The Two Cities is a remarkable, comprehensive history of the world

Andrew Willard Jones’s history of politics is really a history of everything—a history of the cosmos from creation to the present.

A common theme of many postliberal thinkers is that we are too often hemmed in by the boundaries and limits of contemporary thinking. As David Schindler, D.C. Schindler, Michael Hanby, Patrick Deneen, and others have been arguing, new political and social forms are not possible without imagination. By limiting ourselves to liberalism’s categories, we necessarily limit what may come next. But we cannot expand our imaginations without viewing history properly. That is, if we approach history through the lens of a twenty-first-century secular liberal, we will necessarily see history as a series of events that conform to the labels and forms of secular liberalism. We will be limited in what we see in the past and, thus, necessarily limit what we can propose for the future.

In The Two Cities: A History of Christian Politics, Andrew Willard Jones offers a history that is an antidote to such a limited view. The Two Cities is a comprehensive account of political and social history from creation to the present. In truth, Jones’s book is really a history of the world. Jones allows us to see things we may have missed and therefore imagine possibilities that exceed those bequeathed us by liberalism.

The Two Cities is Jones’ follow up to his critically acclaimed Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX, (Emmaus Academic, 2017), a book that exploded the secular/religious divide that historians have imposed on so much of history. As one person wrote of that book, it was “among an elite category of books that open up genuinely new ways of seeing both past and present.” The Two Cities applies the same method to all of history.

Every history requires a starting point. Every history requires a narrative. No history is neutral. And Jones’s is not either. He writes of the typical approach to history:

The word “secular” actually means something like “in time,” and that remains pretty close to what we mean by it. For most modem Christians, the secular realm is the realm of things and events, the realm of our life here on earth, of politics and economics of everything that happens out in public. . . . In our way of thinking the religious realm intervenes in this secular world here and there. . . . [T]he world is like a field on which a massive game is being played. . . . History is a sort of play-by-play of that game, which is played on a neutral space, the field of the secular. The Church is typically described, even by Christians, as just one more player on this field . . . . This is a typical modern way of seeing things. It is almost completely wrong.

Rather, the proper way of approaching history is this: “Christianity is not about our private lives, and it not merely about where we go after we die. Christianity is about everything in the cosmos, and the cosmos moves in time.”

And everything begins with the Incarnation. “Everything that happened before the Incarnation was leading up to it, and everything that has happened since can only be understood through it.” Thus, Jones properly reads everything in light of Christ’s coming in the flesh and his founding of the Church to extend his presence through time and space. God-made-flesh means everything has importance. Thus, “Christianity is not about our private lives, and it is not merely about where we go after we die. Christianity is about everything in the cosmos, and the cosmos moves in time” (emphasis added). Jones also rejects the modern view of man as first an individual separate from others, who chooses to be in relationship. Rather, he employs a Christian anthropology, seeing that each person is born into a family and is constituted by the web of relationships into which he is born, the most fundamental of which is his relation to God. Ultimately, Jones offers his book as a “historical narrative that is Christian through and through and which is capable of understanding modernity from within the truth of Christianity and not the other way around.”

To take on this daunting task of understanding all of history through Christianity, Jones employs Augustine’s image of the two cities, the City of God and the City of Man. The former is a “downward-looking city” that “descend[s] through selfishness to perfect misery in complete war with God, neighbor, and self.” The latter, on the other hand, is an “upward-looking city,” “ascend[ing] through grace to perfect peace in perfect love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.” The cities commingle and the “plot of this history . . . is not simple progress.” “It is filled, rather, with ups and downs, with advances and reversals, with corruptions and reforms”—though always marked by God’s interventions, most significantly his becoming man in Christ.

Jones truly writes a history of everything—a history of the cosmos from creation to the present. He begins with a sketch of creation and the time before the Incarnation. He then moves on to Christ’s coming in the flesh, his founding of the Church and its development, its place in the Roman Empire, the rise of monasticism, and the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire. Jones then describes the Church in the Medieval, Early Modern, Modern, and Postmodern periods. He ends on a hopeful note about what is to come.

While there is so much in Jones’s book one could dwell upon, I’ll highlight just a few aspects.

First is the remarkable breadth and depth of this work. In reading it, never did I feel that he skimped or left me wanting more. If anything, there were times when I thought he could have moved more quickly through a particular period. Nor does Jones gloss over or romanticize history. Rather, his is a sober, honest account while at the same time being sympathetic and charitable. Whether he is describing actions taken by the Church or ideas proposed by the most hardened atheist, Jones attempts to understand his subjects’ motivations from the inside—but always in light of the Incarnation.

