Seneca and the fathers of the church. In one respect- the belief in human equality- the idea of a common race, as the jurists developed it, broke sharply with the scale of values that prevailed in the city-state. In another respect, however, the two were quite continuous.
For Cicero, as for Plato, to found or to govern states is the labor in which the human hero shows himself most godlike, and a life of political service is the crown of human blessedness. The well-centralized system of authority presented in Roman law reflects the administrative unity of the Empire and the ancient conviction that the state is supreme among human institutions.
In this tradition, there was no thought of divided allegiance. Another loyalty might compete with civic duty claims and no impossible gulf between the dear City of Cecrops and the dear City of God. Yet this contrast between the earthly and the Heavenly City, drawn by a Roman Emperor and the most conscientious ruler of his age, was symptomatic of a cleft that was opening in men’s moral experience.
The weary loyalty of Marcus Aurelius toward the station to which it had pleased God to call him and his obvious longing for a more satisfying life shows how far even the pagan soul had traveled since the days when Cicero, in the Dream of Scipio, envisaged heaven as a reward reserved for distinguished statesmanship. The ripe fruit of Marcus’s world-weariness was a church that claimed to be the spokesman for a spiritual life higher than any that earth afforded, but the fruit grew in the soil long prepared for it.
Seneca and the Fathers of the Church:-
The changing valuation placed upon a political career and the diminishing expectation that statesmanship would be able to deal successfully with social problems are clearly perceptible by a comparison of Cicero with Seneca, who wrote about a century later and who therefore reflects Roman opinion in the early days of the Empire, as Cicero reflects it in the closing period of the Republic.
The contrast is the more striking because there is little difference of a systematic sort between the two men’s philosophical beliefs; both held an eclectic Stoicism for which nature represents a standard of goodness and reasonableness.
Both men also look upon the great age Republic as the time Rome achieved her political maturity whence she has latterly declined. But there is this essential difference: Cicero has the illusion that the great day may be recaptured, but for the minister of Nero, the time of illusion has passed.
Rome has fallen into senility, corruption is everywhere, and despotism is inevitable. Upon social and political matters, Seneca already shows much of the despondency and pessimism that overshadows the Latin literature of the second Christian century.
The question is not whether there shall be an absolute government but only who shall be the despot. Even dependence upon a despot is preferable to dependence upon the people since men’s mass is so vicious and corrupt that it is more merciless than a tyrant.
Clearly, then, a political career has little to offer the good man except for the annihilation of his goodness. Clearly, also, the good man can do little for his fellows by holding political office. For Similar reasons, Seneca attached little importance to differences between government forms; one is as bad or as good as another since none can accomplish much.
Yet, by no means, Seneca’s view that the wise man should merely withdraw from society. He insisted as strongly as Cicero upon the good man’s moral duty to offer his services in some capacity or other, and he was as decisive as Cicero in rejecting the Epicurean pursuit of private satisfaction sought by the neglect of public interests. Unlike Cicero, however, and indeed unlike all political and social philosophers before his time, Seneca was able to envisage a social service that involved no office in the state and no function of a strictly political sort.
This gives a definitely new turn to the ancient Stoic doctrine that every man is a member of two commonwealths, the civil state of which he is a subject and the greater state, composed of all rational beings, to which he belongs by his humanity. For Seneca, the greater commonwealth is society rather than a state; its ties are moral or religious rather than legal and political. Accordingly, the wise and good man renders a service to humanity even though he has no political power.
He does this by his moral relation to his fellows or even through philosophical contemplation alone. By his thought, the man becomes a teacher of humanity fills a place at once nobler and more influential than the political ruler. It would scarcely be forcing Seneca’s meaning to say that God’s worship is itself a truly human service, as Christian writers taught.
The significance of Seneca’s attitude in this respect would be difficult to exaggerate. Seneca’s Stoicism, like that of Marcus Aurelius a century later, was substantially a religious faith which, while offering strength and consolation in this world, turned toward the contemplation of spiritual life.
This drawing apart of worldly and spiritual interests-the sense that the body is but chains and darkness to the soul and that the soul must struggle continually against the burden of the flesh was a real characteristic even of the pagan society in which Christianity grew up.
The growing need for spiritual consolation ave to religion an ever higher place in men’s regard and set it ever more apart from secular interests as the only means of contact with a higher range of realities. The essentially secular unity of life in the classical age was breaking down, and religion was achieving more and more an independent footing beside or even above the state’s life.
It was but a natural sequel to this growing independence when the interests of religion were able to embody themselves in an institution of their own, represent on earth the rights and duties that overshared as the members of a Heavenly City.
Such an institution, already taking form in the Christian church, must be the very logic of its existence lay hold upon men’s loyalty by claiming which it could not permit the state to adjudicate. Seneca’s interpretation of the two commonwealths was only one of several surprising parallels between his thought and that of the Christians, parallels which produced in antiquity a body of forged letters supposed to have passed between him and St. Paul.
