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Augustine on the Origin and Progress of Evil Author(s): J. Patout Burns Source: The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), pp. 9-27 Published by: on behalf of Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc

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AUGUSTINE

ON THE ORIGIN AND

PROGRESS OF EVIL

J. Patout Burns

ABSTRACT

Augustinedistinguished apparent evil, conflictand corruptionamong bodies from true evil, the self-initiated corruption of created spirits. Angels and

humansfail to maintainthe perfection of knowledge and love given by God and then turn to themselves as the focus of attentionand appreciation. The

original failures of both demons and humans were neither provoked nor

persuadedby

any outside bodily or spiritual force: each was an autonomous

and self-initiatedsin of pride. This fundamentalevil underliesand gives rise

to every other sin among humansand angels.

Evil was one of the majorpuzzles in the religious and intellectuallife of

Augustine of Hippo.

The question of the natureof evil drove the inquiry

into God and the humancondition which led up to his conversion, and his

early writings often focus on the question of the origin of evil. Although the major lines of his solution to both of these questions were established

within a decade of his conversion, his thought continuedto develop as he moved through the major controversiesof his life as a proponent and defenderof Christianfaith.

This study

will be divided into three

majorparts of unequallength. In

the firstwe

ing

shall attempt a syntheticexposition of Augustine's understand-

of the nature of evil, using materials from the various works and

exposition will be supplemented and illus-

controversiesof his life. This

trated by the analysis, in the second part, of his attempts to discover the

origin

of evil in successive explanations of the fall of the angels and

humansfrom the perfection in which they were originally created by God.

In the third section, we

shall show that Augustine considered pride not

only

the first but also the most fundamental sin, which underlies other

spiritual creature'slove of self rather

sins. Our hypothesis is that pride, the

than God, is for Augustine the primary evil.

/. THE NATURE OF EVIL

Augustine's early experience

of evil was treated in the Confessions.

Although he devoted considerable attention to his infant self-will, his

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boyhood laziness in school and competitiveness in games,

and to the

malicious prank which would later exemplify for him a social form of evil,

his

primary experience

seems to have been the arousal, or rather

onslaught, of

sexual desire in adolescence (Conf. 1-2). This appetite over-

whelmedhis youth and constitutedone of the major obstacles to his later

becoming and living as a Christian.When he read Cicero'sHortensius at

age nineteen, he discovereda new good to which these fleshly desires were

opposed. The treatise exhorted to the

through which a human might rise

philosophic quest for wisdom,

above the wavesof carnaldesire and its

satisfactionto enjoy a stable calm in possession of self and truth (3.4.7).

The dualistic religion of Manicheismoffered both an understanding of

the origin and destiny of the world and an explanation of Augustine's experience of good and evil. It taught a cosmic conflict between the two

eternally opposed forces, Light and Darkness. The turbulentDarkness

attacked the peaceful realm of Light, captured a portion of it and mixed

with it to

formthe worldof living bodies. The continuingstruggle between

these two forces is evident in the

and

human person: Light seeks purification

fast throughfleshly desires.

deliverance; Darkness strives to hold it

The

sexual desires are particularly insidiousbecause generationdisperses

the Light among bodies, therebypreventing its concentrationand escape into the heavens. Good and evil desires, then, arise from two opposed

souls and wills within the human being. The religious person identifies

with the Light, suffers but is not

responsible

for the evil desires and

actions instigated by the soul of the Darkness which the soul of Light

cannot control. Through a strict asceticism, the Manichean elect at-

tempted to release the Light trapped in living bodies and finally to escape

with it. Augustine embracedthis

explanation of

his experience and lived

within its frameworkfor nearly a decade as a second-level Manichean

adherent {Conf.4.1.1, 7.2.3). Yet this theory of an original dualismfailed to

respond adequately to

his discussions with

the questions which arose in Augustine's mindand in

an ever present,though changing, circle of friends.The principaldifficulty

arose from the passivity and even

impotance of the Light, the good force

in the Manichean system. In both the cosmos and the individualhuman

being, the Light was unable to withstand or overcome the power of Darkness.This contradicted religious beliefs which Augustine never really abandoned:that God was all-powerful and exercised governance over the

world. Yet Augustine himself could find no way

divine power and presence were not limited by

to understandhow the

the existence of evil in the

world. He thought of good and evil in the Manicheanmanner, as different

kinds of material being, as bodies

which occupied and fought in space.

