Bonus Blog: Trump and Constantine: Can Religion be a Political Tool?

Well, I wanted to start off this blog with a disclaimer noting that I am a historian, not a political scientist. I have noticed many different opinions on the social, cultural, and media phenomenon that is Donald Trump’s rise to the forefront of the Republican Primary discussions. Trump has taken numerous victories around the country, including a thorough domination in the states in the Deep South. Since today has numerous high-profile primaries and one caucus, I wanted to blog about Donald Trump, Emperor Constantine, and the ability of religion to be used as a political tool.

There has been no shortage of blog posts, articles, and probably even forthcoming books detailing Donald Trump’s ascendancy in polls and in voter turnouts. There have been those who have shared memes joking about his unorthodox campaign, those who have questioned his true loyalties, and even a trending hashtag of #NeverTrump. Others have called into question whether or not he is a real Christian, as he claims to be. There was even a mini-controversy over him saying “Two Corinthians” in quoting a Bible verse (many people did not realize it, but many Christians refer to 2nd Corinthians this way). I wanted to delve into the theory that Trump has used Christianity as a tool to gain the support of much of the Religious Right. Such a theory reminds me of some interpretations of Emperor Constantine.

Constantine (272-337 CE) was the first true Christian emperor. He converted to Christianity after seeing a vision of the cross before riding into battle. He parlayed its image onto his shields and eventually was victorious at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. The Edict of Toleration was issued in 311, which ended the persecution of Christianity, and the Edict of Milan in 313 legalized Christianity as a religion in the Roman Empire. Constantine was only baptized on his deathbed, leading to many scholars over the years to question the authenticity of his conversion. Some have argued that Christianity was a political tool to unify the empire under Constantine’s rule, firming up his status as the sole ruler of the Roman world.

Eusebius of Caesarea wrote his Ecclesiastical History and a Life of Constantine, the latter of which was a glowing, hagiographical work which praised Constantine’s virtues and cast him in the role of a saint. For Eusebius, Constantine was completely sincere in his faith, and even ushered in the millennial kingdom on earth. For some modern scholars, Constantine was a shrewd politician who used Christianity. Which is it?

The current consensus is that Constantine definitely made a political move in making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. However, most scholars now either believe he might have been sincere, or at least that he could have been sincere but there is just no way to truly know. Unfortunately, we simply have to study Constantine’s actions from the perspective that he might have been a genuine Christian or that he might have just used Christianity’s popularity to his advantage. Either way, the effect was that Rome was Christianized and Constantine was a main cause of it.

This brings us back to Trump. Is he a true Christian? Is he using Christianity to manipulate voters into thinking he’s their Religious Right champion? Maybe Donald Trump is actually a Christian who is using Christianity to his political advantage. He would hardly be the first politician, or potential president, to do so. Unlike Constantine, however, Trump is alive and we can scrutinize his actions and decisions and speeches to determine to what extent he is using Christianity as a political tool.

Where does this leave us? Should we give Constantine the benefit of the doubt? How about Trump? I think that both can teach us that religion can be a political tool. It has been in the past and most likely will continue to be into the future. Voters need to realize this and make informed, intelligent decisions on whom to vote for. What do you think? Do you agree? Should we allow for the possibility that religion is just a tool for politicians sometimes? Does that make them less of a Christian (or other religious follower)?

Faithfully Sitting on a Pole: Saint Daniel the Stylite and Early Christian Asceticism

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Greetings to my readers! I hope all of you are doing well and had a wonderful holiday season. As evidenced by the previous sentence, it has been a minute since I have posted a blog. For this, I apologize. I found it tricky to pick the blog back up in January, and watched January turn into the end of February. Next week, however, I hope to begin a new series on the history of missions through which we will explore movements and missionaries around the world throughout history. I am very much looking forward to it. As for today, I ran across a passage in my reading that I wanted to post about, so today’s post will not figure in with our new series.

The main source for this post is Claudia Rapp’s book, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. It is, so far, a very interesting read about authority in regard to the bishops of late antiquity. Rapp has a brief section in the beginning of her work (pp. 3-5) in which she discusses Daniel the Stylite, a fifth-century ascetic.

