Augustine and Plantinga: The Civitas Dei, the Civitas Mundi and the task of Ecclesial Philosophy
By Mike Dagle, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Detroit
“…two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head (Psalm 3:3)” Augustine City of God, Book 14, 28
I take it that here Augustine aims to offer the rivalry of the Civitas Dei and the Civitas Mundi as a depiction of history generally; of the contest or contrast between those who would seek the things of God and those who seek something all together different. Accordingly, Augustine presents here a stark contrast between the two cities. The image is that they are fundamentally different things (or places) with different values, concepts, and ideas; or to place the idea within the current context they have different philosophies. If this is true then for Augustine, citizens of the Civitas Dei have a different philosophical program and agenda than the citizens of the Civitas Mundi. Following the motif the former glories in God, the latter in itself.
The contemporary analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga follows and further develops Augustine’s thought and applies the two cities motif to the contemporary intellectual and philosophical scene. More broadly Plantinga utilizes Augustine’s urban metaphor to develop the relationship between Christian belief and philosophy, or the age-old question of faith and reason. Plantinga doesn’t claim that he offers the correct interpretation of Augustine’s thought on these complex relationships; he instead offers the more pedestrian claim that his approach is “broadly Augustinian”. I aim to present here a brief introduction to Plantinga’s Augustinian thought on faith and reason and the nature and task of Christian (or as I’ll call it Ecclesial) philosophy. Following Plantinga I don’t claim to present a systematic take on Augustine’s ideas (it is simply beyond my competence to do so) but instead attempt to highlight the Augustinian nature of Plantinga’s thought.
Plantinga’s Augustinian approach to faith and reason centers on a few (though often unmentioned) convictions that are broadly characteristic of the Reformed/Calvinist/Augustinian tradition: (1) the integrality of faith and reason in creation, (2) the cognitive consequences of the fall into sin, (3) cognitive repair from the bondage of sin in redemption and (4) that all philosophical theorizing is fundamentally religious in nature.
(1) presents the conviction that from creation faith and reason, or the head and the heart, have not been independent and distinct modes of cognition, but integrated parts of human knowing and loving. In creation knowing, loving and trusting God were not separable acts of cognition but instead one act of obedience and devotion. Characteristic of their purpose and design the first created beings perceived “themselves and all things in relation to God” thus we might call reason sans the fall a God-soaked reason. Prior to the fall God was the first epistemic foundation of all human thought, not the end in a chain of reasoning. (2) follows this reflection on creation through the fall. If the head and heart were as integrated as has been suggested then we would expect that the fall had drastic consequences for both. Here Augustine’s famous and reflective phrase “…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” offers inspiration and instruction. Our hearts have fallen and our affections are restless and disordered. We love the wrong things. We take up residence in the Civitas Mundi, glorying in ourselves and in created things. In the same way our formerly God-soaked reason is disordered. Our ability to perceive the world around us and ourselves in relation to God, which on this view is the height of rationally, is skewed. (3) brings us to happy news of redemption. According to Plantinga part of the benefits of regeneration is “cognitive renewal”. Regeneration, by the work of the Holy Spirit, begins the process of reordering our affections, our loves and hates, and our cognitive faculties. Plantinga argues in his magnum opus Warranted Christian Belief that characteristic Christian doctrines such as trinity, incarnation, sin, atonement, resurrection and eternal life can be rationally accepted in the basic way. That is they can be rationally believed and known without the use of proposition evidence and instead serve as epistemic foundations themselves. Just as in creation all things were known in relation to God in regeneration all things are known in relation to God’s redemptive work in the world. For Plantinga this epistemic reordering and renewal is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit.
Plantinga follows Abraham Kuyper, who is following Augustine, in emphasizing that mental life is firmly within the domain of Christ and as such is as affected by regeneration as anything else. Kuyper’s influential quip portrays the sort of cognitive loyalty to Christ that is characteristic of Plantinga and Augustine.: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”.
Christian (or Ecclesial) Philosophy
If, as Plantinga maintains, characteristic Christian doctrines can be believed and known in the basic way (or we might say by faith) and serve as epistemic foundations in themselves how does this notion relate to the task of philosophy? Philosophy is said to be the domain of reason alone. If we use what we know by way of faith as a premise in an argument we may proceed reasonably but what we are doing is in fact theology not philosophy. This perspective on the relationship of theology and philosophy is often associated with Aquinas and is developed magnificently in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. The Thomist agrees that reason may be fallen in some way but maintains that considerable ground towards revelation can be achieved on the basis of reason alone. Plantinga’s Augustinian approach instead maintains that all philosophy is really the articulation of fundamentally religious perspectives (4). For us to know the world in a philosophically correct way our hearts must be cured as well as our minds. Non-Christian philosophy then “is less a deliverance of reason than the articulation of a rival faith”; or put in Augustine’s motif it’s the philosophy of the Civitas Mundi. Some non-Christian philosophy may have similarities with Christian belief but nevertheless it proceeds from premises that are wholly different than that of Christian thought; which ought to proceed (at least in many cases) in the light of God’s self revelation and a renewed cognitive outlook.
