Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"City of God" XIX.13

Chapter 13:
This chapter gives us Augustine's definition of "peace", which is for all intents and purposes the same as Plato's definition of justice with certain critical exceptions. First, the definition:
Peace, in its final sense, is the calm that comes of order. Order is an arrangement of like and unlike things whereby each of them is disposed in its proper place.
In the soul, this means "the harmonious correspondence of conduct and conviction;" in the body, "the ordered equilibrium of all its parts;" in the state "an ordered harmony of authority and obedience between citizens;" in the Christian "ordered obedience, guided by faith, under God's eternal law." And so on (Augustine gives several examples). If we are not at peace, this is because something is out of alignment within us.
When someone is unhappy, it is because this order has been violated and disorder rules. Even the wicked can't escape this definition, because "their very misery is related to responsibility and to justice." This of course means that every being has some kind of existence, however disordered and wicked their soul may be. The devil himself has still some good, because he still exists as a creature of God: "God does not hound the good which He created, but only the evil which the devil committed."

So even in hell, people are in pain because they know how much they have lost, not because they have lost absolutely everything per se. "In the midst of their agonies the evil and the godless weep for the loss of their nature's goods, knowing, meanwhile, that God whose great generosity they contemned was perfectly just when He took these goods away."

Any pain we experience as a lack of peace in our soul is attributable only to ourselves. God made men good and gave us everything we need as a gift exactly when and how we needed it-- "daylight, speech, air to breathe, water to drink," etc. And yet,
These good gifts are granted, however, with the perfectly just understanding that whoever uses the goods which are meant for the mortal peace of mortal men, as these goods should be used, will receive more abundant and better goods--nothing less than immortal peace and all that goes with it, namely, the glory and honor of enjoying God and one's neighbor in God everlastingly; but that whoever misuses his gifts on earth will both lose what he has and never receive the better gifts of heaven.
Part of the peace of a Christian is recognizing the proper place and role of the created order in existence. We are not to elevate this world to the level of heaven, nor (as has already been said) try to pull heaven down to this world. Instead, we need to thank God for the good gifts of this life and use them accordingly, all the while looking for the heavenly City.

I said earlier that Augustine's definition of 'peace' is very similar to Plato's definition of 'justice,' with important exceptions. Plato argues in the Republic that justice is order in the soul and order in the state, with each part doing what it should be doing in its proper role and relation to the other parts. And if all we had of Augustine's City of God was this particular chapter, we'd have to write him off as a Christianizer of Plato along the lines of Clement of Alexandria. Yet, we know there are key differences, including (but not limited to): the place of Christ as the only truly 'just' man; the role of Scripture as the sole fount of knowledge concerning these higher truths (it was Augustine who coined the phrase sola Scriptura); and perhaps above all, the role of faith and grace as the means by which these virtues are brought to bear on the human life. Like all Greek philosophers, Plato has no category for either concept. Reason, emotion, appetite, and even a proto-will (Aristotle especially had some view of this) shape his writings. The idea that 'justice' is utterly beyond fallen man apart from Divine intervention and imputation by faith is utterly foreign to Plato and his philosophical descendants.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"City of God" XIX.12

Chapter 12:
Taking up the idea of man's search for peace, Augustine writes: "Any man who has examined history and human nature will agree with me that there is no such thing as a human heart that does not crave for joy and peace." The place Augustine turns for this discussion is, seemingly in contradiction to his goal, war. But this makes sense, what is the point of war if not to establish a peace through victory over the enemy. The point of every war is peace; and even those who start wars really just want a different, better peace: "Even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new peace nearer to the heart's desire."

Even criminals or "highwaymen", with all their violence against those they set upon, insist upon peace amongst their own group. The solitary highwayman simply seeks peace himself, and in his home. He demands instant obedience from those under his power, and hides his true nature from those whom he does not control. If he were given power in a state or kingdom, then that side of himself which he keeps hidden would be thrust out for the whole world to see. "Thus it is that all men want peace in their own society, and all want it in their own way." We will never settle for anything less than being masters of our own lives according to our own wills. However rough or violent a person may be (Augustine uses the example of Cacus from the Aeneid), the goal is still demonstrably peace.

Animals likewise show this desire, albeit in their own limited way. We of course are not animals, and extend this desire for peace to society. When our society is at war, we wish to be at peace with ourselves and to eventually bring the whole world into the peace of our society.
Of course, the only means such a conqueror knows is to have all men so fear or love him that they will accept the peace which he imposes. For so does pride perversely copy God. Sinful man hates the equality of all men under God and, as though he were God, loves to impose his sovereignty on his fellow men. He hates the peace of God which is just and prefers his own peace which is unjust. However, he is powerless not to love peace of some sort. For, no man's sin is so unnatural as to wipe out all traces whatsoever of human nature. 
We all crave peace and we all demand that it be the peace we want. Yet we still have to contend with reality. No human being in this life is so fallen as to be as bad as possible, which means that we have to reconcile our own wicked desire with the truths we recognize about justice and the real world. Augustine is not here discounting the effect or reality of sin, he is contrasting human sin to the steadfast persistence of the goodness of God's creation.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"City of God" XIX.8-11

Chapter 8:
Friendship, too, cannot be the final source of happiness (contra Aristotle), since we can't always tell our friends from our enemies. Those who are our real friends move away, drift apart, or die. Simply telling us to suppress these emotions does no good--they are too powerful to put down. These are true and deep griefs to us.
"There is no escape, then, from that misery of human life which is caused, in varying degrees, by the deaths of very close friends."
Even worse is when we see our Christian friends slip away from the faith and into sin, which is why we celebrate when believers die. "Their death, of course, afflicts our heart, but faith gives us the surer consolation, that they are now freed from those evils of this present life which threaten the best of men with either failure or defilement--and sometimes with both."

Chapter 9:
The Platonists have some idea of a "heavenly city", but they have no way to tell demons from angels, and so simply adopt all 'spiritual' beings. We, however, can discriminate between the two.

Chapter 10:
This isn't to say that we believers are never deceived by spiritual beings. Yet this just makes us long for heaven all the more. For that is where
all of our natural endowments--all that the Creator of all natures has given to our nature--will be both good and everlasting, where every wound in the soul is to be healed by wisdom and every weakness of body to be removed by resurrection; where our virtues will be no longer at war with passion or opposition of any kind, but are to have, as the prize of victory, an eternally imperturbable peace. 
The peace of earth is real and to be enjoyed, but it is also fleeting, uncertain, and small. When we do not enjoy it, "it is the function of virtue to make a right use of the misfortunes which we are suffering." This further turns us to the heavenly City and the coming eternal peace, which "will be a peace so good that no peace could be better, a peace so great that a greater would be impossible."

