Although Augustine may have done so with some reluctance, he responded to various pressing circumstances in the North African political scene of his day. He thereby became a political activist on various issues that hurt Christian values generally and/or the lives of the local people in North Africa generally. This was true in particular of those living on the margins of the society (the marginalised). For example, he tirelessly lobbied the imperial magistrate, Macedonius, who was the Imperial Vicar for Africa, and Donatus, the Imperial Proconsul of Africa.
He asked both of them to avoid and even if possible to abolish capital punishment. He asked Marcelinus, the Roman military commander, to avoid the use of torture. He also spoke against government inaction that allowed the capture of farmers to make them slaves. In his old age, he travelled out of Hippo to meet with and plead successfully with Boniface, who was the military commander named by the Roman government as Lord Protector of Numidia. He asked Boniface to take up arms against the Vandals.
Earlier in life, Augustine recognised hypocrisy in the political process, and this convinced him to seek his livelihood elsewhere. Until his father, Patricius, died in the year 372 when Augustine was about sixteen years old, Patricius had been was a minor government official in Thagaste, the town of their birth. Spurred on by his father, Augustine himself had originally had some political ambition, but that proved to be the product of tentative thinking during his adolescence.
That possibility was swept away when at Carthage in the year 373 he read Hortensius, an invitation to philosophy written centuries previously by the most famous Latin author, Cicero. In his Confessions he reflected on the time when nevertheless he had ended up in the politics. Recalling his service at the imperial court in Milan as the official rhetorican or "spin doctor" for the Emperor, he wrote, "How unhappy I was, O Lord, and how conscious You made me of my misery on that day when I was preparing to deliver an oration on the emperor! In the course of it I would tell numerous lies and, for my mendacity, would win the good opinion of people who knew [them] to be untrue."
From about the year 410 (by which time he had been a bishop for fifteen years) until the end of his life, Augustine remained completely disillusioned with politics. Especially in the context of his Christian anthropology, he was never convinced that he was living in Christian times. Only once in all his voluminous writings did he mention that the Christian church might sanctify the empire.
Earlier this century an Assembly of Augustinian Justice and Peace Promoters called Augustine the father of Christian political activism because:
Despite all of the above, Augustine did not expound a fully developed political theory. Indeed, the political action of Augustine was a response to particular cases and diverse situations he faced; it was the circumstances he encountered that prompted him into action. He personally confronted or wrote to political authorities regarding what he judged to be the just thing to do, and to call for social change when he considered something unjust. When political activism is undertaken as a response to the Gospel and from within the communion of the Church, it becomes an apostolic and pastoral activity; and this is the case for Augustine. His political action was an ecclesial and pastoral activity, and also a form of evangelization. The letter of Augustine to Macedonius, Imperial Vicar for Africa, is a demonstration of this, as is his letter to Donatus, the Proconsul of Africa, asking him to avoid capital punishment, and to Marcelinus, a military commander, asking him to avoid the use of torture.
By a review of a series of Augustinian texts, one of the presenters demonstrated the permanent concern of Augustine for political activism: "It cost Augustine time, hard work and money, and it would be difficult for us to say which of the three costs involved troubles him the most. He often insists that he is willing to pay the price for his commitment, a price he would not pay if he did not also believe that the Gospel required it of him."
This page is compiled from the report published in the Augustinian newsletter, Justicia + Pax ("Justice and Peace"). AN1209