all-present as a kind of medium,or

Thus evil either existed within a God,

evil excluded the divine presence from the space it occupied, limiting it to

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anotherrealm. Similarly, a God who

was the all-powerful creatorand ruler

of the worldwould have the power and will to

destroy evil root and branch,

challenged

then replace it with a good reality. The very existence of evil

the notion of an all-powerful and present God (Conf. 5.10.19-20, 7.1.2,

7.5.7).

Through his contact with Ambrose, the

bishop of Milan, Augustine

discoveredthat the Catholic church, in which he had been raised,

taught

that God is not a body spatially extendedin the world (Conf.6.3.4). Evil, he was told, is an individual'sbad choice or the punishment sufferedfor having made such a choice. In the Catholic view, then, evil is not an

independenttype of being but either

a

certainkind of activity on

the part

of a creatureor God's just

ruling of its

perpetrator(7.3.5).

Yet he

was not

able to understandthis. Because he could not conceive of a nommaterial,

nonspatial reality, he could not understandGod's

presence

and

gover-

nance. Only later, through reading some of the treatises of the third-

century philosopher Plotinus, was Augustine able to come to a new understanding of truthor wisdom and thus of evil (5.14.25, 7.5.7, 7.1.1-2). A process of intellectual introspection, underthe guidance of Platonic

philosophy, enabled Augustine to perceive unchangingprinciples

govern the existence

which

and operation of material beings. In these principles,

unchangeable, nonextendedand nonspatial form

he recognizedTruth, an

of being which is everywherepresent and operative,governing and reg-

ulating both the changing humanmind

and bodily realities.The

principles

of meterwhich make poetry pleasing to the

ear, like the proportions which

make certain shapes pleasant to the eye, for the sounds and shapes whose structure they

example, are more real than

provide.Indeed,

the

princi-

ples of art are more perfect than the mindand the senses which are guided

by

them in forming and recognizing beautifulverses and bodies. On the

basis of their mode of existence and operation, he identifiedthese

ples as a portion of the

princi-

divine Truthwhich exists unchangeable and eternal

and which governs or regulates all the operations of creatures (Conf 7.10.16, 7.17.23; De div. quaest. 54).

Through this insight into the reality of unchanging and unchangeable

truth, Augustine reached an understanding of evil as the corruption of

changeablebeing, through which

lished for its naturein the

it

falls away from the perfection estab-

unchangingprinciples. Clearly, such corruption

cannot exist in itself but occurs only in a naturewhich continues to exist,

though in a reducedor limitedmanner. For if a

be

would perish

changeablebeing were to

completelycorrupted, it would simply cease to exist and its corruption

with it. Thus he concludedthat the Manicheannotion of evil

as an independent kind of reality,powerfully opposed to the divine, was

impossible. To the degree that a being from God; to the extent that it fails in

does exist

and act, its reality derives

operation, it

being and falls short in

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is evil. He perceived, moreover, that God is present to changeablebeings not spatially but by governing their being and operation through the unchangingprinciples. The corruption which affects the beings can, then, neithercontaminate the divine reality nor disrupt the truth through which God rules the world (Conf. 7.11.17-7.12.18; De lib. arb. 3.13.36-38; De

div. quaest. 30). On the basis of this

understanding of the divine governing

of the

material world, Augustine was able to develop an understanding of the

orderof generation and corruption in living

bodies, the realmin which the

Manicheeslocated evil and its operations.First, he noted that the orderof

the universe requires a variety of kinds of

beings, differing in their degrees

of perfection. The moon does not shine with the splendor of the sun; the

universe as a whole is more beautifulthan it would be with two suns and no moon in the heavens {De lib. arb. 3.9.24-25). Second, the conflict between materialbodies through which one corrupts and consumes an- other also follows the orderof the world.As the beauty of a verse requires that each syllable give way to the next, so the birthand death of material beings serves the goodness and perfection of the worldas a whole. Beings

