Political Philosophy Part I.


St. Augustine (354 – 430)


Extracts from St Augustine: The City of God.


                                                                                                                                                Links: Imagining Other Index Page


                                                                                                                                                          Notes on St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas


                                                                                                                                                          Political Philosophy Contents Page


IV, 4:

Without justice what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers? And what is a band of robbers but such a kingdom in miniature? It is a band of men under the rule of a leader, bound together by a pact of friendship, and their booty is divided among them by an agreed rule. Such a blot on society, if it grows, assumes for itself the proud name of kingdom.


XV, 1:

That race (i.e. the human race) we have divided into two classes, one that lives according to man and the other that lives according to God. In symbolic fashion we call these two cities, that is, two communities of men, of which one is predestined to reign eternally with God, the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil.


The Apostle says “That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.” That implies that each man, since he is born of tainted stock, must first like Adam be wicked and carnal; afterwards, if he have the advantage of being born again into Christ, he will be good and spiritual.


XV, 4:

The earthly city, which cannot be eternal… enjoys its good here upon earth, and such pleasure is taken in its fellowship as is possible in that state of things. Since it is not such pleasure as prevents disagreements among its members, the city is often divided against itself by lawsuits, wars, and revolts, and by pursuit of lethal or at least shortlived victories.

It cannot be rightly said that the objects the city desires are not good. It is after all the superior city in the scale of human values. It wants earthly peace if only for mundane reasons. It tries to attain it by war.

When those prove the conquerors who fought with the greater justification, who will not congratulate them on having won the victory and secured a favourable peace? These are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God. But if the better things, which belong to the heavenly city… are lost to sight, and lower goods sought as if they were the only ones or more desirable than those of better credit, it is obvious that misery must follow and increase.


XIX, 4:

At the moment we cannot see our good, so we have to look for it by faith. Nor can we live rightly out of our own resources.

They… who think that good and evil ends are to be found in this present life, placing the supreme good either in body or in soul or in both together… have made a tremendous mistake in so far as they seek happiness here and in themselves.

It is a vice when, as the Apostle says, “the flesh lusts against the spirit”. But… it is a virtue when, as he says, “the spirit lusts against the flesh”. What is it we desire as the chief end of good, What is it we desire as the chief end of good, but that the flesh should not lust against the spirit, and that there should be no vice left in us for the spirit to lust against?


XIX, 6:

… the variety of languages divides man from man… A man would rather be with his dog than with a foreigner (with whom he could not communicate). The imperial city does its utmost to impose not only its yoke, but its language, by peaceful and social means, upon the people it has subdued. It hopes thus to secure at least an abundance of interpreters!

That is true, but at how great a cost in wars, carnage, effusion of blood! … But a wise man, they say, will only wage just wars. Well, if he remembered he was a man, he would grieve all the more at the necessity of waging just wars. If they were not just he would not have to wage them, and then for the just man there would be no more war…


XIX, 13:

The peace of the body is the orderly proportion of its members. The peace of the animal soul is the orderly repose of its appetites. The peace of the reasonable soul is the orderly concord of thought and action. The peace of body and soul together is the orderly life and security of the living person. The peace of man and God is the orderly obedience in faith to the eternal law. The peace of men is orderly harmony. The peace of the home is the orderly harmony of command and obedience on the part of those who live together. The peace of the city is the orderly harmony of command and obedience on the part of the citizens. The peace of the heavenly city is orderly and harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God and of each other in God. The peace of the universe is the serenity of order.


XIX, 14:

The whole use of temporal things is thus related to the enjoyment of an earthly peace in the earthly city. In the heavenly city it is related to the enjoyment of eternal peace. If then we were just irrational animals we should desire nothing more than the harmonious functioning of the members of the body and the satisfaction of the appetites.


XIX, 17:

The earthly city, seeks and earthly peace, and therein contrives a civic harmony of command and obedience… The heavenly city, on the other hand, [i.e. that part of it which is on earth]… also uses that peace because it must, until the mortality that makes it necessary shall itself pass away… It has no hesitation in conforming to the laws of the earthly city.

The heavenly city, while it is a pilgrim on earth, gathers citizens out of every nation… It has no particular concerns about differences of customs, laws, institutions by which earthly peace is sought or maintained. Although they differ in different nations they all tend to one and the same end in earthly peace. Therefore it does not rescind them or break them: rather it preserves and follows them, so long as they do not hinder that religion, which teaches that only the one true God is to be worshipped.


XIX, 21:

Rome was never a republic. Scipio defines a republic as a common-wealth. A people he defines as… united by consent of law and common interest.

What he means by consent of law he explains by showing that without justice you cannot have a common-wealth. Where there is no justice there is no law. For we may not imagine men’s unjust decrees to be laws: all men defining law to arise out of the fountain of justice.

It is good for men to be under authority… They behave better when they are made to obey… Why does God exercise authority over man, the mind over the body, the reason over lust and other vicious tendencies of the mind? This example shows that it is good for some to be in subordinate positions… The mind that truly serves God can exercise authority over the body, and within the mind itself the reason that is duly subordinate to the Lord God can exercise authority over lust and other vices.

But if a man does not serve God, what justice can we expect to find in him?  … If in such an individual there is no justice, I am quite certain there cannot be any in a community that consists of such individuals.