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De Civitate Dei, Book XIV

Chapters 1-4: The Body is not Evil

Humanity was created for community as indicated in the fact that all humanity is drawn from one person and is thus kin. Due to sin, humanity would have moved straight from the first death to the second (cf. previous book), but the grace of Christ intervenes. This gives rise to two cities: one city living by the standard of the spirit and another living by the standard of the flesh. “The citizens of each of these desire their own kind of peace, and when they achieve their aim, that is the kind of peace in which they live” (p547).

We must carefully understand what is meant by “the standard of the spirit” and “the standard of the flesh”. Some think that the Epicureans who saw bodily pleasure as their highest good live by the latter while the Stoic who saw a stability of mind as their highest good live by the former. However, Scripture uses “flesh” in many ways which it would be tedious to chronicle. For our discussion we need only understand the meaning of the phrase “the standard of the flesh”. In this respect, we can look to Galatians 5:19-21 to see that the works of the flesh concern not only bodily pleasure (fornication, impurity, lust, drunkenness, etc.) but also sins of the mind (idolatry, sorcery, enmity, etc.). It becomes clear that “flesh” is being used as a part-for-the-whole kind of speech, and thus living by the flesh means living according to humanity (or self).

While Wisdom 9:15 says that “the corruptible body weighs down the soul,” and it is significant here to note that the corruption and not the body itself is the problem. In the resurrection, we will have a body but it will not be corruptible and thus not the cause of any trouble to us. Virgil (expounding Plato) blames the most familiar disturbances of the mind – desire and fear, joy and grief – on the body. These are supposedly the origins of all sins and moral failings. However, the Christian view is quite different. For one, the origin of sin was not the body but the soul. This must be true or else the Devil could not be called a sinner (since he has no fleshly body); but the works of the flesh from Galatians 5 can be attributed to the Devil.

Paul says that humanity is a liar but that God tells the truth (Romans 3:7). Thus, whenever we live according to ourselves we live according to falsehood. Here is how it works: we commit sin to advance our own welfare, but we do the opposite. Thus, we live according to falsehood.

Despite what the Platonists say on this point, we must not do our Creator injustice by blaming sin on our body. Rather, we should indict our pride which forsakes the good Creator and lives by the standard of humanity. Ironically, it is fleshly to blame our flesh for sin.


Chapters 5-11: The Passions

It was noted above that the Platonists blame the body for the four primary disturbances of the mind (“the passions”) which give rise to all moral failings: desire and fear, joy and grief. The Platonists contradict themselves on this point: Virgil presents completely purified souls lusting again for bodies. Where does lust arise from in a purified soul (we cannot blame the body on this occasion!). On the Platonists own admission here, the passions can arise from a source within the soul itself.

But we must give a different account of the passions. What really matters in all emotions is the will that gives rise to them. And the quality of the will is determined by the love which directs it – a good love gives rise to proper emotions. All four of “the passions” which Plato views negatively can be found both positively and negatively in the Scriptures. So the situation is more complicated than merely saying that these four passions are evil, for they can be either good or evil depending on the love that is behind them.

The Stoics give a different account of the passions. They list desire, joy, fear, and grief as those dispositions which disturb the mind; these are to be replaced by will, gladness, and caution. But this account does not square with the Scriptures either. While Isaiah 57:21 says that there is no gladness for the wicked and Matthew 7:12 implies that will can only be for good things, there are other instances where it is implied that gladness is not only for the righteous (1 Corinthians 13:6) and that will can be used for willing evil also (like Ecclesiasticus 7:13; Luke 2:14). The classical texts also show a flexibility in these terms that the Stoic account of the passions does not seem to take into account. It might be too obvious to point-out texts where grief is positive, for example grief leading to repentance which the Apostle commends (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Instead of trying to classify passions according to words, we should realize that what matters is the love that gives rise to them. A righteous person will feel all the passions, as will an evil person – the difference is the love that is behind them. A righteous person fears eternal punishment and desires eternal life; they fear to sin and desire to persevere. A righteous person feels pain if someone perishes without Christ and feels gladness when they are set free by Him. The Apostle Paul, for example, rejoices and weeps, experiences fear of danger and yet hope of being with Christ. Or consider Jesus who felt anger at the hardness of the Jews’ hearts, pain at Lazarus’ death, longing to eat passover with the disciples, and grief over his coming crucifixion.

However right our emotions might be, they belong to this life and not the life to come. We sometimes experience these emotions without consent, which shows that these emotions belong to our weakness. The notion of impassibility is that the mind is not disturbed by emotions but guided by reason. The Psalmist says that fear endures forever (19:9) because the destination to which the fear itself leads will be permanent. So the condition of eternal life will not be characterized by the instability of the passions, though love will endure. In contrast, the city of man which lives by the doctrines of men and demons is constantly shaking by emotions as by diseases and upheavals.

Did Adam and Eve experience the passions before their fall into sin? We know that spiritual bodies will not experience then, but what about their unfallen animal bodies? Can one really be described as happy if exposed to fear or pain? We can say with confidence that before the fall Adam and Eve loved God and each other without interruption. They had no fear, because fear would only arise if they actually desired to eat the forbidden fruit – only then would they fear the consequence. So before evil desire entered the world, the first humans were not distressed by any agitation of mind or disorder of body. The will was only truly free before it desired evil, for only after desiring evil is the will bound to falsehood which is human truth.


Chapters 12-15: The First Sin

Why did the first sin so alter the course of human history? Do subsequent sins alter it in the same way? God’s instruction to Adam and Eve demanded obedience, and obedience is the mother and guardian of all other virtues in a rational creature. And this first commandment was so easy to observe, so simple to remember, and so unobtrusive in light of there being no desires contrary to it, that the sin itself was massively great. It was a great sin in proportion to the ease with which it could have been observed and fulfilled.

It was in secret that the first humans began to be evil: an invisible evil will preceded the evil act of disobedience. The higher Good shed its light on them, but they rejected it for their own guidance. This exaltation or prideful movement is truly a downfall. This is why humility is prized in the City of God. When a person aims at more than God has given, they are diminished. This is the original evil, namely, to regard oneself in his/her own light and thus to turn away from the light which would make man a light if he would set his heart on it.

Even worse than this turning to oneself is the denial of sin when it is brought into the light. Adam and Eve offered excuses. God’s punishment was first the very disobedience itself, as has been explained already in this section. But also, their bodies would no longer obey their spirits but would grow old, experience pain, endure hardships of many kinds, and no longer possess control over the body’s sexual capacities. In all of this, we have only succeeded in becoming a nuisance to ourselves. Fallen humanity experiences lusts of many kinds, and some have their own titles while others do not. For example, lust for domination does not have a title.


Chapters 16-26: Sex after the Fall

However, when “lust” is used by itself alone one usually assumes that it refers to sexual lust. This lust is not purely physical, for as a power it mingles the soul with the body. And when the lust is fulfilled it produces a delight so great that it excludes mental alertness almost completely. This lust is uncontrolled to a certain extent – it often moves when it is undesired, and it often does not move when an eager lover awaits. As discussed earlier, this is what Adam and Eve experienced after the fall that caused them such shame: the movement of their sexual organs without the control of the will.

This presence of lust in all human sexual activity is what leads married people to have intimacy only in private. This is why the Platonists held that anger an lust were perverted elements in humanity’s character and that they lead to acts which wisdom forbids. These are suppressed, they held, by intelligence and reason. They envisioned lust and anger as two parts of the soul, both of which try to overcome but are properly ruled by the third part of the soul, reason. When reason rules, they claimed, justice is preserved in the soul.

The Cynics – Augustine calls them canine philosophers – put forward an opinion to rebut the Platonists. They claimed that since there was nothing wrong with the sexual union of husband and wife, married couples could mate in public. But human nature, Augustine contends, is rightly ashamed of lust.

God’s original blessing upon marriage, to be fruitful and multiply, continued into the fallen state. This shows that procreation would have occurred in the paradisaical state if sin had not entered, though it would have occurred without lust. To imagine what that would have been like, we can imagine parts of our body that operate only in accordance with our will: the arms, hands, feet, etc. In contrast to these parts of our anatomy, the sexual organs sometimes do as they please without the consent or direction of the will. Just as the soul rebelled against God, so the lower parts rebel against the soul. And the contrast between our controllable parts of the body with our sexual organs is very significant in light of the power of the will over the body in extreme cases: for example, some can move their scalp, wiggle their ears, weep at will, etc. In all of these instances, the body is the obedient servant to the will, even to an unusual degree and in surprising ways. However, this same control does not prevail in the realm of fallen sexuality.

In paradise, humanity did not grow old or feel hungry or experience tiredness against his/her will. And similarly, no uncontrollable movement of the body would have been required for procreation. Just like moving his arm or foot, man would have injected the female with seed, and she would have grown and given birth to a new life without any pain or travail.


