In The City of God, how does Augustine describe the role of law in society and political communities? How does law cultivate virtue according to him? What is his definition of virtue?

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In The City of God, Augustine presents a reflection on the role of law and virtue. Let’s look at some of what he says to help you get started on your questions.

Turn your attention to book 19. Augustine speaks of virtue here as “the art of living.” Virtue, Augustine continues, “makes a good use both of itself and of all other goods in which lies man’s happiness.” Virtue regulates life so that people can better choose the good and reject the evil. Virtues include prudence, fortitude, justice, and piety.

Law within a society is intended to promote virtue and order, to regulate life. While all people are subject to the natural law that regulates behavior and morality, this natural law is frequently ignored or suppressed. Therefore, society needs specific laws for “the maintenance of this mortal life.” These laws are designed to make sure that “earthly peace is secured and maintained” and that people practice virtue and maintain justice. The law is also intended to prevent “lawless men” from “doing harm.” Law, then, cultivates virtue by decreeing the practice of virtue within a society.

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