The Relationship Between Christianity and society
The Relationship Between Christianity and society
Augustine is acclaimed as the first Christian philosopher, who did most of his work between C.E. 354-430. His writings are based on keen observation of the society during the Roman Empire, his unique background in training as a Catholic bishop in North Africa and from his real life experience. His social and political philosophies constituted a significant scholarly bridge between the rising medieval world and late antiquity. Augustine developed various theologies such as theology of history and The Confessions, which have helped in the understanding of various concepts such as the relationship between society and Christianity among other philosophies.
Augustine noted that the human nature which helps make up a society has an effect on how people relates to Christianity. Christianity followed strict rules which were difficult to keep and follow in the medieval society, or even in the modern society. Augustine notes that the weakness in the human body, which makes him to sin, will be removed during the day of resurrection, as believed in Christianity, for those who accept Christ teachings (O’Daly, 1999). How society observes and keeps Christian teachings, determines whether they will go to heaven or hell. After the resurrection, everything that a person did in a social setting will be judged by supreme God. Augustine believed that revelation and grace are key factors in right knowledge and action. Without grace and revelation, humans are unable to do the right thing, hence cannot abide by the Christ teachings. Augustine ideology about the society and Christianity tries to elucidate the relationship between social conditions and Christian needs, how they interrelate, while looking at things that may hinder creation of pure Christian society.
The Augustinian World’s View
Augustine view of the world helps in understanding how he conceived the society. He viewed Christian scriptures as the touchstone on which all thoughts and ideologies had to be developed. So the world as per Augustine’s view is based on the biblical creation story, the fall of man and the redemption through the death of Jesus (Clark, 2004). Augustine had a static and linear view of human history as having a definite start and end. Man is the only God’s creation without an end; all other things, including the earth will come to an end. Human, however, are destined either to eternal suffering or happiness. Human damnation is brought by Adam, through the initial sin by eating from the central tree in the Garden of Aden. The fall of man brought the sufferings and sin to mankind.
In the book, City of God, Augustine’s understanding of the world is demonstrated by earthly and the heavenly city. There is a general disagreement with the philosophers about the supreme good, whether it can be created in the earthly city or it solely belongs to the heavenly city. There is a disagreement on the effort by the evil people to create happiness for them in the earth. However, with the people of God, it is possible to create an everlasting happiness in the earthly city as well as in the heavenly city. Christianity is seen as the only sure path to true and everlasting happiness. Augustine sees the pagan world as one devoid of supreme good, hence unable to attain happiness for its residences. Mortal desires of men, which originate from the flesh, draw men to sin.
Augustine perceives social institutions as a necessity from God to curb the fallen man. One such important social institution is the state, which punishes, command, and even put to death, which brings harmony to society (O’Daly, 1999). The state brings harmony to society, which helps the man to enjoy present world. Augustine further notes that, everything happens in a predefined way by God. This fixes the destiny of every man. Augustine tries to explain the differences that were clear in the social system during the Roman empire, and the reality. Social condition made it difficult for the faithful to act justly in the unjust world. The world according to Augustine is seen as operating in a destiny given by the bible. Human suffering is purely caused by divergence, the fall of man, and resistance to follow the teachings of Jesus, who came to deliver humanity from sin.
Revelation, as mentioned earlier, is the connection between societies and Christianity. Looking at this in details will help in the understanding of Augustine’s ideologies. Revelation is explained to function in the order of knowledge, while grace is supposed to function in array of action. Society can only adhere to Christianity if the necessary revelation is shown to them (O’Daly, 1999). The revelation must come from God, and it reduces the conflicting views of reality between Christians and the society. This Christian revelation gives radically whole ideas of how the world should look like, away from the pagans’ views of the world.
Christianity offers an interpretation of social reality that claims to come from outside human society as revelation, and which portrays itself as a persistent critic of natural views of fallen man. Christianity is viewed by Augustine as a social institution that constantly challenges morals and customs followed by the fallen men; it is also a source of the divine revelation. Without divine revelation, all life is seen by Christianity as devoid of value and meaning (O’Daly, 1999). Under divine revelation, value and meaning take form under the command and control of the spirit. Christianity can take two advances to those who dwell in the center ground, between pagan world and Christianity. Both of these advances are based on the nature of revelation in the society. All unclear stirrings of faith can be treated as a well-intentioned movement towards God and held in the all-enfolding arms of a charitable church; or the equal failures of entire faith can be perceived as renunciation from God and delivered to the external darkness. Divine revelation is seen as a path to creating a Christianized society. Unless it gives unyielding witness to total commitment to the truth of revelation and power of grace, Christianity will be meaningless to the society.