St. Daniel the Stylite first became a popular figure in a suburb around Constantinople (Rapp, 2005, 3). The archbishop of Constantinople even gave Daniel’s ministry his seal of approval. Rapp notes that he became “a personal saint for Emperor Leo I (457-474) and for his successor, Zeno (474-491), who depended on Daniel to soothe restless crowds on the verge of rebellion… Leo rewarded Daniel’s cooperation with public gestures of recognition, especially by donating a large pillar, topped by an enclosed platform on which Daniel would live” (Rapp, 2005, 4).

In my experience, many Protestant students of church history usually begin to scoff when they read sentences like the previous quotation. Often, you will hear something like, “Wow he can really do a lot of good ministry from up on a post;” or maybe something like, “This is just extremism or fame-mongering.” Unfortunately, such flippant dismissals of ancient holy men and women can overlook some of the more intriguing elements of church history. Many Protestant denominations today do not know enough of their own faith heritage. It is often as if they think the Apostles all died out and then the Reformation popped up, with a whole bunch of “Catholic happenings” in the interim.

Now, I am fully aware that as one who is writing a dissertation on the early church, such a statement might seem self-serving. But I do also think that there is validity to the ministries and actions of even the early ascetics. In the case of St. Daniel the Stylite, you have a man who lived on top of a pillar. Now it might seem odd, but he was actually ordained to the priesthood while he was on top of the pillar, with the “laying on of hands” being affected by God “from above” (Rapp, 2005, 4). Rapp further notes that “Daniel’s ordination had no effect on his way of life or daily routine, since he never exercised any priestly duties. His ordination to the priesthood served the exclusive purpose of recognizing, confirming, and enhancing Daniel’s position as a holy man” (Rapp, 2005, 4).

So what is the point of him being ordained if he never descends from his pillar? Well, Rapp does describe a time when he climbs down from his pillar in order to mediate a crisis between the Archbishop of Constantinople and a rebel emperor over orthodoxy. Rapp even notes that in the Life of Daniel the Stylite, the two individuals fall at Daniel’s feet which are “crippled and worn down to the bone—a tangible token of his ascetic achievement” (Rapp, 2005, 5).

The man on a pillar shows that he was not above (pun intended) the crises of the city to which he ministered. He willingly climbed down to intercede, a task that no doubt caused him excruciating pain. Daniel is one of many “holy men” from the early church who practiced extreme asceticism. John Chrysostom, the bishop on whom I am focusing in my dissertation, spent a couple of years of his early ecclesiastical career in a cave in Syria where he didn’t really sleep or sit down for about 2 years. Such a practice left permanent damage upon his body.

Many readers today will see these types of stories as extreme actions embarked upon to gain a following. However, Christians need to embrace the fact that these individuals are a part of their own faith heritage. These holy men and women were a product of their era, exhibiting devotion and commitment to the Christian faith. It is easy to say that they could have been more effective ministers if they had lived among the people, but that is to sell their asceticism short. Eschewing the comforts of the world, including a comfortable place to sit or sleep, was done in order to show their devotion to a faith which set them apart from the masses. They were admired for their piety and dedication to Christianity. I, for one, have to admit that I admire their courage to fully live out their faith in such a way. I have to also admit that I think they probably experienced their faith on a deeper level than I ever have. I would urge you, if you haven’t before, to study the ancient holy men like St. Daniel the Stylite.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree? Is there validity to this type of asceticism? Should these men and women be viewed with or even overtly given ecclesiastical authority?

Midweek Blog: How Does Faith Work according to Augustine?

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Well, this is it. The last post on Augustine for the Historical Christian blog. It’s been a fun series, and I have enjoyed your comments and going through some of my favorite passages from Augustine’s works together. Next week I will be venturing into a new series on American Church History, so be on the lookout for that. But for today, we are looking back into the mind of Augustine. His work On Grace and Free Choice contains a few intriguing statements on faith that I want to look at today with all of you.

