The Origins of Political Authority — Augustine of Hippo, City of God 19.14-15

I will be posting several pieces on Augustine in the future, one on Augustine and disenchantment, another on Augustine largely secularizing the origins of political authority. The latter I shall get to first.

In the next month I shall also begin looking closely at another phenomenon that one sees slivers of here already in these chapters — the logic, character and scope of religious intolerance in the (third,) fourth and early fifth centuries. The issue of slavery is one I’ll likely need to defer.

Here, however, are parallel translations of chapters 14 and 15 from book 19 of the City of God, which I’ll be referring to. (Apologies for the strange formatting on mobile devices — it looks fine on my desktop.)

Henry Bettenson R. W. Dyson Marcus Dods
[872] The order and law, earthly or heavenly, by which government serves the interests of human society.

 

 

 We see, then, that all man’s use of temporal things is related to the enjoyment of earthly peace in the earthly city; whereas in the Heavenly City it is related to the enjoyment of eternal peace. Thus, if we were irrational animals, our only aim would be the adjustment of the parts of the body in due proportion, and the quieting of the appetites – only, that is, the repose of the flesh, and an adequate supply of pleasures, so that bodily peace might promote the peace of the soul. For if bodily peace is lacking, the peace of the irrational soul is also hindered, because it cannot achieve the quieting of its appetites. But the two together promote that peace which is a mutual concord between soul and body, the peace of an ordered life and of health. For living creatures show their love of bodily peace by their avoidance of [873] pain, and by their pursuit of pleasure to satisfy the demands of their appetites they demonstrate their love of peace of soul. In just the same way, by shunning death they indicate quite clearly how great is their love of the peace in which soul and body are harmoniously united.

 

But because there is in man a rational soul, he subordinates to the peace of the rational soul all that part of his nature which he shares with the beasts, so that he may engage in deliberate thought and act in accordance with this thought, so that he may thus exhibit that ordered agreement of cognition and action which we called the peace of the rational soul. For with this end in view he ought to wish to be spared the distress of pain and grief, the disturbances of desire, the dissolution of death, so that he may come to some profitable knowledge and may order his life and his moral standards in accordance with this knowledge. But he needs divine direction, which he may obey with resolution, and divine assistance that he may obey it freely, to prevent him from falling, in his enthusiasm for knowledge, a victim to some fatal error, through the weakness of the human mind. And so long as he is in this mortal body, he is a pilgrim in a foreign land, away from God; therefore he walks by faith, not by sight. That is why he views all peace, of body or of soul, or of both, in relation to that peace which exists between mortal man and immortal God, so that he may exhibit an ordered obedience in faith in subjection to the everlasting Law.

 

Now God, our master, teaches two chief precepts, love of God and love of neighbour; and in them man finds three objects for his love: God, himself, and his neighbour; and a man who loves God is not wrong in loving himself. It follows, therefore, that he will be concerned also that his neighbour should love God, since he is told to love his neighbour as himself; and the same is true of his concern for his wife, his children, for the members of his household, and for all other men, so far as is possible. And, for the same end, he will wish his neighbour to be concerned for him, if he happens to need that concern. For this reason he will be at peace, as far as lies in him, with all men, in that peace among men, that ordered harmony; and the basis of this order is the observance of two rules: first, to do no harm to anyone, and, secondly, to help everyone whenever possible. To begin with, therefore, a man has a responsibility for his own household – obviously, both in the order of nature and in the framework of human society, he has easier and more immediate contact with them; he can exercise his concern for them. That is why the Apostle says, ‘Anyone [874] who does not take care of his own people, especially those in his own household, is worse than an unbeliever – he is a renegade.’ This is where domestic peace starts, the ordered harmony about giving and obeying orders among those who live in the same house. For the orders are given by those who are concerned for the interests of others; thus the husband gives orders to the wife, parents to children, masters to servants. While those who are the objects of this concern obey orders; for example, wives obey husbands, the children obey their parents, the servants their masters. But in the household of the just man who ‘lives on the basis of faith’ and who is still on pilgrimage, far from that Heavenly City, even those who give orders are the servants of those whom they appear to command. For they do not give orders because of a lust for domination but from a dutiful concern for the interests of others, not with pride in taking precedence over others, but with compassion in taking care of others.

