Alaric, barbarian king of the Visigoths, was the straw that broke the Roman camel’s back. On August 24, 410, Alaric and his troops entered Rome and pillaged the city for three days. He and his troops carried off vast amounts of booty and left behind a city of corpses and ruins. Alaric’s deed signaled the end of the Roman empire.

Many Roman citizens blamed the sack on Christianity, which had displaced paganism as the state religion. Angry pagans argued that the old religion had been betrayed. Word spread quickly that defeat had come because the pagan deities were offended by all this Christianizing, and that Alaric was their chastisement.

To answer these accusations, Augustine composed his great treatise, The City of God. In the first part he reminds pagan accusers that Rome had suffered catastrophes long before the advent of Christianity. He suggests it was not Christianity that brought Rome to her knees, but decadence within.

However, Augustine’s great work contains a good deal more than a simple response to accusations against Christianity. He seizes the opportunity to set forth a Christian philosophy of history. As he sets it forth, history is really the tale of two cities—the City of God, inhabited by God’s people, and the earthly city, inhabited by sinners who reject God. The two cities and their citizens are combatants in the age-old struggle between righteousness and wickedness.

Though inhabited by God’s people, Augustine’s City of God is certainly not a physical city of bricks and mortar. It is a spiritual city, whose citizenship is determined by a personal relationship to God. This overarching conception of history governed Augustine’s theological interpretation of the ...

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