Go to main contentGo to footer

De civitate Dei

Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (Tagaste 354 - Hippo 430)

Biblioteca degli Uffizi
Printed volume
G-3 no. 149
Inscribed handwritten notes referring to the chapters in red ink

Aurelius Augustine was born in 354 in Tagaste, Numidia. His father Patricius was a small landowner with strong ties to Paganism, while his mother Monica was a fervent Christian. In his youth, he attended schools in Tagaste and Carthage, devoting his time to the study of rhetoric. Before following the Christian faith he became involved in various philosophical and religious currents: he approached the doctrine of the Manichaeism and, in 383, went to Rome and was influenced by scepticism. In 384 he obtained a professorship for eloquence in Milan and three years later was baptised by Bishop Ambrose. Returning to Africa he became a priest and bishop of Bona, then Hippo; he died in 430 and was immediately considered a saint, having already acquired considerable notoriety during his lifetime.

Saint Augustine was undoubtedly the greatest representative of Patristics, which is the philosophy of the Fathers of the Church, namely those who formulated the first dogmas. Augustine is known as the Teacher of Grace because this dogma was formulated by him. His doctrine is primarily aimed at resolving the relationship between reason and Christian faith by establishing the limits of the human intellect and its capacities; Truth cannot be attained by Reason because of its limitation, only Faith can lead humans to Truth, divine illumination is a light that the soul receives from God, a flame by which each individual's spiritual lamp is lit.

The apologetic treatise De civitate Dei (which consists of 22 volumes) was written by St Augustine in the last years of his life between 413 and 426 to defend Christianity against the accusation of pagans of being the cause of the Empire's downfall, an accusation that was forcefully renewed after the sack of Rome by Alaric (410). Influenced by Manichaeism, Augustine understood history as the result of the struggle between good and evil, the contrast between the society of the good and the wicked, between the heavenly city or city of God and the earthly city or city of the Devil. The two cities have a counterpart in heaven, namely in the ranks of rebellious angels and those who remain faithful to God. The counterpart on earth is linked to the figures of Cain and Abel: the Civitas Terrena, the city of the flesh and the devil, founded by Cain; and the Civitas Dei, the city of the spirit, the heavenly city founded by Abel. The citizen of the earthly city seems to be the ruler, the citizen of the heavenly city, on the other hand, lives as a pilgrim on the path to the Glory of God. The two cities have always coexisted and will only be divided at the Final Judgement in which the ruler will be destined to eternal damnation, the pilgrim to eternal salvation, but they are already demarcated on this earth, as the heavenly city is represented by the Church and the earthly city by the Roman Empire.
St Augustine's thought was widespread in the Middle Ages when the greatest synthesis of Christian and Platonic thought developed. The first printed edition of the De Civitate Dei was printed in Subiaco in 1467 by the German printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz and at the end of the 15th century, many printers were dedicated to this work.

The engraving preserved in the Uffizi Library was printed in Venice by the German brothers Vindelino and Giovanni da Spira. According to the colophon, Vindelino completed the work after the sudden death of his brother, taking over the printing works in 1470.

This copy has red lettering, the opening letters of the individual chapters in red and blue, and a beautiful miniature on c.15 [r.] that shows us how early engravings still resembled manuscripts. The paper, in fact, has two gilded initial letters on a blue background with a frame of white spirals on the three margins and, in the centre of the lower margin, a clypeus with two male heads from whose mouths a frieze with plant motifs originates. The workmanship of the male heads reflects the artistic influence of Pollaiuolo's workshop. The early incunabulum came from the Convent of the Annunziata and in 1810 it reached the Royal Galleries following the Napoleonic suppressions.


A. Jori, De civitate Dei, in: Dizionario delle opere filosofiche, a cura di Franco Volpi, Mondadori 2000, pag. 9. Agostino, Aurelio, santo, su Treccani.it – Enciclopedie on lineIstituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana;E. Gilson, Le metamorfosi della «Città di Dio», Siena, Catagalli, 2010, G. Lettieri, Il senso della storia in Agostino d'Ippona. Il saeculum e la gloria nel «De civitate Dei», Roma, Borla, 1988, Ms, 211.

Text by
Silvia Pagni
Interested in visiting The Uffizi?
Arrange your visit to Florence, find prices and opening hours of the museum.

The Newsletter of the Uffizi Galleries

Subscribe to keep up to date!