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IMMORTALITY AND THE POLITICAL LIFE OF MAN IN ALBERTUS MAGNUS THE LONG YEARS from the death of Augustine to the ediscovery of Aristotle in the West witnessed the deelopment of Roman Law, the Gelasian theory of temporal and spiritual power, the theory of medieval monarchy ws found in people like John of Salisbury, and the establishment of the feudal structure itself. Likewise, the establishment and growth of the religious orders created a new type of organization which was to provide many ideas for civil political practice. From the standpoint of political theory, these years are not of major significance when compared to the Greek, Augu,stinian, or the great scholastic theories. Nevertheless , the development of the feudal pattern with its ever growing confusion between the realm of the spiritual and the realm of the temporal emphasized a problem of great significance for political theory.1 Plotinus and Augustine, the last truly great pagan philosopher and the first universal Western Doctor of the Church, both had, to a greater or lesser degree, emphasized the contemplative order and its primacy. But there proved to be a danger in overemphasizing the importance of the next life for man. This world, wherein man was to work out his salvation, which to be sure was not political in its essence, could very easily be ignored or simply rejected. All of society's energy could be placed in attaining the next life. Since the solution of Plotinus became practically irrelevant in Western society as a real 1 See Heinrich A. Rommen, The State and Catholic Thought (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1945), pp. 521-36; Charles Howard Mcllwain, Growth of Political Thought in the West (New York: Macmillan, 1932); R. W. and A. J. Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Thought in the West (Edinburgh : Blackwood, 1928), 6 vols. 535 JAMES V. SCHALL, S.J. movement, the terms of the emphasis became exclusively Christian. The danger of the Christian over-emphasis on the next life, as someone like Hannah Arendt would suggest, was that politics would be undermined. The danger of the Christian message was that it co~ld make the political life of man on earth irrelevant.2 The only thing that mattered was, in an extreme view, the next life. Hannah Arendt's contention raises one of the most significant and perplexing questions in political theory, namely, the relationship between personal immortality and the public life. Arendt suggested that the contemplative life, especially in its Christian context, cut off the very life-blood of the political order as the Greeks saw it, that is, the hope of an earthly "immortality " and the record of heroic deeds and words. For the Christian, such things were merely vanity because his kingdom was not of this world.3 But does the Christian belief in immortality in its own terms, both as resurrection and as an explanation of personal continuity until this restored condition, necessarily render the deeds of this world transitory? Or is it what ultimately renders them possible in their own right? Certainly , one can point to trends in Christian history which would seem to suggest the former alternative. Yet, another interpretation of the importance of the contemplative life or immortality can be held. Indeed, it was the contention of Aristotle that politics needed speculative rectitude before it could exercise its own proper function. This was so because political life might easily become a search for immortality in this life if politics did not recognize the limits of this life and the nature of the contemplative order. 2 Hannah Arendt, The Hurnan Condition (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1959), pp. 20-21, 50. a Ibid., pp. 286-90. In this connection, I found the discussion of Fr. Benedict T. Viviano, 0. P., on "The Kingdom of God in Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas," (The Thornist, October, 1980), pp. 502-22, to have missed the central significance of Albert's (and Thomas's) work in political theory. Viviano's study, for all its caution, still seemed to imply that the Kingdom of God was to have a political embodiment on earth and that neither Albert nor Thomas could see this because of their own...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 535-565
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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