The City of God
Saint Augustine, selections and introduction by Hans Urs von Balthasar
(Ignatius Press, $27, 350 pages)
Augustine’s The City of God is an essential book of western civilization, examining the development of the Earthly City and how it relates to the City of God. Standard texts of The City of God run more than 1000 pages and it can be intimidating to many readers. The new Ignatius Press volume, with selections and an introduction by theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is less daunting and an excellent introduction, an abridgement that maintains the integrity of The City of God while making it more accessible. Augustine’s work was vital, as von Balthasar explains, because he was writing “just as the legitimate religious function of the polis, a ‘natural law’ function, was being replaced by the Church – when thus the mythical world order and Roman world view, long since undermined by its own rationalism and parched by centuries of irradiation by the Church, collapses and gives place to a new world order and world view.” The City of God speaks to us today because as von Balthasar writes, Augustine argues that “every Christian is called to rule over the world, but in such a way that he only makes use of the worldly without surrendering to it.” Von Balthasar’s judicious selections highlight the book’s most relevant passages but cutting as it does more than three-quarters of the original work, von Balthasar says that he hopes his selections inspire engagement with the full text; indeed, it should. For those who have long ago read Augustine, the new Ignatius Press volume should lead us to return after this most satisfying reintroduction.