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Mateusz Stróżyński on Augustine and Platonism

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We discuss Augustine’s engagement with the philosophy of the ‘books of the Platonists’ and, in a wide-ranging enquiry, a number of cognate matters. These include:

  • The nature of the libri Platonicorum. We alluded in Episode 179 to a great deal of scholarly controversy surrounding which particular ‘books of the Platonists’ Augy read while in Milan in 386 or thereabouts: Stróżyński argues that he was reading Plotinus for sure (and maybe other stuff too, but definitely Plotinus).
  • The shift in Christianity from the normative aspects of religio consisting, for the most part, in practice to consisting in beliefs. We discuss Augy’s rôle in this transformation.
  • Augy’s project for a Christianity which is almost completely univocal with Platonism (as he understands it), but which provides a royal road to the eternal life for those simpler souls unable to comprehend the sublime mysteries of visionary ascent open to Platonist philosophers,
  • Demons as fallen angels, angels as gods, and why Augustine’s world seems so full of demongods,
  • Augustine’s theory of evil as arising in the will of sentient beings, based on a détournement of Plotinus’ theory of noetic matter and the notion of tolma (‘audacity’) expounded in Ennead V.1 and elsewhere,
  • The problem of ‘salvation through faith alone’, and what rôle Augy played in the rise (eventually) of Protestant sects like the Calvinists and Evangelicals who take his anti-Pelagian writings in an extreme interpretation,
  • The Christian revaluing of pistis (faith) from, in Platonist philosophy, a low-level cognitive faculty, to a highly-valued epistemological state,
  • And some contextualisation of Augustine’s justification for religious coercion against the backdrop of societal collapse in the western Roman empire.

Interview Bio:

Mateusz Stróżyński (born 1979) is classicist, philosopher, psychologist and psychotherapist. He is interested in contemplation and spiritual exercises in ancient philosophy, primarily in the Platonist tradition (Plotinus and Augustine), but he has also published on Marcus Aurelius and the medieval Christian mystic Angela of Foligno. He is an associate professor in the Institute of Classical Philology at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) in Poznań, Poland, and the Director of the Institute since January 2021. His plans for the nearest future include an international research project on Angela of Foligno and heterodox Franciscan movements ca. 1270-1320 (awarded recently by the National Science Centre in Poland) as well as completing this book: Plotinus on the Contemplation of the Intelligible World: Faces of Being and Mirrors of Intellect, Cambridge: University Press, 2024 (in press).

Works Cited in this Episode:

Martin Laird. Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge, and Divine Presence. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.

Jean-Marc Narbonne. Le problème de la matière chez Plotin. Essai sur la problématique plotinienne. PhD thesis, Paris-IV Sorbonne, 1988.

Recommended Reading:

Pierre Courcelle. Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin. De Boccard, Paris, 1950.

R.J. O’Connell. Saint Augustine’s Confessions. The Odyssey of Soul. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1969.

Idem. Augustine’s Early Theory of Man, A.D. 386-391. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1968.

Roland J. Teske. To Know God and the Soul: Essays on the Thought of Saint Augustine. Catholic University of America Press, Washington, 2008.