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Reforming Public Theology Two Kingdoms or Two Cities Calvin Theological Journal 47 2012 122 137 1

Reforming Public Theology Two Kingdoms or Two Cities Calvin Theological Journal 47 2012 122 137 1

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CTj47 (2012): 122-137

Reforming Public Theology:
Two Kingdoms, or Two Cities?'
James K. A. Smith

Introduction: The Two-Kingdom Critique of Neo-Calvinism
Based on voices emerging from some corners ofthe Reformed tradition, you would think the future of Calvinism is Lutheran. At just the moment that neo-Calvinism has begun to be absorbed by wider evangelicalism'' and has become the de facto paradigm for Christian higher education in North America, scholars such as D. G. Hart, Michael Horton, and David VanDrunen argue that neo-Calvinists are not really Calvinists. Curiously, the basis for this claim is the neo-Calvinist rejection of the Lutheran model of two kingdoms that they see in Calvin and "the earlier Reformed traditiorr." At stake are central issues in theology of culture. At its heart, the Kuyperian tradition has emphasized the lordship of Christ over all things and hence affirmed creation and culture as realms of God's redemptive

J An earlier version of this article was presented as a keynote address for the conference, "Calvinism for the 21st Century" at Dordt College (May 2010). I'm grateful to the organizers for the invitation that was a catalyst for a first draft of this article. 2 Consider Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2004) and James Belcher, Deep Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009) as popularization's of a kind of Kuyperian project beyond the usual constituency of the Dutch Reformed tradition. S See Michael Horton, "The Time Between: Redefining the 'Secular' in Contemporary Debate," in After Modernity? Secularity, Globalization, and the Re-enchantment of the World, ed.James K A. Smith (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008), 45-66; D. G. Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (New York: Ivan R. Dee, 2006); and most recently, David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010). VanDrunen regularly presses the question of whether neo-Calvinists are "truly Reformed." "The differences between Calvin and his nee-Calvinist followers today ... are often striking" (Ibid., 4; cf. 376, 380, 384). His argument in this regard, though, is an extended case of begging the question. The premises of his argument in this respect are: (l) His exposition of Calvin and Kuyper are correct; and (2) anyone who is "Reformed" has to agree with Calvin and "earlier Reformed thought." NeoCalvinists, however, will reject both of these premises. Thus, many Reformed folks, who understand the tradition to be "always reforming," will not be afraid ofVanDrunen's conclusion that a "transformationist" perspective "would constitute a major break with their heritage and a de facto admission that Calvin and the magisterial Reformation were mistaken at a fundamental point" (11-12). We're Calvinists: we expect them to be wrong on points!






in-breaking grace (Col. 1:15-20). Rejecting the functional Gnosticisms of fundamentalism and otherworldly pietism, neo-Calvinists have emphasized a "transformative" project-or at least the importance of cultural labor that is restorative and redemptive-undertaken by a people fueled by grace and informed by revelation's claims about how things ought to be. Redemption, then, is about bodies as much as souls and is about social bodies as much as individuals. In Christ, our creating and redeeming God effects a redemption that is nothing short of cosmic and nothing less than cultural. The wonderworking power released by the resurrection redeems us from punishment but also retools the arts to the glory of God; the ascended Christ grants his Spirit to empower us to overcome sin, but the same Spirit also equips us to probe into the nooks and crannies of cell biology, trying to undo the curse of disease. In short, the Great Commission is the announcement of the Good News that Christ has made it possible for us to take up once again humanity'S cultural mandate. God's grace is as wide as his good creation, and he gathers us as a people to take up our creational task of forming and transforming creation for his glory. It isjust this "transformationist" project, however, that is criticized by twokingdom theorists. For two-kingdom theorists, God's grace is more circumscribed. The gospel of grace is announced and enacted within the spiritual realm of the church, but in the temporal, civic realm of our culture life-the work of building schools and families and libraries-we are governed by natural law. We meet Christ as Redeemer in the Word and sacraments, who births in us a longing for his coming kingdom; but, in the rest of our mundane lives, we deal with God the Creator, giver of natural law.While Sundays give us a taste of the spiritual kingdom of heaven, the rest of the week we inhabit the earthly kingdom of the present. While in the church, we feast on the Word of God's revelation, in our cultural lives in this temporal world we live by the "universally accessible" dictates of natural law.4 The two-kingdom theorists, then, admonish us to not confuse these two realms, these two kingdoms. Above all, they caution that we not confuse the orders of redemption and creation. On the level of cultural life, the best we can hope for is an ordering that is natural, not Christian. Assuming that the church is the only earthly institution touched by the order of redemption, two-kingdom theorists almost mock Kuyperian visions of Christian cultural labor." Rather than encouraging a Christian approach to politics or the arts or agriculture, the two-kingdom theorist admonishes us to reduce our expectations, to lower our sights, and simply observe the more minimal,


Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 1, 14.

