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Augustine’s City of God: The Continuing Autobiographic and Metaphoric Theme of Self-



Doni June V. Almio


It is necessary for us to explore first the meaning of autobiography. The dictionary

definition of autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by him or her. However, I

have some modifications on this definition. An autobiography is not necessarily written based on

the actual happenings of the life of its author. An autobiography can be written in a metaphorical

form or symbolic way if the author is trying to persuade or tell other persons to join his or her

cause. An example of this is the book that will be discussed in this paper which is the City of


St. Augustine was one of the important personages in the Catholic Church. St. Augustine

is important up to the point that he is one of the fortunate saints to be named a Doctor of the

Church in the year 1295 by Pope Boniface XIII. Being a doctor of the church means that a

saint’s writings and teachings are considered to be as useful or helpful to “in any age of the

Church“ (Catholic Online n.d.). Technically, St. Augustine became a doctor of the church

because of his writings: Confessions, which is an autobiography anchored on Augustine’s

conversion to Christianity, and City of God, a book about defending Christianity against

paganism. However, among the books St. Augustine wrote, this paper is more concerned on the

City of God.
As mentioned above, Confessions is an autobiography of St. Augustine. It tells about the

life story of St. Augustine starting from his years as a non-Christian up to his views about the

Holy Trinity. The contention of this paper is that St. Augustine’s City of God continues the

theme of Confessions which is about self-justification. However, this paper also contends that St.

Augustine’s other book, the City of God, is a figurative or metaphorical autobiography of St.

Augustine. Basically, this paper will be all about establishing the book City of God as St.

Augustine’s biography. This paper will be answering the question “what are the specific parts in

the City of God that reflects that Augustine’s conversion was a good decision?”

The Audience of the Metaphorical Autobiography and the Symbols

Before we proceed to the discussion of the topic itself, there are things that are needed to

be identified and settled. First would be the reason on what is Augustine’s intention on why did

he write a book that contains a part of his life but in a metaphoric way? My answer to this is that

by Augustine wrote a book that justifies his conversion to show to the other persons on why did

he convert and of course to market Christianity. Also, why did Augustine wrote City of God in a

metaphoric way and why did he use city as metaphors for the different religions? The answer to

this is also found in the question. I say that Augustine wrote City of God in a metaphoric way

because it will somehow catch the reader’s attention through the use of cities as metaphoric

objects. Cities have been used since Plato’s the Republic. The idea behind cities is that people

think that in cities, people are self-sufficient, complementary with each other and people within

the city are considered as civilized. Anything about cities – knowledge about the cities, way of

life, ideals – would interest the people during Augustine’s time.

Since it was mentioned above that Augustine was trying to market Christianity to other

persons, next consideration would be the consideration of the audience of the City of God. To

where is this metaphorical autobiography subjected to? There would be three things to consider

when we answer this question. First would be those non-Christians or members of other sects.

Second are those persons who were already Christians since birth and the last are those persons

who are new to Christianity or those newly-baptized Christians. If we use the first consideration

which is the non-Christians, it would be hard to make them audience of this metaphorical

autobiography since Augustine used the bible in justifying his conversion. Why would the non-

Christians even bother to read this book if they don’t believe the proofs that was used to

substantiate Augustine’s argument on his conversion? Basically, that leaves us the Christians

since birth and the newly baptized Christians. I say that these two are considered to be the

audience of Augustine in the City of God but my contention is that Augustine is more focused on

the newly baptized Christians. What is meant by focused here is that Augustine gives more

emphasis on the faith of the newly baptized Christians because of the fact that if a person is

newly baptized, there is a great possibility that they will leave Christianity immediately because

of the lack of faith. Augustine is metaphorically justifying his conversion to Christianity to

strengthen the faith of these newly-baptized Christians so that there will be no danger of a

decrease in number among the Christians. It is because during this time, Christians were not

large when it comes to number as compared to those who are in other sects or religions.

Furthermore, great violence happens to these Christians such as persecution so basically to stop

this violence towards them, there is a need of increasing their number and Augustine is doing

Arguments that makes City of God a Metaphoric Autobiography of Self-Justification

Confessions is where Augustine discussed his life – from his Manichaean life up to his

conversion to Christianity. It is in this book where Augustine directly justifies himself on why

did he convert to Christianity. What is meant by direct here is that Augustine justified himself by

writing actual happenings in his life. However, Confessions will not be the focus of this paper.

Confessions will be the “launching point” of the main concern of this paper which is the City of


According to Schaff (1890), “The City of God is the masterpiece of the greatest genius

among the Latin Fathers, and the best known and most read of his works, except the

Confessions.” Yes indeed, it is a great book for Christianity since it defends the Christianity from

the pagans who insult it or tries to assault it verbally. In this book also, Augustine discussed the

two cities: the earthly city and the city of God. Augustine claims that the earthly city is the

hopeless city that God had neglected while the city of God is where the persons who await

salvation belong. Some authors like Ebenstein even argued that the City of God is polemical or

an argument which is against another doctrine. Essentially, other authors see it as Christianity vs.

Paganism polemics. Technically, if a person reads it without even bothering to think deep about

it, that person will basically adopt the ideas of Augustine. However, I think that the City of God

is not all about morals, salvation, defence of Christianity, and not polemical in the way presented

by other authors. The way I see it, City of God has the same theme with that of Confessions

which is about self-justification. By continuing theme, what I mean is that the idea behind the

City of God and Confessions is the same. Both books are all about discussing St. Augustine of

Hippo’s life and his justification of why did he convert to Christianity. The first one was written

in a direct manner while the City of God was in a figurative or metaphorical way. What is meant
by direct manner here is that Augustine used actual happenings in his life to justify his

conversion. Augustine seems to be ashamed of himself being a Manichaean or Neo-Platonist

before he converted to Christianity. As a matter of fact Augustine even wrote against

Manichaeism in AD 387-399.

