St. Augustine, Education, and Evil

Having previously established that God is not the source of evil, St. Augustine has thereby shown in On Free Choice of the Will that we don’t do evil because we were made that way. Well, is there some other external wellspring for our sin? Have we, for example, been taught to do evil?

Evodius. I do not know whether anyone sins who has not learned how to sin; but if this is the case, from whom, I ask, have we learned how to sin? (p. 3)

But St. Augustine rejects the suggestion that we sin because we were taught to do so.

[S]ince education is good…evil cannot be learned. For if evil is learned, then evil is a part of education and education will not be something good. However, as you yourself grant, it is good. Therefore evil is not learned and it is useless to ask from whom we learn evil. Or, if we learn evil, we learn so as to avoid it, not to do it (p. 4).

We weren’t made evil, as he said previously, and we don’t learn it either. The point is to reject any hint of a Manichaean scheme whereby it could be said that we have a good God responsible for good in the world, and an evil one who is the source of evil in the world. One consequence of this is that we don’t get to shift the blame for our sins someplace else: “I can’t help it. You made me this way” or “I’m only doing what I was taught to do” are both illegitimate excuses.

I suppose that the subject must surely come up more directly elsewhere in the mass of St. Augustine’s writings, but it seems worth pointing out here a particular way in which his views are contradicted by Calvin. We see above that Augustine considers education to be a good thing, and he goes even further than that: “So stop trying to find some unknown evil teacher. If he is evil, he is not a teacher; if he is a teacher, he is not evil” (p. 5). In other words, the act of teaching is not sinful. To the contrary, to teach is to do something good.

In contrast, Calvin’s view of human actions precludes even the possibility of such a thing. I first learned of this thanks to Dr. David Anders, in a comment he left at Called to Communion. Here’s something that Calvin wrote in the Catechism of the Church of Geneva:

[A]ll the works which proceed from us, so as properly to be called our own, are vicious, and therefore they can do nothing but displease God, and be rejected by him.

It’s not possible on such a view for teaching to be anything but evil. But this is the exact opposite of what St. Augustine says about it. Consequently we see that on this subject that Calvin was no Augustinian, and St. Augustine was no Calvinist.

Advertisements
Posted in Augustine, Calvinism
4 comments on “St. Augustine, Education, and Evil
  1. christianclarityreview says:

    Not defending either Augustine or Calvin.

    But note Augustine’s view –of what sin fundamentally is–. He has implicitly defined sin to be an act and only an act and only an act made by men. In essence, he’s got sin as merely something that human beings do that has bad emotional consequences in God’s heart. From that definition, it is then easy to be deceived that circular logic based on that paradigm ‘must be true’. From that one false definition, anyone can easily start in with such nonsense as “God wouldn’t cause us to do something he hates.” and call that ‘theology’ and say they had proved God didn’t create evil.

    So: I ask you.. What is the necessity of God sending His Son to die for something that merely has bad emotional consequences in His heart? God sent His Only Son to die to ‘stop the pain’ in His Own heart caused by what we were doing? What exactly is the benefit to us in that scenario? What changes –in us? In that scenario, God was selfish and wanted to happy all the time and that’s it. He supposedly fixed all reality just for Himself by killing His own Son.

    The problem is that God actually sent His Own Son to die –for us. For our benefit. Something was and is going on beyond merely ‘making God mad’. A definition of sin as a mere act ( and defined that way simply to lay a foundation to keep saying ‘We’ve got free will!’ –to act– ) ..is anti-Christ. Something is going on behind the acts–something is driving the acts.

    Sin is a living creature, not a mere abstract or ‘thought pattern’ or ‘ideology’ that men, for some strange reason prefer to believe over another one.

