Hieronymus Bosch, The Haywain (detail)

Augustine: The City of God

Instructor: Heather Ohaneson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

With the magisterial work City of God, the North African bishop Augustine of Hippo issues a defense of Christianity in the aftermath of the sack of Rome in 410. City of God addresses the intersection of history, politics, and theology a century after Christianity had become an imperial force with the conversion of Constantine. Drawing on his elite training in rhetoric as well as his ecclesial experience as bishop in what is current-day Algeria, Augustine moves comfortably between diverse sources. Interlocutors include Plato, Plotinus, and Cicero; the Apostle Paul, whose letters are foundational to Christian theology; Livy and Virgil; and–God. All the while, Augustine’s formidable intellect is on dazzling display, as Augustine grapples with questions that echo throughout Western philosophical history: about the faculty of the will and sex; the meaning of evil; the ordering of loves and the summum bonum (highest good); the nature of time and of truth; and the contrast between the earthly city, which is marked by a libido dominandi—a lust for domination—and the city of God, whose founder is Christ. Should glorious things be spoken of the city of God, as Psalm 87 intones?

In this course, we will rigorously engage selections of City of God in order to probe political, philosophical, and religious questions, including: What does Augustine admire about the “glittering vices” of pagan Rome? What are the civic and moral implications of Lucretia’s suicide in the aftermath of sexual violence? How does a Christian ruler exercise authority and to what end? Should what one loves be determinative of one’s ethics? Why is the problem of political torture ultimately a problem of knowledge? Who is the figure of the peregrinus, the resident alien who journeys to heaven as a pilgrim, and is eternal sabbath a compelling goal? Limited and optional readings will come from Luther’s treatise on temporal authority, Hannah Arendt’s dissertation on Augustine, and contemporary representatives of Augustinian liberalism, including Chuck Mathewes and Eric Gregory.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 29 — February 19, 2024
4 weeks


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