Second, I was struck by Jones’s deft handling of nominalism. In just five pages, he unlocks the concept, shows how it differs from realism, and helps us to understand its deleterious effects on the early modern Church. It is also striking to note how infected the contemporary world—including the Church—is by this intellectual error.

Third is Jones’s description of how the wars of religion actually were pivotal in creating “religion” as a “distinct category of human action.” “They are wars of religion only in retrospect” (emphasis added). Indeed, these wars helped create the modern categories of “the political” and “the religious.” But in the standard contemporary history, these wars are pointed to as the reason that religion must be cabined away from public life (as if that were even possible). Jones also demonstrates how the rise of “the political” vis-à-vis “the religious” has led to a world in which the State dominates.

Fourth, Jones recognizes liberalism as a distinct theory every bit as ideological as nationalism and socialism. It is so easy for us to think of nationalism and socialism as perversions of mainstream Western thought. Liberalism, so the story goes, is the good and basic form of society from which these corruptions depart. But Jones argues that liberalism is every bit as totalizing as these other ideologies and, thus, just as much a threat to Christianity as they are. While postliberal philosophers, theologians, and political theorists have been making this point with great urgency in recent years, it is helpful to hear it from a historian, putting liberalism in its proper historical context.

Fifth, Jones’s account of the Second Vatican Council is one of the best summaries and fairest assessments of the Council I have seen. He discusses its theological background and key documents, its genuine innovations and radical Christological core. At the same time, Jones honestly points out tensions and ambiguities in the Council’s documents. Such a balanced presentation is especially needful now.

Sixth, Jones is perceptive in his analysis of the crisis in the Church of the last fifty or more years. He writes that the “discord that rocked the postconciliar Church in the West was in large part, then, a fight that occurred within a general capitulation to the liberal notion that Christianity was merely a religion that operated within a secular world.” The problem is that Catholics—whether of the conservative or liberal variety—are not radical enough. “Neither side thought that the entire social organism, the entire political, economic, legal, and moral order, from the largest of societal structures to the everyday actions of individual Christians, could find its end of true freedom and peace only through a top-to-bottom conversion to Christ and the acceptance of his healing and elevating grace.” The lack of radicalness has led to the integration and assimilation of the Church into liberalism.

Jones nevertheless ends on a hopeful note. He asks:

Contemporary Christians are being forced into a fundamental decision. Will they allow the Church’s already well-advanced integration into the postmodern world to become complete, or will they launch a reform? Will they extract themselves form a corrupt system so that they might turn and convert that system? Will they start to build again the City of God?

Jones believes they can. Jones sees the Church’s integration to liberalism as a potential blessing. “Could it be that providence has allowed the Church to fall into the profound worldliness in which it currently finds itself so that the reform movement that will emerge will be a reform not only of the Church but of the postmodern world itself?” If Christians return to seeing history through the light of the Incarnation, God-made-man condescending himself to the world to redeem and purify it—lift it higher—they stand a chance. Success is not a Gospel category. We are called to faithfulness. And from faithfulness comes fruitfulness. Jones writes that “[p]erhaps the Church won’t break free from the world’s domination until the faithful stop thinking of the Church as merely a little corner of the world and allow themselves to be led not by the powerful, but by the religious, by the meek.”

If we allow ourselves to be led by Christ, our meek King, the Church can become again an oasis of peace, drawing the world upward and offering everything as a pleasing sacrifice to the Father through the Son. Jones’s book is history at its best, setting us up to imagine and create a more hopeful and civilized future.

The Two Cities: A History of Christian Politics
By Andrew Willard Jones
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2021
Hardcover, 376 pages

(Editor’s note:This essay appeared previously in an earlier form at Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture, & Science, the Quarterly Review of the John Paul II Insitute.)


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About Conor Dugan 13 Articles
Conor B. Dugan is a husband, father of four, and attorney who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

15 Comments

  1. A very clear review of a very interesting book, helpfully illuminating the origins of a diversity of worldviews.

    Two observations: 1) Augustine did not know that humans like us have been around for some hundreds of thousands of years. The First Peoples generally lived without wars, with equality between men & women, and with respect for God (the author of Genesis chapter 1 depicts this). In Genesis chapters 3 & 4 the author attempts to explain a Neolithic loss of innocence (depicted in rebellion against God, the desire to wear clothes, etc.), the subjugation of women, the origins of agriculture, city building, metal working, and fratricides (endless wars between civilizations of Second Peoples).

