Augustinian and Thomist Engagements with the World

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 83 (3):441-459 (2009)
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Abstract

Neither Augustine nor Aquinas can accept a political order in which religious doctrine as such is barred from serving as an explicit basis of political, legal, and economic norms. Certain twentieth-century commentators indebted (wittingly or not) to Kantianism or to other Enlightenment ideologies ignored this fact, or minimized its importance. Aquinas was misread as a forerunner of modern liberal democracy; Augustine was portrayed, with equal injustice, as seeking to dissuade Christians from participation in the political arena. In reality, the political philosophy of each is consistent with a robust Christian presence in the public square, and is incompatible both with theocracy and with the modern secular state. A better understanding of the distance separating these philosopher-theologians from some of their prominent twentieth-century commentators may shed light on the history of the reception of Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes.

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