Archive for December 7th, 2007


Nomology: An Augustinian Understanding of Law and Theology

Nomology: An Augustinian Understanding of Law and Theology

1.2 Augustine.

And so what is the interplay between the two cities in the arena of community? Because when we say community we really mean politics, sociology, and law, and these are all subjects prone to the greatest confusion and subtlety, we need to be mindful to catch his thought. Many today are prone to define all things in terms of Community (Thomists, neo-Thomists, postmodernists, communitarians, communists, socialicrats). All speech, psychology, philosophy, and even truth itself is up for sacrifice at the altar of Community and should be given for its good accordingly.

Since it is said that communities create goods, or at least the good cannot be known apart from a given community, or possibly even what the good is, is an effect of the psychology of a given community, there can be nothing so important. So they say. The difference between this and the City of God being, that in the City of God the basis of Community is first the Truth and second the Good and that until the True and the Good are known there is no possibility of the existence of fulfilling and edifying Community.

In the City of God the Truth must be held in order to know the good or evil of any given community and to find meaning in the existence of community itself. Thus God Himself, or more specifically the Law of God, is the previously existing source of the existence of Community and precedes it both in time and in causation. In short, all communities are not created equal.

Knowing this creates for us the Aristotelian dilemma. When so many of today’s infra-theological heroes have focused their civics on Aristotelian and Thomistic foundations (Haurwaus, R. George, Macintyre, Weigel, Hittinger), and so culturally autonomous methods of framing the questions of the good and Community around the supposed good of Community in and of itself apart from the knowledge of God, do we have any need, any duty, to return the question to the framework that we seem to find in the scriptures themselves and in the teaching of the historical Church visa vie Augustine? Should we even give such a hearing in the halls of power? Certainly not if the City of man holds sway, because it does not have in mind the things of God, nor can it.

The premise that Community is a good, and a natural good, and an end in itself as a source of human flourishing, does nothing to advance itself beyond the fact that all communities are not good, many arm themselves against the true purpose of nature and fellowship, and many are aggressively organized against human flourishing. This being so, Community however it might be defined or explained can neither be the source nor the definition of the true or the good, but is the very thing that the true and the good define and create. The ultimate source and end of all things is found in God alone.


Augustine first describes the particular status of the parties, this being a distinction necessary to framing their relationship to any law. This is also necessary because though contrary to most modern thought on this, the motivation of the individual actor is crucial to the moral quality of the act in traditional Christian thought. In other words, who is acting and what their highest intent is in the act are necessary facts for any legal analysis.

“But the families which do not live by faith seek their peace in the earthly advantages of this life; while the families which live by faith look for those eternal blessings which are promised, and use as pilgrims such advantages of time and of earth as do not fascinate and divert them from God, but rather aid them to endure with greater ease, and to keep down the number of those burdens of the corruptible body which weigh upon the soul.”


That is to say in Augustinian verbiage, that the faithless desire things as an end in themselves while the faithful desire them only instrumentally, or as a means to a higher end, that being the Love of God and the Glory of Christ.

“Thus the things necessary for this mortal life are used by both kinds of men and families alike, but each has its own peculiar and widely different aim in using them. The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, and the end it proposes, in the well-ordered concord of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men’s wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away.”


The purpose or motivation of those outside of Christ is always less than the highest good, and thus the reason for Law and the order it brings is merely personal peace in this life. Egoistically speaking, Augustine is agreeing that the non-Christian has as an intent only selfishness, and thus though they may receive the Laws of God and may have points of identity with Christian thought on how a Civil state should be governed, having a different status, being outside of the grace of God, and having a different intent, their own selfish pleasure and well being, in every good law they ordain, in truth they break the Law; but this is ordained by God so that there will be some semblance of peace on the Earth during this time when evil has not yet been extinguished. They use the same Law, but to a different end.

This next line is very important to understanding Augustine especially as a precursor to all who come after him.

“Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, though it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as the earnest of it, it makes no scruple to obey the laws of the earthly city, whereby the things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life are administered; and thus, as this life is common to both cities, so there is a harmony between them in regard to what belongs to it….”


In other words, they live by the same laws.

“This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.”


“It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced. Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven; for this alone can be truly called and esteemed the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God.”

“When we shall have reached that peace, this mortal life shall give place to one that is eternal, and our body shall be no more this animal body which by its corruption weighs down the soul, but a spiritual body feeling no want, and in all its members subjected to the will. In its pilgrim state the heavenly city possesses this peace by faith; and by this faith it lives righteously when it refers to the attainment of that peace every good action towards God and man; for the life of the city is a social life.”


The life of the city is a social life, both in the City of God and the City of man. And thus both live under one law, one code, one rule, and one Ruler, that being God Himself, but whereas the city of God obeys all things, submits to all things, endures all things, sufferers all things for the ultimate end of reaching their heavenly home, and they do all of these things as a means to a final good, the World uses the same as a means to the end of their own pleasure.

But it being social does not at all imply the social power to create the good, nor the true. The community, the social life is an effect, not the cause of the of the truth of God’s presence and power, both in the act of creation and even now as the ultimate good end of all things.

Christopher Neiswonger