Influences forming Plato’s views of the world workbook answers

The problem of evil: St Augustine

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The problem of evil: St Augustine

1 You may in your answer refer to Epicurus and write something like: ‘If God is all-powerful, if God is all-loving, if God is all-knowing, why does suffering exist?’

2 Augustine spent 9 years as a ‘hearer’ among the Manicheans. Though there is a little in his writings from this period, it clearly influenced many of his later writings as he attacked their beliefs. The Manicheans believed in a mythical solution to the problem of evil involving the struggle between co-eternal principles of Light and Darkness. Augustine began his drift away from this sect when he started to believe that their cosmology did not stand up to serious academic scrutiny. There is no account of which books of the Platonists brought him to Christianity under the influence of Ambrose of Milan. This is an important period of Augustine’s life, as the teachings of Mani arguably continued to influence his understanding and presentation of Christian and Neo-Platonic philosophy and theology.

3 This is the kind of evil found/caused by nature itself, and over which humankind has no control: suffering brought about by events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes or viruses for example.

4 Moral evil is suffering brought about by the free choices of human beings. So the evils of war, murder, sexual abuse and all sorts of moral weakness come under this heading. It is an important distinction to keep in mind as it influences the kind of theodicy believers would want to use.

5 This is a distinction made by some scholars and is found, for example, in the Book of Job. They suggest that things such as prisons or a hangover can be seen as merited suffering whereas suffering brought about by things over which one has no control is unmerited suffering.

6 This comes from the Greek theos dike and is a term meaning the justification of God. This was first used in philosophy by Leibniz to argue against the Epicurean triad and thus prove the goodness of God in the face of evil.

7 Coming from his Neo-Platonic understanding, Augustine maintains that evil is not a thing in itself but exists only as a privation of good, often written as privatio boni. Added to this, we see his literal acceptance of Scripture and tradition. So, in The City of God, he speaks of the angelic battle in heaven and the fall to eternal darkness for those angels who side with Satan against God. Then Satan, the Father of Lies and the Tempter, seduces Eve into disobeying God and leading Adam into the same disobedience. This, for Augustine, meant that Adam condemned humankind, his descendants, to a mortal life of suffering.

8 A soul-deciding theodicy suggests that all human beings have a chance to turn back to God through accepting the salvation brought about by the sacrifice of Jesus.

9 Augustine argued that all humans deserve punishment because they are ‘seminally present in the loins of Adam’. Therefore we all suffer because of that original sin. In the culture of Augustine’s time, the idea of descendants of criminals paying for the sins of their ancestors was commonplace and would not, therefore, have appeared strange in his philosophy. Arguably this is one of the reasons for the belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

10 This defence argues that evils exist in this world because of the free bad choices made by human beings and, in Augustine’s world view, other fallen beings such as angels. Thus we can argue that God is not responsible for the evils in the world and the existence of such evils does not disprove the existence of God.

11 This modern term, from the nineteenth century, describes the period of Platonic philosophy starting with the work of Plotinus and going through to the end of the Platonic Academy in 529 ce. A good description can be found in the writings of Fr Copleston, where he describes Neo-Platonism as ‘the intellectualist reply to the…yearning for personal salvation’.

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