Begegnung von Kulturen und Kulturkampf, aber auch kultureller Dialog und Kulturenverschmelzung prägen entscheidend den thematischen Vordergrund wie auch den entstehungsgeschichtlichen Hintergrund des Monumentalwerkes De ciuitate dei des Augustinus von Hippo (354–430). Andererseits ist die Thematik um kulturelle Begegnung, Kulturkampf und Kulturendialog gegenwärtig in vielen geisteswissenschaftlichen, aber auch gesellschaftlichen und politischen Diskursen präsent und bedarf dringend einer ergänzenden Fundierung von Seiten der Spätantike – und dabei nicht zuletzt von deren zentraler Gestalt Augustinus her. Der Sammelband dokumentiert die in deutscher, englischer und italienischer Sprache verfassten Beiträge eines internationalen und interdisziplinären Symposions, das führende Vertreter der weltweiten Augustinus-Forschung 2012 in Rom zusammenführen konnte.
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IN ZUSAMMENARBEIT MIT/IN COOPERATION WITH
ROBERT DODARO & ALLAN D. FITZGERALD
Kampf oder Dialog?Conflict/Dialogue?
CASSICIACUM Forschungen über Augustinus und den Augustinerorden. Herausgegeben von der Bibliotheca Augustiniana – Forschungsbibliothek der Deutschen Augustiner
CASSICIACUM will theologische und philosophische Studien in der Augustinerfamilie fördern im Gedenken an die wissenschaftliche Tätigkeit Augustins zu Cassiciacum bei Mailand, wo er sich im Freundeskreis auf die Taufe vorbereitete.
HERAUSGEBER / EDITOR
IN ZUSAMMENARBEIT MIT / IN COOPERATION WITH
ROBERT DODARO & ALLAN D. FITZGERALD
Kampf oder Dialog? Conflict/Dialogue?
Begegnung von Kulturen im Horizont von Augustins ‹De ciuitate dei› Augustine’s Engagement with Cultures in ‹De ciuitate dei›
Internationales Symposion/International Symposium Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, Roma 25.–29. September 2012
Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar.
© 2015 Augustinus bei echter, Würzburg
Umschlag | Peter Hellmund
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BÜRGERMEISTER DR. ADOLF BAUER GEWIDMET,
UND EHRENMITGLIED DES AUGUSTINER-ORDENS,
DEM MITBEGRÜNDER UND VORSITZENDEN
DES ZENTRUMS FÜR AUGUSTINUS-FORSCHUNG
AN DER UNIVERSITÄT WÜRZBURG E.V.
SOWIE STELLVERTRETENDEN VORSITZENDEN DER
GESELLSCHAFT ZUR FÖRDERUNG
DER AUGUSTINUS-FORSCHUNG E.V.,
ANLÄSSLICH SEINES 70. GEBURTSTAGES
UND ZUM DANK
FÜR SEIN JAHRZEHNTELANGES, UNERMÜDLICHES
UND ÜBERAUS ERFOLG- UND ERTRAGREICHES
ENGAGEMENT ZUGUNSTEN DER
Vorwort des Herausgebers
Grußwort des Schirmherrn
JOHN M. RIST
Can the City of God Help Us Deconstruct Multiculturalism?
Rhetorik – Philosophie – Exegese Die Argumentationstechnik Augustins in De ciuitate dei (mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Bücher 11–12)
Augustins Genesis-Exegese in ciu. 11–14 Die performative Kraft des Bibeltexts
Polemik oder Protreptik? Apologetische Ansätze in De ciuitate dei und einigen korrespondierenden Epistulae
JAMES J. O’DONNELL
Augustine – Cicero ‹Redivivus›
Kulturkontakte zwischen Römern und Germanen in der Spätantike
HANS ARMIN GÄRTNER
‹Gloria humana› und ‹concordia› im ‹imperium Romanum› (ciu. 5,17) und die Vorläufigkeit der Kulturen (ciu. 19,17)
Das Verhältnis ‹religio› – ‹superstitio› und Augustins De ciuitate dei
L’uso del termine ‹philosophus› nel De ciuitate dei
«nulli nobis quam isti propius accesserunt» (ciu. 8,5) Augustine’s Inside Adversaries
Augustinus’ Philosophie der Sprache in De ciuitate dei 16,6
Il De philosophia di Varrone e l’escatologia del De ciuitate dei
‹Imitari potius quam inuocare› (ciu. 10,26) Augustinus, Sokrates, Porphyrios und der pagane Polytheismus
Dialogue or Conflict? Augustine on Roman Religion
Jews, Judaism, and St. Stephen in Augustine’s City of God
Augustine, Porphyry and the Jews Psalm 72 (73) in the City of God
L’antropologia delle ‹passiones› nella costruzione delle ‹ciuitates› (ciu. 14) Per nuovi rapporti tra cristiani, romani e barbari
VOLKER HENNING DRECOLL
Augustin und Pelagius – Vergleich zweier Mentalitäten Ciu. 11–14 auf dem Hintergrund des Pelagianischen Streits
Teologia politica ed escatologia politica nel De ciuitate dei Il dispositivo apocalittico-paolino matrice decostruttiva del pensiero e del politico occidentali
The Intellectual Conscience in Religion and Thought St. Augustine’s Depiction of Western Culture in De ciuitate dei
Konfessionsspezifische Rezeptionskulturen? Zur frühneuzeitlichen Aneignung von Augustins De ciuitate dei
Le due città di sant’Agostino come provocazione per le culture pedagogiche
Parigi – Roma – Parigi Gli dèi speciali varroniani da Agostino e Michel Butor
Der Gottesstaat Augustins – Maßgabe für heutige Staaten?
Register der Augustinus-Stellen
Vorwort des Herausgebers
Begegnung von Kulturen, Kulturkampf, Kulturkritik, aber auch kultureller Dialog und Kulturenverschmelzung prägen entscheidend den thematischen Vordergrund wie auch den entstehungsgeschichtlichen Hintergrund von Augustins De ciuitate dei. Dieser Befund gilt vor allem in Bezug auf das Verhältnis von paganer und biblisch-christlicher Religion, Weltdeutung und Tradition, aber ebenso im Blick auf die generelle Kulturen- und Religionengemengelage im Mittelmeerraum inklusive der Völkerwanderung und im Blick auf unterschiedliche kirchliche und theologische Binnenkulturen.
Bislang existieren lediglich entweder Einzelveröffentlichungen zur Thematik oder aber umfassendere Publikationen, die trotz ihres breiter angelegten Horizonts den Brennpunkt ‹Augustinus› nicht oder nicht hinreichend berücksichtigen. Dazu kommt die Tatsache, dass die Thematik um kulturelle Begegnung, Kulturkampf und Kulturendialog gegenwärtig zwar in vielen geisteswissenschaftlichen, gesellschaftlichen und politischen Diskursen präsent ist, indes dringend einer ergänzenden Fundierung von Seiten der Spätantike bedarf – und dabei nicht zuletzt von deren zentraler Gestalt Augustinus und seinem Werk De ciuitate dei her.