Chapter 11:
This peace is what the Bible speaks of when it speaks of heaven. Of course, we have an idea of 'peace' on earth as well, even as Christians. Even in this world we are reconciled to God and justified by faith with our sins forgiven and the process of sanctification begun. Yet we also want to be clear that 1) this only applies to Christians. Even though nonbelievers will live forever as well, we can hardly call punishment in hell 'life.' 2) Peace is what all people desire above all things, and so dwelling on what it actually means is a worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.VIII

Part II: Renovation

VIII. State and Church in the New Republic

Valentinian marked the "penultimate" stage of Romanitas. (292) Under the nominal name of Christianity, Classical culture retrenched, tried to weather the storm, and prepared for someone like Theodosius.
Following Julian the Apostate, Jovian restored Christianity and repudiated paganism. (292-293) This meant the death of further attempts at the reinvigoration of paganism by purely political and secular means. (293)

And yet, the two--Christianity and the Empire--remained at odds. The rise of Valentinian and Valens did not spark the same hopes that Constantine had, since realism had replaced millenialism. (294) Toleration was again the order of the day, though with "exemptions and immunities" for Christians. (294-295) Moderation was the watchword of the times (296), especially moderation which promoted public order. This came along with vast barbarian invasions. (296-297) War set the Empire on a military footing, with higher taxes and conscription, even of monks. (298) Veterans' benefits were escalated, and the requirements for service were largely eliminated. (299)



None of this was done in the name of religion. The Emperor's power was unique and secular, not religious. (299-300) Valentinian continued the reforms of Julian (not the religious ones, of course), albeit from a conservative rather than from a Christian foundation. (300-301) These efforts were, overall, ultimately just a part of the gradual bureaucratization of all things begun by Aurelian. (302) Thus, rules were set for public services, bakers (302-304), shipping, ship building, and trade. (303-304) Strict controls were placed on these institutions and corporations. (304) Even labor was regulated. (304-305)

The spirit of the age was all about "service" (305), which meant "work", either labor or money. Since all worked for the state, "individual enterprise" died. (306) Property remained, though it became hereditary. Thus "property" and "contract" were severed from each other (306-307), and practical servitude was the result. (307) Economic bureaucracy was the order of the day, with each place in society being determined by its economic value. (307) This culminated in the regulation and ordering of even dress. (307)

This was to some extent influenced by the Orient, but it remained Roman in nature. (308) In this ordered society, education became increasingly important. (308) Valentinian and the Christians managed to co-opt education, exactly the way Julian had failed to do. State schools were mandated and teaching turned into a caste. This included the founding of "imperial universities" (310), and libraries as well. Private instruction was consequently outlawed.

These efforts reflected 1) traditional pagan thought (see Amiannus, for example), and 2) Christians who used pagan methods.

Ammianus reflects the first, being just an old-line pagan. (311-312) Ausonius the poet reflects the second (313-314), where he translates Christian doctrine into pagan poetry. In reflecting on the new order, Ammianus criticizes 1) the aristocrats, who waste their lives and follow charlatans, rather than serving the state and philosophy (314-315); and 2) Imperial society, which had perverted justice to the point where it could no longer be the solution to politics as promised by Augustus. (316) Lawyers especially had corrupted the complex bureaucracy and legal code.

Yet, Ammianus is a shallow thinker, assuming that lawyers--and not the Classical ideal itself--were at fault. (316-317) He doesn't really understand the challenge or promise of Christianity. Virtue and fortune were really no longer sufficient to explain the world.

If all this is true, Valentinian may have been the last true Roman Emperor. He was working for a system of values that no longer held up in the real world, though he at least saw the need for fresh vitality from an outside source. (317)

"City of God" XIX.5-7

Chapter 5:
Of the philosophical options, we prefer the idea that the best life is a social one. Yet even that has its drawbacks and difficulties. Social life is no more ideal in this world than the solitary life. The household, for example, is no haven of peace and rest. Friends and family turn on each other and bring the worst sorts of strife imaginable.

Chapter 6:
Just as the household, so the city does not provide the good life we yearn for. It too is full of fighting and murder and crime and all the sorts of things we're trying to escape. Augustine uses the example of the Roman law that requires torture in order to provide testimony from witnesses--which means that innocents are often tortured. If nothing else, what shall we say about the judge in such a place? He is inherently being unjust if he follows the law, and of course breaking the law if he does not follow it. What can a Christian say when he finds himself in such a position (either of judge or of the one being tortured) other than "Deliver me from my necessities."

Chapter 7:
Rising from the city to the cosmopolitan world, even there we find that there is no ultimate happiness. "As with the perils of the ocean, the bigger the community, the fuller it is of misfortunes."
Whether these are the language barrier, war, injustice within the empire, massacres, and the evils that even just rulers have to perpetuate, we see that there is to be no peace and no happiness in the wide-open world:
Any man who will consider sorrowfully evils so great, such horrors and such savagery, will admit his human misery. And if there is any man who can endure such calamities, or even contemplate them without feeling grief, his condition is all the more wretched for that. For it is only the loss of all humane feeling that coul make him call such a life 'the happy life.'

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.VII

Part II: Renovation

VII. Apostasy and Reaction

The rise of Julian the Apostate to the throne was a revolution in politics and philosophy "from Christ to Plato." (261-262) This was a "personal enterprise" (262-263), in which through his devotion to things Classical he mingled his (well-deserved) personal animus with public policy. (263) His views of Christianity were shaped by his view of Constantine (263-264), and including the belief that Christianity was escapist and an invitation to license, since all could be forgiven at the cross. (264) Christianity is a relapse to barbarism, falling from Rome and Greece to the very worst aspects of Judaism. (264-265) Julian condemns Christianity, Jesus, and Christian theological claims. (265-266) The Christian God is, in his mind, petty and small, embodying will rather than reason. (266)

These criticisms go back to Celsus (267-268), and suggest inconsistencies between God, evil, the world, and free will. Julian goes farther and condemns Christians in their actions as well as their doctrines (267-268), suggesting that by throwing out Classicism the have thrown out virtue itself. (268) They have replaced reason with saints' relics. This criticism was focused especially on monasticism. (268-269) This particular sort of exhibitionist withdrawal condemned pagans while offering exactly nothing in return (269), only a vague "Christian law." (269-270) Julian called this an attempt to seize virtue and the good life without work. (270)

Monasticism was the exception, not the rule, and tended to be outside the church life (270), though they nominally still submitted and thus rejected reason as the chief guide of life, and hence may in some ways be seen as barbaric. Julian saw them, along with church leaders, as false leaders of stupid congregations. For Julian, Athanasius was the "very spirit of unreasonableness." (271)

And while the Christians fought among themselves, they drained resources from the Empire. (272) Julian's reaction (like Constantius') was an attempt to undo the Constantinian settlement, and move back to Classical ideas of nature, reason, and politics (273), at least those of Plato.

Julian adds no new developments to Platonism, he just adopts it to the now-cosmopolitan Empire. (274) He believes 1) "the Idea is hypostatized;" and 2) the Idea is a cause. (275) This is nothing new, though it is interesting as applied to Romanitas. One can reason back from the varieties of human nature and discern characteristics of God. (276-277) Thus virtue (felicity, the summum bonum) is living according to reason by our natures. (277) This was both a personal and a social ethic (278), and culminated in "philanthropy." The model of kingship then becomes divine (278-279), and Platonic, especially in religion and virtue. (279)

Julian's attempt to Platonize the state was not a move back to the freedom/ideals of Cicero and Augustus. It was rather his attempt to reimpose paganism. Even his bureaucratic reforms were attempts to revivify old Romanitas. (281-282) Favors were switched back to pagan priests and temples, and classical education was promoted. (282) Believing that religion was the foundation of the state, he attacked the corporate church, not individual Christians. (282-283) He removed political benefits and immunities and ordered neutrality on the part of the state, and forbade religious violence. (283-284) Ammianius said this was simple justice, though "disruption" (as in Athanasius) was still not tolerated. (284)

Everyone agreed that the state needed a religion, the real question was "why not Hellenism, the religion of good citizenship rather than of bad?" (285) But if Plato is used, how is he to be adopted to the variety of both local deities across the Empire (Plato was after all a functional monotheist) and to the national standards? (285-286) By restoring traditional rights and by reviving the study of the classics. (286)

Public schools were established and the Emperor set the curriculum. This was seen as only second to war in terms of national importance. Education, for Julian, is not just words, but is the teaching of virtue as well. Which means that the teachers need to be virtuous, which means that they need to be classically Hellenist. (287-288) Thus literature becomes a pillar of the establishment, rather than a repository of mankind. (288) This was a totalitarian step aimed at exterminating Christianity and barring it from the fullness of life. (288-289)

Julian's "restoration" included restoring military glory, which cost him his life and cost Rome the power of 65,000 trained men. (289)
Julian's Campaign against the Sassanids
With him the movement back to paganism died. Not because of him per se, but because of the weaknesses already present in paganism.

