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How to Win Enemies

Augustine of Hippo and Howard Thurman of Daytona Beach follow the shocking implications of Jesus’ teachings on violence in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount stands at the heart of multiple theological traditions and controversies, particularly its teachings on violence. Some insist that Jesus meant for us to live out these teachings fully now; others argue that this will only be possible when he returns. But what if the practical dictates of the Sermon are not the first thing we ought to focus on? What if instead of asking, “Is the Sermon practical?” or “Does nonviolence work?” we ask instead, “In what way does the virtue of Christ work in a violent world?” Two very different figures who have asked this question are Augustine of Hippo and Howard Thurman of Daytona Beach.

Augustine on the Sermon’s Call to Suffer the Unjust

Augustine preached on parts of the Sermon several times, and finally, in 393–394, sat down to write a full-length exposition of it. The Sermon is, he says, ultimately a teaching on the nature of wisdom: the Beatitudes are a kind of ladder to be climbed, with each step preparation for the next. We ascend through the Beatitudes, through poverty of spirit and mourning evil, through meekness and mercy, in order that we might be able to be pure in heart, to see God. Treating the Beatitudes as maxims that build on one another, he writes:

Therefore, there are seven maxims which constitute perfection, for the eighth starts anew, as it were, from the very beginning: it clarifies and approves what is already complete. Thus, all the other grades of perfection are accomplished through these seven. [1]



1. All references from Commentary on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount with Seventeen Related Sermons, transl. Denis J. Kavanagh (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1951).


Originally published at Plough, used with permission


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