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In Rome But Not of It: Augustine Between Eusebius and Donatus

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Augustine in a Time of Crisis
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Abstract

The continuing importance of Augustine’s political philosophy today becomes clearer when we understand its historical context. Augustine developed his political philosophy as a response to a specific problem that had become acute in the late fourth and early fifth centuries: whether and how political structures inherited from Rome’s pre-Christian history could be reconciled with the claims of the Christian religion. Competing religious communities were forced into a shared social space in the fourth century, producing a pluralism that acutely challenged old structures in politics and religion alike. Before and during the writing of City of God, Augustine was an active participant in intellectual debates and political conflicts arising from two inadequate solutions to this problem—the attempt to fully harmonize Christianity with Roman political life, advocated by figures such as Eusebius, and the strict withdrawal from Roman politics demanded by the heretical Donatist movement. These two alternatives were locked in a highly polarized dialectic, producing battles that consumed a great deal of Augustine’s professional time and intellectual attention. By developing an alternative approach that allowed the relationship between religion and politics to become more complex and ambiguous than either of the simplified extremes of Eusebianism and Donatism, Augustine set the stage for the drama of medieval political thought and also laid critical theoretical groundwork for the emergence of religious freedom and social pluralism in early modernity. These lessons are especially important as religious freedom endures a deep theoretical crisis in the advanced modern world.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Helen Rhee, Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).

  2. 2.

    See, for example, Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940).

  3. 3.

    For a good overview of the emerging school of historical thought on this period, see James Carleton Paget and Judith Lieu, “Introduction,” in Christianity in the Second Century, ed. James Carleton Paget and Judith Lieu (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 1–21.

  4. 4.

    See Paget and Lieu, “Introduction,” pp. 19–21; Greg Woolf, “Empires, Diasporas and the Emergence of Religions,” in Paget and Lieu, Christianity in the Second Century, pp. 25–38; and John A. North, “Pagan Attitudes,” in Paget and Lieu, Christianity in the Second Century, pp. 265–80.

  5. 5.

    See Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, pp. vii–viii, 79–124; and Brown, Augustine of Hippo, p. 14. For example: “The history of Greco-Roman Christianity resolves itself largely into a criticism of that undertaking and of the ideas upon which it rested; viz. that it was possible to attain a goal of permanent security, peace and freedom through political action, especially through submission to the ‘virtue and fortune’ of a political leader” (Cochrane, p. viii).

  6. 6.

    See Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, pp. 125–91. For example, “The debacle, however, was not merely economic or social or political, or rather it was all of these because it was something more. For what here confronts us is, in the last analysis, a moral and intellectual failure, a failure of the Greco-Roman mind …. The acceptance of such beliefs involved a picture of nature in terms either of sheer futility or (alternatively) of inexorable fate” (Cochrane, pp. 171 and 173).

  7. 7.

    See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 288–9 and 303–11; and James J. O’Donnell, Augustine (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 247–53.

  8. 8.

    See Frances Young, God’s Presence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  9. 9.

    See Rhee, Loving the Poor; and Stephen J. Patterson, The Forgotten Creed (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018).

  10. 10.

    See W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 1965), pp. 31–103.

  11. 11.

    See Peter Berger, The Many Altars of Modernity (Boston: De Gruyter, 2014), pp. 1–16.

  12. 12.

    See Gerald Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002), pp. 31–2.

  13. 13.

    See Maureen Tilley, “General Introduction,” in The Donatist Controversy I, ed. Boniface Ramsey and David G. Hunter (Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 2019), pp. 17 and 20.

  14. 14.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 32 and 264–5.

  15. 15.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 27–8.

  16. 16.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp. 207–9; and O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 14–15 and 215–16.

  17. 17.

    See Tilley, “General Introduction,” p. 17.

  18. 18.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, p. 32.

  19. 19.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 240–1 and 262.

  20. 20.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, p. 31.

  21. 21.

    What for convenience we are calling “Eusebianism” (or, with more precision, the “Eusebian tendency”) was never organized into a distinct community as Donatism was. Its intellectual articulation was never as detailed. Yet its basic features are clear and can be summarized. Donatism, for its part, as an organized community with a distinct history and interests, was subject to the inevitable vicissitudes and hypocrisies of social life. Yet it, too, had basic features that are clear and can be summarized.

  22. 22.

    Eusebius, Life of Constantine, I.6, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, 2nd Series, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955).

  23. 23.

    Eusebius, Life of Constantine, I.8.

  24. 24.

    See Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, pp. vii–viii, 79–124.

  25. 25.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp. 207–209; and O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 14–15 and 215–16.

  26. 26.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp. 207–9 and 240–1; and Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, p. 29.

  27. 27.

    See Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 240–1.

  28. 28.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, p. 241; and Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 240–1.

  29. 29.

    Brown, Augustine of Hippo, p. 220.

  30. 30.

    Quoted in O’Donnell, Augustine, p. 240.

  31. 31.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp. 222–3; and O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 210–11.

  32. 32.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, p. 214.

  33. 33.

    See O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 240–1.

  34. 34.

    See Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp. 216–19; and Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 7–8.

  35. 35.

    See Tilley, “General Introduction,” pp. 18–19.

  36. 36.

    See for example Augustine, “Psalm against the Party of Donatus,” in Tilley, Donatist Controversy I, p. 45.

  37. 37.

    Augustine, The City of God (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 860 (XIX.6).

  38. 38.

    Augustine, The City of God, pp. 859–61 (XIX.6).

  39. 39.

    Cochrane mentions Donatism only once, and solely to cite Constantine’s response to Donatism as an example of how Christian emperors exercised power in the church—that is, in order to discuss Eusebianism. See Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, pp. 226–7.

  40. 40.

    See O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 88–91, 110–11, 182–3, 195–6, 225 and 251.

  41. 41.

    See Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, pp. 503–69.

  42. 42.

    See O’Donnell, Augustine, pp. 110–11, 195–6 and 201–8.

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Forster, G. (2021). In Rome But Not of It: Augustine Between Eusebius and Donatus. 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_6

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