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“The Kings of the Earth and All Their Subjects”

Several months ago I posted a series of selections from commentaries on Psalm 148:11-12. Augustine alludes to this passage in City of God 2.19 to note that he believes it would be salutary for men of all kinds and conditions–indeed, for all men–to hear and heed the Christian proclamation. And not just salutary for their everlasting souls, for the earthly commonwealth as well. Such a change, he believes, would introduce true justice and virtue into the republic, and “the pinnacle of kingly glory.”

If the kings of the earth and all their subjects, if all princes and judges of the earth, if young men and maidens, old and young, every age, and both sexes; if they whom the Baptist addressed, the publicans and the soldiers, were all together to hearken to and observe the precepts of the Christian religion regarding a just and virtuous life, then should the republic adorn the whole earth with its own felicity, and attain in life everlasting to the pinnacle of kingly glory.  (City of God 2.19)

As he looks around him, however, he is pessimistic as to the accomplishment of this kind of change, due to the ravages of sin, and thus earthly commonwealths muddle along with their approximations of justice.

But because this man listens and that man scoffs, and most are enamored of the blandishments of vice rather than the wholesome severity of virtue, the people of Christ, whatever be their condition— whether they be kings, princes, judges, soldiers, or provincials, rich or poor, bond or free, male or female— are enjoined to endure this earthly republic, wicked and dissolute as it is, that so they may by this endurance win for themselves an eminent place in that most holy and august assembly of angels and republic of heaven, in which the will of God is the law.

However unlikely this possibility appeared to him, though, he acknowledged that the spread of the Gospel in this way and to this extent would be much the best thing.

What to do, then? The best weapon with which to counteract Augustinian pessimism (which has so much evidence in its favor) is prayer, a sentiment with which the Augustine himself would doubtless have agreed. It is Christ himself who instructed that we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

In this regard, one might recall the beginning of a collect from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

O God, the Creatour and Preserver of all mankind, We humbly beseech thee for all sorts, and conditions of men, that thou wouldst be pleased to make thy waies known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Catholick Church, that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians, may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally wee commend to thy Fatherly goodness all those who are any wayes afflicted or distressed in mind body or estate, *[especially those for whom our prayers are desired] that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their severall necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we begg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.