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Rome and the Education of Mercy in Augustine’s City of God

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Augustine in a Time of Crisis
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Abstract

The City of God begins as an apologia for the uneven distribution of human suffering. Augustinian justice follows the classical definition of giving what is due. Yet, the recipients of life and death do not allow us to reflect on justice as “just deserts.” Instead, we can best see Augustinian justice in relation to mercy. I focus on Romulus and Regulus, figures through which Augustine directs us toward the truly praiseworthy and blameworthy in great deeds and their doers. In studying these portraits—retellings of ancient Roman myths—a vision of Augustine’s political theory emerges that shows us what he takes to be the most important political virtue of misericordia.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Augustine, Augustine: The City of God Against the Pagans, ed. R. W. Dyson (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), I.2. Hereafter “COG.”

  2. 2.

    Augustine thinks that Providence governed Rome’s fall. Survivors “[i]f they had any right perception … would rather attribute the bitter and harsh things which they endured at their enemies’ hands to divine providence. For divine providence often corrects and destroys the corrupt ways of men by wars, and tests the righteous and praiseworthy by such afflictions of this mortal life, either conveying them to a better world when they have been proved, or detaining them still on this earth for further service” (COG I.2).

  3. 3.

    COG 10.5.

  4. 4.

    COG 10.6.

  5. 5.

    Ibid., citing Hosea 6:6.

  6. 6.

    John Cavadini, “Jesus’ Death Is Real: An Augustinian Spirituality of the Cross,” in The Cross in Christian Tradition: From Paul to Bonaventure, ed. Elizabeth A. Dreyer, First Edition (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), pp. 169–91. Note Teske’s observation: “Because Augustine stressed the reality of the unity between Christ the head and his members, he saw every act of mercy performed by a member of the whole Christ as part of that universal sacrifice, the great act of mercy offered by Christ to reconcile us to the Father.” In Roland J. Teske, “The Definition of Sacrifice in De Civitate Dei,” in In Nova Doctrina Vetusque: Essays on Early Christianity in Honor of Fredric W. Schlatter, S.J., ed. Douglas Kries and Catherine Brown Tkacz (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), pp. 153–68, 160.

  7. 7.

    COG IX.5.

  8. 8.

    COG X.20.

  9. 9.

    COG XIV.9.

  10. 10.

    For more insight into Augustine’s account of Regulus, see Robert Dodaro, Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 41 and 53; and Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 267. Both scholars argue that Regulus most certainly does not possess true Augustinian virtue.

  11. 11.

    COG I.15, 23 and I.8–14.

  12. 12.

    COG I.15 and I.23–24.

  13. 13.

    Livy, Rome’s Mediterranean Empire Books Forty-One to Forty-Five and the Periochae (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 18.2.

  14. 14.

    For more on Livy’s use of the theme of fate, or fortune, see Francis M. Lazarus, “Fortuna and Rhetorical Structure in Livy,” The Classical Journal 74.2 (1978): 128–31; and Jason P. Davies, Rome’s Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on Their Gods, first edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), especially pp. 105–23.

  15. 15.

    E. M. Atkins, “‘Domina et Regina Virtutum’: Justice and Societas in ‘De Officiis,’” Phronesis 35.3 (1990): 258–89, 279.

  16. 16.

    Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Duties, ed. Miriam T. Griffin, trans. E. M. Atkins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 3.99–3.100.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., 3.100.

  18. 18.

    Ibid., 3.113.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 3.114.

  20. 20.

    Ibid., 3.101.

  21. 21.

    COG I.15.

  22. 22.

    Cf. COG XIX.25.

  23. 23.

    COG III.18.

  24. 24.

    Ibid.

  25. 25.

    COG I.15.

  26. 26.

    COG III.18.

  27. 27.

    COG III.20.

  28. 28.

    Livy, History of Rome, 21.8.

  29. 29.

    Ibid., 21.9.

  30. 30.

    COG III.20.

  31. 31.

    Livy, History of Rome, 21.15.

  32. 32.

    Mary Keys, “Augustinian Humility as Natural Right,” in Natural Right and Political Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Catherine and Michael Zuckert, ed. Ann Ward and Lee Ward (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), pp. 97–113, suggests that atrocities like fratricide or the rape of the Sabine women are examples of what Augustine finds especially egregious in disordered political communities—the severing of the natural ties of familial and marital affection (p. 103). Perhaps this sheds light on why Augustine says of the Lex Voconia, the law against the appointment of a woman as legal heir, that he “cannot quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law” (COG III.21).

  33. 33.

    Livy, History of Rome, 1.6.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., 1.6–7.

  35. 35.

    COG IV.4.

  36. 36.

    Ibid.

  37. 37.

    COG I.30.

  38. 38.

    Ibid.

  39. 39.

    COG XV.5.

  40. 40.

    COG III.10.

  41. 41.

    COG I.34.

  42. 42.

    COG IV.5.

  43. 43.

    Confessions III.8 decries those who desire to watch “the pleasure of watching other people’s pain, like spectators of gladiators.” In Augustine, Confessions (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Augustine also talks about his friend Alypius, who becomes Bishop of Thagaste after undergoing a process of conversion. Though he did not struggle with sexual temptation as Augustine did (VI.11), he was addicted to the “monstrous delight in the cruelty” of the gladiator games. Alypius learns to have sympathy for the criminals forced to work as gladiators when he is falsely accused of a crime and arrested. Alypius is let go after the real criminal was apprehended (VI.7).

  44. 44.

    COG IV.5.

  45. 45.

    Also see COG III.16.

  46. 46.

    COG II.17.

  47. 47.

