March 12, 2014

The Family Table

Category: Family,History :: Permalink

We take it for granted, perhaps, that families ought to eat together.  The rule may be more honored in the breach than in the observance these days, but it still seems to be understood as the norm.  But it certainly wasn’t always that way.  The family meal wasn’t a feature of Roman society.

Wives and children were not necessarily excluded from every meal, but their involvement — if they were involved at all — was certainly secondary.  Keith Bradley explains:

The overriding impression … which the sources leave — the prevailing ideology one might say — is that no matter whether modest or elaborate, dinner was a meal about which the individual male made an individual decision — to entertain, to eat alone, to respond to an invitation — in a world in which ties of amicitia and hospitium were paramount.  Other household members, wives for example, responded to such decisions as appropriate.  Dinner was not a meal at which the company of family members was automatically and invariably assumed essential or even desirable.  Within innumerable elite households, therefore, many wives and children must have eaten completely apart, in time and place, from their husbands and fathers, and from one another … and when husbands, wives and children did dine together, they did so in ways that continually reinscribed the subordination of the two latter to the former (“The Roman Family at Dinner,” in Inge Nielsen and Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World [Aarhus University Press, 1998], 49).

As he puts it elsewhere, “The fact is that for the Roman family at dinner, there was no common table” (48).  Hanne Sigismund Nielsen agrees: “It is … evident from the literature that meals with spouses and children were of no importance or at least of minor importance….  There is no evidence that the common meal of parents and children played any role at all in constituting them as a family group, a nuclear family in our sense of the word” (“Roman Children at Mealtimes,” 58, 59).

As with mothers nursing their own children instead of giving them to wet nurses (see here), the family meal appears to be another fruit of the gospel in Roman society.  Augustine writes about Psalm 127 (“Like newly planted olives your sons sit around the table”), one passage in Scripture where we see the idea of the family together at a meal.  Nielsen says,  “In his commentaries on the Psalms of David, Augustine makes mention of the family dinner table even though this is not referred to in the text on which he is commenting” (62).

Nielsen sums up his findings: “In pagan Latin literature it is difficult to find any mention of children at mealtimes.  Children begin to be mentioned in early Christian literature, and it was not before that time that the ideal of the parents and children unit became established and cherished” (63).

 

Posted by John Barach @ 3:02 pm | Discuss (0)

Nutrix Natorum

Category: Family,History :: Permalink

In Imperial Rome, mothers rarely breastfed their own children.  According to Hanne Sigismund Nielsen,

The persons mainly responsible for infants and minor children in Imperial Rome were their wet-nurses.  There is reason to believe that most children of almost all status groups spent more than the two first years of their life with their nurse (“Roman Children at Mealtimes,” in Inge Nielsen and Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World [Aarhus University Press, 1998], 66n30).

Among Christians, however, Nielsen claims, things changed.  Augustine “mentions the fact that mothers nursed their children themselves.”  In his commentary on Psalm 130, Augustine says that “a mother feeds her infant child with her own milk which is nothing but meat and bread from the dinner table changed in the mother’s body to a substance more suitable for an infant than meat and bread” (62).  In his Sermon 117, he says something similar: “Was there no food on the table?  Yes, but the infant was not able to share it with the others.  So what does the mother do?” (cited 62).  The family is eating together — something that is itself a huge change from typical Roman culture! — and the mother nurses her child so that the child can share in the family meal.

Nielsen cites an epigram from Rome in which

a Christian woman, Turtura, is commemorated by her husband.  He describes her as deo serviens, unice fidei, amica pacis, castis moribus ornata, communis fidelibus amicis, familiae grata, nutrix natorum et numquam amara marito (“serving God, being of unique faith, a friend of peace, embellished with chastity, unpretentious towards all the faithful, agreeable to her household.  She nursed her own children and was never unpleasant to her husband”) (62).

In short, it appears that as the gospel took hold on Roman society Christian mothers began to nurse their own babies instead of giving them to wet nurses to feed and raise.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:41 pm | Discuss (1)
February 21, 2014

The Problem with “Probably”

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse here, but here’s the flipside of what I wrote earlier about Beza’s claim that thousands of baptized children end up perishing eternally (“How would he know?”): Where does Beza get the idea that a baptized child is probably (but only probably) one of God’s children?