Um dem durch diese Sachlage charakterisierten Forschungsdesiderat abzuhelfen, entwickelte das Zentrum für Augustinus-Forschung an der Universität Würzburg (ZAF) ab dem Jahr 2010 – und damit genau 1600 Jahre nach Augustins ersten Recherchen und Skizzen für sein Monumentalwerk Vom Gottesstaat – den Plan, ein internationales und interdisziplinäres Symposion zur Frage ‹Kampf oder Dialog? Begegnung von Kulturen im Horizont von Augustins De ciuitate dei› auf den Weg zu bringen: ein Symposion, das zugleich das 10. Jubiläum der ‹Würzburger Augustinus-Studientage› des ZAF markieren sollte. Dank der erprobten Infrastruktur des ZAF sowie des ausgedehnten wissenschaftlichen Netzwerkes des Akademienprojekts Augustinus-Lexikon (AL) wie der internationalen Augustinus-Forschung überhaupt konnte dieser Plan vergleichsweise schnell konkretisiert und realisiert werden, wobei das Tagungsthema es als überaus angemessen erscheinen ließ, als Tagungsort Rom zu wählen: diejenige Metropole, die mit dem Leben Augustins und vor allem mit dem Gegenstand von De ciuitate dei engstens verflochten ist.
Freilich bedurfte es vielfältiger Unterstützung durch zahlreiche Personen und Organisationen, bis das Symposion mit seinen rund 25 renommierten Beiträger(inne)n und mit seinen insgesamt rund 100 Teilnehmer(inne)n aus aller Welt schließlich am 25. September 2012 in der Aula des Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum inmitten des Vatikans feierlich eröffnet werden konnte. Besondere Hilfe erfuhr der Organisator des Kongresses und Herausgeber des vorliegenden Tagungsbandes dabei durch das Augustinianum und seinen Präsidenten Robert Dodaro, ebenso wie durch die Villanova University in Pennsylvania mit ihrem Präsidenten Peter M. Donohue und ihrem Augustinus-Spezialisten Allan Fitzgerald. Finanzielle Unterstützung leisteten weiterhin die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) und der Verband der Diözesen Deutschlands (VDD) mit der dahinterstehenden Deutschen Bischofskonferenz.
Einen Höhepunkt des Rahmenprogramms des Symposions stellte der Empfang der Tagungsteilnehmer(innen) durch Papst Benedikt XVI. in Castel Gandolfo mit der Aufführung der modernen Kirchenoper Augustinus dar. In diesem Zusammenhang ist besonders das Engagement der Diözese Würzburg und des deutsch-italienischen Senators Hans-Albert Courtial zu erwähnen. Nicht zu vergessen sind schließlich diejenigen Persönlichkeiten des öffentlichen Lebens, die das Symposion durch ihre Schirmherrschaft oder durch ihr Kuratorenamt repräsentiert und dadurch gestärkt haben.
Allen Genannten sei an dieser Stelle nochmals herzlich gedankt!
Nun liegen die Vorträge des Symposions – von den Autor(inn)en zum Teil gründlich überarbeitet und erheblich erweitert – in Form eines veritablen Tagungsbandes vor. Wie schon in ihrer mündlichen Fassung, so präsentieren sich die Beiträge auch in ihrer schriftlichen Version in unterschiedlichen Sprachen, genauerhin in Deutsch, Englisch oder Italienisch, und spiegeln damit im Fragment die Internationalität des Symposions wie auch der Augustinus-Forschung insgesamt wider. Neben der Internationalität ist zudem die Interdisziplinarität (Geschichtswissenschaft, Altphilologie, Philosophie, Theologie, Pädagogik, Literaturwissenschaft) für die Tagung und den Tagungsband kennzeichnend: Nur im Dialog unterschiedlicher Kulturen – hier konkret unterschiedlicher Sprachkulturen und Wissenschaftskulturen – lässt sich der Kosmos des augustinischen Denkens und der augustinischen Wirkungsgeschichte annähernd adäquat erschließen.
Die Reihenfolge der Aufsätze, die der Abfolge der in Rom gehaltenen Vorträge entspricht, unterliegt keiner strengen Unterteilung, wohl aber einer sanften Organik, beginnend mit der Erhellung der historischen und hermeneutischen Hintergründe der Thematik, fortfahrend mit der Analyse von Kulturenbegegnungen außerhalb des Christentums, zwischen paganer und christlicher Tradition sowie innerhalb des Christentums und schließend mit einigen ausgesuchten Schlaglichtern auf die Wirkungsgeschichte der Thematik quer durch die Jahrhunderte.
Für die Weite und Tiefe des hier abgeschrittenen Feldes ist vor allem den Referentinnen und Referenten bzw. den Autorinnen und Autoren zu danken. Neben diesem hochkarätigen Ensemble von Augustinus-Forscher(inne)n sei für unterschiedliche Hilfestellungen auf dem Weg vom gesprochenen Wort bis hin zum publizierten Sammelband zusätzlich folgenden Personen ausdrücklich Dank gesagt: meinen Mitherausgebern Robert Dodaro und Allan Fitzgerald, meinen Kolleg(inn)en an der Universität Würzburg und im ZAF – zumal Herrn Guntram Förster –, den Entscheidungsträgern der Manfred Wierichs Stiftung und der Deutschen Augustinerprovinz sowie Herrn Handwerk vom Verlag Echter.
Möge die vorliegende Publikation Ihren bescheidenen Beitrag dazu leisten, in kritischer Aneignung des augustinischen Erbes einen dialogischen Weg jenseits der Alternative von Fundamentalismus oder Relativismus zu beschreiten – wohl wissend, dass der Kirchenlehrer Augustinus und seine Wirkungsgeschichte ersterer Versuchung, derjenigen des weltanschaulichen Fundamentalismus, nicht immer widerstanden haben. Das Projekt ‹Kampf oder Dialog? Begegnung von Kulturen im Horizont von Augustins De ciuitate dei› hat mich gleichwohl in der Hoffnung gestärkt, dass das augustinische Erbe in Bezug auf die Begegnung von Kulturen nicht nur ideologische ‹Kampf›-Polemik birgt, sondern auch allerlei Potential für eine sich im Horizont der Wahrheitsfrage bewegende ‹Dialog›-Theorie und ‹Dialog›-Praxis: ein Potential, das stark zu machen Aufgabe gegenwärtiger Augustinus-Rezeption ist.
