The Political Philosophy of St. Augustine: Some Reflections

He was then coadjutor-bishop of Hippo, Algeria. A Neo-Platonist himself, he has written a very influential work which created an enormous impact in political philosophy and moral theology. His “De Civitate Dei” (The City of God) is being regarded, until today, as a work of an intellectual who lived during the Medieval Era.

St. Augustine of Hippo has been one of the great political thinkers during the Pre-Medieval Period.  And in class, we discussed not only his life, but also his political insights and religious views which are embedded in one of his works, which is also considered his greatest. In the group discussion that we have had, we delved on three particular questions related to what was discussed in the class. These are: (1) What is peace according to St. Augustine?; (2) Does this peace St. Augustine is talking about exist in the present time?; and (3) Do you agree with St. Augustine’s views in “The City of God”?

ON ST. AUGUSTINE’S CONCEPTUALIZATION OF PEACE

In the first question, we were asked to define peace in the context of what St. Augustine has said in “The City of God”. In reference to St. Augustine, we defined peace as the “tranquility of order”. The order (defined as the “allotments of things in its own place”) must be established, if not maintained, to achieve peace. Ebenstein (1969) maintains that peace is being conceived by St. Augustine “in terms of justice” (p. 171).  That is to say, without justice, there can be no peace. The concept of St. Augustine’s order is somehow tantamount to Plato’s concept of justice. To wit, justice for Plato occurs when the rulers (representing wisdom), soldiers (courage), farmers and the masses (temperance) are doing their work “in their own places” efficaciously. It follows that St. Augustine’s Platonist views are embodied in his work and, consequently, in his conceptualization of peace.

We also discussed the various kinds of peace which St. Augustine enumerated. There is this peace within oneself, peace between God and man, peace among men, and peace of the celestial city. Also, one of my group mates mentioned earthly and heavenly peace, which she described as “temporal” and “everlasting”, respectively. Another group mate of mine added that giving back what is God’s is the core of the heavenly peace, while the enjoyment of the world corresponds to earthly peace.

ON THE EXISTENCE OF THE “AUGUSTINIAN PEACE” IN THE PRESENT TIME

“Does this peace which St. Augustine talks about exist in the present time?” For most of us, the Augustinian peace does not exist in the present time. We made reference to what St. Augustine (as cited in Curtis, 1961) has said about the peace of the irrational soul, that in order to achieve this, there should be “a harmonious response of the appetites” (p. 171). This does not seem to accord with the present because some, if not many, are indulging themselves in excessive food consumption, which results to obesity and other health disorders. In the contrary, a group mate of mine said that the Augustinian peace exists in the present, but that peace is not our ultimate goal. Human beings are always longing and expecting for more. The feeling of dissatisfaction hinders our ultimate aspiration to achieve peace.

Another group mate mentioned that peace can only be attained by reaching the “City of God” or the heavenly city, and one must possess this peace by faith. As what St. Augustine (as cited in Curtis, 1961) posits:

When we shall have reached that peace, then mortal life shall give place to one that is eternal, and our body shall be no more this animal body…but a spiritual body feeling no want, and all its members, subjected to the will. In its pilgrim state, the heavenly city possesses the peace by faith (p. 154).

ON THE REAL INTENT: ST. AUGUSTINE’S PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS IN “THE CITY OF GOD”

We were also asked regarding St. Augustine’s view in “The City of God.” To commence, a group mate of mine examines the real intention of St. Augustine in writing “The City of God.” She posits that this St. Augustine’s work served as a critique to the Roman Empire, because Romans blame Christianity as the cause of the fall of Rome. Being a pagan/polytheistic state, the Roman Empire associates the attack of the Visigoths in 410 AD to the establishment of the Christian religion in 313 AD, which later became the empire’s state religion (Ebenstein, 1969). Due to the false accusations of the Romans, St. Augustine criticized the Romans by saying implicitly that they never had a republic, since Romans did not obey the true God. In the words of St. Augustine (as cited in Kilcullen, 2006): “I shall attempt to show that no such commonwealth ever existed, because true justice was never present in it.”

St. Augustine further stated that we should live by faith in order for us to reach the heavenly city. For our group, this heavenly city which St. Augustine talks about is his own conceptualization of an ideal state, and living by faith will lead us to that ideal state which he devised.  But as we examine the intent of this notion of St. Augustine, we came into a conclusion that this serves only as a sort of motivation for Christians to do good deeds, a manifestation of one’s faith, so as to ensure an entry to the heavenly city. Also, it serves as a reminder that there is a Supreme Being (which is God), upholding and sustaining this world.

This philosophical view of St. Augustine posits that anyone can live in the “City of God”. This delves down to the presupposition that there is equality in salvation. One’s hierarchical designation in the social structure does not determine whether or not he or she will be allowed to live in the heavenly city. People can be in the heavenly city no matter who they are so long as they have lived by faith.

CONCLUSION

Being a Christian himself, St. Augustine’s views on political philosophy are contextualized in the boundaries of moral ethics and liberal theology (Wippel & Wolter, 1969). The clash between the religious and the political is manifested in his most celebrated work. Everything that was written in this book became a matter of discussions.

To sum it all, his concept of peace reflects his views as a Neo-Platonist. This peace, more likely difficult to attain but still not impossible, must exist in a well-ordered concord. Also, his idea of living by faith in reaching the portals of the heavenly city brings a sort of a radical message to all of us, that there is indeed equality in salvation.

REFERENCES

Curtis, M. (1961). “The City of God in The Great Political Theories, Volume 1. New York: Avon Books.

Ebenstein, W. (1969). “St. Augustine” in Great Political Thinkers: Plato to the Present. USA: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, Inc.

Kilcullen, J. (2006). “Augustine’s City of God” in Medieval Political Philosophy. Retrieved 9 December 2010, at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-political/.

Wippel, J. & Wolter A. (1969). “St. Augustine of Hippo” in Medieval Philosophy: From St. Augustine to Nicolas of Cusa. New York: Free Press.

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