Political Augustinianism

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

In the past days I have cordially received a personal invitation from the Augustinian Institute Pietà, the Maltese Augustinian Province, the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta and the Malta Archdiocesan Foundation for Theological Studies to attend the 20th Annual St Augustine Lecture 2016 on Political Augustinianism. This year’s lecture will be delivered by Revd Professor Dr Michael Bruno STD, Professor of Theology at St Joseph’s Seminary New York USA.

Fr Bruno obtained a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (summa cum laude) from the Pontifical Lateran University, Vatican City, with a thesis on “Political Augustinianism”: A Study of the Interpretations of Augustine’s Political Thought from 1900 to the Present. He lectures on the History of the Catholic Church in the United States, Introduction to Church History, Introduction to Theology, The Church in the Modern World (Trent to Vatican II), Holy Orders and Ministry, and the Theology of the Eucharist. Fr Bruno published his thesis under the title of Political Augustinianism. Modern Interpretations on Augustine’s Political Thought, Fortress Press, 2014.

What is Political Augustinianism? In his thesis Fr Bruno argues that besides St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine’s thought presents itself as one of the main principal sources not merely of theology but also of Western social and political theory. In the last century, particularly, the Bishop of Hippo has been decisive to the evolution of modern contemprary political and social structure. Various interpretations of ‘Augustinianism’ mushroomed, especially in French, German and English contexts. These various schools of interpretation disputed crucial topics concerning the rapport between the church and state, war, justice, ethics, virtue and the life of citizenship, seen from an Augustinian perspective.

Among the leading exponents of these schools one finds the valueable contributions of H.I. Marrou and H. X. Arquillière, Niebuhr and the “secularist” interpretation of RA Markus, Robert Dodaro, Eric Gregory, John Milbank, Rowan Williams, and Oliver O’Donovan.

Bruno writes that “Arquillière believed, in Augustine that led to the absorption of natural law into the realm of supernatural justice, ‘the right of the State into that of the Church.’” In this view Augustine considers Christianity as a transformative political force capable of producing a theocratic order. Markus disagrees. He sees Augustine as the forerunner to liberal pluralism. Therefore, “the Church makes no claim to dominating or exerting power over civil society; indeed it can repudiate such claims as incompatible with the nature of its relationship to earthly powers. The Gospel is to be mediated through preaching its message and sustained public debate, without threatening the autonomy of the secular order.”

In Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine, Robert Dodaro, explains that “Augustine .. is far less interested than his interpreters in discussing the respective merits of a Christian or secular state.” Dodaro diverts from the “pessimistic” and secular understanding of Augustine. For him “Christians in public life can develop the capacity for moral reasoning, aided by grace, in which their practice of civic virtues is transformed by their practice of Christian faith, hope, and love.”

Furthermore, Dodaro strengthens his astute interpretation of Augustine when he asserts: “For Augustine, faith, hope, and charity are alone capable of drawing the Christian statesman beyond the limited, temporal perspectives of the earthly city into a deeper love of God, and therefore into the eternal reality of the heavenly city. Augustine believes that the theological virtues accomplish this because they alter the way the statesman understands and practices the political virtues in the performance of his public duties. When Augustine congratulates Macedonius for governing in the earthly city ‘with his mind fixed on the heavenly city,’ he is acknowledging the effects of these three virtues on the imperial vicar . . . the theological virtues alter the Christian statesman’s practice of the political virtues.”

Political Augustinianism is theoretically fascinating and practically challenging. The Augustinian lecture shall be delivered on Monday 21st November 2016 at 18.15hrs, in St Augustine’s Hall, at the Augustinian Institute, Pietà. Prof. Bruno will discuss the theme Seeking Augustinian Insights on the Christian in Public Life Today. Prof. Albert Fenech will be chairing the following discussion. Ample parking space provided.

Whereas on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016 at 19.00hrs at the University of Malta, GateWay Hall E, Prof. Bruno will discuss Rediscovering Augustine’s Saeculum and the State of Contemporary Augustinian Hermeneutics. Chairing the following discussion will be Prof. Joe Friggieri.

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