Chapters 27-28: God’s Design and the Two Cities

Human sin has not destroyed God’s plans for human history; rather, he knew that sin would enter the world. God knows how to turn evil into good. Though humanity did not have the power to live a good life, they did have and do have the power to live an evil life.

Based on humanity’s fallen desire for human praise and on God’s redeeming grace, there are now two cities. The first seeks praise from others, is dominated by the lust for domination, and loves its own strength; the latter praises God, is subject to Him, and loves God’s strength.


De Civitate Dei, Book XIII

Chapters 1-12: Two Kinds of Death

This book treats the fall of humanity. The soul is called immortal because it will never stop feeling, whereas the body will be completely bereft of life at some point. However, the soul can experience a kind of death, namely, when God abandons it, just as the body experiences death when the soul abandons it.

This leads to a discussion of two kinds of death: the first death is when the soul abandons the body, and the second death (ultimate death) is when God leaves the soul (Matthew 10:28). Hell is the second death without the first.

This brings to the surface an important question, is the first death a good thing? To be sure, this separation of soul and body remains as punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin. However, due to the remission of sins through Christ, this bad thing can lead to good. It may be asked why the punishment remains when the guilt has been removed. The martyrs show us the answer: it is to show the glorious victory which faith brings. Such victory hinges entirely on faith, because the reward of believing in Christ is unseen. “What has happened is that God has granted to faith so great a gift of grace that death, which all agree to be contrary to life, has become the means by which men pass into life” (p514).

Though death is not good, it leads to a good for Christians. This is inversely analogous to the Law which is good but becomes an evil to us due to our sin. Death, though not good, is made sweet by the washing of baptism. However, one may still have remission of sins and experience blessing through death if they never experienced baptism.

There are three stages as one moves towards the first death: before death, in death, and after death; these have three corresponding adjectives: living, dying, and dead. It is very difficult to define the middle term: “in death” or “dying”, for as long as the soul is in the body the man is alive. But when the soul leaves the body, he is “after death” or “dead”. So when is he in the middle state? This difficulty of definition is why Latin grammar does not conjugate the verb moritur (‘he dies’) in the normal way but forms the perfect without any temporal implications.

But in all of this we must not lose sight of the fact that the worst evil is for the soul and body to be united together for eternal punishment. Here, truly, a man will be “in death” and not simply before it or after it.


Chapters 13-15: The Fall of Adam and Eve

God threatened both deaths to Adam and Eve. After their disobedience, they felt embarrassed by the nakedness of their bodies, specifically their pudenda (“organs of shame”), and covered them with fig leaves. Why did they cover them? Because they felt a “novel disturbance” which was a punishment by God which answered to their disobedience. Just as the soul rejoiced in its freedom to eat of the fruit, so the body was now throwing-off its superior (the soul) to do as it pleased.[1]

God created within Adam the seminal natures of all individuals who would be born as humans. But when Adam sinned, all of those natures in Adam (and Adam’s own nature) were “spoiled”. Why? Because the flesh was set lose from the control of the spirit, just as man’s soul chose freedom from its ruler, God. So the punishment was just. And now, humanity cannot be born into any other condition. When God asked Adam, “where are you” (Genesis 3:9), God was not looking for information but was wanting to bring to Adam’s attention that God was no longer with him.


Chapters 16-18: Human Destiny and the Body

Some of the philosophers laugh at this view, because they think that the soul leaving the body is not a punishment from God but is rather the proper return to God. But these same philosophers explain that the gods are worried about having their bodies severed from their souls. And they claim that God promises to allow the gods (angels) to retain their bodies for eternity and that this is incredibly good news to the gods. Plato’s claim is that the desire to be in a body is granted to the gods, so why is it foolish for Christians to claim that humans will also eternally be in bodies? It is also a contradiction in the Platonist view when they say that no body is eternal while claiming that the whole earth, as a kind of body of God, is eternal. Stated the other way, there is no reason in the Platonic system to suppose that God would not grant bodies everlastingly to humanity. Whatever view they end-up with, to be consistent they either need to deny that the gods who possess bodies are eternally happy or that humans will not inherit eternal bodies after death.

It is not necessary to avoid every kind of body in order to be happy; rather, it is only necessary to avoid corruptible bodies (Wisdom of Solomon 9:15). Platonists reject the corruptible/incorruptible body distinction when they assert that all bodies are inevitably forced down to earth by their weight. But we need to examine this idea of bodily weights more closely, especially in light of the body that is with Christ in heaven and that will be joined to our soul in the resurrection.

Not all things in the natural world are positioned according to weight: a metal boat can float, for example. Similarly, a man of health feels that his arms are lighter than when he is ill. In addition to these observations, it may be noted that angels, Plato affirms, can remove the heat from fire without removing its light. Can he not then also suppose that corruptibility can be removed from the human body, removing the inertia of its weight? There needs to be more discussion about the quality of the resurrected body – this discussion will be deferred until later (see Book XXII).


Chapters 19-24: If Humans had not Sinned

Because the first death is a consequence of sin, humans would have never died if sin had not entered their history. While Plato held that wise and unwise souls cycle back and forth between eternal disembodied bliss and embodied misery, Porphyry simply claimed that wise souls remain in disembodied bliss for eternity. But both claimed that disembodied souls submitted to embodied gods. Thus, these teachers have no reason to find the Christian belief in resurrection absurd. Christian souls will long for the fulfillment of the promise of God for resurrection, as they dwell in heaven with him after death. And once that promise is received, saints will have spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44), meaning that the spirit will completely rule over the body and infuse the highest quality of divine life to it.

If one compares this resurrected body to the one Adam and Even possessed, one notes that the former will be superior. Why? Because Adam and Eve still needed nourishment; thus, they possessed bodies of the earth. The tree of life kept them from growing old like a kind of sacrament, and the other plants kept them from feeling hunger at any time. The tree of life is analogous to the wisdom of God in the spiritual/intelligible paradise (Proverbs 3:18).

Some interpret the entire account of paradise from Genesis 1-2 spiritually. They say the fruits are different moral qualities and that the four rivers are the four virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. The Song of Songs interprets paradise as the church (Song of Songs 4:12ff): the four rivers are the Gospels; the fruit trees are the saints; the fruits are their achievements; the tree of life is the Holy of Holies and Christ Himself; and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the personal free will of humanity. It is certain that if a person ignores God’s will all their efforts will be given to his own destruction because he will seek his own good and not that which is shared by all. All of this allegory can be pursued without denying the actual historicity of the original account (just as the Apostle Paul interprets Hagar-Sarah allegorically without denying their actual existence in time: Galatians 4:22).

The resurrected body will not need any nourishment to stave off hunger, but resurrected saints will eat as they desire (not out of necessity). The angels in the Old Testament sometimes visited and ate with their guests. Also, the resurrected Christ partook of food with the disciples though not out of need (Luke 24:43; Acts 10:41).

After all of the above, Augustine outlines categories of bodies in relation to pre-fall, fallen, and resurrected states. There are two main categories: (1) animal body – has a soul but not yet a life-giving spirit; (2) spiritual body – has a life-giving spirit animating their body. Pre-fall humanity had the first, though they never would have experienced death on account of the provision of the tree of life. Fallen humanity had the same body but was now barred from the tree of life and thus subject to physical death. Resurrected humanity will have a body that is empowered by a life-giving spirit. We attain to the resurrected body by means of Christ, the heavenly man who came to be clothed in a body of earthly mortality so that he might clothe it with heavenly immortality (1 Corinthians 15:47ff). So resurrected saints will not have the same body as Adam and Eve which was called earthly.[2]

Some say that humanity was created body and soul and then God breathed life into the soul (Genesis 2:7). They argue that God breathed life into “man” who is never only soul but is body and soul. They are correct that humanity is not only soul but a body-soul unity, though soul is the higher part and body the lower. [3] But this is an argument over words, for do we not say that “the man is dead” – and yet how could he be a man if only a body lies there? So, this verse of Scripture does not teach that God breathed life into a pre-created soul. If certain readers want to insist that it does and that God can only breathe of his own substance into humanity, perhaps they should read Revelation 3:16: “Because you are lukewarm…I shall go on to spit you out of my mouth.”



My Footnotes:

[1] If this analogy outlines the fundamental congruity and ‘fairness’ of what Augustine outlines as disordered fallen human sexuality (more on this in Book XIV), it is important to keep this analogy intact as one seeks to understand Augustine’s account of sexuality. Whatever one says about the soul learning a proper subjection to God must be carried-over to the body learning again a proper subjection to the soul. If the first set (God-soul) can be healed, so can the second (soul-body). This is precisely the point that Augustine does not develop; it is also this silence which leaves interpreters saying things like, “Augustine was always down on sexuality because of his own sinful past.” I’m suggesting that this fundamental connection developed in Book XIII, Chapter 13 suggests that there can be healing and ordering to one’s fallen sexuality.