withinthe

world may be contrary to one another, and thereby one may be

"evil" for its victim; nothing, however, stands outside and attacks the order of the materialworld as a whole. Thus Augustineargued that true evil cannot be found within the materialworld taken as a whole. Each

thing acts and is acted upon, corrupts and is corrupted,according to its

nature and its role within the

proper 7.13.19-16.22; De lib. arb. 3.15.42-44,

universal order {Conf. 4.13.20, 3.23.69-70). Divine justice inte-

grates rational spirits into the universal order according to their free exercise of love. Trueevil is to be found in the realmof rational beings, among spiritual entities which are immortalin their substance or essence but changeable

and therefore corruptible in theirmode of existence. In a spiritualcreature,

evil is the absence of the

perfection

or fullness of goodness and reality

which the natureitself and the divine order demand.Thus it might be the

loss of some quality once

negligence

possessed

or the failure to acquire, through

or refusal, some due and availableattribute.

Unlike the material world, which contains beings of varying natural

strength and beauty, the realm of spiritual creaturesis characterized by

equality.Only the divine is naturally better and stronger than any created spirit.Moreover, every spiritualnature, no matterhow corrupted, is natu-

rally better and

more powerful than any material being. Among spiritual

strength are degrees of perfection

or virtue. Thus

beings, differences in

Augustine argued that no spiritual being can corrupt the goodness of another.The aggressor,by the very intentionto harm another, would lose the goodness and power of which it sought to deprive its intended victim;

Augustine on the Origin and Progressof Evil

13

it would be weakerand could cause

no harmto the other.All

spiritual evil

is, therefore, either voluntaryself-corruption or divinely inflicted punish-

ment of such evil (De lib.

arb. 3.14.39-41).

The spiritual creaturewhich corrupts itself is disorderedwithin its own

it lacks that perfection and fullness of reality with which it was

being:

endowed or for which it was ordained by God. Its activity is likewise

disordered,contrary to the principles

perceptibleby

of order established by God and

corruptedbeing and its activity

the universe by divine

gover-

the rationalmind. Both the

are, however,integrated into the order of

nance. The action which springs from a sinful will is used by God to

punish its authoror anothersinner, or to perfect the virtue and goodness

of some other creature (De div. quaest. 53; De spir. et litt. 31.54). An

example and application of this theory will clarify it. A servant'sdisobe-

dience may be

appropriatelypunished by assigning him to clean out the

household'slatrine: the drainmust be cleaned and the sinnerdeserves the

dirtyjob.

object

The devil'senvious and thereby sinful will finds an appropriate

in the dominationof the sinnerswho subject themselvesto his rule.

The injustice of lord and slave are integrated into a just and orderedwhole.

The universe does not

require the corruption of spiritual creatures to

attainits perfection but its orderand beautyencompasses their being and action (De lib. arb. 1.1.1, 3.9.24-27, 3.10.29, 3.15.42-44; De div. quaest.

27).

In order to understandthe natureand origin of spiritualevil, we must furtherexamine the perfection of the rational being which is corrupted.

The changeablegoodness the mind and its love in

of a

created spirit consists in its knowledge in

the will. In his experience of unchangingtruth,

Augustineexperienced

the Light and the

principlesgrasped through it as

governed the natures and

above his mind, ruling its operations as it

operations

of materialbodies. He concluded that the perfection of the

mind is not inherentin it and under its control. Ratherthe mind operates

under the continuing influence and guidance of the divine Word. He subsequently extendedthis explanation to the will's lovinggood underthe

operation of

the Holy Spirit. Whenthe divine influenceand operation are

perfections

of knowledge and love are cor-

will results in operationalfailures,

diminishedor lost, the twin

rupted. The deficiency in the mind and

errorand sin. This explanation will now be developed for both the intellect

and the will. The created intellect comes to an understanding, both of the divine

reality

and of the created world, through an interiorillumination received

from the Wordof God, the eternalTruth. The minds of both humansand

angels were originally

endowed with this gift. They rejoiced in the con-

templation of God and were to guide their participation in the governance of the world by the knowledge of creation which was given in God. This

