The highest virtue, according to St. Augustine, is love. Love unites man with God. It is basis for all other virtues. For example, justice is the service of God and wisdom is the power of right choice by love of God.
Temperance again, is love of God as opposed to love of world. Fortitude is the overcoming of pains by suffering of love. Love of God again is the basis of true love of self and love of others.
So, it is the basis of true genuine values. A so-called virtue uninspired by love is only a splendid vice. The love of god acts within man’s soul. Faith, hope and charity are essential to love of God. All these are inter-related.
In the words of Augustine, “Without (love) faith profits nothing; and hi its absence, hope cannot exist… There is no love without hope no hope, without love and neither love nor hope without faith.
“This gospel of love is the basis of a positive attitude towards worldly life in Augustine’s philosophy, as against the negative attitude of the early Christians. This positive attitude of St. Augustine is again reflected hi his recognition of the legitimacy of marriage, which he considered a sacrament as against the rejection of it by the early Christians.
The early Christians had a negative attitude towards the worldly affairs such as marital, political, social, economic etc. Augustine follows a golden mean between the ascetic ideal and the worldly ideals, the world denial and the world affirmation.
He recognized the right of property on the one hand, but on the other hand, disagreed that all have an equal right to property. He did not agree with the idea of Ambrose that property is based on injustice and that wealth is a ‘Damnable usurpation’.
According to Augustine, on the other hand, both rich and poor are equally entitled to salvation and religious life however, property is a hindrance hi higher life. Poverty, as against richness, is more helpful in the achievement of salvation. Therefore one should abstain from private possessions. The love of possession should be uprooted.
Thus, one finds a dualism in Augustine’s ideas concerning marriage and celibacy, private property and communism and the relationship between the church and the state. The earthly state, according to him, is based upon Contemnors Dei, or the contempt of God.
It is based upon self love. Therefore, the temporal state cannot achieve happiness. The ultimate ideal of mankind, the city of God, can be achieved only by love of God, which is possible through church.
The state is subordinate to the church since while the church aims at absolute goals, the goal of the state is relative. The authority of the church therefore, is infallible.
The Problem of Evil:
It is not possible for any thinker to ignore the existence of evil and suffering in this world; yet this evil must have some cause or reason for its being. According to many Christians, the evil is due to Satan or Devil’s force.
But this solution is unavailable to Augustine, because to posit Devil as a force independent of God tantamount to denying the omnipotence of God. But, according to Augustine, God is the only cause of everything in this world.
And, moreover, God created the world out of his infinite love, the love which inclined, but did not compel him to create this world. Since the world is a free expression of God between two alternatives available; either he should accept the responsibility of God for evil or deny the very fact of evil.
He chooses the latter, but is very subtle in his explanation. According to him, without shadows a picture is not complete or wholly beautiful. If there is no negation of good, the good loses its value, hi the very same way, the so-called evil is necessary to the beauty and goodness of the world.
Thus, he regards evil as a necessary condition of good without which good loses its characteristic value. But though evil exists, it does not have the same status as good.
As shadow in a picture represents merely absence of light, as darkness is merely absence of light, hi the very same manner evil is not something positive, but something negative that is, absence or lack of good.
Therefore, evil is merely privation of good, as there cannot be shadow without a real tiling, though the real thing can exist without shadow. Similarly, God is without any taint of evil, but evil cannot be without God.
Moral evil does not mar the beauty of the world, because moral evil represents the will of fallen angles or men. It is merely a defect, nothing positive. It is only deprivation from good (privatio boni). The worst evil for man is to turn away from God (privatio Dei).
Augustine theory of evil can be thus summed up as follows:
1. Augustine ascribes evil a relative status, evil is necessary to good.
2. Evil is privation of good.
3. Augustine makes men and fallen angels responsible for evil.