January 28, 2014

Charlemagne and The City of God

Category: History :: Permalink

Edward R. Hardy, Jr., begins his essay on Augustine’s The City of God by noting that the emperor Charlemagne used to have Augustine, and particularly The City of God, read to him at dinner.  One might think that Charlemagne was most interested in Augustine’s political theology, on what Augustine has to say about empires and rulers and so forth.  Maybe, says Hardy.  But probably not:

Some of these broader implications of St. Augustine’s ideas were doubtless in old Kaiser Karl’s head as he listened to the reader in his hall at Aachen. But probably the books of the City of God — which the biographer quite properly refers to in the plural, as a series rather than a unit — provided the monarch with amusement as well as instruction at mealtime.  In these XXII Books of St. Aurelius Augustine the Bishop on the City of God against the Pagans one is charmed and sometimes confused by finding notes on almost every subject of human interest.  The extracts from them which appear in the pages of the Breviarium Romanum for the devotional reading of the clergy do not deal with political theory but with the Second Temple, the names of the Prophet Hosea’s children, and the miracles of St. Stephen.  Some other items to be found in the City of God are a sketch of the Assyrian Empire, attacks on the absurdity of paganism, discussions on the nature of time, the eucharistic sacrifice, and the main principles of social ethics, and a rhetorical passage on the wonders of nature.  One never knows quite what is coming next, and doubtless Charlemagne, like many other readers since, found this one of the attractions of the work.  It has the fascination of a book about everything (“The City of God,” in Roy W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, 259).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:57 pm | Discuss (0)

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