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illuminationis symbolized by the fountain which watered the whole of paradise. Because this kindof knowledge neverbecomes the "possession"

of the created mind, it is maintained by submissionto God, by

focusing

attentionon the divine Light (De Gen. c. Man. 2.4.5-2.5.6; De

3.10.30, 3.11.32; De div. quaest.

46). If

lib. arb.

the mind turns its attention away

from the unchangeableprinciples and relies on its senses to understand

and its inherent power to judge, it

immediately falls into the darkness of

error and opinion. This corruption,then, is not simple ignorance but

rather folly, a rejection of wisdom. The person turns

awaythrough direc-

according to its

tion of attention, an act of will, which can be described

object as pride

in relianceon one's own ability or as curiosity in fascination

with the exteriorworld.

The mind which has been turned away does not completely lose the

influence of the divine Light but suffers a weakness which is best

de-

scribed as a kind of forgetfulness. In its weakened state, it labors to

discover truth in the exteriorworld. The person is

appearances and fails to understandthe soul's

regularly deceived by

spirituality and the way in

which it ought to act. In some of his early works, Augustineexplained that

ignorance was a corruption of the mind only

knowledge or negligently failed to

when the individualhad lost

liberal

acquire it. The discipline of the

arts, Platonic philosophy, and the Christianlife were proposed

priate bodies to the
priate
bodies to the

as appro-

means to lead the mind back from its fascination with material

perception

of the divine Truthwithin and above it {De lib.

arb. 3.19.53, 3.22.64-65). Once he decided that the state of folly which

afflicts all humansfrom birth is the just consequence and

punishment of

the sin which humanscommitted in or inheritedfrom Adam, he held each

individual responsible for errorin judgment and consequent disorientation in choice and action. Thus, faithin the teaching of Christand the guidance

of the church, both divinely sanctionedadmonitions through the senses to those who were weak in mind, became much more significant.

The mind does not

corrupt itself by turningway from the divine Light

which is the source of its understanding. The spirit'scorruption originates

in the will, in a failureof love. Indeed,Augustine insistedthat no

degree of

wisdom or knowledge could prevent the failure of the will, just as no

teaching or guidance could restore the perfection of love of good {De lib. arb. 3.24.72).

AlthoughAugustine came to recognize the dependence

Word through the study of

of the created

mind upon the divine

Platonism prior to his

in the

conversion, his understanding of the operation of the Holy Spirit

created will developed somewhat later. Initially, he opposed the Man-

ichean dualisticdeterminism with an assertionof the natural, even inalien-

able, power to choose between good

and evil, to turn to the eternal and

unchanging which can bring happiness or to prefer the temporal and

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unstable whose inevitable loss causes misery (De lib. arb. 1.12.25- 1.16.34). Under the influence of the Pauline writings, he came to under-

stand that the perfection of the will, like that of the intellect, derives from

the creature'sunion with the divine ratherthan from

any

inherent power

or from perfectionacquired by its own effort. Through the indwelling of

the Holy Spirit, the

divine Love, the creatureis moved to love God as the

highest

and common good shared by all creatures. Self, other rational

are also loved for their

goodness,

all of

creatures, and materialbodies

them howeverin relationto the divine goodness whence they derive. The

charity which the presence of the Spirit inspires in the created will also

moves the person to love the actions which God commands

through the

interiorillumination of the Wordor the exterioradmonition of Christand

the scripture. In that

perfection or fullness of charity which is granted in

final beatitude, the creatureis made incapable of turning from the divine.

In the lesser degreegiven in this life, charityinspires a desire and tendency which can continue or fail, at the creature'schoice.