Two other related aspects of Seneca’s thought were closely connected with his philosophy’s prevailingly religious tone. On the one hand, he was intensely conscious of the inherent sinfulness of human nature. On the other, his ethics showed the tendency toward humanitarianism, which became continually more marked in later Stoicism. Even though Seneca repeats the Stoic commonplaces about the wise man’s self-sufficiency, earlier Stoicism’s moral pride and harshness have greatly receded. The sense of human wickedness haunts him, and wickedness is ineradicable; no one escapes it, and virtue consists rather in an endless struggle for salvation than in its achievement.
Probably it is this consciousness of sin and misery as a universal human quality that caused him to place so high a value on human sympathy and gentleness, virtues which had not been very characteristic of Stoicism in its more rigorous versions. Already the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man have taken on the connotation of love and goodwill toward all humanity, which came to characterize Christian teaching. As the civic and political virtues dropped back into second place, the virtues of mercy, kindliness, charity, benevolence, tolerance, and love-together with the condemnation on moral grounds of cruelty, hatred, anger, and harshness toward dependents and inferiors-were given a far higher place in the moral scale than they ever had in earlier ethics.
The effects of this humanitarianism were a parent in the classical Roman law, especially in placing safeguards about the property. The persons of women and dependent children, in protecting slaves, in the more humane treatment of criminals, and in a common policy of protecting the helpless, t is a curious fact that a strong feeling for the humanitarian virtues Should have first appeared as the accompaniment of a growing sense of moral corruption, both being definitely departures from the ethical sentiments of the earlier period of antiquity. Both were aspects of a more contemplative attitude toward life, which now replaced the older belief that the supreme virtue was the State’s service.
Seneca’s departure from the ancient belief that the state is the highest agency of moral perfection was strikingly marked by his glowing account of the Golden Age, which, as he conceived, preceded civilization’s sophisticated age. In his Ninetieth Letter, he described this idyllic state of nature with something approaching the rhetorical enthusiasm which Rousseau expended upon the same subject in the eighteenth century.
In the Golden Age, as he believed, men were still happy and innocent; they loved a simple life without civilization’s superfluity and luxuries. Indeed, they were either wise or morally perfect, for their goodness resulted rather from the Innocence of ignorance than from practiced virtue.
In particular, as Seneca pictured it in the state of nature, men had not yet acquired that grace agency of greed, the institution of private property; in fact, it was the growth of avarice that destroyed the condition of primitive purity.
Moreover, so long as men remained pure, they did not need government or law; they obeyed voluntarily the wisest and best men, who sought no advantage of their own in ruling over their fellows. But when men were smitten with the desire to make things their own, they became self-seeking, and rulers became tyrants.
The advance of the arts brought luxury and corruption. This train of consequences made law and coercion necessary so that the vices and corruptions of human nature might be curbed. In short, the government is the necessary remedy for wickedness.
The glorification of an Idyllic state of nature, already suggested in certain passages of Plato’s Laws and now elaborated by Seneca, has played a not inconsiderable role in utopian political theory. Whether thrown back into the past, as by Seneca and Rousseau, of projected Into the future, as by the utopian socialists, it has usually had the same purpose-to bring into high relief the vices corruptions of humanity and to indict the political or the economic abuses of an age. In Seneca’s case, the Golden Age was another expression of his haunting sense of decay in the Roman society of Nero’s reign.
For reasons that are not hard to understand, his view that private property did not exist in a state of nature would hardly be shared by lawyers, who apparently regarded ownership as strictly in accord with natural law. The closest analog in the lawyers’ case was perhaps slavery, which, as was said in the preceding chapter, was sometimes regarded.
In general, Seneca’s conception of the law as a mere cure for sin was wholly at odds with Alpina’s description of it as true philosophy. But Seneca’s idea of the state of nature might well commend itself to Christian theologians.
The belief in a primitive condition of purity was implied by the story of the fall of man. Certainly, it became among Christian writers not uncommon to conceive this condition as communism and one in which force would not be needed. Such a view would be almost necessary after it became settled that poverty was morally superior to riches and monasticism to secular life.
However, it is important to note that this doctrine, whether in Seneca or Christian writers, was in no sense a subversive attack upon property or law and government. What is implied is mere that these institutions represent an ethical second-best. In a perfect society, or with a purified human nature, they would not be necessary. But the wickedness of humanity being what it is, private property may well be a useful institution, and law supported by force may well be quite indispensable. It is easy to hold at once that government arises solely from human wickedness. Yet, it is the divinely appointed means for ruling humanity in its fallen state and so has an indefeasible claim upon the obedience of all good men. This, in fact, became a common Christian belief.
