Augustine’s Engagement Strategies with the Roman Empire after 410: What Can We Learn from Them?

This paper seeks to demonstrate Augustine’s use of the gospel in his monumental work, City of God, to negotiate Christianity with the Roman Imperial world, which was on the verge of falling. Specifically, the paper explores how Augustine draws on gospel passages to achieve different strategies for negotiating the tension between Christianity and the dominant Roman culture. The key strategies involved can be summarized in the acronym “A-C-AC” which stands for accommodation, challenge and alternative community. The paper begins by providing a brief historical context of Augustine’s time, highlighting the intricate relationship and tension between Christianity and the Roman Empire. It then examines the gospel passages Augustine draws on to achieve the various survival and engagement strategies, citing specific examples from the City of God (Latin: De civitate Dei; hereafter, ciu.).[1] For instance, on the “accommodation” strategy, Augustine draws on Matthew 5:45 to encourage Christians to find ways to live peacefully within the Roman system, even as they maintain their distinct beliefs and practices.[2] and uses Matthew 6:12 to call upon the Lord’s exhortation to forgive their debtors when they were being wronged against.[3] In addition, as another engaging strategy, Augustine emphasizes that his Christian readers are to live as an alternative community that challenges pagan values, as drawn from Matthew 22:37-39 and John 14:6; in the use of the former passage, where Jesus teaches his disciples to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves, Augustine motivates his Christian readers to live according to a different set of values than those of the Roman Empire, by showing mercy to oneself as well as to others.[4] The latter passage complementarily can be seen in Augustine’s vision of the Church as a separate society that operates according to its own laws and values and not according to lies that pagan Roman religions had been spreading. [5] In short, this paper argues that Augustine’s use of the gospel to negotiate Christianity with the Roman Imperial world is a key feature of his contextual theology after the sack of Rome in 410. By drawing on a range of gospel passages and employing synergistic strategies, Augustine offers a compelling model for negotiating the tensions between Christianity and pagan imperial cultures. This paper will conclude by inviting the reader to ponder the relevance of Augustine’s exhortation to practice the gospel in the modern world, which would illuminate contemporary discussions of the engagement of Christianity and culture.

Notes
[1] Augustine, The City of God, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. William Babcock, vol. 6 & 7, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012–2013).
[2] ciu. 1.8, 4.2
[3] ciu. 19.27, 22.22, 21.27, 22.23
[4] ciu. 1.20, 21.27
[5] ciu. 10.32, 14.4

5 thoughts on “Augustine’s Engagement Strategies with the Roman Empire after 410: What Can We Learn from Them?”

  1. This study is both focused
    This study is both focused and wide-ranging and lends a helpful analytical lens to the use of Scripture in Augustine.

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  2. gospel and political theory–only Augustine could pull it off
    The proposal is focused and precise, primary sources are evident, biblical engagement is evident. Scholarship is lacking here, and this is important to understand the political approach of the presenter. However, the use of the City of God is tremendous and the application is sure. The thesis matches the primary source well, based on its engagement here.

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