[2] It is not clear (as Augustine himself admits in Book XIII, Chapter 23) that 1 Corinthians 15:47ff calls the pre-fall body “earthly”. This is important to keep in mind, since we are learning but Augustine but only insofar as he is a faithful reader of Scripture and profound exegete of human life.

[3] Despite all of the ways that the Platonic understanding of humanity gets updated by Augustine on account of the incarnation and resurrection, he never breaks free from the assertion that the immaterial aspect of humanity is superior since it shares the quality of immateriality with God.

De Civitate Dei, Book XII

Chapters 1-10: How Evil Enters a Good Creation

The last book dealt with the creation in general and, specifically, with the origin of the two cities (city of man and City of God) which were begun by the angels who are called “day” and “night” in Genesis 1. This book will discuss the creation of humanity with special reference to these two cities. To be sure, there is fellowship between men and angels in God’s City, and this is important to show so that no one wrongly thinks that there are really four cities (two for angels and two for humanity) rather than just the two.

It must be made clear as well that all God’s creatures were created good, not evil. The reason some are evil is that they fail to cling to God, their true and highest Good. For a rational nature, the failure to adhere to God is a perversion of that nature.

This is very important to grasp so that one does not claim that some created natures are inherently corrupt (like the Manichees assert) or that all creatures are eternal and come from God Himself. To the latter, Exodus 3:14 should be quoted, in which we see that God is existence itself. Creatures do not come from God’s being but from nothing. Thus, in terms of existence, the only enemy of God is non-existence. All creatures, who have a variety of lower degrees of being, by nature accord with God in their existence. Existence itself always accords with God’s being, but the perversion of the nature God has given does not accord with it.

This means that all aspects of creation, because they exist, have a proper and positive place within the overall created order. It is this consideration of the nature of things themselves which gives glory to the Creator. For “all things tend, in God’s plan, to that end which is included in the whole design for the government of the universe” (p476).

How, then, does evil enter this perfectly good creation of God? A nature can only become evil if it has a good nature and if it is mutable (changeable). This begins to get at the root of the problem, namely, how evil can come of good. If evil is privation of good, the way evil comes about is when a being willfully turns from a higher good to a lower good. This is a perversion in the will, an inordinate love for something which is lower.

This means that there is no efficient cause for evil. Finding the cause would be like finding darkness (the absence of light) or silence (the absence of sound). No one can observe things that are lacking, which is precisely what sin is – a lack of what is good. So we know the cause cannot be the efficient cause of evil but only the efficient cause of reality. The more a being has efficient causes the more it participates in reality, but when a higher being acts wrongly its activity is futile and it has a deficient cause. Evil is not turning to things that are evil in themselves but rather voluntarily turning from higher goods to lower. For example, there is nothing wrong or evil about gold, but there is evil in the man who turns to it rather than justice. And there is nothing wrong with a beautiful body, but the man who seeks after that instead of the self-control by which one is made fit for spiritual realities is in the wrong.

Does this mean that God was not the efficient cause of the will of the good angels as well? This would imply that the good angels improved on God’s creation by choosing the good, which cannot be the case. The only answer is that they willed the good by means of the assistance of the Creator’s activity.[1] Why the evil angels voluntarily fell away from the good is due either to the reduced measure of grace they received at creation or to a lack of help that only some angels received at some point in time after their creation which enabled them to cling to God.


Chapters 11-21: Problems with Creation and Eternity

Some Platonists like Apuleius say that humanity has no beginning, that they are individually mortal but as a species eternal. The Scriptures, however, present a short history of 6k years.[2] The fulfillment of prophecies which spoke about the future teach us to believe the Scriptures about issues regarding history as well.[3]

But the Physicists attempt to answer the question about the time of creation with their theory of periodic cycles. The problem with this, as was mentioned in the previous book in relation to the Platonists, is that it puts the immortal soul on an unending merry-go-round of alternation between bliss and misery. There can be no true happiness without certainty that it will go on forever. Some may quote Ecclesiastes 1:9ff where the Preacher speaks of some kind of cyclical movements in life. This probably is speaking about the generations that he had just mentioned or possibly about the general coming and going of things in life. Most convincing is Romans 6:9 where Paul says that Christ died once and for all (not again and again), and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which says that after the resurrection we will be with the Lord forever. But those who hold to periodic cycles search for both entrance and exit, unaware of creation and of where it is all going.

Others say that humanity must be eternal, for otherwise what would be the meaning of God being called the eternal sovereign – sovereign over whom? This is ultimately a question that we cannot answer. But to prove that it is an unanswerable question, one only needs to consider that it is just as nonsensical to say “there was a time when time did not exist” as it is to say “there was a man when no man existed”. So to say that humanity or the angels have always existed is not to say that they were never created, for they were perhaps created with the creation of time. Though we cannot have knowledge of the ages which passed before the world was created, we can say with confidence that no creature is co-eternal with God. Also, to say that God repented of his everlasting leisure and one day decided to create cannot be right, because this is merely imagining oneself in God’s position. Every infinity is somehow, to use an inexact expression, rendered finite to God.

Porphyry rejected the idea of periodic cycles and rather held that the soul is sent into the world to be cleansed and then to return to the Father forever. If Porphyry could reject this notion, certainly Christians who have God’s revelation should do so! These cycles prevent the creation of anything new, since everything has happened already in the past.


Chapters 22-28: The Creation of Humanity

It is much better that God started with creating one man instead of many. God created some creatures to be solitary and others to live in flocks or herds. Among the latter, only with humanity did God bring an individual into creation rather than a whole flock or herd. God created one man so that the bonds of human sympathy and community would be more emphatically brought home to humanity on account of kinship. Despite this kinship, humanity has engaged in sharper conflict than snakes or lions do among their own. But God foresaw this. And He also foresaw that a community of forgiven people would be brought into fellowship with the angels in eternal peace.

God created man with a soul that was capable of reason and intelligence that far surpassed all other earthly creatures. The Platonists say that the lower gods created humanity, but this is like saying that farmers make trees which is clearly false (1 Corinthians 3:7). Certainly the angels do what God commands, but every creature has only God as the creator.

There are two kinds of forms: those given externally to material substances (the shape of a piece of pottery, for example) and that which supplies the efficient causes. The latter can only come from God. Effective power cannot be made but only makes. Without God a creature would not merely be different but would not exist at all. If Romulus is called the founder of Rome, certainly God can be called the founder and creator of all things since he did not merely fashion material that he stumbled upon but made it all out of nothing.

Plato asserts that God makes the soul but then the angels make the body, and it is the duty of humanity to escape from the body to return to the immaterial God. But if this is the case, then angels are our jailers, giving us a body that we need freedom from.

In conclusion, humanity was created by God. And humanity is the most social creature by nature, though also the most quarrelsome by perversion. Human nature itself supplies the most salutary warnings against this perversion.[4] “Furthermore, the fact that a woman was made for the first man from his own side shows us clearly how affectionate should be the union of man and wife” (p508).



My Footnotes:

[1] Book XII, Chapter 9: How do non-Jansenist readers deal with passages in Augustine like this? I’ve read de Lubac and others who say that Jansenism misses the broader flow of Augustine’s thought, but when one reads a text such as this it becomes clear that such an explanation does injustice to the actual writings of Augustine in favor of a certain tradition of interpreting him.

[2] While many modern readers may appreciate Augustine’s non-literal reading of Genesis 1 as referring to creaturely knowledge of creation rather than seven literal days, on the point of the chronology of human history he is very literalist.

[3] I found this a very edifying point: the faith which actively trusts that God’s promises entail Him taking humanity very seriously in love will have a general disposition of trust and belief about all issues to which it intends to speak. Gordon Wenham (I think!) said that we should not be more suspicious of the texts of Scripture than we are of our mother. Augustine’s way of reasoning about this, in the end, argues for a greater degree of trust.

[4] It is clear that this is not a natural theology argument from Augustine (Book XII, Chapter 28). Rather, he is saying that the story of coming from one man is something that teaches us, as we consider it, to preserve unity in harmony.