 

15. Man’s natural freedom; and the slavery caused by sin

  

This relationship is prescribed by the order of nature, and it is in this situation that God created man. For he says, ‘Let him have lordship over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky…and all the reptiles that crawl on the earth.’ He did not wish the rational being, made in his own image, to have dominion over any but irrational creatures, not man over man, but man over the beasts. Hence the first just men were set up as shepherds of flocks, rather than as kings of men, so that in this way also God might convey the message of what was required by the order of nature, and what was demanded by the deserts of sinners – for it is understood, of course, that the condition of slavery is justly imposed on the sinner. That is why we do not hear of a slave anywhere in the Scriptures until Noah, the just man, punished his son’s sin with this word; and so that son deserved this name because of his misdeed, not because of his nature. The origin of the Latin word for slave, servus, is believed to be derived from the fact that those who by the laws of war could rightly be put to death by the conquerors, became servi, slaves, when they were preserved, receiving this name from their preservation. But even this enslavement could not have happened, if it were not for the deserts of sin. For even when a just war is fought it is in defence of his sin that the other side is contending; and victory, even when the victory falls to the wicked, is a [875] humiliation visited on the conquered by divine judgement, either to correct or to punish their sins. We have a witness to this in Daniel, a man of God, who in captivity confesses to God his own sins and the sins of his people, and in devout grief testifies that they are the cause of that captivity. The first cause of slavery, then, is sin, whereby man was subjected to man in the condition of bondage; and this can only happen by the judgement of God, with whom there is no injustice, and who knows how to allot different punishments according to the deserts of the offenders.

 

 

Now, as our Lord above says, ‘Everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave’, and that is why, though many devout men are slaves to unrighteous masters, yet the masters they serve are not themselves free men; ‘for when a man is conquered by another he is also bound as a slave to his conqueror.’ And obviously it is a happier lot to be slave to a human being than to a lust; and, in fact, the most pitiless domination that devastates the hearts of men, is that exercised by this very lust for domination, to mention no others. However, in that order of peace in which men are subordinate to other men, humility is as salutary for the servants as pride is harmful to the masters.

 

And yet by nature, in the condition in which God created man, no man is the slave either of man or of sin. But it remains true that slavery as a punishment is also ordained by that law which enjoins the preservation of the order of nature, and forbids its disturbance; in fact, if nothing had been done to contravene that law, there would have been nothing to require the discipline of slavery as a punishment. That explains also the Apostle’s admonition to slaves, that they should be subject to their masters, and serve them loyally and willingly. What he means is that if they cannot be set free by their masters, they themselves may thus make their slavery, in a sense, free, by serving not with the slyness of fear, but with the fidelity of affection, until all injustice disappears and all human lordship and power is annihilated, and God is all in all.

 

[940] Of the order and law which hold sway in heaven and on earth, according to which it comes to pass that human society is served by those who rule it.

 

 

In the earthly city, then, the whole use of temporal things is directed towards the enjoyment of earthly peace. In the Heavenly City, however, such use is directed towards the enjoyment of eternal peace. Thus, if we were irrational animals, we should desire nothing beyond the proper arrangement of the body’s parts and the satisfaction of our appetites. We should, that is, desire only fleshly comfort and an abundant supply of pleasures, so that the body’s peace might produce peace of soul. For if bodily peace is lacking, the peace of the irrational soul is also impeded, because it cannot achieve the satisfaction of its appetites. The two kinds of peace together, however, produce that mutual relation of body and soul which gives rise to an ordered harmony of life and health. For all living creatures show their love of bodily peace when they shun pain, and of peace [941] of soul when they seek pleasure in order to satisfy the demands of their appetites. In the same way, they show clearly enough by shunning death how greatly they delight in that peace which consists in an harmonious relation of soul and body.

 

But because there is in man a rational soul, he subordinates all that he has in common with the beasts to the peace of that rational soul. He does this so that his mind may engage to some degree in contemplation, and so that he may in some degree act according to such contemplation, thereby displaying that ordered agreement of thought and action which as we have said, constitutes the peace of the rational soul. And, for this purpose, he should wish to be neither distressed by pain, nor disturbed by desire, nor extinguished by death, so that he may arrive at some useful knowledge and regulate his life and morals according to that knowledge. But he has need of divine guidance, which he may obey with confidence, and of divine aid, so that he may obey it freely. Otherwise, in his zeal for knowledge, he may fall into some deadly error because of the infirmity of the human mind. Also, for as long as he is in this mortal body, he is a pilgrim, far from the Lord; and so he walks by faith, not by sight. That is why he refers all peace, whether of body or of soul, or of both, to that peace which mortal man has with the immortal God, so that he may exhibit an ordered obedience, in faith, to the eternal Law.

