Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Augustine of Hippo's Defense of Christ's Lordship over Civil Government

While we by no means endorse Augustine's (354-430) Roman Catholicism (although he had a better understanding of God's grace in salvation than many Catholics today), he was one of the most, if not the most, influential theologians of his time. In light of this, it should be noted that Augustine (also known as "Saint Augustine"), contrary to many today, believed in the Lordship of Christ over civil government, and thus the civil enforcement of God's law.

In the following quote, Augustine discusses Psalm 2 and its application to civil rulers; the duty of rulers to protect the church; and the importance of the civil enforcement of the First Table of the law (note how at the beginning of this quote Augustine takes issue with those who, like many today, oppose the idea that civil law should be particularly Christian):

"Whereas some, which would not have upright laws ordained against their ungodliness, do say, that the apostles did never require any such things of the kings of the earth; they do not consider, that that was another time (not like to this), and that all things are done in their due time and season. 

"For what emperor did at that time believe in Christ, to serve him by making laws in defence of religion against ungodliness? when as yet that prophecy was in fulfilling, 'Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel against God and against his Christ.' For as yet that was not begun which followeth in the Psalm, where it is said: 'And now understand, ye kings, and be ye learned, ye that judge the earth; serve him in fear and rejoice in trembling.' 

"But how do kings serve God in fear, but by forbidding and punishing with devout severity those things which are done against God's commandments? For in that he is a man, he serveth him one way; but in that he is a king, he serveth him another way: because in that he is a man, he serveth him by living faithfully; but in that he is a king, he serveth him by establishing convenient laws to command that which is just, and to forbid the contrary:—as Ezechias served him, by destroying the groves and temples of idols, and those high places that were erected against the Lord's commandment: as Josias served him, by doing the like: as the king of Ninivie served him, by compelling the whole city to please and appease the anger of the Lord: as Darius served him, by giving the idol into Daniel's power to be broken in pieces, and by casting his enemies in among the lions: as Nabuchodonosor served him, by a terrible proclamation, which forbade all men within his dominion to blaspheme the true and very God

"In this therefore should kings serve God, in that that they are kings, by doing those things which none can do but kings. Wherefore, when as in the apostles' times the kings did not as yet serve the Lord, but imagined a vain thing against the Lord and against his Christ, that the prophet's sayings might be fulfilled, there could not as then, I say, any laws be made to forbid ungodliness, but counsel be rather taken to put ungodliness in practice. For so the course of times did turn, that both the Jews should kill the preachers of Christ, thinking that thereby they did God good service; and that the Gentiles also should fret and rage against the Christians, and make the martyrs' constancy overcome the flames of fire. 

"But afterward, when that began to be fulfilled which is written, 'And all the kings of the earth shall worship him, all nations shall serve him;' what man that were well in his wits would say to kings, 'Tush, take ye no care how, or by whom, the church of your Lord is defended or defaced within your kingdom; let it not trouble you to mark who will be honest, and who dishonest within your dominion?' For since God hath given man free will,[1] why should adultery be punished, and sacrilege left untouched? Is it a lighter matter for the soul to break promise with God, than a woman with a man? Or, for because those things which are not committed by contempt, but by ignorance of religion, are to be more mildly punished, are they therefore to be utterly neglected?"[2]


[1] It is unlikely that Augustine means free will in the sense that man is free from God's sovereign control, since he opposed the Pelagian heresy.
[2] Cited in Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger, Minister of the Church of Zurich: The First and Second Decades, trans. H. I., ed. Thomas Harding (University Press, n. d.), 366-368.


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