The corruption of the will generally comes about through

a

turning

from the higher to

the lower good: from God to self, to another created

spirit

or to a bodily good. Augustine insisted that the object to which the

person turns is not itself evil, rejecting the Manicheannotion of evil as a

different type

of being. The evil or corruption is in the turning itself. In his

earliest works, underthe influenceof Platonism,Augustine describedthe

corruption of the will as a preference for temporal,changing goods at-

tained

through the senses at the expense of the eternal,unchanging goods

of the mind (De lib. arb. 1.4.10, 1.8.18, 1.15.32-33; De ver. rel. 3.3; De

quan.

rial

an. 33.71). Soon, however, he eliminatedthe influenceof the mate-

world in the created spirit's fall from perfection, perhaps out of

concern for the dualism of the Manichees.He explained instead that the

primary form of

self-corruption is the love of self ratherthan of God. The

prefers its own goodness;

creaturefails in its love of the highest good and

the spirit loves it own power to understandand to rule; it seeks fulfillment

and happiness through its

own resources ratherthan by

adhering to

divine gifts of truthand love {De Gen. c. Man. 2.14.20-2.15.22).

the

Augustine explained that this sinful operation of the will is not

the

turning of a natural power to an object which is itself harmfulto the

The

spirit.

sin is rathera defective operation, a failureto maintainthat fullness of

love inspiredby

the

presence

of the

Spiritgiven in

creation.The operation

given

level of

is evil because it is defective, because it fails

to maintaina

perfection. Insofaras it is defective, it has no cause {De lib. arb. 2.20.54;

De div. quaest. 21). The creature,however, is responsible for the failure.As

a nondivine

being, every creatureis capable of change and of decline in

being.

In the created spirit, freedom means that the individualcan main-

tain the fullness of love given by God or initiate its own corruption. The

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decline from love of God can also be viewed as a love of self in

which the

creature rejects God and attempts to establishits perfection and happiness

through its

own power. In so doing, it deprives itself of participation in

the

divine love

and falls furtherinto the love of goods below itself. Despite the

vehemence or persistence of a love or desire which is directed to the

creature rather than the creator, Augustine insisted that this activity is defective. It arises not from the strength but from the weakness of a will

which has rejected and lost the

indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In the spiritualrealm, as in the material, the divine governance orders

defective beings and operations into a just and integrated whole. The punishment of self-corruption follows necessarily and immediatelyupon the defective willing. The disordered activities which flow from such

willing are directed by God to the punishment, correctionor

perfection of

the other spirits affected by them. The human spirit

by another creature against its consent; through

cannot be corrupted

the body it

can be

affected by the actions

of other humans and of angels or demons. Thus

Augustine insisted that the malicious dominionwhich the demons exer-

cise over humansis used by God to punish the sins of both (De lib. arb.

3.10.29-31; De div. quaest.

empires over subjected

27). The same

may

be said of the tyranny of

peoples and of masters over slaves (De civ. Dei

19. 12,15). God even uses the

malice of sinnersto exercise and develop the

virtueof saints.Sinful action can neitherdisturb the orderof the worldnor harman innocent victim. The evil spirit harmsitself, rendersitself unable to love or seek the good which would bring happiness and fulfillment. Finally, of course, God brings the universeto fulfillment by gathering the

good into eternal happiness and confining the sinnersin unendingpunish- ment. (De civ. Dei 21.12).

Thus Augustineexplained that evil is a corruption of the good. Destruc-

suffering in

the material world, which so troubledthe Manichees,

tion and

he viewed as appropriate for the natures of the beings involved and

following the just and beautiful order in the

whole. True evil must be

located in the spiritual world:

love of the

specifically

it is the failureto maintainthe

highest good in which each spirit was created. That defect

corrupts its goodness, leaving

the defective and

the will weak and the mind confused. Even

disordered activity of these corruptedspirits is ordered

into a unified,just and beautifulwhole.

