The Devil Went Down to Hippo: How Augustine Thwarts a Celestial, or Does He?

The Devil Went Down to Hippo: How Augustine Thwarts a Celestial, or Does He?

Growing up in a small, southern town in the early 1980's, it seemed like the Devil was lurking behind every dark corner, music video, or grocery store magazine rack around. Folks like Tipper Gore were trying to save us from Dungeons and Dragons, pornography, and MTV; the Devil's playground, as it were. These formative experiences have made the exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of the Devil a compelling one, no less for the great power attributed to man's virtuous will, as shall be laid out in this paper. Augustine's argument follows a logical course, and if taken at face value , states that no fallen creature could take advantage of a virtuous man in full control of his will, or that if that fallen creature were still more powerful, it would not do so.

This paper will explore Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will Book One, sections 10 and 11 in regards to the following questions: How does Augustine argue, in Book One Sections 10 and the beginning of 11, that neither something inferior to us nor something superior to us could vanquish or will equipped with virtue? How—and how successfully—would Augustine account for the possibility of the devil (a {created} angel fallen from heaven as the result of his pride) tempting us to sin? The paper will be divided into two sections. The first will delve into sections 10 and 11, answering the question of how Augustine sets up his argument, and what significance the argument has to the concept of Free Will. The second section will divine the question of the devil and how Augustine might account for his success or lack thereof in tempting a person into sin. Two possibilities will be explored here. The first that the Devil is lower than man, being fallen, and cannot tempt the man whose virtue is strong, and the second being that the Devil is in fact higher than man, closer to God, and an agent of God's Justice .

In Book One sections 10 and 11, Augustine argues for the strength of the mind over cupidity, and sets up a logical argument for this beginning with the example of man ruling over animals. Man possesses reason, which animals lack, “the life of the lower animals consists entirely in the pursuit of physical pleasures and the avoidance of pains” (Augustine, p. 14). Augustine goes on to argue that as animals are “tamed and subdued by human beings” (Augustine p. 15), but humans are superior to animals (who lack reason), and thus cannot suffer the same fate (being subjected or servile to animals). As animals are lower than man, so too, then is cupidity something lower than reason, and Augustine argues that reason rules over cupidity by right of this authority. “I think the mind must be more powerful than cupidity, precisely because it is right and just for the mind to rule over cupidity” (Augustine, p. 16).

In foil to this, Augustine offers the reader the animal trainer, the shepherd, the groom, as “the fool”. These are men who are led by desire, and do not follow their own reason to the higher good. These are men who are in control of animals (a lesser being, and so justly, in accord with Augustine's argument) but who are not in control of their own desires. “These people have minds, for they do things that cannot be done without a mind. Yet their minds are not in control, for they are fools” (Augustine, p. 16). Through this series of arguments, Augustine argues for a whole hierarchy of being, with God at the top, being the most perfect and non-temporal , and moving down, to man below God, having reason, but not eternal, to beasts, who possess life and desire, but not reason, and finally the inanima who exist, but possess neither desire, nor animation.

Augustine goes further to explain that, following his hierarchy of being (spirit above man, man above beast, beast above inanima) if every virtue is higher than every vice, then “no vicious spirit defeats a spirit armed with virtue” (Augustine, p. 16). Augustine also offers that no higher spirit would take authority over another being and force it to be subjected to inordinate desires, and that “any mind that would attempt such a thing must have already fallen from justice and become vicious , and therefore weaker” (Augustine, p. 17). This gives the argument that one can sin only through one's own will and free choice, another could not or would not force one to do it. These arguments set up a schema that follows:
1. Cupidity (in the person) which has no power
2. Another soul which is corrupt likewise has no power
3. A material object of any sort has no power, as it has no reason
4. Another soul which is equally virtuous has the power but would not use it to corrupt
5. A superior being, likewise has the power to corrupt, but possessing wisdom would not do so

One's will and free choice cannot be subjected to the will of another, for if a being equal or higher on the scale attempts to subjugate the will of another, that being would become corrupt and thus be weaker than the soul ruled by virtue.

