St. Augustine views on church and state

St. Augustine views on church and state

Implication of the Christian Doctrines:

The following points were laid down by the Christian doctrine.

  1. Christian Doctrine disallowed the argument of Plato and Aristotle, because they said, individual finds fullest manifestation only in state, they detached spiritual life from political life. Church is an independent organization and it is not sub-ordinate to the state. Other hand church fathers recommended the role of the state and overestimated that of the church.
  2. They (Christian fathers) recognized the concept of law of nature and identified with the divine law which is unalterable.
  3. They accepted the concept of equality but did not in favour of abolition of slavery, which is according to them was only a physical and spiritual condition of man.
  4. They gave a dynamic outlook and highlighting the eventual goal of human life is attainment of God.
  5. The Christian fathers denied the contractual basis of the political obligation and emphasized that kingship was established by God for maintenance of justice.
  6. They tried to revive the holiness of family life. Under the Roman life marriage measured as legal contract which can be dissolved at the will of the parties. On the other hand they stressed marriage as ceremony which could not be dissolved. They gave the father full authority and control over the children.

Main Ideas of St. Augustine:

St. Augustine was not a political thinker and his philosophy revolves around three main ideas of cosmology, epistemology and ethics.  In the first place he held that God is present in everything in varying degrees, and everything had varying degrees of goodness.  He held that sources of knowledge did not lay outside but within.  We will be able to regulate our life and achieve happiness or well -being was the universal desire of humanity.  He believed in the principle of subordination to the lesser good to the greater good and pleaded for subordination of the body to the spirit and spirit to God.  He associated supreme good with universal good and proclaimed that the supreme good cannot be achieved if we work only for our private good.  He therefore, appealed that we should “love each other as god loves us and this we can do if we derive the power of love from him, and not from lesser goods”.

Political Ideas

We can deduce the political ideas of Augustine from the above principal of his philosophy

Philosophy of History

Augustine pronounced history, the unfolding of the divine will and accredited the rise and fall of the empires to a divine plan.  He said that a continuous struggle was going on between the forces of horsy and truth in which the later was bold to triumph ultimately.  Thus he rejected to accept the argument that the Pagan Gods were responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire.  He asserted that the fall of Roman Empire was due to divine will.

Another feature of his philosophy of the history, belief in the doctrine of two cities.  According to him, the individual, member of the earthly city (Kingdom of Satan) as well as divine city(Kingdom of God).  The former look after the appetitive and greedy desires of the individual and it is temporary and perishable.  The later indicates that, it is heavenly peace and spiritual salvation and is divine, permanent and imperishable.  The history denoted the continuous struggle between these two cities which would lead to the demolition of the former because it is short-lived in nature and latter is on the account of virtue and permanent character.  The earthly city is dominated by principle of self- love to the point where God is held in disapproval.  For its devotees materials are important than the spirit.  The heavenly city is dominated by principles of the love of God for them spiritual things are highest important.

Prof. Sabine says that, Augustine’s concept of earthly city, or city of God cannot be identified with any existing human institutions.  He did not associate the church with the kingdom of God or state with earthly city.  But it cannot be denied that Augustine certainly condemned the authority of the secular state in comparison with the Church and introduced new feature in the political though by exalting the authority of church over the state.

Views on the State:

Augustine accepted that Christian Doctrine, that state is a divine institution created by God to remedy the human sins.  He stressed that, authority of state must be respected because it maintains peace and protects property and other belongings of citizens.  Obedience to the authority of state is also observed because it is based on divine sanctions and contributed to the remedy of sins of the people. Thus, he subordinated the state to the higher authority of the God and obedience to the laws and authority of state is justified as long as it did not conflict with the duty towards God’s.  It is because that man obey the civil laws because they are sanctioned by God.  He also said that Emperor must guard the church, he did not accord any authority over spiritual matters. On the other hand he said that citizens should not accept civil authority when it is conflict with spiritual authority.  He wanted both the state and church must work together with mutual understanding.

Views on Justice:

Augustine hold that justice can be possible only in the city of God and it could be possible in the Christian state.  He articulated justice in spiritual sense and described it as “conformity to order and respect for duties arising from this order”. He allocated justice in a wider meaning than assigned by Plato.  Augustine regarded the state as simply a part of the higher society (Kingdom of God) considered justice as domination to universal order as told by the will of God.  Therefore, he resolved that Justice can be possible only in Christian state.  In a Pagan State only relative justice could be possible.  Augustine stated that, “If Justice is the characteristic of a society, no pagan people have the right to be called just society.  Justice is that virtue which gives every man his due and thus where is the justice.  St. Augustine asks, when a man desert true God and yields himself to impure demons”. For this reason the city of ungodly…”

 Views on Peace:

Augustine hold that, peace is a fundamental virtue of a good state and can be attained in the city of God.  To him peace has different notion, it does not mean the absence of war or social strife.  But peace means positive relation of love which comprised all human beings. He considered that, peace provided by state is a temporary calmness and was relative peace.  He considers that, universal peace was genuine and it could be achieved only if all acted in accordance with the universal order and common love to God.  In which all men are united with one another by their common love for God.  It was different from the peace produced by a system of legal relations as in state.”

Views on War and Conquest:

His views on peace, are the same and connected to the views on war and conquest.  Augustine emphasized that war can be fought to protect the Christian social order and justified the use against pagans.  According to them the group which have threat to the security of Christian society is unorthodox groups, they could encourage people with discreet reasoning and false interpretation.  He justified that Christian state can wage wars to suppress the heretics and saving its loyal people.  Augustine had given the classification between just and unjust war and he described the wars waged by Christian rulers against pagans as just wards, because they offer an opportunity to convert or include them into Christianity.

Augustine did not in favour of war to conquest territories he held that, the territories acquired by wars did not give happiness to the king or the conquered people.   Conquest lead to fear, hatred and vicious slaughter are the causes for unhappiness, in the states based on conquests there can be no justice and which can lead to robberies in such states.

Views on Slavery:

Augustine also defended slavery like Aristotle.  He did not considered slavery as a natural institution, and did not support it a realistic grounds. He treated slavery as punishment from God for his original sins.  Another important fact about him, he never deprive the slave of the status of a human being and treats master and the slave as fellowmen who are boded each other by a bond of fraternity in the kingdom of Christ, even they are not equal in terms of human law.  Hence, his advises the slaves to remains near their masters to seek purification because master is one purer than slaves.

Views on Property:

Though, he did not consider private property as a natural institution but gesture justified it.  He was against the excessive accrual of property and stressed that, one should not have more property than what was need to him for his legal and reasonable needs.  He admitted that the some private property was needed for the proper performance of one’s duties.  He emphasized that rich people must distribute some of their property to the poor.

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