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Augustine: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) [Paperback]

By E. M. Atkins (Editor) & Robert J. Dodaro (Editor)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   299
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 5.5" Height: 0.8"
Weight:   1.1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 2, 2010
Publisher   Cambridge University Press
ISBN  052144697X  
EAN  9780521446976  

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Item Description...
This collection brings together thirty-five letters and sermons of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo from 396-430 AD, that deal with political matters. The letters and sermons are both practical and principled and treat many essential themes in Augustine's thought, including the responsibilities of citizenship, the relationship between the church and secular authority, religious coercion, and war and peace. These texts complement Augustine's classic The City of God, and give students direct insight into the political and social world of late antiquity with which Augustine was immediately involved.

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More About E. M. Atkins & Robert J. Dodaro

Saint Augustine of Hippo Augustine was born in AD 354. He lived a wild, self-destructive life as a young man in Italy and was the subject of many prayers by his worried mother, Monica. After a life-changing conversion, he lived on to become a tremendous influence on Christian thinking. He died in AD 430.

Aurelius Augustinus [more commonly “St. Augustine of Hippo,” often simply “Augustine”] (354–430 C.E.): rhetor, Christian Neoplatonist, North African Bishop, Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the decisive developments in the western philosophical tradition was the eventually widespread merging of the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. Augustine is one of the main figures through and by whom this merging was accomplished. He is, as well, one of the towering figures of medieval philosophy whose authority and thought came to exert a pervasive and enduring influence well into the modern period (e.g. Descartes and especially Malebranche), and even up to the present day, especially among those sympathetic to the religious tradition which he helped to shape (e.g. Plantinga 1992; Adams 1999). But even for those who do not share this sympathy, there is much in Augustine's thought that is worthy of serious philosophical attention. Augustine is not only one of the major sources whereby classical philosophy in general and Neoplatonism in particular enter into the mainstream of early and subsequent medieval philosophy, but there are significant contributions of his own that emerge from his modification of that Greco-Roman inheritance, e.g., his subtle accounts of belief and authority, his account of knowledge and illumination, his emphasis upon the importance and centrality of the will, and his focus upon a new way of conceptualizing the phenomena of human history, just to cite a few of the more conspicuous examples.

Saint Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 and died in 430.

Saint Augustine of Hippo has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Faith Classics
  2. Ignatius Critical Editions
  3. Oxford Early Christian Studies (Hardcover)
  4. Paraclete Essential Deluxe
  5. Pure Gold Classics
  6. Selections from the Fathers of the Church
  7. Works of Saint Augustine (Hardcover Unnumbered)
  8. Works of Saint Augustine (Numbered)
  9. Works of Saint Augustine (Paperback Unnumbered)
  10. Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General   [14516  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Medieval Thought   [430  similar products]
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > General   [22730  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
St. Augustine meak and mild?   Dec 30, 2007
This anthology contains 35 relatively short letters and sermons by the Church Father Augustine, dealing mostly with political and legal issues. They should really be read together with Augustine's major work "The City of God", but are quite informative even in isolation. The anthology also contains an introduction by the editor, plus extensive footnotes, and short biographies of the persons mentioned in Augustine's letters. Since the translation is occasionally somewhat strange ("security" instead of "salvation" etc), readers shouldn't skip the translator's notes either. For people with the right sense of humour, the footnotes can actually be quite entertaining. One of them explains what the Book of Job is, presumably because the anthology is directed at students of political history, and the editor doesn't expect them to be well versed in matters Biblical! Personally, I thought the Book of Job was common knowledge... :-)

Augustine's letters are adressed to high-ranking Roman officials, both governors and military commanders. His letters are candid in tone, sometimes even provocative. They contain fewer formal greetings than the officials' letters adressed to him. This says something about the power of the Catholic Church in the Late Roman Empire. As bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Augustine was in effect a powerful state official in his own right. This explains the tone of his letters, and why he could treat even the emperor's men as equals. While ultimate decision-making power was in the hands of the imperial court, Church councils could lobby the court and perhaps get the emperor to do their bidding. Augustine was therefore very much part of the Old Men's Club of the Late Empire.

