In book 19, Augustine deals with humanity’s search for peace. Everyone wants peace and is constantly searching for it. Augustine goes into great detail to show how even the most bloodthirsty warriors are really after peace. Everyone wants peace because God designed us to be at peace with Him, with each other, and within ourselves. And yet, as we saw in our last post, life is filled with misery and pain, and peace is not fully possible until the end of history – in eternity we will really get peace; for now we have attempts and imitations. True peace is only possible where everything and everyone works within the God-given order of things and everyone gives and receives what they must give and receive. The two cities – the City of God and the City of Man – both work for earthly peace, but they are in conflict because the City of God constantly submits earthly peace to eternal peace. Peace now is only a reflection and a service of peace in eternity.
In service of peace, both cities pursue a kind of justice. Again, the cities are in conflict over what that justice looks like. Justice means everything in its ordered place and functioning as it is meant to function. Augustine’s great argument here is that true justice begins with God receiving the worship that He deserves. In the Roman system, and in every government or state of the City of Man, God does not get the worship He deserves and therefore there is no true justice. All justice in the City of Man is provisional, or conditional, or bounded, or incomplete. There is no true justice in the City of Man because the City rejects the heart of justice itself – submission to and worship of God. We get a nice summary of this in chapter 23:
“Thus, justice is found where the one supreme God rules an obedient City according to His grace, so that it sacrifices to none but Him; and where, in consequence, the soul rules the body in all men who belong to that City and obey God, and the reason faithfully rules the vices in lawful order. In that City, both the individual just man and the community and people of the just live by faith, which works by love: by that love with which a man loves God as God ought to be loved, and his neighbor as himself.”
Without all of that – a common understanding of justice and peace, and a people learning to pursue justice and peace together in humility and submission to God – a nation is not even properly called just. It’s just a collection of people living in injustice and learning to love false loves. And such is every nation.