"VanDrunen points to the "Christian goat breeders' society" as an example of Kuyperian transfonnationism run amok, and in the same context calls into question Dordt College'S project of building a football program "consistent with the 'Reformed Christian worldview'" (Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 4n5).



penultimate principles of natural law. What is good for the church is not what is good for the school, the state, or the soccer stadium. As David VanDrunen puts it, this entails "a sharp distinction between the church as the non-violent kingdom of Christ and the sword-bearing, coercive state."? The problem, however, is that it would seem that Christians inhabit both. What does it look like, then, to inhabit these two kingdoms? It is hard not to hear his description of this dual citizenship as a tad schizophrenic": "In their capacity as citizens of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, Christians insist upon non-violence and the ways of peace, refusing to bear arms on behalf of his kingdom; [but] in their capacity as citizens of the civil kingdom, they participate as necessary in the coercive work of the state, bearing arms on its behalf when occasion warrants."? Thus, he later commends Luther's encouragement for Christians a rather counter-intuitive vocation: "If you see that there is a lack of hangmen ... , and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position,"? and, of course, "whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord!" We will return to Luther's hangman later. VanDrunen's point is not that there is a Christian way to be a hangman; rather, his two-kingdom point is that the specificity of Christian faith does not apply to such civil, cultural, temporal labors. Hangmen and hairdressers, soldiers and sous-chefs are all merely temporal vocations for which Christian revelation is irrelevant. While we hope soldiers and sous-chefs are attending to their eternal destiny in the church, during the rest of the week, we simply hope that they operate according to the dictates of natural law. The kingdom of this world is not to be transformed but rather respected as its own autonomous sphere. There is much to be said in criticism of this two-kingdom proposal, 10 but a comprehensive reply is not my task here. Instead, I want to focus my response on a contested figure in this conversation: Saint Augustine. For while two-kingdom theorists seem to think the future of Calvinismis Lutheran, I want to suggest that the future of Calvinism is even older: it is Augustinian. If the Reformation can be best understood as an Augustinian


Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 13.

Later he appears to concede as much, in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 431. Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 13. Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 58, citing Luther on "Temporal Authority."

"Vanljrunen, "Vanljrunen,

10 For instance: Is not this just Christendom by other means? Why does natural law always seem to dictate the pet concerns of the right? In addition, there are serious questions of epistemology assumed in VanDrunen's notion of natural law as "universally accessible." He collapses the ontological claim of creational norms into a separable epistemological claim about universal access to such norms. This is why he persistently misreads hints of what he thinks is natural law in figures ranging from Kuyper to Neal Plantinga.



renewal movement within the church catholic, then I think one of the most important resources for Calvinism in the twenty-first century is a North African bishop from the fifth century, and this is not an arbitrary invocation of my favorite saint. Rather, Augustine's own analysis of the two cities -the earthly city and the heavenly city, the City of Man and the City of God-is often invoked as a precursor and source for two-kingdoms theory. Are the two kingdoms a faithful translation or extension of Augustine's account of two cities? Or is there something lost in translation? I hope to demonstrate that there is a significant difference between the two and that before we settle into Luther's two kingdoms, we do better to return to Augustine's account of two cities. However, I should also note that my argument is a bit of a two-edged sword: On the one hand, I want to call into question a certain temptation seen in two-kingdoms accounts. On this edge, I will be defending something like a Kuyperian, neo-Calvinist emphasis on culture-making as a redemptive activity. On the other hand, following Augustine, I will center and locate this cultural labor in its connection to the gathered worship of the church and thus will contest (at least certain versions) of the Kuyperian distinction between the church as institute and the church as organism. II In addition, I will also articulate an Augustinian critique of culture that centers on secular liturgies, making worship (rather than just religion or belief) central to human identity.

Lost in Translation? On the Invocations of Augustine by Two-Kingdom Theorists Two-Kingdom Invocations of Augustine
It would be almost impossible to imagine a discussion of two-kingdoms doctrine that would not immediately invoke Augustine's analysis of the two cities in his magisterial City of Godl? Thus, it is not surprising that Vanfrrunen reads Augustine's two cities as a precursor to later two-kingdoms theory. Augustine distinguishes the City of God from what he variously describes as the city of this world, the earthly city, and the City of Man. These two cities or societies" or peoples are marked by the standards by which they live: the earthly city lives by the standard of the flesh, whereas the City of God

11 In this respect, I actually affirm much of the two-kingdom critique of Kuyperian triurnphalism and its tendency to neglect ecclesiology. 12 I will refer to Henry Bettenson's 1984), citing book and chapter.


