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The Saeculum and seeking peace

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

  1. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Augustine and the Limits of Politics, p. 105

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.

One reply on “The Saeculum and seeking peace”

How troubling the ‘saeculum’ has been in history. Even more so from the time when the Western church divided the world into the sacred precincts and the secular. This split human knowledge forever and we are still trying to recover. As knowledge in the secular arena of life has been pursued, the religious magisterium has lost ground. Religious pronouncements have to be accepted on the basis of authority. The secular led the way to science and demands to verify, test and confirm NOT just debate which authority is correct! Now we cannot be rid of ‘modernity’ and we cannot return to Augustine, Aquinas, et al sadly!

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