If these arguments are true, then it would stand to reason that the Devil, a created being, higher than man, but fallen due to his own cupidity would be weaker than a virtuous man, and would hold no power over him. The devil would be a creature of spirit, not of flesh, and this would place him higher than man, and closer to God. The Devil would likewise possess reason, and free will, being higher than man. However, the Devil has fallen as a result of pride (a form of cupidity ). Following Augustine's argument on page 17, if the Devil has succumbed to cupidity, then he has fallen from justice and become vicious and therefore weaker .

Following this argument, it would reason that if evil is inordinate desire, then the Devil being fallen, could be said to be a creature of pure desire, and could perhaps be likened to an animal, though lacking in physical form . This could be further argued to give him powers beyond men, much the way animals are, “animals easily surpass human beings in strength and in other physical capabilities” (Augustine, p. 12). While by Augustine's argument, the Devil might not be able to control or tempt a virtuous man, what of the fool? Could not a superior being who is fallen, vicious, and weak prey on those who are not in full possession of his faculties ? It would reason that he could. Even Augustine is disdainful of foolish shepherds led by desire. It would be unjust for the Devil to prey on the virtuous, but those who are already beginning to contemplate cupidity, even unconsciously, are losing their own strength, slipping from the high ground, as it were . Perhaps, on the scale of virtue, a fallen angel, while lower than a virtuous man, might still possess more power than a non-virtuous one and be able to lead him into temptation, which would only be just . God's punishment exists for those who have fallen into cupidity and desire. God created man with virtue and reason to discern between cupidity and Truth. Perhaps the Devil is but God's instrument to mete out justice to those who would choose corruption over Truth. Augustine himself sets this up as a possibility in Book Three, giving the Devil great power over men who have fallen.

In Book Three, Part 20, Augustine argues that man was given”the power of judgment, by which every soul knows that it should as for knowledge where it is hindered” (Augustine, p. 110). Augustine goes on to delineate a city created by God “for those who triumph over Satan” (Augustine, p. 110). Now it would stand to reason, that if the Devil were fallen below man on the hierarchy outlined in Book One, that he would have no power over man . This is not what appears to be happening in Book Three. Augustine states that those who fall to cupidity will be placed by God under the rule of the enemy (the Devil). Perhaps the Devil's fall, foreknown by God simply placed him in a position to be an Agent of Justice . Though he is fallen from his original place, it seems that the Devil is still higher on the spiritual food chain than men, and has been placed as overlord above those who abandon the path of truth.

By virtue of Augustine's own arguments, it is clear that the Devil is indeed higher than man , and can tempt them, as he did in the form of a serpent with Adam and Eve. It is by their own free will, however that man can be freed from the snares laid down by him. Augustine would likely argue that Adam and Eve had a choice between right and wrong, and knowingly went against God's wishes. The Devil is not a man, by Augustine's delineation, being a creature of spirit, and closer to God, still has some power, though he is fallen . This power to tempt is downplayed by Augustine, instead focusing on his dominion over the fallen in the afterlife. Those who choose a worldly life are given over by God to the Devil, creating him as an agent of God's justice. Without the fall of the Devil and the temptation of man by libidines, how could we know God's Mercy? This is perhaps the intention of Augustine's argument, but in some ways, he creates schema which break down. His arguments in Book One that no spirit could or would tempt the virtuous seems to be displaced by arguments in Book Three. If the Devil were fallen below man, would he be given dominion over the fallen?

Augustine lays out a powerful argument for free will, if at times a little flawed. His steps in delineating it are fairly clear, but seem to become muddled in the breadth of what he would cover in this small book. As greater forces (angelic and divine, in particular) come into play later in the book, earlier arguments are displaced or perhaps outmoded. The Devil is perhaps not so successfully countered, as he could have been. As an ultimate foil for God's grace, and versus man's free will, it is difficult to both give and limit his powers through Augustine's arguments. Ultimately, the power given to the Devil in the Christian ethos outlined by Augustine is not to directly tempt man, but to act as an agent of justice, meting out punishment. This seems to go against Biblical sources which place the blame for the fall squarely at the feet of the serpent (which may or may not have been the Devil), and frequently warn against his active temptation, but ultimately attempts to build a groundwork for the belief in the freedom of man to choose his own destiny, in line with God or in a worldly vein.