AUGUSTINE THE ETERNAL CITY AND GNOSTIC THOUGHT

AUGUSTINE AND THE ETERNAL CITY

Knowledge (gnosis) from the Greek view, embraces sensate information as the beginning point of understanding and discovery. Thus, the Greek perception of reality consists of the free association of forms, figures and elemental entities by those who exist in the material form of existence.  In early Greek Philosophy, Plato equated knowledge as consisting of the indispensable necessity that allows humanity access to the right implementation of the political action. Augustine would echo these understandings in The City of God,[1] highlighting the churches need to incorporate it into the existing Roman secular governmental structures. Augustine perceived these structures to be reflective of God’s perfect world of truth. Observe Augustine’s statements:

“Things temporal then has a reference to this result of earthly peace in the earthly community, while in the City of God it relates to eternal peace, even those who rule serve those whom they seem to command; for they rule not from a love of power, but from a sense of duty they owe other’s. The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, the heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth, and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away. Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, there is a harmony between them.”[2]

Aristotle also utilized the epistemological function of dualism in his understanding of the complexities of “distinguished scientific contemplation, and “of the two forms of dialectical reasoning, syllogistic and deductive.”[3] Aristotle saw knowledge as the revealer of truth in both secular and spiritual applications, as deemed appropriate. The churchman and scholastic scholar Thomas Aquinas would incorporate Aristotle’s scientific method of reasoning into the churches theological and philosophical grid also. This laid the groundwork for Aquinas’ theories of knowing God from a rationalistic mental acquiescence alone, as revealed through natural theology (see previous unpublished paper in this series: Thomas Aquinas: Metaphysical and Epistemological Considerations).

Dualism’s use of knowledge in a theological and philosophical understanding closely parallels the classical development of perception in philosophy as opposed to the input of pure data. In this association, there appears to be an acceptance of Platonic thought as related to the World of Ideas as a place of superior revelation that supersedes the confinement of the natural surroundings of man. Observe Plato as he comments:

“But if that which knows and that which is known exist forever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to the earthly souls in the earthly copies of them, they are seen through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities.”[4]

 In the revelation of Dualism’s influence on Gnostic thought throughout its various manifestations like Zoroastrianism, the Valentinian variation, Manicheanism, Catharianism and the modern espousal of Gnosticism resurging, man is apparently capable of ascertaining secret knowledge that allows the mediation of the liberation of the soul from the crude confinement of special existence (salvation).[5] Elaine Pagels in The Gnostic Gospels[6] comments on the Gnostic dual lack of concern for the earthly existence and its acceptance of a transcendent mode of subsistence by quoting the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas which states: “There is a light within a man of light, and it lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness.”[7]

SALVATION IN DUALISM’S LIGHT

Dualism’s thought and religion focused on God as the self-sufficient revelation of gnosis. This specialized knowledge had an incendiary aspect to its quality. Salvation was only obtainable through the act of turning away from the shadow realm of unique reality and embracing the more accurate concept of pure thought. This philosophy led to two distinct applications in the appropriation of knowledge and the necessary carnal existence that makes up all life on the temporal plane of existence. One school of thought which is found in Stoicism as a variation of Dualism distances itself or herself from as much carnal pleasure as possible that is of an earthly nature. Stoic expressions view the substance of the world as being composed of substandard deviations that must by necessity be extricated through the procedure of denial.[8]


[1] Augustine, The City of God, trans. by Marcus Dods, Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago ILL, 1952

[2] ___ Ibid. pp. 520-22

[3] Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, trans. by W.D. Ross, Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago ILL, pp 97-120

[4] Plato, The Seventh Letter, trans. by J. Harward, Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago ILL, 1952, pp. 113-4, 126

[5] Hoeller, Stephan, What is a Gnostic? Reprinted article originally published in: Gnosis; A Journal of Western Inner Tradition, N.D. (accessed: 12-31-01) http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/whatisgnostic.html

[6] Pagels, Elaine, The Gnostic Gospels, Random House, NY, p.120

[7] Gospel of Thomas, Cartlidge, David & David Dungan, Eds. Documents for the Study of the Gospels, Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN, 1994, p. 22

[8] ___ Kittle’s, op. cit. pp. 119-23

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