Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How did Christians end up buying in on the idea of using coercion?

This essay lays it on the doorstep of St. Augustine.

14 comments:

Crude said...

Christians ended up buying in on mingling state power with clerical power in large part because they had no choice in the matter. They were, for a long time, the only meaningful structure of civilization left standing in the West.

If tomorrow every world government was basically reduced to bandits and clans, and the only group around with a more meaningful cohesion and order was the Orthodox Church, should we really be surprised if before long the Orthodox are running the show? Even the Amish would have trouble not getting handed power by default in that situation.

B. Prokop said...

Crude is correct. We don't appreciate how desperate the world situation was in Augustine's time. An equivalent circumstance today would be the simultaneous collapse of every government between Moscow and Washington, replaced by an almost unimaginable power vacuum. Yes, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire was still alive and very healthy (largely thanks to what we today call the Orthodox Church), but that might as well have been (in Augustine's century) on the far side of the Moon. Something was needed to quite literally save civilization, and the Church stepped up to the plate.

Far from the contemporary atheist unhistorical caricature of the Medieval Church somehow bringing on the "Dark Ages", the exact opposite was the actual truth. The Church was the only thing that prevented Western Europe from descending everywhere into utter barbarism. Indeed, the only places where such did occur (as in Anglo-Saxon Britain) were where the Church failed to maintain any hold. In every area that it did manage to prosper, civilization was maintained.

A useful analogy might be to think of early Medieval Europe as having suffered a massive, continent-wide power outage, and the only people who had generators running and the lights still on were the churches.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Dave Duffy said...

Bob and Crude, the author of the essay understands your point and calls it "easy":

"It is easy, of course, to sympathize with Augustine, given the age in which he lived. For in his last days a Vandal army, estimated at 80,000 men who were following the doctrines of Arius, moved from Spain into africa, everywhere destroying churches and monasteries. Catholic priests and virgins were disemboweled; bishops burned alive. There was desolation from Tangier to Tripoli. "Who could have believed such a thing!" Augustine wrote. "They ravage and pillage, change into a desert this prosperous and populous land. Not even a single fruit tree remains standing." Errors were not merely errors, as Augustine saw them, but often led to the most brutal butchery. In this light, we can understand Augustine's reasons for allying the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Caesar. For mankind was about to enter into the long night of barbarism."

What do you make of the point he was trying to make in his essay:

"Nevertheless, Augustine's marriage of church and state was counter to the entire spirit of the New Testament, and ultimately failed."

B. Prokop said...

"and ultimately failed"

Everything that Man does ultimately fails. Witness Tolkien:

[And Gimli said], 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.'

'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for.'

Jezu ufam tobie!

Dave Duffy said...

The problem is not that Man does ultimately fail (he very often has success), but that he uses some of his accomplishments for ungodly ends. Is there any great invention that has not been used by some for evil purposes? Perhaps, that's what you mean by ultimate failure.

Crude said...

Dave,

Bob and Crude, the author of the essay understands your point and calls it "easy":

Except it's not easy. I'm not talking about mere self-defense - I'm talking about a breakdown of meaningful civilization across the board. The church had the structure, the dedication and the will that was needed (along with some blessings.) Before long, it had secular power practically as a necessity.

More than that - when eventually something resembling a government did rise up, those same secular forces viewed the Church, and adherence to a single faith, as essential to their stability and prosperity. Hart ominously references the Spanish inquisitions, and like everyone else leaves out the fact that the goal in that case was to make sure that certain self-identified Catholics were sincere in their faith, precisely because some people had previously masqueraded as allies to the Church, sold them out, and ended up being slaughtered in war.

The Donatists weren't as nice as Hart paints them as, and really, Hart's only real line of attack here hinges crucially on 'Donatists were all great noble pure people!'

oozzielionel said...

There are several levels to the application of coercion. 1) Political coercion to enforce civil laws. In Augustine's time, religious issues were not separated from the secular as we do now. As described above, the church became the political power due to a vacuum of civil government. 2) Religious coercion of Christians in response to apostasy. This was the focus of the Donatist council that Augustine led. This would also be the primary focus of the later Inquistion. Coupled with the political power of the church, civil punishments were used on religious issues and religious rebellion was the same as political rebellion. 3) Forced conversion was not attributed to Augustine in the article, but may be implied by the OP. No doubt, forced conversions were attempted at the level of the family unit and locally. It would be very difficult to defend theologically. The Muslim advance even tried to avoid blatant coerced conversion, instead imposing a tax and other social pressures. We should be slow to evaluate according to our current views of freedom and self determination.