Augustine defines faith in his work as the “will to believe” (14.28; p. 163 in the Cambridge Texts in History and Philosophy version). He also notes that faith is a “matter of grace.” Well these phrases sound fine and good, but what does Augustine mean? How does faith work with grace? Well, thankfully, he answers those questions in the same section. He writes, “The spirit of grace brings it about that we have faith, so that through our faith we may achieve by prayer the ability to do what we are bidden to do… since we are not capable of doing what the Law bids unless, through our faith, we achieve by entreaty the capacity to do it” (14.28).

For Augustine, you can’t have faith without first receiving grace. Faith is a process for him: grace comes and allows you to have faith, then faith allows you to do good works through prayer. He of course links this to the Law, which is appropriate considering he is actually drawing on several passages from Paul’s letters immediately prior to this. It also makes sense since Calvin and others who adhere to a predestination doctrine with regard to salvation actually draw on Augustine’s writings. We see somewhat of a precursor to such thinking in the idea that grace actually comes before faith; i.e. you can’t choose to have faith, it has to come through God’s grace.

He continues such a line of thinking in the next section as well. He notes, “If faith is due solely to free choice and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who are unwilling to believe that they might believe? That would be completely pointless were we not to believe, quite rightly, that Almighty God is able to turn to belief even perverse wills hostile to the faith” (14.29).

Now, it should be noted that Augustine is directly opposing the arguments of Pelagius, who had argued that humans have a part in their own salvation and that free will is the starting point. In other words, for Pelagius, humans take the initiative in their own salvation. Augustine believes that God is the initiator and provides the grace needed to possess faith. Aside from arguing between predestination and free will or between Calvinism and Arminianism, I think there is actually something in Augustine’s statements that we should examine here.

Augustine points to praying for those who “are unwilling to believe” as a perfect example of why faith cannot come from just free will. Augustine realizes that in order for the hardest of hearts to soften toward God, God has to be the one to do the softening. For Augustine, such an argument emphasizes God’s power and mercy. Further on, he points to Ezekiel 36 in order to show that God is concerned with God’s own name being profaned among others and therefore takes action to “show the holiness of my great name” (Ez. 36.23, NIV).

So how does faith work? Can we choose to believe in God, to be Christians? Augustine would say, “Yes, of course! But only by God’s grace.” Going back to Augustine’s own definition that faith is the “will to believe” (14.28), how should we look at God’s role in our own lives? Can our will truly believe in God only if God allows it, and/ or causes it? Does such a construct bother us? Instead of being intentionally vague and side-stepping the issue, I will show my Methodist upbringing and argue that faith is the starting point for following God. I don’t tend to take too much issue with Augustine’s paradigm that grace allows faith in the first place. In fact, I rather appreciate such a statement. It keeps the ego in check to say things like “I only believe in God and have faith because God is so merciful,” instead of “Wow, I have such amazing faith! God is lucky to have me!” Now, I would doubt many people would actually go there, but you get the point. God’s mercy is necessary in our lives, and why should it not be necessary for our faith journeys as well? However, I don’t want to flat out dismiss our free will in seeking out God. I have been a Christian for 17 years, and I have been studying Church History now for 7+ years (yikes, I should probably have a PhD by now). There is no way I could have persevered to this point without mercy from God. Faith and mercy are inextricably linked (also, Augustine has another treatise, On the Gift of Perseverance which delves more into that side of things, FYI).

I also think that faith is a journey and one needs to strive for maturation and depth in one’s faith (some might call this sanctification). God’s mercy allows us to continue on the path of faith, but we also need to actively choose to take part in it. We should not get to the point where we think, “Well since God is the instigator, it’s God’s fault that I am not reading the Bible enough.” Free will is important because it places responsibility on our shoulders. I will spare you the Spiderman quote here. I want to conclude by endorsing Augustine’s model with a caveat. Mercy, faith, prayer, and good works should be cherished together in one’s Christian life. However, we need to also cultivate each one and seek each one out.

What do you think? Do you agree with Augustine? Do you think that free will has a role from the outset of one’s faith journey?

Midweek Augustine Blog: Is There Time for God?

