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St. Augustine. Joseph Fornieri. Life and Legacy. Augustine lived from 354 A.D. to 430 A.D. Roman empire and its fall are the context of Augustine’s political thought. Christianity was viewed by many Roman intellectuals as the cause of Rome’s fall.
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St. Augustine Joseph Fornieri
Life and Legacy Augustine lived from 354 A.D. to 430 A.D. Roman empire and its fall are the context of Augustine’s political thought. Christianity was viewed by many Roman intellectuals as the cause of Rome’s fall. Augustine’s The City of God against the Pagans rebutted these accusations.
Life and Legacy - Continued The fall of Rome was not due to its neglect of imaginary gods, but instead was rooted in its moral decadence and lust for power. R.W. Dyson, “In drawing upon the language and ideas of the pagan philosophical heritage, and in scrutinizing those ideas in the light of Christian revelation, Augustine has effectively fashioned them into a Christian philosophy of politics.”
Life and Legacy - Continued • Augustine’s Confessions documents his struggle to find Christian faith. • The work brings interiority and introspection to the fore of philosophical inquiry. • Augustine was a lover in love with love, ultimately focusing on the ability of individuals to love God and his or her fellow human beings. • Cicero’s book Hortensius is credited with turning Augustine toward the love of the immortality of wisdom. • This thought reflected the Stoic school, a school of philosophy that deeply influenced the fathers of the Catholic Church.
Life and Legacy - Continued • Stoic teachings that were important to the church included: • The law of nature based on right reason (A Christian understanding of the law of nature) • A lost Golden Age (Fall from the Garden of Eden) • A universal common humanity (Spiritual dignity of all human beings created in the image of God)
Life and Legacy - Continued • Augustine’s spiritual journey included time spent as a Manichaean. • Manichaean beliefs included: • The universe is divided into two material forces including light (goodness) and darkness (evil). • The goal of life was to separate these forces. • Liberation could be achieved by the elite few who possessed a secret knowledge or gnosis about how the light particles in their souls could be released from the dark matter imprisoning their true selves. • Human beings, given this structure of the universe, were not responsible for evil.
Life and Legacy - Continued • Augustine’s mature teachings reflect this Manichaean legacy including his key teaching about the city of man and the city of God. • Augustine was also influenced by St. Ambrose to move away from simple literalism to a more nuanced allegorical approach to scripture. • In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines the position, we will fall too.
Life and Legacy - Continued • The death of Augustine’s concubine and young son had a profound impact on Augustine. • Augustine studied the Neo-Platonists, Plotinus and Porphyry, whose teachings included: • Philosophical life was participation in the divine life and served as a path to divinization. • The One was the sustaining force of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. • All things are drawn toward the one and the soul’s moral purity is a prerequisite to the ascent toward the one. • Augustine credited the Neo-Platonists with freeing him from Manichaean materialism and his understanding of evil as a privation rather than an active force.
Life and Legacy - Continued • Augustine converted to Catholic Christianity around 385-386 A.D. • “Oh God make me chaste, but not yet.” • Romans 13:13: “Not reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.” • Divine grace and not human will liberates and saves human beings.
Life and Legacy - Continued Augustine rejected the Pagan equation of evil and ignorance and embraced a Pauline understanding that we can know the good but reject it for evil unless we are helped by God’s grace. Augustine observed human beings take a perverse delight in sinning.