De Civitate Dei, Book XI

My Introductory Comments: Books XI-XIV is the second main section of City of God which deals with the origin of God’ s City. These books were probably written between AD 416-420, which means that Augustine was in the midst of responding to Julian of Eclanum (hence all the material on sexuality in Book XIV). The supposed lopsidedness of Augustine’s writings on sexuality can largely be attributed to his embroilment in this controversy with Julian, because the debate required him to assert that sexuality is indeed fallen (some have thought that this point is all that Augustine thought about sexuality). Regarding Book XI specifically, Jean-Luc Marion, in his book On Descartes’ Metaphysical Prism (University of Chicago Press, 1999, pgs131-132), says that it “aims to establish that the world, even in the economy of the fall, remains intrinsically good and that it keeps an image of the Trinity. This image is also recognized in man, even in the state of sin.” This affirmation of the created world, despite sin, is helpful to keep in mind as the overarching purpose as you read through these summary notes. Now on to Augustine…


Chapters 1-3: Knowledge of Reality

The Founder of the City of God gives us a desire to join it. The Scriptures mention “glorious things” spoken of this City, and indeed there are many who speak of its beauty and glory. The fallen gods who demand human worship are deprived of the changeless light that is shed upon all alike. After losing it, they began to scramble for their lost dominions. But we have replied to the enemies of this City in Books I-X. Now it is our task, relying on God’s help, to trace the rise, development, and destiny of the two cities (the earthly and heavenly). In the present these are woven together, but they arose from two classes of angels.

It is rare for one to observe the mutability of creation and arrive at God’s immutability, concluding that all creation is the work of God alone. God can speak about these matters to the mind directly or through spoken testimony. The former is hard for humanity since humanity cleaves too weakly to the light and needs the healing of faith to be able to do so.


Chapters 4-11: The Creation of the World by God

Of all visible things the world is the greatest; of all invisible things the greatest is God. We know of the creation of the world from God’s testimony in the Scriptures. Some want to ask why creation was not created sooner. If the suggestion behind this question is that the creation has always been in a cycle or process of change, we need not answer this question. For the creation itself testifies to its creation as do the Scriptures. Some want to promote the idea of eternal process to defend God from creating as a mere fortuitous act. But the notion of a perpetual cycle would imply that happiness can never be eternal and lasting, which would make it less than full happiness.

Instead of discussing the point in time when creation began, let us discuss the space in which creation began. For if we imagine infinite stretched of time in which God was inactive, we can also imagine infinite stretches of space in which God was inactive. Certainly Platonists must hold that God was inactive in infinite stretches of space or else they are left affirming, like the Epicureans, that there are innumerable worlds. But Platonists do not hold this, though they hold that God’s immaterial presence fills even the infinite stretches of space which the creation did not fill. And if they assert that it is pointless to imagine infinite space before creation in which God was inactive, it is likewise the case with infinite time. The reality is that there was no time before the world began. Time means change, and eternity involves no change. So the creation must exist for the movement that makes time possible. “In the beginning” means before the work of creation. Thus, the world was created with time, not in time.

The Scriptures record seven days. But the light was created before the sun, the source of light. What kind of light was this? Either it was material light or it was a description of God’s City (cf. Galatians 4:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:5). This latter interpretation depends on us discovering the appropriate meaning of the recurring “evening and the morning”. It can be understood in this way: the creature’s knowledge is like a twilight (“evening) compared to the Creator’s knowledge, but the creature’s knowledge when it is turned to praise and love of the Creator never turns dark (“morning”). The text does not mention “night” but only “evening”, which Augustine takes to mean the creature’s knowledge. Morning arrives when creation is known in the Wisdom by which it was made. Thus, the text records human knowledge turning from knowledge of material things to the fuller understanding of those things mentioned on each successive day in light of God’s Wisdom by which He made them. The seventh day is called “the rest of God” which means the rest of those who find their rest in Him, just as “the joy of a house” means the joy of those who rejoice in that house: the efficient cause stands for the effect.

The Scriptures do not specifically mention the creation of the angels. Thus, the angels were either referred to in the phrase, “God created heaven and earth” or they are the “light” that we have been discussing. It is reasonable to expect that the angels were included in the creation account, because by day seven God is resting from the work of creating everything. Job 38:7 shows that the angels were made before the stars (the fourth day). The best explanation is that the angels are the “light” which received the name “day”, created on “one day”. That the text does not say “the first day” is significant, for these are not seven days but are all part of the one day and represent seven stages of knowledge, seven stages of comprehending the created works of God, with the seventh day including the embrace of God’s rest. The angels are “day” on account of their being illuminated by that light which comes from God (John 1:9).

The Trinity is simple, meaning that being is identical with attributes, and it cannot lose any attribute it possesses. The soul does not contain light on its own, for its being and this attribute of light are not the same. Thus, “simple” can only apply to the divine. In God are all the invisible and unchanging causes of things visible and changing. The light was not an aspect of the being of the angels, and some fell and, losing the light but keeping their rationality, dwell in “evening” rather than “morning” knowledge of creation. The degree to which they experienced the light before the fall is uncertain.


Chapters 12-15: Original Happiness of Creation and the Fall

Two factors lead to blessedness or happiness: untroubled enjoyment of the changeless Good and certainty of remaining in him for eternity. With regards to the creation of angels, there are two possibilities: 1) either they were given an unequal assurance (those who would remain were given an eternal sense of security while those that would not did not have this sense of security) or 2) all angels were given an equal assurance and the good angels received the certainty of eternal happiness after the other angels departed from the light.

Though John 8:44 claims that the devil was a deceiver from the beginning, this does not mean he was created evil; rather, it means that from the beginning he refused righteousness (1 John 3:8). We must oppose the Manichees who claim that the devil is in principle evil, giving to evil its own power and existence apart from the good. John 8:44 does say that the devil did not stand fast in the truth because the truth was not in him – but this is a certain kind of saying in an unusual form. Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:13ff suggest that the devil was once without sin. So we can uphold our point that God creates things good, according to a proper order and form.


Chapters 16-18: Creation’s Order and Use

Augustine describes three types of “order” that can be perceived or implemented in creation. First, God’s order. To describe God’s created order, Augustine lists several qualities that cause one being to be ranked above another, namely, beings with: life, reproduction (or an urge towards it), sentience, intelligence, and immortality. This is the order God has established which treats things and beings according to their nature given by God. Second, humanity employs utility as the criterion of value in interacting with these different beings: we sometimes prefer inanimate things to animate beings and at times would pay more for a horse than a slave. The point in contrasting the criterion of utility with God’s created order is to show that the attraction of desire can distort the order that God has established. Being driven by one’s own need causes one to evaluate creation on a selfish basis, while observing each thing’s own merits reflects an enlightened intelligence. Third, one can employ righteousness as the criterion through which one would see that righteous humans are ranked above evil angels.

God creates all beings good, and evil arises only because the will acts against one’s own nature. The fault is therefore with the will and not with the nature that God created. Nevertheless, God knew that the devil and others would withdraw from the light. But God foreknew this and utilizes such antithetical elements of creation to beautify it rather than the ultimately destroy it.


Chapters 19-23: Evil within Creation

In Genesis 1:4 God separated day and night, showing that he foresaw the coming darkening of some of the angels. This saying comes after “God saw that the light was good.” Thus, God declared all angels good. God says this not because he just discovered it but in order to communicate it to humanity. With God there is not a difference between seeing with the eyes and seeing with the mind, and his knowledge does not have past, present, future like ours.

So after this declaration that the light was good comes the division, and it is interesting to note that God does not say “God saw it was good” after dividing day and night. This affirms that the division concerned the coming darkening of some of the angels.

For each created thing we need to know who made it, how, and why. So light was created by God (who) through His Word (how) because it was good (why). Plato also grasped the “why” – that good works should be effected by a good God. Perhaps Plato had been taught by someone who had read this opening to Scripture. But some think that there are unpleasing elements in the created order, things like fire, cold, wild animals, etc. They fail to acknowledge the value these things have in their own sphere and in their own nature. They cannot see how these things and beings contribute to the overall beauty of the cosmic commonwealth. Even small things have value – for example, shave off an eyebrow and see what loss afflicts your face! We see that beauty depends on symmetry and thus depends on even the small and insignificant elements of creation.

Origen, though in agreement with us on most of these points above, failed to affirm the goodness of the human body. He thought that human souls were created by God but they withdrew from Him. As a result, God cast them down to earth to enter various kinds of bodies. This attributes far too much to the fall and ignores that saying from Genesis 1, “And God saw all that He made, and, behold, it was very good”. But Origen should have also realized that if it is true that the souls who sinned most severely received lower bodies, how do the demons have greater bodies than humans? And further, Origen’s point would imply that the sun which brings heat and light to our world was the result of a soul who sinned. Surely we should not be grateful that such a soul in such a way as to provide us with such warmth and heat to our physical world!


Chapters 24-32: Knowledge of the Trinity

The Trinity is what we faithfully proclaim. The Father is omnipotent, the Son is, and so is the Spirit; but we do not say there are three Omnipotents – there is only One. On a similar note, whether the Spirit is the goodness of both the Father and Son, this is a point Augustine does not want to hazard a judgment on. However, he does want to say that the Spirit is the substantial and consubstantial holiness of both Father and Son. If divine goodness is identical with divine holiness, it is not a rash judgment to expect that a hint of the Trinity would be found in the description of God’s creation.

