This book is perhaps the most complicated so far. If you have ever asked where evil came from, who created it, or what evil IS, then this post will certainly be exciting for you. The logic and reasoning Augustine uses will certainly give you a mental workout, and as such I felt that liberal use of quotes and citations was necessary for some chapters in this post. I certainly enjoyed the discussion here and I hope you do as well.
“City of God” Part Three – “The Origin of the Two Cities,” Book Twelve – “Created Wills and the Distinction of Good and Evil”
[Note: My copy of “City of God” is not a complete one. The publishers and translators, in order to keep the size of the book down and keep the content more focused, edited out certain chapters where Augustine would go on one of his legendary excursus. They offered a brief summary of the chapters that were taken out. For completion’s sake I will go ahead and just quote the the summaries in their whole in italics and note when I am doing so.]
Chapter 1: Augustine begins by making remarks about how it is okay to think angels and men can coexist in the same societies. The very fact that angels now have a fallen nature is proof that they were created to be in a relationship with God.
“There is no other good which can make any rational or intellectual creature happy except God.”
“The very failure of the bad angels to cling to God – a desertion that damaged their nature like a disease – is itself proof enough that the nature God gave them was good – so good that not to be one with God was for them a disaster.”
Chapter 2: It must be stated that there is no other source of created natures. God is the only one who can do this.
Chapter 3: When the Bible refers to non-believers as “enemies” of God, It does not mean that they can harm Him in any way. In fact, it means that they are bringing harm to themselves.
“No evils, of course, can be harmful to God, but only to mutable and corruptible natures – and, even then, the harm done bears witness to the goodness of the natures which suffer, for, unless they were good, they could not suffer the wounds of a lack of goodness.”
Chapter 4: Non-sentient lifeforms and beasts also receive their natures from God. The corruptible aspects their natures are not something to condemn them for.
“In those situation where it is beyond out power to understand the providence of God, we are rightly commanded to make an act of faith rather than allow the rashness of human vanity to criticize even a minute detail in the masterpiece of our Creator.”
Chapter 5: God created the natures of all created things that exist, therefore, all natures are good by way of their existence. Even things which seem to be faults to us, like plants decaying and dying, are actually good because they are fulfilling the goal they were originally designed to fulfill.
Chapter 6: On the origin of evil wills. Augustine argues that a will only becomes evil through its own workings. It is absurd to think that a good will could somehow create an evil one, without itself being evil before hand.
“If we seek the cause of the bad angels’ misery, we are right in finding it in this, that they abandoned Him whose Being is absolute and turned to themselves whose being is relative – a sin that can have no better name than pride.”
“If one seeks for the efficient cause of their evil will, none is to be found. For, what can make the will bad when it is the will itself which makes an action bad? Thus, an evil will is the efficient cause of a bad action, but there is no efficient cause of an evil will. If there is such a cause, it either has or has not a will. If it has, then that will is either good or bad. If good, one would have to be foolish enough to conclude that a good will makes a bad will. In that case, a good will becomes the cause of sin – which is utterly absurd. On the other hand, if the hypothetical cause of a bad will has itself a bad will, I would have to ask what make this will bad, and, to put an end to the inquiry: What made the first will bad? Now, the fact is that there was no first bad will that was made bad by any other bad will – it was made bad by itself. For, if it were preceded by a cause that made it evil, that cause came first. But, if I am told that nothing made the will evil but that it always was so, then I ask whether or not it existed in some nature.
“If this evil will existed in no nature, then it did not exist at all. If it existed in some nature, then it vitiated, corrupted, injured that nature and, therefore, deprived if of some good. An evil will could not exist in an evil nature but only a good one, mutable enough to suffer harm from this deprivation. For, if no harm were done, then there was no deprivation and, consequently, no right to call the will evil. But, if harm was done, it was done by destroying or diminishing what was good. Thus, an evil will could not have existed from all eternity in a nature in which a previously existing good had to be eliminated before the evil will could harm the nature.”
“Now, the person who talks of a man making his own will evil must ask why the man made his will evil, whether because he is a nature or because he is a nature made out of nothing? He will learn that the evil arises not from the fact that the man is a nature, but from the fact that the nature was made out of nothing.
“For, if a nature is the cause of an evil will, then we are compelled to say that evil springs from good and that good is the cause of evil – since a bad will comes from a good nature. But how can it come about that a good, though mutable, nature, even before its will is evil, can produce something evil, namely, this evil will itself?”
