St. Augustine's doctrine of "Two Cities" is
central to his political philosophy. It is necessary, however, at the outset to
dispense with possible ambiguity regarding the term, 'City.' He is not implying
"city" in our accustomed use of the term. A more exact interpretation
would be "state," "empire," "kingdom, " or
"society," for he means to include all realms in which Christians are
The traditional rendering of "city" is to be recognized figuratively and the precise significance of Augustine's "Civitas Terrena and Civitas Dei" is to be found in the doctrine of the two cities itself.
It would be foolish to even entertain an idea of localization for either of these cities, though such an attempt might bear fruit for the Earthly City.
With this qualification we may feel free to utilize the term, 'city,' in order to render more intuitively Augustine's intent. He refers to mankind, which he divides into two sorts, "such as live according to man, and such as live according to God," declaring:
These, we mystically call two cities or societies, the one predestined to reign eternally with God, the other condemned to perpetual torment with the devil. This is their end, of which hereafter. (1)
That these were two such cities or societies, Augustine was fully convinced as is clear by the following:
We give the name of the city of God unto that society whereof that Scripture bears witness, which has gained the most exalted authority and pre-eminence of all other works whatsoever, by the disposing of the divine providence, not the chance decisions of men's judgments. For there it is said: "Glorious things are spoken of Thee, thou city of God":
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, even upon His holy mountain, increasing the joy of all the earth.
As we have heard so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God: God has established it forever.
The river's streams shall make glad the city of God, the most high has sanctified His tabernacle, God in the midst is unmoved.
These testimonies and thousands more, teach us there is a city of God, whereof His inspired love makes us desire to be members. (2)
It will be profitable now to show evidence of the
other city before going on to more definite substance as to the membership,
character, and relation of these cities to each other and to mankind.
A rather long quotation will serve to show not only the Civitas Terrena but also an immediate and sharp contrast with the Civitas Dei.
That some angels offended, and therefore were thrust into prisons in the world's lowest parts until the day of their last judicial damnation, St. Peter testifies plainly saying: "for god spared not the angels that had sinned, but cast them down into Hell and delivered them into chains of darkness to be kept until damnation." Now whether God's prescience separated these from the others, who doubts? That He called the others Light, worthily, who denies?. . . Wherefore though that light, which God said should be, and the darkness from which God separated the light, be taken literally, yet we understand by these also two societies; [my italics] the one enjoying God, the other swelling in pride; the one to whom it was said: "Praise God all ye His angels," the other whose prince said: "All these wilt I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me" the one inflamed with God's love, the other blown big with self-love (whereas it is said: "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the lowly"); the one in the highest heavens, the other in the obscurest air; the one piously quiet, the other madly turbulent; the one punishing or relieving according to God's justice and mercy, the other raging with the over unreasonable desire to hurt and subdue; the one allowed to be God ministers to all good, the other restrained by God from doing the desired hurt; the one scorning the other for doing good against their wills by temptations; the other envying the gathering in of the faithful pilgrims. We understand, I say, that these two so contrary societies [my italics] (the one good in nature and will, the other good in nature also, but bad in will, since it is so explained by other places of scripture, are spoken of in this place in Genesis, the light and the darkness being applied as denominative unto them both." (3)
These opening quotations serve to show the important
part that the doctrine of two cities plays in St. Augustine's philosophy. We
require, however, a more penetrating analysis than these can supply to show that
Augustine has a definite political philosophy.
We hope to show the significance and meaning of the doctrine of the two cities only ostensibly, that is by pointing out the role each played in Augustine's doctrine. We have so far, merely concerned ourselves to prove them in existence. By showing how they function, what is their content (i.e., membership and powers), and what is their structure and political character, we may understand Augustine's intent more fully.
A great deal of these characteristics become evident if we examine what constitutes citizenry in each of these cities.