Würzburg, im Sommer 2015
Grußwort anlässlich des Symposionbandes ‹Kampf oder Dialog? – Conflict/Dialogue?›
Als mich der Wissenschaftliche Leiter des Zentrums für Augustinus-Forschung an der Universität Würzburg, Prof. Dr. Christof Müller, zu Anfang des Jahres 2012 fragte, ob ich nicht die Schirmherrschaft über ein internationales und interdisziplinäres Symposion im Augustinianum zu Rom übernehmen wolle, sagte ich nach einer kurzen Zeit des Nachdenkens freudig zu – und das mit guten Gründen. Zum ersten begleitete ich in meiner Funktion als Bischof der Diözese Würzburg die wissenschaftliche Arbeit und die Aktivitäten des Zentrums ohnehin schon seit geraumer Zeit mit Sympathie, Anerkennung und finanzieller Unterstützung. Zum zweiten faszinierte mich die zugrundeliegende Thematik ‹Begegnung von Kulturen im Horizont von Augustins De ciuitate dei›: eine Thematik, die einerseits eines der wichtigsten Werke eines der bedeutendsten Kirchenväter zum Gegenstand hat, die andererseits aber auch den Bezug spätantiken Denkens zu Fragestellungen der Gegenwart im Blick behält. Zum dritten imponierte mir das Tableau von Referentinnen und Referenten, die für den Kongress ihre Zusage gegeben und ihre Vortragstitel formuliert hatten: ein Panoptikum der weltweiten Forschung zu Augustinus, das sich sehen lassen kann.
Schließlich und viertens verband sich das geplante Symposion, so schien es mir, in denkbar günstiger Fügung mit einem Besuch der Diözese Würzburg bei Benedikt XVI., durch den unser Bistum den aus Bayern stammenden Papst anlässlich seines 80. Geburtstages zu ehren gedachte. Als Geschenk präsentierten wir dem verehrten Jubilar, einem erklärten und ausgewiesenen Augustinus-Experten, eine Aufführung der modernen Kirchenoper Augustinus in Castel Gandolfo. Das genau in jenen Tagen im Vatikanstaat stattfindende Augustinus-Symposion ergänzte somit mit seinem primär kognitiven und diskursiven Zugriff dasjenige, was die Kirchenoper mit ihrem ganzheitlichen und ästhetischen Zugriff zum Ausdruck zu bringen wusste: die bleibende Relevanz, ja Aktualität des Kirchenvaters Augustinus von Hippo für unsere gegenwärtige Welt, für das Leben jedes einzelnen Zeitgenossen und für das Zusammenleben der heutigen Menschheit.
Vor diesem Hintergrund erfüllt es mich mit Genugtuung und Freude, dass die Vorträge des Römischen Symposions nunmehr in Form eines Tagungsbandes veröffentlicht und damit einem größeren Publikum zur Verfügung gestellt werden. Ich wünsche dem voluminösen Band, der zu Recht seinen Platz in Cassiciacum, der renommierten Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Augustiner, gefunden hat, eine weltweite Verbreitung und Rezeption. In seiner Internationalität und in seiner Interdisziplinarität ist der Tagungsband – wie die zugrundeliegende Tagung selbst – ein Beispiel dafür, dass und wie ‹Begegnung von Kulturen im Horizont von Augustins De ciuitate dei› nach wie vor zu gelingen und Früchte zu zeitigen vermag.
Dr. Friedhelm Hofmann
Bischof von Würzburg
John M. Rist
Can the City of God Help Us Deconstruct Multiculturalism?
«I joined the (Nazi) party
because I was a revolutionary,
not because of all the ideological nonsense»
Hermann Göring at Nuremburg
When I agreed to give an introductory paper at the Rome conference on the City of God I understood that the purpose of the conference was not simply archaeological; it was not merely to learn more about what Augustine in the City of God has to teach – and to preach – about his two cities: the City of God, constructed around God’s love and our love for God, and the City of the devil, constructed, as Augustine puts it, by self love to the point of contempt for God (cf. ciu. 14,28). I reflected that Augustine was also primarily concerned with one particularly important avatar of that latter city – which, as we shall see, may in specific cases be more or less diabolical – namely the Roman Empire, developed, as he supposed, as the public expression of that ‹libido dominandi› poeticized by Virgil with the words «parcere subiectis et debellare superbos» (Aeneid 6,853), and driven by the desire for fame and ‹true› glory, not least insofar as such fame helps stave off (or at least induces us to forget) the fear of death in the search for a spurious this-world immortality. Hence I inferred that it would be appropriate and not uninteresting to ask how Augustine might react to another avatar of the diabolical city: that which, with certain parallels in the Roman society of his own day, is promoted both in theory and in practice in our contemporary world. That construction, in concept and realization, takes the form of secular (or at least de facto secular) multiculturalism. Yet note the precise wording of my title: not ‹How in the City of God does Augustine deconstruct multiculturalism?›, but «Can the City of God help us to deconstruct multiculturalism?» What I shall argue is not that Augustine has deconstructed one specifically anti-Christian form of multiculturalism but that he offers us tools, albeit unperfected, by which we can do so in our own time. This paper therefore is not ‹archaeological›, but an attempt to apply identifiable Augustinian ideas to a peculiarly contemporary set of problems with which Augustine, were he alive today, would, I believe, not fail to be concerned.
When comparing Augustine’s world with our own, we must do more than attribute to him ‹doctrines› to be applied to contemporary situations. All such ‹doctrines› must be seen as expressions of the mind that gestated them and, as we shall see, Augustine’s mind-set – as that of the vast majority of his contemporaries – differs greatly from ours in a number of important respects relevant to the present paper. Hence I shall have to comment not only on Augustine and on ourselves, but on changes in Western modes of thinking that have occurred between his time and our own. That will oblige me to reflect on historical imperatives and realities not immediately facing Augustine himself, yet necessary if we are to understand either Augustine or – indeed – ourselves, living as we do in so radically changed a cultural environment. Such reflection must necessarily be truncated and is difficult to formulate adequately, but without it we shall either find ourselves, after all, doing mere ‹cultural archaeology› or falling back on facile judgments about Augustine himself and the mental world he inhabits.
Modern multiculturalism can find some sort of parallel in antiquity. If we read Keith Hopkins’ para-historical book A World Full of Gods, we can readily recognize his evocation of a mélange of different traditions – and especially of different religions, each with its own temples and shrines – side by side in an ancient city. In Augustine’s time some of the exponents of one of those traditions – no prizes for guessing which one – had come to think that fire and sword were the appropriate tools for reducing that sort of ‹live and let live› multiculturalism to a well-controlled minimum. I shall return to this proposed reduction – to what it did and did not want to reduce, and how it wanted to reduce it. But I should add at once, in the interest of reporting in scholarly mode, that Christians were not the first to try to enforce homogenization – dare I say ‹Gleichschaltung›: 3rd-c. Emperors had already tried to impose a worship of the Sun and to eliminate Manichaeism as well as Christianity, while Roman toleration of ‹cults› had always been uncertain: things might get fierce if it was supposed that exotic beliefs or practices might damage the common good or inhibit the gods’ always volatile benevolence.
