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St. Augustine'S Confessions: The Connection Between Character And Evil

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St. Augustine's Confessions: The Connection between Character and Evil

Saint Augustine's powerful prayer to God tells the story of his struggles that led towards his conversion to Christianity. This journey toward Christ was difficult for Augustine, as it required him to overcome his misunderstanding of evil and his own sin. In Augustine's adolescents, a strong desire for lust overtook his life, not only hurting him spiritually, but also hurting the one woman who supported his conversion, his mother Monica. Upset and looking for repentance in all his wrongdoings, Augustine wanted to begin a spiritual journey toward God, though he was not exactly sure who God was. He learned of different forms of evil and sin through his recollection of his infancy and youth, his study of the Manichean religion, Neoplatonist doctrines, and finally his conversion to Christianity. Augustine's study of the different concepts of evil and sin prepared him for his conversion and his influential role in the Christian religion.

Augustine's struggles take many forms throughout the Confessions. The reader frequently finds Augustine internally struggling with God by asking difficult, philosophical questions. The answer to Augustine's question of what the seed of evil is, is revealed in Book VII and develops throughout the prayer. The translator of the Confessions, Henry Chadwick, tells of the different forms of evil throughout the prayer stating,

"Therefore 'evil' is not Being but a lack of it, a deficiency inherent in having been placed on a lower step that higher entities. Since to exist is for a Platonist to be a 'substance', evil has no 'substance'." (xx)

Chadwick is describing both the Manichean and that Platonist views of evil. Both of these views in the prayer provoke Augustine's interest to study more about both religions. After Augustine's conversion to Christianity, he learns that evil is the result of the misuse of free choice through rational thinking (Chadwick xx).

After Augustine's conversion, he wrote over thirty doctrines apposing the beliefs of the Manicheans (Stock 51). Writing so many anti-Manichean doctrines leaves many people wondering why Augustine followed the third century Mesopotamian Gnostic for almost a decade (Chadwick xiv). Augustine found himself drawn to the intricate theosophy and intellect of the Manicheans (Chadwick xiv). The Manichean religion was against pleasures such as meat and wine, and most appropriate for Augustine, the Manicheans were against sexual intercourse (Chadwick xiv). Manicheans believed that creation between two humans suffocated the good souls that were in 'matter', which ultimately endangered the soul's goodness (Chadwick xiv). The appeal of the Manichean concept of sin attracted many believers. This concept gave the believers an excuse for their sins.

Unlike Christianity, the Manichean religion taught that God was not omnipotent (Chadwick xv). Any recognition of sin was practically inseparable from God and God's constant struggle with sin (Stock 51). The Manicheans taught that sin was a result of God's constant struggle with evil, which made it so appealing. Since God is not omnipotent, it is impossible for him to allow supreme goodness for all. Evil is a responsibility of God, which takes guilt away from of the sinner (Chadwick xv). The main appeal to become Manichean was the escape from sin. They believed that sin is a result of God's struggle with evil, giving them a loophole to not be at blame for their own wrongdoings (Stock 52).

As an adolescent, Augustine had many desires considered unacceptable not only to the Manicheans, but also to the Neoplatonists and Christians. A feeling of happiness came to Augustine through physical pleasures such as food, drink, and sex (Chadwick xiii). At seventeen years of age, Augustine took a fifteen-year-old Carthage girl as his mistress (Chadwick xiii). This relationship upset his mother, Monica, who was the motivating force behind his conversion. Surprisingly, the relationship between Augustine and his Carthage concubine lasted faithfully for fifteen years (Chadwick xiii). His joining of the Manichean religion forced him to stop his indulgence in physical satisfaction. Looking back onto his sexual liaison with his partner, he finally calls it 'his sin' (Chadwick xvi). Augustine's belief in the Manichean religion though was forgotten when he started using his own intellect to determine their reasoning behind their philosophies, especially on astronomy (Chadwick xvii). The more astronomy Augustine studied, the less he believed in the Manichean system (Chadwick xv).

The Manichean religion left Augustine feeling empty and lost. According to Augustine, the Manichee were full of malice, as they found it more acceptable to blame God for their sins rather their own free will. Searching for himself and his true calling, Augustine began reading the books of the Platonists. He reverently prays,

"By the Platonic books I was admonished to return into myself. With you as my guide I entered into my innermost citadel, and was given power to do so because you had become my helper." (Augustine 123)

This part of Augustine's prayer reflects biblical text that says, "The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace." (Ps. 29:11) This Psalm acts as a foreshadowing device. The Lord will come to give strength to Augustine at his time of conversion. Neoplatonism allowed Augustine to overcome his deep displeasure with the Manicheans.

The Neoplatonist idea of sin was difficult for Augustine to grasp. Neoplatonism portrayed evil as the free choice of one's will, resulting in one's suffering for his sins (McMahon 81). Neoplatonism brings out an even more philosophical and inquisitive character of Augustine. Augustine cannot understand that if God is omnipotent and is the supreme good, then why has God given man free will to accept evil (McMahon 81). After many questions asked and much thinking accomplished, Augustine begins to see light towards his questions on evil and sin proclaiming,

"What is its root and what is its seed? Or does it not have any being?



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