Reflections on Augustine's Spirituality

Donald X. Burt, OSA

Friendship and Society:
Introduction to Augustine's Practical Philosophy


Chapter 7

I.  Introduction

        A. A Tale of Two Cities
        B. The Cultural Context
II.  Augustine's Political Philosophy
        A. Preliminary Points
        B. Nature and Purpose of the State
        C. Is the State a Natural Society?
        D. The Structure and Importance of the Question
        E. The Need for the State
        F. Development of the Argument
        G. The Meaning of Natural Authority
        H. Objection: Shepherds not Kings
        I.  "Dreaming of Jerusalem" - The Ideal State
III. Conclusion




A. A Tale of Two Cities

As we have seen, the foundation of Augustine's moral and social philosophy is the law of love. Love is the measure of our perfection as individuals and it is also the measure of the perfection of every society. In any community the perfection or imperfection in the love of its members determines the perfection of that society. Indeed, it is the love of their members that separates the two transcendent societies, the city of God (called symbolically "Jerusalem") and the earthly city ("Babylon"). Since humans in this life are mixed and not fixed in their loves (neither all good nor all bad), none of the societies they form can be identified as perfect examples in time of either of the two transcendent cities. The supra-temporal societies of Babylon and Jerusalem exist in their fullness only in hell and heaven.

Just as individuals can freely choose to make themselves devils or, with the grace of God, choose to become saints, so too political societies can tend towards being a Babylon or a Jerusalem. If a state is dominated by the ideals of Babylon, it will seek only earthly goods and will not hesitate to use any means available, be it deceit or cruelty or aggressive war, to achieve peace by domination and to gain prosperity by theft. If a state tries to mirror the heavenly Jerusalem, its members will be united by a love akin to friendship and, while seeking necessary earthly goods, will yet live as pilgrims seeking their true good in that city of God only reached through death.

In Augustine's day (as in ours) the reality of political life involved a mixture of the values of both Babylon and Jerusalem. Every state, like the humans who are its citizens, is somewhat "cracked" and falls short of the perfection of love that can make it the best that it could be. At the same time, no state is beyond hope. Faced with this reality and this possibility, Augustine's political writings thus became a tale of two cities: the Babylon that often is and the Jerusalem that could be. For the pilgrim people struggling to live morally in the various "Babylons" of this world he gave a critical analysis of their imperfect state and practical advice on how to survive it. To those who dreamed of something better he held out a vision of the ideal state, an earthly "Jerusalem" that was based on the love of friendship.

Augustine was too much of a realist to believe that any political society past or present has ever achieved such perfection. As he somberly observed, in ordinary political life the wise and the pious are not usually found in seats of power and most citizens are motivated more by servile fear than friendly love in their respect for the common good.1 He recognized the sad fact that in this real world of wounded human beings there is will always be the need to judge and punish those who refuse to obey the law. From the day when Cain founded the first city, pious exhortations to civility have seldom been effective in controlling human criminal tendencies. The state from its first beginnings has found itself forced to deal with actions against the public good which "it must punish in order to keep peace among ignorant men."2 Augustine seems to anticipate the pessimism of Hobbes when, looking at the society that surrounded him, he gloomily observes:

All in the human community are driven by personal passions to pursue their private desires. Unfortunately the objects of such desires are limited and no one can ever be totally satisfied. As a result the normal condition of earthly society is one of conflict and war where the weak are oppressed by the strong.3

Augustine never experienced the reality of his dream of an ideal state where citizens and rulers were "one in heart", loving God above all and each other because of that love. He recognized that such perfection would never be found this side of the heavenly "Jerusalem," the city of God in full flower. At the same time he was convinced that any political society striving for such perfection of love could be made a better state by the very effort. A Babylon trying to become a Jerusalem is infinitely better than a self-satisfied Babylon. It was for this reason that he encouraged capable young people to participate in political life and was ready and willing to support them when they became rulers. He insisted that politics was a true calling from God and that it would be a sad disservice for those qualified to give up politics for a supposedly more pious way of life. A noble king trying to achieve concord in his earthly kingdom prepares himself and others for the perfect achievement of friendship in God's city. In doing this he fulfills the will of God even in the midst of a still imperfect political society.


B. The Cultural Context

In writing about political life, Augustine had to deal with humanity as he found it, both the good and the bad. He was convinced that humans remain social animals despite their fall from grace but he also accepted the fact that in their present weakened condition their social nature does not always shine through. Every human has difficulty conquering ignorance and making good choices. As Deane notes, when Augustine says: "The laws of man's nature move him to hold fellowship and maintain peace with all men so far as in him lies,"4 he is speaking about humans before they were wounded by sin. In our present circumstances, because of sin, the human desire to form community is frequently hampered by self-interest and the tendency to seek personal good at the expense of others.5 Only those few humans who consistently follow the rules of love that lead to permanent citizenship in the city of God express day by day the natural comradeship which reflects the best aspect of a human being's social nature. Most humans involved in society will act as though they were not redeemed, giving in to selfishness, taking advantage of the stranger, desiring to rule over others so as to be able to dominate them.6

The North African environment in which Augustine lived and worked was not conducive to creating a very sophisticated society, much less a society of saints. The ordinary folk were convinced that their destiny hinged on fate and thus were not very interested in public affairs. Their main interest was to preserve their life and to enjoy themselves as far as possible. These friendly, passionate, mostly ignorant, mostly poor and uneducated, sometimes violent people were primarily concerned with their own lives and the lives of those closest to them. They were also the raw material of political society in Augustine's day. From time to time Augustine will speak about the ideal (the ideally best ruler, the ideally best form of government, the state which fulfills all the demands of justice) but most of his writings have to do with what was real in political life, a state apparatus that had to try to bring order to a populace who most of the time acted like citizens of the earthly city rather than saints in the city of God, people who more often than not were driven by self-love and ambition for more and more pleasure and more and more goods and more and more power. Such a state had to be concerned first with preserving some semblance of external order among its rambunctious citizens and in order to accomplish this coercive force was often necessary.7 Creating a society of friends often had to give way to control of enemies. This was the environment in which Augustine did his thinking and writing about the state.


II. Augustine's Political Philosophy

A. Preliminary Points

In trying to understand Augustine's writings on the state, it is important to note the following points. First, he never composed a scientific treatment of political philosophy. His thought did not develop in the quiet of an academic study; much of it was a response to violent controversy. Much of his thinking about the state, political authority, law and punishment, war and peace, was developed in controversy with the Manicheans and Donatists, in the midst of civil insurrections, in reaction to the trauma that followed the sack of Rome or (towards the end of his life) in fearful anticipation of barbarian victory. In order to understand his writings at any moment in his life, it is important to understand the problem that provoked them. Also, since his thinking was inspired by the events of the day, there is no one place in the Augustinian corpus where one can find the final statement of his political philosophy. His thoughts on the state are spread over the last forty years of his life.