Such a hint comes when we ask the questions noted above: who? how? why? As noted above, the Father created (who) through the Word (how) because it was good (why). Following the suggestion that the Spirit is the divine goodness then allows us to see that the creative works express the Trinity.

Similarly, philosophers divided their disciplines into three: natural, rational, and moral philosophy. These three forms of pursuing wisdom result from our being created, for if we had being in ourselves we would seek all these things from ourselves. However, these pursuits have some resemblance to the Triune God who made us.

Similarly, our nature reflects the Trinity in that we exist, we know we exist, and we are glad of this existence and knowledge. These three elements are not something we detect with our outward senses. Skeptics might say back, “but maybe you are mistaken”. If so, we simply say that if I am mistaken then I exist. Existing is something we naturally love, for even a person who is miserable would rather go on existing than be annihilated. Even beings lower on the scale of existence desire to continue living. In a similar way, humans love knowledge over deception. Intelligence is unique to humanity among the creatures on earth, and other animals cannot attain the immaterial light that shines on our minds.

Indeed, God’s creation reveals God. And as part of God’s creation, we look to ourselves; like the prodigal we “return to ourselves” (Luke 15:17) and find traces of God in whom alone we have no death, falsehood, or errant love. Certainly, the unfallen angels perceive God as Triune with greater clarity than we perceive ourselves (which are vestiges of the Trinity). These angels, filled with the light of God’s knowledge, know the creation and know themselves clearer than if they sought to understand themselves directly (apart from God’s light).


Chapters 33-34: Good and Evil Angels

The fallen angels are confined until they are judged. The good angels are certainly properly called light, for even saints still on earth are called light (Ephesians 5:8), though we are lower than the angels in our current state. The good angels burn with holy love for God, while the fallen angels live in the dark shadows of desire. The good angels bring merciful aid or just punishment in accordance with God’s will, while the fallen angels seethe with lust to subdue and injure. These are the two societies of angels referred to in Genesis as “light” and “darkness”.[1]



My Footnotes:

[1] Augustine notes at this point and elsewhere in this book that his interpretation of this phrase may not be right. He has the sense that the author may not have meant this. But what is interesting is that he considers it not unsafe since it confers with the Rule of Faith (p469, for example). A further apologia for his interpretation is that, while these sayings may have originally referred to material realities rather than immaterial ones (angels), Paul still uses them in a metaphorical way to talk about the saints and the unredeemed (1 Thessalonians 5:5). His final argument is that we must put the angels somewhere in the creation narrative and this seems the most likely.

De Civitate Dei, Book X

Chapters 1-4: The Angels Want us to be Happy in God

Now we ask, do the angels (or ‘gods’) call us to worship them or the one God from whom they derive their being? This question will be pursued under the Greek word “latreia” because it most directly describes that type of reverence and service which is uniquely owed to divinity. “Cult” does not do so, because it can be used to describe things due to humanity. “Religion” also fails as a good term because it is sometimes used to describe duties owed to a neighbor. “Piety” is, in common usage, used to describe compassion. Thus, “latreia” in the Greek is roughly equivalent to “servitus” in Latin, and these terms will be used to describe true dedication and worship to God.

Angels and ourselves receive happiness from the same source. Plotinus is in agreement with us on this point. The angles, like humans, have a kind of light shine upon them which is apprehended only by the intellect. Plotinus finds a comparison for this light in the great bodies in heaven: God is the sun and the soul, as recipient of the sun’s light, is the moon. The Platonists hold that there is no being above the angels (except for God) and that those beings receive life from Him. But if the Platonists would have been consistent, they would have worshiped God alone. For it is only by having our intellectual soul filled with His light that we are fertile with true virtues and capable of attaining happiness. This end has been appointed so that a person may know how to love themselves and attain bliss.[1] Seeing this final Good as our ultimate happiness opens our eyes to the fact that any creature who loves us will desire us to be more happy in God.


Chapters 5-6: True Sacrifice

Sacrifices do not benefit God. And the Psalmist (50:14), said that God both does not and does desire sacrifice: He does not want an animal, but He does want a broken heart. God does not want the first without the second in the Old Testament, because the first is really meant to be a symbol of the second. The body is offered to God by pursuit of temperance, and the soul is offered to God so that it might change in ‘form’ from worldly to godly. And the whole church becomes the ‘form’ of a servant as it submits to the head, Christ. In the Eucharist, the church can see that she is ‘one body with many members’ and that she is offered to God in this act of worship.


Chapters 7-9: The Work of Angels

Angels rejoice in their participation in their creator, finding their stability in His eternity, their assurance in His truth, their holiness from His bounty. And the City of God is comprised of both these angels and ourselves. Angels help us on our way. Angels have revealed God’s law, including the command to not worship anyone but God! One must not forget the ministry of the angels to Abraham in announcing a son, announcing the fall of Sodom, entering the city to save Lot, etc. And no one will forget the way the angels assisted in delivering Moses and Israel from Egypt. God’s angels continued to minister to the people in the desert. In all of this, the people were punished if they worshiped the helpers instead of God who sent the helpers. In fact, all the instances of help from angels were meant to promote worship of God.


Chapters 9-11: The Claims of Theurgy

Old Testament miracles were achieved by simple faith. However, Porphyry seems to say that the soul can be purified through ‘theurgy’, though he later backs away from this point out of embarrassment. Certainly it is not the intellectual element of the soul that is purified by theurgy; rather, he means the spiritual part of the soul which apprehends the images of material things. But this latter only perceive things with materiality and not the immaterial God. Humanity, according to Porphyry should cultivate friendship with gods and demons through theurgy. Theurgy can be used for evil, but we must use it for good.

In all of this, Porphyry seems to be saying that the gods can be conjured by theurgy. However, the people so feared theurgy’s use by those who had evil intent that they were unable to derive any benefit from it. Even further, it seemed that theurgy only worked to the benefit of those with evil intent. In a letter to Anebo of Egypt, Porphyry makes more true statements: demons are conjured by human request but are fundamentally deceitful. However, Porphyry puts this forward on the tongues of others (by means of quotes), and thus only as a suggestive set of thoughts. “It was, no doubt, difficult for so great a philosopher either to acknowledge all this society of demons or to censure them with confidence, whereas any Christian old woman would have no hesitation about the fact of their existence, and no reserve about denouncing them” (p387).

Augustine then poses a series of questions to those who uphold theurgy: why do these gods insist that their priests eat no meat, though they delight in the smoke of sacrifices; why must initiates avoid contact with dead bodies when the ceremonies they will perform involve dead bodies; why do the gods respond to human threats? Perhaps Porphyry is adopting the humble stance of an inquirer as well in his letter to Anebo, who was a practitioner of these arts. Porphyry ends his letter to Anebo by asking the Egyptian understanding of the way to happiness. He notes that those who seek the gods to simply discern who to marry or how to find their runaway slave have utilized access to god to little purpose. He presses the point that what matters is pursuit and attainment of happiness.


Chapters 12-16: Divine Miracles

God’s miracles differ from those of the demons. We know God works miracles because he made the world, which is greater than any material miracle we might observe. In fact, we are merely numb to the magnificence of this miracle of creation. But God continues to do miracles so that He might captivate the attention of those preoccupied with visible things. The giving of the Law through Moses was accompanied by great signs and commotions – the creation was serving the intention of the Creator.

The entire narrative of human history is similar to that of an individual person and goes like this: humanity has been drawn to worship one God, enticed first by temporal benefits, but then drawn forward by eternal benefits. And all things come from the one God, not ultimately from other humans or angels. Plotinus, in discussing providence, says that even flowers could not have such beauty without receiving ‘form’ (Idea) from the creator. The weakness of humanity is that we still crave earthly things which are inferior to the eternal blessings of that other life. Yet humans should learn to look to God for even temporal things so that in longing for them their worship should not be diminished.

God not only ‘appeared’ in visible ways to the Israelites at Sinai, but he spoke as well in physical words that can be heard and read. But the angels receive communication with their intelligent mind without words. And the message communicated at Mt. Sinai through angels was that all worship is to be directed to God alone. Thus, which angels are we to believe – the angels desiring religious ceremonies or those directing us to worship God alone? Let us assume no miracles were performed by either, which should we listen to – those who call for worship to themselves or to God alone? In this case, piety itself should have been able to decide which was true religion and which was arrogant pride. Or let us assume that those angels demanding their own worship had performed miracles, while those calling for worship of God alone had not – even then, the mind should have been able to realize that the latter were the true servants of God. But the case is even more obvious than this, for God allowed miracles to accompany the truth. Indeed, the miracles of the gods are based on illusions more than true changes in materiality like God’s miracles. And even in cases when the miracles seem somewhat similar, we can see the superiority of God’s miracles in that they call us to worship Him.

Thus, the angels show their love for us by directing our worship to the truth God in whom is all our happiness.