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Well, I thought about doing a bonus blog last week, but it never happened. I could blame my daughter for taking up all my time and attention, but the reality is I just didn’t feel like it. Oh well. Onward! This week’s blog in our series on Augustine examines my favorite “book” of the Confessions, Book XI. Augustine opens Book XI with a question: “O Lord, since you are outside time in eternity, are you unaware of the things that I tell you? Or do you see in time the things that occur in it?” (XI.1). Augustine poses a tough question that is not easily answered. He proceeds to discuss this issue throughout Book XI, and since trying to elaborate on it would fill up pages and pages of a blog, I will seek instead to hone in on a couple of key passages. I invite and recommend all of you to read Confessions in general, and particularly Book XI.

Section 13 of Book XI contains a couple of poignant statements to which I want to devote space here. Augustine notes, “It is not in time that you precede [time]. If this were so, you would not be before all time. It is in eternity, which is supreme over time because it is a never-ending present, that you are at once before all past time and after all future time. For what is now the future, once it comes, will become the past, whereas you are unchanging, your years can never fail. Your years neither go nor come, but our years pass and others come after them” (XI.13).

Trying to grasp just how God’s place in eternity lies outside of time is a heavy concept. The idea that God exists in a “never-ending present” is helpful but also difficult. For example, God is not affected by time, does not grow old, etc. However, does this mean that God is somehow limited? Think of what we know as “present.” It means that we know what is past, and do not know the future (no matter what doomsday prophets will tell you). Does God’s “never-ending present” also mean that God does not know the future. Augustine would certainly disagree with such a conclusion. In the above quotation he notes that God is “before all past time and after all future time.” Does that mean that God is simply outside of time? It would seem to suggest that. But what about Jesus (God in human flesh), who enters into time? He was born and He died. He also rose from the dead. Did Jesus know everything that was to happen? Was Jesus surprised by events in His lifetime, even if He knew His ultimate fate?

As you can see, such a discourse can open up a whole can of worms. Augustine further elaborates on God’s place in eternity: “Your years are one day, yet your day does not come daily but is always today, because your today does not give place to any tomorrow nor does it take the place of any yesterday. Your today is eternity. And this is how the Son, to whom you said, ‘I have begotten you this day,’ was begotten co-eternal with yourself. You made all time; you are before all time; and the ‘time,’ if such we may call it, when there was no time was not time at all” (XI.13).

This is one of my favorite passages of the entire Confessions. I love how succinctly Augustine phrases such a difficult concept. He clearly uses “time” language to show just how God is eternal. Augustine demonstrates how we as humans strain to comprehend God’s existence. Since we think in terms of time, we ought to use time language in order to show just how God is greater than us. We have to think of God in an eternal present, an eternal today. In addition to that, God is the creator of time and is before and after all time. What causes us trouble is the idea of eternity. It is easy to flippantly say, “Oh God is outside of time, so God is not surprised by the future.” Well, what about when someone presses you on the matter. For example, can God truly hear our prayers (especially those that are time-sensitive, like healing or job opportunities) if God is outside of time?

This gets back to Augustine’s opening question, how can human prayer requests bridge the gap between the temporal and the eternal realms? Well I would argue that Jesus’s entering into the temporal realm facilitates that, as does the gifted Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians. Is such an argument helpful though? What about skeptics? Does this help us answer their tough questions about God’s nature and God’s seeming detachment from our world?

I want to bring this blog to a “timely” close before it gets too long-winded. A Bible study I was once a part of took on some of these topics. It was a great experience digging into passages and commentaries and often getting really confused. At the end of it, however, we did come to some conclusions. A question that was posed went something like this: if God is eternal and outside of time, does God know if I will go to the gym two weeks from today? Now, you might think this a rather mundane detail for God to be concerned with, but I assure you it caused a furious debate. The point was if God knows for sure (or even predestines it, which was the purpose of the question), then how does free will work? The conclusion was that we do have free will, God can just see both outcomes of whether or not we decide to go to the gym two Thursdays from now.

And this is one of the problems with calling God’s place in the universe a “never-ending present.” It makes God seem limited or restricted in some way. If we think of God as outside of time, God sees the past, present, and future all at once. God sees all possibilities of actions (and their consequences) at once. This is so much greater and more profound than an eternal present. Time is too small of a construct to contain God.