City of God (Hammondsworth:


13 By describing the City of God as a city, as a civitas, Augustine has already made it political (note his reference to Phil. 3:20 in 14.1). Though two-kingdom theorists often emphasize that the City of God is not identified with the church, in fact Augustine does suggest this in 16.2: "Christ and his Church, which is the City of God."




lives by the Spirit (14.1-4).14 While in the opening of City of God he distinguishes them by their animating virtues and vices (humility and charity vs. domination and pride, 1.1, 14.3), he later emphasizes that what ultimately distinguishes the two are their loves (19.24--26): "We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by selflove reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self' (14.28). VanDrunen rightly notes that Augustine's analysis here is starkly antithetical. There is no dual citizenship for Augustine: "Each individual member is a member of one city, and one city only.":" Then VanDrunen quickly begins to elide what Augustine distinguishes. In particular, the City of Man increasingly becomes simply identified with broader society and (anachronistically) the state-and then the latter are simply identified with the world and this life.!" It is just such elisions that lead to strange translations when Augustine is invoked by two-kingdom theorists. Thus, when VanDrunen expounds Luther's two-kingdoms doctrine, he claims that it "closely resembles key features of Augustine's two cities" (59). Indeed, he reads Luther as an extension of Augustine:
Luther's doctrine clearly must be distinguished from a straightforward Augustinian two cities doctrine, not so much in contradicting it as in supplementing it with certain significant ideas. To some degree, Luther's adding the nuance of two governments to the two kingdoms template accounts for this constructive development of Augustinian thought. For example, Luther's two governments framework gives the two kingdoms an institutional expressionin church and state-that lurksjust below the surface in the City of God,'?

Describing this reading as the supplemental paradigm, VanDrunen sees Luther simply extending Augustine, going beyond him by making the picture more complex and thus giving Christians permission, even encouragement to "embrace their roles in the civil realm" and see themselves "genuinely as citizens of an earthly domain." In short, they have been granted permission to hold "citizenship."!" This is indeed a supplemental paradigm, in two senses: On the one hand, VanDrunen reads Luther's two kingdoms as merely a supplement to Augustine's two cities. Notice also that on this reading, the City of God becomes a kind of supplement to the earthly city-that which is above and beyond natural, temporal, civil life.

14It should be noted that, in 14.2-5, Augustine body and materiality per se. "Van.Orunen,



flesh from the

Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 22.

16VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 22, 27, 28. 17VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 60. 18VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 60-61.



Are either of these really just a supplement? Is Luther just adding something to Augustine? If so, this is strange math, because the sum undoes key aspects of Augustine in the process. More specifically, what looks like a gradual, incremental translation is actually a transposition: Notice that Augustine's earthly city (civitas) has now been spatialized into a "civil realm" and "earthly domain."19 Whence this spatialization? What gets lost in such a translation?

Against Supplements: Conflict and Competition
ReadingJacques Derrida has made me suspicious of supplements: what claims to be a supplement turns out to change the original. 20 It isjust such a problem I see in two-kingdom readings of Augustine: They end up creating an Augustine in their own image, and thus missing precisely the nuance and resources that Augustine offers for contemporary cultural critique. Let me briefly address this supplemental misreading before turning to a more substantive issue. The single most common error in reading Augustine is to confuse the earthly city with finite, temporal, creation. On this misreading, the earthly city becomes identified with the political, or even more narrowly, the state." The result is a picture of the two kingdoms as two levels or two different realms. Such a reading yields an Augustine who looks like a scholastic" Thomist, affirming the natural and temporal ends of the earthly city but pointing up its failure as a lack or inability to attend to supranatural, eternal ends.F' Such readings, like VanDrunen's, construe Augustine's distinction between the two cities as if it were a distinction of levels-a neoscholastic distinction between nature and grace, temporal and eternal, reason and faith. This then translates into a picture of Augustine as affirming the earthly city as a proper custodian of temporal goods or penultimate ends, whereas the city of God is concerned with eternal goods and ultimate ends. This attributes to Augustine a tidy carving-up of the world into

19VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 61, emphases added. 2°For a discussion, see James K. A. Smith, jacques Derrida: Live Theory (London: Continuum, 2005),42. 21 VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 22, 28.