Yet though there are parallels between ancient Roman multiculturalism and the version to be found, say, in present-day London – where a report has recently revealed that more than 230 languages can be heard on the street – there are also many important differences. So let me distinguish two relevant senses of the term ‹multiculturalism› as it is currently used in modern societies, and note that I shall be concerned with only one of them. I shall refer to the first as the plain sense and the second – which it will be my task to examine – as the ideological sense. As its name indicates, the first sense points to a situation in which, recognizing that no culture could not be improved on, members of a majority or dominant group are happy to welcome many unfamiliar ideas and practices as enrichments of their own society. Thus to begin with the carnal: in Britain curry – until the Empire virtually unknown – has become almost the national dish. On a more societal level the influx of a number of Jews at the end of the 19th c., followed, as the 20th c. progressed, by Caribbeans, Nigerians, Italians, Poles and latterly even the neighbouring French, has weakened an insular nationalist sentiment and brought an appreciation of a variety of cultural traditions and achievements. Nothing of this should seem surprising, nor should it be unwelcome to any but those suffering from an irrational xenophobia – of whom, of course, there are many in all parts of the world!
Without further illustration of this ‹plain sense› multiculturalism I here pass to the second and more ideological understanding: where the word itself can also acquire a pejorative sense and does so increasingly among those concerned with it. I shall be examining multiculturalism only with reference to Western or Westernizing societies and their imitators: in Europe, North America or elsewhere. Those who advocate this contemporary notion of multiculturalism (rather than merely welcoming the benefits its plain-sense alternative supplies from time to time) frequently have a specific agenda as social engineers: namely radically to change the cultural conditions of their own society. That agenda itself will depend on premises which need to be brought to light, for when scrutinized they will appear good or evil, beneficial or destructive. The evil and destructive premises and conclusions will tend to predominate with the passage of time.
Multicultural activists of this sort come in two varieties: ‹useful idiots› (to use the old Communist phrase) – and perhaps the majority are such – or purposeful engineers with a comprehensive grasp of the nature and consequences of the revolutionary project they intend. In more overt periods of radical political change, there is a marked tendency for the more destructive and violent – those with a more natural or better-developed killer-instinct – to replace the more moderate and conciliatory. Thus Robespierre succeeded Mirabeau and Lenin displaced Kerensky. Similarly we can expect – and indeed we find – that as ideological multiculturalism develops, it moves further and further beyond its more moderate and commonsense avatar.
This ideological multiculturalism, then, has an agenda, and that agenda has a set of first principles. These principles are likely to be treated uncritically, as mere assumptions, among the useful idiots. But if we unmask some of those assumptions to see whether they are sustainable, it will become clear that they have a post-modern ring and – more immediately relevant to our present concerns – that they are radically anti-Augustinian. One of the most basic of them, whether implicit or explicit, is that all cultural traditions are of roughly equal worth, so that it is ‹unacceptable› for a member of one culture to try to change the cultural practices of his neighbour, whether that neighbour lives nearby or far away. In a worthy small volume published a few years ago and entitled The Bluffer’s Guide to Philosophy (from which you can learn how to talk philosophy without the effort required to be a philosopher), Jim Hankinson (himself a philosopher of no mean ability) noted as a good example of traditional relativism the assumption that female ‹circumcision› is fine in the Sudan but would shock a sleepy English market-town. Yet this quainter relativism is precisely that from which the ideological multiculturalist on full throttle must distance himself; the sleepy English market town must be endowed with the fullblooded version of multiculturalism. And there are said to have been up to 50.000 instances of such mutilation in the UK in the last few years.
My first principle of ideological multiculturalism, then, is that all cultures are of roughly equal value, hence that differences between them should at least be tolerated and that no culture should be allowed predominance. Philosophically, it might be objected that such a position implies that no culture has any enduring value; it has value only so long as some group or individual subscribes to it, and then simply because that group or individual subscribes to it. I leave this problem aside, since the multiculturalist may try to rephrase his position: perhaps he will allow that, yes, we may have to do without the moral concepts of virtue and vice, yet every expression of social consciousness has a value which should be recognized and respected as peculiarly human. That, however, raises obvious difficulties, at least in practice: if your culture engages in human sacrifices or enjoys roasting prisoners over slow fires, might not the culture of your victims prefer an alternative? By tolerating the roasters, are we not in effect promoting a struggle for survival in which the stronger has the right to be intolerant and the weaker does not. That brings to light the dilemma at the heart of the concept of toleration itself: that is, should we tolerate a group within a still dominant culture, whether religious or secular, large or small, which does not tolerate us, indeed will persecute us if it has the chance. And if not, what morally can we appeal to?
This difficulty is often evaded rather than solved by the suggestion that we can tolerate the dissemination of intolerant ideas, but not the perpetration of intolerant acts. Or we might prefer to follow John Stuart Mill who distinguishes between an intolerant idea uttered in a neutral location from the same idea proclaimed in a situation that invites an immediate resort to violence (On Liberty, Collected Works 18, p. 260). That helps a bit, but not enough: it is no solution in the case of ideas expressed in the form of a command to members of a group (wherever located) to perform intolerant acts. In practice, of course, most accounts of toleration draw the line somewhere, in the case of ideas as well as acts, which immediately raises the problem of where that line should be drawn. It is often overlooked that John Locke, usually hailed along with Hugo Grotius as one of the founding fathers of modern ideas of toleration, is wholly intolerant not only of Roman Catholics but also of extreme Protestant dissenters. Locke, of course, was no relativist, but his intolerance in these cases flowed from a perceived fear that such people, active enemies of the civil order before, would probably be so again. So a wider tolerance is buttressed by a specific intolerance in individual cases where a reason or pretext can readily be put forward. Locke had no time for the supposed distinction between ideas and actions, thus holding, for example, that a religious allegiance to the Pope and to Catholic Christianity entailed at least a complacency towards the overthrow of the established state and the established religion, if not a willingness to overthrow them should an opportunity arise. Tolerance grew up in the 17th c. as a recipe for avoiding sectarian violence and those who promoted it had no wish to tolerate anyone apparently longing for a return to the good old violent days.
Although in practice toleration is normally restricted within limits, its more ideological and putatively more logical advocates are uneasy about such restrictions – and so they should be. Thus there are feminists who would condemn the stoning of a woman for adultery in Europe but show themselves hesitant to condemn it in Afghanistan. Their mindset is intelligible: the intolerance of the normally tolerant and the distinction between words and deeds depend on foundations insecure both pragmatically and theoretically; thus how can we be sure, for example, that such and such a poster in inflammatory language really is intended to produce violent effects or that it will in fact do so? Such epistemological uncertainty – backed by cowardice – for several years helped justify the toleration of posters outside a London mosque inviting the faithful to kill – more conventionally one would say murder – Tony Blair.
I doubt whether in that case the tolerance shown by multiculturalists indicated that they actually wanted Tony Blair to be murdered – indeed some of them were in his government engaged in their own projects of social engineering – but an uncertainty about how to apply the slippery concept of toleration lent plausibility to those who feared ‹divisiveness›. Nevertheless, if any culture is theoretically as good as any other – and what may be labeled as neocolonialist attitudes and practices are to be ruled out – how can we justify (except on grounds purely of pragmatic and incoherent self-interest) being intolerant on any occasion and of anything: except, perhaps, if short-term intolerance may be defended in the pursuit of long-term toleration? But then the short-term intolerance will govern the revised social conditions under which long-term tolerance can be safely practiced.