Fantasy versus Reality
Augustine continued to challenge ideologies of the secular world with Christ message, by drawing a line between reality and fantasy or world-as-reality and world-as-a-fantasy (O’Daly, 1999). The distinction was also based on how the work of grace worked through the Christians and pagans. The pagans are able to be changed when the relationship of an individual with Christ is revealed. Even with revelation, human body is inclined to sin and this makes only death the door to bringing those who accepted the Christ teachings closer to God. This is seen in Roman 7.24 which indicates that, the body in the physical form is supposed to die to release the man from fantasy, and take him to reality with God.
Ordinary human lives in a fantasy world surrounded by unreal facts. Christians are set apart from the fantasy world by a vision of the real nature of what God had intended the world to look like in the creation story. Pagans or ordinary people do not have an understanding of the purpose to which God had intended the world to be (O’Daly, 1999). This separates them and denies them a chance to feel the reality and a poor relationship with God. Augustine further noted that, it is a natural tendency for all humans to cling to social institutions during change, which will destroy these institutions. In return, this can have a lasting destructive effect to the entire society. Christianity comes in to bid farewell to the fading institutions, and spread love, which can help save humanity from destroying their social institutions entirely. Christian love for the society last forever, and is viewed to help the society reconnect with God. This brings societies closer to reality for the purpose of life and the world, as per the biblical creation ideology.
During the time Augustine was writing, Rome was a middle of world fantasy. Culture and literature of antiquity brought out a society in which Roman Empire, which was the visible civil institution, symbolized all the expectations and hopes of rational men (O’Daly, 1999). There were some uncivilized people who lived outside Rome, but they did not pose a threat to the magnificence of Rome. To everyone, Rome represented eternity. Rome was, to everyone’s imagination, an ultimate social institution. Augustine knew this fascination and tried to disentangle himself the misconception of civil power, as tied in Rome.
Sacking of Rome by Visigoths disturbed the civil faith. This was through reassessment of conventional ideologies, which made people attach Christians for failing to protect Rome (Clark, 2004). Augustine noted that the persistence of this massage against Christians weakened Rome in totality. Christianity faith offered an opportunity for Augustine to view Rome from an outward perspective. This helped develop literature that shows a relationship of Christianity and the Roman society.
The literature on the importance of Christianity in the civil society has been tailored to non-Christian audience. Many critics of the Augustine’s ideologies seen it as tailored to the outsiders, while in reality, it talked to the issues that surrounded the Roman society during the time. The aim of this literature was to challenge the faith of the fallen man. Pagans held the believe that their gods were responsible for the rise of the Roman Empire, while according to Augustine’s view, God as described in the bible, had given this society a moment of glory, which they ought to have appreciated (O’Daly, 1999). There was a general denial by Christians that other divine powers could affect the society. God, as told in the Christ teachings, was the only Supreme Being that could affect the society. Romans gods were seen as feeble demons, which were only incapable of influencing the affairs of men. Christians claimed to know objective reality, which is seen through omnipresent God, who manifests his power through history, at all places and in all times. His power transcends any other divine power that can manifest in the mind of non-Christians. Augustine has been cynical on the wide belief in the strength of the Roman gods, in the sustenance of Roman supremacy in the world during this time.
Christianity and society are seen to have coexisted in a continued conflict. However, faith in the greatness of Rome is portrayed to offer a crutch on which insecure and distraught people desperately wanted to lean on. The Romans elite group continued to deceive their consciousness for a long time, by following and teaching wrong faith (Clark, 2004). Augustine offered an opportunity for the Roman society to throw away the crunch, which was based on Roman Empire might, by offering divine revelation. This would provide a chance for the society to realize the true faith in Christ, which can offer a lasting comfort to the society. The Roman city was seen by many pagans as the ultimate human achievement, which did put their gods at the helm of power.