22I use the qualifier "scholastic" to indicate that this common picture (caricature?) of "Thomism" is not necessarily to be identified as the position of Aquinas. Rather, it is a picture that emerged from "manual" Thomism and continues to have influence today, particularly in the political revival of natural law ideologies in the United States. In contrast to this bifurcated Thomas, see the more holistic readings offered by Henri de Lubac. 230ne can find such a reading of Augustine in Todd Breyfogle's recent critique of Milbank's "postmodern critical Augustinianism." See Breyfogle, "Is There Room for Political Philosophy in Postmodern Critical Augustinianism?" in Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy, ed. Wayne J. Hankey and Douglas Hedley (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2005), 31-47.




spheres-as if the distinction between the two cites was a relation of subsidiarity." VanDrunen's supplemental paradigm-like Breyfogle's reading-is a common way of trying to account for Augustine's tempered affirmation of the earthly city through the register of a kind of reified distinction between nature and grace. This reading of Augustine makes the earthly city coincident with the political; or to put it otherwise, it makes the earthly city coincident with creation. This is problematic on two fronts. First, it fails to see that the earthly city is not coincidental with creation or temporal life. The earthly city does not begin with time. It begins with the fall into sin. Despite VanDrunen's claim about the continuity between Augustine and Luther, here we see a significant, deal-breaking difference. Whereas for Augustine the earthly city is a postlapsarian irruption, Luther's two kingdoms "have ... existed since the beginning of the world."25 Missing this difference is exactly what would (mistakenly) enable one to imagine Luther as a supplement to Augustine. Second, what gets lost in such translations from Augustine's two cities to Luther's two kingdoms is the fundamental conflict and competition between the two cities. Whereas VanDrunen wants to paint the churchthe spiritual kingdom-as a supplement to the temporal kingdom (as if they were nonoverlapping magisteria26), Augustine posits the nature of the earthly city as antithetical to the City of God: while the City of God is governed by humility, the city of this world is a city "which aims at dominion" and is itself dominated by the lust for dominationv-c-and he clearly indicates that such domination is not natural (19.15). For that reason, there cannot be a neat and tidy division oflabor between these two cities as if they were two different realms or spaces with distinct but complementary duties. Indeed, Augustine puts the relationship starkly: The two cities are "different and mutually opposed" (14.4). However, this is not a conflict between the church and politics, nor is it an antithesis between the church and the state. As we have already emphasized, the earthly city cannot be simply identified with either of these, nor can time or creation. In Augustine's map of culture, there is room to imagine creation, time, and politics otherwise. Thus, Luther's two kingdoms are not Augustine's two cities; nor are they an extension or supplement or translation. They are different animals. Therefore, regarding this key question, Calvinists and neo-Calvinists are faced with a choice: to be Augustinian or to be Lutheran. They cannot be both. In the final part of this article, I will suggest a reason to find the future of Calvinism in the Augustinian model.



"Is There

Room for Political



25VanDrunen, 26As in Stephen 27Augustine,

Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 56. Jay Gould's picture of a brokered truce between religion and science.

City of God, 1.1; cf. 10.6.






Love and Worship: Blindspots in Two-kingdom Theory and Neo-Calvinism Spatialization and Teleology: On Penultimacy
I have already suggested that two-kingdom theorists misread Augustine because they anachronistically impose on him the realm-speak of Luther's two kingdoms. That is, they end up construing the two cities as two different spheres. On this reading, we either shuttle back and forth between the two realms, or we straddle them-with our souls in one and our bodies in the other. Conversely, using a slightly different metaphor, these two spheres are two different levels: the earthly, temporal level is the realm of politics and culture; the spiritual, eternal level is the realm of the church. As citizens of the city of God who inhabit the earthly city, we spend our weekdays, so to speak, on the lower level, and make visits to the upper level in worship. The temporal realm, VanDrunen would say, is only penultimate, not ultimate." In addition to being a misreading of Augustine, this construal of the earthly city as a merely temporal, penultimate plane misses what is central to Augustine's analysis: The earthly city shapes nothing less than our ultimate desires-that the earthly city is formative precisely because it is liturgical. 29 While two-kingdom theorists affirm a penultimate justice of the earthly kingdom, relative to its temporal ends, Augustine will have none of it. The earthly city, on his account, is inherently unjust precisely because it is marked by false worship: 'Justice is found where God, the one supreme God, rules an obedient City according to his grace, forbidding sacrifice to any being save himself alone" (19.23; cp.14.28). Therefore, the penultimate and ultimate cannot be neatly distinguished into different spheres or levels. Rather, the two are inextricable: That which might look merely penultimate within a limited purview can be seen-when magnified-to be ultimately loaded with an orientation to an ultimate telos. ' Two-kingdoms theorists miss this dynamic precisely because they have limited their purview. Thus, they also fail to see the centrality of worship in Augustine's analysis of the earthly city. While I think neo-Calvinists rightly reject the two-kingdom compartmentalization of redemption and politics, I think Kuyperians have also failed to appreciate the dynamics of worship at work in wider culture. In the final section of this article, I will sketch

28 David VanDrunen, "The Importance of the PennItimate: Reformed Social Though t and the Contemporary Critiques of Liberal Society," Journal of Markets & Morality 9 (2006): 219-49. 29 For Augustine, liturgy is more expansive than churchly rituals. For example, the empire's civic rituals were a rival form of worship, not merely penultimate political routines. For a discussion of Augustine's critique of the liturgies of the empire, see Robert Dodaro, Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of St. Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 10-14.



the centrality of worship in Augustine's theology of culture in order to make sense of his account of antithesis, and commend it for the twenty-first century.

