Meanwhile, in the Aftermath: The Groundwork for Disenchantment in Augustine

The following is a fairly accurate transcript of a talk I gave at a conference organized by the Pappas Patristics Institute at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in early March of this year (2017). I was flattered that nearly all of the attendees at my session skipped the following session to extend the Q&A time by nearly an hour. I am grateful to my respondent for his helpful feedback, and to those who attended my presentation for their stimulating questions. 

I am still reading through the primary and secondary literature to evaluate responsibly the assertions I made in that talk. Some of my work to dig into the primary and secondary literature shall appear here on Into the Clarities, as four of them are nearing completion (although “approaching completion” is a condition that can, in my excessive caution, fall prey to Zeno’s paradox).

Hurriedly preparing for this conference paper, and especially reading voraciously in the wake of delivering this paper (to weigh its merits), has likely been the primary reason for my relative silence here at Into the Clarities for many months now (and the reason I had to halt work on the second Ullmann post).

During the conference, I frequently went off-page on a tear to clarify points when I’d made marginal notes to myself that I should do so — I had a stack of books by Augustine and Weber and Midgley with me, and read from several excerpts and discussed these relative to the points I was making. Here below, I have made a small attempt at inserting sentences to give at least some stubs for those mini-digressions and clarifications.

Here is something close to the talk I delivered.

When, in contemporary English, we say that the modern world is “disenchanted”, we are contrasting it with the Classical, Late Antique and Medieval periods – even the Renaissance. The English word “disenchantment” translates the German “Entzauberung”, or “de-magic-ing”, which gives a sense of what is at stake. The term was used by the sociologist Max Weber, who borrowed it from Friedrich Schiller. By it, Weber means something like the pervasiveness and ubiquity of means-ends calculations to control all outcomes. Everything (and everyone) can be mastered in this way. Control via the utility of calculation is key. Superstition, mysticism – these are irrational, and, because they are unfit as guides to action that is for the sake of controlling outcomes (that is to say, religion &c. are useless for instrumental purposes, for predicting and controlling nature), they are thus banished to the edges of our life in the modern world, specifically because of this process of rationalization. This is disenchantment. We shall see that Augustine laid some of the primary groundwork for bringing about this state of affairs, not least through his innovative ideas about the difference between the interior of the soul and the exterior of the world (which is quite “dissimilar” to the soul), as well as his rubric of using vs. enjoying. Augustine argues that we are only to enjoy God in a final sense, moving towards him as our true origin and happiness beyond the horizon of creatures and of the world, whereas we should not finally enjoy things, whether they be forms (such as “wit”) or objects (such as glades), upon which we are not founded. Were we to treat our love for other creatures as final, such an attitude would arrest and thwart desire before it reaches its final transcendent end, and would trap the desirer to range over the world of creatures which cannot in themselves deliver the joy one thirsts for. Thus comported to creatures, and thus trapped, the soul is doomed to operate out from the libido dominandi, the desire for domination that is itself the dominating desire – and which has, for its objects, only things lower than oneself.

The process of Christianization, as well as both Augustine’s contributions to it and his scholarly activity within it, furnished language that assisted in bringing about our modern disenchanted state of affairs.

For Augustine, prayer is not magic. In the mythical theology of the pagan poets and the civil theology of public pagan cults, sacrifices sought to persuade the gods, to bring about blessings and avert their wrath. The gods had moods; they changed; their judgments could be influenced. We see this in the Iliad, in Cephalus at the outset of Plato’s Republic,[1] and in numerous places: sacrifice and prayer were a technology to influence the gods, who were thought of as fundamentally persuadable, changeable. Utility and acts of calculation, however, cannot extend to the gods in Plato (or his followers) or in other figures influenced by them, such as Hierocles the Stoic – or Augustine. In these writers, either God or the gods are understood as good, and so stable and unchanging; their judgments are, therefore, immutable. For such writers, prayer and ritual have other functions, either the glorification the gods and assimilation to them in Plato and those following his lead, or else the training of the heart in its pilgrimage to the Heavenly City in Augustine.