    In the ‘sin is an act’ scenario, there is no need for new birth in Jesus Christ, only a change of mind or emotional set to ‘stop the bad acts’ ..as appeals to an idealized free will. So that is what you see as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and all free will Protestant religion –and all overtly pagan religions– ; a set of doctrines designed to be emotional training wheels to ‘make God happy’ without any actual new birth in Jesus Christ. ..all driven by the mere assumption that sin is an act and ‘therefore’ an act done in free will.

    But there is no free will AND sin is not a mere act; sin is a living creature. So there is no need to come up with a system that carefully explains ‘why act A took place instead of act B’ as if it had to all be explained with a view in mind to validate the concept of human free will ..that just happens to make mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Both the assumption of sin-as-act AND the explanation of why men do evil is wrong. In addition, the supposed aid that fallen men need in order to ‘not do evil acts’ ‘with a free will’ is done away: no need for constant rituals, no need for supposed dead people who have greater spiritual experience than the living to help out, no need for caste system of priest and parishioner ..all of that is gone.

    So rather than protestantism supposedly wanting its own version of all that, the reformation was about a utter rejection of all that –while for the most part being ignorant that sin is not a mere act and fighting an uphill battle over endless and supposed necessary tiny distinctions between doctrines in order to merely refute Roman Catholicism as it truly is: a form of arminianism/molinism.

    Those in the truly Reformed Camp have always said we are Reformed and Reforming. There is a point where God will take you and show you the errors of the fathers and take you beyond them and you may very well have to reject what a Famous Name said that is everyone’s favorite person from history. But only in Christ.

    Every part of arminianism in any of its guises is based on ‘sin is an act’. That is not true of Calvinism.
    But more often that not it is easy to find a confessing Calvinist who will imply, just as arminians do, that sin is an act.

    The body of Christ grows and matures in the face of evil as an opposing creature. The reaction of the Romanists has been to imply they were simultaneously growing and mature by introducing new doctrines just to make it look like new=true as a counterbalance to Reforming: from Catholicism has come black theology, feminists theology, socialist theology, gay theology; population control ..in short, every evil of present society has some kind of theological backing in the Roman Catholic Church ..even against the strenuous objections of a lot of Catholics. ..all based on ‘sin is an act’ and the supposed necessity thereafter to control human behavior by whatever means.

    Faith is not at all ‘reaching out into nothing’ as a thing of courage of men. It is a gift of God that is Word/Christ in you.

    1Corinthians 1:19-25 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

    Proverbs 10:17 Keeping instruction is the path to life; but he that forsaketh reproof goeth astray.

    timothy

    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  2. I really appreciate this series of posts. When I was coming out of the churches of Christ, I was told that Calvin was more truly Augustinian than Catholics. I had no education in the matter and took the statement at face value. Since I’ve learned a bit more, and converted to the Catholic church, it bugs me no end that Reformed claim to be Augustinian.

  3. aquinasetc says:

    Hello Timothy,

    Thank you for visiting. You wrote:

    But note Augustine’s view –of what sin fundamentally is–. He has implicitly defined sin to be an act and only an act and only an act made by men. In essence, he’s got sin as merely something that human beings do that has bad emotional consequences in God’s heart.

    You’ve got that half-right. He does say that sin is something that we do. He does not say that it is sinful because it “has bad emotional consequences in God’s heart,” however. Sin is contrary to justice, not merely something that God does not like. Furthermore, God is immutable. Therefore he does not have emotions and consequently does not experience emotional changes in response to human actions, which is further reason why it is incorrect to say that the evil of sin consists in emotional effects in God.

    From that definition, it is then easy to be deceived that circular logic based on that paradigm ‘must be true’. From that one false definition, anyone can easily start in with such nonsense as “God wouldn’t cause us to do something he hates.” and call that ‘theology’ and say they had proved God didn’t create evil.

    God does not cause us to do anything evil, Timothy. For one thing it is contrary to His nature (as St. Augustine already said earlier in the book, and as we saw in a previous post). Likewise, God didn’t create evil, as He says in Genesis 1.