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.VI

Part II: Renovation

VI. Quid Athenae Hierosolymis? The Impasse of Constantianism

Things were now changed for Christians. Tertullian had said that "a Christian Caesar was a contradiction." Though with Tertullian, we should remember that 1) he was weird, and ended as a Montanist; and 2) he was the product of exceptionally troubled times. (213-214) And yet, we see a deep contradiction between Christianity and Classicism, which means we must ask 1) why did Constantine take so large a break with tradition? and 2) how does the Gospel apply to its new political context, especially if that context was in the process of sinking? (214)

The answer to the first question was that Constantine was searching for Divine power through the integration of religion and politics. That in itself was old news. The new thing was that the religion in question was Christianity. (214-215)
Thus, the idea was that Christianity offered the success that paganism had ceased to offer. And so the "promise of the Evangel" was increasingly associated with the emperor and his family. (215)

Which is why Constantine's ways and methods remained pagan, even as Christianity was the new religion. (216-217) Constantine was the new Alexander, the new Hellenistic superman.

In hindsight of course we can see that this was not to be a permanent solution, and in fact may have accelerated the decline (217), since Christianity continued to undermine Classical civic virtue.
Even at the time, Constantine's own heirs weren't really sure what he was trying to accomplish! (217-218)

The problem was the attempt to articulate clear Christian principles while avoiding the problems of paganism. (218-219) What was the purpose of Christianity in the new world? For that matter, what was its purpose in the previous three centuries? (219-220) Essentially, the Christians had built a city within a city. Each Greco-Roman institution had its Christian anti-type. (220) But these really show the differences between the two, rather than any similarities--as expressed by the pagans, mob violence, and persecution, as well as by the Christians in their triumph over the secular world (by moving from fear of it for love for it). (220-222) This love brings "a new sense of community" based on ultimate values, which are then shared freely with others. (221-222) Christianity provides the "basis for a radically fresh and original attitude towards experience" (222), based on revelation and faith rather than reason. Tertullian had emphasized this, as had Justin. (222-223) Belief in the "silly" was the challenge to classicism. (223-224)

The sole unifying Christian teaching was the authority of Jesus (224), as opposed to that of nature or reason. What was believed about Jesus was then paramount, especially 1) his historicity; and 2) the confession of faith concerning the events of His life. (224-225) To this end creeds were formulated. The creed embraced Jesus as the "God to end gods," as opposed to the "'virtue' and 'fortune' of Caesar." (225) It also declared the eternal life offered to all who believe, whereas opposed to pagan transcendence, both the body and the spirit were to be saved. (225-226) (contra also the Gnostics)

Of course, there were some borderline Gnostics among the Christians, such as Clement (226) and Origen. Tertullian, however, noted the absolute breach between "science" and "faith." (227) This overturned the classical ideal and suggested that Rome was based on power, rather than virtue. The "religion" and "virtue" of Augustus were merely baptized power. (227-228) Thus Tertullian would secularize government and restrict it from the religious sphere. (228) One consequently should only obey the government so long as there is no sin involved.

Taken to extremes (which of course Tertullian did), this undermines all authority, including the church, and submits all things to the conscience of the individual. (229) And yet, Tertullian fell into the very trap he decried when he declared that idealism was universally wrong. (229-230) This thrust him into a sort of materialism and millennialism, matched later by the Puritans. (230)

The reaction against such men (as by Cyprian) was authoritarian and traditionalist. (230-231) Thus early Christianity was morally strong and intellectually weak. (231) It was only after receiving philosophical assault that it began to develop its own body of thought. (231-232)

Christianity's acceptance (before it was fully intellectually developed) made things worse (232), as the lure of power assaulted the faith and confused the question of how to apply Christian doctrine to the new world order .(232-233) This question hinged on the person of Christ. The first attempt to define Him comes from Arius, refuting Sabellius. (232-233) Arius drew up a Monad based on Neoplatonism, in which the Logos was created. (233) His mistake was the attempt to bridge the eternal and the temporal through the Logos as a part of time (234), as with the Neoplatonic demiurge. Arius attempted to solve the problem of "composition" (how the eternal could enter the flux of the temporal) using Classical methods. (234-235) The Nicene Fathers reacted by proclaiming the unity of Christ's humanity and divinity. (235) Thus Christ was, rather than Christ became. (236) In the same way the Trinity was expounded as both Unity and Trinity (236-237), and both these are to be grasped by faith rather than by reason (237), though they also suggested new rational approaches.

This was a new, "unclassical," way of doing things. Where Plato had equated being and knowledge (so that pure knowledge=pure reality), and so divided the world into the sensible and the scientific, Christianity denied his whole premise (237-238) and argued that experience is the same for all, and that the only difference is how we perceive it. Either rightly by faith, or wrongly through the self. Faith shifted our perspective through the Deity to nature, rather than vice-versa. (238)

This was a new approach to both materialism and idealism. (238-239) The problem of "cause" was solved, and new application and interpretation became the new question: where does man fit in? (239-240)

The Christian view of man is that he is both part of nature and God-like at the same time, especially in his eternal life. (240) But how is that compatible with the idea of death we see everywhere in nature? The answer was sin, which is not a problem of the natural world, but of rebellion against God beginning with Adam and tracing through every man. (240-241) This, in turn identified both the problem (sin) and the solution (rebirth). (241-242) This regeneration, in turn, was built on grace. (242) The source of life is the solution  to the problems of life. This, in turn, meant a recognition that the realm of the spirit, heart, and mind, is the place where events of true significance happen. (242-243)

The big divergence from Classicism is the idea of progress. That we progress (as a fact) is evident (we see this in Aristotle). But aiming at a good often destroys that very good. how then do we arrive at the good without destroying it? Either the end (telos) of thought of of action? (243-244)  (Thought and action are the means as well, represented by Socrates and Virgil respectively.) Christians argue that "good for man is eternal life and that this consists in the knowledge and love of God" (244), on a personal (not corporate) level. Thus the problem of reality is ultimately an internal one, not an external one, with only the sinful self blocking progress. (244-245)

Though Christians recognized the validity of some of the pagan views (245-246), even if only because it was so deeply ingrained by their upbringing as to be irremovable. (247-248)

After Nicea, the question is: how do Christians relate to the pagan and secular values of the Empire? (248) Even formulating this question is useful, since it points to the possibility of meaning beyond the Empire. (248-249) The Christological controversies were, in part, an attempt by theologians and Emperors to work this difficulty out. (249-250)

This didn't work, and Constantine's successors faced yet worse crises and dissension, which even harsh restrictions on corruption and military measures on the borders couldn't restrain. (250-251)  Landed restrictions were increased and minor nobles continued to suffer. (252) Harsh measures against counterfeiters and those who squelched on public debts were enforced. (253-254) Thus we see the "inefficiency and corruption" of Constantianism (254), at least politically.

But what about religiously? Sadly, a spirit of fanaticism, intolerance, and persecution begins to grow among the Christians. (254-255) Pagans and Jews were now the persecuted. (255) Christians were given special exemptions (clergy, at least), and Cynics, such as Ammianus, suggested that Constantine was just a thinly veiled Machiavellian. (Not that they used exactly that language, of course.) This charge may even be borne out by Constantius' grasp at ecclesiastical power, which may have succeeded if not for Athanasius contra mundum. (257) This, in turn, shows the true backbone of orthodoxy, even against the church's own worldly patron. (257-258)

Athanasius held out against the Platonic Arians, both in word (chapter 10), and in "four different kinds of action":

  1. appealing to the Council over the Emperor;
  2. using the episcopacy in his own defense;
  3. appealing to the people (congregation);
  4. suffering personally.
In protesting against the Emperor's right to make church judgments on doctrine or discipline, "he laid the foundation of a specifically Christian political theory." (259) Athanasius' separation of church and state would not, however, lead to a renewal of orthodoxy under the leadership of a Christian. Rather, the mantle of separation of church and state would be taken up by a pagan. 

