The Dragonfly and Raven

The Dragonfly and Raven

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Does Augustine's Theory Imply That the State is a Servant to the Church in City of God?

Saint Augustine of Hippo, hailing from what is now Tunisia, was one of the premier thinkers of the Christian Church, and was responsible for some of the first great advances of Christian theological thought since the New Testament. While he wrote an enormous amount of books and essays, the most extensive of his work would have to be his Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. This work, comprised of twenty-two books and spanning over a thousand pages, discusses various areas of debate within the Christian world, including such things as the discrepancies between different editions of the Bible, why there must be evil in this world if we as a species are to have free will, the creation of our world and the Universe as a whole, and much more. Augustine also discusses the idea of the City of God, and the City of Men—which he also refers to as the Heavenly City and the Earthly City, respectively. The goal of this essay will be to explore the relationship that exists between these two cities, with the ultimate goal of determining whether or not the state should be a servant to the church based off of the theories presented by Augustine in City of God.

Augustine, in City of God, is writing a theological work—being that it assumes the existence of God, and views him as predicate for the existence of the Universe. He believes that we must all follow what the Scriptures tell us, for they tell the truth of the world, as they are the word of God, passed to us through his messengers—that is, the prophets. Now given this, Augustine defines the City of God as a city that is upheld by the Scriptures, with the guiding power of God's supreme providence. It is from this city that joy spreads to the whole of the Earth. To be a member of this city, one must subjugate themselves to the one true God, and not the false idols that those of the Earthly City have a tendency to worship. In many ways, this City of God is essentially the Heaven that we think of today, with it even being populated primarily by angels. Through worship of the one true God, that being the god of the Catholic Church, and subjugation to him while in the Earthly City, one makes themselves a pilgrim for the length of their stay in the Earthly City, with the ultimate reward for their devotion being ascension to the City of God after the death of the body in the Earthly City.

Going back to the time of Adam and his prodigy, we see two distinct lines. There is that of Cain, who created his line after fratricide, created the first physical Earthly City. They were not to ascend to the Heavenly City, due to their sins. This is in contrast with the sons of Seth, who were the devout, servants of God, and through the purity of their devotion, were to ascend to the City of God. The corruption of the Sons of Cain grew to such a great extent, however, that the line had to be removed by the biblical flood—though the Earthly City itself would remain, as all men are a part of it, and many of the children of Noah and his sons would be members of only the Earthly City, and not the City of God.

The Earthly City is that of which all men are a part of. The hope is that through worship, and service to God, one will have only to experience the death of the body, and that they will not have to experience the second death, which is the worst punishment of all—life without God.  The reason for the existence of the Earthly City is that we as a species corrupted ourselves through sin from the original perfection that God gave us. Thus, we live a life of perversion in the Earthly City, to be freed of the perverted form upon ascending to the City of God. God gave us a way to salvation though, and that is through worship and obedience to him, and his son, Jesus Christ. One form of obedience to Him and His laws is through humility—which Augustine says exalts the mind. In addition, one can better themselves and show their devotion to God by doing acts for their own sake, which betters oneself and society as a whole. In contrast, doing acts to better oneself, and for the purpose of being prideful is to ultimately hurt oneself, for being prideful is asserting one's own dominion as more important than that of God, thus breaking the fellowship that exists between God, oneself, and one's fellow man. However, it is important to note that while the Earthly City and Heavenly City are distinct, they are also intertwined, and they evolved together.

Augustine goes into a bit more detail as to how human society is formed, and how the Earthly City is organized. As men spread out after the Great Flood, they began to form different groups. These groups were built on the fellowship of those who shared common geography and culture, and these groups worked to benefit themselves primarily. Thus, human society, as it naturally formed, is divided against itself. In essence then, the common aim of human society, of Earthly City, is worldly advantage and satisfaction of desires. According to Augustine, this is not what the final aim of the Earthly City should be though. The final goal of all things should be peace, as peace is instinctively desired by both the irrational beast, and by the rational man. This, Augustine argues, is evident in how people conduct themselves. Even those who seek war, he says, are really only seeking to redefine the order of peace to better fit themselves and their position.

Augustine believes in a multitude of peaces, each satisfied by some ordering of relevant variables. Most important to the discussion of the role of the state and the church, however, is the peace between men, and thus, the peace of the Earthly City. This peace is established through an ordered agreement between two or more people. Peace with the Heavenly City is different, with it being achieved through “harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and a mutual fellowship in God.” Thus defined, the peace of the Earthly and Heavenly Cities are different, and require different conditions to be satisfied. This is the foundation of the argument that Augustine lays out for the separation of the state from the church.