//. THE ORIGIN OF EVIL IN THE PRIDE OF THE DEMONS AND HUMANS

The narrativeof the Confessions and the

writings of the period imme-

diately afterhis conversionindicate that Augustine had indeed reachedan

Augustine on the Origin and Progressof Evil

17

understanding of the nature of evil. None of these writings, however,

presents or even claims to present

an answer to the more perplexing

and commentarieswritten

Christianity, par-

strug-

question: the origin of that evil. In the essays

within the decade after his conversion to Catholic

ticularly On Genesis against the Manichees and On Free Will,he

gled to understandhow evil might have arisen in rationalnatures which

had been created good by God. The extended

the three books of On Free Will, composed in

inquiry which runs through

stages

over a numberof

years, and the developments or changes in that analysis, already noted above, offer clear evidence that he was still struggling with this issue in the

years afterhis conversion. In this second section, we shall follow

Augustine'sattempts to compre-

of angels and

hend the outbreakof evil among the creatures, the initialsins

humans.In early writings, he emphasized the similarity of the angelic and

consequences punishment of their sins through the circumstancesof their sinning: the

demons sinned spontaneously but humans had been tempted. When he

returnedto consider the initial

sins

some twenty years later, in his Literal

human natures and accounted for the difference in

and

Commentary on Genesis and The City of God, the sins themselves were

presented as nearlyidentical, spontaneous outbreaksof evil. The sin of the demons, chronologicallyprior, will be consideredfirst in our analysis. We shall then pass to the analysis of the outbreakof sin among humans. In the thirdbook of On Free Will,Augustine attempted to deal with the origin of evil in the rationalcreature. He insisted that a true cause cannot be found prior to the evil willing, something other than an evil will, which

gives

rise to

provide

responsible.

sin. Eventually, his questioning led him to consider the

occasions or conditions which influencethe operation of free choice and

some understanding of its evil decision. He showedthat the error

and carnal desire which influence contemporary humans were con- sequences of some prior sin for which the individual may or may not be

Even when a person cannot control the environment or

Augustineinsisted, the person

briefly referring to the

conditions in which decisions were made,

remains responsible

for the decision itself. After

biblicalaccount of the human sin, in which a

choice was madebetween the

divine commandand the suggestion of the devil, he consideredthe sin of the demons themselves. The demons were createdas angels, endowedwith the contemplation of the divine through the illuminationof the Word.In their environmentof

choice were to be found not only the Blessed Trinitybut, necessarily, their own minds and the materialworld whose governance had been committed

to them. These rational spirits should have loved the

divine more than

themselves; indeed they should have despised their own goodness in comparison to that of God. The demons sinned by delighting in their own

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power,by loving their own goodness and preferring it to the divine. Their

sin was pride, the love of theirown lower good morethan the higher, divine good {De lib. arb. 3.25.75-76; Der ver.rel. 13.26).

In

an earliersection of the same treatise,Augustine had explained that

because the demons sinned through their own initiative, without being

tempted or persuadedby anyone

through the interventionof

else, they cannot repent and be saved

another.Hence they are eternally fixed in their

self-love {De lib. arb. 3.10.29-31). This understanding of the sin of the demonsdid not change significantly

in Augustine's later writings.

Commentary on Genesis, could not have been envy

More than twenty years later in his Literal

he insisted that the initial sin of the demons

of the

happiness

of humanity, as some others

of the happiness of another,

had explained. l Envy, which is the hatred

cannot precede but only follow the love of one's own good and power, the

sin of pride

In a

(De Gen. ad litt. 11.14).

slightly later discussion in The City of God Augustine simply

asserted that throughpride some of the angels

selves and thereby

turnedfrom God to them-

separated themselvesfrom the others who maintained

their love for God. This discussion moreover, shows evidence of the

concerns of the Pelagiancontroversy: the natureof createdfreedom and

the power

is

not

maintainthis they failed to

of a creatureto make itself

better, to acquire a perfection which

of the

the gift of God. Augustine offered a fuller explanation

casuality involved. First he explained that the angels who remained faithfulhad not addedto their goodness by the exercise of a natural power of choice. They had rathercontinued in that loving of God with which they

had been endowedin creation.The demons sinned by failing to guard and

love. Thus the sin was more a slipping than a turningaway;

continue in the operation which the

Holy Spiritinspired in

them. Their love and desire, thus corrupted and weakened, then attained

only a lower good, the self (De civ. Dei 12.6.9).