"City of God" XIX.4

Chapter 4:
But what should the Christian think of all this "highest good" stuff? Well, the believer and the church:
holds that eternal life is the supreme good and eternal death the supreme evil, and that we should live rightly in order to obtain the one and avoid the other. hence the Scriptural expression, 'the just man lives by faith'--by faith, for the fact is that we do not now behold our good and, therefore, must seek it by faith; nor can we of ourselves even live rightly, unless He who gives us faith helps us to believe and pray, for it takes faith to believe that we need His help.
In other words, we look in vain for our highest good in this life or by human means. Instead, we must look to God, the source of salvation and justification and the means by which the best life comes to us.

What we find when we look for satisfaction or fulfillment in this life is that it always disappoints us. Physical health always declines (whether by sickness or old age hardly matters). Beauty always fades. Reason and intelligence crumble with time. Even philosophers fall victim to these evils.
Virtue itself, if we are speaking of the virtue which is available to us, is nothing more than 'one unending war with evil inclinations, and not with solicitations of other people alone, but with evil inclinations that arise within ourselves and are our very own." Or, as the Apostle says, when I want to do good "evil is right there with me."
Pick your virtue as you please: temperance, prudence, justice, or courage ('fortitude'). Each of these we strive for and in each we regularly and repeatedly fall short. The Stoics claim this as their great virtue, yet would we ever say they are 'happy'? [Of course, they would also claim not to care about happiness...] We must decry any philosophy which holds up suicide as a possible route of virtue.

Rather, we confess that happiness and virtue are not united to each other here, but in the heavenly city they can never be separated:
For, when virtues are genuine virtues--and that is possible only when men believe in God--they make no pretense of protecting their possessors from unhappiness, for that would be a false promise; but they do claim that human life, now compelled to feel the misery of so many grievous ills on earth, can, by the hope of heaven, be made both happy and secure. 
Our happiness is certain because it does not reside in this fleeting world of sin, but because it is stored up in heaven. The problem with the philosophers of this world is that they are looking to this world to try to find the one thing that can only be found in the presence of God.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"City of God" XIX.3

Chapter 3:
In further narrowing down the philosophical options in pursuit of truth, Varro argues that man is neither just soul nor just body, but a combination of the two, "much as we say a 'team' is made up of two horses harnessed together... We never say that either of them, however closely linked with his mate, is the team, but that the pair is the team." Therefore, the highest good of man must be good for both body and soul. This is found only in virtue, which cares for both body and soul and which alone can make us happy. This virtue requires a number of things in order to develop in the human life, including education and society (though we may be a bit flexible in where we find these last two things--"society" may just mean "the world at large", or "our own households"). Everything other than this is a matter of relative indifference among philosophers, for example, what does it matter whether or not a philosophers dresses and eats like a Cynic, so long as he holds to these truths?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"City of God" XIX.2

Chapter 2:
Here, we get more of Varro's method of trimming down the philosophical options until we are left with three possible schools, which Augustine will discuss more of in the next chapter.

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" II.V

Part II: Renovation

V. The New Republic: Constantine and the Triumph of the Cross

Prior to 313 AD, there had been a sense of opposition between Christians and the world, and a sense of apathy about Rome. (177) The end of persecution meant the end of opposition and the "victory of Christianity over the secular order." (177-178) These are embodied in the Edict of Milan. (178) This Edict

  1. guaranteed the right to be Christian and removed legal persecution (including via the military service or bureaucracy); 
  2. allowed all men to worship as they would; 
  3. it returned seized land and buildings, or made restitution;
  4. it allowed the church the right to own property. 
This was allowed to all religions (178-179), and toleration became the formal rule of the day. (179) More importantly, this removed religion from the state/republic/polis and recognized the place of a Christian commonwealth. (179-180) Not, of course, that Constantine foresaw any of these results.

The Tetrarchy ("Sacred College") failed, and indeed was "an evil legacy," since it devolved justice onto the divine person of the emperor. (181) Rights were overturned and torture and tyranny were the order of the day. (181-182) This bled over into religious oppression as well. (182)



Constantine, thus, was viewed as Augustus, as restorer. (183) And if Constantine had no Virgil, he at least at a Eusebius. (183-184) For Eusebius, Constantine was God's right hand, come to smite His enemies. (184) In Constantine was seen the triumph of the cross and the arrival of the eschaton. (185) This was the dream of Classical Civilization, but now achievable since Christianity provided the means to unify men. (185) Constantine was the divinely appointed ruler of the Kingdom of God on earth. (185-186) So Constantine gained in prestige by sacrificing imperial divinity (186-187), and although he restrained himself from interfering in the church (187), his heirs had no such qualms.

And so limitations were sought to be placed on the Emperor, who was no longer divine. (187-188) Thus arose the argument that the Emperor was a member of the church, not its head. (187-188) In exchange, the monarchy was given fresh vigor, and a sense of absolute authority with moral and social goals as well. (188-189) Though orientalism hung around (especially through image-worship and dynasticism), Romanitas somewhat endured. We see this in 1) the councils embodying philosophic thought; 2) in public opinion's relationship with popular leaders like Ambrose and Athanasius. (189-190)


Constantine reformed administration into East and West prefectures. (190) But what hope did this really offer? We've already seen Eusebius' answer. Skipping over Arnobius (191), Lactantius and his Institutes also also have something to say here. Reason and authority, for him, are based on Divine Providence, for both pagans and Christians. Classical philosophy must be dismissed, since it teaches nothing about God and offers no hope for change, and so ends up with nothing more than a discussion of human justice. (192) Thus relationships cannot be based on necessity, contract, idealism, or materialism, but only on our nature as sons of God. (192-193)

Justice is the love of men, based on pietas (devotion to God) and aequitas (equality), both of which the Classical ideal perverts into a strictly political and economic ideal. (193-194) Classical society was 1) deceitful, in that it never fulfilled its promises; 2) destructive, in that one society only grew through the destruction of another; 3) ignorant of the family, which is the proper basis of society in the first place. (194)

So the new society was to be built on the family according to God's will for man's fulfillment. (194-195) The state was defined by virtuous freedom, and only acted as a restraint in the name of humanity. (195)

Lactantius seems, however, to have no sense of original sin. (195-196) No new view of nature is given, and Classical freedom is seen as the result of the Gospel. (196) Thus, his thinking is a soft utopianism. (196-197) The fate of this soft blending of pagan and Christian humanitarianism may be analogous to the fate of the modern social gospel...

