Paper 2 : Augustine, The Compatibility Between Christianity and Politics


Paper 2 : Augustine, The Compatibility Between Christianity and Politics

The possibility of compatibility between politics and the belief in the power and presence of
Christ has been discussed intricately throughout history. As certain philosophers and writers such
as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy flirted with anarchy regarding the subject, others such as
Augustine believed that a Christian conception of democracy was ultimately compatible with
peace in a nation. The fact that Christianity became a social religion at such a time in history that
brought people together at peace demonstrates how the ethical ends of Christianity would have
been compatible with the political ends of the post- republic era or shall I say, post-monarch at
this point. As we interpret the nature of human reality and Augustine’s thoughts centered on
revelations and salvation, we begin to understand how he challenged the political sphere with the
Christian message. Concerned with the construction of Christian wisdom itself, he shaped the
medieval mind far beyond any thinker on the topic. Researchers seldom question why Augustine
believed in this particular religion to save a nation and may questions his steps, which I have
read and studied myself for the purpose of this essay.

From a background of wealth and sinful entertainments such as the habit of a mistress,
Augustine eventually swayed towards religion and joined in his mother’s Christian beliefs,
becoming a Bishop in a time of global desperate measures. As the supreme authority of Rome,
Pax Romana, had been shattered and lost at the hands of the barbarians, he saw an opportunity to
develop his philosophical theory of Christianity in society to the fullest. Indeed, the sack of
Rome was an extremely traumatic experience of the 5th century. At a time where Rome was the
center of culture and antiquity of the world, Augustine saw the city’s grandeur threatened by
strangers and lost spirits, for whom he wrote City of God, typically addressed to these NonChristians
to bless them with a Christian interpretation of Roman history. The reason why he
would write these books is marked in history, it ultimately felt like the end of the world at the
time. In the book Political Writings, City of God is discussed among other ventures.
The first five books are focused on demolition rather than on the construction of a new
Rome, in order to clear the way for God to the pagans’ eyes. He thereby explained how Rome
was a sinful place, where people committed murders mercilessly and were at a savage state.
Augustine also started proving his opinion by answering this question: Could and would
Christianity prevail, establish a temporal reign, govern the world? Because Rome was gone and
there was no looking back. Yet people kept worrying and wondering, what happened now? Were
they headed back towards barbaric times? The once notorious social order of the city had to be
restored and Augustine felt that religion would bring them to a higher, better state. Explaining
that all human laws are but temporary and exemplifying with the overthrowing of the Roman
Empire, he described how divine law is eternal, and thus all civil leaders must submit to the
authority of the spiritual leaders such as the pope and bishops. This became more than a political
theory, for it represented an internal combat for individuals, for you must give up on your own
laws and previous beliefs to make place for, and only for the divine laws.
As he granted the pagan gods an assertion for existence and their influence on God,
distinct changes and crisis in society drew people to cling onto institutions, uniting insecure
people in these, such as the Church. The planetary crisis surrounding the wounding event in
Rome was Augustine’s opportunity to have his ideals read by the population. As he believed that
society functions better in unison, his first five books of City of God were dedicated to claim
Christianity’s view of unity. If everyone believed in the same God and prayed together as a
whole for the same reasons, then this single source of divine power, God, would be the ultimate
source of all the world of appearances, of the world spirit, of human society.
When it came to order and political knowledge, God prevailed alone. Augustine
developed a view of a harmonious human society, entirely made in the image of Heaven, for
Rome was not the eternal city after all, Heaven was. As the Roman Empire was entirely human,
it could not have gone on entirely anyhow, whereas the city of God would live eternally. Thus
the creation of two cities was presented: the terrestrial city composed of the civil government,
and the City of God. These two cities were always distinct, never intertwined and never one. The
condition to change this was unless the civil government aspired by the Divine law, in which
case salvation could be attained. In chapter 24 of Book XIX, Augustine offers a description of
how his people should learn to strive for better things together : ‘’ It is a better people if it agrees
in loving better things; a worse one if it agrees in loving worse things. According to this
definition, the Roman people is a people, and its affairs is without doubt a republic. (Augustine,
Book XIX, p. 163)’’ As he was trying to re-establish the order, he used the power of the ruling of
God the redeeming power of Christ (books 1 through 5 then 6 through 10 respectively) as the
only adequate hypothesis to explain the ways of the world.
By identifying that the pagan world in which they once lived, with demons sin and
endless philosophers, had never truly existed, Augustine was demonstrating that the Christian
message was the only way to go. His powerful conviction and faith transcended onto the
population by religious education and, as he respected the nobility of the pagan sages, he was not
oblivious to their major failures. The pagans had lived in an empire of fraud, built from the hands
of fallen human spirits, their true city was never Rome. He ended with a stand between the
mistakes of the pagan world and the necessity of the Christian, explaining that people needed to
move forward from the antiquity thus change their world-view.
If we look at our world today, I believe his conviction was the right one and the steps he
took to pervade his message as well. All in all, Christianity was able to replace fallen Rome by
inspiring the civil government that would eventually succeed the Roman Empire. Christianity
proposed to men and women all over how to live in the new, real and fallen world. I believe that
the fall of Rome helped Augustine’s cause, because people will look for something to believe in
when they are hit by a tragedy, and luckily this time it was a positive influence. As people clung
onto dictators in the 1930s following the horrible economic Krash that left them hopeless, not
every new step has to be fascism or Nazism. I believe Augustine’s Christian doctrine was in the
right place at the right moment, to help with the ascension of a new, powerful kingdom.

Tkacz, M. W., Kries, D., Fortin, E. L., & Gunn, R. (1994). Political writings. Indianapolis:


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