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Home » Theology » “Confessions” by St. Augustine » Book VII: Chapters 1 – 10

Book VII: Chapters 1 – 10

4/10/2016

 

Howard

In Chapter 5, Augustine ponders the origin of evil. What is the relation of the human will to evil?  Is evil inflicted on the will, something outside itself that forces the best part of us to submit?  Does everyone harbor a light and a dark side within us?  Do you believe that evil is some sort of external substance?  A force?  A person?  An illusion?  A social construct?  Does it exist at all?  If God is all powerful, then, as Augustine asks, “he had not the power to convert the whole of this matter to good and change it so that no evil remained in it?… Why did he not instead, by this same omnipotence, destroy it utterly and entirely?”  This is a popular argument against God’s existence (or goodness), namely, if God exists, then God is supremely good and powerful and a good being would eliminate all meaningless pain so far as it can without surrendering a greater good.  There’s at least one meaningless pain that has been experienced that could have been prevented by a supremely powerful being without surrendering a greater good.  Therefore, there is no God.  Does the existence of evil negate God’s existence? Why doesn’t God eradicate evil entirely?

 

Human will seems to have evil since so much evil is done by humans.  Sometimes people do evil not by a malignant source, but with pure intentions.  Stealing a loaf of bread for your starving family, for instance.  In some ways, when we are wrong, we fester with anger or pain and then we ourselves perpetuate more evil, so that in such a way, evil is created.

 

What is evil? Is it wanting or doing harm to others with malicious intent? Do we hurt others because we were hurt? Is there a cycle of violence? A cycle of child abuse? Do victims become the new perpetrators?

 

I don’t believe there is necessarily a single source of evil or a devil.  Much like radical Islamic terrorism, there isn’t one leader or Bin Laden that getting rid of will end the problem.  It has become widespread, and you can’t kill an idea through conventional

methods by killing the head.  An idea can only be killed by a better idea or philosophy.

 

There is the age old question of why God allows evil. The short answer is we don’t really know.    Perhaps God is destroying evil as we speak, but it’s just taking a longer time than we would like.  Maybe this world isn’t the finished product.  The redemption of his people through his blood and sacrifice is how God is destroying evil.  Why doesn’t God simply destroy evil immediately? Perhaps He could, but that would involve destroying the corrupted elements as well which include us as well.

 

Are we disposable as raw clay? If the finished object is corrupted, would it be simpler to smash the sculpture and start over with a clean, perfect slate? Perhaps we would, but God, instead of taking the easy way, would painstakingly chip away at the corrupted parts and only leave a beautiful masterpiece.

 

 

 

Patricia

 

 

At the very end of Chapter 10, he writes, “And, far off, I heard your voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt. I might more easily have doubted that I was alive than that Truth had being. For we catch sight of the Truth, as he is known through his creation.”  What is he saying about God’s ontology in this chapter?  Is God like any of his creation?  Does God speak audibly today to people?  Does God have a voice? Or do you think he is being metaphoric here?  Why or why not?

 

After spending some nine chapters agonizing over God’s substance, his connection to evil, his presence in space, and his limits or lack thereof and running into one dead end after another by following lines of thought through to their logical conclusions, Augustine finally has a revelation in a moment of introspection. He had been asking questions about God’s ontology and looking to various philosophies for answers, finding them unsatisfactory and muddled. What this chapter reveals is Augustine finally understanding God not as a part of creation, but as above it and in control of it. He is struck by the truth of this revelation. God presents himself as a light, above and beyond Augustine’s known universe, a light that encompasses “eternal Truth, true Love, beloved Eternity.” I think that at this moment what Augustine understands is that, though God’s attributes and footprint exist in all creation and creation can speak loudly of God to anyone paying enough attention, God is nonetheless above it, different from it, and still connected to it.

What is interesting is that the answer seems to only arrive once Augustine looks inside his “soul”, while the exterior methods of observation had ended in frustration (which is not the same as saying that those attempts were futile or that the conclusions drawn and/or the questions asked were futile. Augustine’s systematic method of inquiry is remarkable).

