I’ve been wanting to read St. Augustine’s City of God for quite some time. At the same time, I’ve been dreading it as well. I was expecting a book in philosopher-speak. Those who have studied philosophy, or those who have tried to read a philosophy book without having studied philosophy will know what I mean. Normally, a philosophy book is a pretty tough slog. I earned a B.A. in philosophy when I went to college, but that was years ago. These days, my philosophy brain has pretty much gone to rot.
Yet, as far as philosophy books go, Augustine’s City of God was pretty mild. I didn’t have to work too hard to understand what he was saying most of the time. Mine was an abridged edition so it was largely cohesive in nature; I understand that the unabridged version has numerous “discursions” into ancillary topics—a common practice at the time Augustine was writing.
Anyway, the book is a defense of the Catholic faith. More specifically, the stated purpose of the book is to describe two different types of humanity/lifestyles or, as he calls it, cities. On the one hand, is the City of Men. This basically describes the lives of those who are attached to earthly affairs. The other city is, of course, the City of God which describes the lives of those who are focused on spirituality and the divinely sanctioned life. Naturally, he lauds the latter of these two cities while condemning the former.
Was it well argued and supported? I guess so. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating when I’m reading stuff these days—especially philosophy—so, I may have not absorbed as much as I should have.
The things in the book that struck me as the most interesting, though, were the details he gave concerning pagan deities (Jupiter, Mars, etc…); more specifically, how it is the Church’s position that these “deities” are really demons in disguise, as evidenced by the depraved practices involved in their worship. I just found that curious. I also liked his commentary later in the book about the various mysteries of the world, mysteries we, 1700 years later, have explained or disproved. It’s just interesting to contemplate his wonder … and his errors. For example, at one point he claims that goat’s blood can dissolve diamonds. I mean, that’s kind of a curious myth (I assume it’s a myth—actually my antichrist stuff might have something to say about that, but I’ll leave that discussion to another day) and I wonder where it came from. He also claims that peacock meat does not decompose like human flesh does. He claims that he even verified this with an experiment, and that even after several months the peacock meat only dried out—it did not decompose. Very curious. If that truly did happen, how does one explain it? I can … but only with a theory that has earned me a number of psychiatric meds.
Anyway, I found the book to be decent overall, but not fantabulous. I’ll give it four stars out of five.