A Christmas Meditation: St. Augustine on the National Question

By  Chilton Williamson Jr.

“Keep order in space,
And order in time,

For disorder is chaos,

And chaos is crime.”

—Anonymous

This Christmas Eve, I will be attending mass at my
parish church,

St. Laurence O`Toole

in Laramie, Wyoming.

Our parish is one of those big enough to sustain
Perpetual, round-the-clock, Adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament, a practice encouraged in the Roman Catholic
Church, believing as we do in the True Presence of
Christ in the consecrated communion host.  I generally
visit on Friday mornings, between nine and ten.
Remembering

St. Theresa of Avila
, who was unable to pray for
sixteen years without a book in her hand, I make a habit
of bringing something to read. For the past year it`s
been Augustine of Hippo`s

City of God
.

This is a book as worldly-wise as it is impressively
spiritual. Written between 413 and 426 A.D., while the
Roman Empire was being

overrun by barbarian armies
,
this work of more than a thousand pages describes the
human world as divided between two cities, the City of
God and the City of Man. They exist side by side and
intermingled. One is comprised of God`s people, the
pilgrim Church on Earth. The other is devoted to the
ways of man. Each has its distinct and separate destiny
awaiting it at the end of the world. But until then,
they are linked together in a perplexing and often
frustrating symbiosis.

As one of the towering works of the human intellect,
City of God is a book to be studied, not read,
certainly with a pen and perhaps also a notebook at hand
to mark passages with and jot down annotations. The
scope of St. Augustine`s mind and his breadth of
learning are immense. They propel the book from one
level to the next, without losing sight of what has gone
before. Perhaps because it was so many years in
composition, City of God — like life itself —
seems to proceed by phases, each one marked strongly by
distinguishing themes as well as, at times, by a
distinctive tone.

It was in the middle of

Book XX
, some 900 pages into my Pelican Classics
edition, that I experienced an instance of intellectual
déjà vu. I was aware, suddenly, of
treading familiar ground, although I had never set foot
in this place before.

The most likely explanation, of course, was that

Augustine
had
repeated himself now and again in the course of the
previous nineteen books, and that my subconscious had
finally taken due note of the fact. Curiously, I scanned
a couple of hundred pages back, paying special attention
to the marked passages. What I discovered was not
repetition but rather a number of extended disquisitions
– yet another argument pursued, disconnectedly but most
definitely, by the author.

It was nothing less than a fifth-century precursor of
the modern debate on maintaining distinct national
identities and preserving the integrity of the Western
world–what VDARE.COM calls the

“National Question.”

Connect these passages. What do we have but a strong
suggestion that St. Augustine – one of the most
influential Fathers of the Church–held a view much
closer to that of us present-day anti-globalist,
anti-immigration reactionaries than to the universalist
dream that all too many Christians have been persuaded
is integral to their faith?

In

Book XIX
, Chapter 21, Augustine explains why a Roman
Commonwealth as defined by Scipio in Cicero`s On the
Republic
never existed. Scipio`s brief definition of
the state or commonwealth was “the weal of the people.”
He described “the people” as a multitude “united in
association by a common sense of right and a community
of interest.” No state, Scipio argued, can be maintained
without justice, while without true justice there can be
no right.

“Therefore,” Augustine concludes, where there is no
true justice there can be

 no “association of men
united by a common sense of right,” and therefore no
people answering to the definition of Scipio, or Cicero.
And if there is no people then there is no “weal of the
people,” but some kind of mob, not deserving the name of
a people. If, therefore, a commonwealth is the “weal of
the people,” and if a people does not exist where
there is no “association by a common sense of right”

[my italics], and there is no right where there is no
justice, the irresistible conclusion is that where there
is no justice there is no commonwealth.
 

Here is a remarkable anticipation of John Jay`s
explanation, in

The Federalist Papers
, of why an American
federal union could work: because there was “one
connected country [given] to one united people—a people
descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same
language, professing the same religion [my
italics], attached to the same principles of government,
very similar in manners and customs” (The Federalist
No.2)!

ii.) Augustine agreed with the ancient philosophers
that the life of the wise man should be social. “For…how
could that City [of God] have made its first start, how
could it have advanced along its course, if the life of
the saints were not social?” The fundamental requirement
for sociability, he argues, is domestic peace, since
“[a] man`s [most dangerous] enemies are those of his own
household.” Beyond the household, the city or town
represents the next social level, and

[a]fter [them] comes the world, which the
philosophers reckon as the third level of human
society….Now the world, like a confluence of water, is
obviously more full of danger than the other
communities by reason of its greater size. To begin
with, on this level the diversity of languages
separates man from man….[W]hen men cannot communicate
their thoughts to each other, simply because of
difference of language, all the similarity of their
common human nature is of no avail to unite them in
fellowship. So true is this that a man would be more
cheerful with his dog for company than with a 
foreigner. I shall be told that the Imperial City has
been at pains to impose on conquered peoples not only
her yoke but her language also, as a bond of peace and
fellowship, so that there should be no lack of
interpreters but even a profusion of them. True; but
think of the cost of this achievement! Consider the
scale of those wars, with all that slaughter of human
beings, all the human blood that was shed! (Book
XIX
, Chapters 6-7)

