Monday, February 15, 2010

Introduction to the historical-logical demonology of St. Augustine

At the conclusion of his argument in Book II of The City of God that the "gods who demand plays" are manifestly wicked on the evidence of the disrepute in which everyone holds the players (a discussion whose full relevance to a certain cyberpath lately traversed I have yet to realize), St. Augustine gives the following remarkable summary:
And the whole of this discussion may be summed up in the following syllogism. The Greeks give us the major premiss: If such gods are to be worshipped, then certainly such men may be honoured. The Romans add the minor: But such men must by no means be honored. The Christians draw the conclusion: Therefore such gods must by no means be worshipped.

I call this summary "remarkable" for two reasons. First, the nature of the syllogism here shows itself to be such that the act of drawing a conclusion exceeds and does not automatically follow the manifestation of premises. The Christians do not achieve their conclusion on account of being supplied with any further matter of fact than those which were already available to the Romans. A historical comma transpires between the premises and the conclusion. Perhaps this comma shares its source with the obtuseness of St. Augstine's imagined interlocutors, against whom at the beginning of Book II he complains:
If the feeble mind of man did not presume to resist the clear evidence of truth, but yielded its infirmity to wholesome doctrines, as to a health-giving medicine, until it obtained from God, by its faith and piety, the grace needed to heal it, they who have just ideas, and express them in suitable language, would need to use no long discourse to refute the errors of empty conjecture. But this mental infirmity is now more prevalent and hurtful than ever, to such an extent that even ater the truth has been as fully demonstrated as man can prove it to man, they hold for the very truth their own unreasonable fancies, either on account of their great blindness, which prevents them from seeing what is plainly set before them, or on account of their opinionative obstinacy, which prevents them from acknowledging the force of what they do see. There therefore frequently arises a necessity of speaking more fully on those points which are already clear, that we may, as it were, present them not to the eye, but even to the touch, so that they may be felt even by those who close their eyes against them.

Second, St. Augustine here indicates in passing his general theology of history in a way that amplifies its centrality to philosophy. That Christians are conclusion-drawers has everything to do with the fact that for St. Augustine the Christian age is the final immanent development of history. This fact in turn is not merely a way of interpreting the chronology of events but permeates the temporality of all intellectual learning. The significance of the comma noted above between the minor premise and the conclusion is that only Christ brings anything to a conclusion.