AuthorRoach, Daniel

    There often is an assumption or even an expectation from many Americans that the government should promulgate laws that mirror their personal beliefs. (1) Often, this expectation comes from Christian Americans who believe in a governmental obligation to posit laws based on Christian morality. (2) Advocates cite to the Declaration of Independence, specifically the reference to the Creator endowing men with "certain unalienable rights." (3) Additionally, they bring in the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, calling America a Christian nation founded on certain values. Because of the personal views of the Founders, they say, certain morals should run through the laws. (4)

    Numerous points of contention exist among those Christian Americans and their social and political adversaries. These points of contention include the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, "In God We Trust" on currency, prayer in schools, abortion, and same-sex marriage, to name just a few. Over time the Supreme Court has directly or indirectly addressed many of these issues. Majority opinions in cases like Roe v. Wade (5) and Obergefell v. Hodges (6) illustrate a progressive influence in America over time. But how should those ardent Christian Americans react? What should they do about the interactions between Church and State?

    Augustine gives American Christians a unique perspective on the relationship between the Church and the State. He lived in a time when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity moved quickly from being persecuted, to tolerated, and ultimately mandated in 380. (7) In what is considered one of his most recognizable works, City of God, Augustine addresses the dichotomy of the City of God and the city of earth. (8) He addresses the relationship of members of the City of God to their temporary earthly home.

    Section I will include pertinent biographical information about Augustine. This will be followed in Section II by an overview of various sections of City of God, specifically the founding of both the City of God and the city of earth. Additionally, Section II will address the interactions of the cities. Next, Section III will explore Augustine's views on divine law, temporal law, and the effects of free will on humanity. Section IV presents an overview of his views on just wars and just laws. Finally, Section V applies Augustine's teachings to various controversial legal and political issues in the United States today.


    Augustine lived in a time and place where he was impacted by drastic changes in Church and State interactions. He was born in Thagaste, modern-day Algeria, in 354 A.D., (9) when the Roman Empire's tolerance of Christianity was conceptually new since the Council of Nicea. By his mid-twenties, Augustine saw Christianity become the sole religion of the State, after Theodosius's declaration in 380. (10) Before his death in 430, he saw the "Eternal City" sacked by the Visigoths in 410, with many pagans blaming the Empire's turn to Christianity for the fall."

    Augustine's mother, Monica, is widely recognized today as a devout Christian, while his father, Patricius, was a pagan until his deathbed conversion. (12) At an early age, Augustine was sent to an advanced school in Madaura, a Numidian city to the south of Thagaste, which in the mid-fourth century was a center for pagan culture. (13) Augustine was influenced by this culture, and famously reflected in Confessions about stealing fruit for the sake of breaking a law rather than hunger, writing "I loved my own error--not that for which I had erred, but the error itself." (14)

    At age 17, Augustine moved to Carthage to continue his study of rhetoric. (15) There Cicero's Horsentius sparked his interest in philosophy. (16) By the age of 19, Augustine had taken a mistress who he lived with for the next 13 years. (17) Although she is commonly referred to as his mistress, in modern culture she would be more like a girlfriend. She was the mother of his son, Adeodatus, but Augustine's own mother ultimately desired for him to marry a woman of his own class. (18) He had been raised with her Christian influence yet had turned to the Manichaean religion. (19) He identified as a hedonist during this period, famously praying, "Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet." (20) Augustine's early sexual experiences may have been important to his later views on sexual actions.

    Augustine spent time teaching grammar and rhetoric in Thagaste, Carthage, and Rome with great success. (21) While still in Carthage he began to doubt Manicheanism after a meeting with Faustus of Mileve. (22) Many consider Augustine to have been a Neoplatonist, with Plato's influence appearing throughout his works. (23) In 384, he won the position of rhetoric professor in Milan, and moved there with his mistress, widowed mother, and son. (24) There his mother found him a suitable spouse but he could not marry her for two more years, when she would reach her twelfth birthday--the legal age for marriage. (25) He then separated from his mistress, but was so enslaved to lust he took up another soon after. (26)

    In Milan, Augustine made a crucial connection with Ambrose. (27) He later compared him to a father figure and was first attracted to him for his being a "friendly man" rather than a "teacher of truth." (28) This acceptance of Ambrose emphasizes the importance Augustine gave to philosophy over faith in his early life. Ambrose is commonly attributed with leading Augustine to Christianity, even baptizing Augustine in 387. (29)

    Augustine lost both his mother and son around the time of his return to Africa. (30) In 391 he became an ordained priest in Hippo Regius and in 395 he become the auxiliary Bishop of Hippo, becoming full Bishop shortly after. (31) He spent time combating the heretics of the day, including Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagians. (32)

    Augustine produced an impressive amount of literature during the last 35 years of his life. Christianity had just been declared the official religion of the State, and Augustine garnered substantial influence in the Empire because of his status in the Church. (33) He died while Hippo was under siege by the Vandals in 430. (34)


    1. The City of God

      City of God is widely considered to be one of Augustine's greatest and most important works. After the fall of Rome, the pagans looked to blame Christianity for the weakening of the empire and the collapse of the "eternal" city. (35) Augustine spends much of the early sections of City of God combatting the idea of Christianity leading to the Empire's demise. He then begins his analysis of the separation of the City of God and the earthly city. This idea of a separation of soul and body stems from Plato and reflects the Neoplatonist period in Augustine's thought. (36)

      In Book XI of City of God, there is an introduction to the city he calls the City of God. It is a City, "to which testimony is borne by... [s]cripture," and scripture teaches of His inspired love which urges our membership in the City. (37) In his treatise On Christian Doctrine, Augustine uses the example of the theatre to illustrate unity in admiration for a person, in this case the admiration of a talented actor. (38) Fondness for an actor brings people together, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the one they admire in common. (39) And that fondness, as it grows, makes individuals more anxious to share it with others. (40) The City of God is a community like this; yet the members must remember, they love God because He first loved them. (41)

      The City of God came to earth at the creation of the first man. (42) This is a particularly important point, especially at the time of Augustine. This suggests that the City of God was not established coincident with Christianity or the Church. Ultimately, the City of God is not the Roman Catholic Church, but a separate entity entirely. Augustine's definition of the City hinges on the individuals who are citizens of it; his individualistic foundational assumptions foreclose the possibility of defining the City's borders as coterminous with those of the institutional Catholic Church. (43) At the same time, Augustine is clear that the members of the City of God do not make up all of God's creation; there is a second city.

    2. The City of Earth

      After discussing the establishment of the City of God, Augustine approaches the founding of the second city. While the City of God was established at the creation of the first man, the second city was established coincident to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. (44) Augustine is emphatic that the inherent nature of all God's creation was good, but the second city came because of the original sin. (45) The second city he calls the city of earth or city of man.

      There is a hierarchy that exists in the earthly city, and different beings have different roles. (46) Humans are at the top of the hierarchy on earth and being at the top cannot shy away from their roles in the created world. (47) Creating humans above other earthly creatures, God gave humans free will, which allows humanity to corrupt the world and make it an evil place. (48) Humans sin because God gave them free will and being most like him allows humanity to try and substitute Him. (49)

      While Augustine posits that the earthly city was established coincident to the fall, he believes the first member of the earthly city was Cain. (50) Abel, the brother Cain murdered, was just a pilgrim on earth, a member of the City of God. (51) While they were born of the same parents, they were ultimately members of different cities. Since that time, humans are born into original sin. (52) They are born into the city of earth and do not reach the City of God unless and until they commit their lives fully to God.

    3. The Relationship of the Cities

      The City of God and the earthly city intersect but stay...

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