Membership in the city of God is reserved only for good angels and those human beings whom God selected and confirmed grace upon knowing before hand that they would lead the good life. The others He rejected for He foresaw their evil lives and they founded their citizenship in the "earthly City." Cain, who represented the evil in Adam was first born. Abel representing the spiritual and good in Adam after he had been "regenerated" by Christ, was second born.
Cain, therefore, was the first begotten of those two that were mankind's parents, Adam and Eve, and he belonged to the city of man; Abel was the later, and he belongs to the city of God -- so in the first propagation of man, and progression of the two cities which we dispute, the carnal citizen was born first, and the pilgrim on earth or heavenly citizen afterwards, being by grace predestined, and by grace elected, by grace a pilgrim on earth, and by grace a citizen in heaven. Therefore, it is recorded of Cain that he built a city but Abel was a pilgrim, and built none. (4)
There can be no doubt who are to be the citizens in
each of the two cities. It is to be noted that God had intended, in the
creation, that all men should be members of His city but that the fall of man
put a different complexion on things. Thereafter, one could become a member of
the heavenly city only by the grace of God. And, those to whom grace is not
given are condemned to the city of Hell.
There are a few important political or social implications we would do well to note here.
Augustine declares that the doctrine of the city of God is derived from the scriptures and the Christian revelation. If we make an historical comparison it becomes obvious that the doctrine incorporates and develops the notion found in Hellenistic philosophers of a society contiguous with the universe. It transcends all the limited associations of state, race, or class, which play such important roles in the homopolitical realm. Such a society accepts membership, for Augustine, given the grace of God, simply in virtue of a common humanity. Exclusions from the city of God are not based on race, class, or state but, rather, on an eternal law of justice or right and wrong. Hence, it is obvious that Augustine's city is completely indifferent to distinctions of human society.
There can be no doubt, however, that the concept of the two cities find their ultimate origin in Plato's world of ideas and world of appearances since for him the world of ideas, i.e., forms, also formed the highest and absolute good and absolute truth. Here, in essence, is the character of St. Augustine's city of God. Plato's world of appearance is a world of untruths and this again is the essence of the earthly city.
Both Plato and St. Augustine were preaching a way of life. St. Augustine, however, seemed to have the edge on Plato, for the former was able to express his way of life in terms of concepts which were well developed, during their first inception, through Plato, and which, now, were much closer to the hearts of human beings.
Augustine, with his passionate appeals and artful hand, having himself imbibed in the foibles of man, was able to show the people of his time that what he had to offer could bring order to and save us from a world-wide cataclysm. It was his aim to create a communal bond throughout the world whose peoples, as he saw it, were at each other's throats. This, he hoped to accomplish by showing that all who loved god were in fact members of a community in which, given the grace of God, all the citizens of the heavenly city would love and worship Him.
A question arises, however. Does the love and worship of God constitute a society? And, if so, on what grounds? Augustine maintains that the very act of worship and love carries with it the consequence that one becomes automatically, so to speak, a member of God's city. That is to say, that the formation of the society, or becoming a member of the society is not a subsequent act but, rather, a consequence inherent in the act.
On the one hand, I would venture to submit that, simple observation shows that such communal bonds did and do result in common belief of a hereafter with God but, on the other, hardly guarantees a communal bond here on earth as is witnessed not only by the actions of fanatic terrorist but even by the many different sects of Christianity.
A survey of St. Augustine's life shows that the Church played an extremely important role in his philosophy; so important that often one gets the impression, from his remarks, that the Church is the tangible counterpart of the city of God--such passages as the following:
Now whereas Noah. . .was commanded by God to build an Arc, wherein he, his family, and the creatures which God commanded to come into the arc unto him, might be saved from the waters: this verily is a figure of God's city here upon earth, that is, his church which is saved by wood, that is, by that whereupon Christ the mediator between God and man was crucified. (5)
And so the church now on earth is both the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. (6)
Despite these passages, it can be argued, that St.
Augustine did not intend to identify the church and God's city.
