On first impressions a mirror appears an exact copy of the real world. Everything is the same as reality – save for one thing, everything is reversed. The left is the right and the right is the left. Perfect in detail, opposite in order.
So to for this latest section of The City of God, where we travel back in time to a mirror world. In Book 10 Augustine is responding to the views of a philosopher named Porphyry (234-305 AD) who is from the Platonic school of thought.
As I read the arguments it struck me how they were wrestling over issues that are on the whole the exact opposite of what we face today. They were concerned with the spiritual realm of angels and demons as a way to the blessed life, the world today is concerned with the god within ourselves.
They were concerned with finding the one right path to truth, society today has abandoned the idea of an absolute truth. They were concerned with understanding the heavenly realms, we are obsessed with the physical.
If this is the case what benefit is there in studying this mirror world, and what can this book teach us? Much I believe. By stretching our minds over a long span of time we can see that the ancient days were different but similar to our own. Despite the different cultural backdrop mentioned above these discrepancies only serve to highlight where we are still the same after over a thousand years later.
We still are lost! We are still looking for the secret to a blessed life. We still debate the validity of the historical record of the New Testament (despite overwhelming evidence). We still need help to find the path to life.
At one point Augustine notes that despite his great learning Porphyry admits “no doctrine has yet been established to form the teaching of a philosophical sect, which offers a universal way for the liberation of the soul; no such way has been produced by any philosophy, or by the moral teaching of the Indians or by the magical spells of the Chaldeans…this universal way had never been brought to his knowledge in his study of history (X.32).”
Ironically, here we are over a thousand years later and still the world is looking for the answer to life – now within the dark corners of our souls. Not much has changed!
Down through the ages Augustine teaches that there is indeed a “royal road, which alone leads to that kingdom whose glory is not the tottering grandeur of the temporal, but the secure stability of the eternal.”
Porphyry dismissed Christianity as the “universal way” because he lived at a time when it was being persecuted and thought this would “soon lead to the disappearance of this way…not realising that this persecution which so influenced him, and he was afraid of suffering if he chose to follow that way, in fact tended to strengthen Christianity and commend it more forcefully”.
As we approach Easter this is the perfect time to discover the truth that so evaded Porphyry – that there is indeed a Royal Road that is open to all – a universal way to find truth, please God & live a blessed life. It is this road that leads to “the eternal dominion of the glorious City of God in the deathless enjoyment of the vision of God”. May we discover it this Easter and find the life that it brings to all who journey on it.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”