So Plato will say in the Republic that

[Since] [..] the wisest and most courageous soul [would] be least disturbed and altered by external influence[,] […] [and since] the god and what belongs to the god is in every way best. […] it is […] impossible for a god to be willing to alter himself […]. Rather, it seems, since they are most beautiful and as good as possible, each of them ever abides simply in his own form. […] So the god is altogether simple and true in word and in deed, and he does not himself change […]. [2]

Likewise in the Laws he will affirm that no one should say

that gods can be appeased by the unjust, if they get gifts; [for this idea is] something one ought not go along with, and that ought also to be refuted by every means in one’s power[, for the gods] are too good to be turned aside and beguiled from what is just by certain gifts [3]

as though they were greedy and wicked guards, negligent of their duties and eager for a bribe. The public civic ritual worship of the gods is, in the end, only about glorifying them, and assimilating oneself to their goodness and contemplation. [4]

In Augustine, prayer is not a technology for mastering the world, but for training and perfecting the yearning of desire and love for God, our true home, particularly if the words of the prayer are drawn from the Scriptures, which are to become one’s own words. Prayer instructs us in the proper action, and refines faith, hope, and love; eventually it is to desire nothing else other than what God gives. Since temporal goods are to be used for the sake of this love for God and neighbor, and not to be enjoyed in themselves, we must only ask for what contributes to salvation,[5] in which is the true justice ordained by the just God, commutatively given in Christ. In the end, prayer is not for the sake of temporal goods, does not finally concern the exterior domain of bodies, and is not a ‘useful technology’ for gaining power over them: it essentially concerns the perfecting of love. It does not and cannot banish suffering in this world. The Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments of the Church in general are, likewise, external signs for the transformation and salvation of the internal soul – they do not change God or the world. The external world of bodies does not operate according to strict mechanical laws in Augustine, but it is rational, mathematical even,[6] and does hold together according to harmonies of sorts [7] whose structures human arts can unveil, whose intricate symmetries delight the mind more than symmetries of sense, and which is there –all “the beauty and utility of creation”– for humanity, there for us “to behold and consume”;[8] we are not there for the creation, for it is subordinate to us in the cosmic hierarchy, and is neither populated by nor moved by gods or divine souls in Augustine’s cosmology. Augustine’s language of signs and his rubric of use banished the things of the world as having any claim over humanity to submit to them, or which might prevent humanity from engaging with the world to use it, even though his use should be for the sake of the love of God and neighbor, and even if his love for things should be according to their proper rank within the hierarchy of the world, and should love them in God, and not for themselves, or for their utility for worldly pleasures and projects: that is to say, our love should not reach its terminus in the world or things in the world.

Augustine expresses caution about whether humanity could uncover the hidden symmetries of, say, the veins and arteries of our bodies, but thought it possible, and spoke about it with a mood that sounds more Romantic than Late Antique. [9] We have certainly proceeded with this, using the same artful faculties that Augustine spoke about with so much romance – and so much ethical ambivalence. [10]

In the modern world, our uncovering of Augustine’s hidden symmetries has taken the form of uncovering causal relationships, and much of our modern disenchantment concerns these causal relationships. Causes in the modern world are understood to be impersonal and “efficient” (in the Aristotelian sense), however; except, perhaps, where minds are concerned – in whatever sense minds are conceived to be. As our default cultural position, however, we make a hard line between the “inside” of our minds (including whatever causal powers they may have) and the “outside” of the world. This has been the case since Descartes (who read Augustine carefully, and was heavily indebted to him [11]). In our default cultural position, sometimes it is asserted that the “inside” reduces to the “outside”, and that minds are swallowed up in an ocean of basically mechanical causes, which leaves no room for freedom in any sense quite like our vague and ordinary sense of the word. As Charles Taylor notes, part of what disenchantment means is that there are no “charged objects” that carry both their own meaning and have a causal power as a result of their meanings: after disenchantment, the meanings of these objects cannot take a person over, their meanings have no independent force, do not inhere within the object. Instead, the meaning of objects is understood to reside in our minds. Things and selves are not “porous” (to use Taylor’s phrase) in the modern world as they were in the pre-modern; there is a clear gap between selves and objects, between inside and outside (res cogitans and res extensa, &c.).