Modern advocates of almost unrestricted toleration will produce an answer to our difficulty, and it is precisely this answer that brings us back to the City of God. They want to maintain Lockean toleration without Locke’s theistic premises about rights; indeed they will go beyond Locke in tolerating Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters so long as these make no attempt – even strictly legal attempts – to ‹impose› their views on others; that is, so long they are willing to claim Christianity without being Christian. In their linguistic practice this will often entail their attributing something dubbed ‹sanctity› to claims about, for example, which rights are inalienable. They may invoke the ‹sanctity of the human person›, thus making a claim to which they are not entitled and then determine the limits of their toleration in accordance with the presumed effect of some dissident’s lack of respect for that ‹sanctity› when for religious or cultural or political reasons he applies a baseball bat to his neighbour’s head.
Even if we prescind from extreme cases – and we note that an individual’s practice may be morally superior to his theory – there are many difficulties about such limited toleration, one of the more obvious being how to measure the extent (or even the possibility) of ill effects deriving from private behaviour that at first sight might appear only to injure persons consenting to its exercise. Yet I write ‹appear only to injure› deliberately: there will be many cases where the reality will be very different from what appears. It is merely self-indulgent to say – on a priori grounds – that we have the right to do what we like with our own bodies without harming anyone else. If I commit suicide, or even merely maim myself, some of my friends and family will suffer too, though in different ways from myself; and this is to say nothing of the likely effects on a wider society. Attempts (such as those made – famously – by H.(erbert) L.(ionel) A.(dolphus) Hart) to avoid this difficulty by emphasizing that only immediate harms can be measured and therefore taken into account can properly be dismissed as sophistic.
Thus the problem of toleration is part of the problem of rights, for without a God (Lockean, Augustinian or other) rights seem to be either, as Jeremy Bentham memorably observed, nonsense on stilts, or – to put it more irenically – legal or other assertions elevated to the status of natural and inalienable properties of individuals, possessed, for example, as we have seen, by persons (however defined) by virtue of an hypothesized ‹sanctity›. Augustine has nothing philosophically significant to say explicitly about inalienable rights, but implies a good deal, whereas many of his detractors have much to say on the subject but no logical right to their claims. What Augustine certainly would have pointed out is that without God the moralist or social engineer has no place to stand, and without a personal God can only give a value-free, ‹scientific› account of the universe and of the place of humanity within it – in Thomas Nagel’s contemporary language a ‹view from nowhere› – to describe the man who shoots up his neighbour, his family, his church, or temple or synagogue.
Of course, we recognize, in light of Goering’s declaration quoted at the start of the present paper – «I joined the (Nazi) party because I was a revolutionary, not because of all the ideological nonsense» – that the motive for adopting ideological multiculturalism need not be an inability to defend one set of practices intellectually against another; it may derive from historical circumstances driving in a particular direction those who for varying reasons hate rather than evaluate, promote and seek to improve their own culture. Such circumstances nourish an all-too-human desire to destroy whatever frustrates our desires, rational or irrational. Though some motives for destructiveness will be better than others – whether or not recognized by the multiculturalist – the effects of the ensuing behaviour will frequently be very similar. Thus in modern Europe – perhaps especially, for historical reasons which I need not pursue here, in the United Kingdom – since the multiculturalist sees little of value in his traditional, Christian-based inheritance (of which he is also largely ignorant), he finds it alluring to impugn and diminish the significance and role of Christianity in his society; in particular he may be terrified that Christian moral standards, especially about sexual behaviour, might be revived. Indeed, his hostility to his own past, however he justifies it, may be such that he will be ready to tolerate the growth of cultures embracing very intolerant features indeed, but which can be pressed into short-term service as allies in the assault on his old cultural base – and more especially if can persuade himself that intolerance (especially moral intolerance) is one of the traditionally cultural religion’s primary and enduring characteristics.
Thus bad faith and self-delusion – what is Truth, anyway? – prove effective allies in the battle to tolerate as much anti-Christianity as possible. We can recognize the strength of this motivation among those whom we charitably hope to be merely half-educated when we think about the claims of united Europe ideologists that our (I prefer to say ‹their›) present Western society has developed from Greek philosophy and Roman law humanized in the crucible of the Enlightenment; from that fantasy Christianity has been airbrushed out. Outside Europe too intelligible analysis may have to be sacrificed: thus in the United States the woman in charge of Homeland Security prefers to speak of ‹man-caused disasters› rather than ‹terrorist acts›, and on hearing that a soldier had shouted ‹Allahu Akbar› while gunning down 13 people and wounding another 38, President Obama observed that ‹the shooting would probably remain a mystery›.
To sum up: problems arise for the unthinkingly or willfully tolerant because they have no means of determining priorities (except in terms of what from time to time they take as their own interest or preference – and Augustine has some good things to say about our ‹will› being formed by our loves and hates). As David Hume might point out, they have no authentic means of inferring what they ought to do (and what they ought to tolerate) from what they may want or not want to do or tolerate. Or, as Augustine also might point out, they have no philosophical tools by which even to distinguish what they want to know from what they could and ought to know. None of which, it goes without saying, rules out what might look like altruism. When Bentham – whose honest approach we note once again – was asked why he wanted to help other people, he is said to have replied, ‹I just like doing that›. He was well aware that others might have other preferences.
* * *
When Augustine looks at the multiculturalism of the late Roman Empire, he faces no such concerns, because he believes all human societies to be radically defective, though some obviously more defective than others: Theodosius was a better ruler than Nero, but all rulers, all societies, are defective in that they do not instantiate the City of God. And if there is a City of God, then human constructions can be evaluated with reference to it: that is, one can say not only ‹This society is better than that› – a proposition which the ideological multiculturalist finds hard to utter – but why and with reference to what, this society, or practice, or belief is better – that is morally better – than that other. Theoretically, for Augustine, all societies could be listed in order of merit, but there is no reason to saddle him with holding that he (or anyone apart from God) would be able to go into every detail; for his purposes a rough prioritizing would be enough, though, as we shall see, it could have been less rough than he made it.
So I want now to show how Augustine, unlike the ideological multiculturalist, can sit in judgment on societies and their beliefs, individuals and their philosophies, prescinding for the moment from the ensuing and far more difficult question of what should be done after judgments have been passed. And since the contemporary multiculturalist offers us both what look like metaphysical claims and a vision – however incoherent – of the structure of an ideal society, I want us to inspect the most obvious example of Augustine’s attitude to that ‹other›, less than divine, city and to the philosophical and social attitudes which he thought it instantiated. Hence, my comments will immediately concern Augustine’s analysis of the origins and nature of the Roman Empire – with that multitude of religious and cultural practices to which I have already alluded – and of the version of Platonic philosophy dominant in his own day and which in his view reflected many of the false social attitudes of Roman society.
