God and the Commonweal
In his wonderful book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, Robert Wilken not only provides a fine introduction to the fathers of the Church, he also offers an overview of the fundamental themes of the Catholic wisdom tradition.
Chapter Eight, “Happy the People Whose God is the Lord,” draws principally upon Saint Augustine’s great work, The City of God. To commemorate the feast day of the Bishop of Hippo, an excerpt from Wilken’s chapter:
Augustine offers no theory of political life in the City of God. But he shows that God can never be relegated to the periphery of a society’s life. That is why the book discusses two cities. He wishes to draw a contrast between the life of the city of God, a life that is centered on God and genuinely social, and life that is centered on itself. Augustine wished to redefine the realm of the public to make place for the spiritual, for God.
As Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury has observed, the City of God is a book about the “optimal form of corporate human life” in light of its “last end.” In Augustine’s view, “It is life outside the Christian community which fails to be truly public, authentically political. The opposition is not between public and private, church and world, but between political virtue and political vice. At the end of the day, it is the secular order that will be shown to be ‘atomistic’ in its foundations.”
A society that has no place for God will disintegrate into an amoral aggregate of competing, self-aggrandizing interests that are destructive of the commonweal.