We see such a porous model of the self in the way that Aphrodite interacts with Helen in the Iliad. There the goddess is an agent who brings Paris and Helen into her sphere, but they do not have any agency to resist it: the goddess’ favorable attention may turn to unfavorable attention, but her agency is inescapable. This leads to a very different model of responsibility. Although Paris’ abduction of Helen, and the Trojans subsequent refusal to return her when approached, were the proximate cause of the war, it is really the goddess and her sphere that initiated the desire between Paris and Helen, and which overtakes them and their fates, encircling the ambit of what is possible for them. So while the complaint can be heard from the Achaeans, “Paris who caused our long hard campaign”[12], nonetheless King Priam of Troy will say something quite different to Helen:

I don’t blame you. I hold the gods to blame. They are the ones who brought this war upon me [13]

The gods are not only individual figures, but are the coursing powers of the world; they so encircle and penetrate mortals that human figures are caught up into currents that can overwhelm them and very much blur the boundaries of agency. There is no interior/exterior split worth comparing to Augustine: even a human and the integrity of his or her own thoughts and agency can be swallowed by the promptings of a goddess. Such selves are wholly “porous”. [14]

Augustine’s writings, it should be noted, are a –if not the– notorious source for this sharp contrast between the interior and the exterior. External signs, for Augustine, are part of the world of bodies, and have no power in themselves, cannot take one over into their sphere of meaning. So in The Teacher, we read that:

Regarding each of the things we understand, however, we don’t consult a speaker who makes sounds outside us, but the Truth that presides within over the mind itself, though perhaps words prompt us to consult Him. […] [W]hen I’m stating truths, I don’t even teach the person who is looking upon these truths. He’s taught not by my words but by the things themselves made manifest within when God discloses them. [15]

The intelligible things that the words refer to are known because the mind has an innate connection with them, and its knowledge of exterior things is always illumined by these internally apprehended divine ideas. [15a] Augustine says that he originally learned this concern for interiority from the Platonists:

By the Platonic books I was admonished to return into myself. With you as my guide I entered into my innermost citadel, and was given power to do so because you had become my helper (Ps. 29:11). I entered and with my soul’s eye, such as it was, saw above that same eye of my soul the immutable light higher than my mind – not the light of every day […] a different thing, utterly different from all our kinds of light. […] [I]t made me […]. [16]

It is by turning inwards that the soul can turn upwards to the Good, God, for the world can be scoured and one will find there among the objects of sense neither God nor a god: as God is simple, he is not extended spatially, and so Christ, the Wisdom of God, is “more inward than any secret recess”:[17] external things are not where the soul will find its origin:

I beg you, my God, not to ‘stay away from me in silence’ (Ps. 27:1). Speak truth in my heart; you alone speak so. […] I will ‘enter my chamber’ (Matt. 6:6) and will sing you songs of love, groaning with inexpressible groanings (Rom. 8:20) on my wanderer’s path, and remembering Jerusalem with my heart lifted up towards it – Jerusalem my home land, Jerusalem my mother (Gal. 4:26), and above it yourself, ruler, illuminator, father, tutor, husband, pure and strong delights and solid joy and all good things to an unexpressible degree, all being enjoyed in simultaneity because you are the one supreme and true Good. [18]

The path from the exterior to the interior is unclear, and might appear magical, were it not for passages such as: “we begin with the bodily form, and finally arrive at the form that is formed in the gaze of thought”, the bodily forms of things “giving birth to” the sense perception, then to the form of memory, then the form in memory “produc[ing]” “the form that arises in the gaze of thought.” [19] God does not appear, in Augustine, as a bodily form (indeed, because he is simple, it is impossible for him to appear at all, for anything that would appear would not be simple), and all that appears externally can only indicate interior meaning as a sign.

