Sunday, February 12, 2017

St. Augustine and the Fall of Rome

In the sack of Rome, Christians died alongside pagans. Some Christian women suffered rape, although the Visigoths claimed to be Christians, too. Some of these women, following the historical example of the famous pagan girl, Lucretia, killed themselves for shame. Others fled to North Africa as refugees, where they were taunted by pagans, who asked them why their God did not protect them or else accused them of cowardice for not killing themselves.

Why had Christians suffered in the taking of Rome? According to the Bible, God would have spared Sodom if there had been just ten righteous souls in it. Yet here was a city with thousands of Christians--a major church center, too--and yet God allowed it to be ravaged. Pagans blamed Christian pacifists.

Various people put this question to the greatest living Christian thinker of the day. Augustine of Hippo responded by writing a masterpiece, The City of God and the City of Man. This was the world's first "modern" history in the sense that it offered an account of world history with a teleological explanation--that is, an explanation showing that events have "purpose," or destination.
Augustine took a different approach than Jerome. Giving a Christian interpretation to the events, he pointed out that the barbarian invaders had spared most of the churches and that even pagans had taken refuge in the Christian churches. Christians had always suffered and would always suffer, in this world, he noted. To phrase it in modern cliche, God had never promised the Christian a bed of roses. (Read more.)

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