Close Read: Augustine’s City of God
Book 1 essay 1

Well, last week I decided I should start some sort of systematic approach to blogging. Thursdays (which might as well move to Sundays) have been my Classical and Christian series. After I finish with the David/Achilles essays, which I probably can milk for another 4-6 essays, I think I might seek to find similar topics to study. Back in the day … that is shortly after I began blogging had come to the realization that “close reading” or careful examination of texts was something I really never learned to do well in school. Accordingly, I decided to try blogging and writing essays about my reading as I went to force myself to read the text carefully. The text I had chosen back then, was Augustine’s Confessions. To aid in my endeavor I had obtained a companion “commentary” which I used to help me keep on track (and to obtain insights which might not have otherwise occurred to me).

So, I’m going to return to this concept. Perhaps in a few years, “close reading” will be a skill learned. For now, I have again gotten a commentary. Again, I’m starting with Augustine, specifically City of God. The current “liberal” theological community as far as I know, doesn’t think so highly of Augustine’s little book. Anyhow, I’m going to try to approach this book with an open mind. I was very impressed with Confessions, I hope this book doesn’t disappoint.

My first pass on this “close reading” is … well not a close read. And this is intentional. The practice I fell into last year, was before getting “careful” about my reading, I would first skim the section and summarize it, before going on to careful study. So, here is the quick and dirty summary of Book 1 (chapters in this work are called books). Augustine is writing this book shortly after the sack of Rome by the Alaric and the Goths. Christians and Christianity were accused by some as being why the city fell. Augustine defends Christianity from this charge. He is a little perplexed at the animosity which many hold toward Christians because during the sack, Christian churches were one of the only sanctuaries respected by the Goth and furthermore those same sanctuaries where held open to Christian and Pagan alike.

Augustine begins by examining Pagan gods which were identified with their images in their temples. He wonders how men claim the image protects them, when if they fail to protect it then “all is lost”. Who is protecting who? He wonders. Then in the recent sacking of Rome, it was noted that Christians and Pagans were spared if they took sanctuary in Churches. He performs a casual inspection of history and finds the idea of sanctuary in Churches to be a new phenomena. That is in the past, when towns and cities were sacked, Pagan temples were rarely spared and the people not at all. Augustine then discusses the suffering that Pagan and Christian endured, and what those losses mean to the Christian. In the Aeneid, a celebrated woman Lucretia suffered a rape. In consequence she set her sons and relatives to seek vengeance and then committed suicide. Augustine ponders the righteousness of both acts. He ends with a short discussion of the goodness (and lack of it) by modern (in his day) Christians. That they are sinners just as the Pagans.

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  1. Bro. Akhil Vadakkumchery says:

    Thank you very much…

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