We began as a republic and slid to a democracy and perhaps now we are an oligarchy. The United States is not immutable. However, what is true for every citizen of the city of God is clear, according to Augustine. He must serve giving God his utmost.
Last night I finished my pilgrimage through Augustine’s City of God. Considering it took Augustine almost a decade to finish book nineteen after starting I would say that I made better time on the reading than he did the writing. I wish that I could say all twenty-two books and eight hundred and sixty two pages in my volume were a joy, they were not. However, the end was worth traveling through some of the valleys in between. I thought in celebration of my completing the work I might share some lessons from the last few books.
First, Augustine has a good word for those of us struggling with our political climate in the United States. To put it tersely, we are to hold this world loosely. Augustine appears to be a political minimalist when it comes to thinking about what the world has to offer. In other words, if you don’t expect much from the city of man you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get much. There is a reason for that. According to Augustine, the earthly city does not live by faith and so seeks an earthly peace. However, this earthly peace can only be tentative and temporal. It is not lasting. It is not the peace for which the Christian seeks. Listen to Augustine speak about the two cities and their aims.
This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in manners, laws and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace….Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven…(book XIX. 17).