Secondly, all of his thought on political life assumed that all humans (ruler and ruled alike) are slightly cracked. While he admits that "rule by the best" makes sense in any society, he is equally firm in his conviction that there is no group or individual who can be said to be best by nature. All humans share similar weakness. All must battle misdirected/uncontrolled desire (concupiscence) and an ignorance that makes it difficult for even the most "educated" to see and accept the reality of their lives. At their best humans are the highest good in creation; at their worst they are the most destructive force the world has ever seen. Every society must take into account that its members are mixed blessings (or "mixed up" blessings) as it pursues its goal of bringing order out of disorder and peace out of conflict.



1. Essential Characteristics of the State

A description of the state that is generally accepted today is that it is a perfect society whose purpose is to promote the temporal common good. It is described as a perfect society to indicate that a true state is not subject to any other society of the same order. Put simply, it has sovereignty over its own affairs. Its purpose is said to be the promotion of the temporal common good to differentiate it from religious societies which are concerned about the eternal good of their members.

The material common good that the state seeks to achieve includes two elements: peace and the prosperity of its members. In order to preserve peace it must first establish a body of laws that create internal order by regulating interaction between citizens: for example, various laws regulating the use of property and the orderly flow of traffic on highways. It also has a legitimate function in motivating its members to become good citizens through education of those of good will and a justice system to punish those of bad will. Finally, the state has a legitimate right to use whatever moral means are necessary in order to protect itself from external attack, to preserve peace through defensive war.

The state also has a proper interest in promoting public prosperity, the material conditions under which its citizens can lead a decent life as human beings. At very least this implies creating an atmosphere in which individuals can live well if they exercise their own initiative. Those political/economic philosophers who espouse the "laissez-faire" state limit the state's function to establishing such an environment. In this view, the state's task is to provide an equal opportunity for its members to earn prosperity. It has no obligation to assist individuals in finding it. Other views maintain that the state must provide positive help to individuals so that they may live well, some even going so far as demanding that the state provide for all of its citizens' needs from cradle to grave.

Finally, some will argue that the state must not only help its members become good citizens; it must also encourage them to become good human beings. This view sees the state as the Guardian of Virtue charged with the responsibility of seeing that its citizens live good moral lives. In such a state any act that is immoral is a crime and can be punished by the state. According to this view, state laws against "private sins" (i.e. faults that have no impact on the common good) are legitimate because there are no victimless crimes. Every evil act has at least one victim: namely, the person who does the evil. As we shall see, Augustine seems to come close to this view, arguing that the state cannot be any more indifferent to private immorality than it can be to civil disruption.

In the description of the state outlined above, any society that seeks the material common good of its members and has sovereignty, can legitimately claim to be a state. It thus answers the first question any political philosophy must answer: "What are the essential characteristics of a state?" The question is obviously important. To demand too much of a state is to eliminate many actually existing societies which can legitimately lay claim to statehood. This is a serious matter because if a political society is not in fact a true state, it loses the warrant for its claim that its laws must be obeyed. It has no basis for claiming a sovereignty which justifiably may be defended against outside attacks and which may serve as a foundation for establishing internal order. Such a "pseudo-state" cannot claim allegiance from inside nor respect from outside. If, on the other hand, too little is demanded of the state, then it will not have the strength to work for its legitimate goals. If a people have nothing in common, it is difficult to see how they can achieve a temporal common good in any organized way.

These concerns were very much in the Augustine's mind when he gave his own statement of the essential conditions that must be met before a state can exist.8 His description is clearly minimalist, neither demanding nor excluding functions of the state in the promotion of virtue and/or the protection of the rights of God. For a state to exist only two things are necessary:

(1) there must be a group of beings who are capable of making a free choice, and

(2) they are in fact bound together by agreement about common goals.9

Augustine would certainly agree that the nobility and perfection of a particular state depends on what its common goals are, but for a state to exist demands only that there be common goals. Thus he writes:

A people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love. In order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what it loves. Yet whatever it loves, if it is at least a group of reasonable beings and not of beasts, and is bound together by an agreement as to the objects of love, it is reasonably called a people; and it will be a superior people in proportion as it is bound together by higher interests, an inferior people in proportion as it is bound together by lower interests. According to this definition of ours, the Roman people is a people, and its weal is without doubt a commonwealth or republic.10

Augustine does not demand "perfect" justice for a state to exist, only that degree of justice implied in the sacrifice of self-interest to common purpose. In the City of God (2.21), Augustine examines and rejects Scipio's opinion (reported and seconded by Cicero) that a state cannot exist unless it contains the perfection of justice. He rejects this demand for the very practical reason that there never has been (nor likely ever will be) any state that meets this criterion. Augustine's somewhat pessimistic view is based on his understanding of the nature of perfect justice and on his conviction that humans will always be imperfect.

Perfect justice is nothing less than "love serving God and therefore ruling well all things subject to humans."11 The specific task of justice is to see

... that all receive what belongs to them. It regulates the right order inside and outside the individual. It is therefore just for the soul to be subordinate to God, and the body to be subordinate to the soul, and for the body and soul taken together to be subject to God.12

Perfect justice is present in us only when we have control of ourselves, love others as they deserve to be loved, and love God unconditionally. If any of these aspects of justice are missing, the perfection of justice is missing. But, the only humans who are consistently capable of such perfection are those who are even now confirmed members of the city of God, those who are even now saints in heaven. Even the best of humans still living on earth are not secure in their virtue or the perfection of their love. Although they may rise to the heights of love from time to time, giving each the love due them, this is never a permanent condition. So-called earthly "saints" will sin from time to time and thus fail in the perfection of ordered love that is the essence of justice. No one in any state has ever practiced "perfect justice" for a very long time.

To demand perfect justice before one accepts a society as a state causes a problem. Perfect justice in a state demands that all of its members are perfectly just, giving to God his due by loving him above all and giving all others their due by loving them for the sake of God.13 A state cannot be said to have perfect justice as long as there is one member (citizen or ruler) who is not perfectly just. This is so because "individual men are, as it were, the elements and seeds of the cities" and one cannot get good fruit from bad seeds.14 It follows that if perfect justice is demanded before a human community can be said to be a true state, then none of the classical political societies of antiquity can be called states. But such an assertion is (in Augustine's view) simply absurd. In varying degrees all of the states of history, especially Rome in its days of glory, were concerned about the public good.15 In preferring a more modest definition of the state, Augustine is able to admit as true states such disparate political societies as the truly christian state (which he believed never existed), Israel, Rome, and many other secular civil societies. Though each varied greatly in the degree of its justice, each one exists under the direction of divine providence and therefore serves a purpose in God's grand plan for creation.16

Of course even the worst state must have some justice, at least the justice that is implied in having a unity of purpose and a rule of law directing all to the common good. If citizens are united in the social good that they love, there is some ground for respecting each other. Their concern for distributive and legal justice (each one receiving and giving their fair share to the society) can lead to the beginnings of commutative justice whereby they respect the rights of each other. Augustine describes justice as the preserver of the necessary order in society whereby the members love more that which is more important and love less that which is less important.17 Such modest ordering of love can be the seed of that perfect justice which Augustine would wish for every individual and every society, the justice whereby every existing being (God included) receives that which is due them.


