Christian Ethico-Political Philosophy and the Roots of Liberalism

Giuseppe Mario Saccone


This paper examines how the ancient Greek and Hellenistic notions of political ethics were incorporated within an evolving Christian thought which emphasized the importance of agape within a Universalist perspective. This evolution can be most clearly seen through the works of St Paul, Augustine and Aquinas who elaborated a doctrine involving the universality of Jesus’s message but with adaptation and evolution according to the historical circumstances. This process has deep contemporary resonances not only theologically but also in terms of social and political philosophy. I will argue that Pauline cosmopolitanism ends up setting legitimacy as the main criterion by which to assess governance and offer allegiance. The ethical demands of Christianity are very stringent. Accordingly, it would appear that, in order to fulfil those demands, whenever possible, Christians should seek the right sort of social and political
context. This context was to be developed by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Augustine held that the most one can reasonably expect from a political structure is that it should promote peace. And he viewed this central political task negatively – as the suppression of anarchy and of those forms of evils that most disturb civil tranquility. For Aquinas, on the other hand, political organization, chiefly through the instrumentality of human law, has the capacity of furthering, in a positive way, the natural aspects of the human function.

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