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Against Triumphalism: Augustinian Reflections on Political Enmity

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Augustine’s message about the two cities in City of God has important implications for Christian political engagement today. By resisting a facile sorting of the good from the bad, he reminds his Christian readers that their own transformation is far from complete and so helps them work for earthly peace in a spirit of humility. “ Most glorious is the City of God: whether in this passing age, where she dwells by faith as pilgrims among the ungodly, or in the security of that eternal home which she now patiently awaits until ‘righteousness shall return into judgment’ . . .” It is with these words that Augustine famously begins the City of God . And yet what are we to make of them? What exactly is he glorifying, and why? And what political wisdom do they contain for us today?

Given Augustine’s reputation for polemics, it would be unsurprising if his readers interpreted these lines as a celebration of his city’s impending victory over its enemies, and in some ways, it is. Yet, not in the way that we would expect. Instead, Augustine’s opening lines subvert tribal triumphalism. To put this more plainly, Augustine glorifies the city of God as […]

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