The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
"THE CITY OF GOD"

The City of God is the usual English translation for the title of the most influential book written in the fifth century and one which was the favorite reading of Christians for many succeeding centuries. The entrance of Alaric's barbaric soldiery into Rome, the "Eternal City," in 410 made a tremendous impression. Rome had at last fallen! Of all cities of the Empire it had remained a stronghold of paganism. The senate had maintained the old rites until the reign of Gratian ( 375-383), who had refused to hold the office of Pontifex Maximus, had stopped payment for pagan sacrifices and ceremonies from the imperial treasury, and had taken away the time-honored privileges and revenues of the Roman priesthoods. Now, within less than thirty years since Gratian had removed from the senate-house the altar and statue of Victory that had stood there as long as the Empire itself, the most humiliating of defeats had come upon the city. To those who still adhered to the Roman religion and the old ways, this seemed the crowning calamity in the series of misfortunes which the adoption of Christianity as the state religion had brought upon them and their cause. Such pagans attributed the fall of Rome to the fact that the government and many citizens had abandoned the worship of the ancient Roman gods, had neglected those efficacious rites and spurned that divine guidance under which the city had risen through victory after victory to the height of its power and had transformed itself into a world-empire.

The occassion of writing The City of God

Such complaints found an answer from the great church father, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. From 413 to 426 he labored on his long and elaborate reply. Four years after finishing it, he died in Hippo while that city

-95-

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