One question that always preoccupied Augustine was: why

One question that always preoccupied Augustine was: why does evil exist in the world? He posed this question many times, often relying on personal experience to answer it. To truly believe in God, he had to answer why, if God was good and powerful, he stilled allowed humanity to suffer. This idea of good and evil made him think that we are not neutral when it comes to these fights, that we have a paramount influence in our suffering. For Augustine, it was certain that creation is good. For, “where does evil come from, seeing that God is good and made all things good?” (Augustine 130). And, if God is good, and his creation is good, how could we possibly be evil without corruption? In Confessions, Augustine not only believes that humans are good, but he argues that it is only through free will that corruption exists, denying evil altogether as God’s existence is logically incompatible with the existence of evil.     According to Augustine things that are good are subject to corruption. Augustine’s view on evil differed greatly with Manichaeism belief.

They taught that the Earth was made up of two conflicting forces: God, who represents light and goodness, and Satan, who represents darkness and evil. Human beings find themselves caught between these forces. According to Manichaeism, the human body is from Lucifer and is innately evil, whereas the soul is made of light. However, differing from this point-of-view Augustine’s main argument was that while God created everything good, and all good things were corruptible due to free will. In Confessions  Augustine he states: “it was obvious to me that things which are liable to corruption are good… If there were no good in them there would be nothing capable of corruption.” Evil itself is not an existing force (morally) – rather, it is a corruption of God’s inherently good creation that exists. In other words, God is good he would not have purposely created evil. Everything began as good.

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However, everything (except God) is corruptible, according to Augustine, because creation is changeable which in turn allows for corruption. This is because, in Augustine’s view, you can always change for the worst. Only God is eternal, and therefore he is unchanging and unsusceptible to corruption. Yet when Augustine claims that all created things of corruptible, he isn’t saying human being are evil, he is actually arguing the opposite. Augustine imagined that everything created by God is corruptible because it is good.

Creation is essentially good and it is only through out choice (free will) that things can go bad. Ghazali also applied the idea of the human soul and how we are split into two parts: our body and our soul. Ghazali states that it is only through our understanding of ourselves that we can be destined for spiritual happiness,  “he does not recognize the true nature of life until he recognizes the true nature of the soul (rah); and the spiritual knowledge of the true nature of the soul is the spiritual knowledge of the true nature of his own self (nafs), about which something has already been explained”(Ghazali 64). God enables humans to freely choose their actions and deeds, and evil inevitably results from these choices. It is only through knowing ourselves that we can possibly hope to claim the goodness that lies within us. Ghazali points this out saying, “Therefore, self- knowledge is the key to the knowledge of God and the key to knowledge of the Hereafter” (Ghazali 70). What this means is that to know God and to achieve peace and happiness we have to understand ourselves, to recognize our corruptness and to work towards the good. In this case free will is necessary.

Nonetheless, Augustine often mentioned that a condition might arise in humans so that the will was not totally free.  In this category, he includes sexual attraction, which he believed could not be controlled by the will or reason. This disagreement led him to Neoplatonism, a system of philosophy developed by Plato’s follower, Plotinus, that would prove to be the most influential in his life and work.    Given Augustine’s inclination to believe that creation is good, it only makes sense for him to think that things move toward evil by corruption or the loss of good, like a piece of rotting fruit.

But what if something did not become evil through corruption (the deprivation of its good), but were evil to begin with (which is the Manichean view)? Augustine seems to rule out this possibility by postulating that God is good and hence made all things good. The main point of his argument is to persuade readers that this idea is tenable despite the issue or ideas of evil. While the proposal or possibility that evil is coeval with good has not been disproven, Augustine  argues that it is absurd to assert that something without any good, could be in a better state than something that is good yet corruptible.In conclusion, human beings can choose one particular action from among various alternatives. As Augustine concludes, will is not taken from us by or is not opposed to God’s foreknowledge. These ideas were highly influenced by Neoplatonism and Manicheism.

While Augustine differed from Manicheism due to his own beliefs on evil, he eventually finds answers in Neoplatonism. By applying his own worldly experiences Augustine comes to the conclusion that suffering and corruption are both do to humanity’s free will. Human being are inherently good, as God is good, but through our free will we can chose to be corruptible, which in turn leads to suffering.

Author: Annette Jenkins


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