The Demonic Body: Demonic Ontology and the Domicile of the Demons in Apuleius and Augustine

In Philosophical Approaches to Demonology. pp. 39-58 (2017)
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Abstract

Peter Lombard lamented the abandonment of Augustine’s position affirming the materiality of demons and the demonic body, since by his time (some 700 years after Augustine), under the influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius, it was generally agreed within the Christian tradition that demons (and angels) are intelligible, disembodied substances. The principles that the cosmos is spatially and materially divided and stratified and that demons share ontologically in the nature of the part that they inhabit allowed figures such as Apuleius, Porphyry, and Augustine to account for various aspects of demonic nature and activity that seemed to follow from reason, revelation, and practical experience. The material body of the demon and its relation to the pneuma, or vehicle of the soul, is often invoked to explain demonic agency and the extent of demonic knowledge and to distinguish between evil and good demons (or angels). The following paper weighs in on and clarifies Augustine’s demonic ontology. Although scholars generally recognise Augustine’s position maintaining that demons possess aerial bodies, nevertheless, the ambiguity surrounding Augustine’s opinion, attested to even by Peter Lombard, is overlooked, and Augustine’s conviction is often taken for granted and supported by citing the prominent City of God, the very work in which Augustine’s own views are suspect. This paper provides support to the assessment of Augustine’s doctrine of the demonic body by examining his cosmology, particularly his spatial and elemental division of the cosmos, and exhibits his adherence to the spatio-material principle according to which a creature’s bodily constitution is cognate with the elemental composition of the physical stratum of the cosmos in which they dwell. The paper concludes by indicating how Augustine’s explanations of demonic agency, far from being ambiguous on the nature of the demonic body, are in fact premised on their aerial corporeality, thereby demonstrating more definitively his conviction that demons possess material bodies.

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Seamus O'Neill
Memorial University of Newfoundland

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