On most issues, it's difficult for a modern to sympathize with Augustine. His stern blend of other-wordly Platonism, belief in original sin, and predestination strikes us as typically "medieval" and "dark age". The Doctor of Grace, as he was later called, was also against freedom of worship. He believed that everyone in the Roman Empire should be Catholic, and that the emperors had the right to force people to join the Church. After all, it's all for their own good. Augustine also rejected the right to rebel against authority, any authority. Bad emperors are a chastisment from God, and should be suffered by the good. If they are really bad, it's right to speak out against them, but solely for the purpose of becoming a martyr. In one of his sermons, included in this book, Augustine rebukes his congregation for attacking and killing a corrupt imperial tax-collector. From his Neo-Platonic perspective, Augustine declares that life is short, death inevitable and earthly possesions ultimately meaningless. Taking the law into your own hands is therefore pointless and, indeed, sinful. Few people today would take up such a position, and rightly so. Augustine comes across as a defender of the Late Roman status quo, at a time when the degenerate Empire was already breaking up at its seams.

In other ways, however, "Political Writings" shows a somewhat unexpected and more humane side of Augustine than we might have expected. For starters, Augustine was against capital punishment, and often tried to get such sentences mitigated, even when directed against anti-Catholic rioters and rebels. His opposition to the death penalty was based on the following reasoning: people who die unrepentant will spend eternity in Hell, therefore it's better not to kill them, but to reform them instead. Augustine was also against torture, a commonplace practice even in the Christianized Roman Empire, although his opposition to this practice wasn't entirely consistent, since he didn't mind suspects being beaten up! At one point, the Roman governor of Africa, Macedonius, apparently sent Augustine a letter complaining about the bishop's constant intercession in favour of obviously guilty criminals. In his response, Augustine points out that since everyone is a sinner, showing mercy to criminals is a religious duty, and he explains that he has sometimes even attempted to get victims of theft to drop their cases against the thieves, rather than demanding restitution.

At the same time, Augustine wasn't always consistent in his attitude. In some letters, as already noted, he criticizes even victims of burglary or fraud for demanding compensation from the criminal. In other cases, he proposes fines himself as an alternative to the death penalty. The most interesting document in "Political Writings" is Letter 185, where Augustine admits that his attitude towards the Donatists have hardened. The Donatists were a group of Christians in North Africa regarded as heretical by the Catholic Church, and hence illegal, which didn't stop them from commanding wide-spread support, and often violently attacking both Roman landlords and Catholic clergy. Originally, Augustine opposed using force against the Donatists, simply calling for Roman military protection against Donatist attacks, trying to convince the Donatists of the error of their ways by peaceful preaching. Only in areas with Donatist violence against Catholics would the Donatists be punished by fines, and only their bishops. Emperor Honorius, however, went much further, and decreed that all Donatists were liable to harsh punishments, simply for being Donatists. In Letter 185, Augustine seems to come around to this harder position, fed up with Donatist resistance.

The final section deals with Augustine's view of war, always a tricky subject for Christians. After all, the Sermon on the Mount seems to preach non-resistance to evil. Augustine argues that Christians might nevertheless become soldiers and wage wars. After all, when Roman soldiers approached John the Baptist, he didn't tell them to quit the army, but simply not to commit crimes against humanity. And what about the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his son, or Cornelius, the righteous Gentile who became a Christian? They were both soldiers. A particularly interesting letter in this section is no. 220, sent to Boniface, a Roman commander in North Africa who had rebelled against the empress Galla Placidia. True to form, Augustine calls on Boniface to make peace with the Empire, and stop his troops from plundering the North African countryside, concentrating on fighting the "barbarians" instead. Boniface did eventually make his peace with the empress, but to late to save Roman Africa. When Augustine lied on his deathbed in AD 430, Hippo was besieged by the Vandals...

In sum, this volume is extremely interesting, especially for serious stundents of Church history, Late Roman history or theology. Recommended.

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