It has been mentioned above that membership in the city of God is reserved strictly for God's angels (that is to imply that, fallen angels are excluded), and God's select group.
In contrast to this, we find that the membership of the church, besides being constituted of God's select group, also includes human beings who can never become citizens of His city. Needless to say, angels are not church members either. Of great importance is the fact that there is a constant multiplication of members in the heavenly city for the simple reason that all those souls who pass through the gates of heaven (by the grace of God) are members for eternity. There is no recognition here, however, that some sects of Christianity have attributed souls, at least in the past, and, I suspect still do, to many of God's non-human creatures. Are well-behaved animals admitted to the city of God?
It is evident that membership in the city of God is greater than that of the Christian church. Its (the latter's) membership is numbered, so to speak, and constantly changing. It acts only in the capacity of the "path of heaven." It is the duty of the church to confer it except when God, Himself, confers grace upon a subject without the sacraments. Hence, with the exceptions already mentioned, the membership of the city of god is constituted exclusively of those who were or are members of the church.
No doubt the cause for the possible identification of the church with the city of God is a result of the fact that it itself is part of the heavenly city. That is to say it is rather like an antechamber or hallway through which one serves apprenticeship (makes pilgrimage through the world) before being admitted into the main room.
For the city of the saints is above, though it have citizens here upon earth, wherein it lives as a pilgrim until the time of the kingdom come; and then it gathers all the citizens together in the resurrection of the body, and gives them a kingdom to reign in with their king forever and ever. (7)
It should be emphasized, however, that all members of the church are not necessarily members of the city. The determining factor is conferment of grace, through the sacraments of the church or God himself. Those whom god had not elected for grace are separated from the others.
But since the churches are now full of those who are to be hereafter sifted, the corn from the chaff, the glory of this house cannot be so great now as it shall be then, when every man shall be always there where he once comes. (8)
Many reprobate live amongst the elect. Both come to the gospel's net, and both swim at random in the sea of mortality, until the fishers draw them to shore, and then the bad are thrown from the good in whom as in His Temple God is all and all. (9)
It is evident, then, that the church is, if not the
tangible counterpart of the city of God, at least the spiritual and, as we shall
see, the organization through the powers and laws of God are to be exercised
upon those citizens of the city who are making their pilgrimage on earth. This
brings us to St. Augustine's views on justice.
After the city follows the whole world, wherein the third kind of human society is resident, the first being in the house, and the second in the city. (10)
It can be seen then that the family is the first and
smallest society of individuals. It entails all the imposition of order upon its
members as does a larger society and should the imposed order or duties be
abrogated the society (qua family) would cease to exist. But just so long as
each individual fulfils his duties and abides by the laws of the family each is
behaving in a just manner -- just that is, in relation to the family order.
But the family itself is subject to a larger society -- the city. Should the family rebel against the city, its members could be said to be unjust in relation to the city even though they would be just in relation to the order of the family. The same follows in regard to the relation of a city to a larger state or Orbis Terrae. But a state itself is subject to the greatest of all societies -- Mundus, in so far as it is identified with the city of God and all its citizens.
There is to be considered, of these four societies, the one outstanding principle pervading each internally and in relation to each other. That is the principle of order. St. Augustine interprets justice to be conformity to order. But it must be a righteous order -- a system of right relations to God.
There is, on the one hand an Absolute righteousness that is the total of right relation to God, i.e., moral, religious, and even legal. It is unaffected by defects of any sort -- sin, crime, etc. While on the other hand, Relative righteousness is concerned with right relations confined mainly to law or the legal sphere. It must take into account the sinful nature of man.
It is on the basis of relative and absolute righteousness that St. Augustine conceives the state. He would not condemn the state as being unrighteous since it is not to be identified with the earthly city. Rather, it has a form of justice of its own which in turn the righteous avail themselves of in their pilgrimage on earth. Thus the state plays the part of assistant to God's city.
