“Peace is the tranquility of order.”
St. Augustine, The City of God
There are few words that exercise such a power over our hearts, and our imagination.
A few years ago I was giving a lecture at a division-one university, introducing students to some basic points in medieval metaphysics—something to which they had not been exposed. I will never forget the moment I shared with them St. Augustine’s definition of peace. There was an audible sigh of amazement, almost as though they had just heard for the first time the key to life.
Well, perhaps they had. Is there any other concept, with its definition, that goes so immediately to the heart of life?
Peace. It’s what we crave. Something tells us that it is not found in simply avoiding conflict, or in ceasing to be busy or active. Peace is a positive reality, consisting more in what we do than in what we don’t do.
St. Augustine provides the positive vision: there is tranquility in order. Yes, as most great insights, in answering a question it raises more questions. Nonetheless it gives an anchor, and an angle from which to begin to understand and pursue true peace. There is an order we must discover and enact. Indeed, there are orders, all of which are themselves interwoven, in one great order of life.
Order always implies that each thing has its place; and when in their places, the parts and the wholes come alive.
There is an order for how to desire, and an order for how to think. There is an order for human friendships, and an order for our interior life. An order for living in a household, and an order for interacting with the broader community. An order for work, and an order for leisure.
And in discovering these orders, and in striving to enact them in our lives, and in the lives of others, an amazing reality descends upon us: the reality of peace, the tranquility of order.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) was one of the greatest minds and most influential writers in early Christianity. In addition to his Confessions, the landmark autobiography in which he details his conversion from vanity and sexual immorality, he wrote numerous works in defense and exposition of his late-found faith, most notably The City of God.
Image: Bernardus Blommers (1845-1914), Dutch, A Family Dinner
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