2. The Purpose Of The State:

Augustine believed that the primary purpose of and present need for the state is to preserve peace: "the well-ordered concord of civil obedience and rule."18 With this peace as a foundation, the state can then work to achieve the further goal of "combining men's wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life and the administration of those things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life."19 Such texts as the above suggest two distinct goals for a political society:

1. the preservation of the peace by seeking to insure the harmonious external conduct of the humans in it and to protect them from external attacks;

2. the administration and organization of those material goods necessary for the continuation of life this side of death.

Augustine does not seem to believe that the state has any special obligation to provide for the welfare of those who cannot provide for themselves. Charitable work is left to the church and private individuals. The state has little to do with the distribution of property. Its function is to organize that distribution through rules and regulations, for example by defining and determining the right of private property (including slaves). Thus Augustine writes that state laws

... insure that men may possess the things which may be called "ours" for a season and which they eagerly covet, on condition that peace and human society be preserved so far as they can be preserved in earthly things.20

In the real world (the world where most states are more "Babylon" than "Jerusalem") the means for achieving these purposes depend more on fear than love. In the real world the state can best achieve its goals through a coercive system based on laws telling people what they should do, a judicial system for determining whether or not they did what they should do, and a penal system for rewards and punishment on the basis of what they in fact did do. The state must take humans as it finds them, afraid for their own lives, their own property, their own good name, their own worldly success. In striving to control their unsociable passion for these earthly goods, the state accomplishes its goals most efficiently by threatening to take away those very goods which are so vehemently desired.



1. The Structure and The Importance of the Question

To assert that the state is a natural society is to claim the following:

1. There is a natural need for the state. Assuming a substantial growth in the human race, a society larger than and different from the family would be necessary and useful to promote the temporal common good.

2. The authority which would be required for the functioning of such a society could be acquired and exercised in a way that would not act against the essential equality of human beings nor involve a demeaning "domination" of those ruled by those who rule.21

This somewhat theoretical question has important practical consequences. If the state is not natural to human beings, if it is necessary only because of human perversity (or, even worse, if it is an expression of human perversity), then the only sensible course for those seeking virtue is to stay as far away from it as possible. Politics would not be a noble profession and no noble soul would think of participating in it. Being a politician or a king would be in the same category as being a slave-master, a line of work which leads away from rather than towards the kingdom of God. If it is the creation of the devil, more of hell than of heaven, the argument that one should participate and try to make it better makes no more sense than trying to encourage a permanent resident in one of the circles of Dante's Inferno to try to improve the environment. If, on the other hand, the state is natural to humans, if it is a good thing sometimes used badly, then a socially conscious virtuous person should participate in affairs of the state and try to improve them. If the state is indeed good but wounded, there is hope for even the worst state. There is the chance that even the most abject "Babylon" could be moved to some degree towards becoming "Jerusalem." And even if the effort fails, at least it would perfect the person trying and be a service to the community. Put simply, if the state is a natural society, no one gets "dirty hands" through virtuous participation in its life.


2. The Need for the State

As we have shown in a previous chapter, Augustine was convinced that humans were social by nature even though they did not always act that way. He also believed that the family is a natural society which meets the two conditions outlined above. The union of Adam and Eve was needed for the continuation of the race. It was also a society of equals, a friendly society, in which necessary decision-making was achieved without unnatural domination. This natural and friendly exercise of authority typical of that first human family is quite different from the subordination of master over slave. Slavery is not "natural" to humanity. It is not demanded by human nature and indeed its very definition suggests the presence of a domination contrary to the natural equality of humans.22 Even the most humane exercise of a slave-master's authority cannot make the social structure "natural" since the warrant of the institution rests on a condition contrary to moral fact: that one human can "own" another. It follows that though there is a natural need for the family, slavery is a matter of human choice and it comes from a will that has been twisted by sin.

The question here is whether the need for the state is to be traced to the same perverted source. Unfortunately Augustine never considered this question formally. He never wrote a specific treatise arguing for innocent nature's need for the state.23 He wrote of the state as it actually exists, now tarnished by sin like every other temporal institution after Eden. Thus, he frequently emphasized that in humanity's present wounded condition the state is needed as a corrective for human perversity. Is it possible to argue that he would grant the need for the state even if humans had remained in a state of sinless innocence? I believe that it is possible to make such an argument, both for the natural need of the state and for the possibility that the rulers of the state could exercise their authority without causing an unnatural subordination of those ruled.

An outline of an argument from Augustine's writings for the natural need for the state is as follows:

1. It is natural for humans to desire peace.

2. Peace depends on order among disparate parts.

3. When the parts to be ordered are free beings, the order will be based on decisions of people who, because of different past experiences and different habits drawn from their unique past choices, will sometimes disagree.

4. In a complex society (composed of many families and many individuals), it is unlikely that consensus about means to achieve common goals will always be achieved.

5. Therefore, the ordering of such societies towards the common good of earthly peace can only be done efficiently through the exercise of authority.

6. But a society which seeks the temporal common good under the direction of authority is what is meant by the state.

7. There is therefore a "natural" need for the state.

Some of the important points in the argument will be explored in the section that follows.


3. Development of the Argument

Augustine defines peace as the tranquility that comes out of order and defines order as the arrangement of like and unlike things in their proper places.24 The human need for peace is just as natural as the thirst for happiness. Anyone who has studied human nature seriously must agree that there is no human heart that does not want and need peace.25 The desire for peace is thus not the result of perversity but of nature. It existed in Eden and would have continued to exist if the human race had endured without sin. As we have seen, Augustine describes the first family as a society of ordered concord among persons living together where some were in positions of authority and others were subject to authority. Unfortunately humans did not last long enough in innocence to see the development of the city or commonwealth, but if they did they would have certainly desired the extension of peace to the city, a peace which Augustine describes as: "an ordered concord among the ruler and ruled in people joined in citizenship."26

Even without sin humans would have had a natural need for peace. They would also have had a natural need to "use" material things. They would need to eat and drink. They would need to get from place to place. They would need to dispose of the natural "effluvium" of living in community. Paradise was a pleasant earthly place but it was not heaven. Humans had more perfect bodies than we have now but they were not glorified bodies. Therefore, the orderly use of material things would have to be an element in the peace that they desired. The goods described by Augustine as the purposes of the state in our present condition would have been necessary goods in Eden also. Peace coming from an ordered daily life would be needed and so too would an organization of the material goods necessary for day by day living. Peace and temporal prosperity would have been a necessity of life common to a multitude of humans even in a state of innocence. The only difference between then and now is that in humanity's state of innocence these goods would have been easier to achieve. As innocent humanity increased there may not have been "road rage" but there would still have been a need for traffic patterns and rules for traveling from here to there. Even the best of families would have needed to use material and temporal goods while they anticipated the greater goods of heaven.27 Eden was not heaven. It was a way to heaven. It was not in eternity. It was in time. There would have been a need for the temporal peace and an orderly use of earthly things (the air, water, food, other bodily goods) on which such a temporal peace at least partially depends.28

Given an increase in the human race in a state of innocence, the question would be whether such "orderly use of material goods" among many individuals and many families would have resulted naturally from the bond of friendship among individuals or, if not, whether the social structure of the family was sufficient to bring it about. Certainly friendship and family existed in Eden. Would these have been sufficient to achieve temporal peace if humanity had not been wounded by sin? It seems unlikely. Since humans are beings of freedom and beings who learn by experience rather than by an infused knowledge common to all, it is reasonable to assume differences of opinion even in a state of innocence. The story of Adam and Eve proves that even two humans who love each other can look at the same situation differently. Eve's experience with the tempter gave her new information concerning what should or should not be eaten. Adam had to be convinced of the new project before he made his fatal mistake.