A couple comes to you, their pastor, with a serious question.  A few weeks ago, their four-month old daughter died.  You had baptized her when she was a week old, and now they want to know what value that baptism had.  “Pastor, is our daughter in heaven?”

From Beza’s perspective, I suppose your answer is “Probably.”

“Probably?” they say.  “But you’re not sure?”

“Well,” you respond.  “I can’t say for sure.  It’s not as if baptism gives you that sort of guarantee.  Nor does being born in a Christian home.  Nor do all the prayers you’ve prayed or the prayers we prayed at baptism….”

“So there’s a chance our little girl…?”

“Well, yes,” you say.  “Um … many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally.”

“So our little girl might have too?”

“Perhaps.  Yes, that is possible.  But again, my answer to your question — is our daughter in heaven? — is probably.  Probably God loved her.  Probably she was one of God’s children.  Probably she was adopted into his family.  Probably.”

“But … on what basis can you say that, Pastor?  Given that many thousands of children just like our little daughter do perish — that’s what you said — what makes it probably that ours didn’t?”

And I have no idea what you, if you were following Beza, would say.  What would make it probable?  That baptism engrafts a person into God’s church and covenant?  But in the Old Covenant, we certainly see many covenant members who were apostate.  Perhaps one might say that the New Covenant is so much more powerful and efficacious, and yet we still know of many members of Christ’s church who fall away.

Would it be more probable if the couple asking were strong Christians and less probable if they were weak Christians or if they were living in rebellion, unrepentant, but not yet excommunicated at the time of the baptism?  Is the probability grounded on the parents’ faith? On the faith of the pastor? On the godliness of the church?

But Beza doesn’t go this route.  He doesn’t say “Some are more likely God’s children because of this or that and some are less likely.”  He says of all baptized children that they are probably God’s children.  But … on what basis?  In the end, this “probably” seems like wishful thinking, leaving a grieving parent thinking only “… but possibly not.”  And that’s no comfort at all.

 

Posted by John Barach @ 2:11 pm | Discuss (4)

Baptism Isn’t a Secret Thing

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

In his debate with Jacob Andreae, as reported by Jill Raitt, Theodore Beza often began to bring up predestination.  When he did, Andreae cut him off, telling him that they were dealing with baptism and would come to predestination some other time.  To Andreae, these were clearly two very different subjects.  But from the fact that he kept bringing it up, it seems clear that to Beza it was impossible to discuss the efficacy of baptism without reference to predestination.

That’s worth thinking about.  At the risk of oversimplifying things, it would appear that for Beza baptism is efficacious (at least, to the fullest degree) only for those who are predestined to eternal glory with Christ.  Others who are baptized are included in the covenant, whatever that means exactly, given that Beza  distinguishes being in the covenant from being in God’s family.  But they cannot really draw any comfort or assurance from their baptism per se, nor can they have that comfort for their children who are baptized.  At most, they can know that those children are “probably” loved and adopted by God, though they might be among the thousands that perish.

But can you imagine an Israelite wondering if his circumcision really meant that he belonged to Israel, God’s holy nation, God’s chosen people, God’s royal priesthood?  Of course he belonged.  That’s just what circumcision was.  He didn’t need to have any doubt about it.  Instead, he could be confident about it, completely assured that he was the object of God’s love — and then he could, and should, act on the basis of it.

After all, circumcision wasn’t one of the secret things.  In Deuteronomy 29, Moses says, “The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (29:29).  God gave Israel an obvious ritual, a cutting in the flesh, that marked them out and made them into members of the holy nation because he wanted them to live in terms of their circumcision.  Circumcision wasn’t a secret thing that belonged to Yahweh; it was a thing which was revealed so that Israel could do what she ought to.

And so with baptism.  If we tie the comfort and assurance of baptism to predestination, as Beza did, so that only those who are predestined to eternal glory with Christ can have any comfort, any assurance that they are God’s beloved children, we turn baptism itself — a public, open act — into a “secret thing.”  God knows who is really baptized, who really belongs to his family, but we don’t — and so we cannot live in terms of our baptisms, cannot really look to them for comfort and assurance.  At most, we can live on an entirely speculative “probably.”

