Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter VII
Chapter VII.—He Attacks the Doctrine of the Manichæans Concerning Evil, God, and the Righteousness of the Patriarchs.
12. For I was ignorant as to that which really is, and was, as it were, violently moved to give p. 64 my support to foolish deceivers, when they asked me, “Whence is evil?” 241 —and, “Is God limited by a bodily shape, and has He hairs and nails?”—and, “Are they to be esteemed righteous who had many wives at once and did kill men, and sacrificed living creatures?” 242 At which things I, in my ignorance, was much disturbed, and, retreating from the truth, I appeared to myself to be going towards it; because as yet I knew not that evil was naught but a privation of good, until in the end it ceases altogether to be; which how should I see, the sight of whose eyes saw no further than bodies, and of my mind no further than a phantasm? And I knew not God to be a Spirit, 243 not one who hath parts extended in length and breadth, nor whose being was bulk; for every bulk is less in a part than in the whole, and, if it be infinite, it must be less in such part as is limited by a certain space than in its infinity; and cannot be wholly everywhere, as Spirit, as God is. And what that should be in us, by which we were like unto God, and might rightly in Scripture be said to be after “the image of God,” 244 I was entirely ignorant.
13. Nor had I knowledge of that true inner righteousness, which doth not judge according to custom, but out of the most perfect law of God Almighty, by which the manners of places and times were adapted to those places and times—being itself the while the same always and everywhere, not one thing in one place, and another in another; according to which Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and all those commended by the mouth of God were righteous, 245 but were judged unrighteous by foolish men, judging out of mans judgment, 246 and gauging by the petty standard of their own manners the manners of the whole human race. Like as if in an armoury, one knowing not what were adapted to the several members should put greaves on his head, or boot himself with a helmet, and then complain because they would not fit. Or as if, on some day when in the afternoon business was forbidden, one were to fume at not being allowed to sell as it was lawful to him in the forenoon. Or when in some house he sees a servant take something in his hand which the butler is not permitted to touch, or something done behind a stable which would be prohibited in the dining-room, and should be indignant that in one house, and one family, the same thing is not distributed everywhere to all. Such are they who cannot endure to hear something to have been lawful for righteous men in former times which is not so now; or that God, for certain temporal reasons, commanded them one thing, and these another, but both obeying the same righteousness; though they see, in one man, one day, and one house, different things to be fit for different members, and a thing which was formerly lawful after a time unlawful—that permitted or commanded in one corner, which done in another is justly prohibited and punished. Is justice, then, various and changeable? Nay, but the times over which she presides are not all alike, because they are times. 247 But men, whose days upon the earth are few, 248 because by their own perception they cannot harmonize the causes of former ages and other nations, of which they had no experience, with these of which they have experience, though in one and the same body, day, or family, they can readily see what is suitable for each member, season, part, and person—to the one they take exception, to the other they submit.
14. These things I then knew not, nor observed. They met my eyes on every side, and I saw them not. I composed poems, in which it was not permitted me to place every foot everywhere, but in one metre one way, and in another, nor even in any one verse the same foot in all places. Yet the art itself by which I composed had not different principles for these different cases, but comprised all in one. Still I saw not how that righteousness, which good and holy men submitted to, far more excellently and sublimely comprehended in one all those things which God commanded, p. 65 and in no part varied, though in varying times it did not prescribe all things at once, but distributed and enjoined what was proper for each. And I, being blind, blamed those pious fathers, not only for making use of present things as God commanded and inspired them to do, but also for foreshowing things to come as God was revealing them. 249
The strange mixture of the pensive philosophy of Persia with Gnosticism and Christianity, propounded by Manichæus, attempted to solve this question, which was “the great object of heretical inquiry” (Mansels Gnostics, lec. i.). It was Augustins desire for knowledge concerning it that united him to this sect, and which also led him to forsake it, when he found therein nothing but empty fables (De Lib. Arb. i. sec. 4). Manichæus taught that evil and good were primeval, and had independent existences. Augustin, on the other hand, maintains that it was not possible for evil so to exist (De Civ. Dei, xi. sec. 22) but, as he here states, evil is “a privation of good.” The evil will has a causa deficiens, but not a causa efficiens (ibid. xii. 6), as is exemplified in the fall of the angels.64:242
1 Kings 18.40.64:243
Gen. 1.27; see vi. sec. 4, note.64:245
1 Cor. 4.3.64:247
The law of the development of revelation implied in the above passage is one to which Augustin frequently resorts in confutation of objections such as those to which he refers in the previous and following sections. It may likewise be effectively used when similar objections are raised by modern sceptics. In the Rabbinical books there is a tradition of the wanderings of the children of Israel, that not only did their clothes not wax old (Deut. 29.5) during those forty years, but that they grew with their growth. The written word is as it were the swaddling-clothes of the holy child Jesus; and as the revelation concerning Him—the Word Incarnate—grew, did the written word grow. God spoke in sundry parts [πολυέμρως] and in divers manners unto the fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1.1); but when the “fulness of the time was come” (Gal. 4.4), He completed the revelation in His Son. Our Lord indicates this principle when He speaks of divorce in Matt. 19.8. “Moses,” he says, “because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” (See Con. Faust. xix. 26, 29.) When objections, then, as to obsolete ritual usages, or the sins committed by Old Testament worthies are urged, the answer is plain: the ritual has become obsolete, because only intended for the infancy of revelation, and the sins, while recorded in, are not approved by Scripture, and those who committed them will be judged according to the measure of revelation they received. See also De Ver. Relig. xvii.; in Ps. lxxiii. 1, liv. 22; Con. Faust. xxii. 25; Trench, Hulsean Lecs. iv., v. (1845); and Candlishs Reason and Revelation, pp. 58–75.64:248
Here, as at the end of sec. 17, he alludes to the typical and allegorical character of Old Testament histories. Though he does not with Origen go so far as to disparage the letter of Scripture (see De Civ. Dei, xiii. 21), but upholds it, he constantly employs the allegorical principle. He (alluding to the patriarchs) goes so far, indeed, as to say (Con. Faust., xxii. 24), that “not only the speech but the life of these men was prophetic; and the whole kingdom of the Hebrews was like a great prophet;” and again: “We may discover a prophecy of the coming of Christ and of the Church both in what they said and what they did”. This method of interpretation he first learned from Ambrose. See note on “the letter killeth,” etc. (below, vi. sec. 6), for the danger attending it. On the general subject, reference may also be made to his in Ps. cxxxvi. 3; Serm. 2; De Tentat. Abr. sec. 7; and De Civ. Dei, xvii. 3.
Next: Chapter VIII
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