The state, however, manifests its system of order or relative righteousness on a different level from what prevails in God's city. In the latter, all the righteous citizens had "things in common."
In the state, however, institutions, slavery, private property, etc., are necessary. All these institutions are a form of order and good. And insofar as righteousness and order are pervasive in the state it constitutes justice. But it must be borne in mind that this is only relative justice for, having taken sin into account, the state's responsibility is to mete out punishment to and correct the sinful.
Justice, then, is conformity to order, and each of the four societies involves some degree of order. The first (the family) is subservient to the second (the city); and the second to the third (the whole earth or the whole human society which peoples the earth).
In these three societies, relative justice is manifested. But these three societies are all subservient to the greatest of all societies, the Mundus or universe which includes angels and all the other members of the city of God. It is in fact identified with the city of God insofar as the city of the unrighteous is excluded.
It is here, in God's city, that absolute justice reigns. There is no absolute justice in any of the lesser three societies because of the prevalence of sin. But justice of a sort is present insofar as order is present. A state imposes order upon its citizens, and the strength of the state is in proportion to the willingness and loyalty with which the citizens accept its order. Hence, it can be seen that justice is not in proportion to the strength of the state. Rather, justice reigns to the degree that the order of the state conforms to the universal order of God which is absolute justice.
The state can, and in many cases does, violate the universal order but it is no less a state, it is merely a less just state. Insofar as the people obey the state in preference to the universal order, they are unjust.
To be absolutely just, the state and the people must conform to the universal order, which is to obey the will of God.
In a sense, St. Augustine's concept of justice was more in line with reality than was that of Plato's. For Plato, the relative value of the strength of a state as compared with its justice was a distinction which he, genius that he was, had failed to see. In fairness to him, however, it must be recognized, that St. Augustine had the advantage of the history of about seven centuries of the interactions of nations.
For Plato, so long as the citizens of a state submitted to its order; i.e., so long as harmony was maintained among the three classes, philosopher-kings, soldier-guardians, and workers, justice reigned. Hence, to maintain justice is merely to preserve order and harmony. And thus the state remains strong.
Plato paid little attention to the possibility of an unjust state in which harmony and order was being maintained. He seems to justify what is expedient, for the state, as right and just. He did not consider that citizens might be devoted to a state and still be unjust. Certainly it could be said that Plato had no idea of justice or morality between nations. He gave little attention to international relationships which played a small part in his world.
Here, we see one of St. Augustine's great achievements. He was aware of an order transcending any given state. He expressed a great indignation over unjust international relationships cloaked in the role of justice and righteousness.
Set justice aside then, and what are kingdoms but fair thievish purchases? For what are thieves' purchases but little kingdoms, for in thefts the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together and the pillage is shared by the law amongst them? And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then their government is no more called thievish, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten, not because they have left their practices, but because now they may use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was that pirate's answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him: The king asking how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit; "How darest thou molest the whole? But because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief: thou doing it with a great navy, art called an emperor. (11)"
But Augustine is not so concerned with international
relationships as he is about the people of the world constituting a single
The indignation he expresses, though directed against the international morality of his time, is in fact, an appeal to all the individuals of the various states to transfer their devotion an allegiance from those states to the universal society which is the city of God governed by the will and order of God.
It is obvious, then, for Plato, an individual owes allegiance only to his state and hence only to the law and order of that state. For Augustine, on the contrary, the state should subserve the universal society and its members are first subject to the universal law. As was mentioned above, this society transcends such concepts as race, state, class, or any other distinguishing classifications other than the righteous and the unrighteous. As a consequence, its laws affect individuals of all states And states themselves can be judged in the light of a universal justice -- a judgment that Plato did not foresee the possibility or the need of. It is possible, then, for states to transgress the universal law in much the same manner that individuals transgress the laws of the state. But we must not think of transgressions merely as infringements upon the rights of other states. St. Augustine really means to show that the state in its unjust acts (and insofar as it commands the loyalty of its citizens) also and especially infringes upon the rights of God. These passages make this quite clear:
One clear cut and important distinction between Plato and St. Augustine's concepts of justice is a most profound one.