At the same time, Seneca’s representation of government as a more or less makeshift remedy for human evil was the index of an enormous shift in moral opinion, not only from the estimate set upon political institutions by the Greek philosophers but even from that supported only a short time before by Cicero.
It would be hard to exaggerate the discrepancy between Seneca’s view and the ancient conception expressed in Aristotle’s belief that the city-state is the necessary condition of civilized life and the only means for bringing human faculties to their highest form of development. The change implied by Seneca’s position on the function of the state is precisely comparable to that implied by Cicero’s position on human equality; taken together, the two changes undermine the ancient valuation of politics completely.
In place of the supreme value of citizenship, there is common equality shared by all sorts and conditions of men. In place of the state as a positive agency of human perfection, there is a coercive power that struggles ineffectually to make an earthly life tolerable. Though this revolutionary change in the scale of values is yet only suggested, its implications were destined to be explored and become more and more firmly embedded in the Christian Fathers’ political philosophy.
As a distinct institution entitle to govern the spiritual concerns of humanity in the State’s independence, the rise of the Christian church may not unreasonably be described as the most revolutions event in Western Europe’s history, with respect both to politics and to political philosophy.
However, it by no means follows that the political conceptions of the early Christians were in any way distinctive of them or specifically different from those of other men. The interests that went to the making of Christians were religious, and Christianity was a doctrine of salvation, not a philosophy or a political theory. The ideas of Christians upon the latter subjects were not very different from those of pagans.
Thus Christians no less than Stoics could believe in the law of nature, the providential government of the world, the obligation of law and government to do substantial justice, and the equality of all men in the sight of God. Such ideas were widespread before Christianity appeared, and numerous familiar passages in the New Testament show that they were incorporated at once in Christian writings.
Thus the author of The Acts reports St. Paul’s preaching to the men of Athens in terms familiar to anyone who had ever heard a Stoic lecture: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said.
Only the new religious teaching about the resurrection of the dead is incomprehensible to the Athenians. Similarly, St. Paul writes to the Galatians, rejecting for the church differences of race or social position:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Jesus Christ.
And to the Romans, asserting the law inherent in all human nature a contrasted with the Jewish law:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves.
In general, it may be said that the Fathers of the church, in respect to natural law, human equality, and the necessity of justice in the state, were substantially in agreement with Cicero and Seneca. The pagan writers knew nothing of revealed law, such as Christians believed in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Still, the belief in revelation was in no way incompatible with the view that the law of nature also is God’s law.
The obligation of Christians to respect constituted authority had been deeply embedded in Christianity even by its founder. When the Pharisees had attempted to entrap Jesus into opposition to the power of Rome, he had uttered the memorable words:
Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.
And St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, had written the most influential political pronouncement in the New Testament:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, a revenge to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
It may well be true, as some historians suppose, that this passage, and others to a similar effect, were written to combat anarchical tendencies existing in the early Christian communities, but if so, they accomplished their purpose. The words of St. Paul became accepted Christian doctrine, and the obligation of civic obedience became an admitted Christian virtue that no responsible leader of the church denied.
It is probably true that St. Paul, like Seneca, believed that the magistrate’s power was a necessary consequence of human sin; the ruler’s work is to repress evil and encourage good. But as has already been said, this does not imply that respect for rulers is any less a binding obligation.
St. Paul and other writers in the New Testament stress that obedience is a duty imposed by God. This fact gives the Christian a different emphasis from the Roman constitutions; theory, stressed by the lawyers, that the ruler’s authority is derived from the people. Once the Jewish Scriptures were accepted, this view would naturally be strengthened by considering the origin of Jewish kingship in the Old Testament.
The king of the Jews is habitually spoken of as the Lord’s anointed; according to the tradition, the king, the ship was established by God as a result of the rebelliousness of the people; and a finally-a point not lost upon later ecclesiastical writers he was instituted by being anointed at the hands of a prophet.
In a sense, the Christian conception of rulership always implied a divine right theory since the ruler is a minister of God. But modern constitutional controversies have sharpened the contrast between the two views in a way that no one thought of at first, or indeed for centuries Afterward.
Even though the authority was derivative from the people, there was no reason why respect for it might not be a religious duty; or, contrariwise, if the ruler were ordained of God, he might still owe the particular form of his office to the institutions inherent in a people, In fact, the underlying purpose of the two theories might be said to be identical.
For St. Paul and all Christians, it was the office rather than its holder to which respect was due; the personal virtues or vices of a ruler had nothing to do with the matter. A bad ruler is a punishment for sin and must still be obeyed. For the lawyers, the people’s choice signified the constitutional or legal nature of the power broadly exercised.
Both views assumed-the one as law or the other as the theology-the difference between the authority inherent in an institution and the merely arbitrary power that an individual might possess. For this reason, both views could stand side by side without incompatibility.
