Monday, September 29, 2014

"City of God" XIX.12

Chapter 12:
Taking up the idea of man's search for peace, Augustine writes: "Any man who has examined history and human nature will agree with me that there is no such thing as a human heart that does not crave for joy and peace." The place Augustine turns for this discussion is, seemingly in contradiction to his goal, war. But this makes sense, what is the point of war if not to establish a peace through victory over the enemy. The point of every war is peace; and even those who start wars really just want a different, better peace: "Even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new peace nearer to the heart's desire."

Even criminals or "highwaymen", with all their violence against those they set upon, insist upon peace amongst their own group. The solitary highwayman simply seeks peace himself, and in his home. He demands instant obedience from those under his power, and hides his true nature from those whom he does not control. If he were given power in a state or kingdom, then that side of himself which he keeps hidden would be thrust out for the whole world to see. "Thus it is that all men want peace in their own society, and all want it in their own way." We will never settle for anything less than being masters of our own lives according to our own wills. However rough or violent a person may be (Augustine uses the example of Cacus from the Aeneid), the goal is still demonstrably peace.

Animals likewise show this desire, albeit in their own limited way. We of course are not animals, and extend this desire for peace to society. When our society is at war, we wish to be at peace with ourselves and to eventually bring the whole world into the peace of our society.
Of course, the only means such a conqueror knows is to have all men so fear or love him that they will accept the peace which he imposes. For so does pride perversely copy God. Sinful man hates the equality of all men under God and, as though he were God, loves to impose his sovereignty on his fellow men. He hates the peace of God which is just and prefers his own peace which is unjust. However, he is powerless not to love peace of some sort. For, no man's sin is so unnatural as to wipe out all traces whatsoever of human nature. 
We all crave peace and we all demand that it be the peace we want. Yet we still have to contend with reality. No human being in this life is so fallen as to be as bad as possible, which means that we have to reconcile our own wicked desire with the truths we recognize about justice and the real world. Augustine is not here discounting the effect or reality of sin, he is contrasting human sin to the steadfast persistence of the goodness of God's creation.

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