Jan 12, 2018 in Literature

St. Augustine’s View of Peace

St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the early times of the 5th century AD. This is because he influenced a lot of philosophical thinking regarding some of the issues that aced the society at that time. Particularly, he is known for having rationalized the Christianity in the context of paganism. As a result, he has come to be called a Father of the church. This means that his contribution is not only immense but also very influential in teaching the doctrine or the church as well as the truth. The City of God is a book that he wrote in about 420 AD. Although may be slight differences in opinion as to why the book was written, the main one was the response to the sacking of Rome in 410 AD by the Visigoths. To many people, it was believed that Rome was sacked because its people had abandoned the pagan worship for Christianity. In the book, Augustine explains that this was not the case; rather the sacking happened because the Romans were searching for peace in the wrong way. According to St. Augustine, peace cannot be attained on earth but is an eternal reward for those people who endure earthly trials, especially because of their belief in Christ, as opposed to Roman gods.

Discussion

In The City of God, St Augustine begins by offering a difference between Rome and the “City of God”. One of the major differences was the fact that while the hypothetical city of God was filled by believers, Rome was not. On the contrary, there was a lot of idol worship in Rome. Since Rome was filled by these pagan practices, then it could not be called the City of God. St. Augustine considered the church as the City of God. This is because the search for peace is approached from the right perspective. Augustine writes that ‘whoever gives even moderate attention to human affairs and to our common nature, will recognize that if there is no man who does not wish to be joyful, neither is there any one who does not wish to have peace’. The other difference between Rome and the City of God was the fact that while Rome was tangible and destructible, the City of God, or the church was not destructible; because its members or individuals sought the truth and the more permanent peace as opposed to the temporary peace attained on earth.

According to Augustine, peace is what Christians will be rewarded with in the eternity. This reward is only possible at the end but not in the process of earthly living. In his The City of God, Augustine seeks to explain this philosophy in several chapters of the book. For instance, chapter 11, 12 13 and 17 of what he calls book 19 discuss the concept of peace as is differently conceived in the two cities. In addition, Chapter 4 of book 15 also explores and seeks to define the concept of peace. Finally, chapter 28 of book 14 has important insights on the nature of the two cities which influenced the nature of the peace thereof.

There is difference in peace between Rome and the city of God. In the former, men seek glory and wealth. In other words, they seek peace while they live. This, according to Augustine, was the wrong concept of peace. Perhaps it was one of the contributors to the sacking of Rome unlike what the inhabitants of the city believed. With regard to the sacking, they believed that the earthly city was sacked because its people, some, had adopted Christianity and dropped paganism and the worship of the local Gods. In other words, peace, according to the earthly conception, consisted in the gratification of the body and psyche. In the earthly city, what men were concerned with was human wisdom, which of course could not earn them everlasting peace. On the contrary, the City of God was filled with godliness, which, according to him, was the true meaning or basis of human peace.

Chapter 4 of book 14 explores the nature of peace and conflict patters in the earthly city. In the earthly city, people were usually divided by war, quarrels and litigation. As a result they entrench a very useless king of peace. In this context, nations compete with each others, military wars are fought, there is a lot of strive. All these are geared to human gratification and the feelings of good earthly pleasures. By themselves the actions that are done to gain peace are themselves flawed. For instance, Augustine argues, that it is not possible to attain peace through war. However, through an internal warfare, people are able to prepare ground for the more meaningful peace. Otherwise, the members of the city simply dwell in evil in the name of searching for self gratification. It appears that Augustine was indirectly accusing the Romans for their own lavishness as their cause of downfall. The chapter exemplifies that earthly procedures of entrenching peace simply lead to misery. The next few paragraphs show, according to Augustine, what produces peace in the context of the heavenly city of God, or from the perspective of the church.

One of the concerns of book 19 is the role of pilgrimages in attainment of peace. Augustine observes that pilgrims will achieve eternal blessings for their dedication to worship God. The section also explores the aspect of civic obedience as a source of earthly peace. Although it was necessary, Augustine refused its role in the attainment of the lasting peace. This perhaps leads to the affirmation that peace means respect and not fear. In the above case, people obeyed civil laws because they were afraid that they would face the consequences of not following the dictates of the law. He writes: ‘He, then, who prefers what is right to what is wrong, and what is well-ordered to what is perverted, sees that the peace of unjust men is not worthy to be called peace in comparison with the peace of the just’. However, such a basis was wrong for peace attainment. This does not mean that St. Augustine was pessimistic about the achievement of peace for an earthily city, or Rome for that matter. On the contrary, he proposes some conditions for the attainment of peace.  He asserts that the peace of the soul is the highest order of peace that human societies should strive to attain. He writes ‘Here, indeed, we are said to be blessed when we have such peace as can be enjoyed in a good life; but such blessedness is mere misery compared to that final felicity’.

Although earthly laws are necessary for temporary peace, it does not mean that absence of conflict is always a sign on peaceful co-existence. The writer and thinker observe that worship of God is one of the best ways of seeking peace. He actually applauds situation in which the earthily city deliberately chooses to sojourn towards the true meaning of peace. The peace that is accorded by the fact of Christianity was indelible and did not distinguish people on the basis of social class, ethnicity and linguistic orientation. The process of achieving peace while on earth, Augustine writes, is called pilgrimage. He considers peace as a process while on earth and as an end only in eternity. Thus the city of God can be achieved through efforts made by the earthily city to make daily contributions towards sustainable peace of the soul. By so advising, the author cautions people of the mortality of body and the end to earthily possessions which ‘grant’ the wealthy their peace. Since the soul is immortal, the only right thing to do would be to concerned about it eternity by conversion and worshiping God.

Away from the strict religious conception of eternity as the goal or source of peace, Augustine also considered peace as lack of earthly conflict. He does so by exploring the concept of rivalry among persons for status. In addition, he noticed differences in linguistic, ethnic and religious views as a major source of conflict at least in the society he was writing for. As a result, Augustine recommends that people should ground themselves in God who was the source of true peace because he does not distinguish his people on the basis of ethnicity or language. In other words, conversion to Christianity was an important prerequisite in the acquisition of everlasting peace and tranquility.

Conclusion

St. Augustine considers peace as something that is attained at the end of life but not a thing that living people can actually and absolutely achieve. The City of God is an excellent piece authored by St. Augustine as a guide for peace definition and attainment. Although there are earthily rules and regulations, they are only geared towards temporary peace. He also observes that the approaches used by the two different types of cities make or break peace. The city of God is seen as full of believers while the earthily city is occupied by non-believers. As a result, Augustine delivered the text as a response to what happened to Rome after its sacking in the early 5th century. Therefore, it can be said that Augustine viewed peace as an earthly process but not as an end attained on earth.

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