There are, thus, no charged objects in Augustine, just as there are none in our modern disenchanted world. Yet charged objects are not the only things that have been wiped away in our disenchantment. Just as the ontological status (and so causal power) of minds is a problem in the disenchanted modern world, so too with that of spirits. We may love this-or-that forest, or forests in general, and be in awe of them, but we do not experience them as homes for gods, or spirits. When pressed, nearly all of us would say that the meaning of the forest lives in us, not the forest. In itself, the forest is seen in its material dimension. Felling trees is needed for the wood that is needed to build houses, and to clear areas for our expanding human living spaces. We may be worried that excessive deforestation may harm the environment, and so harm us (and other living things), but our sense of the value of the forest is subordinate to our sense of our own value and the value of our projects, for we register that we are the only beings making the kinds of value judgments we do, and who harbor a sense of the meaning of things. We might take the role of shepherds or custodians towards the forest, but we won’t be serving any forest or offering sacrifices to an alleged god or spirit of that wood. The forest, in itself, is not the dwelling of a god who is owed respect and service and care. It is just a forest.

 This is not the case for non-Christian figures from the Roman world such as Seneca, however. For Seneca, and for countless others, a forest is not necessarily just a forest:

If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity. Or if a cave, made by the deep crumbling of the rocks, holds up a mountain on its arch, a place not built with hands but hollowed out into such spaciousness by natural causes, your soul will be deeply moved by a certain intimation of the existence of God. We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we adore springs of hot water as divine, and consecrate certain pools because of their dark waters or their immeasurable depth. [20]

This is a sensibility that is not far from the world of Homer, where the Olympians are associated with things like the sky (Zeus) and the sea (Poseidon), where rumor is a god and not a sociological phenomenon, where panic and rout are gods, where night is a goddess, the ocean river is a god, rivers are gods – gods are everywhere, and possess people, and actions, and enchant the world with their splendor, cruelty, and appearing. Even Plato’s Athenian stranger will say that the stars and heavenly bodies are gods and the highest souls, and that “all mortal, living things are possessions of gods, to whom the whole heaven belongs”. [21] But this is not our world. It is not Augustine’s world, either, for the love that carried him to the divine source upon which he depended addressed the visible, external things of the world such as these celestial bodies –themselves either divine animated by divinities for Plato and the ancients– and asked, “What is the object of my love?” to which they replied, “look beyond us” and “he made us”. [22] The heavenly bodies do not speak as gods in Augustine, though, but as creatures, and “their beauty is their speech”, referring inward, to form.

Not everyone today is happy about this, either about the loss of the gods or the instrumental drive to conquer the world. Some would like magic to return, and think of modern science as though it were poisonous knowledge. Leszek Kołakowski, notes that it was not human knowledge that brought on the drive to dominate nature, but human passions: the benefits of this program became the supreme value, banishing religion misconceived as a set of statements that might be judged on their fitness regarding this project to dominate: the final tension between this project and religious traditions is cultural, about “our libido dominandi [desire for mastery, mastering desire] against our need to find meaning in the universe and in our lives. Both desires […] are rooted inalienably in the very act of being human, but they limit each other instead of coexisting peacefully.”[23] We might say that we have selected Augustinian external things and mastery over them, as opposed to internal life and meaning; we might say with Augustine that “I found myself far from you, ‘in the region of dissimilarity’ [Plato, Statesman]”[24], only that we have chosen to remain in the swine-like and dissimilar realm of exteriority. Perhaps Augustine would say that it is no wonder that we feel ourselves as stranded aliens in a world of external things, and become so perversely attached to them: Augustine structured this exile according the Parable of the Prodigal. There have, however, been attempts to find ourselves at home in the world and to also overcome a view of it that is determined by calculative mastery, without a return to transcendence.

Deep ecology has become one way (certainly not the only or even primary way) of attempting to look at things beyond the lens of instrumental engagement, and is founded on one kind of re-enchantment that affirms the worth of things beyond the orbit of human technological interests, even to the point of asserting rights for other living beings. Interestingly, the Gaia theory that develops from this presents the whole Earth as a vast organism, and casts us in the role of the only available doctors. Mary Midgley has noted that “[scientists] find the patient Gaia, lying in bed and politely awaiting their attention, much less threatening than that scandalous pagan goddess”[25], seemingly because it is not anti-humanist, and humans, particularly scientists, are allowed to retain the disposition of mastery.