What justice is that, then, that takes man from the true God, and gives him unto the condemned fiends? Is this distribution according to due? Is not he that takes away thy possessions, and gives them to one that has no claim to them, guilty of injustice, and is not he so likewise, that takes himself away from his Lord God, and gives himself to the devil? (12)
Sin, therefore, is the mother of servitude, and first cause of man's subjection to man; which not withstanding comes not to pass but by the direction of the Highest, in whom is no injustice, and who alone knows best how to proportionate His punishment unto man's offenses. He Himself says: "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin; and therefore many religious Christians are servants unto wicked masters; yet those masters are not freemen, for that which a man is addicted to, the same he is slave unto." (13)
Man is not a slave by nature as Aristotle has stated.
Hence, it cannot be claimed that the master is superior to the slave. Rather
slavery is the penalty for sin. Augustine, however, readily admits that the
masters may be even more sinful than their slaves.
To be exact, a slave is being punished, not for an individual sin, as he is for the sinfulness of mankind first committed with Adam's partaking "of the apple." It is the institution of slavery that is retribution upon an indiscriminate injustice. It makes no allowance for individuals being penalized through slavery when others go scot free while having the advantage, at least physiologically, of maintaining the prestige and honor of holding the position of master to the depravation of those in slavery -- this in spite of his claim that slavery is necessary to the state.
I do not mean to imply that St. Augustine's theory of slavery is not important. He led the way, even if unwittingly, to further logical consequences, that is to say, that slavery is, in the final analysis, unjustifiable. It was he who undermined the Hellenistic theory that slavery was natural.
There is equally as marked a difference in St. Augustine
and Plato's concept of peace as there was in their concepts of justice.
For Plato, peace is the negative of war. That is, the absence of war is peace. The term 'peace' itself has little significance, if any, except as the opposite of hostile conditions. So long as the states of Plato's time were not hostile to each other, peace reigned. Furthermore, Plato does not even suspect that peace entails a positive active or positive relation between states. Peace is merely one of the final results of the cessation of war. Nor does Plato even conceive of peace as something totally unrelated to war as in peace of mind, body and "with God."
St. Augustine, on the contrary sees peace as a positive condition. It is what all men and beast strive for no matter what their station or prowess. He does not consider peace as a condition achievable in isolation. That is, it must be a relation. A peace relation requires at least two parties just as does an argument between two people.
Who will not confess this with me, who marks man's affairs and the general form of nature? For joy and peace are desired alike of all men.
Peace is a relation between not only men but also in
the "the general form of nature."
St. Augustine, however, distinguishes between a "good" and a "bad," "just" and "unjust" peace. Though he recognizes that creatures strive for peace, he does not mean to condone the peace which thieves or crime and brutality bring about. Here, he, indubitably has in mind the form of peace forced upon the vanquished by a wicked conqueror or king. Having spoken of peace among beasts, he continues:
Far stronger are the bonds that bind man into society and peace with all that are peaceable. The worst men of all do fight for their fellows' quietness and would (if it lay in their power) reduce all into a distinct form of state, drawn by themselves, whereof they would be the heads, which could never be, but by a coherence either of the goodness of God, hating equality of others with itself under Him, and laying a yoke of obedience upon its fellows, under itself instead of Him. Thus hates it the just peace of God, and builds an unjust one for itself. Yet can it not but love peace, for no vice however unnatural, can pull nature up by the roots. But he that can discern between good and bad, and between order and confusion, may soon distinguish the goodly peace from the wicked. (15)
All temporal things are referred by the members thereof unto the benefit of the peace which is resident in the terrestrial city; and unto the enjoyment of the eternal peace by the citizens of the heavenly society. (16)
Man on earth owes it to God to do his utmost to maintain peace. It is God's wish that man love his neighbor and help him in every respect when such help is needed. Man fulfils the end of peace in the greatest of societies by achieving peace in each of his own lesser societies. And he who does not fulfill this end transgresses God's wishes.
