But who is the city of God? Wilken answers, “Augustine never defines this city outright, but it is closely identified with the church . . . . Wherever the church is, he [Augustine] says, there will be ‘God’s beloved City.’ The City of God is more than the church because it includes the angels and the saints who have gone before, but there can be no talk of the city of God without the church.”
Wilken goes on to say, “Augustine’s controlling metaphor for the new life that God creates is not, for example, being born again, but becoming part of a city and entering into its communal life. When the Scriptures speak of peace they do not have in mind simply a relation between an individual believer and God; in the Bible peace is a gift that human beings share in communion with God. . . . Christianity is inescapably social.”
Later, quoting the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin: “The significance of Christian thought for the Western political tradition lies not so much in what it had to say about the political order, but primarily in what it had to say about the religious order. The attempt of Christians to understand their own group life provided a new and sorely needed source of ideas for Western political thought. Christianity succeeded where Hellenistic and late classical philosophies had failed, because it put forward a new and powerful idea of community which recalled man [and women] to a life of meaningful participation.”
Chapter 8 from Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought is titled “Happy the People Whose God is the Lord.” Wilken interacts with Saint Augustine’s City of God and notes, “The most characteristic feature of the city of God is that it worships the one true God.” Worship and happy people, the twain always meet in the city of God.
In regard to early Christian thought during the “formative centuries of the church’s history,” Robert Louis Wilken writes, “The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to changer their lives. Christian thinkers appealed to a much deeper level of human experience than had the religious institutions of society or the doctrines of the philosophers. In this endeavor the Bible was a central factor. It narrated a history that reached back into antiquity even to the beginning of the world, it was filled with stories of unforgettable men and women (not all admirable) who were actual historical persons rather than mythical figures, and it poured forth a thesaurus of words that created a new religious vocabulary and a cornucopia of scenes and images that stirred literary and artistic imagination as well as theological thought. God, the self, human community, the beginning and ending of things became interwoven with biblical history, biblical language, and biblical imagery.”