The story of Adam and Eve shows that even in the best of conditions humans are likely to disagree on the best means even when they agree on the goals. This happens because they are free beings who are indeed different. This difference can lead to conflicting choices and in order to achieve common action there is needed some peaceful resolution of the differences. It is certainly possible that this resolution could come about without the exercise of authority saying: "Everyone has had their say and every position has its own value, but now we shall go this way." A community can agree on a common action by way of consensus if there is indeed clearly a best way. But in a complex society there very often will be no one "best" way to accomplish a desired goal. In such situations consensus on the basis of reasoned argument will become difficult if not impossible. At very least, trying to achieve such an improbable consensus will be inefficient. The only practical solution is to have someone in authority resolve the differences.

But would society have achieved such complexity in a state of innocence? If it did not, the natural authority residing in the father of the family would have been enough to resolve differences. There was no need for Adam and Eve to establish a state as long as their family was small and they were the only family. But there is no reason to suppose that the race would not have expanded if the innocence of Eden had been preserved. Certainly Augustine believed that procreation would have continued even if humans had never sinned. Even in Eden a complexity in human society would have arisen which would have been far beyond the ability of the family structure to settle. As the race expanded, there would be a need to resolve differences of opinion among families and individuals who more and more had fewer and fewer shared experiences.

To summarize, in the state of innocence it is very likely that society would become complex simply by increase in the numbers and that such complexity would make it practically impossible to achieve consensus in or among families about the best means to achieve the temporal common good. This being the case, there would be the need for a social organization of wider scope than the family, endowed with the authority and responsibility to seek the temporal common good of the individuals and the families that make it up. Such a society seems close to our understanding of the state. It also seems to be what Augustine means by a people, "an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by common agreement as to the objects of their love," where what is loved is "earthly peace" and the order in temporal affairs necessary to achieve it.29 There is, then, a natural need for the state. The question remains whether the authority necessary to make the state work could be acquired and exercised without an unnatural subordination of one human to another. If there is no way for political authority to be used without causing an unnatural subordination of those ruled, then the state would be unnatural in its operation even though there is a natural need for it to exist. If the authority of the state is unnatural, then the institution itself must be said to be unnatural. This raises again the question of the meaning of authority, and what the characteristics of natural authority might be.


4. The Meaning of Natural Authority

Authority may be said to be "natural" or "in accord with human nature" if the following conditions are verified:

(1) the claim that one has authority does not flow from some effect of human sinfulness;

(2) the way in which authority is exercised does not manifest a perversity coming from sinful human nature.

Authority will fail the first condition if the only reason for asserting that "a" is superior to "b" is because of a false assumption of inferiority resulting (for example) from conquest in war or enslavement or some similar event rooted in human sin. Authority will fail the second condition if in its exercise it does not seek to achieve the common good (as opposed to the selfish interests of the authority) and/or treats the subjects as though they were not free human beings equal before God.

As we have seen in our discussion of the family, there is a natural subordination of children to parents. Very young children are too deficient in knowledge and prudence to take care of themselves. One does not assume their inferiority; they are inferior in fact. The authority of parent over child becomes "unnatural" only if it is exercised beyond its due time or in an abusive manner. The subordination of slavery is quite different. The rule of master over the slave, even when exercised in a benign fashion, is essentially "unnatural" since it rests on the assumption that a human being can be the possession of another. Since even the most perversely "claimed" authority (i.e. master over slave) can be exercised in a way that is truly human, it is clear that the problem of the "naturalness" of political authority is a problem of claim. Is the very claim of a king to rule contrary to human nature? Does the claim itself rest on an assumed inequality among humans? Does the very claim to rule imply a demeaning of those to be ruled?

Markus suggests that the crucial question about the origin of political authority ...

... is the question as to whether it is to be treated on the model of the authority of a master over his slave, or on that of a husband and father over his wife and family. These are the paradigm cases which give us a clue to the senses in which the concept of nature is applied to particular social groupings.30

The structure of slavery clearly places it among those social institutions that flow from human sinfulness. The structure of the family places it among those that flow from nature. The issue is whether either is the best analogue for the state. If there are only these two choices, one must agree that the rule of the state is just a more sophisticated form of slavery. The state is obviously not the family "writ large." There is no natural inequality among its members. There is no assumption of greater experience or wisdom in the ruler as there is in the parent of a young child. But are these the only two choices?

I believe that there is a third possibility. It is the society described in Augustine's various writings on the rule and practices of religious communities. He himself created such a community and lived as a member for his last forty years on earth. The rule that he established for this group became the principle of organization for communities of men and women throughout North Africa and, eventually, throughout the world down to the present day. Because of humanity's present wounded condition, no one has ever consistently lived up to the ideals of this rule but even in its non-observance it gives both superior and subject a worthy goal, a norm by which they can measure the daily perfection or imperfection of their life together.

The religious community formed by Augustine was a voluntary society in that it was not one of those societies that a human needed in order to live a fully human life. All humans must begin life in a family and, given an increase in the human race, we have argued that eventually there would be a need for a larger society charged with the responsibility of maintaining peace and promoting prosperity among families. There is no similar need for a religious society like that created by Augustine. Participation is determined solely by the free choice of the members.

