Did early Medieval literature encourage Christians to pursue political leadership?

There was little emphasis on early Christian literature in the later times of the Roman empire and the early Medieval period on political leadership. One of the main writers in this time in history was St. Augustine of Hippo. He wrote a book named The City of God, which made a distinction between two different cities: The city of God, and the city of man.  The city of God is made up of Christians, and the city of man is made up of non-believers. Augustine said that Christians are not citizens of this world, but citizens of heaven. He described Christians as pilgrims passing though this world.

Augustine said that peace is the default setting for mankind; something everyone wants and pursues. Even the earthly city desires peace, and they make laws to sustain earthly peace. But, he said, the two cities cannot have the same laws of religion and Christians are compelled to disobey any laws that do conflict with the worship of God and endure any incoming persecution because of it. Otherwise, he denied the possibility of legitimate political reform, and said that all earthly customs, laws, and institutions given by the government should not be changed by Christians as long as the worship of God was not endangered. He said that the city of God draws from all nations, languages, and peoples everywhere, and that we are not to get caught up with political reform. All of these laws, he said, are different ways to obtain earthly peace. The church, he argued, benefits from this peace, and because of it Christians will be able to lead peaceful lives. The church should not oppose, but adopt and adhere to these laws.

In the preface of Hymns from Cathemerinon Liber, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius describes the futility of the high political offices he received from the Roman emperor. He did not talk about how he could have used it better, but only how death will take all of these accomplishments away and how worthless they were. It appears that he regarded his offices as worldly. He also said that age had made him wiser and that he will now pursue things that really matter.

Another possible reason that early Medieval literature did not emphasize political reform is the difficulty to do so in the Roman empire. If Medieval literature encouraged Christians to pursue political leadership, they may have been in danger from the Roman authorities, who were not agreeable to Christians at all in the early days of the Roman empire.

However, despite this apparent trend, it seems like some Christians did hold political offices in the Roman empire and early Medieval times. Some evidence of this is the deprivation of Christians of important offices by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the 4th century during his infamous persecution of the Christians. Diocletian also killed many Christians who refused to sacrifice to the emperor or to the Roman deities. But, a later Roman emperor, Constantine the great, made it possible for Christians to worship freely, and also promoted Christians to high offices. Although in general Christians do not seem to be encouraged to pursue political reform, there still may have been a few Christians who held political offices and may have tried to spread their influence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s