We Are What We Love; We Love What We Worship
For Augustine, I am what I love. He also makes the same claim at the communal level: We are what we love. He thus defines a people as "the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love," so that in order to "observe the character of a particular people" we must examine "the objects of its love. "30 The question he then poses is whether, under this definition, Rome will qualify as a people or commonwealth. The answer is affirmative: "the Roman people is a people and its state is indubitably a commonwealth" (19.24). However, some readers then hastily conclude from this that Augustine offers a basic affirmation of Rome. This is certainly not the case; instead, Augustine concludes that, while Rome (and other empires of the earthly city) can be formally described as peoples, they are nevertheless unjust. As Augustine puts it:
By this definition of ours, the Roman people is a people and its estate is indubitablya commonwealth. But as for the objects of that people's love ... for all this we have the witness of history .... And yet I shall not make that a reason for asserting that a people is not really a people or that a state is not a commonwealth, so long as there remains an association of some kind or other between a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of its love. However, what I have said about the Roman people and the Roman commonwealth I must be understood to have said and felt about those of the Athenians and of any other Greeks, or of that former Babylon of the Assyrians, when they exercised imperial rule, whether on a small or large scale, in their commonwealths-and indeed about any nation whatsoever. For God is not the ruler of the city of the impious, because it disobeys his commandment that sacrifice should be offered to himself alone .... And because God does not rule there the general characteristic of that city is that it is devoid of true justice (de civ 19.24, emphases added).

To these imperial configurations of the earthly city, Augustine grants the formal status of peoples; substantively, he judges them to be generally or basically unjust precisely because they are not, and cannot be, animated by a rightly ordered love aimed at worship of the triune God. Augustine recognizes the enduring, structural aspect of a people animated by love, and even suggests that such an erotic orientation of a community is ineradicable. What is at issue is not whether a people loves but what that people loves. Augustine is interested in the objects oflove as that which indicate the "character" of a people (19.24). It is the telos or target of a people's love that defines a people, and thus Augustine's political phenomenology-while



City of God, 19.24.



recognizing a common, formal, intentional structure of a people-hones in on what distinguishes them, viz., the intentional objects of these communities. It is what-is-aimed-at, the teloi of the communities, that distinguishes them. It is in their different intentional objects that Augustine locates the antithesis. The only proper object of love for a rightly ordered political community is the triune God, just as the only thing that is to be enjoyed is the triune Cod." This is just to say that the rightly ordered political community must be oriented by right worship, and, insofar as the earthly city is essentially idolatrous, it cannot be so ordered. The earthly city's different political configurations qualify as commonwealths but fail to be just because they are aimed at the wrong objects of love, that is, they wrongly constitute objects of love. Augustine's subsequent revised account of the empire yields a negative evaluation that is nothing like the rather rosy affirmation of the earthly city we tend to hear about from those who invoke a two-kingdom Augustine as warrant for more positive evaluations of the contemporary ordering of liberal democratic empire." In this respect, it is Augustine's political phenomenology that enables him to be attentive to an antithesis that VanDrunen's limited purview does not recognize: at stake in participation in the political configurations of the earthly city are matters of worship and religious identity. The public practices of the empire are not merely political or merely temporal; they are loaded, formative practices that are aimed at a telos that is antithetical to the city of God. In other words, the public practices of the empire are idolatrous practices because embedded in them is a telos.

The Persistent Witness of Idolatry: On Selective Collaboration
It must be noted, however, that Augustine's still radical critique of the empire and political configurations of the earthly city does not entail a simplistic, wholesale rejection of Rome or other political configurations of the earthly city. An antithetical Augustinianism does not entail a total cnitique of modernity or liberal democracy, even if it involves a radical and substantial critique." Rather, Augustine's basically antithetical stance still permits a nuanced account of the earthly city's love that retains a kind of affirmation-though not one that translates into a sanguine confidence in the ability of the citizens of God to happily participate in the machinations of

31 See Augustine, Teaching Christianity York: New City Press, 1994), Book I.

[De doctrina christiana}, trans. Edmund

Hill (New

32 Here one could include both two-kingdom theorists like VanDrunen (see "The Importance of the Penultimate") and democratic perfectionists such as Eric Gregory (Politics and the Order of Love [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008]).