Chapter 7: Augustine summarizes what it means to have an evil will: when the will begins to suffer from a deficiency. In the same way darkness is an absence of light, evil is the failure to live up to the perfect image of God.
“The fault of an evil will begins when one falls from Supreme Being to some being which is less than absolute.”
Chapter 8: Further explanation on a will falling into evil. When an individual perversely desires something that is good, at the expense of disregarding something that is better.
“The nature of God can never and nowhere be deficient in anything, while things made out of nothing can be deficient.”
“I know, further, that when a will ‘is made’ evil, what happens would not have happened if the will had not wanted it to happen.”
“The will does not fall ‘into sin’: it falls ‘sinfully.'”
“Anyone who loves perversely the good of any nature whatsoever and even, perhaps, acquires this good makes himself bad by gaining something good and sad by losing something better.”
Chapter 9: Augustine concludes his discussion on the creation of the society of angels. The topic is whether or not angels were given a will at the same time they were created, or if they received their will at some other time. Augustine determines that angels possessed a good will from the moment of their creation.
“It is the evil will itself that starts that evil in mutable spirits, which is nothing but a weakening and worsening of the good in their nature. What ‘makes’ the will evil is, in reality, an ‘unmaking,’ a desertion from God.”
“The only thing that ‘made’ their will bad was that they fell away from a will which was good. Nor would they have fallen away, had they not chosen to fall away.”
“In the hypothesis, however, that the good angels, existing at first without a good will, produced it in themselves without the help of God, they must have made themselves better than what they were when God created them. This is nonsense, for, without a good will, what could they be but evil?”
“We are compelled to believe that the holy angels never existed without a good will, that is, without the love of God.”
Chapter 10: Augustine resoundingly rejects the claim that mankind has existed co-eternal with the universe.
Chapter 11: [Editor’s Summary] Citing a letter, supposedly from Alexander the Great to his mother, Augustine points to many discrepancies in ancient chronologies of world history and argues that Scripture is a more reliable source of such chronological information.
Chapter 12: A brief survey of theories on the origin of man and the universe. Augustine anticipates many modern day scientific theories, such as the multiverse theory (referred to as “other worlds”), and the idea of a cyclical universe through big bang expansions and contractions (“over and over again, it periodically disintegrates and begins again”).
Chapters 13-18: [Editor’s Summary] Recording a curious anticipation of modern views on the long prehistory of this world (600,000 years), Augustine admits he does not know how old it is but he is against the theory of periodic cycles. Man was created once, in time, and that is certain. In the ensuing discussion of time two points are made: no creature is co-eternal with God, and no human being preceded Adam. The problem of infinity is then introduced.
Chapter 19: Augustine shows that the series of numbers is infinite. He also argues that the knowledge of infinity is not beyond the capabilities of God.
Chapters 20-21: [Editor’s Summary] The meaning of the Biblical phrase ‘ages of ages’ is examined; it does not mean periodic cycles of time. Chapter 21 is a long criticism of the theory that the souls of the dead will return to live again on this earth. Augustine is clearly opposed to human reincarnation or metempsychosis.
Chapter 22: Attention is drawn to the fact that God created mankind in a way that allowed the whole race to propagate from a single individual.
Chapter 23: God was not caught off guard by the fall of man. Mankind is the only species on earth that goes to war with itself. The reason for having mankind descend from one man was for man to see that God wanted them to live together in one community of saints.
Chapter 24: Part of the process of creating man was the impartation of a soul. When God made man out of the dust of the earth, it is not clear whether the soul was made then or if it was made at a previous time.
Chapter 25: It is wrong to think that any one other than God (including angels or any supposed ‘lesser god’ figures) is capable of the act of creation.
Chapter 26: All material beings possess two forms. An outward physical form, and an inward immaterial nature. Men and angels can have a hand in shaping the previous form, but only God can create the latter.
Chapter 27: Augustine draws attention to a flaw in the theology of Plato and Porphyry. They say man should worship the lesser gods who are directly responsible for the creation of our bodies, but given that they also believe in reincarnation as a form of punishment, Plato and Porphyry are asking us to worship these gods for creating our prisons.
Chapter 28: Augustine concludes that the Christian God is the one responsible for the creation of man and the universe. He also emphasizes that the creation of the woman from the side of the man shows that mankind is a social creature.
Next time: “Adam’s Sin and its Consequences”