He argues that the use of temporal things is related to the enjoyment of the earthly peace, which is different from the eternal peace of the Heavenly City, which comes from service and subjugation to God. This use of the temporal goods that God gave to the world, then, must be to satisfy the bodily pleasures enough to quench the thirsts of the irrational soul, so that one may exercise and satisfy the rational soul, which is satisfied through the acquisition of some sort of profitable knowledge that he will use to order his life and his moral standards. This requires the direction of the Divine, which can only be gotten by adhering the the guidelines given above to enter the Heavenly City. This process, then, is one that is for individuals. It in no way suggests or warrants the church having dominance over the state. This idea of individuals needed to work toward salvation, and the difference of the objectives of the Earthly City and the Heavenly City are continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth book of the City of God, which is where Augustine focuses on the role of the Earthly City in relation to the Heavenly one.

In addition to setting out how one is to interact and use the temporal objects of this world, the Scriptures also set out clear commandments on how one should live their life in relation to others. First, one should love God. Second, one should love their neighbor as they love themselves. The need to love God is fairly self-explanatory, though the reason to love your neighbor requires a bit more of an explanation. One should love their neighbor because they should want their neighbor to love them, so that if they are in need of assistance, their neighbor will help them. Therefore then, one should also help their neighbors, for this relationship of mutual love can only exist if both sides are satisfying their part of the arrangement. If this is had, then society will be organized in the righteous way of a peace among men based on a mutual love, with man doing harm upon no one, and coming to the aid of others. Again, this does not lend toward the state being a servant of the church, but toward men acting in the interest of the common good of the Earthly City. It just so happens to also be in-line with the Scriptures, and thus also satisfying part of the requirement to enter the City of God.

Important to the ideal ordering of society that is listed above is the domestic peace of individual households. Individual households are what society is based on, and so the peace of society is based on the peace of individual households. The heads of households should achieve this peace by giving commands based off of faith, and by treating all of people within the household as the same, with punishments being given to benefit the offender, being meant to deter them or others from re-offending. All of this then, should be based off of the laws of the city that one is a part of, to prepare those in the household to be obedient to the city they are also members of. Thus is how societal peace, and thus earthly peace, is in part achieved. Yet again, the church has no place in this.

So what else is involved in the earthly peace? For it is ordered agreement among men, based off of neighborly love and domestic peace, but there is more to it. In this, Augustine is heavily influenced by Cicero, taking from him the idea of needing justice and service toward the commonwealth being essential for society. Wrong institutions and states, then, would be interested only in the good of the strongest, or some other smaller part of the society, which would then be contrary to the commonwealth, justice, and therefore the early peace. This is then a reason for the Church not being the master of the state, as it would be interested in serving a particular group of people—that being Christians. This causes issues when one considers that society is not comprised of solely Christians, but of people of other faiths as well. Thus, the Church holding power over the state would create an injustice. Augustine acknowledges this, explaining that the Earthly City, being based not in faith, must aim for the earthly peace, as it is concerned with the interactions in the temporal existence between mortal men.   It is assumed that because of the impiety of the Earthly City—which is a result of the philosophical minds of men being able to be swayed from the truth—that it is lacking the justice, as without true religion, there is no true virtue. This then requires there to be laws concerning religion and tolerance in the Earthly City, those do not exist within the Heavenly City, as to exist within the Heavenly City, one must accept the one true God and be subservient to Him.  Due to the nature of the Earthly City, the temporal peace must be shared by both the good and the bad alike, as Earthly or temporal peace requires cooperation between the members of the society, while only through one's own actions can they achieve heavenly peace. Thus, the Heavenly City does not interfere with the laws of the Earthly City and that which is requited for mortal life, though it does require a level of devotion and loyalty to it while in the Earthly City (as stated previously).  Augustine concludes then that all seek to get to the City of God, but only those who pass personal judgment will one get there—those who are wretched will not enter the City.

Thus, it would seem, that Augustine is not in favor of a religious state. In fact, it appears that the contrary is true—that he is in favor of a secular state. For he explains that the Heavenly City does not care about the differences between cultures, laws, languages, and all of the other aspects of human existence that are used to divide us, as long as such states that have these qualities promote the earthly peace, and do not hinder the worship of the one true God. This can be combined with his aforementioned belief in the need for the Earthly City to be run as justly as possible, and to have not a group that would be favoring any particular group—as the Church would—and not the commonwealth as a whole and the fact that one can only ascend to the City of God through their personal efforts, it is clear that Augustine would not want the state to be subservient to the church.