Like the family and the state, Augustine's religious community was composed of humans with all the strengths and weaknesses of ordinary people. Indeed, Augustine's famous description of humans as "cracked pots," people who have been wounded and tarnished by the fires of living, was directed first and foremost at members of his own community.31 Those who joined were commonplace christians, servi dei, ordinary humans who happened to take their commitment to God and neighbor seriously. It was far from being a society of angels. It was not meant to be a haven for intellectuals nor a club for those who thought themselves to be a religious elite. A noble social status was not required, only a willingness to be "one in heart with others and with God." As Augustine described it:

Persons very often come to this service of God after a life of slavery. Some come from a life of manual labor in the fields. It would be terribly wrong to refuse to admit such people to the religious life. Indeed, many of them have given wonderful examples for our imitation.32

The religious community is like every other complex society in that there is a need for a ruler to perform those essential functions described in our discussion of authority in the earlier chapter on friendship. Furthermore, since no member of religious community is "perfect," authority's substitutional functions will also sometimes be needed. Augustine thus gives explicit instructions on how to take care of those not able at first to live up to the asceticism demanded. He also creates a procedure for correcting those who are unwilling to follow the rules. Although the one in authority is not superior to the others as a human being, he/she is truly the Superior of the group, "the person who is ultimately the one who has to bear the burden of the whole group, even though the whole is still more important than the one person at its head.33

Augustine believed that the authority of the Superior is necessary for the good of the community and that it should be exercised firmly but in a spirit of love. He gave them the following directions:

Let the Superior not deem himself happy in using his authority, but in serving the members of the community with love. In honor before them let him take the first place, but in fear before God, let him prefer the last place. Let him be for all an example of good works. Let him restrain the restless, comfort the discouraged, support the weak, with patience towards all. Let him willingly embrace regular discipline while imposing it cautiously upon others. Although both are necessary, let him seek to be loved more than feared, always remembering that he must account for you to God.34

Though one rules and another is ruled, Superior and subject must still be united in "oneness of heart." The subordination that results from the authority of the Superior is a subordination of friend to friend, where the one who rules is at the service of the one ruled and the one ruled obeys out of love for the Superior because of the service provided.

As described by Augustine, the moral authority of the Superior is clearly a true power to demand observance of the laws of the community. The Rule of Augustine is presented as a plan that ought to be followed by anyone who becomes a member of the religious society. Individuals are free to join or not join, but once joining they are not free to ignore the law without fault. Thus, Augustine stipulates that if members of the community fail in observance of the rule and do not correct themselves, they are to be brought to the Superior for judgment and punishment, a punishment that could even extend to expulsion from the society.35

The Superior also has more pedestrian functions, organizing the ordinary day by day activities of the members towards the common good in such mundane matters as determining who should take care of the library or storing the clothes.36 The Superior many even determine what individuals should do in order to maintain their health. That Augustine meant these directives to be mandates and not recommendations is reflected in his warning to Superiors not to be too quick in apologizing for a harsh directive lest "by being too humble and submissive in your conduct towards these young people, your authority, which they should be ready to accept, will be undermined."37

In Chapter 7 of his rule for religious communities, Augustine turns his attention to the duties of those who are ruled. He says to them:

Obey your Superior as a father, but also give him due respect on account of his office, otherwise you offend God in him. ... It is up to the Superior to see that all that has been said here is put into practice and that actions against the rule are not carelessly overlooked. It is his duty to point out abuses and correct them. 38

Two important points are suggested in this passage. In the first place, although the Superior is like a father, his claim to respect is from his office as Superior. Through that office he has received God-given authority to rule. It is not an authority that he has taken upon himself but an authority that has been given. Secondly, the authority is specifically an executive authority to see to the accomplishment of the common good as this is described by the rule. The Superior must see to it that all the members of the society carry out the duties that they have taken upon themselves by becoming members. However, in the process the subjects retain their identity and their equality as free humans under God. All are bound to observe the rules set down by the one in charge, but not as slaves living under law but as free humans making their way with the help of God's grace towards their individual destinies. 39

The example of the religious community gives no help in establishing the need for the state. It does help in establishing the possibility that it might exist as a society of friends. The religious community shows that it is possible for a group of equal, but imperfect, human beings to live in a society under authority where both the claim for and the exercise of that authority does not rest on the assumption of sin. Augustine's description of the religious community indicates his belief that authority within a society of equals could not only be acquired "naturally" but also could be exercised "naturally." In such a society authority could express itself through a loving domination by which the individuals are respected as equals before God while yet being directed towards a common goal.

If authority can be claimed and exercised in the society of the religious community in ways that do not reflect human sin or perversity, there is no reason why the same thing could not happen in political society. The existence of political authority is therefore not a necessary obstacle to a state being a "natural" society, one that is an expression of what is good in human nature more than what is perverse. It is certainly true that in the real world the state is often more called upon to correct perversions than to promote good. It is also true that the state in this world will never reach its perfect form. It will always come up short because of the imperfection of its members. But the imperfections in political society (the selfishness of the ruled, the tyranny of rulers) does not make it any less natural and needed than does divorce argue for the "unnaturalness" of the family. Humans are indeed imperfect but friendship, family, and the state remain natural and necessary ways of expressing their social nature.


5. Objection: "Shepherds not Kings"

An objection to the claim that Augustine believed the state to be a natural society is often based on texts where he seems to declare that any exercise of political authority is the expression of or is caused by humanity's sinful nature. One example is the following:

  • God did not want rational beings, made in his own image, to dominate any being except the non-rational. He did not want a human to dominate another human; humans were meant to dominate only beasts.40
  • The obvious meaning of these sentences standing alone is that the relationship of king to subject is a relationship that comes only as a result of sin. However, when read in context, it is clear that Augustine is not speaking about the ideal relationship between ruler and citizen. He is speaking specifically about a dominion that comes from war where the losers are sometimes made, not citizens, but slaves of the conqueror. It is obvious that this situation comes about only because of sin. Without sin there would be no war and thus no conqueror. Without sin there would be no condition whereby a human treats another human as a lower order of being.

    The argument that the state is not a natural society has been expanded by various scholars beyond this one text. Thus, for example, Gervase Corcoran, after quoting and dismissing four texts which are often cited to prove the naturalness of the state, goes on to argue that one who says that the state is natural must also hold that slavery is natural because they are equal in terms of the final destiny of their authority to rule. It is of course true that all human institutions will cease at the end of time and it is also true that any exercise of human domination, whether in the family or state or in voluntary associations such as various corporations, is no better than slavery. But these facts do not seem to address the central question of whether the state by its very nature is such an institution of unjust domination.41

    One text cited by Corcoran to support his position is Commentary on Psalm 124, 7-8. However, in this passage Augustine seems to be speaking about slavery and why God allows unjust domination to occur in any human society and how good can come from it. There is no indication, as far as I can see, that he is saying that any exercise of authority other than that of master over slave is in itself unnatural. The distinction is important. It seems to me that the rule of master over slave is a bad institution that can be exercised well; the rule of parent over child or the rule of king over subject is a good and necessary institution that can be used badly. Barrow seems to support this analysis, saying "St. Augustine attaches high value to the state and interpretations which make him disparage the state seem to be beside the mark." 42

    Corcoran, following Markus, further argues that the state cannot be a natural society since coercion is part of the essence of political authority and coercion entered into human experience only after sin. The passage from Markus that he cites is worth quoting in full:

    The parallel between society and the family is, indeed, important to Augustine. But it does not imply that political authority is grounded in the order of nature, as is paternal. A ruler or magistrate should behave like a paterfamilias; but the analogy between the two men holds only in respect of family life in the fallen state of man. For the coercive power which is part of the very substance and meaning of political authority also exists in the family; it enters the family, as it enters society, through sin and disorder. But a family is a family without it -- we may conceive, even in a sinful world, of a family in which paternal authority is an exercise of care and guidance without coercion. But coercive power is part of the essence of political authority. Without it the state is not a state, though we may imagine lesser societies without it. Political authority, coercive power and its apparatus are what transform society into a state. Society, so we may summarize Augustine's view, has its origins in the order of nature; the state is a dispensation rooted in sin.43

