Augustine ends book 9 with more discussion of demons and their inadequacy as mediators between gods and humans. He explains that the Platonists saw that humans need mediators because the gods would be contaminated by interactions with humans. Augustine asks a number of questions about this arrangement (what kind of gods are contaminated? are they actually more pure and powerful than demons if they are contaminated by humans, or are they just sensitive and fragile? in what manner are they contaminated – by sight, touch, sound?) and concludes that it doesn’t make sense that the gods are contaminated by humans but not contaminated by their contaminated mediators. Instead, the Christian God can enter humanity without contamination. In fact, He redeems what He touches, rather than being contaminated by it. This is a much more powerful God. Augustine wraps up his discussion of the demons by comparing them with the angels, whom Christians do not worship like the Platonists worship the demons but who are eternal and blessed, like God.
A couple of excellent quotes:
“Far be it from the God Who is certainly immune from contamination to fear contamination from the humanity with which He clothed Himself, or from the menacing home He dwelt in human form! For there are two wholesome lessons of no small importance which His incarnation reveals to us at the present time: that true divinity cannot be contaminated by the flesh; and that demons are not to be thought better than ourselves because they do not have flesh. This, then, as Holy Scripture proclaims, is the ‘Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.’ ”
And there are of course other lessons we might learn from this, especially as we prepare to celebrate the human birth of that great God: God loves His creation; God will redeem even the low and the contaminants in His creation; God does not fear or worry about darkness when His presence overcomes darkness with light; the Christ is a redemptive Mediator who ties Himself to both divinity and humanity, not a contaminated mediator who shields himself from humanity and can’t quite achieve divinity.
A second quote, on the angels:
“By the good angels, therefore, all that knowledge of temporal and corporeal things which puffs up the demons is deemed base. It is not that they are ignorant of such things, but that they love the love of God by which they are sanctified. They burn with such a holy love for the beauty of that love, which is not only incorporeal, but also immutable and ineffable, that they hold all things which are beneath it, and all that is not it, in contempt. They do this so that they may, with all the good that is in them, enjoy that Good by which they are made good. Therefore, they know even those temporal and mutable things with greater certainty, because they can perceive the primary causes of such things in the Word of God, by Whom the world was made: the causes by which some things are approved, others condemned, and all things ordained.”
It looks to me like Augustine wants here to present the angels as examples for humans – they love the love of God, they hold everything else in contempt, they rightly order their loves under God, Who alone is worthy of love and worship. There is a lot here: the relationship between temporal created material and God; the proper relationship between loving beings and temporal material; our loves and all possible objects of love. We won’t go into all of that, but it is right for us to love God and to order our loves with Him at the top; we are called to despise everything and everyone else in comparison to our love for Him. He is worthy of all our love. And then we can love what and whom He loves and learn to do so in ways that He loves them.
May the uncontaminated, all-powerful, and wholly lovable God bless you with His touch,