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Expectations of Justice in the Age of Augustine

By Kevin Uhalde

Publication Year: 2011

Augustine, bishop of Hippo between 395 and 430, and his fellow bishops lived and worked through massive shifts in politics, society, and religion. Christian bishops were frequently asked to serve as intellectuals, legislators, judges, and pastors—roles and responsibilities that often conflicted with one another and made it difficult for bishops to be effective leaders. Expectations of Justice in the Age of Augustine examines these roles and the ways bishops struggled to fulfill (or failed to fulfill) them, as well as the philosophical conclusions they drew from their experience in everyday affairs, such as oath-swearing, and in the administration of penance.

Augustine and his near contemporaries were no more or less successful at handling the administration of justice than other late antique or early medieval officials. When bishops served in judicial capacities, they experienced firsthand the complex inner workings of legal procedures and social conflicts, as well as the fallibility of human communities. Bishops represented divine justice while simultaneously engaging in and even presiding over the sorts of activities that animated society—business deals, litigations, gossip, and violence—but also made justice hard to come by.

Kevin Uhalde argues that serving as judges, even informally, compelled bishops to question whether anyone could be guaranteed justice on earth, even from the leaders of the Christian church. As a result, their ideals of divine justice fundamentally changed in order to accommodate the unpleasant reality of worldly justice and its failings. This philosophical shift resonated in Christian thought and life for centuries afterward and directly affected religious life, from the performance of penance to the way people conceived of the Final Judgment.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. C-ii

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-15

THE LIFE OF Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodoms Senator (4-85/90-ca. 580), best known simply as Cassiodoms, epitomized the age of transition in which he lived. One foot rested in the ancient past, for Cassiodoms had impeccable credentials as a late Roman aristocrat. While still a young man,...

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1. Calumny: Well-Known Reasons Why Justice Fails

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pp. 16-43

CHRISTIANS EXPERIENCED JUSTICE the same as everyone else in the ancient and medieval worlds. For ordinary people, this meant that the laws that protected them could also cause them injury if the laws were manipulated by crafty people, perverted by corrupt officials, or bungled by inept judges. For administrators ofjustice, including lawmakers and judges in the church,...

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2. "Judge like God": What Bishops Claimed to Expect of Themselves

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pp. 44-76

CHRISTIAN LEADERS CRAFTED THEIR AUTHORITY around the promise of justice. Bishops' social background, elite culture, and ascetic discipline were all important factors in the formation of their image as religious leaders, and all ofthese have been well treated in recent scholarship. Here, however,...

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3. Christian Oaths: A Case Study in Practicality over Doctrine

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pp. 77-104

ALTHOUGH POPULAR RESPONSES to intellectual and institutional developments are difficult to trace, we are able to reconstruct the demands that led one famous church leader to bend his ideology to accommodate social reality. Here Augustine of Hippo's attitudes toward the swearing of oaths is examined over the course of his long career as a bishop. During this...

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4. Mercy Not Justice: How Penance Became a Worthy Act of Self-Incrimination

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pp. 105-134

JUSTICE WAS A LONG PROCESS whose outcome no one could be certain of surviving until the final verdict was rendered. This chapter will argue that some pastors shaped the practice of penance, the means by which Christians atoned for sins and sought redemption, around the mandate that Christians become their own judges. While bishops remained the watchmen ...

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pp. 135-138

"IDEOLOGY HAS CONFRONTED REALITY, and ideology has bent." So a modern political analyst commented on the "exhaustion of power" within a contemporary presidential administration whose ideological convictions, he believed, had fouled its effectiveness.1 One and a half millennia ago, bent....

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 139-142


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pp. 143-196


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pp. 197-226


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pp. 227-232


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p. 233-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203035
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812239874

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011