Chapters 17-20: The Purpose of Old Testament Sacrifices

The Ark of the Covenant housed the commandments and was a place from which God did many miracles, communicated many things, shamed gods of other nations, and required sacrifices. The Platonists were right to ascribe to God’s providence the flowers and every detail of our earth, but the miracles associated with the worship of God should then be all the more noticeable and significant. Similarly, the pagan histories tell stories of miracles associated with the worship of pagan gods. And it is to these that this entire work is addressed, for they prefer their own gods to the God of the City that we seek to promote. Such false worshipers do not know that God alone is the invisible and unchanging, founder of the visible and changing world, the true giver of the life of blessedness. The object of true blessedness is debated: some say money, others say power, others say bodily pleasure, and others say the virtue of the soul. But the Psalmist says his true good is to cling to God (Psalm 73:28).

Not all who perform miracles should be worshiped. For example, when Paul and Barnabas performed miracles in Lycaonia, they took them for gods and wanted to sacrifice victims to them (Acts 14:7ff), but Paul and Barnabas refused this. So do the angels – they refuse our worship. But false gods desire sacrifices because they like divine honors. They do not like the smell of dead bodies, as Porphyry suggests, but they enjoy the human soul subjecting itself to them. In doing so, they bar the way to the true God who deserves all worship and sacrifice of the inner person.

Jesus, our Mediator, preferred to be the sacrifice rather than receive sacrifices, and the church learns to offer itself through Him. This is the true sacrifice of which the many sacrifices of the Old Testament are symbols.


Chapters 21-29: The Power to Purify

Demons were given power for a time. They persecuted the church and created martyrs, which ended-up only helping the honor and reputation of God and His people. We do not call martyrs heroes because the name is associated with Juno whom Virgil depicted as being an enemy of virtue. Porphyry says a good spirit cannot enter a man unless the evil spirit is first appeased through sacrifice. This person then becomes a hero. But this is not our martyrs. They cast out the enemy by praying to God against the enemy. Ultimately, it is only the power of our mediator to purify our sins and communicate some of His bounty to us that allows us to overcome. We live under pardon, which keeps us from pride.

Porphyry says that no initiatory rites can cleanse us; only the “principles” can purify the soul. By “principles” he meant the Intellect or Mind of the Father. Porphyry also spoke of some middle substance, which no doubt, we can understand as what we mean by the Holy Spirit.[2] The reality is that it is only by the work of Christ in the incarnation that we are purified – so Porphyry should have spoken of the “principle” in the singular. Porphyry was blinded by pride, which is precisely what Christ can to overthrow. The Mediator showed that it is sin that is evil, not the nature of flesh. The Word in flesh is what purifies the soul and flesh of believers.

Even in the Old Testament times, which taught men to worship God by means of promising even temporal rewards, God was teaching humanity to have faith in the mystery of God’s redemption in Christ. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 is like a hinge between Old and New Testaments, because he sees that the material rewards were insufficient. Deserted on the lower level, he enters a higher form of praise which depends on clinging to God alone, joining with the angels who simply desire us to join them in worshiping their God and ours.

Platonists admit two types of angels: those coming down to announce God’s will and those responding to theurgy. Augustine calls the Platonists to be bold in renouncing the latter! Both Porphyry with his two types of angels and Apuleius with his demons who live below the moon are off the mark. Only Christ offers purification of body, spirit, and mind, a purification full of compassion. Christ offers not only purification of not only ‘spiritual’ but also ‘intellectual’ soul which theurgic art cannot do. This is why the world flocks to Christ.

Christ requires that we make a humble admission of our genuine misery, something Platonists have not done. But the way the Son of God came evokes a grateful response. And if the intellectual soul can commune with God, then it is not unthinkable that the Son of God took on an intellectual soul and a body. And the virgin birth, a wonderful birth, ought not to cause you to stumble but rather cause you to accept our religion. And that Christ took a resurrected body with him into heaven should not be unthinkable to Platonists who hold that the physical world is eternal and that physical  stars are blessed gods. The only reason for rejecting the religion of Christ is pride.


Chapters 30-32: Refuting Platonism

Porphyry refutes Plato and Plotinus in regards to the details of reincarnation, a principle tenet of Platonism. Porphyry said that people come back as people (Plato said as animals) and that a purified soul will never again suffer the evils of this world (Plato said souls forget and then re-enter bodies). Porphyry had the courage and clarity of mind to refut this Platonic notion of the cycle of souls.

Platonists refuse to admit that souls could have an eternal future without having an eternal past, and yet they hold that creation will be eternal though it was created at a certain point in time. Also, souls become happy at some point in time, though that happiness will never end.

Porphyry was also honest enough to say that no philosophy had found the universal way for the liberation of the soul. He does not say that no way exists but that he has not found it in the international scope of his studies. Porphyry encountered some Christian martyrs, and he thought Christianity would pass away like all other man-made religions. But indeed, Christianity flourished amidst the persecutions. So this is the universal way that he searched for. The number of prophetic predictions that Christ fulfilled should arrest their attention, for these were not mere short-sighted forecasts based on predictable circumstances.¬† The force of such predictions should cause us to hope for further fulfillment of God’s promises today and in our future.



My Footnotes:

[1] Previous chapters’ footnotes have highlighted this theme of eudamonism and Augustine’s continuity and discontinuity with this tradition of ethical thought. In this footnotes, I just want to flag a very significant quote which addresses how Augustine conceived of self-love in relation to this tradition: “For in order that a man may know how to love himself an end has been established for him to which he is to refer all his action, so that he may attain to bliss” (p376). See also the citation of Ecclesiasticus 30:23 in Book X, Ch 6 (p379).

[2] It is amazing how much theological insight Augustine attributes to the Platonists here. In other places he is less enthusiastic, but here it is perhaps at its height. This move is very similar to his concept of “vestiges of the Trinity” as found in humanity. See Karl Barth’s interesting rebuttal of this tradition in Church Dogmatics I/1.8 (p334-348).

De Civitate Dei, Book IX

Chapters 1-3: Are there Good Demons?

Platonists hold that the demons are intermediaries between the gods and humanity.  But do they hold any distinctions among demons? Apuleius says in no uncertain terms that demons are agitated by raging seas and storms of passion. (If so, they are below wise men who fight such disturbances, though never free from them completely in this life.) Further understanding of the passions is necessary before moving forward in answering this question.


Chapters 4-6: The Passions

Two opinions are found among the philosophers about the nature of passion. Platonists and Aristotelians say that passions befall even wise men, though they keep them in check through intellect. Stoics, however, say that such passions cannot befall a wise man. But Augustine thinks that these views are identical; the problem is only that the two groups are using different words, though arguing for essentially the exact same position.

Augustine recounts the story about the Stoic who was on a ship that almost sank. The passengers realized that this Stoic looked pale and afraid. One passenger later asked him why, seeing that his belief was that his soul would not be disturbed at all by passions. The Stoic said that there are ‘fantasies’ which are terrors that come upon one so quickly that the mind cannot subdue them for the first few moments. The important thing, the Stoic explained, was the consent or refusal of the mind to such a disturbance – this is what is within human control. On this account, there is no difference between the Stoics and the other philosophers on the subject of passions or disturbances: both sides champion the mind and reason against the tyranny of the passions.

We will not look at what the Scriptures teach about passions at this point. In general, they teach that the mind is subject to God and the passions to the mind. The question then becomes now whether the soul is disturbed but why. The Scriptures also promote compassion, something that the Stoics call a vice. In substance, however, they are saying a similar thing to the Christians. They claim that compassion is proper as long as it does not disturb the mind.

So are our experiences of emotions part of the disability of this life? It is clear that the angels and God, though Scripture uses passionate language about them at times, are not subject to disturbances like humans are. However, it is clear that the demons do experience such passions.


Chapters 7-17: The Platonist Doctrine of Demons

But perhaps it is only the evil class of demons who experience passions. Though the poets ascribed many passionate moments to gods, the Platonists were clear that these passions only mark the lives of demons and not gods. It is helpful to remember Apuleius’ (Platonic) definition of the demons: animals by species, liable to passions in soul, capable of reason in mind, bodies composed of air, and eternal in life-span. But it is notable that this definition makes no connection to good men as opposed to bad. When he defines humanity, he includes a means of distinguishing good from bad, namely, wisdom. So it is evident that he did not distinguish in this way among the demons, and it is evident that the demons are like gods in body but do not possess wisdom like good men.

But here is a problem. If the demons have access to the gods because they have the same body, that means that spiritual communion is based on the body and not the soul. More properly, the Platonists should claim that the demons are inverted: their bodies are higher than humanity’s and thus closer to the gods but their souls are fallen like those of humanity. Truly, the demons are upside down! Their soul should rule their body, and thus their soul should commune with the gods. Plotinus noted that the demons, because they were created with eternal bodies, are trapped and cannot experience freedom in death like humans can. [1] “As it is, not only does the wretchedness of their soul prevent them from being happier than men; they are even more miserable than men because they are chained to the body for all eternity” (p355). The upshot of this is that demons are demons in perpetuity.

