Friday, May 8, 2009

Peter Liethart on Yoder on Augustine

Peter Liethart has been reading Yoder's War, Peace and Revolution, which has recently been published for the first time by Brazos Press. (It was originally written in the early 60's as lectures for a class on the history of war and peace that used Roland Bainton's book as the text.)

Anyway, here is Liethart's take on Yoder's understanding of Augustine:

"Yoder is a sometimes bizarre combination of profound insight and infuriating oversimplification verging on ignorance. He claims, for instance, that Augustine offers “a consensus kind of moral thought,” a moral thought based on “what everybody thinks.”

He goes on: Augustine “does not radically ask, do you get that from the Bible? Can you get that from revelation? It does not ask, can you get that from Plato? It just asks, does that make sense to all of us? Is it part of our cultural agreement?”

This doesn’t count as a fair summary of Augustine by any standards. But it gets worse:
“Augustine’s thought merges New Testament reconciliation language with classical peace language and Roman order language, as if they were all the same thing. Rome, nature, and providence are all seen as essentially the same. Religion celebrates the unity of everything and the way things are.”

This is baffling. ”Merging” the NT language of peace with “Roman order” is precisely what Augustine is not doing. His whole point is to distinguish the tranquilitas ordinis of the temporal city with the genuine shalom of the kingdom. Yoder objects to Augustine’s eschatology on other grounds, but that doesn’t count as a “merger” of Rome with Christian peace.

To suggest that Augustine “celebrates” the way things are is equally baffling. Augustine does have a word to say about the deep distortions of desire and order caused by sin. And he hardly thinks that Rome as such is something to be celebrated. Milbank is right to say that Augustine is involved in a profound deconstruction of Roman virtue."

Ouch, that hurt - the truth, I mean. The truth hurts, Peter. Let's just agree that among Yoder's many accomplishments we won't list "scholar of Augustine" among them.

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