    The ethnography of Genesis 1 – 4 is the first foundation of human history. It is especially relevant in today’s chaotic world situations.

    2) “. .setting us up to imagine and create a more hopeful and civilized future.” This introduces the familiar heresy of humans as ‘co-creators’ who renovate God’s-creation-gone-wrong! This is the very worldview that has trapped the Church into unitarian, universalist syncretism with secular and even occult forces that demean the God & Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Read aright, the New Testament asks us to witness not to win. Jesus Christ could have easily won the whole of the world with more than 7,200 holy angels that the Father would have given Him, if requested. Instead, by God’s will, those angels will implement Christ’s judgment, at the end of time, once all the necessary witnessing of good and evil has been accomplished by the vast diversity of human persons.

    Some will be salvaged into an eternity of Joy with Christ in His glory.

    Authentic Christian worldviews are thus about SALVAGE and not about RENOVATION. Think sheep not goats; wheat not weeds; grain not chaff; edible fish not inedible; fruitful vine branches not fruitless; those who love & obey Jesus not those who disobey Him.

    Obviously, caring for the world and for others is part of obedience to Christ. However, we must always separate that in our minds from the subtle heresy of co-creating renovationism.

    Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

    • From Rice, we read: “Augustine did not know that humans like us have been around for some hundreds of thousands of years. The First Peoples generally lived without wars, with equality between men & women, and with respect for God (the author of Genesis chapter 1 depicts this).”

      First, and actually, Augustine did have an inkling; he just thought our ancestors were a race of giants: Historically, St. Augustine considered the evidence—the molar tooth of a mammoth that he had seen at Utica—and concluded that there had once been a race of giants. Anticipating modern science, he writes: “The real proof, as I have said, is to be found in the frequent discoveries of ancient bones of immense size, and this proof will hold good in centuries for in the future, since such bones do not easily decay” (City of God, Bk. XV, ch. 9).

      Second, as for the peace-loving First Peoples, the word “generally” encompasses a lot, and the countervailing evidence especially in the New World which includes patterns of tribal warfare, immorality, enslavement and even cannibalism, alongside (yes) more insulated and peaceful tribes of hunter-gatherers. The universality of a fallen world–as not simply a stage is some later history–of which Augustine and the radically incarnate/redemptive Christ as the Word, had a few words.

      • Dear Peter D. Beaulieu,

        How extraordinary: in Augustine’s time there were still plenty of the ORIGINAL First People living by hunting & gathering in harmony with nature and without wars. These were ignored by Augustine (even though they may at that time have been more numerous than farmer/civic Second Peoples). In his eagerness to locate evidence of the ‘giants’ of e.g. Numbers 13:33 (Nephilim or offspring of Nephilim; – supposedly all destroyed by the Genesis 6 universal flood . .) Augustine concludes that a megafaunal tooth is that of a human ancestor!

        Your observations, Peter, about warlike American tribes would not be relevant, if as is thought, these peoples derived from Second People’s who migrated from Asia. Hunting & gathering has been adopted by Second Peoples several times, in many parts of the world.

        Stephen Pinker is one of several who’ve tried to prove the ORIGINAL First Peoples were just as warlike as Second People’s. Yet, a far better scientist, Robert Morris Sapolsky (in his ‘must read’ book “Behavior”), shows how Pinker cherry-picked the data to try and prove a point. In contrast, Sapolsky assures us that the dogs of war were let loose by the Neolithic Revolution, aka the birth of farmer/civic civilizations.

        The author of Genesis 4 seems to have recognized this in the career path of Cain and his descendants.

        Is it not pertinent to our current catastrophic world situation, that destruction of both the ecology given to us by God and wholesale destruction of other human beings He has given us, proceeded apace once broad acre agriculture and city building began? This is historically factual & sill disgustingly evident today.

        Roman Imperialists, like Augustine, and those today who still cling to heretical renovationist worldviews, have minds closed to the abundant evidences in nature and in anthropology. Such willful blindness to reality is, scandalously, still rampant – despite our advanced education and technologies.

        Building a god-making Tower of Babel fails in Genesis 11; and all the many subsequent versions still continue to fail! Will we never learn . . ?

        The amazing truth of Christianity is that: amidst endlessly repeated, demonic, self-deifying rebellions (see 1 John 5:19), in Jesus Christ God reaches out for us, out of love for His own who are in the world but do not belong to the world (John 13:1 & 15:19).

        Thanks for dialoguing; & with every blessing, in the love of The Lamb; from marty

  2. We read: “And from faithfulness comes fruitfulness. Jones writes that ‘[p]erhaps the Church won’t break free from the world’s domination until the faithful stop thinking of the Church as merely a little corner of the world and allow themselves to be led not by the powerful, but by the religious, by the meek.’”