Apuleius also teaches that human souls become lares if they lived good lives and become either lumenures or larvae; those who were in the middle are called di manes. The evil will then consider that they can continue their evil after death. Apuleius says that the word eudaimones refers to good souls (eu daimon) which are demons. But we must dig further into Apuleius’ descriptions to see if this fleshes out. While the gods are distinguished by being eternally happy, the demons are eternally miserable. This eternal misery is that they are susceptible to passions for all eternity. How then could demons be correctly called eudaimones? Then who are the eudaimones who are between humanity and gods? This being is Jesus Christ, the One who is both human and divine. The final conclusion of the Platonic doctrine of demons is that demons are polluted by men rather than men by demons. We must reject this.


Chapters 18-23: Demons in the Christian Understanding

Far from helping us on the way to God, demons distract and divert us. They are jealous of the cure that is offered us but not them. The idea of advancing by means of the higher bodily quality of demons is wrong, because it is by our souls that we approach God. But some are claiming that our ‘angels’ are the same as Platonic ‘good demons’. We must address this point.

In the Scriptures, the word ‘demon’ is always about unclean spirits, never about good ones. Augustine quotes Plato in saying that the Greek word ‘demon’ comes from the root word ‘knowledge’. And 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that knowledge puffs-up but that love builds-up. Surely demons have the knowledge of Jesus as the Christ (Mark 1:24). While the demons are puffed-up with knowledge about temporal things, the angels despise all below God and yet know all things below him better on account of their knowledge of Him.

Whether the Platonists call the angels ‘gods’ or not is not of ultimate concern to Augustine. After all, the Scriptures refer to good men as ‘gods’ sometimes (especially in the Psalms), but this is more safe than calling an angel ‘god’ since it might actually win our affections by its superiority to us.

The final point to make is that the Scriptures teach us that the angels make announcements of God’s will to us. But the Platonists say that the demons do this – certainly we must depart at this point.



My Footnotes:

[1] This links-up with the long-standing debate over the salvation of angels. This is my first time to hear Augustine’s position on this, so it is quite an interesting take. Again, one is faced with the difficulty of deciphering what (if any) part of his argument is relevant outside a context of Platonic thought.

De Civitate Dei, Book VIII

Chapter 1: Plan for this Book

This chapter will deal specifically with ‘natural theology’, which means that we will need to cross swords with the most eminent of philosophers. ‘Philosopher’ means literally ‘lover of wisdom’, but not all who claim to be philosophers are actually lovers of true wisdom. Not all philosophers will be interacted with in this book but only those pertaining to theology (Augustine understands ‘theology’ to mean ‘reasoning or discussing about divinity’). Even more specifically, those thinkers will be interacted with who admit the existence of God but who think that in order to attain happiness one needs the assistance of many gods who have been appointed by this one true God. These thinkers will help one to get closer to the truth than Varro who, as was argued in the last book, confined himself to the things of this world. Platonists are among the best philosophers, but attention first needs to be paid to those philosophers who preceded Plato.


Chapters 2-8: The History and Basic Structure of Platonic Philosophy

Greek philosophy consists of two traditions: Italian (or Magna Gracia) and Ionian. The former was founded by Pythagoras of Samos who coined the name ‘philosophy’. Before him, those who looked into these questions were called sages, but Pythagoras found that too lofty of a claim and instead said that he was merely a ‘lover of wisdom’. The latter (Ionian) school was founded by Thales of Miletus. Thales was known for his ability to predict solar and lunar eclipses based on his astronomical calculations, and his most famous theory was that water is the origin of all things. His great error was to fail to ascribe the work of creation to divine operation.

What follows is a series of disciples, each springing from the previous, in the Ionian school:

  • Anaximander failed in the same manner as his mentor but offered a different conception of the universe by claiming that water was not the source of everything but that each thing had its own source.
  • Anaximenes ascribed the causes of all things to the infinite air (including the gods).
  • Anaxagoras followed him and held that a divine mind is working on infinite matter.
  • Another pupil of Anaximines’ was Diogenes who maintained that air is the primal matter from which all things derive their existence; however, he held that the divine mind participates with air to issue forth all things.
  • Archelaus held that the divine intelligence is in all particles as the active force in the universe.

All of this leads to Socrates who is reputed to have turned the whole of philosophy towards the improvement and regulation of morality. Some interpreters say that Socrates concentrated his attention on the study of physics because he was bored by the obscure investigations of philosophy during his day. Socrates held that God is the first cause of the universe, but that this cause could only be grasped by a purified intelligence. The soul was weighed-down by lusts, and so freedom from these lusts allowed the soul to contemplate the unchanging light which is the cause of all things. The many disciples of Socrates took what they fancied from his teaching. Specifically, arguments arose regarding the nature of the Final Good (summum bonum) which ensures man’s happiness: some said pleasure, some said virtue, etc.

Plato was Socrates’ best student. After the death of Socrates, Plato traveled far and wide to understand any knowledge that was offered by various schools – he went to Egypt and to the Pythagoreans in Italy. Plato pursued philosophy along two lines: practical (focus on action, establishment of moral standards) and speculative (focus on pure thought, theory of causation and nature of absolute truth) philosophy. While Socrates was excellent in the first, Plato joined to it the Pythagorean strength in the latter; his claim to fame was joining these two strands of philosophy.

Plato divided philosophy into three parts: natural philosophy (speculation), moral philosophy (action), and rational philosophy (distinguishing truth from falsehood). The latter is employed in the first two. His bearing on theological matters can be understood along these three lines as well: God as cause of existence, rule of life, and principle of reason.

First, Plato’s natural philosophy. Plato is much closer to Christianity than either poetic theology with its scandalous performances or civil theology with its unclean demons posing as gods. Only Platonists hold that God is the author of the universe, the source of the light of truth, and the bestower of happiness. Plato’s predecessors in the Ionian tradition had minds subject to the body, thus claiming that creation arose from physical causes. They were trapped by bodily senses.[1] But Platonists distinguished between the sensible (forms of material things observable by the body’s senses) and the intelligible (forms of life observable by the mind). As an example of the latter, beauty comes first in the mind aside from all mass and volume.[2] Augustine then gives a very platonized reading of Romans 1:19ff, claiming that the ideas are available to intelligence through the created, sensible world. This summarizes the physical or natural branch of philosophy in Platonic thought.

Second, Plato’s moral philosophy. This branch discusses the question of the summum bonum to which we refer all our actions. Some say this is found or derived from man’s body, some say from man’s soul, and some say from both. All of these options fail to go outside of the human person, which is exactly what we must do. All of these schools fall far short of those that found man’s ultimate good in the enjoyment of God. The closest analogy to this is the eye’s enjoyment of light.[3] Plato said that the highest good is life in accordance with virtue which is only possible with one who had the knowledge of God.

Third, Plato’s rational philosophy. The criterion of truth is not in the rational senses. Epicureans and Stoics both claim that ‘dialectic’ is to be derived from the bodily senses. Augustine thinks they ascribe a power beyond the senses in trying to draw this subtle art of rationality from the body.


Chapters 9-13: Platonist Rights and Wrongs

A Christian student confined to Christian literature may be unfamiliar with Plato, but any student will be aware of basing their thought on God as opposed to the world. Romans 1:19ff presents this.[4] Many Christians are amazed to read that Plato agrees with our doctrine in many important respects. Augustine says that earlier in his Christian life he wrote that perhaps Plato encountered Jeremiah in the midst of his travels, but he now knows that the dates do not work for this to be a possibility.

More likely is the suggestion that Plato knew the opening of the Bible, the first few verses of Genesis, perhaps by word of mouth. Plato says that in the beginning God brought together earth and fire (in place of heaven and earth). Plato said water and air were the intermediaries that effected their coming together (this interprets the statement, ‘the spirit of God soared above the waters’ – for ‘spirit’ can mean air or breath). Plato also says that the philosopher is the lover of God, a fact that shines out very clearly from the pages of the Scriptures. And most striking, Plato said God is unchanging, which is the import of God’s name, ‘I am he who is’.

Aristotle was one of Plato’s most brilliant students, though not a match in terms of literary style. Other famous followers came after both Plato and Aristotle. In Augustine’s day, the most famous Platonists were Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Apuleius.

Despite these well-known thinkers being worthy of the utmost admiration as natural philosophers, there are many points of difference with the Christians. One point in particular concerns the present discussion: which gods are to be worshiped? Plato said that all gods are good. If this is so, which must be true, there are no bad gods which need mollification by means of sacrifice. Plato’s opinion of the gods that demand stage-shows is well known. He thought such poets should be banished from the city. But, Platonists in Augustine’s day held Plato to be a demigod but held the gods of the shows to be true gods. How can a demigod call the gods no gods at all? Let’s let the Platonists explain. To do so, we must hear their account of the different kinds of rational souls.


