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Justice in City of God

Justice, both earthly and transcendental, is an important point of differentiation between the two in City of God.  “Justice,” says Augustine, “is that virtue which gives every one his due.” This involves paying due respect to God’s ontological hierarchy by engaging in the organization of “service”.  One must serve God, not one’s own fleshy desires.  Justice in City of GodWhen one serves God aright, one’s soul exercises dominion over the body.  Within the soul reason must exercise dominion over “…the passions and other vicious parts of the soul…”.  Two things are noteworthy about this conception of justice.  First, there is no egalitarianism in it.  Things are organized in a hierarchy in which the higher have dominion over the lower and the lower serve the higher. The vices must be dominated by reason; the individual must serve God. “Servitude,” says Augustine, “is useful…and to serve God is useful to all.” Secondly, the soul is a little landscape in and of itself. It is not homogenous, but has definite parts and its own internal hierarchy.

Earthly justice is a consequence of the spiritual justice discussed in the above paragraph.  Here Augustine strays into politics.  The first eleven books of the City of God had dealt with the reason for Rome’s fall.  Markus has noted that “The state was, for Augustine, synonymous with the Roman Empire…”. The Empire is not synonymous with the city of man, but it is the archetype of what human beings manage to create in the way of political organizations and Augustine is highly critical of it. If a republic is defined as a weal of the people, “…then there never was a Roman republic, for the people’s weal was never attained among the Romans…”. For the “people” is defined as assemblage of persons who are bound together by a “…common acknowledgement of right and by a community of interests…”. But where there is not justice there can be no right; where there is no right there can be no assemblage of people bound together by common acknowledgement of it; and hence there can be no such thing as “a people”.

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