But predestination is a secret thing.  Baptism isn’t, and therefore we can — and must — live on the basis of it.  “There should be no doubt that when a child is baptized, it enters into God’s adoption and love, said Andreae.  There should be no ‘probably,’ but rather assurance” (Raitt, 167).

 

Posted by John Barach @ 1:52 pm | Discuss (0)

How Would He Know?

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

The longer I think about Beza’s position expressed at the Colloquy of Montbéliard, the more puzzling it becomes.  Beza “affirmed that many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally.”  But … how would he know?

These aren’t people who were baptized as children and then grew up and apostatized.  Andreae would have granted that apostates perish and wouldn’t have been at all shocked that Beza affirmed that they did.  No, Beza must be speaking of children who die in infancy or at least in early youth, so that we cannot say of these children “They were clearly unbelievers.”  They were baptized; they did not apostatize (at least, that we know of!); and yet Beza is sure that thousands of them perish.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of reasons why Beza would assert such a thing, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything really plausible.  Did Beza perhaps think that any child who is baptized but who has ungodly parents is bound to perish in spite of his baptism?  Would Beza include in that number any child baptized in a Roman Catholic church, which Beza would likely regard as a false and apostate church.  Is that the reasoning behind Beza’s strong — and, to Andreae, shocking — affirmation?  If so, isn’t this close to Donatism, where the efficacy of the sacrament is thought to depend on the godliness of the one administering it?  I find it hard to believe that Beza would hold such a view.

Or is Beza reasoning backwards from the fact that many thousands who are baptized do end up apostate and perish to the idea that there must be many thousands of children who are baptized but who also perish?  Or …?

I really have no idea what could have prompted his claim.  Anyone out there have a suggestion?

Posted by John Barach @ 1:29 pm | Discuss (0)
February 20, 2014

Horrenda Vox

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, at the Colloquy of Montbéliard, Beza “affirmed that many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally” — prompting Andreae, in shock, to write a marginal note: “Horrenda vox.”

Horrenda indeed.

It appears that in some circles, though, this view was identified as the Reformed view.  But it is certainly not the view expressed in the Reformed confessional documents.  The Canons of Dort, in the First Head of Doctrine, Article 17, declare something quite the opposite of what Beza affirms:

We must judge concerning will of God from His Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents.  Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.

“Ought not to doubt” means that, according to the Canons, it is wrong for such parents to doubt that their children, who die in infancy, are elect and saved.  “Don’t do it!” say the Canons.  “Don’t doubt, but believe that your children are among God’s elect and that they are saved from their sin and from death — and believe it because that’s what God’s Word declares.”

But that’s not the only statement about the matter in the Canons of Dort.  In the Conclusion of the Canons, the Synod talks about how some people have tried to “persuade the public” that the Reformed churches teach various things, including that

Many innocent children of believers are torn from their mothers’ breasts and tyrannically thrown into hell, so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any help to them.

That seems to be what Beza thought, when he “affirmed that many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally.”  But the Canons say of this view that it is something “which the Reformed churches not only do not confess but even detest wholeheartedly” (emphasis added).  The Canons, then, agree here with Andreae against Beza: “Horrenda vox!”

Posted by John Barach @ 4:44 pm | Discuss (0)

Beza and Baptismal Assurance

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Sometimes when I read about a debate in the past, I find myself frustrated with both parties.  So it was with Jill Raitt’s summary of the debate between Jacob Andreae and Theodore Beza about baptism at the Colloquy of Montbéliard (“Probably They Are God’s Children: Theodore Beza’s Doctrine of Baptism” in Humanism and Reform [Blackwell, 1991]).  At times, I find myself appreciating a point Beza makes; at other times, Andreae seems to have the upper hand — and at times, the whole debate becomes frustrating.