This is quite different from the way that the pagan Greek or Roman mythological or civic ritual traditions spoke of the gods, of course. The Gaia theory above is more like poetry, and perhaps loved for the transfiguring functions poetry is often praised as holding. In his work, On Christian Teaching, Augustine addresses a question something like this regarding Neptune. The work might be considered, in some ways, a “teach yourself” [26] manual for interpreting Christian Scripture. To enable this, Augustine unfolds his doctrine of signs. At one point during Book III, Augustine is talking about those who mistakenly “devote” themselves “to signs as though they were things”[27], and effectively reduces discourse about the gods to bad grammar. Those who take the statues of the god Neptune (his example) to be gods “were not found to be […] spiritually aware”, for “any statue is as far from being God as the whole sea is”, given that God is known via the internal ascent, and “if any of them did try to interpret these statues as signs, they related them to the worship and veneration of the created order.” In talking about signs used for Neptune he cites the following pagan verses:

O Father Neptune, whose aged temples resound,
Wreathed in the noisy sea, from whose beard eternally flows
The vast ocean, and in whose hair the rivers wander…

These, he says, either refer to the god, or the sea. And he asks: Why should one worship either?

Perhaps, as with the Gaia theory Midgley writes about above, we might wish to look upon the poetic projections of figures like Neptune as having a transfiguring effect upon our encounter with the world, but Augustine would simply call this a “fiction”. There is a coldness to the way that Augustine approaches his logic of signs that denies this use of Neptune. It must be remembered that Augustine is concerned, here as elsewhere, with things that possibly or actually enslave humanity by means of a final love for something lower than humanity’s source and goal. In the ancient world this language about Neptune was not mere poetry, but would be associated with acts of ritual service to the god, be associated with a family of stories –told and performed theatrically– that were, it seems, widely considered even by Pagans to be morally unsound, and were widely-enough accused of dragging humanity down to attend to what is lower than them in the hierarchy of being, to elements and the morally spurious narratives of gods associated with the elements, rather than to God, who whom Christians maintained seeks to heal and free his creation.

Freedom is what Augustine understands the Gospel to offer, and freedom is what he wishes to secure. So here he laments that any worshipful attitude generated by this language about Neptune “is worse” than “carnal slavery”, as the language becomes “a servile and carnal burden and veil.” “Christian liberty free[s]” [28] those it finds under the weight of such signs. Such signs bring slavery because they feed the soul with food that is not its ultimate good:

To meet my hunger, instead of you [acquaintances and their tomes] brought me a diet of the sun and moon, your beautiful works – but they are your works, not you yourself […] my hunger and thirst were not even for the spiritual creation but for you yourself, the truth ‘in whom there is no changing nor shadow caused by any revolving’ [29]

This does not mean that the soul needs to escape the world in order to reach this goal: Christ reaches all places, and comes to us not from a change in location, Augustine writes.[30] During our pilgrimage through this life, we are to use things, enjoy them, or both use and enjoy them. At best, writes Augustine, the gods are symbols of the world –even if they are not taken to be signs of external bodies, but to refer to higher terms, as Mercury was thought by some educated Pagans to do for “talent”– and not only do aptitudes like “talent” require illumination and goodness, but they are still not the light by which worldly things are illumined, or the goodness by which they are judged, and so “the world is to be used, and not enjoyed” in a final sense.[31] Only God is fully enjoyed, and not even all things that are to be used can be used for the sake of the heavenly city. The gods are not to use us. God uses us, but not instrumentally for something else other than ourselves, or for the sake of slavery: God “does not use a thing as we do”, for “[t]hat use which God is said to make of us is made not to His utility but to ours.” [32]

This does not mean that Augustine sanctions a rapacious attitude to the world, stripping it bare because it is not understood as our final home, and using it as though it were a mere rag: the world has value, and beauty, and offers delight, and merits our care. By uti (our English “use”) Augustine does not mean “abuse”. In the wake of Immanuel Kant, we are used to saying that we are ‘to treat people as ends in themselves, and not as means to ends other than themselves’. Augustine is not suggesting the contrary, and, sadly, his language here can be mis-read as doing just that. As mentioned above, there is a reason he abandons this language after On Christian Teaching, for it is clunky, and doesn’t do the work he wants it to do — which is to talk about the ever-expanding nature of love, which he does not want to diminish.