"This is contrary to VanDrunen who assumes that natural law and two-kingdoms theory is the only way to account for commonality (e.g., VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms,




the empire. Instead, Augustine offers an account of what William Connolly describes as "selective collaboration.t''" One might suggest that this comes down to something like trying to locate the center of gravity of political activity for citizens of the City of God. If citizens of the heavenly city occupy the political spaces of the earthly city as "pilgrims," exiles, and a "society of aliens" (19.17), then it becomes a question of locating the core energy of their political life. Too many readings of Augustine simply equate the earthly city with the political. As a result, any case made for more limited and suspicious participation in the earthly city is taken to be advocating an apolitical stance, but the earthly city and the political should not be so equated. The City of God is also political-in the sense that it is a mode of social organization that functions beyond networks of kin. Therefore, the question of whether, or to what extent, the "society of aliens" can participate in the earthly city is not a question of whether and to what extent these aliens can be political but rather a question of to what extent they can participate in earthly-city-modes of politics." The citizen of the city of God-which is itself political in some significant sense-will always already find herself thrown into a situation of being a resident alien taking up residence in some outpost of the earthly city. Contra two-kingdom readings of Augustine, this does not necessarily translate into a basically positive or sanguine stance vis-a-vis the earthly city; rather, the first political impetus is one of suspicion, which is then tempered by ad hoc evaluations about legitimate selective collaborations for the common good." The correlate of this suspicion is, of course, a tempered evaluation of the ecclesia/?


Connolly, Pluralism (Durham,

N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005), 25.

:35 Thus, I will below regularly refer to "the politics of the earthly city" in order to avoid collapsing the two. 36 How we interpret Augustine here might be conditioned by how we interpret the occasion and context for writing City of God. Certainly City of God is a response to the questions formulated by Marcellinus, and thus articulates an apology on behalf of Christianity to a broader public-arguing, in effect, that not only was Christianity not bad for the empire, it was a positive benefit. However, it seems important to recognize another intra-ecclesial target audience, viz., those (following Jerome?) whose imagination had so wed the kingdom of God with the Roman Empire that the sack of Rome seemed to threaten the kingdom of God. In response to this audience, Augustine is articulating an important and fundamental distinction between the two. In this regard, it is hard to understand John O'Meara's suggestion that the City of God is downright "optimistic" in contrast to Jerome's response (see his "Introduction" to the Bettenson translation, p. xiii, more fully articulated in Charter of Christendom: The Significance of the City of God [New York: Macmillan, 1961]). Any hopefulness here stems precisely from the disjunction of the two cities, not in the prospects for Christendom. 37 As Tom Martin comments, "Apparent pessimism is in fact a deliberate and strategic effort on his part to point humanity toward its only true realization. Thus, 'Augustinian politics' are pastoral-ascetical-spiritual in their scope and intention" ("Augustine and the Politics of Monasticism," in Augustine and Politics, ed. John Doody, Kevin Hughes, and Kim Paffenroth






While Augustine suggests the center of gravity for heavenly citizens' political energy is ecclesial and articulates a basic stance of suspicion and critique of the political as embodied in the earthly city, this does not translate into any kind of manichaean, absolutist rejection of participation in the politics of the earthly city. Rather, Augustine's political phenomenology advocates selective collaboration based on four factors: First, on a formal level, even the structure of disordered love continues to attest to an ineradicable creational desire. Here, Augustine's account of the politics of the earthly city might be said to mirror his account of idolatry. Idolatry is a persistent witness to the ineradicable religious impulsion to worship that is constitutive of human being. As such, idolatry testifies to a perduring structure of the creature that is misdirected by the fall into sin.38 While Augustine will remain critical of the perverted direction of idolatrous worship, the desire itself is evidence of a creational structure. So, too, with respect to the politics of the earthly city, the political desire or love of the earthly city is ultimately perverted and misdirected, nonetheless its directional perversion indicates a creational structure. In this sense, even the earthly city is a sign of the heavenly city.39 a result, one can make sense As of Augustine's tempered evaluation of the peace of Rome. The desire for peace is structural: even a beast like Cacus, Augustine notes, desired a kind of peace: "For no creature's perversion is so contrary to nature as to destroy the very last vestiges of its nature" (19.12). If this is true of Cacus, then certainly it was true of the empire. Note, however, Augustine's ambivalence at this point: affirming the structure of peace does not preclude him from articulating a radical critique of this peace: "the peace of the unjust," compared with the peace of the just, is not worthy even of the name of peace." Augustine follows this with an important "yet": "Yet even what is perverted must of necessity be in, or derived from, or associated with-that is, in a sense, at peace with-some part of the order of things among which it has its being or of which it consists" (19.12). This, however, is an ontological

[Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005], 166). Martin's outline of Augustine's politics of monasticism lends warrant to a more antithetical reading of Angustine. The monastic community was called to mirror and model, in limited ways, the only authentic community that is eschatologically found in the body of Christ. Thus, the monastic community was called to "model what true community could and should be" ("Augustine and the Politics of Monasticism," 169). In this respect the monastic community is a microcosm of the larger ecclesial community's calling to do the same.
38 Cp. Jean-Luc Marion's account of the idol as a "low-water mark" of the divine in God Without Being, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 9-11. 39


City of God, 15.2.