Life and Legacy - Continued Augustine established a philosophical retreat, but abandoned a life of leisure to take up the post of Bishop in Hippo where he battled external foe and internal heretic. Augustine died in 430 A.D. around the same time the Vandals were besieging Hippo. Augustine’s writing survived the fall of Roman Africa and became an important part of Christian and Western civilization.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the turning point of history for Augustine. The Sermon on the Mount and the humble service and sacrificial love of Jesus Christ revealed human pretensions of glory as pale images at best and idolatrous perversions at worst of the true glory that belongs to God.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued The use of the Greek word logos for word in the Gospel of John embedded Christ with the rich meanings that logos had in Greek culture of divine wisdom and cosmic intelligence. The term linked the Hellenic and Hebraic worlds. The love of God or wisdom is the orientation of the true philosopher from Augustine’s perspective.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued • Augustine rejected Tertullian’s antipathy towards philosophy. • Tertullian, “I believe because it is absurd.” • Augustine comes closest to the teachings of the second century church father Justin Martyr. • Martyr believed the seeds of wisdom, the Logos Spermatikos, were scattered throughout the universe.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued • Augustine credits Plato with coming closest among the pagan philosophers to the Christian understanding of God. • “If Plato, therefore, has declared that the wise man imitates, knows and loves this God and is blessed through fellowship with him, why should we have to examine other philosophers? No school has come closer to us than Plato.” • Natural law teaching of the Stoics played important role in Augustine’s thought as well.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued Humanity’s ability to conform with natural law has been impeded by the fall from innocence and the Garden of Eden (prelapsarian state) to the condition defined by original sin (postlapsarian state). Human beings are divided by the law of sin. Human efforts are necessary to overcome this condition, but not sufficient. Only God’s revelation and grace can overcome this fallen state.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued • Pride prevented pagan philosophers from accepting God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. • The pagan philosophers failed to appreciate the depth of human depravity. • Faith precedes wisdom for Augustine. • “Lest you believe, you will not understand.” • Sapienta (wisdom) comes through loving rightly. • Scientia (knowledge) without faith and love leads to vanity and pride.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued • Tyrannical and philosophical souls are not distinguished by differences in intelligence but in the orientation of their love. • Tyrants love themselves. • Philosophers love God. • Augustine embraced a linear view of history (creatio ex nihilio) instead of a cyclical view of history. • Human beings are actors in a drama that is overseen by a Creator God who desires to bring about some ultimate good.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued God created all things good. The fall is precipitated by human pride when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Pride is the original sin as Adam and Eve thought they could know better than God. The fall divided human beings against one another, against themselves, and against nature. The doctrine of original sin makes the consequences of this act apply to all human beings.
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued • Evil resides in the human will according to Augustine, and no human efforts can undue the consequences of this reality. • Jesus Christ is the atonement for human depravity. • Philippians 2:5 – 9: “your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ: Who being, in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on the cross.”
Augustine’s Theology: The Word, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment - Continued The redemption of the fallen world will only happen with Christ’s second coming and the final judgment of the living and the dead. Augustine’s thought is divided between the tensions of the fallen world and the perfection of God’s redemption of this fallen world. Peter Brown states, “So the City of God, far from being a book about flight from this world, is a book whose recurrent theme is ‘our business within this common mortal life’; it is a book about being otherworldly in the world.”
Character and History of the Two Cities • The City of God is defined by its love of God or amour Dei. • Matthew 22:37: “to love God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your mind… and to love your neighbor as yourself.” • The City of Man is defined by the love of self or amour sui. • When we love ourselves in a selfish manner we choose personal desire over faithful love in God. • Cupiditas – cupidity or greed • Concupiscentia – concupiscence or disordered appetite
Character and History of the Two Cities - Continued • The fall leads us to depraved desires. • Ordo Amoris requires a hierarchical love with God at the apex. • Augustine’s should not be misconstrued as self-hatred but as a rejection of selfishness. • Cardinal virtues were expressions of love: • Temperance – ability to love a thing in its proper measure. • Fortitude – the ability to hold steadfast to one’s love. • Prudence – the ability to direct one’s love properly. • Justice – the ability to love God, other and self appropriately.
Character and History of the Two Cities - Continued • Love and happiness are linked in Augustine’s political ethics. • Like Aristotle, Augustine views happiness as objective perfection. • Slavish desires must be disciplined and subordinated to love of God and neighbor. • Augustine traces the history of the two cities from Cain through the tower of Babel.