 

Now God, our Master, teaches two chief precepts: that is, love of God and love of neighbour. In these precepts, a man finds three things which he is to love: God, himself, and his neighbour; for a man who loves God does not err in loving himself. It follows, therefore, that he will take care to ensure that his neighbour also loves God, since he is commanded to love his neighbour as himself. Also, as far as he can, he will do the same for his wife, his children, his servants, and all other men. And, to the same end, he will wish his neighbour to do the same for him, if he should have need of such help. In this way, he will be at peace with all men as far as in him lies: there will be that peace among men which consists in well-ordered concord. And the order of this concord is, first, that a man should harm no one, and, second, that he should do good to all, so far as he can. In the first place, therefore, he must care for his own [942] household; for the order of nature and of human society itself gives him readier access to them, and greater opportunity of caring for them. Hence, the apostle says, ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ In this care lies the foundation of domestic peace: that is, of an ordered concord with respect to command and obedience among those who dwell together. For commands are given by those who care for the rest – by husband to wife, parents to children, and masters to servants. And those who are cared for obey: women obey their husbands, children their parents, and servants their masters. In the household of the just man, however, who ‘lives by faith’ and who is still a pilgrim on his way to that Heavenly City, even those who command are the servants of those whom they seem to command. For it is not out of any desire for mastery that they command; rather, they do so from a dutiful concern for others: not out of pride in ruling, but because they love mercy.

 

 

15. Of the liberty which belongs to man’s nature, and the servitude introduced by sin: a servitude such that the man whose will is wicked is the slave of his own lust, even though he is free in relation to other men

This is prescribed by the order of nature: it is thus that God created man; for He said, ‘Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing which creepeth on the earth.’ He did not intend that His rational creature, made in His own image, should have lordship over any but irrational creatures: not man over man, but man over the beasts. Hence, the first just men were established as shepherds of flocks, rather than as kings of men, This was done so that in this way also God might indicate what the order of nature requires, and what the desert of sinners demands. For we believe that it is with justice that a condition of servitude is imposed on the sinner. That is why we do not read the word ‘slave’ anywhere in the Scriptures until Noah, [943] the just man, punished his son’s sin with this name. That son deserved this name, then, not because of his nature, but because of his fault. The Latin word for slave [servus] is believed to have derived its origin from the fact that those who might have been slain under the laws of war were sometimes spared [servabantur] by the victors, and so were called servi because they had been preserved. But even this preservation could not have come about other than through the deserts of sin. For even when a just war is waged, it is in defence of his sin that he against whom it is waged is fighting; and every victory, even when it goes to the wicked, is a humiliation inflicted upon the conquered by divine judgment, either to correct their sins or to punish them. Daniel, a man of God, bears witness to this when, in captivity, he confesses to God his own sins and the sins of his people, and in pious grief testifies that they are the cause of that captivity.

The first cause of servitude, therefore, is sin, by which man was placed under man in a condition of bondage: a condition which can come about only by the judgment of God, in Whom there is no injustice, and Who knows how to distribute different punishments according to the merits of the offenders.

 

As the Lord on high says, ‘Every one who doeth sin is the servant of sin.’ Thus, while many godly persons are the slaves of unrighteous masters, the masters whom they serve are themselves not free men; ‘for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage’. Clearly, it is a happier lot to be the slave of a man than of a lust: indeed, the lust for mastery, to say nothing of any other, is itself the harshest kind of mastery, which lays waste the hearts of mortal men. However, in that order of peace which prevails among men when some are placed under others, humility is as profitable to those who serve as pride is harmful to those who rule.

 

By nature, then, in the condition in which God first created man, no man is the slave either of another man or of sin. But it is also true that servitude itself is ordained as a punishment, by that law which enjoins the preservation of the order of nature, and forbids its disruption. For if nothing had been done in violation of that law, [944] there would have been no need for the discipline of servitude as a punishment. The apostle therefore admonishes servants to be obedient to their master, and to serve them loyally and with a good will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they can at least make their own slavery to some extent free. They can do this by serving not with cunning fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness shall cease, and all authority and power be put down, that God may be all in all.

 

 

 

Chapter 14. Of the Order and Law Which Obtain in Heaven and Earth, Whereby It Comes to Pass that Human Society Is Served by Those Who Rule It.

 

 

The whole use, then, of things temporal has a reference to this result of earthly peace in the earthly community, while in the city of God it is connected with eternal peace. And therefore, if we were irrational animals, we should desire nothing beyond the proper arrangement of the parts of the body and the satisfaction of the appetites,-nothing, therefore, but bodily comfort and abundance of pleasures, that the peace of the body might contribute to the peace of the soul. For if bodily peace be awanting, a bar is put to the peace even of the irrational soul, since it cannot obtain the gratification of its appetites. And these two together help out the mutual peace of soul and body, the peace of harmonious life and health. For as animals, by shunning pain, show that they love bodily peace, and, by pursuing pleasure to gratify their appetites, show that they love peace of soul, so their shrinking from death is a sufficient indication of their intense love of that peace which binds soul and body in close alliance.

