Saturday, August 27, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 12 -- the good

This was a difficult chapter to dissect.

Augustine’s conclusion is that everything God has created is good. Using the Platonic idea of good, he applies complex, intricate logic to the Manichaean ideas of corruption and incorruptibility, and good and evil, and forges them into a Christianity form.

It seems that previously Augustine had thought that good could only be had in the extreme—that something could only be classified as good if it were all good. Anything the least bit tainted by corruption or suffering is classified as evil. Moreover, the only good is the supreme good which is God alone, implying that we are all inherently evil and therefore doomed (oh - unless of course you are one of the Manichean Elect!).

Augustine’s revised, Christian understanding of evil and suffering is that it is an absence of the good. It seems to me that this is not too different from the Manichean idea that evil is a substance that contaminates the good. However, where the Manicheans tend to view God and evil as equals, Augustine’s new view of God is consistent with the Book of Genesis—all powerful and all knowing. Moreover, unlike the Manichean God who is a passive, Augustine positions God to be an active participant and controller of the universe.

Here is an excellent quote from Book VII, Chapter 8: “Inside me your good was working on me to make me restless until you should become clear and certain to my inward sight. Through the hidden hand of your healing art my swelling abated and from day to day the troubled and clouded sight of my mind grew better through the stinging ointment of a healthy sorrow.” Instead of the good but passive Manichean God becoming increasingly contaminated by an evil substance, we have the active Christian God transforming fallen human nature back into its original state of good.

One can link the ideas of Augustine on corruptibility, incorruptibility, and the good to many ideas in theology, especially of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption.

From my own experience, I think that in class rooms and sermons, when good is spoken of, it is used in the context of moral good. I feel that there is an inadequate emphasis on the concept and meaning of inherent good.


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