Character and History of the Two Cities - Continued Augustine embraces the doctrine of predestination indicating God has foreknowledge of who will be saved and damned. The two cities are intermixed. Augustine rejected Eusebius’ vision of Christian Empire.
Questions for Reflection How do the views of both Aristotle and Augustine on happiness differ from the current belief that happiness consists in the satisfaction of subjective desire?
The Two Cities, City of God, Book XIV, Chapter xxviii Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men but the greatest glory of other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lift up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God.
Augustine’s Critique of Roman Glory and the Libido Dominandi • Rome is a case study of the earthly city infected with pride. • Augustine demythologizes Roman history and critiques its heroes and rejects its Gods. • Cluacina goddess of sewers is a great example of what he rejects.
Augustine’s Critique of Roman Glory and the Libido Dominandi - Continued • Romans loved glory. • This glory they most ardently loved. For its sake they chose to live and for its sake they did not hesitate to die. They suppressed all other desires in their boundless desire for this one thing. In short, since they held it shameful for their native land to be in servitude, and glorious for it to rule and command, their first passion to which they devoted all their energy was to maintain their independence; the second was to win dominion.
Augustine’s Critique of Roman Glory and the Libido Dominandi - Continued Regulus is an admirable Pagan hero but his virtue is imperfect. Roman suicides were a prideful unwillingness to persist in the face of defeat and suffering. Rome was undone by its lust for power and domination (libido dominandi).
Augustine’s Critique of Roman Glory and the Libido Dominandi - Continued • Herbert Deane interprets Augustine: • Men were created equals, and God alone was the superior and the ruler of mankind. But the soul of fallen man, in “a reach of arrogance utterly intolerable,” perversely seeks to ape God by aspiring “to lord it even over those who are by nature its equals – that is, its fellow men”…. This lust for domination over other men is associated with the love of glory, honor, and fame, which men “with vain elation and pomp of arrogance seek to achieve by the subjection of others.” Like avarice, the desire to exercise power and domination is not confined to a few men, although it is particularly strong in the ambitious and the arrogant; “there is hardly any one who is free from the love of rule, and craves not human glory.
Augustine’s Critique of Roman Glory and the Libido Dominandi - Continued Augustine views states as being nothing less than band of robbers. Augustine focused on the unrealizable nature of the ideal as described by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. Cicero provided Augustine with the logical device necessary to deny the existence of the Roman Republic because of the lack of true justice necessary for its foundation. The city’s love its true foundation.
Questions for Reflection To what extent does James Madison’s view of human nature correspond with Augustine’s?
Questions for Reflection What does Augustine’s diagnosis of the libido dominandi mean for politics? Is the lust for power intrinsic or can it be cured through proper social conditioning? Can we appease those who are driven by its tyrannical longings?
Kingdoms as Dens of Robber Barons, City of God, Book IV, Chapter iv Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves but little kingdoms… Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.”
The Role of the State Freedom and equality were destroyed by the fall. Slavery is a punishment for violating the natural law. All authorities including wicked authorities need to be obeyed. Things can always be worse so chaos and anarchy are to be avoided.
The Role of the State - Continued Christians should serve the state to achieve what degree of justice, order, and peace that is possible. Augustine all living beings possessed an intrinsic and natural yearning for peace. The peace of the family was important for the peace of society. Peace can be achieved through love or fear.
The Role of the State - Continued The Romans established Pax Romana through fear and conquest. The temporal peace between the city of God and man is known as the Peace of Babylon. Christians are obliged to contribute to this peace.
The Role of the State - Continued • Augustine understands war to be a consequence of man’s fallen state, but he argues for justice in war: • A great deal depends on the reasons why humans undertake wars and on the authority to begin a war. The natural order of the universe which seeks peace among humans must allow the king the power to enter into a war if he thinks it necessary. That same natural order commands that the soldiers should then perform their duty, protecting the peace and safety of the political community. When war is undertaken in accord with the will of God (the God who wishes to rebuke, humble, and crush malicious human beings), it must be just to wage it.
