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10 Quotes from Saint Augustine on Civil Service and Leadership

Compiled by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.

What can the life and teachings of a man who lived over 1600 years ago teach us today about civil service and leadership? Consider these quotes by Saint Augustine and decide for yourself!

1. “We call those Christian rulers happy who govern with justice, never forgetting that they are only human. They think of sovereignty as a ministry of God, and they fear and worship God. They are slow to punish and quick to forgive. They temper with mercy and generosity the unavoidable harshness of their commands. They are all the more in control of their sinful desires because they are freer to indulge them. They prefer to rule their own passions more than to rule the peoples of the world. They rule not out of vain glory but out of love for everlasting bliss. They offer to God the humble sacrifice of their repentance and prayer. In this life they are happy in their hope and are destined to be truly happy when the eternal day comes for which we all hope” (City of God, 5.24).

2. “Be assured that abuses are not done away with by harsh or severe or autocratic measures, but by teaching rather than by commanding, by persuasion rather than by threats. This is the way to deal with the people in general, reserving severity for the sins of the few. If we make threats, let it be done sorrowfully, in the words of Scripture, and in terms of the world to come. In this way, it is not we who are feared because of our power, but God because of our words.” (Letter 22, 5).

3. “After his resurrection Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you love me more than the rest?’ and Peter answered, ‘You know Lord that I love you!’ Jesus then charged him, ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.’ The Lord questioned Peter three times in the same way so that his three-fold confession might cancel the threefold denial he had made on the evening of Holy Thursday. He was questioned about his love first and only then were Christ’s sheep (his church and all its members) entrusted to him.” (Sermon 229P, 1-4).

4. “The first thing good superiors must realize is that they are servants. They should not consider it beneath their dignity to be servants to many. Indeed, the Lord of lords did not consider it beneath His dignity to be a servant to us.” (Sermon 340A, 1).

5. “Every earthly state makes use of some of the citizens of the ‘City of God’ to administer its affairs. How many of the faithful are there among its loyal subjects and its magistrates, its judges, generals, governors and even among those who have been kings? All these are good people, keeping deep in their hearts the longing for the glorious things of heaven. In a way they are like foreigners in a society that will pass away, but in the meantime (under the command of God) they serve their earthly masters conscientiously.” (Commentary on Psalm 61, 8).

6. “Nothing could be better for the world than those who are in power to join a good life to the art of political government. Such humble leaders attribute all their virtues, however many they may have on earth, to the grace of God who bestows them on those who pray for them. Such leaders understand how imperfect they are. They realize that they are not angels.” (City of God, 5.19).

7. “When all the boasting is over, what is any man but just another man? Even when honor in this life is merited, it has no lasting value. It is smoke that weighs nothing.” (City of God, 5.17).

8. “Bad brother or sister, quarrelsome brother or sister, you are still my brother or sister. You say, just as I say, ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven.’ Why, then, are we not together in one? It is not a friend, not a neighbor, who orders us to be in harmony, but rather He to Whom we say, ‘Our Father.’ We have together one voice before our Father. Why do we not have one peace together?” (Sermon on John 26, 11).

9. “Every human being is neighbor to every other human being. Even those you do not know share in your humanity. Is this person known as a friend? Let them stay as a friend. Is this person your enemy? Let them become a friend.” (Sermon 229D, 1).

10. “Where there is no envy or fear, differences, far from creating divisions, foster harmony.” (Holy Virginity, 29).

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