Augustine launches into Plato and the Platonists here in chapters 4-5. He begins by looking at Plato’s history – he was trained by Socrates, then went to Italy and learned from the Pythagoreans, took his learning and combined the great moral teachings of Socrates with the best of the Pythagorean contemplative tradition. Plato divided philosophy into three departments: active (morals), contemplative (the nature of things), and logical (decides truth and error). Most importantly, Plato and the Platonists see the One God as the source of all things. While many theologies see many gods or see the elements as the sources of everything, Plato’s followers see a God who closely resembles the Christian God.
Augustine is not yet fully interacting with Plato’s philosophy – he’s just describing it and explaining that he likes it better than other theologies – so any critique I would offer now is a bit unfair. That said, I’m interested as we look at Plato whether Augustine will deal with the impersonal nature of Plato’s God. Christ reveals a God who is personal, relational, three-in-one, and Triune for and in relationship with His creation. Plato’s God is one, impersonal, not very relational, and does not seem all that interested in creation. I’m interested to know: how will Augustine deal with that? What impact does all of that have on Augustine’s Christian-Platonism? What kind of critique will Augustine give us of Plato’s thinking, as good as he thinks Plato is?
I’ll end with a couple of quotes, the first on the nature of philosophy: “The pursuit of wisdom, then, consists in both action and contemplation; and so it may be said that one part of it is active and the other contemplative. The active part of philosophy has to do with the conduct of life, that is, with the regulation of morals; and the contemplative with the investigation of natural causes and the purest form of truth.” I quote him here because I think it’s relevant to us that we seek training in true philosophy – both morals and truth, and the two are related.
The second deals with Plato’s philosophy and the fact that God creates humanity with the desire and ability to know Him: “For man has been created in such a way that, through that which is most excellent in him, he may attain to that which excels all else: that is, the one true and perfect God, without Whom nothing in nature exists, no doctrine instructs, and no act profits. Let Him be sought, therefore in Whom all things are ordered for us; let Him be discerned, in Whom all things are certain for us; let Him be loved, in Whom all things are right for us.” In your philosophy, seek Him.