We have come to the end of book 10. Augustine sums up his project so far as an attempt to refute those who argue for worshipping many gods (or demons). The first five books are against those who say we should worship the gods for the sake of blessings in this life; the second five are against those who say we should worship the gods for the sake of eternal blessings after death. Books 8-10 have dealt with the Platonists and their ideas about worship and blessing. And, as a reminder, Augustine thinks that the Platonists are the best philosophers and have the best ways of thinking but he has just spent three books of his 22 book project disagreeing with and critiquing their ideas. He is not just an unthinking neoPlatonist – he has looked carefully at Platonic thought and offers a friendly but critical response.
Here in chapter 32, at the end of his discussion of Platonism, Augustine offers a summary of how Porphyry (maybe his favorite of the Platonists and a student of Plotinus, another favorite) falls short of offering universal salvation. Where Porphyry fails, Christ succeeds. Porphyry believes that there is some kind of salvation available to all humanity but claims never to have seen or heard it. Christ, as the fulfillment of Israel’s story and all of God’s promises to Israel and the nations, makes a way for all people to be saved. And Porphyry, if he could find such a way of salvation, would expect salvation to include just the spirit or intellect of a human person. Christ saves the whole man – mind, body, and soul. So, Christ offers salvation to all of every human being. To follow Irenaus‘ line of thinking: he sanctifies whatever He takes on or becomes, and He took on full humanity. Christ fulfills and exceeds Porphyry’s hopes for universal salvation.
I should point out here, probably, that by “universal salvation” Augustine does not mean that every individual will be saved, only that God offers salvation to everyone from every tribe and tongue and nation. No one is left out of God’s saving work or forgotten in His salvation invitation. Which brings up questions about free will and predestination and I won’t deal with those here, for now.
Tomorrow we begin book 11, which is where Augustine will begin to focus his attention on the two cities – the City of God and the City of Man. The two, for now, are “implicated and mixed with one another in this world”. I look forward to diving in with Augustine as he leads us through this conversation about the cities.