Respect for lawful authority, then, was a duty that no Christian denied. Yet it was a fact of the utmost importance that the Christian was inevitably bound to a twofold duty such as had been quite unknown to the ethics of pagan antiquity. He must not only render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but also to God the things that are God’s, and if the two came into conflict, there could be no doubt that he must obey God rather than man.
The possibility of such a conflict was implicit in any view, such for example as Seneca’s, which put civic duties into second place. Still, there is no evidence that Seneca was aware of the possibility. The Christian, who was a member of a persecuted minority, could hardly avoid being aware of it, nor can it be genies that a conscientious emperor like Marcus Aurelius, in whose reign persecution flourished, was right in his conviction, firm if somewhat vague, that Christianity contained an idea incompatible with the roman virtue of the unlimited obligation to the state.
The Christian, who believed that his religion was a truth revealed by God to guide him into salvation far higher than any destiny that this world afforded, could not but believe that that religion imposed duties from which no emperor could absolve him and in the light of which the admitted duty of civic obedience must be weighed and judged.
The principle was in one sense old-that every man is a citizen of two states-but. The application was new for the Christian. The greater state was not merely the human family but a spiritual realm, a true kingdom of God, in which man was the heir to eternal life and a destiny immeasurably transcending the life which any earthly kingdom could offer him.
Indeed, Christianity was not unique in posing a problem of this sort. Christianity’s properties as a spiritual religion were shared more or less by other religions that existed in the Roman world. The older native cults of Greece and Rome-though sedulously fostered for political purposes-had substantially vielded, before the end of the second century, to various religions of oriental origin of which Christianity was only one. All these religions were similar in offering salvation and eternal life to a sin-stricken and world-weary generation and in supporting a class of professionally trained priests skilled in the art of offering spiritual consolation.
In the heavy atmosphere of a period of oppression and powerlessness, the despondent souls of men aspired with ineffable ardour to the radiant spaces of heaven.
This was a prevailing social characteristic of the age upon which the Spread of Christianity and the other oriental religions depended. With the rising tide of religious and other-worldly interest and the rise to independence of religious institutions, a break with the old tradition, Which made religion an adjunct of the state, was inevitable. Christianity, the church beside the state-represented the final breakdown of re old imperial ideas and the starting-point of radically new development.
The world-empire had always been impossible without religious support. A congeries of peoples and tribes and cities, lacking any such strong tie as the modern sentiment of nationality, could find no other practicable bond of union except a common religion. From the beginning, Alexander and his successors had been obliged to copy the practice of the East in this respect, and Rome was forced to embark upon the same course.
In the eastern provinces, the earlier emperors were deified in life as well as after death. Still, the constitutional restriction that descended from the Republic to the Empire held back Italy’s process. But constitutionalism grew steadily more shadowy. With the reorganization of the Empire under Diocletian and the establishment by that emperor of Mithraism as the State’s official religion, Rome was transformed into something comparable with an oriental caliphate.
Even this arrangement proved only a temporary expedient. The growth in the power of religion, which first made possible and then necessary, the deification of the emperor ended by making it impossible. For what was required was not an official religion, which could still be regarded as largely an appendage of the state, but rather a religion with its autonomous ecclesiastical organization, standing beside the state as its equal and indeed, in respect to the prevailing estimate of the interests it represented, as its superior.
The Christian obviously could not admit, consistently with his religion, the claims of the deified emperor to be the court of last resort in spiritual questions, But once this claim of Rome to be the source of religious as well as of political authority was set aside, he could co-operate loyally as either a citizen or soldier of the Empire. In fact, the church was well adapted to bring support to secular authority, teach the virtues of obedience and loyalty, and train its members in the duties of citizenship.
The Christian position’s novelty lay in its assumption of a dual nature in man and of dual control over human life corresponding to its twofold destiny. The distinction between spirituals and temporal was of the essence of the Christian point of view. For this reason, the relation between religious and political institutions presented to the Christian a new problem.
His convictions on this matter, from the standpoint of the old imperial conception of political obligation, were fundamentally treasonable, just as the imperial ideal was, from a Christian standpoint, fundamentally pagan and irreligious. For the pagan, the highest duties of morality and religion met in the state, symbolically in the emperor’s person, who was at once the supreme civil authority and divinity.
For the Christian, religion’s duties were a supreme obligation, owed directly to God, and the outgrowth of a relationship between a spiritual deity and the spiritual essence in human nature. The interference of an earthly force in this relationship was something that a Christian could not allow in principle. For this reason, the quite formal ceremony of paying religious honor to the emperor’s genius was a requirement which he must refuse.
An institution which had in its keeping this higher relationship and which existed to provide a medium for the communication of the soul with God must claim to be distinguished from, and in some degree to be independent of, those secular institutions which existed to provide the means of bodily and earthly existence.