    In order to respond to Markus' position, it is important to have a clear understanding of what is meant by coercion. Markus' argument clearly refers to a harsh coercion whereby rulers tyrannically impose their will on the subjects or have the authority to punish when the subjects do not obey the law. However, one can speak also about what we might call a mild coercive power whereby those in authority impose their will on others in exercising the two essential functions of authority: namely, looking out for the common good and making decisions about the best means of achieving the goals of society. These functions seem to be what Augustine means by the "administrative duties" of authority and what Markus seems to mean by the phrase "an exercise of care and guidance."44 Markus admits that these functions are necessary even in a state of innocence for the orderly functioning of the family. Why then would they not be equally necessary in a state of innocence in some larger society needed to see to the order in the use of temporal goods among many families? The sometime need for harsh coercion now is an unfortunate fact of our sin-filled life and is needed just as much in families and voluntary societies as in political societies. There is no reason to say that harsh coercion defines the state any more than it defines the other societies which now need it. Augustine, for one, did not make the authority to use harsh coercion part of his own definition even though he readily admitted that no really existing state (or really existing family for that matter) can get by without it.

    The argument seems to assume that every law entails this harsh coercion and that there would have been no law if sin had not occurred. But even in Eden all of creation and human beings in particular fell under the mandate of God's eternal law commanding respect for the order of the universe. This law was not the result of sin. It was given as a guideline to enable human beings not to sin, to know what they should and should not do. Their temptation to disobey came before the sin and it was a temptation to sin precisely because it was a temptation to break the law. The harsh coercive aspect of the law (the punishment) occurred only after sin, but the gentle coercive aspect of the law giving guidelines as to what should or should not be done existed even before.

    This would seem to answer Corcoran's question (p. 66) as to whether in a state of innocence one can imagine a need for laws. In our discussion of authority we have argued that even innocent humans are likely to have different opinions about means to ends, about the organization of daily life. The only way to resolve such differences is to have some authority, some law which would give a guideline for action. In a state of innocence such laws would indeed be "freely accepted," but their free acceptance does not mean that they were not necessary in the first place. To follow traffic laws freely does not prove that they are not needed.

    The text where Augustine speaks about the operation of Divine Providence through nature and through wills (angelic and human) whereby, among other things, "societies are administered" is relevant here.45 The administrative function of authority in complex societies, whether of sinners or saints, will always be necessary. The harsh coercive function of imposing one's will on another as a person of lesser importance or the function of punishing those who break the law because they believe that they are superior to others and to their laws, is the result of sin and indeed has always been part of states as we know them. But this does not prove that this harsh coercion is part of the essence of the state. True, we have no record of a state that did not exercise this function but there was no state until Cain established the first city after the fall of his parents from grace and his own murder of his brother.46

    Finally, it is true that Augustine never speaks about whether and how the state would have existed in Eden.47 But this is so because he was not particularly interested in such speculative matters. The fact that he never spoke about the possibility and even the necessity of the state eventually being formed is no proof that he would have denied that possibility and necessity. It is clear that Augustine believed that the race would have increased even without sin. If this happened, the problem of administration of temporal affairs would go far beyond the capabilities of any family to provide. This need would have been present not because individuals and families were tainted with sin; it would have been needed because individuals and the families they form are never the same and have different views on how goals should be accomplished.


    6. "Dreaming of Jerusalem:" The Ideal State

    Augustine believed that the first political society was created by a murderer, Cain, and was composed of all those who had dedicated themselves to the goals of the earthly city. It thus reflected the worst elements in fallen humanity. But Augustine also believed that many humans then and now were not consumed by such perversity. These were the pilgrim people who lived virtuously in this life dreaming of their permanent home in the heavenly Jerusalem. They spent their lives dreaming of heaven and doing their best to make life on earth a bit more heavenly. These were symbolized by the descendants of Cain's second brother, Seth, and especially by Enos, Seth's son, who represented those gatherings of humans who would live following the will of God and hoping for eternal joy.48 These were those who, while living in earthly societies (families, states, religious communities), would try to instill in them the values and virtues of the heavenly society. While dreaming of the heavenly Jerusalem, they would also dream of making earthly societies imitate that ideal society of friends.

    These "Jerusalem Dreamers" would try to bring into their relationships on earth the love of friendship that is characteristic of citizens of the city of God. In all their societies they would aim at creating the elements crucial for friendship: a knowledge that could be the basis for mutual understanding and trust, a concern for the good of the other, a unity of heart with each other and with God that would truly make their society to be "one out of many." Of course the size of the society would be an obstacle to true friendship with everyone. But they would try to love others, if not as actual friends, at least in order that they might become friends. They would be so open to others that they would consider no person to be stranger, realizing that all are members of the one human family.49

    It is clear that when Augustine spoke about friendship as the foundation of society, he did not mean to restrict its application to the family or to communities of religious. Zumkeller observes that when Augustine spoke of authority to rule as a "love that serves," he was not speaking only about the authority that should exist in the religious community. It was a description of every society that is ruled by the ideals of the city of God, the eternal society where all "serve one another in love: superiors with a loyal care: subjects by their obedience."50

    The true descendants of the holy Seth, those who one day will be permanent citizens of the city of God, share the weakness in knowledge and will that afflicts all humans now. Therefore, their efforts to establish the perfect state, the earthly "Jerusalem," will never be perfect or permanent. But, despite the imperfection of its achievement, it remains a worthwhile goal and justifies "future saints" becoming involved in matters of state.51 Indeed, Augustine says that the virtuous have an obligation to serve, accepting willingly whatever position divine providence allots to them and exercising their responsibilities diligently. If they are subjects, they should be so willing to obey that the ruler becomes almost embarrassed to give commands. No one should seek a position of authority unless they are truly qualified for it, but they should not be reluctant to become qualified and thereafter seek out a position whereby they can use their talents for the benefit of the common good.52 If at some later time they should become the supreme rulers of their community, they should rule with such grace that it is a pleasure to obey them. Whether ruler or ruled in the political society, they should seek to make others their friends and be guided in all their actions by the great golden rule of friendship: "Don't do to others what you would not want done to yourself."53

    In a state trying to become an earthly Jerusalem, rulers would rule with a healthy humility ever conscious that they too are human and share with their subjects all the frailty of the species. Their greater freedom to satisfy personal desires would make them more reluctant to give into them. Their power to be vicious without penalty would prompt them to even greater virtue. They would remember their past failures and rejoice more in controlling their own passions than ruling the community. Their regime would be characterized by justice tempered by mercy but their kindness would not prevent them from passing laws when necessary and punishing those who ignore such laws. They would take action against the criminal out of love for the common good, not out of revenge. They would allow mercy to override justice only when it became clear that such mercy would bring about desired reform in the criminal while not encouraging others to take the law lightly. In the ideal state rulers would consider their office as a sacred calling, an opportunity to make the fullness of love for God and fellow-citizen a reality in the land.54

    How the ruler should be chosen depends on the society and the circumstances. All authority ultimately comes from God but how that authority comes to humans varies. In the family Augustine believed that the ruler is determined by nature. In a voluntary society the members properly decide who should be in charge. In the state there is no one best way to determine the ruler, but Augustine gives two guidelines. First, no person or group of persons has an innate right to rule. Human beings are equal by nature and remain so until some accidental event occurs which separates those who should rule and those to be ruled. No one is born to be a political leader; they must be selected either directly by God (for example, David in the Old Testament) or indirectly through some human agency. Secondly, the one who is given the authority to rule should be that one who is best able to promote and protect the common good.