But perhaps most troubling is what Raitt puts into the title of her essay: Beza’s use of the word “probably.”  Beza “said that infants also probably receive remission of original sin and the fruits of adoption, as long as they do not repudiate these benefits as adults” (159).  Raitt notes that Beza “had always taught, as had Calvin, that the children of believers are probably elect” (159).  But as it turns out, if they did grow up and “repudiate these benefits as adults,” Beza would say that they had never really received the benefits at all.  As Raitt points out,

Were they to repudiate their baptism, they would evidently be reprobate from the beginning.  In that case, they did not receive any benefits from baptism, something that could not be known at the time since, in Reformed theology, the action of the Holy Spirit is God’s secret and cannot be commanded by human actions, even sacramental actions” (159-160).

So, for Beza, “Baptism is … a probable, not a certain, sign that baptized children receive the fruit of adoption.  To say otherwise would be to make God’s choice dependent upon human actions” (164).  In fact, later on Beza went further and “affirmed that many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally” (167) — prompting Andreae, in shock, to write a marginal note: “Horrenda vox.”

Andreae rightly noted that Beza’s approach undermines any comfort we might receive from baptism and, in fact, in grounding assurance on our experience of faith and on feeling “the motion of the Holy Spirit testifying that one is truly regenerated and adopted as a child of God,” Beza was reducing “assurance to subjective feeling” (166).  “Andreae objected that the sacraments would not be sources of comfort if they were merely sources of probability rather than certainty” (164).

In contrast, “There should be no doubt that when a child is baptized, it enters into God’s adoption and love, said Andreae.  There should be no ‘probably,’ but rather assurance” (167).

One does not have to agree with all the details of Andreae’s theology of baptism to grant his main point: Baptism ought to be a comfort, and that comfort is undermined if we add the word “probably” to it.  If baptism only “probably” means that we belong to God, if we are only “probably” baptized into Christ, if our children are only “probably” included in God’s love but could, if they die in infancy, end up perishing, then baptism can no longer function to give — or even to buttress — our assurance and we will end up looking elsewhere.  As history has shown, that “elsewhere” usually turns out to be our own subjective feelings, our own sense that our faith is strong enough, which in the end leads to what Raitt terms a “psychological morass” (168).

 

Posted by John Barach @ 4:32 pm | Discuss (0)

Warrant and Worship

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

I’ve often heard that the early Reformers were opposed to organs and other musical instruments in worship, as well as to art (Scriptural paintings, statutes, sculptures) in churches, to say nothing of the rejection of the Roman Catholic altar in favor of a table.  But it appears that that wasn’t universally the case.

In an essay on the Colloquy of Montbéliard (“Probably They Are God’s Children: Theodore Beza’s Doctrine of Baptism” in Humanism and Reform [Blackwell, 1991]), Jill Raitt points out that Theodore Beza, who was Calvin’s successor in Geneva, agreed with the Lutheran Jacob Andreae “that [Roman Catholic] churches should not be destroyed, that altars used by ‘papists’ could be used by Protestants, that art and music in church services was a matter of prudent judgment.”

The difference was “that while Andreae argued for organs, polyphony, painting, and sculpture, Beza preferred simply psalmody and felt that the Reformed churches were under no obligation to install organs.  As for statues and paintings, Beza said that they were most useful in civil life, but the Reformed preferred not to put them in their churches”  (156).  Beza said “that while artistic representations need not be eliminated from churches, they could do more harm than good, given the tendency in human nature to fall into idolatry” (155).

Moreover,

They agreed that Scripture gave no precise commands that must be obeyed on these matters, since even the specific commandment against graven images was obviously interpreted to allow for statues and other representations in ancient Israel.  On the other hand, while the Psalms mentioned all sorts of musical instruments to praise the Lord, there was no specific command to use any particular instrument or any instruments at all.  The final note sounded by both theologians was that in these matters the churches should exercise Christian liberty.  At the same time, excess in either direction should be avoided so that there would be no cause for scandal (156).

It interests me to see that the two men seem to be working with a very similar “regulative principle of worship” here.  It is sometimes said that the Lutherans and the Reformed had (have!) radically different principles.  For Lutherans, it is said, the principle is “If it isn’t forbidden, it’s permitted in worship,” whereas for the Reformed the principle is “If it isn’t commanded, it’s forbidden in worship.”