For this reason, Christianity raised a problem which the ancient world had not known the problem of church and state-and implied a diversity of loyalties and an internality of judgment not included in the ancient idea of citizenship.
It is hard to imagine that liberty could have played the part it did in European political thought if ethical and religious institutions had not been conceived to be broadly independent of, and superior in importance to, the state and legal enforcement.
It was of the essence of the situation that the church had first grown strong, both in doctrine and ecclesiastical organization, before its legal establishment; this fact made it a valuable adjunct to the Empire. So long as it was merely a voluntary association and frequented an unlawful one, its relation to the state called for no special the, or After its establishment, however, the need for insisting upon its autonomy in spiritual matters was more apparent.
On the other hand, ecclesiastical politicians ever supposed that the church and the state could fail to be always in contact with one another, just as soul and body were constantly joined in human life though they were of different essence. The independence of church and state was assumed to include the two’s mutual helpfulness, both being divinely appointed agencies for the government of human life in this world and the world hereafter.
The duty of civic obedience was an undoubted Christian virtue as truly imposed upon man by God as any other moral obligation, and yet it was not an absolute obligation. The support that the church’s discipline could give to the state was the real reason for its legal establishment by Constantine.
On the other hand, the duty of a Christian prince to nourish and protect the church was equally undoubted, and this duty could not fail to include maintaining at need the purity of its doctrine. This duty was not thought to be in any way contrary to the secular nature of a ruler, nor was it supposed that the prince was thereby made the judge of doctrine.
The Christian position implied two classes of duties, spiritual and secular, which might on occasion come into apparent opposition but which could not be ultimately irreconcilable. Similarly, it implied two institutional Organizations that remained distinct, though each needed, and in all normal cases received, the other’s support and aid.
The possibilities of conflict and ambiguity in such a conception are apparent; indeed, it is hard to imagine any really Christian form of society where difficulties of this sort might not arise since they reflect a complication in the moral life itself.
Nothing is easier, therefore, than to show that church and state were not really independent since, in the period of its establishment, the church must depend largely upon the emperor’s support. At the same time, its greater power might threaten the autonomy of secular authority at a later date. The difficulties of the problem may be illustrated by the inconsistencies of a thinker like St. Augustine concerning religious toleration.
In principle, the acceptance of Christianity could not depend merely on force without a gross invasion of spiritual freedom. Yet, the Christian statesman, believing as he Sincerely did that heresy was a deadly sin, could not contemplate its Spread unopposed by those who were responsible for the earthly as well as the eternal welfare of their subjects.
Thus in his earlier life, Augustine opposed the use of force against the Manichaeans. At the same time, later, he argued in his controversy with the Donatists that the heretic must be compelled to receive instruction for the good of his own soul. Similarly, it was a plain historical fact that Constantine’s influence was decisive in bringing about the defeat of the Arians at the Council of Nicaea. Still, obviously no Christian, without stultifying his faith, could believe that an imperial edict had settled Trinity’s orthodox doctrine.
The problem involved an elaborate delimitation of jurisdictions. Even to the end of the Middle Ages, jurisdictional disputes might arise, though, for normal circumstances, the lines were drawn with sufficient clearness. In the beginning, the primary need was to emphasize the autonomy of the church in spiritual matters.
Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory:-
The views of churchmen in respect to these questions, and also the lack of sharp discrimination in the concepts employed, may be illustrated by reference to three great thinkers of the two centuries following the leg; establishment of the church: St. Ambrose of Milan in the second half of the fourth century, St. Augustine at the beginning of the fifth, and St. Gregory in the second half of the sixth.
None of these men was concerned to work out a systematic philosophy of the church and its relation to the state; they belonged rather to the formative period of Christian thought and dealt with immediately pressing questions. But they all expressed views that formed an essential part of Christian conviction and became an integral part of Christian thought upon the relations of the two institutions.
St. Ambrose was especially notable for his strong statement of the autonomy of the church in spiritual matters. There is no reason to think that he differed from other Christians of his time in this respect. Still, his outspoken statement of the principle and his courageous adherence to it in the face of opposition made him an authority to whom Christian writers returned in all later controversies where the point arose. Thus he clearly asserted that in spiritual matters, the church has jurisdiction over all Christians. Like every other Christian, the emperor included the emperor, is a son of the church; he is within the church, not above it.
He stated boldly in a letter to Emperor Valentinian that bishops are wont to judge Christian emperors, not emperors of bishops in matters of faith. He questioned in no way the duty of obedience to civil authority. Still, he affirmed that it was not only the right but the duty of a priest to reprove secular rulers in a matter of morals, a precept which he not only taught but practiced.
On one famous occasion, he refused to celebrate the Eucharist in the presence of Emperor Theodosius because of his guilt in causing a massacre at Thessalonica. On another, he withheld it until the emperor had withdrawn an order which Ambrose regarded as injurious to a bishop’s privileges. In yet another case, he steadfastly refused to surrender a church for the use of Arians upon Emperor Valentinian’s order.
The palaces belong to the Emperor, the Churches to the Bishop. He admitted the authority of the emperor over the secular property, including the lands of the church. Still, church buildings themselves, as being directly dedicated to spiritual use, denied the emperor’s right to touch. At the same time, however, he definitely repudiated any right to resist with force the emperor’s orders’ execution.
He will argue and implore, but he will not incite the people to rebel. According to Ambrose, therefore, the secular ruler is subject to the church’s instruction in spiritual matters and his authority over some ecclesiastical property, at least, is limited. Still, the church’s right is to be maintained by spiritual means rather than by resistance. The precise limits between the two kinds of property were left vague.
The most important Christian thinker of the age now under discussion was Ambrose’s great convert and pupil, St. Augustine. His philosophy was only in a slight degree systematic. Still, his mind had encompassed almost all the learning of ancient times, and through him, it was transmitted to the Middle Ages to a considerable extent.
His writings were a mine of ideas in which later writers, Catholic and Protestant, have dug. It is unnecessary to repeat all the points upon which he was in substantial agreement with Christian thought in general and have already been mentioned in this chapter. His most characteristic idea is the conception of a Christian commonwealth, together with a philosophy of history that presents such a commonwealth as the culmination of man’s spiritual development.
This conception became an Ineradicable part of Christian thought through his authority, extending not only through the Middle Ages but also far down into modern times. Augustine’s ideas on this subject controlled protestants no less than Roman Catholic thinkers.
His great book, the City of God, was written to defend Christianity against the pagan charge. It was responsible for the decline of Roman power, particularly for having caused Alaric’s sack in 410. However, he developed nearly all his philosophical ideas, including his theory of the significance and goal of human history. He sought to place the history of Rome in its proper perspective.
From the Christian point of view, this involved a restatement of the ancient idea that man is a citizen of two cities, the city of his birth and the City of God. The religious meaning of this distinction already suggested by Seneca and Marcus Aurelius became explicit in Augustine.
Man’s nature is twofold: he is spirit and body and therefore a citizen of this world and the Heavenly City. Human life’s fundamental fact is the division of human interests, the worldly interests that center on the body, and the other-worldly interests that belong specifically to the soul. As has already been said, this distinction lay at the foundation of all Christian thought on ethics and politics.
St. Augustine, however, made the distinction a key to the understanding of human history, which is and always must be dominated by the contest of two societies. On the one side stands the earthly city, the society founded on the earthly, appetitive, and possessive impulses of the lower human nature; on the other stands the City of God, the society that is founded in the hope of heavenly peace and spiritual salvation.
The first is Satan’s kingdom, beginning its history from the disobedience of the Angels and embodying itself especially in the pagan empires of Assyria and Rome. The other is the kingdom of Christ, which embodied itself first in the Hebrew nation and later in the church and the Christianized Empire. History is the dramatic story of the struggle between these two societies and of the ultimate mastery which must fall to the City of God.
Only in the Heavenly City is peace possible; only the spiritual kingdom is permanent. This then is Augustine’s interpretation of Rome’s fall: all merely earthly kingdoms must pass away, for earthly power is naturally mutable and unstable; it is built upon those aspects of human nature which necessarily issue in war and the greed of domination.
However, a certain caution is needed to interpret this theory, especially in applying it to historical facts. It was not Augustine’s meaning that either the earthly city or the City of God could be identified precisely with existing human institutions. The church as a visible human organization was not for him the same as God’s kingdom, and still less was secular government identical with the powers of evil.
An ecclesiastical statesman who depended on the imperial power for the suppression of heresy was not likely to attack the government as representing the Devil’s kingdom. Like -all Christians, Augustine believed that the powers that be are ordained of God, though he also believed that the use of force in government was made necessary by sin and was the divinely appointed remedy for sin.
Accordingly, he did not think of the two cities as visibly separate. The earthly city was the Devil’s kingdom and of all wicked men; the Heavenly City was the redeemed communion in this world and the next. Throughout all earthly life, the two societies are mingled, only to be separated at the last judgment.
At the same time, Augustine did think of the kingdom of evil as at least represented by the pagan empires, though not exactly identified with them. He also thought of the church as representing the City of God, even though the latter cannot be identified with the ecclesiastical organization.
One of the most influential phases of his thought was the reality and force, which he attached to the church’s conception as an organized institution. His human salvation scheme and the realization of the heavenly life depended absolutely upon the reality of the church as a social union of all true believers, through which the Grace of God can work in human history.
For this reason, he regarded the appearance of the Christian church as the turning-point of history; it marked a new era in the struggle between the powers of good and the powers of evil. Henceforth human salvation is bound up with the interests of the church, and these interests are consequently paramount over all other interests whatsoever.
Therefore, the history of the church was for -Augustine quite literally the march of God in the world, to use an expression which Hegel applied rather lamely to the state. The human race is indeed a single-family. Still, its final destination is reached not on earth but in Heaven, And human life is the theatre of a cosmic struggle between the goodness of God and the evil of rebellious spirits.
All human history is the majestic unfolding of the plan of divine salvation, in which the appearance of the church marks the decisive moment. Henceforth the unity of the race means the unity of the Christian faith under the church’s leadership.
It would be easy to infer from this that the state must logically become merely the church’s secular arm. Still, the inference is not necessary, and the circumstances were such that Augustine could not possibly have drawn it.
His theory of the relationship between secular and ecclesiastical rulers was no more precise than that of other writers of his time. Consequently, in the later controversies on the subject, his authority could be invoked by either side. But what he put beyond question for many centuries was the conception that, under the new dispensation, the state must be a Christian state, serving a community which is one by a common Christian faith, ministering to a life in which spiritual interests admittedly stand above all other interests and contributing to human salvation by preserving the purity of the faith.
As James Bryce said, the Holy Roman Empire’s theory was built upon Augustine’s City of God. But the conception by no means disappeared with the decadence of the empire.
No idea was harder for a seventeenth-century thinker t6 grasp than the notion that the state might stand entirely aside from all questions of religious belief. Even in the nineteenth century, Gladstone could still argue that the State had a conscience that distinguished between religious truth and falsity.
Augustine puts the necessity that a true commonwealth must be Christian in the strongest possible way. He took exception to Cicero and other pre-Christian writers’ views that it is a true commonwealth’s business to realize justice, precisely on the ground that no pagan empire could do this. It is a contradiction in saying that a state can render to everyone his own, so long as its very constitution withholds from God the worship which is his due.
Augustine’s philosophy of history required him to admit that the pre-Christian empires had been in some sense states, but he was clear that they could not be so in the full sense of the word, which was applicable after the Christian dispensation.
A just state must be one in which a belief in the true religion is taught, and perhaps also, though Augustine does not directly say so, one in which it is maintained by law and authority. No state can be just since the advent of Christianity unless it is also Christian, and a government considered apart from its relation to the church would be devoid of justice.
Thus, the state’s Christian character was embedded in the universally admitted principle that its purpose is to realize justice and right. In some fashion or other, the state is bound to be also a church since the ultimate form of social organization was religious, though what form the union should take might still be a subject of controversy.
The account so far given of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine’s political ideas stresses the autonomy of the church in spiritual matters and the conception of government as shared between two orders, the regal and the clerical. This position implied the church’s independence and equally that of secular government, so long as the latter acts within its own proper jurisdiction.
The duty of civic obedience, of subjection to the powers that be, which St. Paul had expressed so vigorously in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, was in no way superseded by the growing power of the church. It is an interesting fact, which illustrates the absence of any intention on the part of churchmen in this age to encroach upon the prerogatives of civil government, that the strongest claims made by any of the Fathers for the sanctity of secular rulers occur in the writings of the great and powerful pope who has been called the father of the medieval papacy.
The astonishing success with which St. Gregory secured Italy’s defense against the Lombards and his influence on behalf of justice and good government throughout western Europe and North Africa greatly enhanced the prestige of the Roman See. Simultaneously, the feebleness of the secular power practically forced him to assume the duties of a political ruler. Yet Gregory is the only one of the Fathers who speak of the sanctity of political rule in language that suggests a duty of passive obedience.
It seems to be Gregory’s view that a wicked ruler is entitled not only to obedience-which would probably have been conceded by any Christian writer-but even to silent and passive obedience, an opinion not stated with equal force by any other Father of the church. Thus in his Pastoral Rule, which discusses the kind of admonition that bishops should give to their flocks, he asserted most emphatically that subjects must obey and that they must not judge or criticize the lives of their rulers.
For indeed the acts of rulers are not to be smitten with the sword of the mouth, even though they are rightly judged to be blameworthy. But if ever, even in the least, the tongue slips into censure of them, the heart must needs be bowed down by the affliction of penitence, to the end that it may return to itself, and, when it has offended against the power set over it, may dread the judgment of him by whom the power was set over it.
This conception of the sanctity of government was not unnatural in an age when anarchy had become a greater danger than the control of the church by the emperors. Even though Gregory exercised an authority, both secular and ecclesiastical, that was virtually regal. There is a marked difference in tone between his letters to the emperors and the bold reproofs and protests that came from the pen of St. Ambrose.
