REPUBLICS AND THEIR LOVES: REREADING CITY OF GOD 19

Authors


  • Gregory W. Lee. Wheaton College, Department of Biblical and Theological Studies, 501 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA gregory.lee@wheaton.edu

Abstract

In City of God 19.24, Augustine rejects Cicero's definition of res publica as a society founded on justice for a new definition focused on common objects of love. Robert Markus, Oliver O'Donovan, and a host of Augustinian political theologians have depicted this move as a positive gesture toward secular society. Yet this reading fails to account for why Augustine waited so long to address Cicero's definition, first discussed in Book 2, and for the radical dualism Augustine sets forth between the two cities throughout his text. I argue, in line with Rowan Williams and John Milbank, for a minority reading of Book 19 that draws upon the narrative structure of City of God. In Books 3–5, Augustine recounts the history of the earthly city according to Rome's penchant for violence and idolatry, both a function of love for temporal goods. In Book 18, Augustine traces the history of the earthly city before Rome according to the same themes, completing a narrative argument that humanity has always been divided according to differing loves. Book 19 advances the idea that such idolatry is injustice—a failure to grant God the worship he is due. With the new definition of 19.24, Augustine retains Cicero's emphasis on the importance of virtue in civic society while characteristically shifting the terms of discussion from justice to love. While such a definition means that Rome can be called a res publica, it also prompts a negative judgment upon her history according to her objects of love. Given her violence and idolatry, Rome is no better than Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Greece—all subject to withering critique in Book 18. Thus, Augustine's new definition does not retract but extends the polemic of City of God.

Ancillary