Augustine lives in a world in which humans share space with angels and demons – hardly a world that might look, in any sense, to be a forerunner for our modern disenchanted world – though not without analogues in many early modern thinkers, for even Augustine’s demons do not see directly, but through signs, so that their minds are buffered like ours. (Not so, those of angels. The lack of a need for signs in the age to come was attractive to Augustine, for it allowed for a kind of intimacy between creatures that does not exist here in this age; similarly, the need for signs in this age of separated minds fostered a kind of intimacy among communities of sign-users, for signs must be taught and learned, and so our bent condition itself became, for Augustine, a means of the fostering of love within the divine economy.) Further, Augustine was a Platonist and a Catholic Christian, who not only engaged in contemplation to attain the vision of God, but believed that the mediation between God and humanity was accomplished in the Incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus — and decidedly not through the lower powers or daemons, which even many Christians of his day entreated for worldly cares. I am not claiming here that Augustine disenchanted the world of Late Antiquity, nor am I claiming that the Medieval world –which was enchanted in its own way by both these elements and also by the omnipresent cult of the saints– ran with his ideas, and immediately brought about the disenchantment of the world. So much of what were distinctive about Platonism and Late Antique Catholic Christianity are very much live options today, even in a disenchanted world, on terms not entirely unlike Augustine’s.

I am, however, claiming that Augustine offered a romantic vision of the possibilities of our exploration of the world that looks, at many points, similar to our modern one, and, as all cultured Christians who celebrated the retreat of the gods, spoke of the world in a way that looked upon it in ways that often strike us as startlingly similar to our own in a way that the writings of Iamblichus or Proclus –pagan philosophers roughly contemporary with Augustine– simply do not. (Tiered geocentric cosmology excepted.) Augustine provided a language about signs and a rubric of using vs. enjoying that expressed a very Hebraic and biblical idea about the relationship between humans and the world, one at odds with a Greco-Roman universe that is a cascade of divinities, and in which humans serve divinities, and are hemmed in by the power of the elements and the sway of the stars. Platonism anticipated many of these developments, but the religious culture of the Roman Mediterranean is only critiqued and modified by Platonism: Platonism houses the mythical and ritual elements of that religious culture within a new reformed framework. The further turn towards disenchantment requires a religious sea change that can furnish rubrics such as interior vs. exterior and of enjoyment vs. use, both which we find in Augustine. All things are to be used or enjoyed; only God is to be enjoyed; all other loves are ordered to this enjoyment. As the world is to be used for this ultimate end, the rubric of use denies the world any divinity, any ultimacy.

In the banishment of the gods, elements of disenchantment and secularization are also present, attendant both to the perception that the gods are really demons, enslaving humanity, and to the championing and elevation of human freedom from divinized elements and ancestral traditions (undermining them by representing them as contingent consensi concerning signs, rather than god-given cosmically-delivered symbol-sets that were each and all ultimately from God). Although, in Augustine, the condition of human freedom under sin is restricted in scope by the mastering desire, the libido dominandi, to range over the world, to love the things of the world for worldly ends, and not to look to God as the origin of everything, it fully consents to this scope, and so is not pressured by some external force, and so is, in this sense, free over the de-divinized, disenchanted world.

