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Saint Augustine of Hippo in the Evolution of the Christian Social Thought

Saint Augustine of Hippo in the Evolution of the Christian Social Thought

Christianity today is more than 2000 years old currently having over 2 billion faithful spread across different parts of the world. However, the emergence of Christianity was not served on a silver platter. Key events and individuals actually shaped the emergence of Christianity as a religion and as a social thought. From the crucifixion and departure of Jesus Christ to the dispersion of the apostles, and from the Constantine’s holy war against the pagan Romans to the rise of the church in Europe spreading to Africa and the Americas, the Christian faith has continued to shape the thought and the actions of people globally.

One of the individuals history recognizes to have played a very vital role in the evolution of the Christian faith is Saint Augustine of Hippo. After Jesus Christ and Saint Paul is Saint Augustine in terms of personal contributions or influence to the development of the Christian faith. According to Michael Heart’s globally recognized book, ‘’The hundred’’, which lists the 100 most influential people in history, Saint Augustine comes at number 54 on the list behind Jesus Christ and Saint Paul who are 3rd and 6th on the list respectively.

Saint Augustine hailed from Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa and lived between 354 and 430 AD. He was a bishop in Hippo, a Christian theologian and mystic philosopher. Augustine developed a Christian worldview of history which centred on faith. His central philosophy is that faith is the bedrock of all things, hence, where there is no faith, there is no knowledge and there can be no truth. Basically, his argument; nothing exists outside faith.

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Saint Augustine’s major works include Civitas Dei (the City of God) and The Confession which is his autobiography of his inner conflicts. In his Civitas Dei, Augustine imagined the contrarian worlds, the city of God and the city of the earth and stressed the dichotomy of the inhabitants of these two worlds. According to him, only those that have been divinely chosen live in the city of God while the ordinary individuals live in the city of the earth.

The two cities

In the city of God, the monastery is characterized with content and is devoid of excuses. In this city power is not concentrated in just one person or a group. However, in the city of earth there is imbalance, strife, discontent and concentration of power in one hand or certain group. Augustine’s two cities distinguished between two set of peoples namely; those living by the spirit and those living by the flesh.

The State Vs the Church

Saint Augustine argued that the state has no right to interfere in the affairs of the church, and certainly cannot dictate a belief for the people. The state does not have the calling to make people upright; rather, its role is to aid the church to achieve that purpose through its mechanism of force. According to Augustine, the state is instituted by God to punish the erring or sinners amongst us on earth. This does not mean that the state can persuade us of the right beliefs; its role is an external repressive, coercive and remedial one.

Secular Vs Sacred

Augustine identified two types of laws, namely; Secular and Sacred laws. According to him, both the secular laws and the sacred laws are good. We should obey the secular laws since they are means to achieving the earthly good as well as enhancing our attainment the higher good. However, where secular laws and sacred laws are in conflict, the former must be forgone for the latter. According to Augustine, offences against God’s laws are always wrong but offences against man’s laws may be justified in some circumstances.

Just war Vs Unjust war

Wars are generally seen as evil due to their destructive consequences on the human society. However, according to Augustine, a war could be considered to be just if it is the lesser of two evils. That is, if the motive is to defend lives or prevent the spread of evils in society. He noted that while some states go to war to perpetrate evil, some others only go to war to prevent evil from prevailing.

Augustine’s ideal of salvation is the capacity to exhibit unwavering faith and endurance in the face of sufferings, oppression, subjugation etc which is rooted in the Christian faith.

Augustine’s city of God had a great influence on many Christian of different sects, especially the Roman Catholic and the Protestants. His idea inspired people to develop an ideal society guided by faith and belief that work for in the city of earth. It also played important role in the struggle of the papacy against the roman feudal lords in the eleventh century.

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