St Augustine has been viewed as one of the most notable political philosophers of his time. He was from a troubled background and his works on confessions closely and candidly brings out the thoughts of a troubled individual. It is therefore not surprising that his philosophical thought is complex, paradoxical, contradictory and very incisive.
Augustine strongly believed in the theory of individualism because he argues that human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve, although it does not place a burden on people. Individuals are determinants of their own destinies. Augustine further argues that all men are created in God’s image, the image of goodness (Condon 79).
It naturally follows that God controls human behavior so that human beings only perform that which is good. In this sense, God’s presence in an individual’s life is compared to light. A man is inspired by God’s command to act in an orderly manner and avoid evil. Augustine views women as impure and easily corrupted by the earthly. He views women as being members of the city of damned and being responsible for taking man away from God. Man must always strive to keep away from sin by doing God’s purpose.
He therefore looks at Eve and women in general as being descendants of the damned city since they sin not based on necessity but on their own selfish happiness. He views any individual who engages in sin (sex) purely for pleasure as belonging to the city of the damned.
Those who pursue earthly happiness characterize this city. Under this category, we have the circumcellions, the donatists and the heretics. Such individuals have no God’s light. On the other hand, there are those who may have sinned purely as an obligation. Such individuals are descendants of Adam. Adam had to obey Eve if he had to fulfill God’s purpose of regeneration (MacCulloch 37).
The sinning by Eve was not all negative for it is through sinning that Eve came to know much beyond goodness (light). Eve and man were able to know between evil and goodness, suffering and joy, and toiling and happiness. Augustine argues that the early stoics or the early Christians could be divided into two.
Some were much concerned about earthly possessions while others pursued Godly. The state should only protect individuals who pursue good (light), those who worship according to the prescribed form. This category of individuals is righteous because they have God’s light.
Such are people who pay taxes, respect authorities, tolerate the views of others and lead a virtuous life. God’s presence in an individual enables him/her to achieve goals that are consistent with the provisions of the church. Such individuals know the truth meaning that they can differentiate between evil and good. They always tell the truth and live according to societal principles. God’s light or presence inspires an individual to know the truth while the truth in turn enables an individual to act or behave according to God’s will.
Augustine’s conceptualization of justice rests on the Roman maxim. He believes that those who worship other gods must be punished by the state. This punishment must rest on reciprocal justice that is, a knife for a knife and a tooth for a tooth. There are those according to Augustine who live contrary to the virtues postulated by Plato. For such, the pursuit of earthly pleasures receives precedence. These include the search for personal glory, earthly possessions among others.
They have elevated other men to positions of God. They belong to the city of the damned and are responsible for their actions. Such individuals have alienated themselves from the church and judgment has already been passed on them meaning that light is unchangeable. While such individuals sin, God will not stop them from sinning for it is believed judgment has already been passed even before one is born.
Through this, Augustine comes out as intolerant for he does not respect the rights of others particularly the pagans. His desire is to institutionalize the church. He appreciates that the church and the state must work together although he elevates the church to a higher position in hierarchy.
Plato’s works on the parable of the cave, particularly the sun, may help to elucidate Augustine’s arguments. Plato in the Republic employs the sun as an allegory for the source of light, perhaps logical enlightenment, which he believed to be the type of the Good. This is sometimes understood as Plato’s belief of God. Plato uses the sun to show how truth can be acquired (Sayers 21). Socrates is the orator of the ‘Republic’, although it is normally assumed that the views articulated therein are Plato’s.
The eyeball, Plato states, is strange among the intellect organs because it requires an intermediate, specifically light, to function. The well-built and greatest source of brightness is the sun. With the sun, things can be distinguished evidently. Plato postulates that it is similar to comprehensible things that is, the permanent and everlasting forms that are eventual objects of systematic and rational study.
Condon, Matthew. “The Unnamed and the Defaced: The Limits of Rhetoric in Augustine’s Confessions”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 69 (1), 2001.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation A History. London: Penguin Books, 2003.
Sayers, Sean. Plato’s Republic: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.