This post will be the continuation of the series on political thoughts, marking also the transition into medieval political thoughts.
The key features of this era can be summed up in 2 words: Kings, Gods. King, as in the monarch, is nothing new but it remained a strong political feature in this era. Gods, as in religions, however, was new. In Rome, Christianity gained traction and in the Arabian peninsula, Islam did. Against this backdrop, people began looking to higher forms of beings that can command more authority from the people than Kings. Inevitably, this led to the clash between religion and politics. Today, we will focus on Christianity as a whole on its impact on the political thinking of that time.
Religion and Politics
As the Church became more powerful, the question of how much the church should intervene in state affairs became relevant. This gave rise to many political thinkers of that time such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Giles of Rome, and Marsilius of Padua.
Religion = Politics
On one extreme end, Augustine of Hippo argued that religion should be synonymous with politics, the same way that the Catholic Church governed the Papal State and the Vatican City today in a Theocracy. His argument stemmed from the comparison between a secular state and a band of robbers as shown below:
His idea of justice, however, was based on the doctrines of Christianity. These doctrines form the Divine laws that govern the “City of God”. He saw that most of us, who do not abide by the Christian doctrines, as sinners, hence we live only in the “City of Earth”. In order for the state to become a “City of God”, it must set laws in accordance to the Christian doctrines. Hence, religion should be synonymous with politics.
Religion and Politics should not be mixed
This is another extreme end of the spectrum that argued for secularism, most notably by Marsilius of Padua. Marsilius borrowed arguments from Aristotle’s Politics to defend his preposition that power is best vested in the people rather than the church. On top of the Aristotelian argument for a rule by people, he also further argued that the Church’s interference was not endorsed in the Bible. “Christ himself denied the clergy any coercive power over people in this world, stressing their roles as teachers.”(The politics book | Hardback, 2013). On this ground, therefore, Marsilius argued against the power of religion over the state.
The Conflicted Duo who tried to strike a middle ground
This duo, namely Thomas Aquinas and his disciple, Giles of Rome, were the ones in the middle of the spectrum. They were both, arguably, philosophers and theologians. This led both of them to attempt a reconciliation of the 2. Mainly inspired by Aristotle’s works, Thomas Aquinas fitted Aristotle’s Virtue Theory into the Christian context, creating the Natural Law Theory. Both theories were already explored in this blog, although they are of substandard language due to my poorer language skills back then. In essence, Aquinas’ Natural Law Theory stemmed from the idea that not everyone reads the Bible, so he thought that God, as a perfect being, must have built in us a moral sense to know what is morally right. He based this “moral sense” on the Natural Law, which is benchmarked on the Basic Goods (refer to the Natural Law Theory post), and derived through logical reasonings. Aquinas saw the direct imposition of divine laws/Christian doctrines on the society through politics as unnatural. Instead, he argued that the state’s responsibility is to refine its inhabitants’ rationality so that they can derive the Natural Laws, thus reaching moral goodness/God indirectly. Although not stated explicitly, what Aquinas and Giles were proposing was probably a mixed constitution with moderate church interference, where the church can act as the moral guiding force but the primary authority still rests with the monarch.
Christianity, on top of the attempt to answer the question of how much the church should interfere in politics, also conceptualized the idea of a Just War. Augustine of Hippo first floated this idea, arguing that a war fought defensively or to restore peace is just. Thomas Aquinas formalized this idea by laying out 3 criterias for a war to be just:
- The intention is to restore peace, not to wage war
- War can only be waged under the authority of the sovereign
- It must benefit the people
The war must also be waged morally, avoiding civilian casualties.
Legacy of Christianity on Religion Vs Politics
Christianity, due to its very rise against the traditional state, raised this debate of religion versus politics that lasts till today. Back then, it remained an ideological force that pushed state towards religiosity. It was only in the next era, The Enlightenment, that church power waned and scientific rationalism took over the political steering wheel from religion.
Legacy of “Just War”
The legacy of Just War, spawned by Christianity, is more profound. The notion of a war that can be just, although with strict principles, led to holy wars and crusades. That is because of human frailty- the desire of wage war for selfish reasons. Rather than waging war to restore peace, humans have used this religious justification as a pretext to wage wars instead. The principles, although strict, remain open to interpretations. What can benefit the people, for instance, can be argued flexibly. Nonetheless, the general criterias of waging a just war can be reflected in attempts to establish peaceful settlements. For instance, the Kellog-Brian Pact and also the founding principles of peace that led to the establishment of the United Nations in post-WWII 1945. Both, however, failed to establish peace based on its own ideals. The principles, although did not prevent the abuse of the concept of Just War, remains the only viable framework to establish inter-state peace.
Christianity, as a religion, sparked debate on how much the church should wield power over the state. Some thinkers thought that a theocracy is apt, some thought that secularism is best, while the most influential ones in that era thought that a balance is optimal. I do not disagree, but these thinkers cannot be more vague. In an attempt to integrate Aristotelian philosophy and poitics with Christianity, they cooked up a seemingly harmonious mix that is only too convenient to be true -probably a commendable attempt to resolve the cognitive dissonance inherent in a theologian-philosopher. Not to mention, religion remains an alienating factor that breeds bigotry and conflict within the nation. The lack of inclusiveness became the downfall of many governments. This is why, after centuries of bloodshed, then humanity reached the stage of The Enlightenment, regretting their folly and indulgences in religious politics. I maintain that religion and politics should be separated as it is a lesson well-learnt, a mistake that should not be repeated. The idea of a Just War can be a contentious one. That is because it has spawned wars, failing to contain it to warfares that fit its ideals. If anything, it was abused as a convenient excuse to wage wars for territories. All in all, the rise of Christianity was a stage in human history that served as one of the lowest points of ideological advancement. Christianity was undeniably a breakthrough in the field of theology, being one the most popular religion practiced from then till today. Was it for good? Morally? That is hard to say because we would have to weigh the damage that it has justified against the moral goodness that it produced – which is neither feasible nor tangible to do so. Politically? it is a definitive no.
The politics book | Hardback (2013) Available at: https://www.dk.com/uk/9781409364450-the-politics-book/ (Accessed: 16 January 2017).