    We might be reminded of Karl Rahner, so influential in the Second Vatican Council and in so many seminaries thereafter.

    Rahner is reported to have walked into a nearly deserted Church. In front was “a silently praying old peasant woman.”. This turgid German intellectual is said to have then revealed his deepest disdain (for the meek). The same distorting Karl Rahner as quoted here by the lay historian Thomas Molnar:

    “Religion understands itself and can be understood only [!] by reference to the future, which it knows as absolute and as coming to both individual man and all mankind. Its interpretation of the past occurs in and through the progressive disclosure [!] of the approaching future, and the sense and meaning of the present are based on a hopeful openness to the absolute future’s imminent advent…

    “Thus, the real nature of man [!] can be defined precisely as the possibility of attaining the absolute future—not this or that particular state of affairs which is always encompassed by another and greater future still unrealized…and which, therefore, is relativized [!] and known to be such. In this sense, Christianity is the religion of becoming, of history [!], of self-transcendence [!], of the future. …For it…everything is understandable in relation to what is still unrealized” (“Marxist Utopia and the Christian Future of Man;” cited in Thomas Molnar, “Christian Humanism,” 1978).

    Next, can we probably expect even the rejection of Arius at the past Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) to be reinvented as more an act of a rolling synodal consensus (the “endless journey”), than as it truly and firstly was…the Church’s unambiguous (!) and steadfast fidelity?

    Apostolic fidelity to what was received from the beginning and is still professed about the Triune Oneness and our gratuitous and personal (!) redemption—as revealed in the alarming and once-only Incarnation.

    • Rahner’s reaction to the piety of the old peasant woman perplexes me. Where can I read more about it?

      I searched the Oxford Press essay collection “Ressourcement” which contains some 30+ pages about Rahner. Rahner was the first (or one of the first?) to reclassify the “church of sinners” as “the sinful church” because it did not trust to God’s Spirit to secure its future(!). Rahner “highlighted the capacity of the Spirit to move the church in directions that were not part of the church’s own planning.”(!) The Spirit, he said, was the ‘element of dynamic unrest if not of revolutionary upheaval.’ (p. 418)

      I suppose Rahner intended us to forget about the fruit of peace which the Church had taught for centuries as a sure sign of the Spirit’s work and presence. And how does he account for the teaching of the Church on the Spirit’s infusion of theological virtues at Baptism? The impression given is that Rahner (maybe) knew more about the spirit than the spirit knew about itself.

      • In his book (cited above), Molnar writes the following, but without citing his source:
        “In an article over a decade ago [that is, near to 1968] Karl Rahner suggested that the Church was no longer able to draw to itself the urban intellectuals, and is thus condemned to remain the half-superstitious, half-religion of old peasant women lighting piously a candle in the dark corner of a village church. Such a statement is both malevolent and false [….]” (Christian Humanism, p. 139).

        A reviewer in Rahner’s Sacramentum mundi (theological encyclopedia) finds that Rahner “resolves the metaphysics of being into a metaphysics of [only our] knowing” (Battista Mondin, L’Osservatore Romano, May 13, 1976). The “conservative” Cardinal Siri (Gethsemani, 1981) interprets Rahner as worse than ambiguous about the mystery and nature of the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception, and in general, that Rahner is an historicist:

        Rahner: “A philosophy of today and thus also ‘theology’ (italics) cannot and must not allow itself to remain behind in so far as the ‘anthropolico-transcendental revolution [the “new paradigm” of “anthropological-cultural change”?] brought about by modern philosophy’ [italics] since Descartes, Kant, through German idealism (including therein the opposing currents) right up to phenomenology, to existentialist philosophy and to the fundamental ontology of today” (typical citation, from 1969).

        Rahner wrote at the same time as Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II), in his sympathetic but doctrinally undiluted examination of phenomenology in “The Acting Person” (originally 1969; rather than blurring, he “bracketed” theology to the side as one uses brackets in algebra to isolate retained mathematical values).

        • In what might be a remarkable coincidence, Sophia Institute Press today sent to customers on its email list an announcement of its offering of a book. The book is titled “Gethsamane”, and was written by Joseph Cardinal Siri. The message contains this description:

          “Here the renowned Joseph Cardinal Siri corrects the erroneous teachings of controversial 20th-century theologians Henri de Lubac, Jacques Maritain, Karl Rahner, and Hans Kung.

