God. Evil. Firminus. All things good.
In perhaps the most philosophical chapter so far, Augustine gives an account of his intellectual struggle towards professing Catholic faith. Part of his confession involves admitting that he did not understand the Catholic faith. He struggled with how to conceive of God. How could God be anything other than ‘something physical occupying space diffused either in the world or even through infinite space outside the world.’?
The biggest problem that remained was the problem of evil. If God was the creator of all things what was the origin of evil? If God was holy free and immune from creation, how could a fallen imperfect creation be philosophically justified? This question was perhaps the issue which finally undermined the teaching of the Manichees. But Augustine still had to work through the questions on his own terms. He was beginning to realize that his own will chose to sin. But the consequences of this thought depressed and suffocated Augustine’s soul. Despite the unhappiness involved, Augustine confesses that the faith was to be found within his heart and mind. Hesitant and unformed, this faith was developing and growing as he took in more and more Catholic teaching.
Another friend helped confirm Augustine’s rejection of astrology. Firminus told the story of two infants born at the identical time. So the infants shared the same horoscope. One of the infants was Firminus himself, the other was the child of a slave girl. Firminus went on to enjoy a successful career, while the slave child grew up into the service of his owners. Astrology is mere chance. It did not offer any solution to the problem of evil.
Augustine believed that God existed. He believed that God was an immutable substance who cared for humanity and judged humanity. He also believed that through Christ and the scriptures God had provided a way of salvation. But he was suffering internally as he struggled with the problem of evil. His friends did not see or hear, but Augustine confesses that the Lord heard everything. The Lord was merciful even though Augustine was full of pride and conceit.
Platonist writings furthered Augustine’s intellectual and spiritual progress. They spoke of the eternity and immutability of the Word of God, God’s Son. But they did not speak of the Son’s death, his humility. The Platonist books contained descriptions of idols and images. But they helped Augustine to see within his own being another Being, a light ‘utterly different from all our kinds of light.’ Platonic thinking influenced Augustine’s understanding of things. ‘That which truly is is that which unchangeably abides.’ However any thing that exists exists because it is good in some measure. God created all substance. Any substance is good, because God has made ‘all things very good’ (Gen.1.31)
Evil, therefore, was not a substance. In this sense evil has no existence. Augustine’s thinking moved towards thinking about the totality of all things, ‘…all things taken together are better than superior things by themselves.’ Wickedness and evil were perversity twisted away from God towards inferior substances. Augustine saw within himself this struggle. He loved God as God truly was. But his love, as yet, was not a stable love which he could enjoy fully.