St. Paul says: "He that provideth not for his own, namely, for them that be of his household, denieth the faith, and is worse than an infidel, for this is the foundation of domestic peace, which is an orderly rule and subjection in the parts of the family, wherein the providers are the commanders, as the husband over his wife, parents over children, and masters over their servants; and they that are provided for, obey, as the wives do their husbands, children their parents and servants their masters. But in the family of the faithful man, the heavenly pilgrim, there the commanders are indeed the servants of those they seem to command; ruling not in ambition but being bound by careful duty; not in proud sovereignty, but in nourishing pity." (17)
St. Augustine goes on to show that eternal peace is the end of God's city and that this peace is the final good, the eternal life freed from sin. He distinguishes this from eternal life in Hell and in torment.
We may therefore say that peace is our final good as we said of life eternal . . . and therefore this peace, which we call final, is the borders and bounds of his city. . . . Therefore the main end of this city's aim is either to be called Eternity in Peace, or Peace in Eternity. (18)
It becomes obvious now that St. Augustine has a concept
of peace that far transcends any other before his time.
As was mentioned above, Plato's concept of peace is negative. In a world of perfect states of course there would be no war because war is caused only by a condition of degeneration. Peace then would be a result of no contact between the states. But within each state peace is a matter of concord -- a harmony -- where each class tends to his own business and doesn't look for "greener pastures." Peace is the existence of concord under an order such as a philosopher king determines is the right order.
It has been shown for St. Augustine, that since all men are subject to God, they are subject to God's universal order. Thus we see that the peace which Plato would have for his single states, St. Augustine would extend throughout the whole world.
Now God teaches us . . . to love three things; God, our neighbor, and ourselves. . . . So must he do for his wife, children, family, and all men besides, and wish likewise that his neighbor would do for him, in his need. Thus shall he be settled in peace and orderly concord with all the world. (19)
When Augustine speaks of the world, he is not
considering a system of states but rather a whole society of all the people in
the world regardless of class, race, etc., for which there was
at least an apparent peacefulness. It is this secular order which he no doubt
has in mind when he refers to the "peace of the earthly city." But his
is a legal relationship of peace which St. Augustine, giving it due value,
wishes to transcend. The only real peace that he can recognize is that of
concord, not like Plato's but through love of God. And the peace that follows
comes only to those who do love God.
Universal peace then is that system of activity among men in which love of God, of self and of one another through God is the guiding factor. This is quite different from peace by mere absence of war or by enactment of legal restrictions.
The peace for which secular societies strive is a good but not the highest. The obvious reason for peace as a lesser good in secular societies is that they are not clean of sin, war, crime, deceit, etc.
Still we must admit the good that does exist, and recognize, that peace is good not only to those who have no knowledge of a high peace, but also to the pilgrims on earth who are awaiting their entrance to the presence of god and immortality with him. Little good as it may be in the secular society, it at least affords them the opportunity, the security and the order necessary to fulfill their religious duties that they might otherwise be deprived of when peace is lacking.
Wretched then are they that are strangers to that God, and yet have those a kind of allowable peace, but that they shall not have forever, because they used it not well when they had it. But that they shall have it in this life is for our good also; . . .and therefore the apostle admonished the church to pray for the kings and potentates of that earthly city, adding this reason, that we may lead a quiet life in all goodness and charity. (20)
It is evident that even though secular peace might be an end in itself for the earthly city, it was the end in itself for the earthly city it was the means to the end of attaining peace in God's city for god's pilgrims.
It follows, than, that they should willingly respect and observe the order and law of the secular society if this security is to be maintained.
