Augustine 2020: Closing Arguments
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
We have come to the end of a long journey. As we continue to live with the fallout of one of the most contentious elections in living memory, we must bid farewell to our companion on the campaign trail, St. Augustine of Hippo. After many months sifting through some of the key features of his political theology, I want to take a moment to highlight what have seemed to me to be the most common themes in our study.
First, Christians will always be in tension with our political cities, parties, and candidates. Even the best of them, as leaders of a fallen world oriented around desires for lesser goods, fall short of true justice. Christians must resist the temptation to throw their lot in completely with a political agenda. No policy solution can ultimately solve the problems of the earthly city and Christians are to serve as witnesses of the true Kingdom, ready to critique the ways the earthly city falls short of that.
Second, political engagement is an important area of discipleship. Because Christians are citizens of the only truly just city, we have a responsibility to work for further justice within our earthly cities, despite its limits. The worshipers of the Creator who entered creation to redeem us are to be deeply concerned with how our neighbors are treated and how creation is utilized/cared for. The command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31) requires Christians to utilize their civic privileges to vote, petition, and protest to lobby for improved treatment of our neighbors and a more just society.
Third, the earthly city cannot demand our allegiance, but our faith makes us better citizens. Christians’ ultimately hope and values are not in a political institution, party platform, or candidate. Christians will never feel “at home” within the earthly city. However, the virtues of the City of God produce individuals who are selfless, faithful, and gracious. These virtues contribute to the good of the earthly city. Christians are good citizens of the earthly city, but the earthly city never has our allegiance. We are called to be good American citizens and good disciples of King Jesus, but, unlike the presentation in Christian nationalism, these are not on equal footing. The call to be good disciples of King Jesus will run against the demand to swear allegiance to an earthly nation. Christians belong, body and soul, to our redeemer, not our country, constitution, or flag. Whenever the tension between the two identities dissipates, the Christian is in danger of succumbing to idolizing the nation.
Finally, Christians are people of hope. Christ has defeated the evil of this world in His death and resurrection. Christians rest our hope in the final triumph of Christ when He returns to judge the earthly city and usher in the new creation of the City of God forever. The Christian hope is not susceptible to the fear-mongering tactics of partisan politics. The loss of an election, legislative vote, or Supreme Court decision is only temporary and cannot thwart the Kingdom of God. No evil can endure and when Christians see it prevail in the earthly city, we continue to resist its allure, devote our entire being to God, love and care for our neighbors, and look forward to the day when all wrongs are made right.
So much more could be said and has been said throughout this series from how we interpret political texts in Scripture to Christians’ relationships with truth and reason to specific ethical considerations. Yet I have found these four points have sustained me in thinking through what faithful discipleship looks like, especially in the midst of this election cycle. They are the points I need to come to again and again, meditate on, and rest in. I am sure that as the presidential transition continues and as the new administration takes office, I will need to return to them again and again. Augustine is an essential guide to navigate discipleship in the world of politics we should actively continue listening to in the weeks, months, and years to come. I hope and pray this series has given you food for thought, challenged you, and help you rest in the hope of Christ, even on the contentious subject of partisan politics, just as it has for me. With that, I want to give St. Augustine himself the last word.
“How great will be that happiness where there will be no evil, where no good will be concealed, where there will be leisure for the praises of God, who will be all in all!…They will be rid of all evils in such a way that every sensation of them will be thoroughly deleted…Surely there will be nothing more delightful for that city than this song to the glory of the grace of Christ, by whose blood we have been freed….Its end will not be at sunset, but will be the Lord’s day-an eternal eight day sanctified by the resurrection of Christ, which prefigures the eternal rest, not only of the spirit but also of the body. There we will rest and see, see and love, love and praise. Behold what will be in the end without end! What else will our end be, except to reach the kingdom in which there is no end?” .
 Augustine, Augustine: Political Writings, trans. Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 198-201.