    In society dominated by friendship and ideals of the heavenly city, Augustine believed that it is proper for the community to be involved in the selection of their leader. In such an ideal political society the community will be well-ordered and serious, composed of citizens who place public good over private interests and who are willing to spend time as watchful guardians of the common good. If such an extraordinary community can be found it is reasonable to give citizens the power to select the rulers who will guard the public welfare.55 When the state is less than ideal, Augustine recommends a method other than selection by the group. He knew from his own experience that democracy does not work when the citizens are ignorant or depraved. In a political community where everyone favors private desires over public good, where votes are bought and sold, where power is likely to be handed over to an evil element by people who do not care or do not know any better, it makes sense for a few truly good people to wrest the power of conferring offices from the people and set up a monarchy or oligarchy of the best.56 When the people are the "worst" they can be hardly expected to choose the "best" to rule them. Whatever right such perverse citizens had for participation in the selection of leaders is rightly overridden by the law of reason which stipulates that a fickle people should be denied that privilege.


    7. Conclusion

    The strength of a truly ordered society comes from the virtue which makes unity possible even among those who are greater and those who are less. It is something like a living jigsaw puzzle where the dissimilar pieces fit easily together, the smaller rounding off the rough edges of the greater and each one's fullness filling in the other's gaps. In Augustine's dream of a state that is a society of friends there may be radical differences in accidentals but still all are able to come together as a whole, united by the common desire to create a harmonious and beautiful reality in the midst of the sometime chaos and ugliness of life.

    Augustine recognized that every state [indeed every human society] will have some of the characteristics of the dark city of Cain, but from his advice to those who wished to be good kings and good citizens it is evident that he believed that no state needed to be dominated by such ideals. It is possible for a state to take care of the legitimate temporal needs of its citizens while not neglecting or ignoring the fact that all are still pilgrims on this earth making their way to an eternal city where finally and forever a perfect peace will be found. Even the worst of states can be improved if ruler and ruled can come to love in the right way, loving God above all and each other as friends. It is a goal worth striving for even if seldom realized perfectly. The reality of political life is that every state is afflicted with the troubles of Henoch, the city of Cain. Incompetent or malicious leaders, indifferent or self-serving citizens, violent criminals, war, poverty, and slavery are found in every state. How one should deal with such problems will be discussed in the chapter that follows.



    1. The Trinity, 2.4.9; Letter 185, 6.21.

    2. Free Choice, 1.5.13.

    3. The City of God, 18.2.

    4. Ibid., 19.12.

    5. Herbert Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine (Columbia Univ. Press: 1963), pp. 92-3. See Commentary on the Letter of John to the Parthians, 2.11-14. For other somber reflections on the sometime lack of sociability among humans see City of God, 12.28; 12.23.

    6. See Deane, op. cit., pp. 95-96.

    7. For a more complete description of the times and the people, see. F. Van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop, translated by Brian Battershaw and G.R. Lamb (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1961), p. 129-98. J. E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 3-27. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 19-27.

    8. For other examples of Augustine's attempt to define the state see The City of God, 15.8; 17.14; Letter 138, 2.10; Letter 155, 3.9; Free Choice, 1.7.16; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 9.9. For commentary see Johannes van Oort, Jerusalem and Babylon: A Study into Augustine's City of God (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991), p. 103.

    9. Augustine observes: "If there is unity, there is a people. Take away that point of unity and there is a mob. For what after all is a mob but a disorderly crowd?" Sermon 103, 4.

    10. The City of God, 19.24. Augustine uses an interesting analogy to explain how very different people can be brought together by a common object. "Our two eyes do not see each other and yet when the eyes are open the right eye cannot look at a particular object without the left eye looking also. They meet together in one object. The object of their attention is the same although their places are different"(Commentary on the Letter of John to the Parthians, 6.10). Adams suggests that Augustine would conclude that most existing states are valid states even though they lack perfect justice. See Jeremy Adam, "Populus" in Augustine and Jerome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), pp. 131-35.

    11. The Morals of the Catholic Church and the Morals of the Manicheans, 1.15.25. See Commentary on Psalm 83, 11.

    12. The City of God, 19.4.

    13. Augustine's conviction that the worship of the true God must exist in a society before that society can be perfectly just is reflected in The City of God, 2.21; 19.21).

    14. Commentary on Psalm 9, 8.

    15. The City of God, 2.21. See D. J. Macqueen, "The Origin and Dynamics of Society and the State," Augustinian Studies, vol. 4 (1973), pp. 86-89.

    16. The City of God, 5.26.

    17. On True Religion, 48.93. Augustine remarks: "What musicians call harmony in music, in the state is known as concord. This is the closest and most secure bond in any commonwealth and it cannot exist without justice" The City of God, 2.21. See also Ibid., 4.4.

    18. The City of God, 19.17. Augustine believed that the goal of temporal peace is a true good even when the means of attaining it is through a war for a just cause(Ibid, 15.4). It is indeed a gift of God himself(Ibid., 19.13), and it should not be looked down upon as being of little value(Ibid., 19.26). Deane writes: "For Augustine, the maintenance of earthly justice and temporal, external peace and order --- the peace of Babylon, that is the maintenance of the combination of men's wills to attain a "common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessities of life"(City of God, 19.17), is always the basic and fundamental task that the state is expected to perform." Deane, op. cit., p. 133. Markus adds that the citizens of the Two Cities (the earthly city and the city of God) share a common interest in earthly peace which is comprised by economic necessity, public order, and defense. R.A. Markus, "Two Conceptions of Political Authority: Augustine, De civitate dei, 19.14-15, and some Thirteenth Century Interpretations," Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 16, n. 1 (April, 1965), p. 98.

    19. The City of God, 19.17.

    20. Free Choice, 1.15.32. See Macqueen op. cit., p. 78.

    21. I assume the truth of Simon's thesis that authority has two essential functions in every complex society and is therefore a property of all such societies. See Yves R. Simon, A General Theory of Authority (University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana: 1980), pp. 47-79. See also the earlier chapter of this book, "Friendship and Society," which contains a discussion of the functions of authority in society.

