Leadership Lessons From The Great Books – Introduction – City of God by Augustine of Hippo

Welcome to the City of God

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We’re going to be parked here for a while.
Augustine Of Hippo (AD 354– 430) is among the most influential cultural figures of all time. His development of Christian theology during the formative fourth and fifth centuries shaped church teaching for future generations.
Ascending to influence as a teacher of rhetoric in Hippo, Rome, and Milan, Augustine initially embraced Manichean religion, and later came under the influence of Neoplatonism.
In AD 387, however, his life dramatically changed direction with his conversion to Christianity. After conversion, he returned to his native North Africa, where he was ordained a priest and later made a bishop.
As leader of the Church in Hippo, he preached widely and wrote voluminous biblical commentaries and apologetic works defending the Christian faith against its rivals and detractors, along with more personal and pastoral works, such as Confessions.

And so, what.
What relevance could the ideas of a man who died 1,588 years ago (yes, I did the math) have for leaders in our sophisticated, suave, tech-savvy 21st century.
After all, hasn’t science triumphed over belief?
Haven’t the philosophers, scientists, secularists, and the entire cohort of technical people with technical prowess put to bed the arguments that Augustine had?
Isn’t paganism just another form of belief, no more or less impactful than I believe in Santa or if you believe in Satan?
Can’t we all just “get along”
Well, no we can’t.
Leaders must grapple with the substrate that underlies their assumptions, expectations, and even their belief systems if they are to ever have a hope of wrestling with the large vertical buildings of science, progress, and modernity.
And there is no author, philosopher, theologian, or writer who sinks his presence deeper into the substrate of the Western philosophy of leadership than Saint Augustine of Hippo.
St. Thomas Aquinas—no slouch in the deep thinking department—said of Augustine about 900 years later “The human mind can understand truth only by thinking, as is clear from Augustine.”
On this podcast, we wrestle with deep books and ask complicated questions in order to explore the dichotomies that leadership presents us within our daily lives.
If you lead a group of people to do anything and you live anywhere in the West—or increasingly anywhere else in the world—you’re going to be confronted with the problems that Augustine wrestled with.
Problems of defining a problem with clarity.
Problems of establishing and defending a position against detractors.
Problems of building out a rhetorical vision so that followers can be inspired.
Problems of grappling with a wider world—even if that’s just your local neighborhood—when it goes off, the rails.
After all, it’s leaders who stand up, speak up, and say “Stop.”
Who will read the Augustine?
Who will watch the Watchmen?
Who will build, maintain, and keep the City of God?
City of God is divided into 32 parts (at least my version is) and the first two books are hard slogs, and not for the faint of heart.
But as you read them, you realize that Augustine was attempting to lead people through the written word by battling against the opposing forces of a declining Roman society that still had teeth and was still thrashing about.
Sound familiar?
The arguments against nihilism, relativism, cynical pride and cultural arrogance are as old as time and leaders need to be reminded of those arguments repeatedly.
Otherwise, leaders will have to be retaught the same lesson, and each time, the penalty for failing to learn it will be more catastrophic.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in so that my house will be full.”
Compel them to come in.
Augustine also had ideas about leaders in the church and in the state using state power to bring the unbeliever, the pagan, and the unrepentant sinner to heel.
For their own good, of course.
The forces of post-modern science and endless rapacious progress have ideas about leaders in technology and in culture using cultural and technological power to bring the unbeliever, the differing believer, and the unrepentant, inflexible localist to heel.
For their own good, of course.
Sound familiar?
To wrap your head and heart around City of God will give you grounding in addressing these ideas, and will give you as a leader the language to identify those who would compel you to come in.
Whether that’s into the church, into the state, into technology, or into culture.
So, get a cup of coffee, get a comfy chair, and put up your feet.
We’re going to be parked here for a while.