Augustine\'s "Confessions"


A philosophical question faces Christians, and in fact all theists, that
challenges the belief in God. To theists, God is an omnipotent, perfect God.
He is good. Theists accept this, and embrace it, for how else can they worship
God and give their lives to Him unless He is good? However, n this world evil
is constantly seen all around us. Because God is the author of all things in
this world, and he is good, theists must then ask themselves what evil is and
where it came from. Augustine sets up an argument I his Confessions that
attempts to define evil, and in doing so he explains its existence.
To follow this argument, it is important to realize that Augustine
accepts some basic precepts regarding God and His creation. To begin with, God
is the author of everything. Augustine says, “nothing that exists could exist
without you [God]” (1.2). God is the creator and source of all things. Again “
. . . when He made the world He did not go away and leave it. By Him it was
created and in Him exists” (4.12). Nothing in this world exists apart from God.
Also, God is in control of everything in this world. “Everything takes its
place according to your law” (1.7). Augustine clearly sets forth that God is
the creator and source of everything. Not only is He the source, but he is the
reason for its continued existence. The next step Augustine takes regards the
nature of God\'s creation.
For Augustine, God is good, because everything He made is good. “You
are our God, supreme Good, the Creator and Ruler of the universe” (1.20), and
again, “Therefore, the God who made me must be good and all the good in me is
His”(1.20). Everything about God is good. There is no aspect of Him that is
lacking, false, or not good. These characteristics are in turn transferred to
His creation. “You, my God, are the source of all good”(1.6). However,
Augustine makes an important distinction regarding the creation of good and evil
when he says, “O Lord my God, creator and arbiter of all natural things, but
arbiter only, not creator, of sin”(1.10). The question of what evil is, and
where it came from, still remains.
Augustine establishes that everything God made is good, and since God
made everything, everything must be good. He than asks where evil could have
come from. After all, evil did not come from God, it must have come from a
source other than God. If this true, then is it not so that God could have been
prevented evil from entering into the world as He is God? Because we clearly
see evil in the world. Did God allow it to enter? This would seem to mean
either that God is not entirely good, or that he is not omniscient and all
powerful. These questions Augustine does his best to answer.
First, Augustine establishes a definition of evil. Originally, he
believed that evil had substance. “I believed that evil, too was some similar
kind of substance . . . And because such little piety as I had compelled me to
believe that God, who is good, could not have created evil nature, I imagined
that there were two antagonistic masses, both of which were infinite, yet the
evil in a lesser and the good in a greater degree”(5.10). However, his view
changes later, where he says that, “Evil is nothing but the removal of good
until finally no good remains”(3.7). Under this definition, evil does exist as
a substance. Instead, it is the result of a removal; of good until there is
nothing left, at which time the object/person would cease to exist in a physical
realm. “And evil, the origin of which I was trying to find, is not because if
it were a substance, it would be good”(7.12).
Augustine approaches this issue from an entirely different angle. First
he says: Do we have any good evidence that God even exists? If He does, is He
good? So he develops his argument from natural theology. He looks for
independent evidence available to us that God is real and He is good.
That is why Augustine properly starts with proofs for the existence of
God and once establishing that there is good reason to believe He exists and HE
is good, then that produces a different kind of series of statements. All that
God created is good, evil is not good. Therefore, evil is not something that
God created.
This