The City of God, Saint Augustine. Glossed incunable leaf, 1489.

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Coloured initials added by hand.

The City of God, written by the medieval philosopher Saint Augustine (354-430AD), titled originally  De Civitate Dei is arguably the first magnum opus of Christian philosophy. A masterpiece of Western culture, The City of God was written in response to claims by Roman citizens that the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 was punishment for abandoning the traditional gods and goddesses in favour of the new state religion, Christianity. (See Notes below).

Recto:  Text in Latin printed in a rounded gothic type on quality rag paper. Three initials in red and  blue added by hand after the printing. Heading V. Paginated 71 in a later hand. Columns of gloss (commentary) in a smaller type in the margins.  This edition was probably edited by Sebastian Brandt, with the comments of the Oxford Dominicans, Thomas Waleys (1314-1350) and Nicholas Trevet (1297-1334).

Verso:  As Recto, with two coloured initials.

Printer:  Johann Amerbach, Basel.

Date: 13 February, 1489.

Condition:  There are several worm holes in the margins and one in the text.  However they do not detract from the printed text and overall the leaf is in very good condition -  a testament to the quality of the paper and the printing skills of Amerbach.  It is a splendid example of an early printing of this important work.

Size:  Leaf: 320x225 mm.

Notes:  The City of God, written by the medieval philosopher Saint Augustine (354-430AD), titled originally De Civitate Dei is arguably the first magnum opus of Christian philosophy. A masterpiece of Western culture, The City of God was written in response to claims by Roman citizens that the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 was punishment for abandoning the traditional gods and goddesses in favour of the new state religion, Christianity. The Roman Empire had dominated Mediterranean civilisation for nearly a thousand years. The city’s walls had not been breached in eight hundred years and its citizens were deeply shocked and devastated by the sacking.

St. Augustine responded by asserting, to the contrary, that Christianity saved the city from complete destruction and that Rome’s fall was the result of internal moral decay. He  outlined his vision of two societies, that of the elect (“The City of God”) and that of the damned (“The City of Man”).  Augustine’s “cities” were symbolic embodiments of the two spiritual powers — faith and unbelief — that have contended with each other since the fall of the angels.

The City of God was one of the most influential works of the Middle Ages. St. Augustine’s famous theory that people need government because they are sinful served as a model for church-state relations up to and beyond medieval times. He influenced the work of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin and many other theologians throughout the centuries.

References:  Goff A 1343; Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke 2887.

Item No: PSA137

The woodcut illustration depicts Augustine at work and the two cities of God and Satan.

Verso of the title page of the 1489 Amerbach edition.

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