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Books That Matter: The City of God

Travel chapter by chapter through Augustine's masterpiece, as an award-winning professor introduces you to the book's key arguments, as well as the historical context necessary to comprehend The City of God's true power.
Books That Matter: The City of God is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 56.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Prof for a difficult subject I was a little amazed while scanning some of the reviews of this course that at least one of the reviewers complained of Dr. Mathewes use of “big words” and his mannerism. “The City of God” is a complicated, dense theological work. It was never going to be an easy subject to approach. It was always going to take some work. My vocabulary is better than most folks, and yeah the presenter did use a few “big words” that I had to look up. If I only read books or took courses where I knew all the words, I do not believe I would be expanding my intellectual horizons. Sometimes you have to work for it. And as to mannerisms, Dr. Mathewes does have a smile that comes across as a bit smirky, but I decided a little ways into the course he just did not know how to smile well and thus ignored it. I took the course because as I explore religion and western philosophies, the name of St. Augustine continually pops up. I do not see me reading the rather dense, 1000 page book so I saw this as a great alternative. And it was. I definitely have a better feel for St. Augustine and his importance to Christianity and Western thought. Lesson 18 really grabbed my attention – probably because my wife is Jewish – as the presenter laid much of the current anti-Semitism at St. Augustine’s feet. I found that very surprising. His reasoning is a little involved and more than I need to get into in a review, but basically it has to do with the Jews of his time rejecting Christ as Savior and the concept of Christian Supersessionism. I found this an extremely interesting and worthwhile course. And yeah it takes a little work to get through it, but ain’t that why we are here.
Date published: 2023-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep, rich and rewarding Like other reviewers, this class appealed to me as an easier way to familiarize myself with some of Augustine's thoughts, compared to trying to read and understand his work first hand. Professor Mathewes comes across as really passionate about his subject and clearly knows the material well. His exposition, however, seems sometimes to be as difficult to understand as the original text would be. But his lectures are rewarding nonetheless. I enjoyed the class a great deal and feel motivated to now go back and ready the book itself.
Date published: 2022-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ex: rare great Christian course I own a high percentage of the teaching company courses and this is one of their best. I consider the teaching company an anti Christian organization but this is an analysis of Augustine masterpiece. It bring in different thought like the Aristotle. I think it does justice to this masterpiece. It is not at the Christian basing logically flawed disaster ‘the historical Jesus’
Date published: 2022-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book by Augustine really does matter! Doctor Mathewes is one of the most engaging presenters of any the Great Course I have purchased. His knowledge of Augustine is grounded and is evident in his flawless coverage of the material. Not just a talking head program. Excellent visual aids.
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Returned Course The instructor's mannerisms were extremely distracting and his use of vocabulary took away from the valuable content. Plain English would have been better except for another Phd. he was trying to impress. Could not finish.
Date published: 2022-08-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Far too verbose and hugely discouraging At average 150/160 words per minute this lecturer emits about 96000 over the course as a whole - the equivalent of nearly 500 pages as an introduction to a 1000 page book. This is far too many for any except professional students. For most others this actually subtracts time spent reading the actual book, which however verbose and antiquated is obviously full of valuable material. Instead of bridging the gap between ancient and modern, this lecturer actually widens it by adding another 500 obscurantist (there I can do it too!) pages to an already formidable and very lengthy text. An example of a model introduction in this series to a not immediately accessible text is the course by Prof. Cooke and a colleague on the Commedia of Dante.
Date published: 2022-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I felt like St. Augustine was talking to me My regard for St. Augustine, the missing link between the Greco-Roman and Christian philosophy, has increased, as well as my appreciation for Dr. Mathewes, the philosopher-theologian.
Date published: 2022-05-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Recommended! I gave up on this course after just 6 lectures. For me it was very hard to follow or even understand what the teacher was saying. I don't believe that I got anything out of it. I have watched well over 100 Great Courses/Wondruim courses and this is one of the worst I've seen.
Date published: 2022-03-07
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Books That Matter: The City of God ushers you on a historical and theological journey through the final years of the ancient world. Taught by Professor Charles Mathewes of the University of Virginia, these 24 lectures guide you chapter by chapter through Augustine's masterpiece, introducing you not only to the book's key arguments but also to the context necessary to comprehend The City of God's true power.


Charles Mathewes

The same energies of intellect and will that led mankind to cure innumerable diseases and put men on the Moon led us also to poison gas and ICBM's.


