Augustinian, Gelasian, and Carolingian dualisms

In my last post I quoted O’Donovan explaining how Augustine’s political theology compared to modern 2kt exponents (among others) who claim him as a foundation for a religiously neutral secular state. I alluded in that post to shifts that went on in the middle ages regarding the relation of the “two”, and below I have quoted from a different work of O’Donovan’s, The Desire of the Nations, to explain those shifts:

[For Augustine] [t]hough mingled, these [cities] were distinct social entities, each with its principle, ‘self-love excluding God [made] the earthly city, love of God excluding self the heavenly’, and each its political expression, Roman empire and church respectively. . . .

. . . Half a century after Augustine’s death, and from a Roman viewpoint, we see a very different picture. Gelasius’ famous dictum transfers the duality from the level of society (‘Two loves made two cities’) to the level of government (‘Two there are by whom this world is ruled as princes’). Sacred and secular rulers function within one universal society. This leads Gelasius a certain way towards assimilating their duality to the universal distinction between priest and king, a distinction valid not only for Christendom but for societies before and beyond the sphere of the Gospel. But his sense of salvation-history is too alert to permit him to go far down this road. What is distinctive about the Christian era, he tells us, is that the sacral and political must be separated; for Christ, combining in himself the two roles of priest and king, has made it impossible for anyone else to combine them. As the author to the Hebrews thought that Christ, as the great high priest, was also the last high priest, so Gelasius thinks of him as the great (and so the last) priest-king, and (following Hebrews) compares him to Melchizedek. The eschatological character of Christendom is seen in the distribution of the roles, ensuring that everyone is humble, knowing that the priestly-royal character of Christ’s church is not for one individual alone to reflect but depends on mutual service. Only the Devil could now propose an emperor who was also a figure of the religious cult. It is a curious anticipation of Hegel’s view that history progresses by differentiation, this belief in the emergence of two ‘trained and specifically qualified professions’, as Gelasius, with surprisingly modern sound, describes them.

In the Carolingian age Gelasius’ famous saying was sometimes quoted with a single word altered: ‘Two there are by whom the church is ruled.’ From one point of view this simply made explicit something already implied in Gelasius’ one-world-two-rules conception. How could the emperor not ‘rule the church’ if he inherited the kingly aspect of Christ’s dual office? Yet with the change from ‘world’ to ‘church’ a fine but significant line was crossed. It meant the last consciousness of a notional distinction between the two societies had disappeared; one could no longer say that the ruler ruled Christians qua civil society but not qua heavenly city. Of course, Roman emperors form Constantine to Justinian had pursued definite ecclesiastical and theological policies, as had the pagan emperors mutatis mutandis before them. But the theological account of their service to the church was that they ‘protected’ or ‘defended’ it; and that they ‘reinforced ecclesiastical discipline’, so that ‘what the priest does not achieve with the authority of his teaching, secular power may command with the terror of discipline’ (Isidore, Sententiae 3.51). In the East an emphasis was laid upon the personal piety of the emperor, who, as a public person, demonstrated his zeal by concern for orthodox doctrine. By either standard it was a telling shift in Gestalt when in the ninth-century West it was said that ‘the special ministry of kings is to govern the people of God’ (Jonas of Orleans, De institutione regia 4). The king now exercised his office of ruling wholly within the church, as a kind of lay ministry or charism. Later, his governing role came to seem an essential safeguard for lay ministry against clerical dominion.

The burden of distinction now fell wholly ypon the two governing offices of priest and ruler. The high and late Middle Ages looked back to this conception of two differentiated and equally balanced offices as a benchmark, very often to protest that it was a lost ideal. The reason it was lost was that difference and balance proved very difficult to combine for any length of time. The history of the Christendom idea shows differentiation being sacrificed to equilibrium, the two offices turning into each others’ shadows; and it shows us one establishing hegemony over the other as attention falls on the difference between ‘temporal’ authority and ‘spiritual’. [The desire of the nations, 203-204]