And the heavenly city, or rather that part thereof which is as yet a pilgrim on earth and lives by faith, uses this peace also, as it should, until it leaves this mortal life wherein such a peace is requisite. And therefore, it lives (while it is here on earth) as if it were in captivity, and having received the promise of redemption and divers spiritual gifts as seals thereof, it willingly obeys such laws of the temporal city as order the things pertaining to the sustenance of this mortal life, to the end that both the cities might observe a peace in such things as are pertinent here unto. (21)
Earth bound citizens of God's city must not give obedience to secular laws beyond secular affairs. To be sure, they can't, for they obey the secular laws only to the extent that it helps them to come closer to God. For that same reason, they cannot obey laws that would tear them from God. If the state should dictate laws of religion or laws affecting adversely religion or the pursuit of peace in God, the citizens of the celestial city are morally bound to disobey them for they owe allegiance first and above all to God and Universal Peace.
This celestial society while it is here on earth, increases itself out of all languages, being unconcerned by the different temporal laws that are made; yet not breaking, but observing their diversity in divers nations, so long as they tend unto the preservation of earthly peace, and do not oppose the adoration of one God alone. And so you see, the heavenly observes and respects this temporal peace here on earth, and the coherence of men's wills in honest morality, as far as it may with a safe conscious; yea, and so far desires it, making use of it for the attainment of the peace celestial; which is so truly worthy of that name, that the orderly and uniform combination of men in the fruition of God, and of one another in god, is to be accounted the reasonable creature's only peace. (22)
Render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar's and unto God those things which are God's.
But, even before Christ, Plato had hinted that there
was a life which transcended the secular and, that was the life of
philosophy (read: reason). His allegory of the cave was an attempt to shed light on this
super-secular or super-political life. But the philosopher is duty bound to
exercise his wealth of "transcendental knowledge" in a mundane
political state -- a neat trick were it possible. Unfortunately, theistic
"philosophers" have difficulty agreeing on what that
"knowledge" is, and in the case of St. Augustine, the vast
majority doesn't have a clue.
Just as Plato placed The Good on a metaphysical transcendental plane, St. Augustine, very much a Platonist, similarly proselytizes that it is the duty of Christians to perform their earthly chores in obedience to God's wishes. Though St. Augustine also advocated distrust of the senses, the tremendous advantage that he wrought over Plato was that whereas the latter confined wisdom to the philosopher king, Augustine admitted all human beings to theistic religion and, especially all Christians, "to the love and knowledge of God."
There is no question but that the discourses of Plato and St. Augustine have much to be questioned, as is the case with all metaphysicians, since their language is rampant with fallacies of hypostatizations. Here, I shall restrict my comments mainly to Augustine.
Augustine is quite selective in his references to God.
God created everything in the universe and created us capable of being evil, hence, even He is not Perfectly Good unless, of course, as some theists tend to do, one insists that anything God does is good.
What is conspicuous by its absence in St. Augustine's discourse are references to what would be called evil, if man did them, that God committed, as described in the Bible, such as the mass killing of all human beings on Earth except Noah and his family.
Nowhere do we find in St. Augustine's discourses credible evidence as, or reference, to how he comes to know the will and desires for mankind in God's mind.
Nowhere is there reference to the fact that a God who allows evil in His universe cannot be a perfectly good god.
Moreover, St. Augustine's claim that God is not all-powerful and is not responsible for evil, flies in the face of Biblical and Christian claims of an all powerful and all good god.
It was men who conceived all the "laws of God." Then they attributed to concepts of the gods of different cultures inscribed on parchment or in tomes, our Bible being the one upon which St. Augustine predicates "his God's laws.
These laws are far from synchronous with those of non-Christian laws, not alone within the Bible wherein the various scribes contradict each other.
St. Augustine's claim, "knowledge of what God wants of us," can't be tested and is, therefore, of no epistemic value.
What St. Augustine posits, relative to the states and man's relation to God, also, can never be tested or verified.