First things first, since the City of God is metaphorical, the meanings of the metaphorical

objects of Augustine must be first identified. There are two cities discussed in the city of God

which are the earthly city and the heavenly city (City of God). In this book, I contend that

Augustine used the City of God as his new faith Christianity and the earthly city as Manichaeism and

Neo- Platonism including paganism and other sects also. Basically, Augustine is trying to show that

Christianity is a better and superior religion than other religions such as Manichaeism, Neo-Platonism,

and paganism. The book itself seems to be differentiating on the basis that the City of God is more

supreme than the earthly city. It even leads to the point (in the last book) that the heavenly city is

victorious over the earthly city. I interpreted it as a justification of Augustine for his conversion to

Christianity. Augustine seems to be comparing Christianity with other sects (earthly city) in a way that his

conversion was a good decision.

There are some things in the book that somehow show that Augustine is indeed identifying city of

God with Christianity and the earthly city with other sects and religions. In the way he is comparing it,

Augustine’s uses persons to define the heavenly city as those persons who are Christian-like in virtues,

deeds, and actions. On the other hand, Augustine uses persons for the earthly city as those persons who

are acting in a non-Christian like way. For instance, it is stated in the book that Cain was a citizen of the

earthly city while Abel was a citizen of the heavenly city. Looking at their actions in the bible, we would

say that the action of Abel was Christian-like as compared to Cain. In the bible, Abel offered one of his

best lambs to God while Cain offered things that did not please God. In the end, since Cain was jealous of

Abel, he killed his brother which is unchristian like. Basing on their actions, it is evident that Augustine
chose to place Abel in the heavenly city since he wants to show that Christians are favoured by God as

compared to the other sects and religions. He also wants to depict that non-Christians are very capable of

doing evil things since they are not favoured by God. Another example would be the part wherein

Abraham’s sons were mentioned. In the book, Augustine differentiated the two sons of Abraham who

were Ishmael and Isaac. Augustine is saying that Ishmael belonged to the earthly city because he was a

product of Abraham’s desire to have a child while Isaac belongs to the heavenly city because he is a

product of the promise of God. Basically, if we look at it, this is good evidence on my contention that the

earthly city is comprised of those non-Christians because Ishmael became the ancestor of the Ishmaelites

or those persons who are not Christians. On the other hand, Isaac became the ancestor of the chosen

people of God. Augustine seems to be saying that since he’s virtues are like that of a Christian and he

wants to be favoured by God, he converted to Christianity. This differentiation of Augustine of earthly

city and heavenly city based on bible happenings is showing that those things found or are meant to be

found in the earthly city seems to be a result of the human error. Basically, it is evident that Augustine

wants to depict that his life prior to his conversion to Christianity was all human error.

Moreover, Augustine mentioned in the City of God that the heavenly city is for persons who are

those persons dedicated to the everlasting truths of Christian faith such as the mysteries, morals and

virtues while those in the earthly city are focused more on the earthly goods. Looking at it, it seems that

Augustine really separated the City of God from the earthly city by emphasizing the Christianity that is

attached to it. This basically means that Augustine is differentiating Christianity from the other sects

through this heavenly city. Augustine also wants his readers to know that since his actions and virtues are

suited for a Christian, he converted to Christianity.

My next argument would be the focus on the use of Rome as a starting point in the city of God.

During Augustine’s time, the Roman Empire was famous because it occupies almost three-fourths of the

world. Basically, the use of Rome in this book would capture the interest of the people. I would say that

Augustine used Rome as a metaphor of himself. In this case, he will be able to effectively express to his
audience the things that he wants them to know. Augustine stated in the City of God that Rome did not

survive because of its faith to other deities. Basically, if Rome was more of a Christian empire or city, it

would survive the invasion of the Goths. Augustine is trying to say that because he converted to

Christianity, unlike Rome, he will be safe from evils that will be coming for him.

Lastly, Augustine emphasized the “eternal blessedness” of the City of God which means that the

heavenly city will eventually be victorious in the end against the earthly city. This is probably one of the

most important reasons on why Augustine converted to Christianity. He is saying that he chose the

right city, city of God, Christianity because it will be triumphant in the end. Furthermore,

Augustine use this argument to make the newly baptize feel good about their conversion to

Christianity. It will also help in strengthening their faith since it they know that they will be the

winners in the end.


Looking at the arguments presented, it is evident that City of God is indeed a metaphoric

discussion of the reason of Augustine’s conversion to Christianity. It continues the theme of

Confessions which is all about self-justification. Basically, this autobiography was written to

strengthen the faith of the newly-baptized Christians and keep them away from leaving

Christianity. Looking at the current situation of things, I say that Augustine was successful in

asserting the reason of his conversion. There are already a lot of Christians nowadays and

Augustine was even declared as a saint and a doctor of the church. Probably, if Augustine is still

alive, he would say that his work was a success.


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Schaff, Philip. St. Augustin's City of God and Christian Doctrine. New York: Christian Literature
Publishing Company, 1890.

Thorpe, J. "Christianity in the Roman Empire." School History. (accessed

March 2, 2011).