This book was quite the roller coaster! From Plato, to Egyptian theology, to demons. This was perhaps the funnest book yet to read.
“City of God,” Part 2 – “The Pagan Gods and Future Happiness,” Book 8 – “Classical Philosophy and Refined Paganism.”
[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on one of his legendary excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole in italics and note when I am doing so.]
Chapter 1: Augustine now turns to the intersection of theology and philosophy, namely as it relates to Platonism. Augustine notes that these students of philosophy (the Platonists) are actually closer to the truth than Marcus Varro was.
“My only purpose is to challenge the opinions of those philosophers who, while admitting that there is a God who concerns himself with human affairs, claim that, since the worship of this one unchangeable God is not sufficient to attain happiness even after death, lesser gods, admittedly created and directed by this supreme God, should also be reverenced.”
“[Varro’s] idea of natural theology embraced at most the universe and the world-soul. [The Platonists], on the contrary, acknowledged a God who transcends the nature of every kind of soul, a God who created the visible cosmos of heaven and earth, and the spirit of every living creature, and who, by the communication of His own immutable and immaterial light, makes blessed the kind of rational and intellectual soul which man possess.”
Chapter 2: Augustine traces a brief history of of philosophers, their students, and the views they held. He does this to lay down a foundation for his coming treatment on the view of Plato. The philosophers mentioned are: Pythagoras, Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Anazimenes, Anaxagoras, Diogenes, Archelaus, Socrates, and finally Plato.
Chapter 3: Augustine praises Socrates, the first philosopher to truly delve into ethics.
Chapter 4: A historical sketch of the life of Plato. Augustine notes that some of his beliefs of what God is like overlaps with the Christian understanding of God.
Chapter 5: Augustine compares the teachings of Plato with the theology of Varro and other schools of philosophical thought. The philosophy of Plato is found to be superior.
“If, then, Plato defined a philosopher as one who knows, loves and imitates the God in whom he finds his happiness, there is little need to examine further. For, none of the other philosophers has come so close to us as the Platonists have, and, therefore, we may neglect the others.”
Chapter 6: When examining their dealings with the area of physical or natural theology, the superiority of the Platonists over the other philosophers is that they understood that a supreme God must, by necessity, exist beyond the bounds of the material universe.
“The Platonic philosophers… well understood that no body could be God and, therefore, in order to find Him, they rose beyond all material things. Convinced that no mutable reality could be the Most High, they transcended every soul and spirit subject to change in their search for God.”
“For, in God, being is not one thing and living another – as though He could be and not be living. Nor in God is it one thing to live and another to understand – as though He could live without understanding. Nor in Him is it one thing to know and another to be blessed – as though He could know and not be blessed. For, in God, to live, to know, to be blessed is one and the same as to be.”
Chapter 7: When it comes to logic/rational philosophy, the Platonists excel over the rest of the field as well, in that the physical senses are recognized as not being the only avenues of gaining knowledge.
“As for the second part of philosophy, logic or rational philosophy, the Platonists are beyond all comparison with those who taught that the criterion of truth is in the bodily senses, and who would have us believe that all knowledge is to be measured and ruled by such doubtful and deceitful testimony.”
Chapter 8: As for morality, Plato stands above all other philosophers. Other philosophers try to find the greatest good in physical entities and pursuits. Plato recognized the greatest good was God.
“Who, then, but the very sorriest of persons would deny that a man is really happy who finds fruition in what he loves when what he loves is his true and highest good? Now, for Plato, this true and highest good was God, and, therefore, he calls a philosopher a lover of God, implying that philosophy is a hunt for happiness which ends only when a lover of God reaches fruition in God.”
Chapter 9: Augustine recognizes that philosophers who hold views that are similar to Plato’s are friends of the Christian faith.
Chapter 10: Although Christians have generally been cautious about philosophy (“see to it that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain deceit” Col. 2.8), Augustine reminds his readers that God has also revealed himself to the philosophers (Rom. 1.19-20). Nevertheless, philosophers still turned to worshiping created things.
Chapter 11: Given the similarities between Plato and the Chrisian faith,it makes sense that some had suggested that maybe Plato had been exposed to Scripture or that he had been ministered to by Jeremias. Augustine shows that the chronology makes this impossible. Plato was born long after Jeremias died, and Plato died long before the translation of the Septuagint into Plato’s native language. Perhaps though, he had heard about the Scriptures through spoken word and it influenced his thinking.
Chapter 12: Now that Augustine has shown Platonism to be the best of the philosophical schools to deal with, he now asks the question: “Should man worship one God or many?”
Chapter 13: Augustine now asks the Platonists which gods are to be worshiped. Plato rightfully said that only morally good beings could be considered gods, bet he had incorrect views on what was morally good. The stage plays prove the gods are immoral, but Plato still thought the gods were good. Augustine demands this inconsistency be answered.
“But malicious gods are nonexistent. Therefore, as they say, only to beneficent ones should the due honor of worship be paid. What kind of deities, then, are those who love theatrical plays and demand them as a part of worship in their honor? Their power proves that they exist and this passion shows that they are evil.”
Chapter 14: Discussion on the Roman classification of demons. Augustine also points out the apparent contradiction of Plato’s, that is, he rejected the demons and stage plays, yet e also recognized that Socrates was guided and helped by an entity that many recognized as a demon.
“Certain philosophers have declared that of all living beings possessed of rational souls there is a threefold division into gods, men, and demons. The gods, who hold the highest place, reside in heaven; men, who hold the lowest, sojourn on earth; demons, in the middle, inhabit the air.”
Chapters 15-22: [Editor’s Summary] Pagan teachings on demons, as beings with souls and bodies superior to those of men, are criticized at length. Apuleius is the chief source of this strange teaching, with which the practice of magic is closely associated. Augustine condemns deomonolatry and magic.
Chapter 23: Augustine now compares Roman theology to Egyptian theology. He does this to gain more insight on the Roman concept of demons, as well as to show that the Egyptians are at least brave enough to outright admit that they “make” some of their own gods.
“The words of the Egyptian [Hermes], in translation, are as follows: ‘Since you and I have decided to discuss the question of kinship and fellowship between men and gods, I want you ro realize, Asclepius, the power and force of man. Just the Lord and Father, or the supreme reality, God, is the creator of celestial gods, so is man the make of deities who dwell in temples, satisfied to stay with mortals.’ Later, he says: ‘Humanity, ever mindful of its nature and origin, persists in imitating divinity. As the Lord and Father has fashioned eternal gods to be like himself, so man has modeled his own deities according to the likeness of his own countenance.'”
Chapters 24-26: [Editor’s Summary] Further details on Hermes’ criticism of man-made gods and the worship of idols are presented here. Paganism eventually degenerated into ancestor worship.
Chapter 27: Honoring Christian martyrs is different from worshiping ancestors. In the next book, Augustine says he will deal with demons more, and ask if they should be worshiped to gain eternal life.
“We do not construct shrines, consecrate priests and render rites and sacrifices for these martyrs. The simple reason is that is not they but God who is our God.”
Next time: “Pagan Deities, Demons, and Christian Angels”