          In these pages, you will learn the truth about the dominant heresies of relativism, rationalism, modernism, pantheism, anthropocentrism, evolutionism, and secularization in the Church.

          Cardinal Siri provides solid guidance on the vexing crisis of confusion that’s roiling our world today.

          He teaches how to avoid the “intellectual kaleidoscope” that confuses unreal concepts with eternal truths.

          In Gethsemane, readers will discover why it is imperative to uphold divine revelation, recognize Original Sin and man’s need for salvation, and consistently to reaffirm Catholic doctrines and dogma.”

          There is no mention in the email message of the fact that the book was originally published in 1981, but we should try to avoid chronology snobbery,

          • Take another look at the email; I DID list the original publication date as 1981.

            I could have parenthetically mentioned, too, that the original publisher was Franciscan Herald Press, but why indulge in such “chronology snobbery”? Delighted to hear from you that Sophia Institute Press is reissuing the book. Very highly recommended to the literate by yours truly.

          • Peter,
            Yes, you did note 1981, in your comment, as the publication date. I didn’t interpret anything as a snob snub on anyone’s part. I was struck by Sophia Institute Press’ sending e-mail, ‘coincidentally contemporaneous’ with your comment, discussing Rahner in relation to today’s confusion. Your comment, Sophia Institute’s e-mail, Charles tying them together, and my reading all about it? Boons for us. Signs of the Holy Spirit, pointing.

      • Of Rahner and his self-referential “urban intellectuals,” Pope Francis does get it right when he says there are sins more serious than the sexual. Surely, he has in mind the corruption of the mind itself, the sins of intellectual pride…

        Take, for example, the smart-ass rationalization of homosexual activity, emanating from the German “synodal way,”–that inborn natural law, itself, and the Catechism must now be edited by self-selected clerics to further enable and approve sexual sins.

        Deceitful layers on the onion…something like Adam’s start-up and equally-evasive invention: “Hey, not me, she made me do it;” and then Eve echoes, “hey, not me, the serpent made me do it.” Hollerich will point to Batzing, and Batzing will point to Marx, and Marx will point to the rigged consensus. Even before Hollerich & Co., Amoris Laetitia (Ch. 8 and fn. 351) echoes Cardinal Kasper, and Kasper echoes the corrupting openings of Cardinal Rahner, and all the way back to the beginning. Welcome to the intellectually corrupt “transition” (!) of synodality into the ideology of sin-nodding synodism.

        Lies withing lies by the Father of Lies. Welcome to the “urban-intellectual” (and pre-urban!) echo chamber of viral self-betrayal as first reported in Genesis.

        Light a candle.

  3. “Secular actually means something like in time” (C Dugan on A W Jones). Saint King Louis IX created his own sacramental world during Christendom. Augustine lived during the two worlds.
    Since Saint Louis we’re back to the future of two worlds, secular and ecclesial. The Church at VatII sought a Church relevant to the world although not of the world. And further on, since VatII the Church under the guidance of Francis is seeking a new relationship with the world, an attempt at integration while retaining its Christian character. Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality appears the means, the paradox is that recognition of a secular non religious order does not offer integration of the religious. Otherwise it’s a return to Christendom. That is not the objective of the great Synodal journey. Apparently it’s a limited trade off while retaining religious identity. Although by definition the twain cannot meet. At best religion in particular Catholicism might instill a moral consciousness, at worst it loses its identity. That trend is seen in the mitigation of its universal precepts that which the secular world by nature as secular is not inclined. The singular venue for reasonable success then is the opposite. The strengthening of moral principles and doctrine. What VatII originally formulated in its documents.

    • Although like Conor Dugan I admire Jones’ perception of events through the prism of Christ I’m always wary of any semblance to Tielhardism, that seems apparent in his quasi expectation of the Church’s turn toward liberalism as having a positive outcome. I prefer Dugan’s turn to the meekness of Christ rather than the meek in general meaning anyone other.

  4. “The City of God and the City of Man. The former is a downward-looking city that descend[s] through selfishness to perfect misery in complete war with God, neighbor, and self. The latter, on the other hand, is an upward-looking city,”
    I believe author Conor Dugan meant to say, The latter is a downward-looking city and so forth. Forgive my keystone cop language policing.

    • Indeed, Fr Peter,

      How rare it is to read a theologian or hear a homilist build their worldview on Hebrews 11:10.

      “He (Abraham) looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

      What a great day it’ll be when the whole Church joyful apprehends that it is God alone who acts. Human persons are here to receive and to follow.

      Ever in Christ Jesus; love & blessings from marty

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