Augustine and the Antithesis (II)

More from Augustine showing a clearness of thought about the usefulness of “pagan philosophy” that we ourselves often don’t have:

In City of God VIII.10, Augustine mentions that some people “whose education has been confined to the study of the Church’s literature” may mistake Paul’s injunction in Colossians 2:8 (“Beware of philosophy…”) as a blanket denial of the usefulness of pagan philosophy. But, Augustine quickly points out, this was not really Paul’s attitude at all, is is seen in the Mars Hill encounter (Acts 17). Paul’s behavior there shows that the Christian cannot regard all philosophers as belonging to the Colossians 2:8 warning, for Paul quotes their own poets back at them as if they do, in fact, know a great deal of truth about God by means of their philosophy.

But again, Augustine is not some starry-eyed and uncritical “co-opter” of the great Christian antithesis, insufficiently in tune with the Bible so as to not be taken captive by stupid Platonists and other morons who don’t know truth because (as some today say) they don’t epistemologically start with the self-contained Trinity of the self-contained Bible. Augustine has read his Bible well, and so he knows that whereas Romans 1:19 says the pagans have had the truth about God revealed to them in the things which God has made, Romans 1:21 goes on to say that as a general rule they have corrupted that truth and fallen into worshipping the made things rather than the Maker of the things.

Having already said that the Platonists above all philosophers are the closest to the truth of Christianity, he nevertheless understands that “The Christian knows, to be sure, that he must be on guard against their errors.” Augustine goes on in Chapters 11-ff to openly critique various errors of the Platonists and other philosophers, which shows that he doesn’t sacrifice one biblical truth (that man has real knowledge of God) for the sake of another (that man generally speaking twists what he knows). Rather, like predestination and free will, he holds the two truths together in synthesis. And, perhaps ironically for the rhetoric of some today, it is precisely in the synthesis that one so plainly sees the antithesis.

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