Brimlow begins his exploration of the issues of violence and nonviolence, but taking a look at the historical and philosophical foundations that gave rise to Augustine's thoughts on just war theory. He rightly notes at the very beginning of the book something that I think often goes unnoticed in the overall conversation; namely, that at least for the first two centuries CE, the early Christian church was exclusively pacifist. So much so that Brimlow notes "there is no record of any Christian writer approving of Christian participation in warfare until the time of emperor Constantine, circa 330, and no evidence of Christians serving in the army of the Roman Empire until 173." [p. 22]
So how did this consensus change? Brimlow points to Augustine as perhaps the first to begin to consciously formulate a justification for Christian involvement in warfare. Quoting Augustine's Contra Faustum:
"What is the evil in war? Is it the death of someone who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance and the lust of power and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars..." [Contra Faustum, 22, 74]
It is here that Brimlow proposes that Augustine makes what he calls a "fundamental mistake." For Augustine it is "the internal disposition of the soldier that makes warfare either right or wrong." In taking this position, according to Brimlow, Augustine "introduces a division in our conception of persons and what it means to be a disciple of Christ that plagues the church to the present." In the end "what matters, on Augustine's view, is the Christian's internal disposition: all is permissible if only we are disposed the right way." [p. 30]
Contrary to this position, Brimlow introduces Matthew 5.39 [also offering Augustine's interpretation, which at least according to Brimlow's rendering, is awkward at best]. While Augustine sees the words of Matthew 5.39 as not needing to be taken literally, but speaking to an internal disposition, Brimlow notes that what Jesus is doing is actually antithetical to Augustine's position. Jesus is rendering a new way of seeing retribution. "The internal disposition that the law recognized as making violence against the evildoer permissible is no longer valid. There is, therefore, no internal disposition that transforms violent responses to violence into permissible ones. Violence is not an option for Christians." [p. 31]
While I am not in complete agreement with Brimlow's understanding of the law and of Matthew 5.39, I do think he makes a pretty valid point. Augustine's thoughts on just war seem, at least on the surface, to be antithetically opposed to the teaching of Jesus. The thought I kept coming back to while reading was this: Augustine appears to be arguing for just war more from the position of a good Roman citizen, rather than on the basis of being a good disciple of Jesus. His argument is fundamentally based upon a philosophical standpoint, which sees the government as wholly good and just. If I'm reading Augustine correctly, when someone threatens what God has instituted as "good" or "just", then the Christian is required to act, even with violence. The question I had was this: Is the government always "just" in its motives?