The "general spirit and purpose" of Constantine's legislation was 1) "to create a world fit for Christians to live in" (individual Christian focus); and 2) "to make the world safe for Christianity" (church focus). (197-198)

In practice, his legislation reconstituted the Roman "familia." Slavery, dependents, women, and children were all treated more warmly. And yet, this was amelioration, not true reform. (199-200) As we see in the fact that some laws were made harsher. (200-201) Constantine simultaneously fixed people in their places, and was generous with favors to groups he liked. (201-202) Especially harsh were the oppressive land laws, begun by Diocletian and continued by Constantine. (202) These punished local nobles and killed patriotism in the Western Empire, even as they softened the punishment for delinquent taxpayers. (202-203)

These and other taxes show Constantine's dedication to preserving the status quo, and so we can assume that any actual changes were made for religious reasons. (203)  But why didn't the newly empowered Christianity transform society and make things better? (204) Partially because it arrived too late; but mostly because that wasn't really Constantine's goal. (204-205) His real "programme" was the use of the church as a means of shoring up the Empire (where the bourgeois had failed). Thus, something like the Donatist schism became a political question. (205-206) Even more, despite the neutrality of the Edict of Milan, Constantine became increasingly Christian. (206-207) This planted the seeds of Caesaropapism. (207-208) As Constantine glorified the church, so the church glorified Constantine (208), increasingly tying itself to the fate of the Emperor and the Empire. (209)

Yet, despite his best efforts, Constantine never truly became a Christian "ponitfex maximus," and Nicea and the African controversy showed that the church would not be dominated. (209-210)

The Nicene Council was an ecumenical attempt at peace (210), and was enforced by law. This was seen as the beginning of the broadening of the Empire to any place where Christians dwelt. (210-211)

Constantine's goal "was to legislate the millennium in a generation." (211) This forced Christians to rethink the "social and political implications of their faith." Not that he saw the long-term havoc this would wreak. Constantine was an odd mix of practical and mystical, much like Scipio Aemilianus of old, his religion was one of success--as seen in his simultaneous pagan deification and Christian sainthood. (212)

"City of God" XIX.1

Chapter 1:
Here, Augustine turns his philosophical guns to their highest setting, giving a full blast of what is best in life:


Augustine of course has a slightly more subtle approach: "By definition, our supreme end is that good which is sought for its own sake, and on account of which all other goods are sought... For the moment, we shall say that the ultimate good is not so much a good to end all goods as, rather, one by which goodness reaches its fullest consummation."
Evil is similar--it is that which is to be avoided as much as possible and in its heights (or depths) that which "reaches the very height of harm."

What we need to understand is the different perspectives on good and evil between the two cities. In a sense, this is the goal of everyone who claims to love wisdom. This can mean in the context of the soul, or of the body, or both (this is the division which Varro makes in his works). Augustine follows Varro's schemata as he works through the various options. This can include the pursuit of pleasure, peace ("serenity"), a combination of pleasure and peace, or simply meeting the basic needs of life (think Marx with this last one). What's more, we can look at these different options in different ways, through the means of virtue, pleasure, or a combination of both. (Which, if you're keeping track, now puts us at 12 possible combinations.) Added to this is the possibility of pursuing these things for the individual or for the society of the whole (which now brings us to 24 options). Finally, each of these options may be argued to be certain, or relative and uncertain (which means there are 48 philosophical possibilities). Beyond this, one may be Cynical about philosophy, or un-Cynical about philosophy (96 possibilities). Likewise one can pursue philosophy with action in mind, or contemplation, or a mixture (finally we're at 288 possibilities). Varro then narrows these options back down to the one school he thinks the best one, the Old Academy (the Platonism of Plato, rather than of Plato's followers).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"City of God" XVIII.54

Chapter 54:
Do we even need to argue these questions, given the fact that the "calculated" date of Christ's return has already passed? If nothing else, no one can seem to agree on when to start the calculations (His birth? His baptism? His death? His resurrection? His ascension? Pentecost?)
Instead of assuming that we have been deluded by Peter's magical arts, we should realize that we are Christians, who
in name and deed do not believe in Peter, but in Him in whom Peter believed; we have been drawn to Christ by Peter's exhortations, not drugged by his incantations; we have been helped by his services, not hoodwinked by his sorceries. Christ was Peter's teacher in that faith which leads to everlasting life. The same Christ is our teacher too.
So much for those who claim to follow Peter, in his throne and seat. It's not the magic utterances of a priest claiming Petrine authority that gives Christianity truth and power, it is the work and person of Christ.

And so Augustine ends his book, having

described in such detail as I judged adequate the historical course of the two cities, the heavenly and the earthly, intermingled as they have been from the beginning and are to be until the end of time.  The earthly one has made for herself, according to her heart's desire, false gods out of any sources at all, even out of human beings, that she might adore them with sacrifices. The heavenly one, on the other hand, living like a wayfarer in this world, makes no false gods for herself. On the contrary, she herself is made by the true God that she may be herself an true sacrifice to Him.
And so we may spot the difference between the City of God and the city of man--the former worships God according to His rules and in such a way that we lay our lives down for His glory; the latter worships itself, to the point of killing others for its own pride. This is not to say that one city cares about material goods and the other only spiritual things:
Both of these cities alike make use of temporal goods and both are equally afflicted by temporal ills--but how different they are in faith, how dissimilar in hope, how unlike in love! [diversa fide, diversa spe, diverso amore] This will go on until they are to be separated in the Last Judgment, when each shall achieve its appointed end--an end which will have no end!
Which means that Augustine now has the task of discussing the ends to which both cities are heading.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.IV

Part I: Reconstruction

IV. Regnum Caesaris Regnum Diaboli

Between the collapse of this system and the rise of Christianity, there were three phases:

  1. accommodation to the Augustan order;
  2. the fulfillment of the promise of this order;
  3. the collapse of Augustus' reconstruction, culminating in the integration of Christianity into the empire. (114)
These roughly match the next three centuries (not exactly of course). 

First, accommodation and adjustment, that is, accepting Augustus and his system as the embodiment of the "logos of classical order", involved:
  • unifying the Mediterranean;
  • subjecting that unified body to "Romanitas" (115).
The Caesars worked to these ends, through vis (force), auctoritas (authority), and consilium (agreement).
  • vis: (military force or power) This is not limitless expansion, that was a factor of the Republic and Republican individuals--the Empire was about protection only! (115-116) Expansion had collapsed the Republic, so in the army discipline especially had to be maintained, which became a question of
  • auctoritas: (authority) This was built on the personal relationship between the Emperor and the army. This, in turn, was partly discipline, and partly 1) the military's professionalization and 2) the loss of Senatorial control over the army. (116-117) This isolated the army from the people, the only point of mediation henceforth being the Emperor. (117) Inept or weak Emperors lost control and things under their rule went south.
  • consilium (agreements, peace) This was not so much the Emperor's executive as it was his judicial function, and his relationship to the law. (118) Magistrates increasingly took the place of professional juries under the principate. (119-120) In criminal law, this made the Emperor supreme and risked corrupting the system. (120) In private law, rights and obligations grew. (120-121) These were granted and enforced by the Emperor (121), and guided by his inclination (122), which was shaped by classical principles, which were then projected into the future.
Augustus' problem was the ideal manipulation of the physical and human world (122-123) in the face of fortune. This was the challenge of the art of statesmanship squared off against fortune, which meant that luck was somehow involved. But it was also understood that overcoming the luck and unknown experienced in nature was done through societal discipline. (123

"Societal discipline", in this case, meant mostly the Roman peoples (provincials were mostly ignored for the time being), especially the rich and the oligarchs. (123-124) These never really came to terms with the principate, and finally ended in extinction. They could never forget the fact that they once had held power. (124) Cato became their role model, but how could they expect to live to the standards of earlier generations when the path through the political ranks to those standards is now closed off to them? (124-125)

The Senate was both the source of legitimacy for the Emperor and superfluous (albeit traditional). And so it died, but slowly. (125-126) "But if the pax Augusta spelt doom for the aristocracy, it was not less fatal to the heirs of the founder himself." (126) The charges against them raise questions of what is virtue and vice in a state, or for an emperor. (127)

The Emperor was to be the embodiment of Roman virtue, which Augustus was and all others struggled to be. (127-128) 

Tiberius eventually broke under the strain. (128-129)

The Emperors could not be gods and so became beasts (129), all while increasingly being accepted as divine. (130) Philosophy steps up to justify this charge (131), and court pomp starts to look Oriental and Hellenized. (131-132) But this just highlights the role of the Emperor as the center of the order, the type that holds the state together. (132) Originality and personality were abhorrent. Adoption, rather than hereditary dynasticism was the way to meet this ideal. (133)