University of Virginia

Dr. Charles Mathewes is Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where he teaches religious ethics, theology, and philosophy of religion. He earned his B.A. in Theology from Georgetown University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Chicago. From 2006 to 2010, Professor Mathewes served as editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the flagship journal in the field of religious studies. He was Chair of the Committee on the Future of Christian Ethics for the Society of Christian Ethics, the inaugural Director of the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion, and he currently serves on the House of Bishops Theology Committee of the Episcopal Church. He is the author of Evil and the Augustinian Tradition, A Theology of Public Life, Understanding Religious Ethics, and The Republic of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts for Dark Times. He is also associate editor of the 3rd edition of the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Senior Editor of Religious Ethics: The Major Works/em>. He has been a Mead Honored Faculty-one of UVA's highest teaching awards-and also a Mead Endowment Teaching Award. Every year since 1999, Professor Mathewes's classes have been named as exemplary classes for prospective students to attend during UVA's Days on the Lawn

By This Professor

Books That Matter: The City of God
Why Evil Exists
Books That Matter: The City of God


Your Passport to The City of God

01: Your Passport to The City of God

The City of God is a monumental work-not just for its scale and structure, but for what it asks of us as readers. In this first lecture, dive into the many layers of this powerful book, surveying why Augustine wrote it, for whom, and what impact it still has on our world today....

32 min
Who Was Augustine of Hippo?

02: Who Was Augustine of Hippo?

Examine the paradoxical life of Augustine: Who was he? Why is he such an important historical figure? You'll be surprised that much of what we may associate with him, such as his metaphysical dualism and his antidemocratic adherence to Church law, is mistaken. Here, you'll uncover the real Augustine-and find a man not so unlike ourselves.

33 min
The Sack of Rome, 410 A.D.

03: The Sack of Rome, 410 A.D.

While Roman elites viewed the sack of Rome as a turning point that changed the world forever, the event itself lasted only three days and served more as a catalyst for change than a cataclysm in its own right. In this lecture, you'll find out why the sack was so monumental, and how it inspired Augustine to write The City of God....

29 min
Augustine's Pagan and Christian Audience

04: Augustine's Pagan and Christian Audience

Before delving into the text of The City of God, Professor Mathewes sets the stage with some context about the many audiences that Augustine was writing for, as well as the arguments against Christians that he was confronting. See how Augustine co-opted Roman notions of "city" and "glory" and applied them to his divine purpose....

33 min
The Problem of Suffering (Book 1)

05: The Problem of Suffering (Book 1)

Book 1 opens by addressing civic-minded Roman citizens looking for happiness in this life-a mistake, Augustine believes. By exploring the problem of evil and questions of suffering and suicide, you'll discover how Augustine's approach toward life differs from the Roman view, yet is arguably more life affirming and even therapeutic....

30 min
The Price of Empire (Books 2-3)

06: The Price of Empire (Books 2-3)

Continue your study of Augustine's argument toward civic-minded Romans by reviewing his attacks on their morality and their sense of self-regard. Using their own historians as evidence, Augustine teases out the logical and psychological implications of the Romans' quest for domination, which Augustine says is born out of a longing for transcendent joy....

33 min
Augustine's Political Vision (Book 4)

07: Augustine's Political Vision (Book 4)

Augustine had a clearly defined political philosophy that ran against the grain of Roman beliefs. Here, examine his view that there is no distinction between gangsters and statesmen, and that the difference between conquering and theft is merely one of perspective. Reflect on this "political realism" and what it means for the Roman state....

32 min
Splendid Vices and Happiness in Hope (Book 5)

08: Splendid Vices and Happiness in Hope (Book 5)

In this lecture, you'll reach the climax of Augustine's argument toward civic-minded Romans, which answers the question of how best to pursue happiness while also being a good citizen. The answer takes you through a dazzling discussion of fate versus free will, the nature of divine providence, the errors of glory-seeking, and the tragic nature of the world....

30 min
Public Religion in Imperial Rome (Books 6-7)

09: Public Religion in Imperial Rome (Books 6-7)

Turn to The City of God's next set of arguments, which in Books 6 to 10 are aimed toward Roman philosophers who had a different-if still incorrect, according to Augustine-view of religion. After studying the role of religion in Roman society, Professor Mathewes analyzes Augustine's critique of one particular philosopher, Varro....

33 min
Who or What Is God? (Books 8-9)

10: Who or What Is God? (Books 8-9)

Of all the Roman philosophers, Augustine felt the most kinship with the Platonists, who had developed a transcendent view of God. Where they fell short, he believed, was in imagining God as a distant being, uninterested in material reality. For Augustine, God is immediate and accessible, as he argues in Books 8 and 9....

32 min
Sacrifice and Ritual (Book 10)

11: Sacrifice and Ritual (Book 10)

Once we understand God's immediacy and love for humanity, what next? What are humans meant to do in return? In book 10, Augustine takes aim at the transactional nature of Roman religion-offering sacrifice in return for special favors. Instead, Augustine lays out a blueprint for what religion should be like....