Midweek Blog: Augustine, Enemies, and Forgiveness

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Apologies to my readers for missing a blog last week. I was wrapping up a dissertation chapter which took all of my focus. That chapter has been handed in, so I have time this week to write a new blog. I might even include a bonus one on Friday as well. Today’s blog picks up our series of posts on Augustine by exploring a different work of his, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Charity (New City Press, 1999 edition). It’s a helpful work with several different sections on Christianity. The topic for today’s blog is forgiveness of one’s enemies.

I have read Augustine’s catechism (which this work is often called) and enjoyed several aspects of it, but possibly nothing in it hits me harder than Augustine’s section on “Forgiveness from the Heart” (Ench. 74). Apologies for the non-inclusiveness of the language. In it, Augustine writes, “A person who pleads with one against whom he has sinned, if he is moved by his own sin to make his plea, should no longer be thought of as an enemy whom it is as difficult to forgive as it was when he was behaving as an enemy.”

The reason this is hard for me is the idea that we should easily forgive those who were formerly our enemies and no longer look at them as our enemies. The idea that we are supposed to forgive those, who through contrition ask for it, sits just fine with me. The idea that we should look no longer at them as our enemies is a bit more difficult. For example, the powerful testimonies of forgiveness that have been offered in Charleston, South Carolina towards Dylann Roof after his hate-crime killing spree. I don’t know how those families forgave him, let alone advocated that he not be executed. That is truly the power of Christ’s forgiveness in them. I don’t know if I could have extended the same grace, let alone no longer looking to that shooter as an enemy (provided he asked for forgiveness, which to my knowledge he has not done).

Let’s take another example. What if someone is directly responsible for you not getting a promotion, eventually get you fired, which causes you to lose your home? What if, years later, you and that person end up at the same church, and even in the same Bible study? What about if he or she were to come up to you and plead for forgiveness for his or her past actions and tell you he or she is truly sorry? Can you forgive that person? Sure. Can you no longer look at him or her as your enemy? Maybe.

Augustine continues, “But anybody who refuses to forgive from his heart one who asks forgiveness and repents of his sin should not think that the Lord forgives his sins, since the Truth cannot lie. What hearer or reader of the gospel does not know who said, ‘I am the truth?’ (Jn. 14:6).”

This is the rub of Augustine’s message here. Refusing to forgive has personal consequences for the offended person. The Lord’s forgiveness seems to be predicated on our ability to forgive others. Should we agree with such theology? Does Augustine’s own theology allow for this? These are larger questions which might sidetrack the purpose of this blog. I think that the point Augustine is making (based on Matthew 6.14-15 mind you) is that if we are to live as Christians in this world, we must forgive others. How can we think that our enemies have offended us more than we ourselves have offended God?

I want to close today’s blog with a story that looks at this issue from the opposite side of things. Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine was upset with me for a while. I wasn’t sure at first why he had been so mad at me, until I asked a mutual friend of ours about it. That friend told me that my buddy had heard that I was telling a story of his that I wasn’t supposed to share with anyone else. Side note: it was a compelling story and I had ignored the request for confidentiality in order to captivate an audience at school. Long story short, I finally convinced my buddy to talk to me. I told him I was sorry for blabbing his story and sorry for betraying his confidence. He said, “Okay, I forgive you.” It was so simple and he acted like it was nothing. He and I hadn’t talked for about a week, but he so easily forgave me. It was powerful. We were able to get back to being good friends almost as if nothing had happened at all.

That is the strongest picture I can paint (from my own experience). Someone who had felt so wronged and so hurt just needed to hear “I’m sorry” in order to forgive. Friendship was restored because of my friend’s forgiveness. We therefore should treat our enemies (who are contrite, mind you, Augustine doesn’t really address those enemies who don’t want our forgiveness) in a similar way. We are to forgive as the Lord forgave us.

Have any of you been forgiven in such a way? Have any of you forgiven your enemies like this? I would love to hear your stories. If any of you have an issue currently like this (whichever side you find yourself on), I would urge you to seek forgiveness in one way or another.

