So, Augustine the Platonist, eh? Not in today’s reading. He spends the whole time mocking the Platonist view of the world – where gods are above, demons between earth and aether, and humans on earth. There are other versions of a Platonist worldview, yes, but let’s say again that Augustine is no simple Platonist. He very happily questions Plato, with the same force that he rejects and questions other ancient worldviews. The mockery runs through all three of these chapters, from beginning to end:
“All the wonders of the sorcerers, however, whom he rightly declares worthy of condemnation, are accomplished by means of the teaching and works of demons. Why, then, does he think the demons worthy of praise?”
“What a wonderful thing the holiness of a god is, then, if he has no dealings with a man who offer supplication to him, yet allies Himself to a presumptuous demon!”
“O marvellous wisdom! Can it be that these philosophers really believe of the gods – who, they insist, are perfect – that, on the one hand, they have regard for human affairs … yet that, on the other, they have no knowledge of human affairs because of the distance which separates the elements? The Platonists believe this in order that they may also believe that the demons are necessary agents, and therefore themselves worthy of worship, through whom the gods may learn more of the conduct of human affairs and give help to men where necessary. But, if this is so, then a demon is better known to these good gods by its bodily proximity that a man is by his goodness of mind. O most sorrowful necessity, that we should be called upon to ridicule or denounce such vanity lest divinity itself should seem vain!”
Augustine has no problem mocking the Platonists, because he does not see himself as first a Platonist. He is a follower of Christ, who sees value in aspects of Plato’s thought. And he sees the Platonist philosophy as the best of the schools of philosophy, but not as a replacement or as a model for the Christian to believe. Now, is there something to be gained from listening to and gleaning from non-Christian learning? If not, then we can rightly condemn Augustine for even reading this stuff. But if so, then why not learn from Platonist philosophy, as we learn from linguistics and philosophy and physics and mathematics and medicine and technology, etc. And, as we learn, let’s keep Christ at the center of our learning and measure all that we learn by Him.