29 min
Augustine's Critique of Rome (Books 1-10)

12: Augustine's Critique of Rome (Books 1-10)

The City of God is arranged into two broad parts. Here at the halfway point, recap Books 1 through 10 and analyze the first half of the text as a whole. At this point, Augustine has laid the groundwork for a transition from a largely apologetic argument to something more transformative in the second half....

31 min
Metaphysics of Creation and Evil (Book 11)

13: Metaphysics of Creation and Evil (Book 11)

Now that Augustine has thoroughly critiqued Roman society, it's time to turn away from what he was arguing against and find out what he was arguing for. In this new beginning, Augustine uses biblical evidence to explore the world's creation and how God works both within and outside of time....

33 min
Fall of the Rebel Angels (Book 12)

14: Fall of the Rebel Angels (Book 12)

Revisit the problem of evil as a reaction against the good of creation. Why would the rebel angels deny the good and allow themselves to fall? And what does Augustine's view of evil mean for humanity, beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Explore Augustine's vision and consider its implications....

31 min
Augustine and Original Sin (Book 13)

15: Augustine and Original Sin (Book 13)

Settle into a powerful analysis of original sin, the condition humans inherited from Adam and Eve after the Fall. Professor Mathewes shows that while Augustine's vision may seem bleak on the surface-with people as zombies roaming the earth in living death-it is ultimately an encouraging message for the way it points toward grace....

32 min
The Two Cities and the Two Loves (Book 14)

16: The Two Cities and the Two Loves (Book 14)

Continue your study of original sin and what it implies about how we should live in this earthly world. Here, Augustine conjures up two cities-the city of flesh and the city of God-and shows how our key challenges on Earth are rooted in our psychology, in our orientation toward the world....

33 min
Augustine's Scriptural History (Books 15-17)

17: Augustine's Scriptural History (Books 15-17)

In Books 15 to 17, Augustine begins to tell the history of the world through the lens of the Christian Bible. Scholars tend to overlook these books, but as you'll discover, they not only provide a remarkably complete history of the ancient world, they also provide a new picture of our place in the world, as well as a new way of understanding our history....

31 min
Translating the Imperium (Book 18)

18: Translating the Imperium (Book 18)

Once Augustine completes his survey of history, one big question remains: Once all the worldly empires, including Rome, have fallen, what next? If the earthly city's days are over, how do we transition to the heavenly city? How do we translate the past into the future? Find out what Augustine has to say about carrying on....

32 min
Happiness and Politics (Book 19)

19: Happiness and Politics (Book 19)

In Augustine's view, we are living in an "epilogue" to history. The Fall and the Resurrection have occurred, and we are awaiting the Last Judgment. In this lecture, you'll encounter The City of God's most worldly book, in which Augustine expounds on how we are meant to live in this interim period. Explore his view of politics, happiness, and world peace....

31 min
Judgments, Last and Otherwise (Book 20)

20: Judgments, Last and Otherwise (Book 20)

We have reached the last section of The City of God. If Book 19 was about worldly wisdom, then Book 20 is about other-worldly wisdom. Reflect on the meaning and purpose of the Last Judgment. Our world and its ultimate end may be obscure, but Augustine shows how to begin thinking about these matters....

33 min
Augustine's Vision of Hell (Book 21)

21: Augustine's Vision of Hell (Book 21)

Shift your attention from the end of the world to what happens after we die. Professor Mathewes delves into the deep questions of damnation: Why does Augustine believe Hell is real? What is the nature of suffering in Hell? And why does God mete out an eternal punishment for a temporal crime?...

33 min
Heaven: The Self Redeemed (Book 22)

22: Heaven: The Self Redeemed (Book 22)

Now turn from the nature of Hell to the nature of Heaven. Here, review Augustine's account of Heaven, his vision of the final fulfilled state of the human, and the realization of God. See how he works to resolve one of theology's key puzzles, the tension between here and there, Earth and Heaven....

33 min
The City of God as a Single Book

23: The City of God as a Single Book

The City of God is so searching, so wide reaching, so vast and so coherent that it has few rivals as an achievement of the human mind. Now that you have explored the entire text, step back and consider the book as a whole. Examine some of its key themes and what Augustine may have wanted us to take away from the book....

30 min
The City of God's Journey through History

24: The City of God's Journey through History

Much has happened in the world after The City of God's publication, from the Vandals besieging Hippo in Northern Africa and the fall of Rome to what is arguably the end of Christendom in our modern era. In this final lecture, take a look at Augustine's impact on history and his continued relevance to our lives today....

36 min