Disenchantment does not mean ugliness, however. “‘The world’, [Augustine] says, ‘is a smiling place.’”[33] “Consider the manifold and varied beauty of sky and earth and sea; the plenteousness of light and its wondrous quality”;[34] Augustine goes on to praise the sensuousness of the world, its fragrances, diversity, even “the feats of tiny ants and bees”. The world is not a cold, dead thing, subject to a modern sense of utility, to a rubric of use, vampired for the sake of another world. It is the world we recognize today, and it is vibrant. There is a divide, difficult to articulate, that lies between this and even Plotinus, and Augustine is on this side of it with us.

Even when the things that human artfulness brings forth are “superfluous, or even perilous and hurtful […] is not this excellence evidence of a great good which man has in his nature, whereby he is able to discover, learn and exercise those arts?”[35] Here, human freedom is the theme, and this freedom is not compatible, not at this pitch, with a divinity-filled nature and powers impinging upon us. If we take Augustine seriously, this may be what the longing for enchantment may perhaps incline towards, at least in some cases. In the end, freedom and disenchantment are compatible with spiritual life, as they are compatible with a lovely world, even a broken and ambiguous one. The terms on which they are compatible, however, are not on the terms of the enchanted world, which Augustine helped to wash away.



Where Cephalus, who could only have grown his family’s fortune by taking from other families violently –why else in old age is he seeking to bribe other families to regard his household favorably by throwing them some scraps of the what he took from them previously? –why else would Cephalus similarly be sacrificing to the gods, except to bribe them into forgetting about his earlier crimes? He shows himself uninterested in seeking the answer to the question of what justice is, and abandons it because his life has made him unfit to ask the question, for it would judge him, and he wishes to barter away his conscience together with his guilt in sacrificial bribery. Suggestively, he passes the question –and his wealth, and the stain of those acts of his by which that wealth was acquired–  to his son.


Republic 381a-c, 382e, transl. R.E. Allen (New Haven: Yale, 2006), 66-68


Laws 905d, 885d, transl. Thomas Pangle (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980/1988), 281, 305


Luc Brisson, “What is a God According to Plato?” in Kevin Corrigan and John D Turner, eds., Platonisms: Ancient, Modern, and Postmodern (Boston: Brill, 2007), 52


Tractates on John, 73.3


See Confessions V.iii


City of God XIX.13


City of God XXII.24


Peter Brown noted this, and I wish I could find the reference. If pessimism vs. optimism marks a characteristic break between the Medieval and the Modern, then Augustine seems to straddle them, and frequently to lean towards optimism. Is it any wonder that Augustine was retrieved in the Renaissance, in figures like Petrarch, and in the Reformations, by all parties, and in the early Modern period, in Descartes and Malebranche?


[…] there are the many great arts invented and exercised by human ingenuity, some for necessary purposes and other for pleasure. The mind and reason of man shows great excellence in contriving such things, [1162] even though they may be superfluous, or even perilous and hurtful; and is not this excellence evidence of a great good which man has in his nature, whereby he is able to discover, learn and exercise those arts? Augustine, Civ. Dei (22.24) ed. R. W. Dyson (New York: Cambridge, 1998-2013), 1161-1162.


See Zbigniew Janowski, Augustinian-Cartesian Index: Texts and Commentary (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s, 2004)


The oral formula used twice between VII.350 and VII.400.


III.162 ff. See Fagles, 134.


See Pandarus, who, while a “fool”, is told to release an arrow in the imperative mood, and his is passive to this – passive is the word used multiple times. 100ff


< em>The Teacher 11.38; 12.40


Eighty Six Questions, Question 46


Confessions, VII.x (16)


Confessions, IX.i (1)


Confessions, XII.xvi (23)


On the Trinity 11.9


Seneca, Ep. XLI.3., last accessed 2/27/2017 at 11:24PM EST.


