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The Fighting Spirit of St. Augustine’s City of God

This Is a bracing Adventure reading Veronica Roberts Ogle’s Nice new Analysis of Augustine’s City of God Through the run-up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

Augustine is the contrary of these milquetoast variations of Christianity which are really so much with these days. To a searching mind, he joined a fighting soul. A heartfelt disciple of this Prince of Peace, he participated in countless polemics. These comprised disputes with those who proffered truncated or distorted versions of the Christian faith and individuals who promised to speak in the title of authoritative reason. His was a fighting faith that took on all comers.

Looming large at a large body of work is that his enormous defense of the Christian faith, p civitate Dei. Inside, he defended the Christian faith and Church against Allied accusations they undermined town, imperial Rome. His defense, however, went well beyond the particular charges and even beyond Rome itself. In effect, he took on all pagan antiquity and collaborated with the full truth of humanity and of human, even cosmic, history. The structure of this work indicates this staggering ambition.

It divides into two basic parts: The first ten books argue the Egyptian deities of Rome provided neither temporal nor eternal happiness, while the previous thirty months that the”origins-progress-and-consummation” of 2″societies” or”towns” of rational animals, angelic and individual. These are the”most glorious City of God” and its dark simulacrum,”the Portuguese town” (civitas terrena).

Everybody understands Augustine’s fundamental distinction. Tertium non datur. However, if this comparison were all there is to Augustine’s notion, it would seem to be rather pat and not necessarily convincing. Tertium non datur?

The foregoing synopsis, however, suggests a puzzle and also an opening for thought. Where is Rome at the schema of Both Cities? To this, one could add: where’s the Church itself, an observable establishment chock filled with sinners and religious mediocrities? Is Rome simply equivalent to this Portuguese town? Is your Church simply equivalent to the City of God? Augustine’s response is no, and his thought is more complex than stark binaries would imply. Input Roberts Ogle.

She starts with an ambiguity at Augustine’s use one of his two fundamental terms,”the town ” Occasionally he uses it for the nefarious dopplegänger of this City of God, sometimes he applies it to particular”different cities,” sometimes he applies it to”the political world” itself. The issue arises, how is this deliberate? What exactly does it mean?

In answering, she slides her way between two interpretive extremes, you verifying that in so talking Augustine damns politics , the other saying that the equation is only coincidental, and that Augustine is becoming loose in his language. She finds ample reason to doubt both interpretations. Many passages belie the straightforward identification of all politics with all the Planet. And the charge of loose language runs counter to Augustine’s mastery of language.

In fact, it’s in his understanding of language–divine and human –that she finds the key to comprehending the text as a complete and Augustine’s complex thinking about politics. Her interpretation flows from a recognition of this fundamental Augustinian belief which the Divine talks.

Augustine wants to understand then imitate God as Logos, as the Person Who spoke–and proceeds to talk in Creation and in the Scriptures. Specifically, since rhetoric is”a divine art,” Augustine’s text must reflect it. For Roberts Ogle, this means attending to”the job’s genre”

Augustine followed–while”Christianizing” –ancient writers’ clinic of”psychagogy– the art of spirits to a state of health.” “[L]ike all other writers writing functions of psychagogy, he seeks to correct the eyesight of his readers by carefully crafted rhetorical arguments” This goal directly impacted his remedy of Roman politics from the first ten publications:

Viewed this way, Augustine’s bleak rhetoric concerning Roman politics aims to liberate his subscribers via an excessive attachment to Rome so they might express a correct allegiance to the town of God.

This means that early”pessimistic” statements about Roman politics should not be taken as dispositive, as Augustine’s final word, on the topic of politics. First, he must disabuse Romans, who’re attached to their own town, then he can state the facts about the political world from God’s providential design. This is complex, as in addition to the pagan types of”nature” and”habit” (consuetudo), he will need to incorporate biblical categories. To fully comprehend politics and the political world, one has to contribute to bear the categories of”production,””postlapsarian,” and”eschatological,” among others. Nor is this a simple matter of inclusion. These biblical categories require a reworking of these categories.

