Conclusion

To take the intellectual accomplishment of Milan to be at all the same sort of thing as the mystical experience at Ostia would manifest the pride that is so typical of the Platonists, the pride that confuses knowledge with love, information with transformation. If we learn anything at all from the end of Book 7 (post-"ascent") and the evaluation of Platonism in City of God 8-10, we learn that Platonism cannot save because it does not have Christ. To be sure, all knowledge of intelligible reality depends on the discarnate Word—that's the significance of the theory of illumination. But transformation of the "heart" (a word hardly seen in Book 7 but frequent in Book 9) depends on the Incarnate Word. In Book 7 we have the action of the discarnate Word on the mind; in Book 9 we have the action of the Incarnate Word on the heart.

Commentators say blithely that Augustine found in Platonism everything he found in Christianity, except for the Incarnation. But knowledge of the Incarnation is precisely what does all the work, according to Augustine. His complaint is not merely that the Platonists overlooked an important point, even an essential point; it is that they overlooked the one point apart from which all their other insights could not do them any earthly (or heavenly) good:

For you have been made through the Word, but it is incumbent upon you to be remade through the Word; and yet if your belief about the Word is amiss, you cannot be remade through the Word. Although it has fallen to your lot to be made through the Word, so that through him you have been made, it is through yourself that you are unmade. If through yourself you are unmade, he who made you will remake you; if through yourself you have been made worse, he who created you will recreate you. But how will he recreate you through the Word if your belief about the Word is somehow amiss? (In lohannis Evangelium Tractatu.s 1. 12)

Platonist knowledge is impotent—which is why such high-minded Platonists could fall into theurgy, seeking through magical arts to put themselves in touch with a reality that they glimpsed but could not find a way to enter.

So Augustine couldn't have had anything like the Ostia experience in Book 7 because he didn't have the Christology right. What he gets in Milan is the god of the philosophers, and that god is a powerless, bloodless abstraction. Augustine is not brought into relation with anything, because there's nothing to be in relation to. After the Christology is righted there's something to be in relation to, but something holding him back from the relationship. At the garden he embraces the relationship. Then, however, the "ascent" becomes superfluous, since you get the relationship sacramentally and morally rather than intellectually and mystically.

This is why, even though the Ostia ascent proves as fleeting as the Milan experience, Augustine does not show himself dissatisfied at the end of Book 9 as he did at the end of Book 7. At both Milan and Ostia Augustine follows a familiar pattern: he ascends in his mind above the realm of change and chance, he reaches the very height of reality, and then he falls back down into his normal state. When this happens at Milan he is left dissatisfied and uneasy, for he has not been able to rest in the enjoyment of that supreme Truth whom he has come to know but not, as yet, to love:

And I was seeking some way of gathering a strength that would fit me to enjoy you, but I was not to find it until I embraced the Mediator of God and man. (7.20.26)

I was indeed certain of all this, but I was too weak to enjoy you. (Ibid.)

At Ostia, however, he has that enjoyment—not only, or even primarily, in any mystical experience, but in the sacramental life of the church. The Eucharist is theurgy that actually works, because it is not the pride of human beings seeking to raise themselves up to the divine, but the humility of the divine stooping to dwell among human beings.8

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