Gregory protests indeed against acts that he considers uncanonical, but he does not refuse to obey. His position seems to be that the emperor has power even to do what is unlawful, provided, of course, that he is willing to risk damnation. Not only is the ruler’s power of God, but there is none higher than the emperor except God. The ruler’s acts are ultimately between God and his conscience.
The Two Swords:-
The characteristic position developed by Christian thinkers in the Fathers’ age implied a dual organization and control of human society in the interest of the two great classes of values that needed to be conserved. Spiritual interests and eternal salvation are in the keeping of the church and form the special province of the teaching conducted by the clergy; temporal or secular interests and the maintenance of peace, order, and justice are in the keeping of civil government and form the ends to be reached by the labors of magistrates.
Between the two orders, that of the clergy and the city officials, a spirit of mutual helpfulness ought to prevail. This mutual helpfulness doctrine left almost no line that might not rightfully be crossed in an emergency that threatened either anarchy in temporal or corruption in spirituals. But despite this vagueness of definition, it was felt that such emergencies did not destroy the principle that the two jurisdictions ought to remain inviolate, each respecting the rights which God had ordained for the other.
This conception is often spoken of as the doctrine of the two swords, or two authorities, which received authoritative statements at the close of the fifth century by Pope Gelasius I. It became the accepted tradition of the early Middle Ages. It formed the point of departure for both sides when the rivalry between the pope and the emperor made the relation of spirituals and temporal a matter of controversy.
Probably the conception of a society under dual control presided over by twin hierarchies having distinguishable jurisdictions remained even in the age of controversy the ideal of most men of moderate views, who were apt to dislike the extreme claims of either of the contesting parties.
Since Gelasius was writing to an emperor in Constantinople, and always with the object of defending what had now become orthodox doctrine in the west against the heresies that continued, especially in the east, to echo and re-echo from the great trinitarian dispute of the preceding century, he naturally followed the line already laid down by St. Ambrose.
In doctrinal matters, the emperor must subordinate his will to the clergy and learn rather than presume to teach. It follows that the church, through its own rulers and officials, must have jurisdiction over all ecclesiastics, for obviously in no other way can I be an independent and self-governing institution.
The Omnipotent God has willed that the teachers and priests of the Christian religion shall be governed not by the civil law or by secular authorities, but by bishops and priests.
In accord with this principle, Gelasius insists that, at least where spiritual matters are involved, ecclesiastics must be tried for their offenses in ecclesiastical courts and not by the secular authorities.
The philosophical principle behind this practical deduction was the theory, quite in accord with the teaching of St. Augustine, that the; distinction between spirituals and temporalis an essential part of the Christian faith and consequently a rule for every government following the Christian dispensation.
The combination of spiritual and secular authority in the same hands is typically a pagan institution, lawful perhaps before the coming of Christ but now quite definitely a wile of the Devil. Because of human weakness and the curbing of natural arrogance and pride, Christ decreed the separation of the two powers; accordingly, Christ was the last who could lawfully wield royal and sacerdotal power.
It is unlawful for the same man to be at once king and priest under the Christian dispensation. Each power indeed needs the other:
Christian emperors need bishops for the sake of eternal life, and bishops make use of imperial regulations to order the course of temporal affairs.
But the priest’s responsibility is heavier than that of the secular ruler, for he is answerable on the Day of Judgment for the souls of all Christians, not excepting those of rulers themselves. In no case is it right for either power to exercise the authority which is proper to the other.
The conception of a universal Christian society, which was transmitted from the Fathers of the church to the Middle Ages, differed fundamentally from the ancient idea of a world-wide community and the ideas of church and state to prevail in modern times.
It differed from the latter because the church, as the Fathers understood it, was not a distinct group of persons joined together by a voluntary acceptance of Christian doctrine. In their conception, the church was as universal as the empire, for both included all men.
Humanity formed a single society under two governments, each with its own law, its own organs of legislation and administration, and its Own proper right. However, this conception differed from any that prevailed in pre-Christian antiquity because it divided men’s: loyalty and obedience between two ideals and two rulerships.
Giving the universal community a religious interpretation as participation in the divine plan of human salvation, Christianity added to the requirement of justice in the earthly state the obligation to maintain a purity of Worship, which would make this life the gateway to life another World.
Upon the idea of earthly right, it superimposed the idea of Christian duty, and beside and above citizenship in the state, it placed membership in a heavenly fellowship. Thus it placed the Christian under a fold law and a twofold government. This double aspect of Christian society produced a unique problem which,h in the end, contributed perhaps more than any other to the specific properties of European political thought.
Far beyond the period in which the two authorities relation was a chief controversial issue, the belief in spiritual autonomy and the right of spiritual freedom left a residuum without which modern ideas of individual privacy and liberty would be scarcely intelligible.