Augustine did not repeat

the earlier

explanation that the demons were

fixed in evil because they had sinned spontaneously. Indeedin the contem-

poraryexplanation, humansin was also spontaneous. He seems insteadto

have thought in terms of the analysis of sin and grace which undergird his

theory of the gratuity

loved God more than

Holy Spirit,

of election and

grace among

humans.The angels

themselves by cooperating with the operation of the

not by a naturaland inalienable power. Once they had aban-

Spirit, they were

weak and could love only

doned the influence of the

themselves or lower goods. Their originalgoodness could be restored only

through a totally

unmeriteddivine intervention.Their continuance in sin,

like that of humans, results from a divine decision which orders the

universe by manifestingjustice in their punishment ratherthan mercy in their restoration (De civ. Dei 22.1).

Augustine on the Origin and Progressof Evil

19

The original sin of the demons. As

of humansreceived more extended attentionthan that has been noted, the question of the outbreakof sin in

the human will runs through the successive books of On Free Will.The

early

discussionof the sin of the demons is

prefaced, and even required,by

attempts to deal with human sin. Augustine's first commentary on the

opening

chapters of the book of Genesis, directed against the Manichean

misinterpretation of the narrativeof creation and fall, provided the first

occasion for a explanation of the sin of humanity.

In On Free

Will,Augustine distinguished human sinning in response to

temptation from the spontaneous rebellionof the demons. He separated

himself from the

tradition,however, by insisting that the temptation was

not relatedto the bodily conditionof humanity.Ambrose, like his contem-

porary

tion

Gregory of Nyssa, had followed the traditionalPlatonic explana-

that the appetites and passions of the earthlybody are inimicalto the

life of the mind. In an interpretationadapted from Philo, the first-century Jewish exegete Ambrose explained that sin arose through humanity's

failure to exclude or control the noxious influence of passion.

Perhaps

because of his concern to exclude the Manichean dualism, Augustine refusedto admita conflict between mindand body appetite in the original world order.2He insisted that this division arises from and punishes a sin

of the spirit. In On Genesis against the Manichees} Augustine followed an alle-

gorical

interpretation of the text similarto that which Ambroseborrowed

from Philo. Adam symbolized the mind, Eve the sense faculty of the soul, and the serpent the demon. Paradise signified the happy state of the spirit, watered by the interiorfountain of divineTruth. He assigned no elementin

the

allegory to symbolize the experience of bodily appetite or passion, the

traditional meaning of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead,

he insisted that the humanmind was temptedthrough the suggestion of the demon, introduced into the mind through its natural companion and

helpmate in good action, the sense faculty. The demon had already fallen

through self-loveand was envious of the uncorrupted and happy condition

of the human spirit. This fallen angel suggested that humans should also

reject the guidance God and rely upon

of the eternal principles established in the Word of their own power of discernment.He tempted humans

to prefer their own power and goodness to that of God. That suggestion

aroused an appetitiveresponse,

however, had the capacity to

a delight, in the sense faculty. The mind,

reject the notion and its attraction, to follow

the divine command, and to adhere to the divine Truth by which it was

illumined.Instead, the human spirit followedthe suggestion of the devil:

the mindturned from God to self. Thus humans attempted to attaindivine

autonomy, to possess their happiness as only God can, independently of any other nature (De Gen. c. Man. 2.14.20-2.15.22).

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Augustine was at pains

in this treatiseand in the

parallelanalysis

in On

of any

Free Willto show that the sin of humanity did not arise because

originalopposition between body and spirit or mind and sense. Through the allegorical interpretation of Adam and Eve as parts of the soul, he

insisted that the

power

of sensation is a faculty of the soul derived from

properoperation and activity. All opposi-

mind and perfectly suited to its

tion between body and soul or between mind and sense derives from the

initial sin of

spiritualpride. The spirit'sdifficulty in attaining clear under-

Adam'slabor on earth,

standing of what ought to be done, symbolizedby

and its difficulty in acting on that knowledge,symbolized by Eve's pain in childbirth, are consequences of its rebellion against God (De Gen. c. Man.