    COG IV.23.

  48. 48.

    COG XIX.4.

  49. 49.

    Robert Dodaro, “The Secret Justice of God and the Gift of Humility,” Augustinian Studies 34.1 (2003): 83–96, 84.

  50. 50.

    COG I.Preface.

  51. 51.

    Cf. Father David Vincent Meconi, “Ravishing Ruin: Self-loathing in Saint Augustine,” Augustinian Studies 45.2 (2014): 227–46.

  52. 52.

    As Dodaro reminds us, “Augustine is aware of the argument common to Cicero and Roman culture generally that examples of Rome’s best citizens (optimi viri) as narrated in political oratory and other traditional literature both define civic virtues and urge their imitation.” In Dodaro, Christ and the Just Society, p. 116. Also see Sinclair Bell, “Introduction: Role Models in the Roman World,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes 7 (2008): 1–39, 2.

  53. 53.

    Augustine, “Letter 102,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 1, ed. Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1887), p. 35.

  54. 54.

    COG XVII.

  55. 55.

    COG II.18.

  56. 56.

    COG III.14.

  57. 57.

    Veronica Roberts Ogle, “Sheathing the Sword: Augustine and the Good Judge,” Journal of Religious Ethics 46.4 (2018): 718–47. Notably, Rist concludes that while the passage is an endorsement of torture out of necessity for just ends, that the resources of Augustinian political theory should have led him to conclude that such coercion was unjust. Cf. John Rist, “Augustine and Religious Freedom,” in Christianity and Freedom: Volume 1, Historical Perspectives, ed. Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 103–23.

  58. 58.

    Scholars differ in their treatment of Augustine’s relationship to torture, particularly as a form of religious coercion. Henry Chadwick writes that Augustine’s approval of torture was mischaracterized and overemphasized by medieval canon lawyers, and not changed drastically by his engagement with the Donatists (Henry Chadwick, Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986)). Weithman writes that after his experience with the Donatists persecution of Catholics, he no longer censored torture for the purpose of religious coercion (Paul Weithman, “Augustine’s Political Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, ed. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, first edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 234–52). McConnell suggests that Augustine has two theories of punishment, one of which is an idealized theoretical construction and the other of which is utilitarian (Terrance C. McConnell, “Augustine on Torturing and Punishing an Innocent Person,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 17.4 (1979): 481–92). Torture is permitted, then, “when either the person being punished is reformed or others are deterred” (p. 490). Breyfogle believes that Augustine comes to permit a certain amount of torture, but not an excessive amount, because excessive torture would lead to death, which would eliminate the possibility of reform (Todd Breyfogle, “Punishment,” in Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan Fitzgerald and John C. Cavadini (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 688–90). The most rigorous treatment of Augustine on the topic of torture is offered by P.R.L. Brown, who reads Augustine on coercion as taking a “prudential” attitude toward the use of torture that cannot be summed up into a doctrine or authoritative teaching (P. R. L. Brown, “St. Augustine’s Attitude to Religious Coercion,” The Journal of Roman Studies 54 (1964): 107–16).

  59. 59.

    Roberts Ogle, “Sheathing the Sword,” pp. 727–8.

  60. 60.

    Roberts Ogle, “Sheathing the Sword,” p. 731.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., pp. 733–4.

  62. 62.

    Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love; John von Heyking, “Augustine on Punishment and the Mystery of Human Freedom,” in The Philosophy of Punishment and the History of Political Thought, ed. Peter Koritansky (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2011), pp. 56–73.

  63. 63.

    COG I.18–19.

  64. 64.

    Titus Livius Livy, The History of Rome, trans. Rev. Cannon Roberts, Everyman’s Library (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, Ltd., 1996), 1.57–8.

  65. 65.

    The consilium heard intra-family disputes that concerned wives and daughters; in this sense, the fact that the four gathered men tell Lucretia that she is not guilty of any wrongdoing is significant. See R. A. Bauman, “The Rape of Lucretia, ‘Quod Metus Causa’ and the Criminal Law,” Latomus 52.3 (July 1, 1993): 550–66; R. A. Bauman, “Family Law and Roman Politics,” ed. Vincenzo Giuffre, Sodalitas: Scritti in onore di Antonio Guarino (Naples: Jovene, 1984), pp. 1283–330; Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family, first edition (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 72; and Ian Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia: A Myth and Its Transformations, first edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 24.

  66. 66.

    COG V.26, emphasis mine.

  67. 67.

    Ibid.

  68. 68.

    COG V.26.

  69. 69.

    Augustine and Henry Chadwick, The Confessions, first edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), VI.11–16.

  70. 70.

    Meaning that she resolved to live her days as a continent, lay Christian, something she did indeed do. See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, Forty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (Berkeley; New York: University of California Press, 2013), p. 120. My reading is particularly influenced by Brown’s interpretation of the situation, as well as by Chadwick’s interpretation as presented in his introduction to his translation of the Confessions . He writes: “The modern criticism (of Augustine for leaving his lower-class concubine) is not of Augustine so much as of the total society in which he was a member.” Yet, he reminds us, in its attention to social class, that “his world was not very different from ours in this.”

  71. 71.

    Confessions, VI.16.

  72. 72.

    Confessions, VI.16.

  73. 73.

    Augustine, Confessions, trans. Chadwick, Book VI, footnote 21.

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Correspondence to Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo .

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Menchaca-Bagnulo, A. (2021). Rome and the Education of Mercy in Augustine’s City of God. In: Kabala, B.Z., Menchaca-Bagnulo, A., Pinkoski, N. (eds) Augustine in a Time of Crisis. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61485-0_2

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