40 It must be recalled that Augustine has argued that true justice is linked to true worship, and so the earthly city can never be properly just ("because God does not rule there the general characteristic of that city is that it is devoid of true justice" [19.24). Therefore, "the peace of the unjust" does not name only Cacus-like excess but all structures of the earthly city.




claim, not a moral evaluation, which is paralleled by Augustine's ensuing account of the Devil's misdirection: "not even the nature of the Devil himself is evil, in so far as it is a nature" (19.13). The earthly city, I am suggesting, is an analogue of the Devil: both, despite their perversions and misdirections, testify to an enduring structure that participates in the Creator. Second, Augustine's critique of the earthly city can never be a total or absolute critique precisely because his participatory ontology precludes it. This leads to a second aspect of his nuanced account of the earthly city: Augustine's phenomenological attention to the intentionality of love also makes him attentive to the teleological nature of virtue, but this also permits an ad hoc recognition that the semblance of virtue is to be preferred to vice. This nuanced description-which is not quite an affirmation-can be seen once again in Augustine's account of the peace of Rome. As already noted, even the band of robbers maintains a semblance of peace or a "shadow" of peace (19.12). Semblances are to be preferred to absence, and shadows to pure darkness. This is why "even that city is better, in its own human way, by their possession" (15.4). The desire for an earthly peace-which is only a semblance of peace-is nonetheless preferred to its absence, so even the citizen of the City of God can rejoice when the more just triumphs over the (even) less just. "These things are goods and undoubtedly they are gifts of God" (15.4). Thus, Augustine can recognize elements of degree; but this is not a degree of fulfillment; that is, what makes something more or less just is not an amount of justice or how far the earthly city attains authentic justice. In other words, Augustine's account of degrees (more just) should not be understood in terms of degrees of attainment (like a cup ofjustice being more or less full, or a matter of how far the earthly city gets on the road to true justice) because the degree-of-attainment model diminishes the fundamental antithesis that Augustine seeks to articulate. Instead, the evaluation of degree is an evaluation of direction and the degree to which the semblance is more or less pointed in the right direction. The tool for measurement here is a protractor, not a yardstick. To affirm the preference of the semblance of peace over its absence does not translate into an affirmation of semblance per se; rather, the very accounting of earthly peace and justice as a semblance has embedded in it a fundamental critique of its essential failure. The two-kingdom Augustine regularly overestimates Augustine's affirmation here and seems to regularly ignore his persistent affirmation that 'Justice is found where God, the one supreme God, rules an obedient City according to his grace, forbidding sacrifice to any being save himself alone" (19.23). Precisely because this is de facto ruled out as a possibility in the earthly city (whose very origin is the misdirection of the Fall), the earthly city can never be home to "true justice" (19.24).41Recognizing and

41 Cp, 19.25, in which Augustine argues that the condition for "true virtue" is right worship: "Thus the virtues which the mind imagines it possesses, by means of which is rules the body



preferring semblance does not underwrite the over-confidence that attends VanDrunen's reading of Augustine. Third, nevertheless, this nuance-which allows Augustine to recognize that some cultural configurations are closer to being properly directed than others-also permits an ad hoc recognition that there can be aspects of penultimate congruence even where there is ultimate, teleological divergence." In other words, Augustine's attention to the fact that loves can be ordered more and less badly (more and less oriented toward the telos of shalom) provides the criteria and platform for a cultural critique that eschews the ali-or-nothing tendency that characterizes some contemporary screeds about empire." It is Augustine's intentional account of love, as opposed to the static dissection of the issue in terms of spheres, that allows him to articulate cautious affirmations of social configurations that are less misdirected than others and, at the same time, retain a trenchant sense that what is at stake in participating in the cultural practices of the earthly city comes down to worship, and thus idolatry. Fourth, Augustine can thus offer a limited, ad hoc affirmation of aspects of even disordered communal love and provide an account of how citizens of the City of God can use such. This does not, however, translate into a program of deep affirmation or even Christianization of the political configuration of the earthly city. Nor does he seem to exhibit sanguine confidence about the effects of Christian participation in the politics of the earthly city. Consider just one instance: Augustine clearly states that even the immanent peace of the earthly city "is not to be rejected" (19.26); however, he also points out its ultimate emptiness and unsustainability. Nevertheless, he admonishes the citizens of the City of God to "make use of the peace of Babylon." Recognizing in this time between times that the two cities are intermingled, it is in the interest of the pilgrims of the City of God to seek the welfare of the earthly city,just as the Israelites in exile were admonished to seek the welfare of Babylon-for "in her welfare' is your welfare" (Jer. 29). Is this a license for a Christendom project? What does it mean to make use of the earthly city's peace and for what ends? There are two key components to notice here: First, making use of the earthly city's peace does not indicate a program for the Christianization

