“The Problem of Service to Unjust Regimes in Augustine’s City of God”

Burnell, Peter. “The Problem of Service to Unjust Regimes in Augustine’s City of God.” Journal of the History of Ideals, Vol. 54 (1993), pp. 177-88.  


“The ethical principles of civil life were matters of great concern to Augustine, but his opinions (actual or supposed) in this area, and two in particular, have tended to be unattractive to the contemporary mind: his undoubted support of religious persecution ad his apparent willingness to regard as a duty acquiescence in the civil injustices perpetrated by established authorities.’ These are distinct issues, the latter being the subject of this article, but they cannot be treated quite separately. They originated near the opposite extremes of Christian civil experience-the doctrine of compliance to unjust regimes (at least from St. Peter on) in the martyred church; support for religious persecution in the later, privileged church of Augustine’s own time (indeed, in Augustine’s own writings)-and yet it was especially in justifying religious coercion (of the Donatists) that Augustine elaborated his views on the main ethical principles of civil life. Since those views must be basic to any discussion of politics in his thought, an outline of them will be necessary as a preliminary here.”