The Two Cities:
A Historical past of Christian Politics
by andrew willard jones
emmaus street, 376 pages, $34.95
Writing genuine historical past that can be authentically Catholic has been a difficult enterprise since Cardinal Baronius, if not since St. Augustine. How are we to reconcile the profound and definitive historic penalties of the Incarnation with the apparent incontrovertible fact that sin continues to permeate the Age of the Church? Within the twentieth century, Warren H. Carroll’s A Historical past of Christendom offered a triumphalist account which will fail to persuade any however the transformed; Christopher Dawson’s disparate works are beautiful of their omnicompetence and world-historic connections, however brief on express metaphysical conclusions. Andrew Willard Jones has now taken up the bold activity of writing a Catholic political historical past for the twenty-first century. The fabric of the early chapters was streamed as a collection of talks for the New Polity web site in 2021, and at instances the conversational tone and frequent repetition of this a part of the ebook appear extra applicable for a lecture than for written argument. Nonetheless, The Two Cities presents a concise and accessible account that calls for consideration.
Jones’s argument challenges two basic modern assumptions. First, it rejects the standard narrative of progressive teleology, wherein centuries of rational enlightenment and humanistic values result in our ever extra good secular society. This can be a political historical past in a self-consciously Augustinian body, although maybe Jones is extra optimistic about politics than Augustine ever was. Jones tells a narrative of how human society has approached and receded from the Metropolis of God, and of the methods wherein that progress and decline have formed historical past. This Christian teleology might obscure the difficult particularities of the previous in favor of a grand common narrative, however it additionally presents a problem of its personal to how modern Christians—and particularly Catholics—conceive of their political function and duties.
Second, Jones asks us to reject the very idea of “faith” as a personal concern: Salvation could also be private, however it’s positively not particular person. The aim of politics is due to this fact Augustinian quite than Aristotelian: extra completely to know God and mirror his kingdom on earth. God has revealed this kingdom to us in progressive ages (Nature, Legislation, Grace), with every new dispensation subsuming that which got here earlier than, in order that the entire of the human particular person, in his social in addition to particular person capability, could also be reconciled with him. Simply as all of historical past is progressively gathered up within the kingdom, so our hierarchies right here on earth—from mother and father to kings—cumulatively embody divine authority.
If such a formulation sounds oppressive, Jones argues, that’s as a result of our trendy materialist conceptions—whether or not liberal, socialist, nationalist, or some mixture thereof—can see politics solely by way of energy, quite than by way of their true function, the mediation of God’s love by means of society. This failure of creativeness is hardly shocking, given the exploitation and abuse attribute of the Metropolis of Man all through historical past. However quite than rejecting that metropolis in favor of the Metropolis of God, we’ve settled for the sinful essence of politics. Our makes an attempt to fence it in with ideologies, constitutions, and rights have solely ensnared us additional in a hell of fallen nature—Eliot’s “techniques so good that nobody will must be good.” The aspiration to perfection by means of divine grace on the coronary heart of apostolic society and subsequent Christian polities is deserted.
Jones’s means to liberate himself and the reader from the shackles of contemporary left–proper dichotomies and present an alternate method of understanding political historical past by means of a Catholic lens is exceptional and provoking. This isn’t a “conservative” historical past in a political sense, definitely not a “Christian nationalist” one. (Jones emphatically rejects nationalism as a pagan tendency deadly to Christendom.) Although integralists might discover a lot to rejoice right here, the ebook just isn’t an endorsement of the motion. As an alternative, it acknowledges the variety of political preparations doable in a Christian society and rejects the authoritarian method to Christian conformity that characterised the interval following the Reformation by means of the nineteenth century—and, although Jones doesn’t talk about it, Franco’s Spain within the twentieth.
Jones’s synthesis of the paperwork of the Second Vatican Council inside the wider scope of Catholic custom is cautious and sympathetic—a welcome change from the blithe assertions, within the face of all proof on the contrary, that the council ushered in an uncomplicated renewal of the Church’s mission. He acknowledges, for example, the extent to which conciliar paperwork equivalent to Dignitatis Humanae and Gaudium et Spes seem to cede floor to primarily secular ideas (non secular liberty, the perfectibility of man, and so forth), floor that had been defended at nice value over the course of the Christian custom. Nevertheless, by counting on Lumen Gentium because the interpretive hermeneutic for the entire council, Jones insists on the integrity of the Church as a transformative and all-encompassing neighborhood that should finally convert the Metropolis of Man and produce it inside herself.
All through, Jones’s arguments concerning the sensible, political penalties of Catholicism and deviations from it—pagan, Arian, Protestant, socialist, and so forth—are thought-frightening. The issue, surprisingly, comes with the historic evaluation, which is usually too flat; maybe a greater subtitle is likely to be A Political Theology of Christian Historical past. To be able to protect the holiness of the Metropolis of God, Jones presents the Church Militant as an idealized protagonist, regardless of the persistent and pervasive flaws of its members all through historical past.