 

 

But, as man has a rational soul, he subordinates all this which he has in common with the beasts to the peace of his rational soul, that his intellect may have free play and may regulate his actions, and that he may thus enjoy the well-ordered harmony of knowledge and action which constitutes, as we have said, the peace of the rational soul. And for this purpose he must desire to be neither molested by pain, nor disturbed by desire, nor extinguished by death, that he may arrive at some useful knowledge by which he may regulate his life and manners. But, owing to the liability of the human mind to fall into mistakes, this very pursuit of knowledge may be a snare to him unless he has a divine Master, whom he may obey without misgiving, and who may at the same time give him such help as to preserve his own freedom. And because, so long as he is in this mortal body, he is a stranger to God, he walks by faith, not by sight; and he therefore refers all peace, bodily or spiritual or both, to that peace which mortal man has with the immortal God, so that he exhibits the well-ordered obedience of faith to eternal law.

 

 

But as this divine Master inculcates two precepts, the love of God and the love of our neighbor, and as in these precepts a man finds three things he has to love,-God, himself, and his neighbor,-and that he who loves God loves himself thereby, it follows that he must endeavor to get his neighbor to love God, since he is ordered to love his neighbor as himself. He ought to make this endeavor in behalf of his wife, his children, his household, all within his reach, even as he would wish his neighbor to do the same for him if he needed it; and consequently he will be at peace, or in well-ordered concord, with all men, as far as in him lies. And this is the order of this concord, that a man, in the first place, injure no one, and, in the second, do good to every one he can reach. Primarily, therefore, his own household are his care, for the law of nature and of society gives him readier access to them and greater opportunity of serving them. And hence the apostle says, “Now, if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”(25) This is the origin of domestic peace, or the well-ordered concord of those in the family who rule and those who obey. For they who care for the rest rule, the husband the wife, the parents the children, the masters the servants; and they who are cared for obey, the women their husbands, the children their parents, the servants their masters. But in the family of the just man who lives by faith and is as yet a pilgrim journeying on to the celestial city, even those who rule serve those whom they seem to command; for they rule not from a love of power, but from a sense of the duty they owe to others-not because they are proud of authority, but because they love mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15.-Of the Liberty Proper to Man’s Nature, and the Servitude Introduced by Sin,-A Servitude in Which the Man Whose Will is Wicked is the Slave of His Own Lust, Though He is Free So Far as Regards Other Men.

This is prescribed by the order of nature: it is thus that God has created man. For “let them,” He says, “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing which creepeth on the earth.”(26) He did not intend that His rational creature, who was made in His image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation,-not man over man, but man over the beasts. And hence the righteous men in primitive times were made shepherds of cattle rather than kings of men, God intending thus to teach us what the relative position of the creatures is, and what the desert of sin; for it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. And this is why we do not find the word “slave” in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature. The origin of the Latin word for slave is supposed to be found in the circumstance that those who by the law of war were liable to be killed were sometimes preserved by their victors, and were hence called servants.(27) And these circumstances could never have arisen save through sin. For even when we wage a just war, our adversaries must be sinning; and every victory, even though gained by wicked men, is a result of the first judgment of God, who humbles the vanquished either for the sake of removing or of punishing their sins. Witness that man of God, Daniel, who, when he was in captivity, confessed to God his own sins and the sins of his people, and declares with pious grief that these were the cause of the captivity. (28) The prime cause, then, of slavery is sin, which brings man under the dominion of his fellow, that which does not happen save by the judgment of God, with whom is no unrighteousness, and who knows how to award fit punishments to every variety of offence.

 

 

But our Master in heaven says, “Every one who doeth sin is the servant of sin.” (29) And thus there are many wicked masters who have religious men as their slaves, and who are yet themselves in bondage; “for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (30) And beyond question it is a happier thing to be the slave of a man than of a lust; for even this very lust of ruling, to mention no others, lays waste men’s hearts with the most ruthless dominion. Moreover, when men are subjected to one another in a peaceful order, the lowly position does as much good to the servant as the proud position does harm to the master.

 

But by nature, as God first created us, no one is the slave either of man or of sin. This servitude is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance; for if nothing had been done in violation of that law, there would have been nothing to restrain by penal servitude. And therefore the apostle admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, and to serve them heartily and with good-will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness pass away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all.

 

   

 

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