The Augustine Option

Like Rod Dreher (and Ross Douthat, Anthony Esolen, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Malcolm Muggeridge, to name just a few) I believe we’re headed for a new Dark Age. That’s why, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to read St. Augustine’s masterpiece The City of God cover to cover.

The first thing that struck me was its eerie freshness. (If you have any doubt that “the times are wretched,” just skim chapter one. The parallels are extraordinary.) What struck me next, though, is what Augustine doesn’t say. To my surprise, the point of the book is not to excoriate those responsible for the Fall of Rome.

Actually, I’m not sure he gets around to that at all. He doesn’t blame the emperor, or the senate, or the aristocracy, or the army, or even the priests. On the contrary. He tells his (pagan) readers that embracing Christianity merely for the sake of politics would be a mistake. God “gives kingly power to the pious and the impious,” Augustine warns, “lest any emperor should become a Christian in order to merit the happiness of Constantine.”

His point, rather, is that we should waste no time fretting about the City of Man. We should keep our minds fixed only on the City of God. “For as far as the life of mortals is concerned, which is ended in a few days,” he asks, “what does it matter under whose government a dying man lives, if they who govern him do not force him to impiety and iniquity?”

“Let Him therefore be sought after,” Augustine concludes; “let Him be worshipped, and it is enough.”

This isn’t only a challenge to the pagans. It’s a challenge to everyone who claims to believe in some kind of god, and who believes man to be something more than a “trousered ape.” It’s a challenge even—or especially—Christians.

You claim there’s more to the Universe than death and taxes. Why don’t you act like it?

[Read the rest at my Substack newsletter, The Common Man.]

%d bloggers like this: