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An Examination of St. Augustine's Philosophical Problem of Evil

Augustine describes God as absolute, or "simple" (46) and therefore unambiguous. Man's intervention complicates and muddies the situation in the ordinary universe. But God exists in unambiguous, paradox-free eternity, which man's faulty perception cannot correct. To be sure, eternity encases earthly time, but because he is almighty and because of man's limited reason, the divine mystery remains elusive. In Book VII of the Confessions, which describes Augustine's conversion to Catholicism, he nevertheless agonizes over the problem of evil (45ff), which he resolves by surrender to God's grace. Surrender climaxes in the famous passage of Book X: "Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days . . . Thou wert within, and I abroad . . . not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee. . . . Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace (Augustine, Confesisons 81).

Augustine's response to the problem of evil obliges human reason to deny itself. But the surrender to faith does not explain or even battle evil, only to come to terms with it. Thus one may feel closer to God, but that does not remove the paradox, and why must reason, surely one of God's gifts, be rejected?

It is difficult to see how a conception of God that affirms divine existence could fail to affirm God's goodness. In a monotheistic formulation, if God not be good, then why affirm existence of any God? In such a case evil would amount to something of a rival god, which suggests a divine dualism, with good and evil in competition for mankind. That was the content, indeed, of the so-called Manichaean heresy, which Augustine specifically rejected, as Book V of the Confessions explains. Besides, this by no means relieves mankind of culpability in evil, which is. In other words the paradox of evil in a universe where God is possible must be answered in terms of the givens of the relationship between man and man on one hand and man and God on the other.

One way to reconcile t...

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An Examination of St. Augustine's Philosophical Problem of Evil. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:18, November 30, 2015, from
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