Saint Augustine (354-430 AD), also known as Augustine of Hippo created an image of himself through his writings and teachings. He was born in Tagaste, a town in North Africa, on November 13, 354 AD. He was born into a middle class family. Patricius, his father, was a pagan, but later converted to Christianity because of his wife, Monica, was a devout Christian. Augustine’s mother, who was devoted to the Roman Catholic church, constantly tried for her son’s conversion.
Augustine was educated as a lecturer in the former North African cities of Tagaste, Madaura, and Carthage. The philosophical works of Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman speaker and politician, inspired Augustine to become a seeker after truth. Augustine engaged restlessly in philosophical studies, and passed from one phase of thought to another, unable to find satisfaction. From 373 until 382, in Carthage, he conformed to Manichaeism, a dualistic philosophy dealing with the conflict between good and evil. This seemed to be the answer to the confusion in his own heart.
It solved the mysteries that confused him in his own experience. After realizing that this philosophy wouldn’t make a great ethical system, he abandoned this philosophy. After being educated throughout North Africa, he left Carthage and in 384 found himself in Milan where he would pursue his career of a professor in rhetoric. Also, in Milan he met and was influenced by the bishop, Ambrose. With this, Augustine was attracted again to Christianity and was baptized by Ambrose in 387. Augustine was also influenced by Platonism. He than returned to North Africa where he became the bishop of Hippo in 391, a title he held until he died. This great “Father of the Church,” wrote a handbook on the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.
The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love was written in the year 420. It is a brief handbook on the proper mode of serving God, through faith, hope, and love. It is easy to say what one ought to believe, what to hope for, and what to love. But to defend our doctrines against the slander of those who think differently is a more difficult and detailed task. If one is to have this wisdom, it is not enough just to put an enchiridion in the hand. It is also necessary that a great eagerness be in the heart. Saint Augustine says that God created all things good.
In Chapter XI, Augustine says, “what is called evil in the universe is but the absence of good” (Augustine 177). He uses an example of disease and wounds, which are evil, are nothing but the absence of health, which is good. “For when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist” (Augustine 177). In sum, when evil is controlled it will no longer exist in the good or anywhere else. Augustine relates this to the vices in our soul and how they are nothing but deprivations of natural good. Just like the disease and wounds, when the vices are cured, they cease to exist in the soul and everywhere else.
What he is trying to say is that God didn’t create evil for its own purpose. God is supremely good and wouldn’t put evil on this earth if we weren’t able to get some good out of it. So evil is here for the purpose of good. Augustine discusses the idea of contraries in Chapter XIV. Augustine states that “two contraries cannot be predicated at the same time of the same thing” (Augustine 178) does not hold true with the concept of good and evil, even though they are contraries. They are seen as an exception to the rule. He is saying that good and evil can exist at the same time in any one thing.
He also says that good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without good, or in anything that is not good. “For a man or an angel can exist without being wicked; but nothing can be wicked except a man or an angel: and so far as he is a man or an angel, he is good; so far as he is wicked, he is an evil” (Augustine 178). He says that evil originates in what is good. He derives at this from saying, “corruption could not have either a place to dwell in, or a source to spring from, if there were noting that could be corrupted; and nothing can be corrupted except what is good, for corruption is nothing else but the destruction of good” (Augustine 178). We all know that lying is wrong and Augustine agrees with this, but in Chapter XVIII he feels the need to answer the question “whether at any time it can become the duty of a good man to tell a lie?” (Augustine 180).
He understands that when one lies a sin is committed, but it makes a difference according to the intention and the subject at hand. Some people lie to help or deceive others. Augustine believes that the man who unintentionally says what is false, thinking it is true, is a better man than the one who unintentionally says what is true, but in his mind intends to deceive. “For the former does not think one thing and say another; but the latter, though his statements may be true in fact, has one thought in his heart and another on his lips; and that is the very essence of lying” (Augustine 181). Augustine leaves us with a thought at the end of this chapter, regarding the subject of the lie, that it is less evil to lie about matters that do not regard religion, than to be led into a lie about matters that have to do with the correct worship of God.
He feels that the subject matter on which one deceived or is deceived is the most important. In Chapter XXII, Augustine states that when speech is used to deceive it is seen as a sin because man was given the gift of speech to make his thoughts known to others. He also brings up that point that people believe that sometimes it is ok to lie, if you are doing a service to another or helping them out in any way. Augustine believes that a lie, even to save someone from injury, is forbidden. He adds a quote from the new covenant, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Augustine 184).
Augustine believes that in order to find happiness we must know the causes of good and evil, in order to avoid mistakes and troubles that we will encounter throughout life. I do not agree with Augustine when it comes to lying. I feel that everybody, one time or another, has lied to either protect themselves or to save another.
I know that lying is terrible and we shouldn’t partake in it, but I would be a hypocrite if I stood by Augustine on this subject matter because I have lied. I understand that Augustine is trying to explain to the readers that the road to God is a road clear of lying, and it is upsetting, but many do lie not thinking of the consequences. I also do not agree with Augustine’s idea of lying according to the intention and the subject. He believes that it is better to lie to somebody if it is off the subject of religion, other than to be deceived into error in regard to the subject of religion. He also believes it is much less evil to lead a man into an error other than religion, than to be led by a man into an error concerning religion.
For me, I just don’t see how you can compare the two. I don’t see lying better off than being deceived into an error of religion. It is not your fault when you are deceived, the other is at fault, but when you lie you are at fault, and only you.
That is why I can’t seem to agree with this idea. I agree with Augustine that evil is but the absence of good. I feel that God did make everything good, and it is the absence of good that causes evil. People choose the road they feel like taking throughout life. I think of it this way; God started us off on this world all consisting of good and it is we who choose to become evil. This follows through with Augustine’s next idea, which I also agree with, in that there can be no evil where there is no good.
This holds true because everybody consists of good, and evil is the absence of good, so that just concludes that in order for evil there must be good. Augustine also says that good and evil can exist at the same time, but evil cannot exist without good, however, good can exist without evil. I feel that one can embody good and evil, there are many humans like that now. It’s true that evil cannot exist without good because we are only evil when we aren’t good, but one can be good without being evil. I hope I have made it clear that there are some points that I agree with and there are some ideas of Augustine that I don’t agree with. As for the way to serve God, I believe that as long as you live your life to the best of your ability, you will succeed.