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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Preface, Explaining His Design in...

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Preface, Explaining His Design in Undertaking This Work.

The glorious city of God 28 is my theme in this work, which you, my dearest son Marcellinus, 29 suggested, and which is due to you by my promise.  I have undertaken its defence against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city,—a city surpassingly glorious, whether we view it as it still lives by faith in this fleeting course of time, and sojourns as a stranger in the midst of the ungodly, or as it shall dwell in the fixed stability of its eternal seat, which it now with patience waits for, expecting until “righteousness shall return unto judgment,” 30 and it obtain, by virtue of its excellence, final victory and perfect peace.  A great work this, and an arduous; but God is my helper.  For I am aware what ability is requisite to persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility, which raises us, not by a quite human arrogance, but by a divine grace, above all earthly dignities that totter on this shifting scene.  For the King and Founder of this city of which we speak, has in Scripture uttered to His people a dictum of the divine law in these words:  “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” 31   But this, which is God’s prerogative, the inflated ambition of a proud spirit also affects, and dearly loves that this be numbered among its attributes, to

“Show pity to the humbled soul,

And crush the sons of pride.” 32

And therefore, as the plan of this work we have undertaken requires, and as occasion offers, we must speak also of the earthly city, which, though it be mistress of the nations, is itself ruled by its lust of rule.



[Augustin uses the term civitas Dei (πόλις θεοῦ) of the church universal as a commonwealth and community founded and governed by God.  It is applied in the Bible to Jerusalem or the church of the Old Covenant (Ps. 40:6, 4, Ps. 48:1, 8, Ps. 87:3), and to the heavenly Jerusalem or the church perfect (Heb. 11:10, 16, Heb. 12:22, Rev. 3:12, Rev. 21:2, Rev. 22:14, 19).  Augustin comprehends under the term the whole Kingdom of God under the Jewish and Christian dispensation both in its militant and triumphant state, and contrasts it with the perishing kingdoms of this world.  His work treats of both, but he calls it, a meliore, The City of God.—P.S.]


[Marcellinus was a friend of Augustin, and urged him to write this work.  He was commissioned by the Emperior Honorius to convene a conference of Catholic and schismatic Donatist bishops in the summer of 411, and conceded the victory to the Catholics; but on account of his rigor in executing the laws against the Donatists, he fell a victim to their revenge, and was honored by a place among the martyrs.  See the Letters of Augustin, 133, 136, 138, 139, 143, 151, the notes in this ed., vol. I., 470 and 505, and the Translator’s Preface —P.S.]


Ps. xciv. 15, rendered otherwise in Eng. ver. [In the Revised Vers.:  “Judgment shall return unto righteousness.”  In Old Testament quotations, Augustin, being ignorant of Hebrew, had to rely on the imperfect Latin version of his day, and was at first even opposed to the revision of Jerome.—P.S.]


Jas. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5.


Virgil, Æneid, vi. 854.  [Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.—P.S.]

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