St. Augustine’s Religious Concept Of The State

About three centuries after Plato’s death, Greece was conquered by Rome, which built a vast empire. The Roman Empire lasted for several centuries. During the third century A.D. Christianity spread in the Roman Empire and in 333 A.D the Roman Emperor, Constantine, declared Christianity as the State religion of his Empire. But the Empire then began to break up due to the invasions of the various Germanic tribes from northern Europe.

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Then began a period of confusion and anarchy, State religion, Christianity, was threatened with extinction due to the paganism of the Germanic tribes. At this time the Christian Church was assailed and challenged by various kinds of heresies. The early Church Fathers strove to save the Christian religion and church from these religious and political threats. One of them was St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

Augustine was the bishop of Hippo, in North Africa, which was then a province of the Roman Empire. He was a prolific writer. Among his many books was one on which he spent more than ten years, from 413 to 425. It was entitled De Civitate Dei (The City of God). It soon became one of the most important books of the Catholic Christianity. Why was it written?

In 410, the city of Rome was attacked and sacked by Alaric the leader of Visigothic Germans. It shocked the Roman people. Rome was never attacked by anyone for the last eight hundred years. Its people believed their city to be an invincible Eternal City, the protector of their lives and properties, and the defender of their Christian faith. Why was then this mighty city conquered and sacked by a mere tribal chief? Because it was a divided city, though Christianity was proclaimed as the State religion of the Roman Empire from about 313, but its population was still half Christian and half pagan. The pagan Romans were the worshippers of the old Roman gods and goddesses. They declared that the sack of Rome was because of Christianity.

They said that so long the Empire was loyal to its old gods and goddesses; it was strong, powerful and prosperous, for they protected it against its enemies. But when it became a Christian State, its god and goddesses deserted it and, therefore, it was attacked and plundered by the Germans, Huns and other enemies. This accusation against Christianity by the pagans touched Augustine to the quick. To refute them and to defend his Christian religion, he wrote his book, The City of God It soon became one of the most important books of the Catholic Christianity and was studied deeply by all Churchmen of Medieval Europe for more than one thousand years. Indeed, his writings were, as Sabine puts it, Na mine of ideas, in which later writers. Catholic and Protestant have dug”.

Augustine explained his religious concept of the State in his book. The City of God, using the word city for the State, as did the ancient Greeks, in whose philosophy he was thoroughly trained. According to him, there were two States, viz, the city or kingdom of God, which was the Kingdom of Light, and the city of Satan, which was the kingdom of darkness. The city of God was the Kingdom of Heaven, while the earthly kingdoms and empires were the cities of Satan.

The Kingdom of God is the invisible State, while the State of Satan was the visible or worldly kingdom, which has existed in the past and in the present, such as the pagan kingdoms and the empire of Rome, Greece and others. The kingdom of God is also visible in the Christian Church. But no visible and earthly kingdom could be perfect, for only the invisible kingdom of God was perfect. Although the earthly kingdoms claim to provide justice and peace to their citizens, but they give neither true justice, nor true peace, which would be possible only in the heavenly Kingdom of God. Thus Augustine rejected the claims of the ancient Greeks that the State was a perfect organisation, in which alone true justice and peace could be attained.

His Theory of Christian Commonwealth: 

Augustine was not a systematic thinker. But his mind was clear. He was set upon building a Christian commonwealth. He held that man has a dual nature: temporal and spiritual, for he has a body and a soul. Man is a member of the earthly State for the fulfilment of the temporal needs of his body. But he cannot realise his spiritual interests, the needs of his soul, by becoming the member of the State. This he can do only by becoming the member of the City of God through the church, for the salvation of his soul.

In other words, man should obey the State only when it has adopted the Christian way of life, as taught by Jesus Christ through the Church, which, therefore, represents the Kingdom of God. Paraphrasing Hegel, we may say that Augustine believed that the Christian Church was the march of God on earth. Accordingly, the State becomes the secular arm of the Church and exists to realise true or perfect justice. Behind the social and political order of the State lies the Divine plan and purpose which transforms and makes it sublime. Men should obey it because it furthers the purpose of God and not merely because it maintains peace and order and protects property. It means that the duty to obey the State is subordinate to the duty to obey God.

Unlike Plato who believed State to be the supreme organisation. Augustine believed that it was a subordinate organisation, subject to the will of God as the supreme authority. Obedience to the laws of the State and respect for its authority can be justified only so long as they do not go against the duty to God. In other words, the duty to obey the State is not absolute; it is limited by the duty to obey the higher authority of God. The true Christian obeys the civil laws because they have the sanction of God behind them. Thus Augustine placed the secular authority under the higher authority of God. The Will of God was revealed to Jesus Christ as His son and from him descends to the Christian Church. Only thus the Christian commonwealth came into being.

But struggle between the invisible societies of the elect of God and the damned would last throughout human history. It began with the Fall of Man due to Adam’s transgression and would end with the Day of judgement. The Christian Church and the pagan and secular State do not embody the two invisible societies, but are the symbolic embodiment of them. The first is the kingdom of Satan, beginning its history from the disobedience of the Angles and embodying itself especially in the pagan empires of the Assyria and Rome.

The other is the kingdom of Christ, which embodied itself first in the nation of Israel and later in the Church and the Christianised Roman Empire after Cons amine the Great Thus Augustine explained history as the story of the struggle between these two societies which will ultimately end in the victory of the city of God. Only in the Heavenly City is peace possible, only the spiritual kingdom is permanent All earthly kingdoms must fall, for they are naturally unstable and changeable, because they necessarily arise in war and the greed of domination. This was how Augustine explained the fall of Rome. It became then the Christian Church and its secular arm, the Christian commonwealth. He said that the Church represented the City of God on earth, as a social union of all true believers, through which.the Grace of God can work in human history.

 

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