Heavenly and Earthly City
The city of Rome differed with the Church, both as an ideal and as a reality. In reality, the destiny of the Church is not tied in Roman Empire, which is like any other empires, which have passed, but in perpetuity of mankind, as intended by God. As an ideal, Rome is an earthly city as opposed to ideal heavily city, promised to Christians after they are out of the world (Gregory, 2008). People are united by things they respect, hence society characteristics comprise of individual choices of the people who constitutes it. If the individual choice is made of self-love as opposed to the love of God, then one will have earthly city. If the individual choice is God-love, then an individual will have a heavenly city.
State has been for a long time been the central factor that unites societies and help them stay glued together. Augustine offered an ideological view of how the church and the state interacted, while acting as independent entities. The concept of ‘earthly city’ and the ‘city of God’ allowed a deeper understanding of where state and church drew the line, during late antiquity (O’Daly, 1999). There are many overlapping points that were found, which are essential if people were to live together harmoniously on earth. Both institutions are supposed to guide the society toward doing what is right, but the church has an even bigger role of bringing the society closer to God. It would be the work of a ‘temporal city’, which include Christianizing state, to create a ‘heavenly city’ on earth.
Political and social entities constituted what can be seen as the state, and they are described by Augustine to be related to various dimensions to the heavenly city. The heavenly city, in search of earthly spiritual significance, calls out people of every tongue and nation. It does not discriminate on any basis, whether it is the diversity in laws, institutions or customs, as it gathers a band of pilgrims on earth. Heavenly city makes provision for maintenance and achievement of earthly peace. Earthly peace is a priority to heavenly city mission on earth to deliver the fallen men from their sin, help them realize the divine revelation and help them realize the true intention of humans in the world. Heavenly city does not abolish or repeal any of the earthy system, which keep the state running, provided they are not impending on the religion, which one true and supreme God is trained to be worshiped. According to Augustine view, heavenly city uses earthly peace in its mission of creating earthly pilgrimage (O’Daly, 1999). It, therefore, strives to foster and cherish, provided its devotion and faith is not compromised, the orderly coexistence of men, things that concern to mortal character of men and earthly peace which give a direction of attaining heavenly peace.
Social practices, customs and political institutions are radically relativized. They are all vied to have autonomy in a restricted sphere (Gregory, 2008). According to Christians, they are neutral and can be directed toward enjoyment of eternal peace by those who belong to the heavenly city, or can be used for smaller good, earthly peace. The Roman Empire had an influence on the affairs of the earthly city, and also influenced the course of the heavenly city in the creation of a pilgrimage on earthly city. The destiny of human beings is inclined to social institutions, as well as the actions of the heavenly city on earth.
Creation of a society that relate well to God requires the incorporation of Christ teachings. Christianity validates the history and defies time (O’Daly, 1999). Society on the other hand is time bound and creates history. Human notions of time are judged according to the external vision of God. Supremacy of time, which bound the pagan society, is destroyed by the sacramental actions. The blessed are awaited by endless happiness outside transience tunnel. This argument forms the bases in which Augustine separated the people of God, from the rest of the society. The death of Christ has a unique value in transforming the non-Christians to the people of God. Christianity has acted to reinvent and validate history through events like the death of Christ, which offered a linear purpose to human life, than earlier thought.
The perspective of the relationship between society and Christianity is seen as one that is both a necessity and purposeful. Christianity is supposed to help people do what right, which will lead to eternal happiness and salvation. On the other hand, society is inclined to sin, which distance them from the supreme God. Augustine, as a Christian, differed with philosophers on the good and evil. Social life is disrupted by many things that originate from the fall of men. Human is destined to death and suffering if they fails to recognize the divine revelation, which bring them closer to the heavenly city. The saint will be rewarded with eternal happiness when they heed to the teachings of Christ. Evil people are supposed to be rewarded with suffering and death.
Clark, G. (2004). Christianity and Roman society. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gregory, E. (2008). Politics and the order of love: an Augustinian ethic of democratic citizenship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
O’Daly, G. (1999). Augustine’s City of God. New York NY: Clarendon Press.