Midweek Blog: Augustine and How to Read the Bible

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I want to continue our series on St. Augustine today by discussing a passage from his work, On Christian Teaching (De doctrina Christiana). It’s a small book (especially compared with the City of God), and is one that covers many topics about Christian living. I wanted to open this blog by sharing something a professor of mine told me in class once: one thing that many Protestants overlook and/or need to keep in mind when reading Augustine is that he was a pastoral theologian, not a systematic theologian. The difference being that Augustine is serving a particular church context and develops theological constructs which speak particularly to those situations (this would account for supposed inconsistencies between some of his earlier and later works). It is also helpful to keep that in mind whenever reading anything by Augustine; i.e. that he is addressing a church context. With that said, let’s launch into today’s post.

The following quotation comes from Book III of On Christian Teaching (I am using the Oxford World Classics version). Augustine writes:

“It often happens that someone who is, or thinks he/she is, at a higher stage of the spiritual life regards as figurative instructions which are given to those at a lower stage. So, for example, a man who has embraced a life of celibacy and castrated himself for the sake of the kingdom of heaven might maintain that any instructions given in the sacred books about loving or governing one’s wife should be taken not literally but figuratively.” (On Christian Teaching III.58; OWC p.81).

Now, while this might appear slightly comical at first glance, it is a real problem in Augustine’s church context. In the fourth and fifth centuries, monasticism was growing rapidly and people often would go to extreme lengths to prove that they were masters over the urges and lusts of the flesh. Castration being one such mode of asceticism. Origen, living in the third century, did so as well.

Augustine’s point is less about castration/ asceticism than it is about reading scripture. I have actually seen and heard Christians today employ these interpretation strategies when reading the Bible. Often they will read a passage that they feel does not apply to them, but instead of being content with that, they will fabricate an interpretation which uses a very fluid reading of that text in order to speak to some context in their own life. Is it okay to come across passages in the Bible that we feel don’t apply to us and to leave it at that? Why or why not?

Augustine furthers his point: “Likewise we must take care not to regard something in the Old Testament that is by the standards of its own time not wickedness or wrongdoing, even when understood literally and not figuratively, as capable of being transferred to the present time and applied to our own lives.” (On Christian Teaching, III.60; OCW p. 81)

Context suggests that Augustine refers here to reading about heroes in the Old Testament such as David and their many wives. Augustine warns that it is possible that David was more chaste in having several wives than a man who only has one wife but pursues lustful passions with her. The opposite can be true today: people look at passages in the Old Testament and say, “I want nothing to do with your Bible because of the polygamy, violence, presence of slavery, etc.”

What should we say in response to such statements? Can we read passages like those in the Old Testament literally? Do we have to read them figuratively?

I think that this is one of the dangers of biblical interpretation. I have seen people question their entire faith over studying one particular passage in depth. However, I think there is a sort of beauty in the Bible when you look back through and see passages that make us uncomfortable; or worse, downright upset and angry. I think that the people in the Bible are supposed to bother us on some levels.

I think it’s okay that Abraham bothers people when he sends Hagar away. I think it’s good that people seriously dislike the Book of Joshua for its “genocidal” type narratives. I think it’s also great that people really struggle with the Book of Philemon because it never actually condemns slavery and even sends a slave back to his master. The history of the Bible is supposed to do that. It is filled with people that sometimes acted less than honorably. It is filled with troubling passages like those from Joshua. We need a Bible that is hard to read, that pushes our faith further. An easy Bible would not foster deep, meaningful faith.

Trying to make the Bible work for us today isn’t always the best plan. Augustine’s words suggest that we need to be careful to avoid making the Bible do things it wasn’t meant to do. Many people try to make the Bible apply to situations that it just does not address. We have seen this today in several forums, particularly social media and politics. Sometimes passages should just be read on their own with their own context in mind.

Side note: Augustine’s own conversion happened because he “took up and read” the first passage he flipped open to. He felt that it was speaking directly to him. Just some further food for thought.