Tacitus writes from an aristocratic conservatism, condemning both dictatorial extremes and mass revolution. (133-134) Tacitus is a hesitating figure, not always sure what to do with his material. (134-135) The best he can muster is the praise of rustic virtue, and the "dreamworlds" to which he escapes. (135) His problem is ultimately spiritual, and revolves around the divinity of the Emperor, which he knows through common sense to be wrong, but finds no intellectual grounds to object. (135-136) And so reason itself breaks down and he must fall back on fortune. (136) For immortality he turns to posterity, and so appeals to virtue and vice and their examples. (136-137) This climaxed in the five good emperors. (137)

The Empire was at peace, expansive and united in a cosmopolitan classical ideal. (137-138) There was no external (137) or internal (138) existence. The only major revolts were those of the Jews (138-139), and even they were eventually tolerated, leaving only the Christians as the persecuted minority. These emperors were solid and, mostly, constitutional. They fixed the military, the economy, and society to the best of their very considerable abilities. (139-140) They set about fixing up the empire and encouraging service. (140) The spirit of the times was that of stability (141), and was inherently conservative. Food was secure and the land was open for settlement. (141-142) Stability in this context meant no innovation. (143)

Thus, the peace and prosperity of the Antonines was material, but it was also spiritual--the fully realized "good life" as envisioned by the Classical philosophers. "Translated into terms of concrete fact, this meant that the Antonines had succeeded in constructing a world which was adequate to the demands of civilized man." (144) This was Aristotle's ideal life on a grand scale. (144-145) The pinnacle of this was education, which 1) dissolved "all forms of particularism," and 2) built "'universal' standards of judgment and taste." (145) This education involved a "combination of literature (grammar and rhetoric) with philosophy." (146) 

This form of education mixed with a lack of freedom resulted in  a rise of crappy fluff. (146-147) And yet at the same time it provided a door to social life. (147

The true value of criticism is the question of the nature of philosophy. At this time, "philosophy" was restricted to the study of man (not nature). (148) Thus, philosophy had become isolated from other sciences (which had, in turn, atrophied). (148-150) 
On the other hand, jurisprudence as a science now rose to new heights. (150) How to relate (or discriminate) the ius naturale (natural law) from the ius gentium (human law) was the question at hand.

Yet, "law" does not equal "change", and flexibility was what was truly needed in the Third Century Crisis. (150-151) Constantine, Theodosius, and Diocletian all had some effect, but none could stem the lifeblood of the Empire from flowing out in Christian/pagan/heretic contests. (151-152)



The Third Century (and its depression) had three stages:
  1. 235-252 (Maximin to Decius), the period of disintegration;
  2. 253-269 (Valerian and Gallienus), the period of demoralization and anarchy;
  3. 270-284 recovery begun by Aurelian
This last period was marked by conflict between two aspects of Roman government. (152-153) Anarchy and terror reigned in the Empire. (153) Even economic, "spiritual, and intellectual life" were affected. (154) Literature and philosophy fell to "Orientalism," and Christians began to preach apocalypse. (154-155)

But what was the cause of this collapse? (155-156) 
[Various causes proposed, 156-157]
Ultimately, the collapse was intellectual and moral. (157) The Western mind had failed. Because the Romans themselves never figured it out, the problem must have been in their blind spot and tied to the "classical logos of power." But reason could never fully see this logos, and so fear of the unknown crept in. (157-158) "Luck" came to be a dominant explanation for the way of the world (158), followed by fate, in turn followed by astrology and superstition. (158-159)

Escape from this fate/fortune tyranny meant turning to Orientalism, especially Gnosticism. (159) Escape from the material to the spirit saw an alternation between libertinism and asceticism and, eventually, self-destruction--the very problem that Rome and the Emperors were trying to escape. (160)

This effort, the mix of character and circumstance, was bound up in the person of the Emperor. (160-161) This led to a war between conservative and innovator, neither of whom had solid grounding. This is typified in the "heresy of individual emperors," embodied in the cracking up of Roman religion. (161) As the Pantheon expanded, we see that the Roman spirit was one of confusion, not really toleration. (161-162) This too sowed the seeds of future break-up (162), other than merely the occasional repression of philosophies. 

What philosophy there was remained disconnected from the real world, as did literature. (163) That philosophy had fallen, we see in Diogenes, who shows the development of philosophy in 1) physics; 2) ethics; 3) logic. These three patterned all subsequent thought (164-165), even as materialistic and idealists, dogmatists and skeptics, fought over application. Stoicism, though destined to collapse, was the most important of all, with its doctrine of fate and its precept to "follow nature" (165), which is to "follow reason" (166), and which builds the "city of god." But because "order" and "process" could never truly be reconciled through human reason, Seneca increasingly withdrew into the fantasy world. (166-167)

The only viable alternative to Stoicism (other than Skepticism) was Platonism, which argued the connection between the subjective material and the objective/spiritual logos. Thus Plutarch, writing on fate, argues for the blending of fate and intellect (167-169) as a means to reconcile fate and virtue, which he then demonstrates as connected. In Egyptian myth, Plutarch sees that the resolution of this problem can only occur in the realm of transcendence. (169-171) But, in this, Plutarch opened the "gap between God and the universe," leaving room for intermediary demons and the study of demonology, but also leaving room for Plotinus. (171-172)

Plotinus is the last "effort of classical reason", drawing on Plato's core thought--though he turned to the "intuitive and mystical aspects of Platonism," rather than to the more objective sides. yet, Plotinus still falls back on salvation through reason and knowledge (172), and ultimately retreats into escapism. (172-173)

The problems of the Third Century also had military and financial aspects, but still remained questions of virtue and vice (173), the task of this century was the "restoration" of the glories of the Second century. But since philosophy had abdicated, it fell to the military to perform the task, especially under the rule of the Illyrian Emperors. (174) Their efforts were a mix of military pressure and moral/political flexibility, culminating in Diocletian (174-175), who turned the Empire into a vast, bloated bureaucracy that had the goal of restoring the old system, but which ended up burdening everyone. (174-175) Likewise his policies led directly to persecution (175), though he saw the failure of his policies and the rise of toleration. (175-176)

"City of God" XVIII.52-53

Chapter 52:
Augustine rejects a proto-premillenarian view of persecution and the coming of the Antichrist.

Chapter 53:
The final persecution will end only which Jesus returns to destroy the Antichrist. Yet for those who ask 'when', Augustine says "A most unreasonable question, for, if it were good for us to know the answer, the Master, God Himself, would have told His disciples when they asked Him... Obviously, then, it is a waste of effort for us to attempt counting the precise number of years which this world has yet to go, since we know from the mouth of Truth that it is none of our business."
So much for those who would waste their time in pointless calculations--such people are few steps away from the magicians and alchemists who call Jesus and Peter magicians and attribute to them the practice of the dark arts. (This shows us the true nature of those who reject Christianity, for this is what the pagans believe as well.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"City of God" XVIII.49-51

Chapter 49:
It is undoubtedly no accident that Augustine's discussion of election and reprobation comes with his discussion of the historical moment of the Gospel. What we see when we look at the church in this world is not what it will be in glory, but rather a wide net which includes believers and unbelievers alike who will not be truly separated until heaven. The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection are the culmination of history and the good news which is declared to all nations and in all tongues. Though the church is not yet pure as it will be one day, history's purpose is accomplished and we only await that final separation at the end of time.

Chapter 50:
How does the church grow? By the preaching of the Word, as confirmed by miracles and the death of the martyrs. This goes on until the very people who executed the martyrs come to respect them as forerunners in the faith and see their former pagan gods as now worthy of persecution.