This passage speaks for itself: on the importance of
linguistic (and, by implication, social) differences
among peoples, the awkwardness of a foreign presence in
society; the evils of imperialist policies that create a
polyglot people.

iii.) In his gloss on the Book of Revelation`s
account of the chaos which will precede the end of the
world, Augustine says,

As for the words, “and they went up over the
breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the
saints and the beloved City,” this clearly does not
mean that they have come, or will come, to one place,
as if the camp of the saints and the beloved City are
one and the same place. For these are simply the
Church of Christ spread all over the world. It follows
that wherever the Church is at that time, and it will
be among all the nations–which is the meaning of
“over the breadth of the earth”–there the camp of the
saints will be, and there God`s beloved City. There it
will be
surrounded by its enemies – for they
also will be present with that City, among all nations
– in the savagery of that persecution. That is, the
City will be hemmed in, hard pressed, shut up, in the
straits of tribulation, yet it will not abandon its
warfare, which is here called “the camp.” (Book XX,
Chapter 11)

The vision expressed here seems identical to that
which inspired Jean Raspail`s novel The Camp of the
Saints:
A worldwide assault, less racial than
cultural and religious, against the West and the
Christian religion that, with Hellenism, is one of its
two major components.

iv.) Describing of the fate of the City of Man,
Augustine writes, “The earthly city will not be
everlasting; for when it is condemned to the final
punishment it will no longer be a city.” (Book
XV
, Chapter 4–my italics)

This seems a clear prediction that the destroyer of
the present world will be neither fire nor ice but
social chaos – the end of national identity,

Babel Unbound.

G.K. Chesterton said that the problem with the modern
world is not that it is wrong, but that it is

crazed
. Craze
is a function of modernism`s addiction to and worship of
chaos, the satanic perversion of the divine order
established by God. In City of God, Augustine
shows himself deeply aware that the interests of the
City of God are directly advanced by the encouragement
of worldly peace and order in the City of Man. That is
why St. Paul

tells us
to
pray for our rulers.

And peace and order in the City of Man are furthered
by the recognition of distinctions among individual men
and among the peoples of the earth. If these
distinctions are not observed, the social order of the
earthly city tends to break toward chaos. And chaos, as
pointed out by the anonymous poet who provides my
epigraph, operates to the detriment of the heavenly
city. Its tribulations on earth are only deepened by
social and political turmoil.

Augustine appears to have understood the difficulties
that socially-complicated societies face in maintaining
order and holding chaos at bay – thus securing the
ultimate salvation of the City of God. A degree of
social complexity is not just inevitable, but a part of
God`s plan for humanity. But complexity needs to be
minimized wherever possible. This will ensure the social
order, intellectual coherence, and religious orthodoxy
that the Christian faith requires to accomplish its
task: saving the greatest number of souls – while also
preparing the world as a final offering to be laid at
the feet of Christ Come Again.

As I wrote in

The Immigration Mystique,
“The Western nations,
degenerate as they have become, continue to represent
systems of relative order in a world that succumbs a
little more each day to radical disorder. Can the
salvation of man arise from chaos?”

Consider this final extract from The City Of God:

While the Heavenly City…is on a pilgrimage in
this world, she calls out citizens from all nations
and so collects a society of aliens, speaking all
languages. She takes no account of any differences in
customs, laws, and institutions, by which earthly
peace is achieved and preserved – not that she annuls
or abolishes any of these, rather she maintains them
(for whatever divergences there are among the diverse
nations, those institutions have one aim – earthly
peace), provided that no hindrance is presented
thereby to the religion which teaches that the one and
true God is to be worshipped.(

Book XIX
, Chapter 17)

At first glance, Augustine might be read as
advocating here the creation of the First Universal
Nation comprising “a society of nations, speaking all
languages.”

A closer reading shows, however, that the
“citizens” are called “out” in a spiritual rather than
a physical sense. They are “called out,” not from
within the boundaries of their earthly nations to
create a supernation in some other part of the world,
but from the confinements of their spiritual ignorance
and sin, to bear witness to the God Who Is Truth in
their own lands.

As

John Vinson
points out in a letter in the February
2002 number of

Chronicles
,
“Jesus told His followers to go to
all nations, not to invite all nations.”

Multiculturalism for St. Augustine would not be the
outrageous contradiction in terms as we know it in
America today. It would be the genuine article – what
used to be called the international community, its
international components leavened to a greater or lesser
extent by centers or outposts of the heavenly one.

So remember: If, this Christmas, you hear from your

pastor
or

bishop
that the spirit of brotherly love demands
abolishing our borders and welcoming the entire
population of Congo into the state of Maryland, remind
him that one Very High Up authority–though not visibly
present among us–could tell him differently.

I plan on remembering our readers in my prayers from
St. Laurence on Christmas Eve. And I humbly solicit
their own communications on behalf of all of us at
VDARE.COM, who need them as much as anyone.

Merry Christmas to
all!

Chilton
Williamson Jr.

is the author of The
Immigration Mystique: America`s False Conscience

and an editor and columnist for Chronicles
Magazine, where he writes the The Hundredth Meridian
column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.

December 23, 2001