and the vicious elements, are themselves vices rather them into relation with God." There is no "natural" ter, in Thomas. For an insightful discussion, see D. Importance for Moral Theology," Studies in Christian "This responds to VanDrunen's account of commonality. assumption

than virtues, if the mind does not bring virtue in Augustine. (Nor, for that matStephen Long, "The Way of Aquinas: Its Ethics 19, no. 3 [2006]: 339-56.) precludes any

that an emphasis on antitheses

43 My thanks to Hans Boersma for several important exchanges on this point, occasioned by discussion of his inaugural lecture, now published as "Accommodation to What? Univocity of Being, Pure Nature, and the Anthropology ofSt. Irenaeus," InternationalJournalofSystematic Theology 8, no. 3 (2006): 266--93.




of the empire; Augustine is not Eusebius. The purpose of seeking some modicum of political peace in the earthly city is ecclesial: "that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life with all devotion and love" (19.26, citing 1 Tim. 2:2). This does not sound like a project for "transforming" the empire." Second, there are limits to this participation: "Thus even the Heavenly City in her pilgrimage here on earth makes use of the earthly peace and defends and seeks the compromise of human wills in respect of the provisions relevant to the mortal nature of man, so far as may be permitted without detriment to true religion and piety" (19.17). The issue is to discern this "so far as." At what point, and in what way, are the practices of the earthly city's political configuration detrimental to true religion? VanDrunen does not seem to think we should anticipate any antithesis between the formative practices ofthe ecclesial community and the formative practices of the state if it is ordered according to natural law-but this is because he is inattentive to the teleological and thus quasi-liturgical nature ofthe latter. VanDrunen, unlike Augustine, fails to see that what is at stake in the practices ofliberal democracy involves worship. Augustine's theology of culture, which is attentive to the identity-forming dynamics of love operative in political communities, is therefore more attentive to what is at stake in political participation. In sum, by defining communities by their common objects of love, Augustine provides the framework for a kind of political phenomenology that can discern the fundamental antitheses that animate different communities within the same territorial space. In other words, it will be Augustine who provides us with a framework for recognizing and understanding the deep pluralism that characterizes postmodern society.

Conclusion: Luther's Hangman, Augustine'S Emperor
Augustine's vision, then, significantly departs from the brokered truce offered to us by two-kingdom theorists. Locating the antithesis in the civic liturgies of earthly-city-politics, Augustine does not give us a rationale for whole-hearted, clean-handed participation in the machinations of the empire or the state. In short, there is nothing of the enthusiasm of Luther's

44 Contra the suggestion that "Augustine's whole project The City of God is about developing a political askesis of humility which will renew and transform Rome" (C. C. Pecknold, "Augustine's Readable City: Beyond the Politics of Empire," The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 6, no. 1 (May 2006), http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/ssr/issues/volume6/numberli ssr06 01 e02.html. He goes on to suggest that Augustine envisioned "Rome's Christian citizens" introducing into the culture "resources for a political education." For Augustine, however, learning requires not just the right teachings but the right conditions of reception. The conditions for a properly ordered political education are found in participation in the sacraments.



hangman, contentedly working under the government of the earthly kingdom untouched by the radical call of grace and redemption. This brings to mind one of Carl Sandburg's haunting poems:

The Hangman at Home
Carl Sandburg
What does the hangman think about When he goes home at night from work? When he sits down with his wife and Children for a cup of coffee and a Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask Him if it was a good day's work And everything went well or do they Stay off some topics and talk about The weather, baseball, politics And the comic strips in the papers And the movies? Do they look at his Hands when he reaches for the coffee Or the ham and eggs? If the little Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here's A rope-does he answer like a joke: I seen enough rope for today? Or does his face light up like a Bonfire of joy and does he say: It's a good and dandy world we live In. And if a white face moon looks In through a window where a baby girl Sleeps and the moon gleams mix with Baby ears and baby hair-the hangmanHow does he act then? It must be easy For him. Anything is easy for a hangman, I guess."

Indeed, what does the hangman think about when he goes to church? Instead of Luther's "natural" hangman, consider Augustine's Christian emperor, Theodosius, who exhibits not the natural virtue of courage but the decidedly Christlike virtues of compassion, mercy, and humility, "constrained by the discipline of the Church to do penance in such a fashion that the people of Thessalonica, as they prayed for him, wept at seeing the imperial highness thus prostrate.T"

45 In Carl Sandburg, 82-83. 46

Selected Poems, ed. Paul Berman

(New York: Library of America, 2006),


City of God, 5.26.


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