I want to close with a quote from Augustine on this matter: “We must understand that some instructions are given to all people alike, but others to particular classes of people, so that the medicine may confront not only the general pathology of the disease but also the particular weakness of each part of the body. What cannot be raised to a higher level must be healed at its own level.” (III.59)

Midweek Blog: Peace and Justice in Augustine’s City of God

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Greetings, everyone!

I hope your weeks are going well. This week, we are continuing our blog series on Augustine. After my wife’s statement last week that I keep casting Augustine as a villain, I wanted to switch gears a little bit. The first two blogs in this series were set up to show that Augustine, like all of us, is indeed human. This week, however, I wanted to focus on a passage from Augustine’s City of God. It is a massive work, over 1,000 pages in the Penguin Classics version, from which I will be quoting in this post. Despite its length, I would recommend to all Christians that instead of reading the Confessions for the third or thirtieth time, give City of God a read. You won’t be disappointed (however I will warn you, you will wish Augustine had an editor). Anyways, on to today’s post.

Peace is a theme that runs throughout the City of God, and in particular throughout Book 19 (the work is split up into 22 “Books” with each book having several “chapters” throughout). Augustine notes that individual Christians have to engage in war with themselves in this life, in order to subdue their temptations and other sinful urges (City of God, 19.27). Such an idea is intriguing, and, I would argue, seems to line up pretty well with Paul in Romans 7.14-25 (the “do/ don’t want to do” section). Today’s post, however, will be focused on a passage on justice.

Augustine writes, “In this life, therefore, justice in each individual exists when God rules and [the person] obeys, when the mind rules the body and reason governs the vices even when they rebel, either by subduing them or by resisting them, while from God himself favor is sought for good deeds and pardon for offenses, and thanks are duly offered to him for benefits received. But in that ultimate peace, to which this justice should be related, and for the attainment of which this justice is to be maintained, our nature will be healed by immortality and incorruption and will have no perverted elements, and nothing at all, in ourselves or any other, will be in conflict with any one of us” (City of God, 19.27).

Such a passage contains a great deal of things to unpack. Firstly, justice is tied directly to God’s rule in the person’s life. God’s role in the lives of believers is necessary in order for their minds to rule their bodies and for “reason to govern the vices.” Reason and a sound mind are thus very important in order to defeat the various “vices” in one’s life. Secondly, Augustine demonstrates that justice in one’s life does not equal perfection. He includes his statement that God’s favor is “sought for good deeds and pardon for offenses.” The inclusion of offenses shows that even with such justice in one’s life, he or she will still have missteps.

One final thing that I want to discuss from the above passage is the most complex. Augustine relates the justice in the believer’s life to “that ultimate peace” which is achieved through “maintaining the justice.” Such a statement would seem to suggest that Augustine argues for a personal role for anyone seeking “ultimate peace;” i.e. immortality and incorruption. Augustine fights against Pelagius for arguing that believers play a personal role in their own salvation. Isn’t that what Augustine is stating in our passage? I would say no. I think what he is getting at with regard to “maintaining” justice is proper living and proper self-restraint. One’s good deeds are directly linked to God’s favor, and any “benefits received” from such justice in one’s life should come with thanksgiving to God. Augustine, however, still attributes the primary role to God.

Further, he notes that “our nature will be healed by immortality and incorruption” and that conflicts will cease. Obviously, the “ultimate peace” we have been discussing is found in such cessation of conflict. Peace with others, but more importantly, peace within the individual person characterizes the ultimate peace. I think Augustine’s meaning is that the incorruption and immortality are gifts from God, even possibly the “benefits received” from God to which Augustine refers.

So if God’s rule allows us to subdue our vices, allows for our mistakes, and leads to the “ultimate peace,” what is our role in all of this? Are we to be simple innocent bystanders? Do we just hand God the keys and go along for the ride? Although Augustine does say that justice is to be “maintained,” who does the maintaining, us or God? I find these questions to be tricky because of what they imply. I don’t think Augustine would suggest that we are entirely passive in such an endeavor. He does seem to imply that our role is very small in such a matter. however.

I close by wondering how peace and justice can work together in our lives. Further, do we take issue with the notion that we are to give over so much control of our lives to God? Should we?