Moreover, if The Good is "the love of God," and after all everyone loves only his personal concept of a god, of what value is the definition pertaining to one god, not to mention that the Bible speaks of "Us" gods, Genesis III, 22?
No individual can be perfectly good, even if we could define the term such that we could all agree to it.
Since man was "born in sin," it is impossible, by definition, for him to be perfectly good.
It would be interesting to know how both these men might have revised their thinking in this century in the face of the multiplicity of faiths, different cultures, scientific data, and availability in print of conflicting beliefs, philosophies, and religious sects that exist today.
This said, it remains to give credit to both of these geniuses for the positive results that ensued from their discourses.
Plato awakened us, (1) to the importance of examining the meanings of words, (2) to the fact that our interpretations of the perceptual experience must not be accepted at face value, (3) that we must not conflate our sense data with reality, (4) to reason, and to be aware of reason as an art form, for him the highest form of art and beauty,
St. Augustine brought order to the period of a troubled society and, in a sense, showed that we are all equally deserving of being recognized as human beings despite our differences. His doctrine of Christianity can be recognized as the only organized, systematic order of any worth that was to be offered to the people as the Roman Empire began to crumble about them. The time was ripe and he had the genius and the insight to see that the world was in need of "salvation." Violence, rape, murder, and pillage were the order of the day. So it was that the church, through St. Augustine, found itself coping with the task of lifting a torn and miserable people from the agonies of uncertainty to confidence in and love of a single God. Moreover, to the extent that Christianity was blamed for the downfall of Rome, the more would St. Augustine, with his pen passionately defend it, spreading the doctrine throughout the whole of the Western world. To this day, despite exposure of a history of pedophilic scandals and cover ups, "The Church" has not relaxed its endeavors to uphold "Almighty God:" as the criterion for good living. In like manner, the terrorist of our day follow suit in the name of their God.
That St. Augustine had an intellect and an insight far in advance of his time is unquestionable. In our world, however, St. Augustine's doctrines are to be found only in the democratic states of the world, as opposed to totalitarian and theistic regimes.
By comparing these two types of states, St. Augustine's political doctrine can be brought into sharp relief.
A totalitarian state, on the one hand, refuses recognition of any power or authority transcending itself. And in such a state the individual has no protection against any form of encroachment by the state -- religious or otherwise. This is the very doctrine St. Augustine opposed. Our democracy, on the other hand, though shirking its duty to some extent, is charged with the responsibility to incorporate and protect the principle of separation of the secular and religious-theistic spheres. Its strength lies in the degree to which it strives to maintain this principle.
Consequently, it is important to recognize that a careful study of St. Augustine's political philosophy lends credence to an interpretation that the seeds of democracy can be found there.
1. The City of God -- St.
Augustine -- Everyman's
Library Vol. II, Bk. XV, Chap. I, Page 60.
Vol. I, Bk. II, Chap. I, p. 312.
3. Ibid., Vol. I,
Bk. XI, Chap. XXXIII p. 341.
4. Ibid., Vol. I,
Bk. XV, Chap. I, p. 60. 5.
Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. XV,
Chap. XXVI. p. 93. 6. Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. XX.
Chap. IX, p. 283. 7. Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. XV, Chap.
I, p. 61. 8. Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. XVIII, Chap.
XLVIII. p. 223. 9. Ibid.,
© 1988 and 2004., Vol. I, Bk. XVIII,
Chap. XLIX, p. 223. 10. Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. XIX,
Chap. VII, p. 243. 11. Ibid., Vol. I, Bk. IV,
Chap. IV, p. 115. 12. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XXI, p. 258. 13. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XV, p. 253. 14. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XII, p. 247. 15 Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XII, p. 248. 16. Ibid,. Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XIV, p. 251. 17. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XIV, p. 252. 18. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XI, p. 246. 19. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XIV, p. 252. 20. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XXVI p/ 265. 21. Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XVII, pp, 254-5. 22.
Ibid., Vol. II, Bk. XIX,
Chap. XVII p. 255.