As an example, according to Roberts Ogle,”Augustine’s writings are shot through with a Bible which reflects his Christianized thought of Platonic involvement –what I call a sacramental punctuation” In a fancy term, she admits that”just a sacramental semiotics provides a conceptual frame that [is] sufficient” to Augustine’s rhetoric and debate. Bringing these two components together, she would like to supply a”sacramental reading of Augustine’s prose.”

Therefore, rhetorical sensitivity and Augustine’s sacramental view of truth are just two columns of a proper interpretation of this text. In so arguing, Roberts Ogle follows Augustine’s own lead in de doctrina Christiana (“On Christian teaching”). In that text, Augustine developed a semiotics, a concept of signs and of communication, that enabled him to interpret God’s creation since the expansive external expression or Sign of his goodness, wisdom, and intent, and also to describe why, even though language is natural to human beings, they’d often abuse this God-given capacity.

Justice is incomplete in this life, its whole realization demands a Divine Judge and the other life.The deepest origin of the abuse of language is individual self, that is, amor sui. In characterizing”the first half” of Augustine’s job, Roberts Ogle declared it”aims to divest subscribers of this logic of amor sui by telephoning the worldviews it generates into question” Amor sui generates worldviews. Consequently, she places out Augustine’s exposition of its fundamental dynamics and nature: disobedient to divinely established order, it’s at “deceived and deceiving.” She then describes his critical analyses of a series of worldviews made by it. The show starts with Rome’s proud view of itself because the expansive civilizing empire, moves to the”popular religion” instituted by its leaders to keep the multitude in line, and culminates with”the philosopher-statesmen” and”philosophers” who watched through those fictions and ended up mired in religious aspiring or disbelief to some unbiased transcendent principle. Despite these various results (skepticism or transcendent aspiration), both sorts trusted entirely within their natural powers. Augustine is constant in exposing the unacknowledged contradictions and just partially acknowledged inadequacies of Roman custom and believed. He is a Christian gadfly puncturing Roman–and Greek–claims to excellence, self-sufficiency, along with godlike status.

There’s a singular gap, however, between the original gadfly (Socrates) and the Christian one. On his competitors’ own accounts, the truth they hunted, the good they wanted, and also the immortality which was their ambitio, they neglected to attain. Augustine aimed to demonstrate that admitting that this embarrassing truth was the essential prelude to the true elevation of individual beings, just effected, paradoxically, by humilitas. Unlike superbia, humility was the royal street, the divinely laid out and trodden road to actual and perpetual bliss. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn.

Scripture for him would be the key to everything–and Christ, the key to Scripture. It comes as no surprise, of course: it is to be expected that a Christian state will charge and place Sacred Scripture and Christ at the center of his thinking. However, there are important issues lurking here. I’ll raise two, before turning to her demonstration of Augustine’s final views on the political world and politics after the introduction of Christ, which isalso in temporibus Christianīs.

I can start with a sentence I read in Peter Brown, the famed Augustine scholar, many moons ago. He wrote that”Augustine’s God talks like a fourth century Roman rhetorician.” The critical issue from the jocular observation is the truth, and requirement, of translating Scripture at least part in non-Scriptural terms. As we have observed, Augustine appropriated literary rhetoric and doctrine and”Christianized” them. However, the route runs either way. Augustine did both. There is a delicate operation on the job. When do we have exegesis that pulls out the inherent meaning of scripture, when do we have eisegesis that amuses it with infusions of pagan doctrine? History has indicated that both are real possibilities. Some standards are in order.

Nor is this question of exegesis or eisegesis a tangential issue of secondary significance. It bears upon the fundamental ideas of City of God. Roberts Ogle allows us to observe with commendable candor. First, she acknowledges that”there is much scholarly speculation about the Platonic, Stoic, and Manichean influences on his conception of those 2 cities” Afterward, she cites (and follows) the authority of J. Van Oort, who’s studied the issue carefully:”Van Oort concluded in his 1991 novel the notion is basically scriptural.” But in a footnote, she reports that”this is true that Oort also thinks that Augustine browse the concept of this opposition of the 2 cities back to Scripture from the tradition.” Exegesis or eisegesis? Somewhat unsatisfyingly, she concludes that”[f]or our purposes, it’s sufficient to state with Van Oort that”Augustine talks of two towns since in his opinion the Scriptures themselves do this.”