As Jones is a medievalist, we might consider his evaluation of the Excessive Center Ages, which he, not surprisingly, sees as a excessive level in Christian historical past—a conclusion to which this reviewer (additionally a medievalist) just isn’t unsympathetic. However maybe a more true Augustinian interpretation would acknowledge basic failures to beat the Metropolis of Man on this interval as in every other: Excessive medieval Christendom was not the Metropolis of God. For instance, Jones’s argument that “the Crusades gave us the notion that warfare ought to not be fanatical, suicidal, homicidal, or primarily based on energy and greed” is astonishingly flawed on each single rely. May they be introduced with it, this conclusion will surely shock the unarmed Muslims, Jews, and Jap Christians who have been minimize down in the course of the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, or the Catholic males, ladies, and youngsters killed at Béziers in 1209. True, these examples are worn-out tropes of anti-Catholic polemic, however they did occur. Regardless of what Jones claims, they have been celebrated by the authors and actors of the crusading motion, together with popes. It is not going to do to omit them in favor of a declare that the Crusades have been the premise for “morality in warfare”: In truth, neither Gratian within the twelfth century nor Aquinas within the thirteenth mentions the Crusades in discussing simply warfare.
Jones is appropriate to say that Christian theologians, from Augustine by means of Aquinas, formed the idea of warfare as topic to ethical constraint, distinguished on this respect from earlier pagan attitudes (although Thucydides’s framing of the Mytilenean debate and the Melian dialogue means that, as soon as once more, such sweeping claims should all the time be certified). However Christian engagement with violence, even when obligatory, can by no means good it. Likewise, St. Louis’s Christian kingdom of France, studied with verve by Jones in Earlier than Church and State, presents regrettable examples of Jew-baiting and persecution, which we will condemn with out succumbing to the temptation to indifferentism inherent in concepts of non secular tolerance.
Jones nods to the fallibility of Christians, after all, and his critiques of sure points of the Church’s historic function, such because the “throne and altar” politics of the nineteenth-century, are insightful. His evaluation is at its greatest as he traces the evolution of conceptions of the Church’s relationship to politics for the reason that French Revolution (a narrative that accounts for half of the ebook). However when assessing Pope Leo XIII’s response to the rise of ideologies within the nineteenth century, for example, he insists that “communities of true Christians are clearly extra sincere, extra caring, extra forgiving, extra oriented towards one another’s good than communities primarily based upon ideological or business ideas.”
This is bound to lift eyebrows, even when “true Christians” carries a lot of the load of this declare. Couldn’t “Christians” get replaced by “liberals” or “socialists” and the assertion be equally defended by the ideology’s proponents? In spite of everything, the dismissive and clichéd response of partisans to the trail of destruction wrought by ideologies is that the Jacobins or Soviets weren’t “true liberals” or “true communists.” Are we merely all ideologues now?
The distinction, after all, is grace, which Jones rightly sees as basic to the Metropolis of God. However although Jones presents a horny rationalization of how immanent grace has labored by means of historical past, a more in-depth take a look at most of the particulars would mar the neat image. In his effort to distinction the seen Metropolis of God and the seen Metropolis of Man, he exaggerates the extent to which the previous has been realized and, arguably, attracts its borders too sharply. Chesterton, against this, acknowledges in Roman opposition to Carthage the broader invisible exercise of grace, which assists the higher components of human nature in struggling towards the more severe. Solzhenitsyn’s extra delicate and deeply Christian statement—that the road between good and evil passes by means of each human coronary heart—steadily feels absent from Jones’s historic account.
Jones’s enchantment—implicit quite than express—to the Weltanschauung of the Center Ages as normative might tempt the reader to a sure nostalgia, a nostalgia that Jones’s concluding chapter acknowledges is unimaginable. To present in to this temptation could be to fall into the identical trendy entice that Jones criticizes all through the ebook: the seek for salvation in techniques and buildings. Christian hierarchies in a Christian society aren’t, in themselves, an answer. A clearer view of the Center Ages would affirm this. Trying on the nice Christian figures of the thirteenth century alone, we discover an age riven by sin, whereby Harmless III quietly rues the Fourth Campaign, Boniface VIII imprisons St. Celestine V, and St. Louis is succeeded by Philip the Truthful. Repentance is all the time an choice, however an choice not all the time taken. Politics, like our salvation, is private and due to this fact susceptible to the abuse of our free will. So what would a political resolution primarily based on grace seem like? Maybe not very like an answer in any respect, however extra like a ceaseless social striving, stumbling, and resurrecting towards God. There isn’t a remaining victory earlier than the Final Judgment, however the metropolis presses ahead anyway.
We’ve got arrived again the place we began in some ways: the Augustinian pilgrimage, however shaded in darker tones than Jones permits. The parallel between political and private salvation persists: We should work out each with concern and trembling, always contrite and repentant. However true contrition requires an sincere reckoning with the sins of the previous.
Nonetheless, if one is ready to return independently to the sources, in all their compromised complexity, with out being scandalized, Jones makes a convincing case for the political penalties of the Church. He ends with a rousing name that ought to shake the Christian reader from acquiescence within the stagnant phrases produced by materialistic assumptions concerning the ordering of society. He urges us as an alternative to cooperate with divine grace as a way to reform the Church and thus the world. The Two Cities is a considerate, imaginative, and obligatory Christian critique of the futile and exhausted politics which have dogged us for hundreds of years. The way in which out is much less clear. Or maybe it’s so clear that we can not see it for what it’s: a humble reliance on the God of affection, a affected person working by means of our social and political progress and failures to make his metropolis—temporally hopeless, however finally sure.
G. E. M. Lippiatt is a lecturer in historical past on the College of Exeter.
Picture by Levan Ramishvili by way of Artistic Commons. Picture cropped.
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