    The problem is that God actually sent His Own Son to die –for us. For our benefit. Something was and is going on beyond merely ‘making God mad’. A definition of sin as a mere act ( and defined that way simply to lay a foundation to keep saying ‘We’ve got free will!’ –to act– ) ..is anti-Christ. Something is going on behind the acts–something is driving the acts.

    The reason why free will is necessary, as St. Augustine says, is this: “It would not be just to punish evil deeds if they were not done willfully.” But God is just; consequently our evil deeds must be done willfully. It is not “anti-Christ” to insist that God is just. It would, however, attribute injustice to God to claim that he punishes us for things over which we have no control.

    Sin is a living creature, not a mere abstract or ‘thought pattern’ or ‘ideology’ that men, for some strange reason prefer to believe over another one.

    If sin is a living creature, then it was created by God. But God said that everything He created is good. Since sin is by definition evil, it cannot be the case that God created it, since He created nothing evil. So your definition is incorrect. Neither St. Augustine nor Catholics say that sin is “a mere abstract or ‘thought pattern’ or ‘ideology’” so we agree on that point.

    In the ‘sin is an act’ scenario, there is no need for new birth in Jesus Christ, only a change of mind or emotional set to ‘stop the bad acts’ ..as appeals to an idealized free will. So that is what you see as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and all free will Protestant religion –and all overtly pagan religions– ; a set of doctrines designed to be emotional training wheels to ‘make God happy’ without any actual new birth in Jesus Christ. ..all driven by the mere assumption that sin is an act and ‘therefore’ an act done in free will.

    In the first place this is a straw man, because your characterization of the sinfulness of sin (as consisting in “bad emotional consequences” in God) does not reflect St. Augustine’s or the Catholic view. In the second place, we have already seen St. Augustine’s argument for why free will is something that we necessarily have, but you have merely asserted that this is wrong without stating why. In the third place, your characterization of what is supposedly the Catholic view of the new birth is likewise a straw man, since it in no way reflects Catholic teaching on the subject.

    But there is no free will AND sin is not a mere act; sin is a living creature. So there is no need to come up with a system that carefully explains ‘why act A took place instead of act B’ as if it had to all be explained with a view in mind to validate the concept of human free will ..that just happens to make mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Both the assumption of sin-as-act AND the explanation of why men do evil is wrong. In addition, the supposed aid that fallen men need in order to ‘not do evil acts’ ‘with a free will’ is done away: no need for constant rituals, no need for supposed dead people who have greater spiritual experience than the living to help out, no need for caste system of priest and parishioner ..all of that is gone.

    Your premises are both incorrect (as we’ve already seen), and so no conclusion can correctly follow from them. Furthermore, there is no connection between the premises here and the conclusion that you present.

    Those in the truly Reformed Camp have always said we are Reformed and Reforming. There is a point where God will take you and show you the errors of the fathers and take you beyond them and you may very well have to reject what a Famous Name said that is everyone’s favorite person from history. But only in Christ.

    Every part of arminianism in any of its guises is based on ‘sin is an act’. That is not true of Calvinism.
    But more often that not it is easy to find a confessing Calvinist who will imply, just as arminians do, that sin is an act.

    Those remarks are off topic for this thread. However, if the Church Fathers got things wrong, why should we believe that you haven’t? If Calvinists disagree among themselves, why should we believe any of them?

    The last paragraph of your comment is off-topic and offensive. I will not tolerate that here, so in the future please refrain. See the comment guidelines. Thank you.

    Fred

  4. aquinasetc says:

    Hello Prairieprincess,

    Thanks for visiting, and thank you for your kind words :-)

    There will be more posts from On Free Choice of the Will, and I’m pretty sure they will further satisfy your interest in evidence that shows St. Augustine is not proto-Reformed, but rather Catholic.

    Peace,

    Fred

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories
Pages
Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 162 other followers

%d bloggers like this: