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St. Augustine And Evil

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St. Augustine and Evil

As a Christian Theologian and Philosopher in the first century following the famous council of Nicea, Saint Augustine was faced with many problems in faith and God, but these things would shape a theology most influential to Christianity today. While the Council of Nicea focused primarily on the person and being of Christ Jesus, Augustine was much more interested in the One and all being, God.

Specifically he was concerned with the problem of evil. The problem of evil is one of which claims that a perfectly loving and omnipotent God cannot exist in a reality that includes evil. If God were omnipotent then God would posses the power to avert evil and promote goodness. If God perfectly loved, then God would desire that this would be so. Evil would be abolished and goodness would reign supreme. However, the quandary still remains that evil exists. Augustine was intensely concerned to hold on to these beliefs of God's nature: God's omnipotence, immutability, omniscience, and that God is perfectly loving, yet he wants to solve this problem of evil. I will attempt to present Augustine's beliefs in a clear and precise manor.

St. Augustine held the belief that God made a perfect world. However, he maintained that God's creatures turned away from God of their own free will, and that is how evil came into being in the world. Augustine's approach to a solution to the problem of evil can be expressed in three main parts.

First, Augustine assumes that evil is a privation and cannot be properly said to exist at all. He upholds Aristotle's teachings that all thing that are good come from God. All things that are good are a measure of goodness and evil is the absence of good. Aristotle's notion that all good things come from God leads Augustine to think that all things are from God and that all things that God does are good. Evil is nothing, it is not anything that is created, rather it is simply nothing.

He continues by explaining what we perceive as evil is the lack of good in all things that are created. Created things are imperfect, because they rely on the creator for their existence. They are finite by nature. Therefore, there is a lack of good in all things because all things are not that greatest good, which is God. God lacks nothing and is perfectly good. Those things that are created are not perfect and not then perfectly good. This lack of good is what is perceived to be evil.

Augustine's second part to his solution to the problem of evil is that he argues that this apparent imperfection of any part of creation disappears in light of the perfection of the whole. Augustine says, "And in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? " Augustine attempts to articulate an understanding of the worth of goodness. Goodness would not exist with the value it has if evil did not also exist to make the good that much more worthy.

In this way Augustine further denies the existence of evil by speaking of an evil which is today referred to as instrumental evil. Instrumental evil is evil with which the world is better off over all because that evil occurred. Evil that is significant to a process that brings about a good which far exceeds the evil that was caused. Genuine evil is the understanding of evil with which if it had not occurred the world would be a better place. So in this way Augustine promotes a view of evil as completely instrumental. He would evidently appeal to the Apostle Paul's statements in the eighth chapter of Romans, verse twenty-eight. The Apostle writes, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God being all

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