What would the history of Christian moral and political philosophy have been
like without the enormous influences of Augustine and Aquinas?
The present work does not attempt to answer that question directly, nor does
it offer a systematic refutation of these two thinkers. The point here is to try to
comprehend the earliest Christian ethical teachings in their original social and
historical contexts, before those teachings were subjected to Pauline and medieval
revisionism. So doing has required the excising of at least one great (but negative)
contribution of the two greatest medieval theologians: the "just war" doctrine of
Augustine,1 and the "divinely-sanctioned coercive state" doctrine of Aquinas.2
Nothing in the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth suggests that he embraced
either doctrine of violence. (War, that is, is overt violence, whereas coercion is
the threat of violence.) If Jesus embraced an ethic of ideal means, then he could
not have believed in either violence or the threat of violence, which together make
up the foundation of the coercive state. If, to the contrary, one accepts the idea
that the coercive state is a divinely-sanctioned institution (as Paul suggests in
Romans 13), then the doctrines of the "just war" and of "justifiable punishment"
follow logically enough as being necessary for the survival and maintenance of that
Augustine actually believed in both doctrines, although it was Aquinas who
gave us the most refined statement of the theory of the divinely-sanctioned state.
The influence of Paul is also evident in the writings of both thinkers, although the
Pauline influence can be seen most clearly in Aquinas.
What follows can be seen as the beginnings of an attempt to reconstruct the
teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as part of a unique and systematic body of social
thought based on the ag pe idea of unconditional love and a concomitant
requirement always to respond to evil with good. This ag pe principle (the
foundation of a uniquely Christian interpretation of the "golden rule") would seem
to require excising not only the premises of Augustine and Aquinas, but the scrip-
tural warrant of Paul upon which the doctrines of both political philosophers rest.
The following tentative attempt at a reconstruction of the views of Jesus of
Nazareth is not a formal treatise, but is instead a series of exploratory short essays
and aphorisms which address many long-standing issues in all areas of Christian
ethics, with particular emphasis on the use of state-sanctioned violence. What
follows thus does not so much try to disprove the "just war" and "divinely-
sanctioned coercive state" theories as it assumes their falsity by assuming the
absolute validity of non-violent, ideal means and seeing what the implications
might be for a number of enduring social questions. As an intellectual exercise,
what follows can thus be seen to be a "rationalist experiment," for it asks the
reader to imagine what the philosophical--and social--legacy of Christianity would
have been without the now standard buttresses of the "just war" and "divinely-
sanctioned state" doctrines. In the larger philosophical context, what follows is
also a running critique of social contract theory. The ag pe concept is thus the
ethical frame of reference for critiquing both the "just war" tradition and the larger
contractual tradition out of which much statist thinking has emerged.
This speculative theoretical experiment assumes the absolute validity of non-
violent (and non-threatening, non-coercive) means on the grounds that only ideal
means would have been worthy of God or God Incarnate: God Incarnate, that is,
would have had something very distinctive to say, something which would surely
distinguish his teachings from those of all imperfect human beings. The hidden
premise, then, is that a Perfect Being would recommend and use only the most
ideal means in dealings with other persons. The implications and conclusions
derived from this assumption should point toward a more authentically Christian
interpretation of the myriad issues of social and political theory, culminating (one
hopes) in someone's success in achieving a formal theoretical reconstruction of
what one might call "the social and political philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth" from
the biblical fragments of his teachings.
What follows may also indicate what kinds of radical insights are possible when
critical thinkers decide to put the medieval Christian tradition behind them once
and for all and move toward a mature and robust faith in the One who was truly
deserving of the title, "The Prince of Peace."