    22. See A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 20.30; 22.34; Questions on the Heptateuch, 1.153.

    23. See Markus, op. cit., p. 81.

    24. The City of God, 19.13.

    25. Ibid., 19.12.

    26. The latin for these passages is instructive. It reads: "Pax hominum, ordinata concordia. Pax domus, ordinata imperandi atque obediendi concordia cohabitantium. Pax civitatis, ordinata imperandi atque obediendi concordia civium"(The City of God, 19.13). The same word, concordia (literally a "oneness of heart"), is used to designate the essential bond in the state, family, and among humans generally. It is also used, as we have seen, to describe the essence of friendship. The only difference in its three uses here is that in the human race in general there is no ruler and ruled. All are equal as human beings. In the family and the state the concordia (friendship) exists between some who rule and others who are ruled.

    27. The City of God, 19.17.

    28. Ibid., 19.13. Augustine writes: "It is wrong to deny that the aims of human civilization are good because this is the highest end that humanity of itself can achieve. However lowly the goods of earth may seem, their aim is peace." Ibid., 15.4.

    29. Ibid., 19.24.

    30. Markus, op. cit., p. 81.

    31. Commentary on Psalm 99, 8.

    32. On the Work of Monks, 22.25. On the "ordinary" nature of members of religious communities and on the democratic nature of such communities, see the following: J. McEvoy, "Anima una et cor unum: Friendship and Spiritual Unity in Augustine," Recherches de Thologie Ancienne et Mdivale, vol. 53, (1986), pp. 85-90; Tarsicius J. Van Bavel, O.S.A., The Rule of St. Augustine with Introduction and Commentary, trans. by Raymond Canning, O.S.A. (Darton, Longman And Todd: London, 1984), p. 102; L.J. Van der Lof, "The Threefold Meaning of Servi Dei in the Writings of Augustine," Augustinian Studies, vol. 12 (1981), pp. 43-59; Charles W. Brockwell, Jr., "Augustine's Ideal of Monastic Community: A Paradigm for His Doctrine of the Church", Augustinian Studies, vol. 8 (1977), pp. 91-109.

    33. See Van Bavel, op. cit., p. 103.

    34. Adolar Zumkeller, O.S.A., The Rule of St. Augustine, trans. by Julian C. Resch, O. Praem. (De Pere, Wisconsin: St. Norbert Abbey, 1961), pp. 57-59. See Augustine's, Letter 211, 4. Van Bavel notes (op. cit., pp. 102 & 108) that Augustine calls the Superior in religious community the "praepositus", "the one who is put forward", rather than "father" or "mother". This suggests that the leader is still one of many, a member of the group, the first among equals.

    35. The Rule of St. Augustine, op. cit., 4.11. Van Bavel, p. 18.

    36. Ibid., 5.10-11, p. 21.

    37. Ibid., 6.3, p. 22.

    38. Ibid., 7.1-2, p. 23.

    39. Ibid., 8.1, p. 24.

    40. The City of God, 19.15.

    41. Gervase Corcoran, O.S.A. St. Augustine on Slavery, Studia Ephemeridis "Augustinianum" # 22 (Rome: Patristic Institute Augustinianum, 1985), p. 64. The texts he cites as being the basis for arguing that the state is a natural society are: The Good of Marriage, 1.1; The City of God, 19.16; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 8.9.17; Against Julian the Heretic, 4.61..

    42. R. H. Barrow, Introduction to St. Augustine: The City of God (London: Faber and Faber, 1950) pp. 235-36. Barrow goes on to say (p. 165) that "It is a mistake to attribute to St. Augustine the view that the Roman Empire was being justly extinguished, since the secular state was of the devil. On the contrary, the secular state is in his view based upon the ordinances of God and, therefore, is of Divine Institution." See The City of God, 5.1.

    43. See Markus, op. cit., pp. 77-78; Corcoran, op. cit., p. 65. Deane (op. cit., pp. 138-39) argues in a similar fashion against the need for a state if sin had not occurred. He assumes that the entire apparatus of law, punishment, coercion, and repression constitute the heart of the state. We have argued that all of these do not make up the essence of the state nor flow necessarily from that essence. A state is constituted by a union of wills looking to build an orderly, peaceful, prosperous society. Granted that in a state of innocence coercion would not be necessary, but law would be both useful and necessary since it is unlikely that a multitude of free beings will always come to a consensus on the best way of seeking the temporal good.

    44. See A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 8.9.17.

    45. Ibid.

    46. As Corcoran has noted (p. 67), it is true that in speaking about the "administration of societies" (A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 8.9.17) Augustine is speaking about societies as they actually exist in a sinning world and that all of these societies are "terrestrial and mortal." But I would suggest that this need for "administration of society" would have applied just as well to the state in Eden as in fact it did to the family. That Augustine does not list political authority among his examples of natural subordination, does not seem as significant as it is made out to be. The authority of parent over child is not mentioned either but this authority is clearly natural. Moreover, some of the supposedly "natural" subordinations that are mentioned seem off the mark. The subordination of woman to man comes up only in Augustine's discussion of the family and it is clear that there will be no such subordination of woman to man in heaven since the family will no longer exist. The subordination of poor to rich is even more questionable, unless it is taken as a sad fact of our sinful existence.

    47. Corcoran, op. cit., p. 66.

    48. The City of God, 15.18. For a more extensive discussion of the creation of the first city see Donald X. Burt, "Cain's City: Augustine's Reflections on the Origins of the Civil Society (Book XV 1-8), Augustinus: De civitate dei, edited by Christoph Horn (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1997), pp. 195-210.

    49. 83 Diverse Questions, 71.6; Letter 130, 13. Speaking about the two commandments to love God and neighbor (Matt 22: 37-39), Augustine says: "Here is laudable security for the commonwealth. For a state is neither founded nor preserved perfectly save in the foundation and by the bond of faith and of firm concord when the highest common good is loved by all, and this highest and truest thing is God; when, too, men love one another in God with absolute sincerity since they love one another for his sake from whom they cannot hide the real character of their love." Letter 137, 5.17.

    50. The City of God, 14.28. Adolar Zumkeller, O.S.A., Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life, translated by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986), p. 236. Barrow (op. cit., p. 235) comments that for Augustine the difference between a legitimate command of authority and domination of the subject is that in the former case the motivation of the command is the promotion of each individual regarded as a neighbor in the Christian sense. It is thus the exercise of an authority in an atmosphere of friendship.

    51. See Commentary on Psalm 61, 8.

    52. Augustine remarks that the virtuous can be most useful in the function of the state (Letter 151, 14) and have an obligation to participate in government (Against Faustus the Manichean, 22.58). See Deane, op. cit., pp. 300-01.

    53. On Order, 2.8.25.

    54. The City of God, 5.24. Commenting on The City of God, 19.16, Barrow (op. cit., p. 233) finds in Augustine the idea of government as service emphasizing care for the interests of the subjects (consulere) and compassionate forethought (providendi misericordiae). Even when it is necessary to correct others, they should be corrected with love (Admonition and Grace, 15.46). See Barrow, op. cit., p. 163.

    55. Free Choice, 1.6.14.

    56. Ibid.

    Back to Table of Contents

    Back to Home Page