Laws X, 902b, Pangle 301


Confessions (9)


Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 99


Confessions VII.x (16)


Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry (New York: Routledge, 2001), ch.17


R.P.H. Green, “Introduction” in De Doctrina Christiana transl R.P.H. Green (New York: Oxford, 1996)


Green, De Doctrina Christiana, 143


Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, transl. D.W. Robertson, Jr. (Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1958), 86


Augustine, Confessions (10), 41


Augustine, On Christian Doctrine I.xii, 14; Augustine, Confessions I.xviii.28, 20


Augustine, On Christian Doctrine I.iv, 10


Augustine, On Christian Doctrine I.xxxii, 27


Augustine, Sermon 158.7, cited in Brown, “Saint Augustine”, 7


Augustine, City of God XXII.24, 1164


Augustine, City of God XXII.24, 1162

13 thoughts on “Meanwhile, in the Aftermath: The Groundwork for Disenchantment in Augustine

  1. While reading I was wondering what all this meant for freedom, but when you tackle it at the end I don’t get the jump you make confirming its existence – but that’s probably because I’m not familiar enough with Augustine…

    Great, interesting read notwithstanding, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Originally, I had an entire section where I spelled this out, but I had to cut that because I was already 3 pages over the limit. I considered restoring that section, but I have another post cooking where I tackle that at greater and more responsible length.

      In short: the early Christians, following Paul in Galatians, see the liberation brought by Christ as liberation from evil, and from “the elements”, from tribe and tradition (vi&., the stars, the gods, from “law” –understood either negatively or epoch-specifically and pedagogically– and both determination by these celestial powers and service to them), and towards a kind of transcendent liberation actualized here in an inaugural form. Celsus and Origin, as well as the Constantinian establishment’s view of Paganism, run in this tradition.

      So far as I can tell, Augustine runs with this. His language of signs has them as either natural or conventional, distinct from the view (articulated by Celsus) that different people’s have different ancestral customs that have been given by their celestial overseers/gods: Augustine shows how contingent are the signs that make up any culture, how it grows out of conventions and character, and from people’s character, he thinks that demons get involved in creating these conventions. This allows one grounds to critique culture and practice via the fulcrum of alternative signs.

      That’s my takeaway from his De Doctrina Christiana, anyway. I have a few works of his and on him to read before I can flesh out that post, but I should add a mention here, hinted at in the post above, that his ideas about tiered ontological realism lead him to reject our mind turning to “lower” things: Augustine does not think that the exterior world is on par with us, and does not think we should be enslaved to representations of its imputed divinity. He thinks we are above the elements, and should turn “upwards” to the wisdom and light by which everything is known.

      Is that helpful? I fear that I’ve been tedious, or unclear — or wrong in my presentation of Augustine.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Doesn’t Augustine write somewhere in the City of God that there was an “inward turn” of sorts that is the primordial sin of the devil, as opposed to a more generous motion toward the exterior or “outside” of himself? Forgive me, my books are packed up for a move and I have no easy access to a reference. But if so, the spatial imagery would seem to reflect a development of that expressed in the Soliloquies or the Confessions, one which might influence our reading of De Doctrina Christiana?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel, your reply fell through the cracks of the final days of the school year, and then my birthday, and then the respectable hangover that followed after the Moldovans next door found out it was my birthday and got ahold of me. More soon.


  3. My introduction to Schiller, at age six, was when my father thought I would be culturally deprived if I couldn’t sing his poem, An Die Freude, the chorus of Beethoven’s ground-breaking Ninth Symphony. It is about as opposite to “disenchantment” as a work could be.

    Ode an die Freude
    O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
    Sondern laßt uns angenehmere
    anstimmen und freudenvollere.
    Freude! Freude!

    Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
    Tochter aus Elysium,
    Wir betreten feuertrunken,
    Himmlische, dein Heiligthum!
    Deine Zauber binden wieder
    Was die Mode streng geteilt;
    Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
    Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

    Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
    Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
    Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
    Mische seinen Jubel ein!

    Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
    Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
    Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
    Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

    Freude trinken alle Wesen
    An den Brüsten der Natur;
    Alle Guten, alle Bösen
    Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.

    Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
    Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
    Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
    Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

    Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
    Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
    Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
    Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

    Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
    Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
    Brüder, überm Sternenzelt
    Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
    Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
    Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
    Such’ ihn überm Sternenzelt!
    Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

    Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
    Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
    Brüder, überm Sternenzelt
    Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
    Seid umschlungen,
    Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
    Freude, schöner Götterfunken
    Tochter aus Elysium,
    Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Götterfunken.

    Liked by 1 person

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