The Role of the State - Continued Christian emperors may exist, but they will still be forced to make tragic decisions where evils will be competing. Peace should be the goal of such a monarch.
Augustine and American Exceptionalism Americans have always considered themselves an exceptional people called to a higher purpose. Our Puritan forefathers described their new colony in Massachusetts Bay as “city upon the hill” (Mathew 5:14) – a nation set apart. Borrowing from Virgil, the founders likewise proclaimed that they had established a novus ordo seclorum – a new order for the ages (eternity). Indeed, this motto, along with “In God we trust” and annuit coeptis (“God smiles upon us”), is stamped on our currency. Consonant with this exceptionalist strain in American history, Ronald Reagan referred to the United States as “a shining city upon the hill.” Indeed, throughout their history, Americans have understood their national destiny in terms of a mission – or a special calling – to serve as an exemplar or model of democracy to the world.
Questions for Reflection Is American exceptionalism any different from Rome’s founding myth? Does it inevitably lead to national arrogance and imperialism? Did Abraham Lincoln introduce an important qualification to this belief when he referred to Americans as God’s “almost chosen people.” What would Augustine think of American exceptionalism?
A People Are Defined in Terms of the Object of Their Love, From City of God, Book XIX, Chapter xxiii-xxiv But if we discard the definition of a people, and, assuming another, say that a people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love, then, in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love. Yet whatever it loves, if only it is an assemblage of reasonable beings and not of beasts, and is bound together by an agreement as to the objects of love, it is reasonably called a people; and it will be a superior people in proportion as it is bound together by higher interests, inferior in proportion as it is bound together by lower.
Questions for Reflection How does Augustine’s Christian realism differ from the political realism of Machiavelli and Hobbes?
Questions for Reflection Does Augustine’s teaching on slavery as a punishment for sin and his related teaching on obedience to tyrants lead to a political quietism that passively resigns us to the evils of this world rather than confronting them?
The Peace of Babylon, City of God, Book XIX, Chapter xxvi Miserable , therefore is the people which is alienated from God. Yet even this people has a peace of its own which is not to be lightly esteemed, though indeed, it shall not in the end enjoy it, because it makes no good use of it before the end. But it is our interest that it enjoy this peace meanwhile in this life; for as long as the two cities are commingled, we also enjoy the peace of Babylon.
“Mirror of a Christian Prince,” City of God, Book V, Chapter xxiv But we say that they are happy if they rule justly; if they are not lifted up amid the praises of those who pay them sublime honors, and the obsequiousness of those who salute them with an excessive humility, but remember that they are men; they make their power the handmaid of His majesty by using it for the greatest possible extension of His worship; if they fear, love, worship God; if more than their own they love that kingdom in which they are not afraid to have partners; if they are slow to punish , ready to pardon; if they apply that punishment as necessary to government and defense of the republic, and not in order to gratify their own enmity; if they grant pardon, not that iniquity may go unpunished, but with the hope that the transgressor may amend his ways; if they compensate with the lenity of mercy and the liberality of benevolence for whatever severity they may be compelled to decree; if their luxury is as much restrained as it might have been unrestrained; if they prefer to govern depraved desires rather than any nation whatever; and if they do all these things, not through ardent desire of empty glory, but through love of eternal felicity, not neglecting to offer ot the true God, who is their God, for their sins, the sacrifices of humility, contrition, and prayer.
Questions for Reflection What are the necessary qualities that define a Christian emperor for Augustine? How do Augustine and Machiavelli differ in their understanding of these qualities?
Reinhold Niebuhr: A 20th-Century Augustinian on the Ironies of American History To What extent does Niebuhr’s diagnosis of the ironies of American history apply to current American foreign policy?
Conclusion Augustine emphasizes the limitations of politics. Efforts to achieve perfection in this life our doomed. Pseudo or ersatz religions such as Nazism and Communism reveal the destiny of human desires for utopia. Liberalism is similarly fated in the eyes of Augustine’s understanding of human efforts to master their own lives without God’s grace.