Saint Augustine, of the Citie of God: with the learned comments of Jo. Lodovicus Vives.

London, G. Eld and M. Flesher, 1620.


Folio. pp. (xviii) 861 (i.e. 860) (iv). Woodcut printer’s device on title, woodcut initials. Lacking initial blank, very short tear to lower blank margin of title, title very skilfully repaired at gutter and at small portion of outer margin, small paper repairs at lower outer blank corner of first gathering, tiny tear above, very light age-yellowing, two final index leaves a little soiled and repaired at gutter, contemporary manuscript calculations on verso of last. A very good clean copy in contemporary red crushed morocco, certainly English, probably Oxford, covers with a central frame of gilt triple fillets and corners fleurons within double gilt-ruled border, panelled spine gilt in seven compartments, lettered in the second; for comparable, see Henry Davis Gift, volume II, no. 103. One corner very neatly repaired, spine very slightly cracked, two stains to lower cover. A little wear in places, but generally fine. Talbot Rathbone’s contemporary autograph in blank portion of title, Ernest Ridley Debenham’s bookplate on front pastedown.

A very handsome copy of the “second and best edition” (Lowndes) of the first English translation of St. Augustine’s ‘de Civitatis Dei’, the first comprehensive Western survey of history and the original text of that new science which Voltaire called ‘the philosophy of history’. It is designed as a great apologetic treatise in vindication of the Christian Church, which Augustine conceived as rising in the form of a new civic order on the ruins of the Roman Empire. It was begun in 413 and appeared in portions until 426.

The first five books deal with the polytheism of Rome, the next five with Greek philosophy (especially the Platonists and neo-Platonists), while the last twelve cover the history of time and eternity. Many modern concepts of the just society in economics and of the just ruler in politics, are derived from the work. Its underlying interpretation is of history tending towards the salvation of mankind. Augustine had been, in his youth, and before his conversion to Christianity, he had been a convinced Manichean; however, he was later involved in a long controversy against the sect. He was born a pagan, although his mother was a pious Christian, and his journey to orthodox Christianity was made via Neo-Platonist philosophy, which was current at the time. Eventually, he became both Bishop of Hippo and one of the Four Great Fathers of the Latin Church.

“‘The City of God’ pervaded the whole Middle Ages – Einhard tells us that it was one of Charlemagne’s favourite books – and in the struggle between Pope and Emperor both sides drew arguments from it…The book remained authoritative until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Bossuet was the last ‘Augustinian’ historian; and Vico was much indebted to him…The idea of international law was partly derived from the book; Grotius cites St. Augustine. Both Luther and Calvin took Augustine as the foundation of Protestantism next to the Bible itself…In our own day Lionel Curtis, Jacques Maritain, Reinhold Nebuhr, Paul Tillich and other thinkers have drawn inspiration from this great work” (PMM on the first edition).

STC 917; Lowndes I, p. 87; PMM (1st edition). 3 copies only on RLG.


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