After Phronesis

In the Confessions, Augustine argues that the capacity to judge is a capacity only available to those who have come to know God: “… we become new men in the image of our Creator. We gain spiritual gifts and can scrutinize everything—everything, that is, which is right for us to judge—without being subject, ourselves, to any other man’s scrutiny.” (C, XIII, 22) This power of scrutiny, available only to the reoriented soul who has learned to know God, is not applicable to “spiritual truths, which are like lights shining in the firmament, for it is not right for a man to call such sublime authority into question,” nor is it applicable to scriptural exegesis. Though given an extraordinary power, “approving what he find to be right and blaming what he finds to be wrong,” it is also inapplicable to those who do not belong to the community of believers, “those who still struggle without your grace.” Instead, the judge is given a special dominion over “only those things which he also has power to correct.” (C, XIII, 23) Augustine means by this that the priest can only judge the faithful in those outwards signs of faith that he can alter, but the jurisdictional limitations he exclaims here are particularly interesting given the way they are taken up by later theorists of judgment. The judge’s jurisdiction is limited to his community and to the behavior of his fellow-citizens: we cannot, and should not, judge the activities of another community.

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