by Fr Ashley Beck
"In the past thirty years there has been a been a great revival in study of St Augustine, and much of it has concentrated on his political theology. To cut a long story short, what has become clearer through this scholarship is Augustine’s very negative evaluation of the ‘earthly city’, the civitas terrena. It is a den of thieves, an empire which has nothing really to offer because it does not honour the one true God.
Rowan Williams has summarised Augustine’s view in The City of God as follows: “A state may claim to possess the necessary concord as regards the objects of its dilectio; but what degree of stability can such a society possess? It is doomed to vice (XIX, 25) and its security is transitory (XIX, 26). In short, while it may be empirically an intelligibly unified body, it is constantly undermining its own communal character, since its common goals are not and cannot be those abiding values which answer to the truest human needs.”
It seems to me that the view of the nation state put forward by the Leave campaign is rather like what Augustine is questioning and attacking, above all in its pretensions to absolutism and the obsessive wish to restore functions allegedly lost to the UK Parliament. In Catholic social thought, although democratic structures are favoured, the Church is keen to stress that these don’t give states the power to do what they want in moral terms. The State becomes an idol.
Arising from this is one issue which I think is crucial. It seems to me that migration is a distinctive Catholic moral issue: for this reason alone, the fear-based anti-migrant rhetoric of the Leave campaign, riddled with inaccuracies, does not envisage what the bishops call a ‘culture of acceptance’: it is not only inconsistent with Catholic teaching but something which should be condemned as sinful."
As I have said before, I cannot understand or empathize with Catholics who advocate Brexit.