Chapter 51:
Whether we're thinking about heresy or persecution, even the bad things of this world which plague the church are used by God for the good of His true people. "So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world's hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"City of God" XVIII.46-48

Chapter 46:
The Jews, living under Rome, have now been scattered across the world not necessarily as punishment for killing Jesus (though they certainly had a hand in that), but for so consistently refusing to believe the words of their own Scriptures. While it would be a stretch to say that Augustine is anti-Semitic (he quite clearly knows the importance of the Jews in this history of the church, and obviously longs for their salvation), we can say that there is language here that will later be historically abused that we can wish might have been clarified a bit.

Chapter 47:
When we ask whether there have ever been any Jews brought into the City of God, we have to say of course-- even the Jews in their most isolationist periods have never claimed that they were the only people to come to know God. The Old Testament itself disproves this claim!

Chapter 48:
The OT prophecies about the restoration and coming glory of the new temple are about Christ and the church, not about the building put up in Ezra.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"City of God" XVIII.44-45

Chapter 44:
The Septuagint, for example, helps us sort through some of the otherwise baffling linguistic and numerical problems we find in the Hebrew originals.

Chapter 45:
Augustine gives us a quick run-down of how the Jews came to be under Rome's rule--namely by treachery and sin. How else would we expect the City of God to blend with the city of man?

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.III

Part I: Reconstruction;

III. Roma Aeterna: The Apotheosis of Power

Augustus claimed not just to have solved the problems of the Roman Restoration, but all of the (political) problems of mankind. (74) Since the days of ancient Greece, men had been striving to rise above barbarism and civilize themselves. This gradually became a "vision of power" (74-75), which included:

  1. "the excellence of man as man", and 
  2. the realization of the ideal through latent human characteristics. (75)
The Greeks had looked to nature for these, but never to the self-sufficient individual. (75) 

All of this raises the questions of community. (76) Is the community fundamentally based on power, or justice? (76-77) 

The countless Greek attempts to find an answer through the varieties of poleis all failed. (77) Not that these states (Sparta excluded) consciously sought the ideal! (77-78) In general, the Greek state in question was a mere middle-class creation. Yet even this middle-class creation shows a longing for a just and lasting society. (78)

[Idealism defined, page 78.]

Platonic idealism struggles through Plato's conception of existence (78-79) to try to discover where the idea of a just society may be achieved. (79-80) A question he never satisfactorily answers.
Aristotle sought (and found, through biology) transcendent order in nature. It is the nature of man to aim at a transcendent telos, which means that Aristotle ends very nearly where Plato did. (80-82) That is, the polis has a telos, which is to help man escape the flux of the world and move towards the transcendent goal. (82) This becomes the basis for judging constitutions. And although the constitutions of Aristotle's day failed to meet this goal (82-83), statecraft remained the means by which this goal was pursued (83-84), and the means by which passions were restrained and "justice, peace, and freedom would be achieved." (84)

Practically, even as Plato and Aristotle wrote, the Greek world was tearing itself apart (84-86) and being remodeled by Philip and Alexander. 



What is Alexander the Great's role in the history of politics? Functionally, he both destroyed the polis and delivered the Greeks. (86) He did this partially by entering at the practical level into the theoretical conflict between "hero" and "citizen." This conflict was decided at Chaeronea. 
Alexander saw himself as the hero, the new Achilles and Hercules. He is seen as unifying humanity in a cosmopolitan whole. The main thing to note (whatever the validity of someone like Tarn's view) is that his (Alexander's) method was political. (88-89) He ruled as King: hereditary, salvific, philosophical, and lacking only eternality. (89) Again, whether true or not the effect was to sweep all people--even the isolated Jews--into political life. (90

Where the "hopes" of Alexander and his successors "gradually faded," they were transferred to Rome--first in the Republic (90-91),. The Greeks, as we see in Polybius, now look to Rome (91), even to the point of tying it to Troy, and so to their own past. (91-92) Despite conquered/conqueror tensions, the two were spiritually united. (92) And though Polybius' beliefs that the Romans had 1) cured faction and 2) brought peace to the Greek world were premature, it was the same note sounded under the Empire of Augsutus. (93)

What chance did Rome have where Greece had failed? Obviously, the answer to this question would depend on the character of the leader, and Augustus was a mix of idealist and opportunist. (93-94) 
But even this wasn't really enough, the people as well had to be virtuous. (94-95) But what was Roman virtue?
Caesar had identified it with flexibility and adaptability, (95) at least in material terms. Moreover, "classical idealism" (as in Livy) believed that history was an ideal model for virtue, and could be chosen over the "vice" of the modern times. This was an abstraction, and ignored the flux of reality. (96-97) What's more, it reduces man to a "specimen", rather than treating him as a man. (97-98) This in turn leads to the natural/conventional distinction, which can only be bridged through the "justice of the polis." (98) Thus, a system is constructed which attempts to replace human order with cosmic order--often by force (even with "wisdom" being the force in question). (98) So Livy's History becomes Plato's "noble lie", imposing a view rather than searching for truth--an imposition done largely through poetic means. (98-99)

Livy uses a unique combination of "virtue and fortune." (99) But what do these mean?
  • Fortune: This idea is obscure, yet still worshiped by the Romans. (99) It was inherently tied to virtue, though philosophically the two could be opposed.
  • Virtue: This is also called "the arts" and is political, as well as being opposed to vice. Both "virtue" and the "arts "are "mannequin" forms, rather than actual descriptions of something. (100-101) This shows most in Livy's view of religion (101), which he sees as a form, "utterly pragmatic" and unconcerned with either truth or falsehood, focusing on only function and utility. (101-102)
[For more on this, read Machiavelli's reflection on Livy in Discourses on Livy, where he explicitly discusses the Fortune/Virtue relationship.]

The problem is that the opposite of "order" is "change," which is both a real-world fact and a problem. (102-103) If we use physics and nature as the rule, we come to natural = legitimate, and the classical definition of justice. This means that the telos of nature provides both the goal and the limits of the state (103) and the individual.
As a result, a deep conservatism becomes the order of the day, albeit one which needs a strong leader to prevent change and to control the masses. (104) "Thus envisaged, the problem of politics is to reconcile 'liberty' with 'authority.'" (104) 

For Sallust, states are constructs imposed by the (Platonic and ideal) forms, and hence both legitimate and capable. (105) Thus through the forms we gain freedom. But, the forms are impeded by the matter, just as the statesman is impeded by the mob. (106-107) So compromise must be achieved, but it must be a compromise that places people by nature. (107) 

Livy's "moral intention" is problematic, because of the morals he has to work with. (107-108) But how does he choose those morals? We must see his underlying presuppositions, namely he assumes that the principate is the solution to modern political problems. (108) This is because traditional solutions (the Republican institutions) have broken down under the relentless assault of unquenchable passions, and a second founder is needed to renew the forms. Augustus' multiple authorities (general, family member, kind, etc) reinforced this.

Thus, Augustus' power is 1) "formally correct", and 2) based on the virtues of "virtus, clementia, justitia, and pietas," all of which call forth the strength of the past as the source of legitimacy. (109-110) Augustus was understood to be the hand of providence in blessing mankind. (110)

The Caesar cult was based in classical ideals. (110-111) The idea of the great man, or hero, who surpasses all others in virtue (and intelligence, and courage) and fortune was common. Both Plato and Aristotle thought them to be near (or even actually) divine. (111) The Romans bought into this, though they divinized the virtues, rather than the man. (Greek heroes tended personally towards immortality.) (112) The power cults (Hercules) were especially strong, and led to Augustus Caesar's "recognition... as a political god." (112-113) Thus the "superman" became the goal (telos), and virtue and fortune the backbone and foundation of the state. (113)

"City of God" XVIII.42-43

Chapter 42:
Here Augustine relates the tale of the Greek conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and its passing on to the control of his generals after his death. Ptolemy, who receive Egypt, ordered the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which gives us the Septuagint. Augustine relates the (certainly mythical) story of its translation by the Scribes, who were confined in cells and yet all managed to produce exactly the same translation. I mention this largely because I'm a fan of Alexander the Great. If you want to become one too, check out Arrian's The Campaigns of Alexander, Robin Lane Fox's Alexander the Great, and Ulrich Wilcken's Alexander the Great (and I recommend reading them in that order).

