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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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
To what extent does James Madison’s view of human nature correspond with Augustine’s?
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?
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
How does Augustine’s Christian realism differ from the political realism of Machiavelli and Hobbes?
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?
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.
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.
What are the necessary qualities that define a Christian emperor for Augustine? How do Augustine and Machiavelli differ in their understanding of these qualities?
To What extent does Niebuhr’s diagnosis of the ironies of American history apply to current American foreign policy?
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.