnline.2012

[8]                Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21.  (Pages-1-20)

[9]              Montague Brown. Augustine on Freedom and God. Saint Anselm College press. 2010

[10]              Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21.  (Pages-1-20)

[11]              Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21.  (Pages-1-20)

[12]            Rex Martin. The Two Cities in Augustine’s Political Philosophy. Journal of the History of Ideas. 1972

[13]              Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21.  (Pages-1-20)

[14]            Jean Bethke Elshtain. Why Augustine? Why now? HeinOnline.2012

[15]            Jean Bethke Elshtain. Why Augustine? Why now? HeinOnline.2012

[16]              Augustine, ‎Gillian Rosemary Evans. St Augustine and The city of God. (London, penguin, 2003). Book Xv. Chapters 1-21.  (Pages-1-20)