Chapters 14-25: Platonism on the Three Kinds of Rational Souls

The Platonists say that there are three kinds of rational souls (in descending order): gods, demons, and humanity. The demons, who live in the air above humanity but below God, have an immortal body (like the gods, they say) and passions of the soul (like humanity). It is this latter quality that makes them delight in the theatrical shows that Romans put on for them. In other words, when Plato condemned the stage-shows, he was condemning demons and not gods. Some say that Socrates received direction from demons, but then why would Plato want the poets banned?

Indeed, the demons enjoy a superiority in regards to their bodies, but even animal bodies surpass human bodies in some respects (senses, strength, speed, etc.). The important thing is not the bodies but the moral qualities that make us superior to animals and demons. There is no comparison between a devout man’s hope and the demons’ despair. When it comes to assessing the merits of souls, we do not look merely to the place of a being among material things (its place in fire, air, water, earth), for then we would rank sea creatures above humans. In the end, ‘an inferior material body may well be the habitation of a superior soul, and an inferior soul may dwell in a superior body’ (p321).

Apuleius says that demons are mollified by gifts and give power to magicians. He says they have three qualities that they share with humans: animals, subject to passions, and rational. They share one quality with the gods: eternal. And they have one quality unique to themselves: bodies composed of air. If this is right (some of this is disputable), demons are creatures and should not be worshiped.

If we take these Platonic categories, fire and air are filled with immortal beings and earth and water with mortal beings. But then how can demons be disturbed by passions which are irrational motions of the soul? But then why would we not find these disturbances also in beasts? It is because a beast does not have rationality and thus cannot have an irrational passion. And gods cannot have passions because they are immutable and thus happy. The demons alone are eternal but unhappy! Why, then, would we subject ourselves to them? Why humble yourself before one that you would hate to resemble in your life?

Apuleius also says that demons take our prayers to the gods, since we are not properly in contact with the gods. But are the demons properly in contact with us or with the gods? Certainly not. And why would the gods receive prayers for forgiveness from the very ones who tempted and stirred the sinner into their sin? And it certainly does not say much of the holiness of God if he will have contact with a demon but not with a humble, repentant sinner! The evil of the demons is well-known, which is why their actions through sorcery are now outlawed in Rome (thanks to the Christians).

Others say that the gods need the demons because they are physically distant from humanity and do not know what is happening on earth. But this, again, makes the mistake that physical distance is the important factor when it is clearly not. What matters is the distance from goodness, and in this, a good person is closer to God than the demons are.

And it is hard to envision, in Apuleius’ model, how the demons told the gods about Plato’s statement that their theatrical performances were lewd and crass! There are one of four possibilities here: the demons hid Plato’s statements from the gods, the demons reported Plato’s statement but did not disclose their own delight in the performances, the demons disclosed Plato’s statement and that they enjoyed the theater, or the demons disclosed only the conclusion of Plato (but not the philosophical rationale) and the gods misunderstood Plato. None of these are solutions; all cause serious problems to our conception of the gods. The only solution left is the reject Apuleius’ conception of the demons. Instead of seeing that they hold a position of honor, the Scriptures report that they were cast out of heaven to a lower position.

Hermes, the Egyptians, has a slightly different conception of the gods/demons than Apuleius. He says that when men craft images, a demon attaches its spirit to the image like a soul to a body. Interestingly, Hermes says the manufacture of images was a result of his ancestors’ straying far from the truth. Would it not make sense, then, that when the true religion is brought through Jesus that the idols would again be destroyed, the error of the ancestors corrected? To his credit, Hermes predicts a time when images will no longer be worshiped. Even the demons knew that there would be a time when they would be thrown out of their seats of power on earth (Matthew 8:29). Now, indeed, because of Christ the whole earth is singing a new song to the Lord. A new holy house, a City, is being built for praise. It is the City which is filled with people formerly in captivity to demonic religion (Psalm 96). The difference between the prophetic predictions of the downfall of false gods and Hermes’ prediction was that the former was filled with joy and the latter with sadness. Hermes calls these gods ‘man-made gods’. So here is what an image is: a certain kind of man makes an image and, by some strange art, attaches a demon to it by means of the fetters of the demon’s own passions.[6] So this account of demons differs substantially from that of Apuleius, because Hermes never gives them the honor of mediators. Hermes is closer to the truth: demons are made gods by men through this impious art. In summary, Hermes gave a different place to the idols which is closer to the truth.

The only way to share in fellowship with the ‘good gods’ is not through the mediation of the demons but by sharing in a good will. Our fleshly existence does not keep us separated – only our impurity of heart can.[5]


Chapters 26-27: Pagan and Christian Cults

It is interesting to note that when Hermes predicted the downfall of the idols in Egypt, he also said that shrines and temples will be filled with tombs of dead men. Augustine thinks this is referring to the Christian martyrs. Of course, pagans take this prediction to mean that the temples once dedicated to the worship of gods is replaced by Christians who worship dead men. But we have already quoted Varro who showed that the gods are nothing more than dead men. Hermes himself says that temples are dedicated to dead men. All this goes to show that even in the day of Hermes, the temples were full of tombs and of dead men (the gods themselves!).

The Christian martyrs were those who did not fear death but gave precious and faithful testimony to their faith. As a result, the laws were changed which forbid Christianity.These martyrs have nothing in common with the offspring of Isis and Osiris, all of whom were kings. While the Egyptians deified these wicked people, Christians refuse to deify our martyrs.

Christians, of course, do not assign temples or ceremonies to martyrs. No one will ever hear a Christian priest make a sacrifice to a martyr. Rather, by renewing memory of them, we encourage ourselves to emulate their crowns and palms of victory. Thus, the acts performed at the tombs of the martyrs are not worship but acts of respect to their memory. Some do bring food to the tombs to sanctify it and then either eat it or distribute it to the poor, but this is not the practice of the better-instructed Christians.

It is clear from all of this that demons are not to be worshiped to attain blessedness after death.



My Footnotes:

[1] It is interesting to note here that Augustine is chalking-up what he perceives to be an intellectual error to what he perceives to be a deficient moral condition. Deficient morality leads to deficient understanding.

[2] Wittgensteinians and phenomenologists (w/p) are two philosophical schools or traditions that have earnestly attacked this point. They want to assert that there is a pre-cognitive experience of the world that precedes the reflection that ‘ideas’ depend upon. In other words, they want to say that the world precedes ideas, while Augustine (via Plato) is saying that ideas precede the world. Augustine is separating sense from intelligence, while w/p want to say that intelligence (as reflection on experience) depends on the sensible.

[3] This clearly draws on the Platonic myth of the man in the cave turning around and coming out of the cave into the light. Augustine’s discussion of creaturely knowledge of creation in Book XI will read Genesis 1’s “evening and morning” as describing the increasing light that dawns on one as they see creation in relation to its cause (God). It is interesting to not (like footnote [1] above) that this discussion of the knowledge of creation takes place within the context of ‘moral philosophy’ and not ‘natural philosophy’.

[4] Augustine’s Platonist readings of Scriptural texts can be incredibly creative and distant from the intent of the author (small “a”). It takes careful analysis to uncover exactly how much mileage the Platonist elements are given in each reading. In terms of Platonism in the role of Augustine’s overall thought there is general consensus that he first swallowed Platonism wholesale but then, due to his interaction with the Scriptures (especially the Incarnation and biblical eschatology), slowly subdued some of the Platonist elements to biblical thought. This whole area of the Hellenization of Christianity has been the matter of much debate and discussion down through the ages and includes numerous interpretations, narrations, and solutions.

[5] Augustine will introduce the Neoplatonic ‘scale of value’ in Book XI, but it is already at work here. What is interesting is the way in which he seems to be already revising the concept in this context. Here he seems to be saying, as he will in Books XI-XIII, that a rational being is not limited in its communion with other beings by possession of a certain kind of body. The type of body is not determinative of the type of communion – only the quality of the will is. Here, as in the previous footnote, disentangling the Platonism from streams of thought more directly and thoroughly informed by the biblical witness is not easy. Scholars disagree on these matters.

[6] This is a very inventive account of the ontology of idols. Augustine seems to take the two streams of biblical thought in full force and, yet seems to find a way to creatively weave them together. The two streams of thought are: (1) idols are nothing, (2) idols are demons. Augustine’s solution, to state it more directly here, is that idols are nothing but that a demon can attach to an idol to fulfill its passions when cajoled by a kind of magic or ‘impure art’. This account would suggest that an idol is absolutely nothing to a believer in the Lord Jesus (because his or her passions are subdued and not accessible to demonic temptation or control) while that same idol has incredible power of one susceptible to the passions of their fallen nature.