Biden Invokes Augustine in Call for American Unity

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Prayers, Bible verses, and reference to the ‘City of God’ set the stage for the inauguration of a Catholic president.

In his inaugural address calling for national unity, President Joe Biden turned to Christian teachings, including the Psalms and St. Augustine, to acknowledge the pain of the current political moment and his desire to bring Americans together around common values.

Despite the adjustments made to this year’s ceremony, the event offered the typical display of American civil religion—prayers and appeals to national aspirations—with nods to Biden’s Catholic faith throughout.

In his first remarks as president, Biden continued to use the “soul” language that was the mantra of his campaign, saying, “My whole soul is in this, bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause.” He acknowledged that, “Speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. The forces that divide us are deep and real,” but told Americans that “history, faith, and reason show the way of unity.”

Michael Wear, founder of Public Square Strategies LLC and a previous White House staffer, called the inaugural address “a soulful appeal for a substantive unity” and the best speech of Biden’s life.

“It drew on the deepest sources of meaning Biden could draw on, including faith,” said Wear, who served under President Obama. “Biden was honest in the speech, acknowledging that unity would not be found in agreement on every policy proposal, but in shared purpose and affection.”

As Biden listed America’s common values, like opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and the truth, he quoted a teaching from St. Augustine—“a saint of my church”—that …

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