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De Civitate Dei, Book XII

December 1, 2011

Chapters 1-10: How Evil Enters a Good Creation

The last book dealt with the creation in general and, specifically, with the origin of the two cities (city of man and City of God) which were begun by the angels who are called “day” and “night” in Genesis 1. This book will discuss the creation of humanity with special reference to these two cities. To be sure, there is fellowship between men and angels in God’s City, and this is important to show so that no one wrongly thinks that there are really four cities (two for angels and two for humanity) rather than just the two.

It must be made clear as well that all God’s creatures were created good, not evil. The reason some are evil is that they fail to cling to God, their true and highest Good. For a rational nature, the failure to adhere to God is a perversion of that nature.

This is very important to grasp so that one does not claim that some created natures are inherently corrupt (like the Manichees assert) or that all creatures are eternal and come from God Himself. To the latter, Exodus 3:14 should be quoted, in which we see that God is existence itself. Creatures do not come from God’s being but from nothing. Thus, in terms of existence, the only enemy of God is non-existence. All creatures, who have a variety of lower degrees of being, by nature accord with God in their existence. Existence itself always accords with God’s being, but the perversion of the nature God has given does not accord with it.

This means that all aspects of creation, because they exist, have a proper and positive place within the overall created order. It is this consideration of the nature of things themselves which gives glory to the Creator. For “all things tend, in God’s plan, to that end which is included in the whole design for the government of the universe” (p476).

How, then, does evil enter this perfectly good creation of God? A nature can only become evil if it has a good nature and if it is mutable (changeable). This begins to get at the root of the problem, namely, how evil can come of good. If evil is privation of good, the way evil comes about is when a being willfully turns from a higher good to a lower good. This is a perversion in the will, an inordinate love for something which is lower.

This means that there is no efficient cause for evil. Finding the cause would be like finding darkness (the absence of light) or silence (the absence of sound). No one can observe things that are lacking, which is precisely what sin is – a lack of what is good. So we know the cause cannot be the efficient cause of evil but only the efficient cause of reality. The more a being has efficient causes the more it participates in reality, but when a higher being acts wrongly its activity is futile and it has a deficient cause. Evil is not turning to things that are evil in themselves but rather voluntarily turning from higher goods to lower. For example, there is nothing wrong or evil about gold, but there is evil in the man who turns to it rather than justice. And there is nothing wrong with a beautiful body, but the man who seeks after that instead of the self-control by which one is made fit for spiritual realities is in the wrong.

Does this mean that God was not the efficient cause of the will of the good angels as well? This would imply that the good angels improved on God’s creation by choosing the good, which cannot be the case. The only answer is that they willed the good by means of the assistance of the Creator’s activity.[1] Why the evil angels voluntarily fell away from the good is due either to the reduced measure of grace they received at creation or to a lack of help that only some angels received at some point in time after their creation which enabled them to cling to God.

 

Chapters 11-21: Problems with Creation and Eternity

Some Platonists like Apuleius say that humanity has no beginning, that they are individually mortal but as a species eternal. The Scriptures, however, present a short history of 6k years.[2] The fulfillment of prophecies which spoke about the future teach us to believe the Scriptures about issues regarding history as well.[3]

But the Physicists attempt to answer the question about the time of creation with their theory of periodic cycles. The problem with this, as was mentioned in the previous book in relation to the Platonists, is that it puts the immortal soul on an unending merry-go-round of alternation between bliss and misery. There can be no true happiness without certainty that it will go on forever. Some may quote Ecclesiastes 1:9ff where the Preacher speaks of some kind of cyclical movements in life. This probably is speaking about the generations that he had just mentioned or possibly about the general coming and going of things in life. Most convincing is Romans 6:9 where Paul says that Christ died once and for all (not again and again), and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which says that after the resurrection we will be with the Lord forever. But those who hold to periodic cycles search for both entrance and exit, unaware of creation and of where it is all going.

Others say that humanity must be eternal, for otherwise what would be the meaning of God being called the eternal sovereign – sovereign over whom? This is ultimately a question that we cannot answer. But to prove that it is an unanswerable question, one only needs to consider that it is just as nonsensical to say “there was a time when time did not exist” as it is to say “there was a man when no man existed”. So to say that humanity or the angels have always existed is not to say that they were never created, for they were perhaps created with the creation of time. Though we cannot have knowledge of the ages which passed before the world was created, we can say with confidence that no creature is co-eternal with God. Also, to say that God repented of his everlasting leisure and one day decided to create cannot be right, because this is merely imagining oneself in God’s position. Every infinity is somehow, to use an inexact expression, rendered finite to God.

Porphyry rejected the idea of periodic cycles and rather held that the soul is sent into the world to be cleansed and then to return to the Father forever. If Porphyry could reject this notion, certainly Christians who have God’s revelation should do so! These cycles prevent the creation of anything new, since everything has happened already in the past.

 

Chapters 22-28: The Creation of Humanity

It is much better that God started with creating one man instead of many. God created some creatures to be solitary and others to live in flocks or herds. Among the latter, only with humanity did God bring an individual into creation rather than a whole flock or herd. God created one man so that the bonds of human sympathy and community would be more emphatically brought home to humanity on account of kinship. Despite this kinship, humanity has engaged in sharper conflict than snakes or lions do among their own. But God foresaw this. And He also foresaw that a community of forgiven people would be brought into fellowship with the angels in eternal peace.

God created man with a soul that was capable of reason and intelligence that far surpassed all other earthly creatures. The Platonists say that the lower gods created humanity, but this is like saying that farmers make trees which is clearly false (1 Corinthians 3:7). Certainly the angels do what God commands, but every creature has only God as the creator.

There are two kinds of forms: those given externally to material substances (the shape of a piece of pottery, for example) and that which supplies the efficient causes. The latter can only come from God. Effective power cannot be made but only makes. Without God a creature would not merely be different but would not exist at all. If Romulus is called the founder of Rome, certainly God can be called the founder and creator of all things since he did not merely fashion material that he stumbled upon but made it all out of nothing.

Plato asserts that God makes the soul but then the angels make the body, and it is the duty of humanity to escape from the body to return to the immaterial God. But if this is the case, then angels are our jailers, giving us a body that we need freedom from.

In conclusion, humanity was created by God. And humanity is the most social creature by nature, though also the most quarrelsome by perversion. Human nature itself supplies the most salutary warnings against this perversion.[4] “Furthermore, the fact that a woman was made for the first man from his own side shows us clearly how affectionate should be the union of man and wife” (p508).

 

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My Footnotes:

[1] Book XII, Chapter 9: How do non-Jansenist readers deal with passages in Augustine like this? I’ve read de Lubac and others who say that Jansenism misses the broader flow of Augustine’s thought, but when one reads a text such as this it becomes clear that such an explanation does injustice to the actual writings of Augustine in favor of a certain tradition of interpreting him.

[2] While many modern readers may appreciate Augustine’s non-literal reading of Genesis 1 as referring to creaturely knowledge of creation rather than seven literal days, on the point of the chronology of human history he is very literalist.

[3] I found this a very edifying point: the faith which actively trusts that God’s promises entail Him taking humanity very seriously in love will have a general disposition of trust and belief about all issues to which it intends to speak. Gordon Wenham (I think!) said that we should not be more suspicious of the texts of Scripture than we are of our mother. Augustine’s way of reasoning about this, in the end, argues for a greater degree of trust.

[4] It is clear that this is not a natural theology argument from Augustine (Book XII, Chapter 28). Rather, he is saying that the story of coming from one man is something that teaches us, as we consider it, to preserve unity in harmony.

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