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City of God: Book Fourteen

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That the Disobedience of the First Man Would Have Plunged All Men into the Endless Misery of the Second Death, Had Not the Grace of God Rescued Many. Of Carnal Life, Which is to Be Understood Not Only of Living in Bodily Indulgence, But Also of Living in the Vices of the Inner Man. That the Sin is Caused Not by the Flesh, But by the Soul, and that the Corruption Contracted from Sin is Not Sin But Sin’s Punishment. What It is to Live According to Man, and What to Live According to God.

That the Opinion of the Platonists Regarding the Nature of Body and Soul is Not So Censurable as that of the Manichæans, But that Even It is Objectionable, Because It Ascribes the Origin of Vices to the Nature of The Flesh. Of the Character of the Human Will Which Makes the Affections of the Soul Right or Wrong. That the Words Love and Regard (Amor and Dilectio) are in Scripture Used Indifferently of Good and Evil Affection. Of the Three Perturbations, Which the Stoics Admitted in the Soul of the Wise Man to the Exclusion of Grief or Sadness, Which the Manly Mind Ought Not to Experience. Of the Perturbations of the Soul Which Appear as Right Affections in the Life of the Righteous. Whether It is to Be Believed that Our First Parents in Paradise, Before They Sinned, Were Free from All Perturbation.

Of the Fall of the First Man, in Whom Nature Was Created Good, and Can Be Restored Only by Its Author. Of the Nature of Man’s First Sin. That in Adam’s Sin an Evil Will Preceded the Evil Act. Of the Pride in the Sin, Which Was Worse Than the Sin Itself. Of the Justice of the Punishment with Which Our First Parents Were Visited for Their Disobedience. Of the Evil of Lust,—A Word Which, Though Applicable to Many Vices, is Specially Appropriated to Sexual Uncleanness. Of the Nakedness of Our First Parents, Which They Saw After Their Base and Shameful Sin. Of the Shame Which Attends All Sexual Intercourse.

That It is Now Necessary, as It Was Not Before Man Sinned, to Bridle Anger and Lust by the Restraining Influence of Wisdom. Of the Foolish Beastliness of the Cynics. That Man’s Transgression Did Not Annul the Blessing of Fecundity Pronounced Upon Man Before He Sinned But Infected It with the Disease of Lust. Of the Conjugal Union as It Was Originally Instituted and Blessed by God. Whether Generation Should Have Taken Place Even in Paradise Had Man Not Sinned, or Whether There Should Have Been Any Contention There Between Chastity and Lust. That If Men Had Remained Innocent and Obedient in Paradise, the Generative Organs Should Have Been in Subjection to the Will as the Other Members are. Of True Blessedness, Which This Present Life Cannot Enjoy. That We are to Believe that in Paradise Our First Parents Begat Offspring Without Blushing. Of the Angels and Men Who Sinned, and that Their Wickedness Did Not Disturb the Order of God’s Providence.

Of the Nature of the Two Cities, the Earthly and the Heavenly.

jmstaller's picture

City of God 14: The Problem of God and Evil

As before there appears to be a concern to absolve the Creator God of any ethical or causal responsibility for the horrific conditions of a fallen world: “All was brought about in such a manner, that neither did any future event escape God’s foreknowledge, nor did His foreknowledge compel anyone to sin” (14.27.1). Because of this the moral arc of Augustine’s apologetic seems to have a circular bent: “For He who by His providence and omnipotence distributes to every one his own portion, is able to make good use not only of the good, but also of the wicked” (ibid). In the big picture, even things that are apparently evil are actually good:

    And thus making a good use of the wicked angel, who, in punishment of his first wicked volition, was doomed to an obduracy that prevents him now from willing any good, why should not God have permitted him to tempt the first man, who had been created upright, that is to say, with a good will? For he had been so constituted, that if he looked to God for help, man’s goodness should defeat the angel’s wickedness; but if by proud self-pleasing he abandoned God, his Creator and Sustainer, he should be conquered (14.27.1).

This position seems to represent a challenge to the categories of good and evil as dualistic opposites: are evil spirits really “evil” if their destructive natures or malicious intentions serve an essential function in a broader eschatological scheme? In part I am tempted to see this ambiguity as a consequence of transferring the purgative role of “the Law” to the person of Christ; the New Testament establishes a paradigm in which the apparent forces of evil and destruction are paradoxically revealed to be salvific (i.e., in a crucified Christ).

Although not directly referenced, the image of the serpent in the garden, along with entire incident revolving around the tree of knowledge of good and evil, looms large in the background, especially in the topical context of good and bad angels and “Paradise” (ibid). According to Augustine, God allowed or permitted Satan to act as a tempter in order to test humanity’s moral character, knowing that 1) humankind would fail and that eventually 2) Christ would prevail: “He foresaw that by the man’s seed, aided by divine grace, this same devil himself should be conquered, to the greater glory of the saints” (14.27):

    For who will dare to believe or say that it was not in God’s power to prevent both angels and men from sinning? But God preferred to leave this in their power, and thus to show both what evil could be wrought by their pride, and what good by His grace (14.27).

While on the one hand Augustine seems concerned about those who might accuse the Christian God of tyrannical behavior (LET ME SAVE YOU FROM WHAT I’M GOING TO DO TO YOU IF YOU DON’T LET ME SAVE YOU), he also seems concerned about those who would interpret the reality of evil or suffering as evidence against God’s omnipotence.

The counter-argument Augustine has constructed appears to be one that attempts to answer both of these criticisms at once, but I am not altogether certain that he succeeds in adequately responding to either. Remember earlier, when Augustine said that maybe there was a good lesson to be learned from getting raped? That extreme rationalization is the consequence—perhaps—of taking the principle of revelatory paradox (found in the crucified Christ) to ethical extremities. He seems determined to find redemptive good in evil, even the evil that befalls others. This is reflected here, too, in his determination to rationalize the existence of a wicked being—Satan—within the created spiritual order, over which God has complete autonomy. The logic seems to be that, if it exists, it must be good in some capacity. The trouble I have with this (personally) is that it seems to rely on a sort of purgative logic that Jesus overturns in John 9; suffering is not necessary evidence of sin that needed to be purged, and yet that seems to be how Augustine interprets it.

    Question: Why do you agree or disagree with Augustine’s general assertion that God is responsible for everything good but nothing evil?

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