I really don’t need to get misunderstood. I have not said anything approaching what could and ought to be said about possible Scriptural warrant for Augustine’s fundamental concepts. I’ve just indicated a fundamental dilemma that Roberts Ogle’s remedy increased, but did not fix. She herself is quite aware there are mysteries–or “mystery” –here.

Therefore, it could only be translated in an eschatological vision–the kind of vision which we penetrate”through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. So, when these 2 cities are shown, they are shown as eschatological realities–societies left observable in light of their destiny and destination. That is a perspective that has to be obtained as gift, and, basically, as mystery.

We can convey the gist of how Roberts Ogle’s comprehension of Augustine’s final views of politics and the political world by mentioning two passages of its own book. Through his review of Rome, along with his demonstration of the 2 Cities, Augustine”wants to resituate patriotic love in its appropriate context.” This means that by

[m]aking Profession distance between political community, postlapsarian political requirement, and sinful political behaviour,… Augustine… doesn’t concede the political world to the earthly city. Instead, he recommends us to take part in our political communities without engaging in the earthly city. Thus,… as it comes to politics, the psychagogic goal of City of God is that we participate as pilgrims, striving to become a healing presence within our political communities while seeking a good beyond them all exactly the same.

Christian citizens should see political community as an expression of their God-given”social nature,” they ought to see rule and authority as opportunities for”service,” not self-aggrandizement, and they should recognize that today’s”enemy,” whether political or religious, might be tomorrow –or eternity’s–“buddy” and”brother.” Given human sinfulness and the constant grasping existence of”the earthly city,” however, they should have sober expectations of politics and the political arrangement. “True justice” (vera justitia) and”true peace” (vera pax) are theological categories, groups concerning the City of God, not the towns of individual beings. Justice is incomplete in this life, its whole realization demands a Divine Judge and yet another life. The peace that someone may experience in this life is a mixture of this supernatural talent of a”peace that passes all understanding” along with also an ever-fragile”earthly peace.” For individuals and communities, earthly life is a trial and it’s”passing,” it ought to be lived in the light of the amazing facts and of the journey’s end.

As my synopsis suggests, in her rendering of Augustine’s thought about earthly politics,” Roberts Ogle keeps everything at an overall level and does not descend to modern circumstances and problems.   As it happens, though, there are some of passages which give themselves to modern application. I will leave that job to another reader of the fine analysis of Augustine’s City of God.

As for Roberts Ogle, I will end with a friendly criticism along with a recommendation for her next job.   They are motivated by an important matter I found missing in her account of Augustine on politics, a feature found quite much in his spirit and soul to the philosophical teachings of his pagan masters and antagonists, both Plato and Aristotle. I refer to what they predicted”thumos” or spiritedness. The term, however, just makes one look in her publication, as”thumotic anger”   This can’t be the complete truth of this item, as Augustine’s own example as a lively protector of the Church suggests.

In our daily life, if both the Church and the nation are still under attack from enemies foreign and domestic, and therefore in need of stout defenders, I would hope that Roberts Ogle would turn near the place and role of spiritedness from Augustine’s political and ethical thought, and, second, to the question of how Augustine discerned”friends” and”enemies” That might have important applicability at a time when we have a government led by a baptized and self-professed Catholic, but that is foursquare against the natural sexual order stoutly defended by Augustine and, concomitantly, against religious freedom. Augustine’s example ought to inspire us to battle these hypocrisy together with coverages of”fairness” and”diversity” that place taxpayer against citizen and destroy civic comity. Merely invoking”love thy enemy” or the Christian responsibility”to heal the wounds of sin” will not do all of the work that must be done.