B. Prokop said...

Augustine lived in one of those truly pivotal moments in history, where nothing was ever the same afterwards. There haven't been all that many of them. In fact by my reckoning, there have been only four; the first being Alexander's conquest of the known world (thus ending the Ancient World and inaugurating the Classical Era), the lifetime of Augustine (which saw the effective end of the Roman Empire and the seeds of what would eventually be the Middle Ages), the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (which shattered all existing political theory and saw the birth of the modern nation state), and the near simultaneous collapse of the Soviet Union and rise of the Eurozone (which ushered in today's Global economy - presumably the New World Order for the next several centuries).

It is impossible to understand Augustine without fully grasping the world in which he lived. But it ought to help that we are ourselves living in just such a time as his. There is no denying that Augustine is one of the towering figures of World History, surely one of the 10 or 12 most influential people of All Time.

The old order changeth yielding place to new
And God fulfills Himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world

(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Makes me wonder just who is the Augustine for our era. Perhaps he has not revealed himself yet. I suspect he will (like Augustine) emerge from the fringes of "Civilization". Most likely Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Dave Duffy said...

"the Spanish inquisitions... some people had previously masqueraded as allies to the Church, sold them out, and ended up being slaughtered in war."

Help me out here Crude. I haven't thought much about this event since my class in Western Civilization about thirty years ago. Although the inquisitions come up frequently in discussions with friends who, with a wave of the hand, dismiss the faith. I assume it is just an excuse for some deeper problems with Christianity.

I don't know the events you are describing, please tell.

Crude said...

Dave,

Help me out here Crude. I haven't thought much about this event since my class in Western Civilization about thirty years ago. Although the inquisitions come up frequently in discussions with friends who, with a wave of the hand, dismiss the faith. I assume it is just an excuse for some deeper problems with Christianity.

Probably the quickest route to finding out what they really think about the Spanish Inquisition is to ask them how many died during it, and how long did it last.

Then, when you inevitably have to correct them, see if it means a thing to them.

Ilíon said...

Along with whatever political and historical factors contributed to Catholicism's "end[ing] up buying into the idea of coercion", one must also add Catholicism's strange view of the sacraments as being acts of sympathetic magic.

All throughout the late classical and medieval period, one can find church councils, in many times and locations, and individual Popes, again and again stating the truth that coercion and forced conversion is inherently contrary to Christianity.

Alongside this, one can also continuously see the bureaucrats of The One True Bureaucracy taking a “What’s done is done” attitude toward specific acts of forced conversions – this is because The One True Bureaucracy insists, contrary to the clear statements of the Bible, that it is the state of having been baptized, rather than the state of one’s response to God, that makes one a Christian. That is, according the TOTB, a human being becomes a Christian not when he ceases to kick against God and instead puts his trust in God’s mercy, but rather when some other human being performs a magical act.

B. Prokop said...

Careful there, Ilion. I wonder whether you're aware that the original definition of "atheist", when the word first appeared in the English language, was "one who denies the efficacy of the Sacraments".

Jezu ufam tobie!

Ilíon said...

Not all that long ago, before the Papal States were incorporated into the State of Italy, it was illegal for a Jewish family to employ Christians as domestics.
*gasp* How awful – what horrible, rank, immoral “discrimination” -- you say … for you are infected by “liberalism”; and even after it is explained *why* that law was in place, and why, given Catholicism’s (false) view of the sacraments, and the Bureaucracy’s refusal to ever admit that it is not the Infallible Voice of God on Earth, such law became a practical necessity, you likely will decline to understand.

That particular law was in place precisely to prevent situations like this.

Now, of course, that situation could also have been avoided by acknowledging that someone else doesn’t have the ability to turn one into a Christian without one’s knowledge, and certainly not against one’s will. But then, to admit that would be to admit that infant baptisms (*) (or Charlemagne’s forced mass-baptisms of the Saxons, as another example) aren’t real baptisms, for the infant so baptized has no understanding of what is being done him, and did not choose to have it done as a public symbol of his conscious repentance of his sinful state.


(*) and, yes, there are Protestants who also refuse to acknowledge the truth on this

B. Prokop said...

I find some Protestants' denial of the efficacy of the Sacraments most curious. After all, we both (Catholics and Protestants) affirm the reality of the Incarnation. By entering physically into this world, God forever raised "mere" matter to the Heavenly plane. Why is it so incredible that physical actions can have a supernatural dimension? Did not Christ's death on the Cross have actual (non-symbolic) effects? When Christ said, "This is my body," did He not mean it? (Heck, even Martin Luther acknowledged as much!) When Paul's handkerchief (Acts 19:12) touched the sick and healed them, was that a "magical act"?

To deny the Sacraments is perilously close to Gnosticism.

Jezu ufam tobie!