In view of his own philosophical past, it would have ill become Augustine to withdraw credit from the Platonists, but in the City of God he tries to separate what is valid in Platonic metaphysics from the moral deformity which he believes is encouraged by its weaknesses. So I turn to Augustine’s account of the cultural aspirations of ‹Platonism›, noting that, although he is aware of differences within the Platonic schools and not least of some of the intended ‹corrections› of Plato by Porphyry (as at times he supposed them to be: cf. ciu. 10,27.30), he is inclined to follow the common assumption of antiquity in discussing Platonism in the singular rather than Platonisms in the plural. That unavoidably generated historical errors.
Augustine allows that it was the immaterialism of Platonic metaphysics that freed him from Manichaeism and its quasi-material account of God and the soul, and he remarks elsewhere that Plotinus was Plato ‹redivivus› (Acad. 3,41; cf. ciu. 10,2). Yet in the City of God he tends to analyze Platonism as though because of the basic continuity of Platonist metaphysics Porphyry’s view of ancient culture speaks not only for itself and the less refined and perhaps more culturally decadent Platonism of Apuleius, Augustine’s fellow African and bête-noire, but also for the Platonism of Plotinus and even of Plato himself. With the latter, however, he was directly familiar only minimally and in translation; his comments are thus often historically relevant less to Plato himself than to the Platonists of the Imperial era: Apuleius, Plotinus, and above all Porphyry.
Augustine’s approach, though historically misleading, is not entirely unreasonable in light of a newly developing socio-political dimension to Neoplatonic theory. Plotinus, setting himself up as a defender of Hellenic rationalism against ‹barbarian› cults, had argued against the Gnostics that these irrationalists – emerging from what John Dillon once described as the ‹Platonic underworld› and seductively attractive even to some of his own associates – were the ideological expression of a radically anti-Hellenic way of life and thought, and hence a threat to Hellenic culture as a whole; and that not merely in the social implications of what Plotinus thought of as cults – as pagans might suppose Christian activities could provoke the gods to bring on famine and disease – but in their anti-intellectual underpinnings and fantastical speculations. Porphyry in his Life of Plotinus (16) drew his readers’ attention to his master’s pro-Hellenic intellectual campaign and extended the attack – as Augustine knew well – to include mainstream Christians among his targets.
When Augustine wrote the City of God, homing in on Porphyry as his principal cultural and ideological opponent, he was aware that, in the eyes of many Platonists of his own day, Christians – ‹the enemies of the good and the beautiful›, as one of them would later put it, glancing at monks in particular – had become a clear threat to the ancient culture of which Platonists now saw themselves as the intellectual guardians. Porphyry’s attack on Christianity had been consigned to the flames by Constantine in company with the writings of Arius and thus survives for us only in fragments supplied by those who set out to combat it, but Augustine knew it to be the most powerful of a long line of such treatises and perhaps also that Porphyry himself, as some modern scholars suppose, was in spirit, if not even in person, one of the ideological consultants of Diocletian and his associates when they launched the last and greatest anti-Christian onslaught.
It was the opinion of Porphyry, as of Augustine himself, that however much Christians might learn from Platonic metaphysics, Christian culture and the Hellenism – idealized if not idolized – of the pagan Platonists could not coexist in peace. From the Christian point of view, Platonism in its pagan form might still be plundered, as the Egyptians by the Israelites, but it could not be tolerated as an alternative culture precisely because it was or had become – and hence always had been, at least potentially – anti-Christian. For Augustine the interests of one particular culture – that of Christianity – are paramount, and starting from that assumption he (as others of his day) makes his own judgment as to what should be tolerated and what should not in other cultural traditions. In the 4th c. Christianity was acquiring a lordship such as is now in the sights of our apparently tolerant secularists. So we need to ask whether the manner in which Christians extended Christian toleration to paganism resembles that in which pagans are now prepared to tolerate Christianity, and how Christians should try to impede that kind of toleration: or whether it is too late, as Julian found out when the boot was on the other foot. Is contemporary Western Europe like Constantinian Rome in reverse gear? And was Augustinian intolerance – based on truth-claims – more intellectually respectable than its secular descendant’s tolerant contempt for truth about values?
Such being the present state of play, we can now turn to the details of Augustine’s position and ask: Where in his view does Platonism go wrong, how wrong does it go and what should be done about it? In pursuing that enquiry we shall see that although philosophically and culturally it is perhaps the next best system after Christianity, it is that next best only after a very long interval. Augustine does not countenance the Stoic thesis that ‹all sins are equal›, but he accepts the Stoic truism on which it is based that all sins are similar qua sins. Applied to Platonism, that would imply that we can identify a particularly sinful feature of Platonic culture – or, as the Platonists now averred, of Hellenic culture – and recognize that qua sinful that feature will be found – in differing degrees but always seriously enough to be rated diabolical – in all non-Christian (or imperfectly Christian) cultures. That feature, as all connoisseurs of Augustine know and would have known, is a characteristic arrogance, an unwillingness to accept the humble Incarnation of Christ and the consequent humility required of mankind: another version of that very same arrogance to which I alluded earlier when speaking of the mission of Virgil’s ideal Rome to «parcere subiectis et debellare superbos». We alone, and our culture, whether Roman for Virgil or Platonic for Porphyry, are to be the proud masters of all we survey. Relevantly similar language, from both Christians and non-Christians (however warranted), spoke of a substantial clash of cultures.
We learn from the City of God wherein the moral iniquity of the Platonists lies, and it is not difficult to clarify the anthropological error on which it is taken to depend. Although much of Platonic metaphysics can be adapted to Christian purposes, the Platonists are guilty of a novel and malign version of an old perversion. Until the time of Plotinus – and emphatically in the writings of Plotinus himself – Platonists taught that human perfection can be attained in the present life; indeed, those who look for divine help to achieve it are dismissed by Plotinus as merely lazy if not scoundrels. After Plotinus the Platonists lost much of their nerve; Porphyry, as was his wont, tried to sit on the fence – a characteristic which Augustine recognizes (e.g. at ciu. 10,26) – but with Iamblichus we meet an unashamedly full-blown theurgy: a pagan sacramentalism designed to promote that spiritual betterment which we cannot achieve of ourselves. This Augustine takes to be an insolent attempt to manipulate the gods rather than pray for their assistance – which in any case, given their non-existence, would have been a delusion.
Augustine diagnoses theurgy as the peculiar form of presumption displayed by those who understand something of the metaphysics of the good life but are too proud, too intellectually conceited, to learn from the apparently unschooled (cf. ib. 10,28sq.). They think so highly of their own autonomy as to suppose themselves able to establish a fantastical road to salvation without reference to Christ, the divine guide and Mediator (cf. ib. 10,24). They do not recognize, that is, that they are merely human and not immortal by nature – a charge brought against them from the time of Justin – and that therefore they must be adopted and transformed by God if they are to be ‹saved›. I use ‹saved› and the concept of salvation deliberately for it is Platonic as well as Christian – and from the earliest period of the tradition – appearing by implication in the last lines of the Republic itself.
Thus it is over immortality and survival after death (as well as over the possibility of a good life on earth) that Augustine finds – not unreasonably – that the metaphysically generated ‹problems› of Platonism connect with the moral problems of Roman culture more generally. In the Symposium Plato had already spoken of a low-level aiming for immortality through the perpetuation of oneself in one’s children or – better in his view – through becoming a celebrated lawgiver like Solon or Lycurgus. But Plato and those who followed him had understood from some Pythagorean source that the soul is naturally immortal and that if we live aright we can be not only immortal but virtuous as the gods are virtuous. Thus the existential question became, ‹What must we do – morally and intellectually – if we are to live, as Socrates is shown living, without a soul-distorting fear of death; for by right choices we shall not only survive but survive well?›
Augustine’s attitude to Platonic philosophy is a specific instance of his attitude to any non-Catholic culture, whether intellectual or social. Catholic Christianity is superior to Platonism intellectually, in that it can answer questions which perplex the Platonists (as the relationship of the soul to the body or the solution of the problem of evil), and also socially in its freedom from a pride masking philosophical weakness which drives the Platonists back to superstition and the reification of psychological fantasies. Christianity, for Augustine, derives its strength not from religious, political or social myths but from historical facts, especially those taught by the New Testament, which we must accept in humility if we are to avoid vain imaginings and understand human nature. Such claims about history are philosophically as well as factually of great importance but their relevance to Christian philosophy is beyond the scope of our present discussion (and I have treated it in Cambridge Companion to the City of God). What matters for now is that Neoplatonic – and more generally philosophical – pride encourages non-Christian thinkers to substitute myth and wishful thinking for history whenever their metaphysics runs into the sand. Augustine holds that traditional metaphysics deals only in generalized truths; it needs to be personalized and particularized with reference to the story of salvation worked out not merely in a divine mind and to be interpreted as a set of abstractions, but in historical time. But for such history – when its lack is dimly felt – non-Christians substitute idols, metaphysical, moral or other.
* * *
I move now from Augustine’s attitude to a defective philosophical exposition of the human condition, and to the sort of effects that exposition has produced, to his more general sociological diagnosis of the Roman world. Here too, without Christianity, we find a culture necessarily driven by fantasy, or in his language, by idols. His comically obscene account of Roman wedding ceremonies (cf. ciu. 6,9), depicting gods and goddesses arrayed to help the bridegroom achieve the ritual of defloration, highlights the fatuity of religions of fantasy – and all non-Christian religions, whether private or public, are religions of fantasy when divorced from historical reality. All are motivated by fear, above all the fear of death which they hope at least to assuage, as such providing as it were the soul of the cultures in which they are enshrined and to each of which they give its peculiar character.
By the time Augustine came to write the City of God he was increasingly sceptical about a thesis, foreshadowed by Melito of Sardis, detectable in Origen (Contra Celsum 2,30) and elaborated by his disciple, the historian Eusebius and others – and not least by Ambrose, Augustine’s own ‹father in faith›. This posits that Christianity has taken over a pagan world already politically prepared for it, and that the theological significance of this take-over can now be recognized – at least by some – in the sacralised role of the Christian Emperors. In the wake of the anti-pagan legislation of Theodosius, Augustine’s favourite emperor, and the suppression of African paganism by his son Honorius in 399, Augustine had been earlier attracted by this triumphalism of ‹Christian times›. But he became more cautious: there are tribes to be Christianized beyond the Roman Empire (ep. 199,46sq.; cf. ciu. 18,32); the empire itself, like its predecessors, will pass away without loss to the City of God. Its Christianization marks no new or special phase in the story of the descendents of Adam from the time of Christ to the Last Judgment. Yet it was certainly the case not only that a propaedeutic to many features of Christianity had been developed among pagan intellectuals – a fact which Augustine, himself a beneficiary, could minimize only implausibly – but – to select one banal but significant feature of the Roman world – even those who built the great roads which linked up the cities of the Empire paved the way for the spread of the new religion from each of those cities to the next.
Augustine wants us to build history into our account of the human predicament, but he has a too limited and immediately ‹theological› notion of the sort of ‹history› to be studied; his account of history – recognized as the essential companion of metaphysics if we are to understand the human predicament – is underdeveloped (as was recognized in the 12th c. by Hugh of St. Victor who tried to correct and enlarge it). He failed to attend as closely as we would wish – or to encourage attention – to a more detailed evaluation of pre-Christian, non-Christian and by implication post-Christian societies. Even in developing his polemical account of the history of Rome as a portrait of the behaviour of the diabolical city par excellence, he fails adequately to recognize a less damnable sense in which Rome is a special case, distinct indeed from the history, for example, of that Babylon to which he regularly compares it. For in the peculiar circumstances of that ‹earthly city› which is pre-Constantinian Rome, there is already a mix of the few saved – that is, various elect Christians – and the reprobate mass, whereas in many other societies there are no baptized and therefore – in his view – few if any candidates for salvation. Rome should have provided him with the occasion to study the mix of the heavenly and the earthly cities in a unique historical setting, but he failed adequately to grasp that opportunity. And in neglecting it he lost the opportunity to pursue further the wider question of how among inferior cities some, whether Christian or pagan, are superior to others of the same broad general type: ‹humaniter›, as he would have put it. For he possessed the measure by which he could make and explain such calculations with some plausible degree of accuracy.
What, triumphalism apart, accounts for Augustine’s apparent blindness? Perhaps more than anything it is that the history of secular cities is monotonous: an endless repetition of injustice and the vain search for a peace only to be imposed by force; the same boring old vices recurring anew both in the individual and in society as a whole as one generation gives way to the next. The history of the City of God, on the other hand, at least in its earthly manifestation, is linear and progresses to an end. Yet circular though secular history may seem in that the same apparent virtues and obvious vices appear and reappear, they do not reappear in the same way or with the same weighting. One society really is better than another – even within the parameters of human vice – just as among individuals Regulus is an improvement on Nero. So that although Augustine has shown that if we are to evaluate societies on moral grounds, we need a specifically moral standard with reference to which we may develop an honest justification for anti-sceptical claims about value, and thus set up an alternative to the ideological multiculturalist, he has failed to give much more than general guidance as to how our evaluation should proceed from case to case. The risk therefore is that in our more detailed judgments we will probably be tempted to fall back not on the overall standard he has defended, but on more casual and stereotypical opinions derived from the prejudices of our own society. Nevertheless, we should remember how elsewhere Augustine is insistent that we must not be confused in our judgements by earthly wisdom. Thus he famously declares: If I were to predict who is saved by the grace of God and who is not, God would laugh me to scorn (cf. Simpl. 1,2,22). God laughs, that is, at mindless reliance on conventional wisdom.
