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Political Theory

 
To write about any aspect of the thought of Augustine in simple terms is fraught with danger, and cannot do justice to his great intellect. This is especially so on any topic upon which Augustine never directly or intentionally expounded but merely touched in passing while covering another topic.
 
The political theory of Augustine is an example of this situation. Scholars have attempted to attribute a political theory to Augustine even though he did not consciously reveal one in his writings, but nevertheless he deeply influenced Western political thought in the early Middle Ages and successively.
 
Augustine never wrote a political theory, in the sense that this term is technically used today, although he definitely had a world view. Furthermore, he never even wrote as essentially a political thinker, but merely touched on politics and civil society while thinking as a theologian and as a philosopher about the relationship of God to the world and to humanity.
 
In that Augustine based his thought on Revelation rather than on reason, the “political thought” of Augustine must necessarily be interpreted in a theological context rather than in rationalist, sociological and political contexts. His world view was firmly centred on the role of God in all of Creation.
 
It is somewhat paradoxical, therefore, that Augustine receives attention in chronological surveys of political innovators and theorists, unless therein he is recorded as having a theocentric (God-centred) political theory.
 
His major work, De civitate Dei (City of God) is a case in point, and even is significant in making this very point.
 
Nowhere in its hundreds of pages does Augustine depart from its theological focus to examine politics objectively as such. He does not therein detail any specific political methods, nor highlight any particular form of government, nor suggest political changes for better governance.
 
Augustine never even dwelt directly upon any of the datum points for defining a political theory, such as the nature of the state, the mutual duties of the state and the populace, and the rights of the individual citizen.
 
Indeed, Augustine in his theological image of the City of God is ambiguous about civil government, sometimes negative towards it, and at times objects to its real potential to harm those marginalised by society. On the other hand, at times he sought the intervention of civil authorities to suppress the religious heresy of the Donatists.
 
Augustine’s writings are so voluminous that his accumulated references to aspects of politics give Augustine the status of a political thinker, notwithstanding the reasons given above which go against giving him this appellation that he would not have wanted.
 
Photos (at right): Images taken by young adult participants at the Ninth International Augustinian Youth Encounter, Sydney, July 2008. 
ID2370

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Political Theory
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