Don’t ask me why, but I recently began reading “The City of God” by St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in the 5th Century, more known for his “Confessions”, and I was in shocked from the beginning realizing how right for our time is that compilation of books. Now, all of them are “living” in my iPad with some novels, and a lot of documents and reports about international politics. A new neighborhood, I guess. I’m not a scholar theologian, or philosopher, but I was always been intrigued by this man, Augustine, capable to recognize his faults, and even write a book about them.
There is not easy to find in the public scene someone like that. Nowadays public people usually cover their faults, some to the point that they finally find themselves dragged to the courts if they live in a Country with a somehow functional Justice System. Or they would argue that faults are virtues, mislead or lie and get away with their loot.
When I began reading “The City of God” I got astonished. I found myself thinking in our worldwide social and economic crisis, wars, revolutions, and in Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, as the powerful of the western world of today.
And what made me think on them reading a great author from the Fifth Century? The fact that Augustine, who had a huge amount of knowledge and culture, was living in probably one of the biggest Civilization crisis: the falling of Rome. And he had the knowledge of how happened the fall of the other great Civilization, the Greek.
Maybe Obama and Merkel could take advantage of the experience and knowledge of Augustine who witnessed the fall of RomeThe description of the society in what he was living is surprisingly familiar: governments reaching protection in what then where “gods” conquered to the Greek who couldn’t protect their people, but instead needed protection by the people. Today we would talk about “gods” made by humans (money, power, celebrity, made up needs and other marvels of our society). He even wrote about people doing wrong with “salary from the public purse” and “other honors”. Things have not changed so much in 1,500 years.
Augustine also wrote about war, the ancient wars and the wars he knew directly with the barbarians’ advance, the trembling down of Rome. How in all that violence, the “laws of war” were not kept, and people who took refuge in shrines massacred, innocent women raped, innocent children killed… Sounds familiar?
Maybe Obama and Merkel could take advantage of the experience and knowledge of Augustine, who witnessed that big crisis 1,500 years ago, and concluded that it was a mistake to reach protection only in what’s material and subject of corruption, but it was time to put in the proper place the values who are permanent, eternal (personal liberty, life, dignity of every human being, faith in God). Values made great Democracy and they don’t perish, they prevail. That’s why if this global society of us doesn’t provide space for values will crash because people can’t live without them. We are proud of the progress of humanity, but a human being is a human being and has the same greatness and faults now and then, back in the Fifth Century.
The truth is that from the Augustinian times, the Greek Civilization is gone, reduced to ruins and the country is now a struggling state in a deep economic crisis, trying to pay its debts with the European Union and somehow despised by the “Big Fishes” of Brussels. And what to say about Rome? more of the same: ruins, big trouble and shame after years of Berlusconi.
And what has survived is the culture the ancient Greek and Romans left us, Christianity and its values.
I wonder what would leave to the generations to come as a heritage our time of profound crisis.