Was Augustine being metaphoric about hearing God’s voice? Probably not, but only he can answer that. If God ever spoke in non-metaphoric ways to people, I do not see why he wouldn’t today. The argument of God only speaking at specific times in history has never made sense to me. God exists outside time, in the way that humans perceive it, and time as humans perceive it is quite limited–contemporary science has an increasingly metaphysical understanding of it. So I do not know why God would be limited by human constraints of historical time. Does God have a voice, in a literal sense? No, but he can adopt one. Meaning, I don’t think God’s voice is defined by some point coordinates on a radio frequency. Rather, I think God can adopt any form of communication that makes sense to the intended recipient, be it human or not.

 

 

Danny

 

In Chapter 2, summarize the Manichean view of God that Augustine describes here.  Do you see some forms of Manichean belief still present in Christianity today?  What eventually led Augustine to reject the Manichean view of God, especially in regards to God’s incorruptibility.

 

 

In Chapter 2, Augustine writes about his journey away from his previous beliefs (mainly as a follower of Manichaeism), but also about his struggles in trying to understand the nature of God.  He was leaning more and more towards the Christian view of God rather than the one described by the Manicheans.

 

Manichaeism derives its name from a 3rd Century AD Persian prophet named Mani.  He had taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology that described a constant struggle between good (the spiritual world of light) vs. evil (the material world of darkness).  Through the course of human events happening in the world in history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned back to the world of light whence it came.  Manichaeism thrived between the third and seventh centuries at its height where it spread from the Roman Empire all the way to southern China.  It survived until the 14th century and faded away in China during the Ming Dynasty.

 

In Manichean theology, God is powerful but not omnipotent.  There is another equally powerful opponent to God – a semi-eternal power (i.e., Satan). Humanity, the world and the soul are all seen as the byproduct of the battle among God, Satan, and humankind.  The human being and the person’s soul are seen as a battleground between the forces of good vs. the forces of evil.  Natural occurrences, like rain, were seen as the physical manifestation of the spiritual world.  So in the Manichean worldview, the existence of evil was explained by a flawed creation which God took no role in forming but was rather the result of Satan striking out against God.  There’s also an elaborate hierarchy of angels, demons, and spiritual beings within Manichean cosmology and mythos.  It is interesting to note than in one interpretation of Manichaeism, the devil god who created the world was named Jehovah and that this “Prince of Darkness” spoke with Moses, the Jews, and their priests.  So Jews, along with Christians, were worshipping the wrong God and are being led astray.

 

One of the things that Augustine objected to that he writes about in this chapter was how Satan or the evil force could harm and injure God and even subject him to “corruption.”  Augustine asked, if God is incorruptible, then why did God have to defend against the attack of the world of Darkness and sacrifice a part of the divine to be swallowed up by those forces?  If God cannot suffer harm, then self-sacrifice would be unnecessary.  The Manicheans, Augustine argued, couldn’t avoid this dilemma.  It was during this time that he was adopting the Neoplatonic view of God as being “incorruptible, inviolable, and unchangeable” rather than a substance of limited power.  So it was inevitable that he would be at odds with his former Manichean beliefs.

 

In many of today’s Christian churches, there’s still a prevailing belief in a dualistic world or universe.  Satan rules this decaying world of darkness and is constantly battling God for human souls.  Though most Christians will not admit it, it seems as if in some of their rhetoric, Satan seems almost as powerful or at least on equal footing as God.  If some evil happens (say, for example, a terrorist attack or illness) or a Christian falls into temptation, Satan is almost always invoked and blamed.  But where is God in all this?  Can’t blame God because he is all-good and all-loving of course, so God cannot be implicated in these evil actions, so we’ll find a scapegoat, and the scapegoat is almost always Satan.  It’s an accommodating and rather simple explanation to theodicy or why evil happens in the world, and it is this simple viewing of black and white, good vs. evil, a profoundly Manichean view of things, that finds resonance and parallels in popular Christian beliefs today.  In some more charismatic churches, a lot of militaristic rhetoric about putting on God’s armor or being a “Christian soldier” against the forces of darkness or Satan – where hell, demons, spiritual attacks, possessions, etc. are very real – are emphasized at great length.  So in their eyes, this “war” is very real, and historical events that happen around the world, like wars, Christian persecution, and terrorism, are all evidence of an apocalyptic (spiritual) war between God and the forces of Darkness.  This dualistic worldview will seemingly not go away anytime soon in the imminent future.

 

 

 

 

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