In Book Ten, Augustine continues pressing the Platonist to acknowledge their inconsistency, especially as it relates to the worship of gods/demons. The Platonist recognize that “the soul of man, though immortal and rational (or intellectual), cannot attain happiness except by participation in light of God, the creator of the soul and the whole world.” And yet, they err by offering worship and ceremonies to gods and even to (good) demons (whom Christians would call angels and divide into categories of good and bad – in Christian parlance there is no such thing as a good demon).
The prime question in Book Ten (all fifty pages), is what kind of worship these angels/demons desire from us – do they point us to worship God or claim that which is God’s alone for themselves?
Augustine’s simple point is that these beings “whoever they are….certainly have no claim on our worship, if they do not love us and do not desire our happiness. On the other hand, if they love us and desire our happiness, then they must want that happiness to come from whence theirs is derived Can our happiness have a different source from theirs – [God].”
In other words, if these beings love us, they would want us to be happy and, to that end, would point us to worship God so that by participating in his light, we might be happy. However, if they claim this worship for themselves, they clearly do not love us and do not desire us to be happy; hence, they are not worthy of our worship.
Let me quote at length my favorite section of Book Ten
To this God we owe our service…For we are his temple, collectively, and as individuals. For he condescends to dwell in the union of all and in each person. He is as great in the individual as he is in the whole body of his worshipers, for he cannot be increased in bulk or diminished by partition. When we lift up our hearts to him, our heart is his altar. We propitiate him by our priest, his only-begotten Son. We sacrifice blood-stained victims to him when we fight for truth ‘as far as shedding our blood.’ We burn the sweetest incense for him, when we are in his sight on fire with devout and holy love. We vow to him and offer to him the gifts he has given us, and the gift of ourselves. And we have annual festivals and fixed days appointed and consecrated for the remembrance of his benefits, lest ingratitude and forgetfulness should creep in as years roll by. We offer to him, on the altar of the heart, the sacrifice of humility and praise, and the flame on the altar is the burning fire of charity. To see him as he can be seen and to cleave to him, we purify ourselves from every stain of sin and evil desire and we consecrate ourselves in his name. For he himself is the source of our bliss, he himself is the goal of all our striving. By our election of him as our goal – or rather by our re-election (for we had lost him by our neglect); by our re-election (and we are told that the word ‘religion’ comes from relegere, to ‘re-elect’), we direct our course towards him with love, so that in reaching hi we may find our rest, and attain our happiness because we have achieved our fulfillment in him. For our Good, that Final Good about which the philosophers dispute, is nothing else but to cleave to him whose spiritual embrace, if one may so express it, fills the intellectual soul and makes it fertile with true virtues.Augustine, City of God, Book Ten.
If a being does not worship this God, it is “wretched, because it is deprived of God.”
Nevertheless, Augustine is quick to add that God does not need our service. We do not add to God or benefit him by our service any more than someone drinking from a spring adds to the spring, or someone beholding the light adds to the light. The kind of service he desires is service to others – acts of compassion, etc. (Micah 6:8).
The holy angels consistently direct our worship towards God. Even when they performed miracles or were offered worship, they would not accept it, but out of love for God and us pointed us to worship God, who makes the soul happy.
The false worship of demons cannot make us happy. Nor can it purify – how can something defiled purify!?
Halfway through Book Ten, Augustine confronts the Platonists and begins to question them regarding their unwillingness to accept Christianity, its Scriptures, and its mediator, namely Jesus Christ.
First, some will not believe Christian Scripture because of the accounts of miracles. Augustine demands consistency – if you reject the Bible for its miracles, reject also the histories of your country, and the gods, etc. Here he does not offer a defense of miracles (yet) but merely points out the inconsistency of the Platonists in rejecting Scripture for this reason.
Some reject Christianity for its visible nature (not only sacraments but audible praise, verbal prayers) – contending that the True God who is invisible, can only be offered invisible worship. Augustine contends that the visible elements of Christian worship stand for and represent invisible realities. This applies to Jesus too, who appeared in visible form but was invisible God as well as man.
“The ‘principle’, then, having assumed as soul and flesh, purifies the sould and the flesh of believers…We should certainly have been utterly unable to understand this, carnal as we are, and weak, liable to sin, and shrouded in the darkness of ignorance, had we not been purified and healed by Christ, by means of what we were and what we were not. For we were men, but we were not righteous.”
Augustine was a Calvinist!
Just kidding, but you do see the seeds of election, of regeneration preceding faith, or at least of prevenient grace here.
Others reject Christianity because of its teaching on the resurrection. He asks why this should be a problem – Plato wrote that souls return after death and inhabit beasts. Porphyry improved on this and said no, not beasts, but they come back as other men (opening up a ghastly possibility that a mother’s soul could inhabit a girl who marries the mother’s son – yikes). Augustine contends, “The belief that souls once for all to their own bodies is far more honorable than that they return time after time to different bodies.”
Yet other’s reject Christianity for the believe that something, the soul, that hasn’t existed from Yet others reject Christianity for the belief that something, the soul, that has not existed from eternity past cannot exist for an eternity in the future. However, Augustine points out, Plato taught that the universe and the gods had a beginning, being created by God, and yet would endure forever.
In the end, the real reason why certain Platonists reject Christianity, the one and only way to bIn the end, the real reason why certain Platonists reject Christianity, the one and only way to blessed eternal life, is pride. Some, including the famed Porphyry, out of pride, encouraged the church’s persecution, thinking it would stamp out the church. Nevertheless, it improved and strengthened the church and commended it more forcefully to the people.
This ends Part 1. Part 2 Augustine lays out his plan to discuss more fully the Two Cities, “their origin, their development, and their end.”