Augustinian Ambiguity (II)

Following on my previous three or four posts about Augustinian politics, let me say that I fully believe in and support Christian education, and I do not believe that secular education is a good thing. I agree in general terms with the stream of Augustinian thought that endorses Theodosianism (some call it Constantinianism), and that is precisely because I don’t believe in religious neutrality – either in private or in public. So long as the Theodosian project is moderated by the further principle that the “two swords” of political and spiritual power are wielded by different hands, both ordained by God for their own separate, but coordinated purposes, I am for it and am against the program of cultural quietism and marginalism. (Long time readers of this blog will recall that this program of dual authority in a Christian society is often called “Gelasian dualism,” because it was first spelled out by Gelasius, Bishop of Rome in 494 A.D.).

On the other hand, Augustine is obviously correct that it is God’s providence which orders and disposes of temporal orders, and sometimes the Christian may find himself living under a temporal order that is oriented toward a false love (a false god). The question is precisely what the Christian is supposed to do about it if he finds himself living in a society oriented toward a false love. Of course we must always preach the Gospel regardless of political circumstances, but granting that the Gospel has political-social ramifications, how should we pursue those?

Here the highly-charged question of theocracy enters the picture, particularly in some Reformed circles. Myself, I don’t believe Christians should seek a theocracy. The Gregorian papacy of the later Middle Ages, which had the spiritual power using both swords (with the nice little sophism that the spiritual power was only “indirectly” wielding the temporal one, but “directly” wielding the spiritual one) should teach us why theocracy is a bad idea. The only way to have a Christian theocracy that I can see as possibly working would be to have a sort of “dual monarchy,” or a bipartite executive of spiritual / temporal where the powers / swords are kept distinct and always strive to work in coordination, not opposition or conflation. They tried that all throughout the Middle Ages, but never got it right. That’s not to say it couldn’t be gotten right; just that it has yet to be gotten right.

One problem we would face today with trying to get that idea right is precisely in the fact that we are happy with the radically fractured Church of modern individualistic denominationalism, so we don’t (can’t?) have a unified spiritual power to work in coordination with the temporal. And of course the two powers could only work together if the temporal was Christian also, so we come back around to all the very important questions about religion relative to magistrates and education.

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