City of God
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Students often want to know why we read City of God instead of Augustine’s Confessions (a much shorter work, although I’m sure that doesn’t influence the students in any way). In an ideal world, of course, we would read both—but forced to choose, I prefer that students hear Augustine’s more mature statement of faith.
My students can console themselves with the fact that I don’t expect them to read all of City of God. Certain chapters of that work seem irrelevant to us today; but many more are timeless, as when Augustine reminds us to “hate the fault, but love the man. And when the fault has been cured there will remain only what [we] ought to love, nothing that [we] should hate.”
For my money, there’s no substitute for students encountering these truths in early Christians like Athanasius and Augustine. Throughout City of God we are conscious of the fact that the author is more than 1,500 years older than us—but he holds to all of the same primary doctrines that we do! Mere Christianity hasn’t “evolved” or changed to fit societal changes; it has steadily marched on and provided real food for hungry souls. As this dawns on students, they find the satisfaction of adhering to truth that is unchanging. The world may believe that it has passed Christianity by, but Christ was the Bread of Life for Paul and is the Bread of Life for me.
As students see this, they begin to understand that education is about more than getting a diploma and a good job. History matters not as a subject in which you will be graded; it matters because it is the record of ideas having consequences—the bad ideas of Machiavelli leading to Karl Marx and the Soviet Union, and the good ideas of scripture leading to the changed life of Augustine or the emancipation of the slaves.
You can find all the truth that Augustine teaches in other books; what you can’t find is a better way to help students see their faith in the context of history.
by Jeff Baldwin