2.4.5-2.5.6; 2.18.28-2.21.31).

At that point, regain beatitude

Augustineexplained that humanshave the opportunity to

by consenting to the persuasion of Christ because they

sinned through the suggestion The punishment of their sin, the

of the demons ratherthan spontaneously. mortality of the body through which the

at the

mercy of the beasts, was

spirit is weighed down and even placed

intendedto humblethe spirit and prepare it to accept God's mercy (De lib.

arb., 3.10.29-31).

Unlike his explanation standing of the initial sin of

of the sin of the demons, Augustine's under-

humanitychanged

in his later

writings. In his

avoidthe allegorical

fall which he had preferred two decades

Literal Commentary on Genesis, Augustine chose to

interpretation of the creationand

earlierin On Genesis individualswho were

against the Manichees. He took Adam and Eve as

temptedby Satan using

the snake as a medium. In

his analysis of the temptationitself, however, he noted that the devil's suggestion could not have been plausible to minds which were still spir- itual, enjoying the guidance of the divine Truth with which they were originally endowed. He surmised that before she was tempted by the

demon, Eve had already sinned, throughpride. God allowed the devil to

tempt her to an open

transgression in order to manifestand correct that

first, hidden sin. The deception would show the inadequacy of human

power when deprived of divine guidance and might move Eve to humility

(De Gen. adlitt.,

11.5, 11.27, 11. 30). 3 If Adamhad not already sinned like

Eve by pride, he could not have been seduced

by

Satan'sinsinuation of

jealousy on God's part. Augustine advanced the opinion that he might have violated God's command out of a false sense of loyalty to Eve

(11.42).4 Pride was evident, however, in Adam'srefusal to accept respon-

sibility The
sibility
The

for his sin (11.35).

explanation of an original sin of pride prior to the transgression of

City

of God where Au-

the divine command was carriedfurther in The

gustine dropped the distinctionbetween the sins of Adamand of Eve. He

repeated the explanation of the Genesis commentary that Adam sinned

Augustine on the Origin and Progressof Evil 21

knowingly and willingly out of a desire to retainhis

companionship with

analysis which

Eve (De civ. Dei, 14.11). He then undertook a fuller

uncoveredthe earlier sins of

pride at the base of both Eve's believing the

devil'slie and Adam's preferring his wife'swill to God'scommand. Prior to

their temptationby the devil, Adamand Eve had each sinned secretly and

untemptedthrough pride or self-love.The

purpose of the divine prohibi-

indisputable and indefensi-

pride

and lead

tion of eating from the tree was to occasion an

ble sin which would manifest the prior, hidden sin of

thereby to its correction (De civ. Dei 14.13).Augustine remarkedthat the

underlyingpride was even more evident in the pair's attempt to excuse their transgression(14.4). The earlierdistinction between the spontaneous sin of the demons and humanity's fall to temptation was eliminatedin these later works of Au-

gustine.

Both humans and demons sinned spontaneouslythrough pride.

God bestows an unearned mercy

upon

those humans whom he rescues

fromthe sinfulcondition into which all fell in Adamand Eve. The first step

in this process

is, according to Paul, the revelationof the law through

convicted of guilt, forced to acknowledge the inability

which the sinner is

to do the just and commanded good works, and thereby made ready to

respond in humility to the divine offer of grace. The command given in

Paradisehas the same functionas the law proclaimed on

Sinai:to manifest

and correct a

prior sin of pride.

In his successive considerations of the initial sins of angels and of

humans,Augustine argued that the created spiritcorrupts itself by falling

away from full love, failing to cooperate

Holy Spirit. It destroys the pristine

with the love of God which is the

goodness with which God had en-

dowed it and loves its own goodness more than the divine source whence

it is received and by which it is

spirit

preserved.Failing in the love of God, the

sins by self-loveor pride, the outbreakof evil in the world.From this

failure follow confusion and error in the mind and dis