Given this perspective on the nature of philosophy, Plantinga maintains it is perfectly acceptable for a Christian philosopher to deploy what they know by way of faith right along with what they know by way of reason when doing philosophy. Indeed it can really be no other way. This may blur the lines between philosophy and theology but this is only to be expected given the Augustinian convictions of (1-4). The Christian philosopher is using the tools of philosophy to articulate the Christian faith. This is fundamentally no different then the naturalist philosopher assuming naturalism and thus giving an account of humor, love, money or any other facet of human existence. This naturalist program in fact makes up for much of contemporary philosophy.
The task of the Christian philosopher then becomes an Ecclesial one. The Church is faced with many intellectual challenges from the world. Philosophers are often in a unique position to deploy their skills in service to the Church. I call this approach Ecclesial Philosophy to emphasize that the philosopher’s work is designed (or should be) to serve the larger Body. The Christian philosopher must understand that the Church often needs answers to questions that are characteristically asked by philosophers. The Church often needs to know what the Christian perspective on questions concerning personal identify, political philosophy, the status of non human nature, how we come to know and believe things and a thousand other topics need the skills that the Christian philosopher brings. It only makes sense that the Christian philosopher deploys everything they know to answer these questions; whether known by faith or reason. Otherwise the answer is incomplete by default. Plantinga’s Augustinianism offers a way forward for the positive interaction of rigorous philosophical reflection and heartfelt devotion and service to the Civitas Dei.
There is much more that can be said but space does not permit. A deeper treatment might include a fuller account of Plantinga’s epistemology and model of Warranted Christian Belief or a closer study of Plantinga’s faithfulness to Augustine’s thought. In particular Augustine’s use of the looting of Egypt by Israel in the Exodus as a parable of the relationship of Christian faith and pagan philosophy offers a much richer way to understand the interactions of the Civitas Mundi and the Civitas Dei than Plantinga seems to allow for. But that will have to wait for another time.
See Plantinga, Alvin. Augustinian Christian Philosophy. The Monist
, v. 75, no. 3 July. (1992): 291-320.
 Ibid. Plantinga identifies two “burrows” within the Civitas Mundi; perennial naturalism and creative antirealism.
 It is worth noting that some Reformed theologians such as John Frame and Paul Helm have questioned Plantinga’s faithfulness to the Reformed tradition.
 See Cooper, John. Fides et Ratio, Reformed Epistemology, and the possibility of Christian Philosophy. To my knowledge currently unavailable.
 The religious epistemological work of Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and William Alston has characteristically been referred to as Reformed Epistemology though all agree that it is not necessarily dependent on Reformed theology. I interact here only with Plantinga’s work.
 Augustine. Confessions. Trans. Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford UP. 1998.
 Just how far reason has fallen is a well-worn topic of interest that brings out fundamental theological disagreements between Catholic and Protestants. Along that vein it is at least helpful to point out that John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et ratio acknowledges that reason is “wounded and weakened by sin.” though he is firmly within the Thomistic understanding of faith and reason.
 See especially Chpt 8, pg 280-282. Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford UP. 2000.
 Kuyper, Abraham. “Sphere Sovereignty”. Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader. Ed. Bratt, James D. Grand Rapids: Eardmans. 1998.
 Plantinga, Alvin. Philosophers respond to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio. Books and Culture. July/Aug. (1999)
 It follows that Plantinga accepts a largely perspectival approach to philosophy though in no way does he descend into relativism. This topic deserves more attention then can be given here.
 See Plantinga, Alvin. “Advice to Christian Philosophers”. The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader. Ed. Sennett, James F. Grand Rapids: Eardmans. 1998
 In no way do I assume the Christian philosopher alone can answer these questions. Scripture is the primary data and as such pastors, theologians, and the Church are often best suited to offer helpful reflection. Following Plantinga I simply maintain that the Christian philosopher has a role to play here as well.
 It’s worth noting that Plantinga does offer middle ground for the Thomist who still maintains that what I propose here is not philosophy proper. Plantinga proposes conditionals as a way to proceed. “If the Christian faith is true then…” would use a faith premise only conditionally. This type of argument proceeds solely by way of reason and is all together common in philosophical reflection. See Philosophers respond to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio.