Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love: Lesson 2
Lesson 2: Chapters III and IV
In Chapter III, Augustine begins by recalling a point from Chapter I. He states that, when trying to determine what to believe in "matters of religion," one should not seek after what the Greek philosophers did—the "nature of things." That sort of knowledge is not necessary. Rather, we should simply believe that the goodness of God is the cause of all things. Thus, whatever the Greek philosopher may say about this that or the other, Augustine reminds us that the things in the world—the earth, people, animals, yourself, myself—are the results of God's goodness.
Even though everything is the result of the goodness of God, there is still evil in the world. However, Augustine notes that God does not allow evil in the world "unless in his omnipotence and goodness…he is able to bring forth good out of evil." Even the evil in the world is used by God to create good.
In Chapter IV, Augustine continues to treat the topic of evil. Here he states that nature—things in the world—can change, and that periodically the goodness of created things can be "diminished" or "augmented." But, there is hope even here, because no matter how diminished something becomes, its original good nature still remains as long as it exists. Augustine would say, for example, that no matter how depraved a human being becomes, there is still some good in that person because that person still has the nature of being a human being, and that nature is good. There is always some good, and consequently, always some hope.
Augustine concludes with a discussion of the nature of evil. According to him, evil does not exist: "Nothing evil exists in itself." Rather, "only as an evil aspect of some actual entity" does evil exist. This leads Augustine to famously state that evil is "the privation of good." Nothing is "pure evil" in the same way that God is "pure good." (Not even Satan is "pure evil!") Rather, according to Augustine, there are things which are good, that periodically lack some good, and that lacking of good is all that evil is.