But clearly, if Beza agreed with Andreae, he wasn’t working with that principle.  Beza agreed with Andreae that “Scripture gave no precise commands that must be obeyed on these matters” and therefore “churches should exercise Christian liberty,” albeit with wisdom so as to avoid excesses and cause scandal.  For instance, Scripture doesn’t prohibit statues in church and therefore they are allowed (“need not be eliminated”).  That is an “If it isn’t forbidden, it is permitted” argument.

But it would also be a mistake to think that Andreae would argue for a bare “whatever isn’t forbidden is permitted.”  Andreae appeals to Scripture for warrant for whatever is allowed in worship.  He points out that Scripture prohibits graven images but notes that that prohibition goes hand in hand with a command to make cherubim for the Ark of the Covenant, so that we must conclude that not every sort of image is excluded by that prohibition.

He points out that Scripture commends the use of musical instruments (e.g,. in Psalm 150) — indeed, he said that the Psalms not only tolerate but actually command the use of instruments (Raitt, 155) — but apparently in the end agreed that Scripture doesn’t give a “specific command to use any particular instrument or any instruments at all” (as if it is sin to sing without instruments).  Thus, Reformed churches aren’t obligated to use instruments, though they were certainly permitted and Andreae would argue for them.

Andreae isn’t arguing for a free-for-all in worship (“You could even bathe your kids in the worship service, because Scripture doesn’t explicitly forbid it!”).  Rather, he aims to stay within Scriptural bounds, doing what is commanded and refraining from what is prohibited, but also noting what is commended, what practices modify the commands and prohibitions, and so on.

In the end, it seems, both recognize that God can commend things that are not absolutely commanded, both grant that what is not forbidden is permitted if there is at least some Scriptural warrant for it, and both urge wisdom and Christian liberty with regard to what takes place in corporate worship.  That’s where the discussion apparently landed, but it seems to me that it ought to have been the springboard for greater unity in these matters between the Reformed and the Lutherans.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:06 pm | Discuss (1)
February 10, 2014

Ancient Greek Religion

Category: History,Theology,Uncategorized :: Permalink

I would not be surprised to find that Simon Price’s Religions of the Ancient Greeks (1999) is now a standard text in that field.  He wears his learning lightly and provides a survey of ancient Greek religions (the plural is deliberate) that takes into account the many local variations instead of pretending that all Greeks thought the same way at all periods of Greek history.  In fact, one could argue that the one “misstep” in the book is apparent in the title already: the word “religions.”  As Price shows, the ancient Greeks would not have thought that they were practicing religion over here at this point in time and politics or war or family life over there at that other point in time.

Here’s Price’s summary, springboarding off a quotation from Xenophon:

Many aspects of Xenophon’s account are surprising to those reared on Jewish or Christian religious assumptions.  In place of one male god, in the Anabasis there is a multiplicity of gods, even unidentifiable gods.  Gods are both male (Zeus, Apollo), and female (Artemis).  There is no religious sphere separate from that of politics and warfare or private life; instead, religion is embedded in all aspects of life, public and private.  There are no sacred books, religious dogmas or orthodoxy, but rather common practices, competing interpretations of events and actions, and the perception of sacrifice as a strategic device open to manipulation.  Generals and common soldiers, not priests, decide on religious policy.  The diviners are the only usual religious professionals, and religion offered not personal salvation in the afterlife, but help here and now, escape from the Persians or personal success and prosperity.  Religious festivals combined solemnity and jollity.  Practice not belief is the key, and to start from questions about faith or personal piety is to impose alien values on ancient Greece (3).

But in at least one regard, I wonder about Price’s distinction between “Jewish or Christian assumptions” and what Price describes with regard to the ancient Greeks.  While modern Christians might be surprised that for ancient Greeks “There is no religious sphere separate from that of politics and warfare or private life; instead, religion in embedded in all aspects of life, public and private,” Paul wouldn’t have been.

