In chapter 11, Augustine wonders how Plato might have acquired knowledge that so closely resembles Judeo-Christian knowledge about God. Plato’s God is so similar to the Christian God that Augustine looks at possible links between Plato and the Hebrew Scriptures – maybe during his time in Egypt Plato had the chance to study with Hebrew scholars, maybe he got a look at early predecessors of the Septuagint, maybe God just revealed a lot of truth to Plato. In any case, Plato’s description of God is very similar in many ways to the Christian understanding of God. And yet, Augustine spends chapters 12-18 describing major problems with Plato and the Platonists. Plato, despite his understanding of the Creator God, believed in many other gods and believed that people should worship them; he also believed that demons inhabited a region between gods and humans and that humans should honor demons; he even believed that demons act as the intermediaries between humans and gods so that gods don’t have to have any direct contact with base humanity. Augustine takes the Platonists to task for these beliefs – even if the demons are immortal, they are also immoral and call humanity to immorality. Why should they have a place between gods and humans? And, yes, the demons are immortal, but they are destined for eternal punishment. Humanity was also made to become immortal, but with eternal blessings. So, who inhabits the higher place?
As we have seen already in Augustine, the end of something say more about that something than does its current location. The demons may appear to be more powerful and important than humans now, but those humans who end up in eternal bliss are far better off than any demons: “On the contrary, men are to be placed above the demons, because the despair of the demons is not to be compared with the hope of the godly.” Yes. Augustine consistently looks forward and finds meaning and value in final realities and not only in present ones. In fact, final realities determine the meaning of present realities. Our world is very concerned with the Now (Leithart has an interesting note about this in a blog post on Postmodernity – that it represents a compressed timeline that can’t see beyond itself, into the past or the future). Augustine is always concerned with tomorrow. And Christianity in general is and should be always concerned with the past (Creation, Israel, Christ’s death and resurrection), and the past should be constantly pointing us forward to the future (New Creation, New Israel the Bride of Christ, Christ’s return and the resurrection of all Creation). We get meaning not from today – we live in the tyranny of today – but from yesterday and tomorrow. In fact, it would be impossible for us to know the meaning of today without yesterday giving us a history and tomorrow giving us perspective.
And there’s more. Tomorrow is living itself out in the body of Christ today. We are an eschatological people in that we live for tomorrow, but we also live the future out now. The future Kingdom has come and is already coming in our acts of faithfulness and witness now. Christmas and Easter are future-looking holy days that remind us of the reality of the coming Kingdom, even as they celebrate past events. The Eucharist makes the future Kingdom present to us, even as it reminds us and re-members the historical body of Christ. Our lives in Christ are lives lived and empowered by the eternal Spirit who brooded over the waters at Creation and lives in eternity with the Father and Son. In Christ, we live the New Creation now as the first fruits of what will be a very fruitful future. Augustine reminds us that time is not all that it seems and only in our shortsightedness do we make judgements about the nature of reality based on who seems to be in charge now.