* * *
It is clear that Augustine’s analysis of society is poles apart from that of our contemporary ideological multiculturalist, and the reason for the abyss between them is that Augustine has a reference point, fixed from eternity, by which to judge that this is a virtue or a vice, this is true courage, this vain effrontery, that this society ‹humanly speaking› is better than that. The existence of that fixed point of reference, that is, of a God outside the natural order, entails that within that universe nothing can be good, though some things may be better and others worse. Such assessments are not and could not be relative: if widow burning is bad in Europe it must be bad in India, even though exculpatory factors may enter into the judgment. In Augustine’s world, however, an urgent question soon arose: ‹In view of our superior culture, how should we handle other cultures?› In the world of the ideological multiculturalist the parallel question is posed from different assumptions, different ideological premises. His question is, ‹How do I interact with other cultures if I have no compelling reason to suppose my own better than any other?› The answer to that will bring some of his distance from Augustine into clearer focus, for although Augustine gave up triumphalism he had no wish to restore the temples Christian enthusiasts had destroyed. (We may recall the attitude of Ambrose in the case of the synagogue at Callinicum.) Yet he would have told the multiculturalist to recognize that he at least has no moral or intellectual resources to answer any questions either about cultural relativity or how to handle it. All he can do is allow any culture prepared to overcome others by force or fraud to become dominant – unless, that is, he resorts to force or fraud himself to promote his own security at whatever logical cost.
Thus we reach a serious difficulty with Augustine’s position: serious for us, that is, rather than for his 5th-c. contemporaries. Granted that we can rank societies and social practices in some sort of order of moral priority, how then shall we proceed? Or to put it more bluntly, what sort of pressure can Christians try to apply to ensure that worse practices are not treated with the same respect as their betters, let alone with more respect, in our society that I have identified as social Constantinianism in reverse gear? Here is a moral problem that Augustine could scarcely have refused to confront, and which – if we decline to do so – leaves us impotent before the forces of what we have already judged to be evil, or at least much less good. Confronting or not, however, we shall certainly have occasion to reflect a little on the tragic vision of human life which Augustine himself proposes as a rival to any legalistic moral code drawn up to specify, with no ‹ifs› and ‹buts›, exactly how we must or must not behave in every circumstance; or perhaps better on how he shows less the fault than the tragic sadness of committing ourselves to the following of such a code. For Augustine has a strong sense of the ubiquity – almost the normality – of finding ourselves confronted with alternatives all of which we would want to decline on moral grounds, but to one of which – at least by default – we have no choice but to commit ourselves. Despite his apparent rigorism, he challenges us to attend to a moral universe in which on many occasions it is genuinely difficult even to know what it is right to do, let alone to do it. This is a serious moral universe, not that of the armchair ethicist; it is the world of the tragedian rather than the lawyer.
Augustine’s society contains four groups of people: baptized Catholics – by definition defective Christians – heretics, Jews and pagans. Socially, each of these groups projects some variety of culture, potential or actual. In Augustine’s view each group is to be treated differently – with reference to that potential culture. I leave baptized Catholics aside: they are expected to obey the laws of the state in which they live so long as these do not infringe on their Christian duties: thus though before Constantine the presence of idols to whom the legions were vowed should have prevented soldiers serving in the army, this is now no restraint on a Christian’s military career. Towards the end of his life Augustine dissuaded General Boniface from giving up slaughtering in the public interest in order to join a monastic community; his view was that, unfortunately, after the fall we need soldiers (cf. ep. 220).
Jews are to be tolerated; no effort is to be made, as we have learned especially from the Contra Faustum, to convert them. They should be left to their own ways, especially their religious practices, so long as they do not intend hostility to the new Christian society. In their own persons they are witnesses against Manichaeans and others to the divine and ageless worth of the Old Testament, and at the same time evidence of God’s hardening of the hearts of those who persistently and specifically deny the divinity of Christ.
Next are pagans: these of course are to be targeted by preachers and other Christian missioners, but if they resist conversion, they too are to be tolerated – but only if they obey the laws of the Christian state and do nothing to impede the advance of the official religion. Yet here too is a clear, if limited, social and cultural constraint (by the time of Gregory the Great to be unofficially expanded to include forcible baptism): since Christianity is superior to paganism, pagans are to be prevented from carrying out anti-Christian activity, and according to the laws now in force are forbidden their pagan rituals.
With heretics things get much harsher. The background to Augustine’s attitude to heresy can be recognized both in a long-standing theological axiom and in various by now well-established practices of the Christian Empire. The theological axiom is reflected in the misunderstanding of the original intent of the claim, already made by Origen and Cyprian, that there is no salvation outside the Church (‹extra ecclesiam nulla salus›). In its original form that warning seems to have been directed not at pagans but at those who have abandoned the ‹Great Church› in favour of sects judged ‹heretical›. From the orthodox point of view, they have deliberately removed themselves from the sole source of salvation though called to share in it: heinous and self-destructive behaviour quite different from the varying types of pagan malignity. With Constantine, of course, this attitude had taken on a public dimension, so that in the background to Augustine’s attitude to heresy is the now well-established punishing of heretical bishops and their followers by deprivation of their sees, exile or both: these penalties to be enacted if necessary with the help, and sometimes indeed at the command, of the civil authorities.
Augustine’s attitude can be recognized in his treatment of the Donatists, a group already persecuted in earlier times. Initially he thought that preaching would bring them back to the fold, as it doubtless often did. Some, however, were not only recalcitrant but also violent, and he came to the conclusion that their violence could be countered by violence from the orthodox side. Where persuasion had failed, force prevailed, as too frequently – indeed almost normally – in the macro-history of religions (as also of political systems), and Augustine soon found that such ‹discipline›, administered, of course, in a paternal spirit, could do wonders for souls. But that is precisely the point, and modern commentators would do well to try to understand the attitudes of the persecutors. Sadists and thugs some of them may have been (or may have become), but it is wildly unhistorical to think that their motives were wholly discreditable. It really mattered whether a soul would be saved; indeed as a bishop Augustine believed he would be personally called to account if through his negligence a soul were lost.
That brings us back to a further feature of what I have dubbed Augustine’s ‹tragic› perspective on the human condition, and to something psychologically distinctive about the ancient moral universe as a whole, whether Christian or pagan. Responsibility and personal involvement were governing considerations in the construction of theories of virtue: a radically different assumption from the ‹human rights› outlook maintained by the ‹ben pensanti› of our own society. For while throughout antiquity, Christian and pagan alike, there are regular displays of moral indignation when a just man is injured, tortured or killed by an unjust man – who is typically a tyrant – no one is concerned when it is the criminal who is maltreated – even if some consider public maltreatment rather distasteful and boring, as for example did Seneca. We should recall that it was not unknown among ancient Christians to envisage pleasure in the tortures of the damned as an integral part of the joys of paradise, and – with Augustine – that harsh penalties, including torture, are threatened in some of Jesus’ own sayings.
There is a revealing page of Plato’s appalling to modern sensibilities, but which evoked no murmur of criticism throughout ancient times. In his Laws
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