When Paul came, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, that proclamation was surely not the announcement that, after all, religion is only a sphere in life, to be sharply distinguished from politics and warfare and family life and all those other things (which, themselves, are spheres distinct from each other), and that in the sphere of religion Paul’s hearers ought to drop their allegiance to Zeus and the rest of the pantheon and put their trust in the Triune God instead.

Paul did not come teaching his hearers to invent a religious sphere in which they would serve Jesus and freeing all other spheres from the influence of “religion.”  Instead, he came proclaiming a Jesus who was Lord of all, Lord of the whole of life, Lord on Sunday but also on the other six days, Lord in the church’s assemblies but also in “all aspects of life, public and private.”

Posted by John Barach @ 4:01 pm | Discuss (0)
January 28, 2014

The Old Temple and the New

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Zechariah :: Permalink

In his Study in St. Mark, Austin Farrer shows how Mark 13 parallels Mark 14.  Jesus pronounces judgment on the old temple in Mark 13, but he forms his disciples into a new temple, a true house of prayer.  But he cautions us not to misconstrue the contrast between the two temples:

The contrast is not between a temple which is overthrown, and a temple which abides; both temples are overthrown, for the one falls in the fall of the other; but the one rises the third day, and the other does not.  Nor is it a contrast between a temple of murderers and a temple of saints, for in the supper-chamber it is said, One of you shall betray me.  When the spiritual house falls, its stones also are scattered, not one of them shall remain upon another; not even that Stone whom Christ himself had named.  Protest as he may, the word applies to him, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’  But the stones of the old temple will lie, and not be gathered; the shepherd, being risen again, will draw his flock after him into Galilee.

The prediction about the scattering of the sheep holds the same place as the prediction about the scattering of the stones: Christ says the one thing as he comes forth from the temple, and the other as he comes forth from the supper room.  And both goings forth lead to the same place — the Mount of Olives (133).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:22 pm | Discuss (0)

Charlemagne and The City of God

Category: History :: Permalink

Edward R. Hardy, Jr., begins his essay on Augustine’s The City of God by noting that the emperor Charlemagne used to have Augustine, and particularly The City of God, read to him at dinner.  One might think that Charlemagne was most interested in Augustine’s political theology, on what Augustine has to say about empires and rulers and so forth.  Maybe, says Hardy.  But probably not:

Some of these broader implications of St. Augustine’s ideas were doubtless in old Kaiser Karl’s head as he listened to the reader in his hall at Aachen. But probably the books of the City of God – which the biographer quite properly refers to in the plural, as a series rather than a unit — provided the monarch with amusement as well as instruction at mealtime.  In these XXII Books of St. Aurelius Augustine the Bishop on the City of God against the Pagans one is charmed and sometimes confused by finding notes on almost every subject of human interest.  The extracts from them which appear in the pages of the Breviarium Romanum for the devotional reading of the clergy do not deal with political theory but with the Second Temple, the names of the Prophet Hosea’s children, and the miracles of St. Stephen.  Some other items to be found in the City of God are a sketch of the Assyrian Empire, attacks on the absurdity of paganism, discussions on the nature of time, the eucharistic sacrifice, and the main principles of social ethics, and a rhetorical passage on the wonders of nature.  One never knows quite what is coming next, and doubtless Charlemagne, like many other readers since, found this one of the attractions of the work.  It has the fascination of a book about everything (“The City of God,” in Roy W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, 259).

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No Truer Heaven?

Category: Miscellaneous,Theology :: Permalink

In his survey of Augustine’s City of God, Edward R. Hardy, Jr. talks about the way things were in America at the time he was writing (c. 1955):

Perhaps our national temptation … is a new form of the imperial ideal in which the civic idealism of the “American dream” replaces the religious vision of brotherhood in God.  If St. Augustine heard a modern American school or congregation singing with devout fervour:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

he would assume that these words referred to our true fatherland, the heavenly city which can be reached only after the sin and sorrow of this earthly pilgrimage are ended.  And we should have to tell him that for many of those present there was no truer heaven than the future United States of America.  Some would suggest that our national church is the public-school system, as in St. Augustine’s time schoolmasters rather than priests passed on from generation to generation a more than secular loyalty to the great traditions of Rome (“The City of God,” in Roy W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, pp. 258-259).

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