The Monastic and Ecclesio-political Origins of Some Elements of our Modern Polities, Part 2a (Revision 1)

Two important features of all modern polities are (1) an emphasis on proper procedure and (2) a systematic ensurance of popular consent. Contrary to common expectation, these do not come directly from ancient Greece, leapfrogging into the present, nor do they spring ex nihilo from later Enlightenment conceptions of political life. Rather, they first take on their later forms by way of Late Antique and Medieval monastic and ecclesiastical environments. While we should not wish to make history tidier than it is –the lines of influence are messy ones– this particular line is significant enough that, even if it is later joined by other tributaries, it deserves to be singled out.

In this set of posts we shall look at a trajectory from roughly Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua, looking over our shoulder, later on, at Aristotle and Cicero. At the end, we shall ask some questions about the meaning of the secular, secularism, and secularity, as illuminated by this history.

In the previous entry, we looked at the Rule of Benedict. Here, we look at the lead-up to a crucial stage in the secularization (i.e., an exportation into the saeculum) of features of the Rule in the writings and life of Gregory I, Roman Pope, also known as Gregory the Great, or (less fortunately) as Gregory the Dialogist.  

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R. A. Markus on Augustine on Signs

The third chapter in Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays ed. R. A. Markus (New York: Doubleday, 1972) is titled “St. Augustine on Signs”, written by Markus himself (whom we introduced earlier, and whose book Saeculum we previously summarized).  Originally appearing in Phronesis in 1957, it is a curious blend of historical and constructive work — beginning with the historical, then eventually threading in the constructive strands (highlighting roads Augustine suggested, but neglected to travel — I will largely ignore these in this post). The De Magistro (“The Teacher”), De Doctrina Christiana (“On Christian Teaching”), and De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”) are the three works of Augustine’s focused on by Markus here. Continue reading