Barbarian invaders stampeded across Europe like herds of elephants, trampling everything in their path. Roman legions, unable to defend their 10,000-mile frontier, collapsed; the intruders penetrated Italy to the gates of Rome itself. And on August 24, 410 the Eternal City fell to Alaric and his swarms. For three days Rome was plundered. Women were attacked, the wealthy slaughtered, art destroyed, and the city battered beyond recognition.
The world reeled in shock, and Christians suddenly found themselves blamed. The empire had, after all, been an invincible fortress of iron before becoming “Christianized” with Constantine’s conversion in 312. Now, less than a century later, the greatest city and empire in history was no more. The old gods had been offended and had withdrawn their protection.
Across the Mediterranean the world’s greatest theologian listened to the reports, saw the refugees, heard the charges, and spent 13 years writing a response. Augustine’s 22-volume The City of God was written as a defense of Christianity, and it became the first great work to shape and define the medieval mind.
The first volumes of The City of God declare that Rome was being punished, not for her new faith, but for her old sins—immorality and corruption. Augustine admitted that he himself had indulged in depravity before coming to Christ. But, he said, the original sin could be traced back to Adam and Eve, and we have but inherited the sinful nature unleashed by them.
Mary’s child, Jesus Christ, offers forgiveness, and Christ alone provides eternal salvation. “Through a woman we were sent to destruction; through a woman salvation was restored to us. Mankind is divided into two sorts: such as live according to man, and such as live according to God. These we call the ‘two cities,’ the one predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other condemned to perpetual torment with Satan.”
“The Heavenly City outshines Rome,” Augustine wrote. “There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of life, eternity.”
Because Abraham had faith, he lived as a stranger in the promised land. … Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built. (Hebrews 11:9,10)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 24.