Chapter 43:
Some of the church has so far preferred the Septuagint to the original Hebrew (Jerome's Vulgate is a clear exception, as it draws on the Hebrew sources). Augustine believes that we should accept the Septuagint as canon, with the understanding that we may participate in some light textual criticism that adds bits found in the Hebrew but missing from the Septuagint while noting which bits are in the Septuagint but not found in the original Hebrew. The main point of course is that Scripture is not something which comes from men, but rather from God. And we must not take it upon ourselves to judge Scripture and instead ought to be submissive to it--we certainly ought not judge God for the means by which He delivers and preserves it.
[Here of course we say this is one of the few places where Jerome trumps Augustine, which no doubt would have tickled the cranky old scholar pink.]

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.II

Part I: Reconstruction

II. Romanitas: Empire and Commonwealth

The "Augustan settlement" brought nearly unbridled hope out of despair over the fate of Western Civilization. Virgil is the picture of this, giving "human history... a cosmetic setting" as the culmination of mankind's effort. The principate was the solution to the problem of politics. (27-28)



Virgil's idea becomes the "basis for imperial solidarity" (28-29), and the "final utterance to the spirit of classical paganism, the religion of culture." (29) This had been Rome's problem since the time of Cato the Elder and its rise from a local to an international power. The threat to the state was already evident in the exceptionalist mentality of the Scipios and in the reactionary virtues of Cato the Elder. (30) He was right to condemn Hellenism and Greek philosophy, since even Aristotle was willing to defer to a King if he were the most virtuous person in the state. (30-31) Cato with his peasant wisdom stood against Hellenization. (32) He became the first agrarian and proponent of the villa system using work as "the moral counterpart of war." (33) Even in his own time, but especially in later generations, all the evils Cato predicted came to pass. (34-35) Morals slid into decline on all levels of society. (35)

Lucretius' Epicureanism attempted to offer an escape according to the law of reason. Our true problem is irrational religion, which must be replaced with the rational truth of reality: that of atoms in the void. Salvation thus comes "through enlightenment." (36) Enlightenment, in turn, involves observation, apprehension, and finally relaxation.

And yet, even the existence of Lucretius shows how "Greek" Rome had gone since the time of Cato. (37) The state had become a mere compact, and Epicureanism, while of limited actual effect, became the first attempt to solve the "Roman problem" outside of Roman culture on the plane of reason, nature, and principle. (37-38)

Cicero, the most important Latin writer, picks up this new stream of thought. (38) He affects all subsequent thought, including Christianity. (38-39) Cicero responds to the same problems as Lucretius: the psychological lust for power and the running amok of "expansive emotions" (39-4), as well as "self-assertive egoism." The answer to all of these problems is, for Cicero, philosophy. But not the Epicurean philosophy, which destroys both freedom and virtue. (40)

True philosophy is religion, not superstition, but rather "high" religion. (40-41) This meant essentially a conservative skepticism. (41-42) Reason becomes the "link between man and man, and between man and God." (42) Reasoning is judging, and is built into our nature, and in this natural justice we find the state, the freedom thereof being the highest good.

Yet, all his life political realities offset Cicero's idealism, and in practice he often wavered. (43-44) He attempts to find a middle ground between right and left, and associates order and freedom in the state with private property. (44-45) And here, with the idea of a private sphere (res privata), the Romans surpass the Greeks. (46)

Cicero's social thinking, found in On Duties, reflects his view of uniquely human appetites: social impulses, thirst for truth, thirst for glory, love of order and propriety. (47-48) From this springs a sense of ethics (the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice). These virtues are communal, and salvation through them is corporate.

Justice especially is the realm of civil society, especially economic justice. (48-49) Even more, justice applies not only to individuals forming communities, but to communities forming the brotherhood of nations, i.e. international justice. Even slaves are included (49)

Courage too is a moral, intellectual, and social virtue. (50-51)

Thus, the "duties" in question are relational, being different for magistrate, citizen, alien, etc. (51-52) Public duties are a mix of morality and utility, with morality being first in importance--Crassus and Julius Caesar had switched that order. (52-53) The duties of government are ultimately to protect property with virtue, but include specifically:

  1. "to maintain the rights of property;
  2. to abstain from burdensome taxation;
  3. to ensure to every one an abundance of the necessities of life;
  4. to be scrupulously clean-handed, above the suspicion of greed or corruption." (54)
The conflict this clearly sets up between the ideal and the real gives rise to the distinction between the natural law (ideal) and the civil law (real), with the civil fitting the natural to work within the real world. (56)

The final goal of duties is to achieve human, civilized excellence. (56-57) 

Thus, the power of the state resides with the populus, and when magistrates overstep, they may be resisted. (57) 

Cicero's writing, though it couldn't save the Republic, gave it a legacy that had to be worked into the Empire, and has had to be acknowledged ever since (see such diverse writers as Machiavelli and Jefferson). (58)

Cicero also identified the strength of the public consensus, its need for leadership, and the ease with which that leadership could become tyrannical. (58-59)

Caesar's and Pompey's failures were failures of character, as they were dictators rather than monarchical leaders. (60) Such virtues, as pietas and iustitia ["devotion" and "justice"] were found only in the past. (60) Of course, this analysis was Academic (Platonic) idealism, and looked for fulfillment in the world of imagination, rather than in concrete reality. Thus Cicero shows the "strength and weakness of classical liberal idealism," (60-61) and became the source of Augustus' legitimacy.

Yet not Cicero alone, he merely provided the idea. Virgil provided the motive power. (61) Virgil gives Cicero's ideas religious and cultural sanction within the life of Rome. That Virgil was a poet rather than a philosopher just makes the point, since his primary appeal is to the imagination. (62) He is both like and unlike Lucretius. Both are poets (like), but Virgil puts fate over actual chaos (unlike). (62-63) In Virgil, the material order of the world points to a transcendent order, which in turn governs the material world. Thus Virgil emphasizes the will, while Lucretius emphasizes knowledge. (63)  Civilization, for Virgil, must be constructed (64) out of nature, using both effort and organization and culminating in the practical work of Rome. This may be compared to the Pilgrims of the New World seeking the Western dream of "a union of hearts." (64-65) The idea of will expressed through effort is the heart of the Georgics (65), but is given its final expression in the Aeneid (66-67). This work is physical (66), moral, and spiritual (67), as Eastern Orientalism seeks to drag down the virtuous West. History is the story of the struggle to do this work, and culminates in Rome as it becomes the "religion of this world." (68

Virgil unites Cicero, Varro, and Ovid--poetry, philosophy, and the state. (68-69) these three work to forge civilization against barbarism, the rule of reason and virtue against base impulse, the rule of Venus and Jupiter over Juno, until finally the barbaric itself becomes civilized. (69-70)

Fate, here, becomes freedom of a sort (70), but it is the freedom of submission and justification by works. Thus, the virtue of Virgil (which extends even to the next world) as adopted by Augustus becomes the city of man. (71) This city is not just another Carthage, Greece, or Troy, it is to be an eternal solution to the problems which brought those failed states low. (72) The transcendent virtue the Empire embodied set it apart from past states, and bound together Rome by the ideals of Romanitas, which is discovered in--but which also transcends--material wealth. (72-73) The Romans therefore retained their local distinctions, while being bound themselves by "natural reason." (73)