In her Augustine and the Limits of Politics, Jean Bethke Elshtain writes of how Augustine’s conception of this temporal age helps us understand our efforts toward earthly order and peace. They are legitimate, they have meaning, if what we aim and hope for is attainable. This last aspect, the attainability of what we hope for, is fraught with difficulty, of course. None-the-less, here is Elshtain:
The saeculum is here and now. It is in the here and now that war and peace get played out. If the Christian is a disturber of a false peace, he or she yearns for a more authentic representation of earthly peace as that which partakes in the pax aeterna. One can hope for what is possible to obtain. An imperfect but none-the-less real earthly peace lies within the realm of the possible. Peter Brown notes that, for Augustine, saeculum is “all-embracing and inescapable.” The Christian caught in temporality is pressed by “the self-same press as the bad.” The press is Augustine’s analogy to an olive press, squeezing olives for oil. Thus we are pressed. But our life of fellowship—our vita socialis sanctorum—calls us, not to perfection, but to relative peace. The Heavenly City is a perfect vision of peace. But there is earthly work to be done in the name of peace. 1
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