From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser


Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016




Life of Augustine

The Greek Philosophers

Against Academic Skepticism

More Against Academics Skepticism

Eternal Truths

Divine Illumination


Morality, Evil, Free Will

Love of God as Our Primary Good

Goodness and Evil in Creation

Earthy and Heavenly Cities




From Augustine’s Confessions

I will now call to mind my past foulness, and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but that I may love you, my God. . . . I had a desire to commit robbery, and did so. I was compelled neither by hunger, nor poverty, but through a distaste for doing right, and a desire for wickedness. For I stole things that I already had, and much better. Nor did I desire to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and sin itself. There was pear tree close to our vineyard, heavily loaded with fruit, which was tempting neither for its color nor its flavor. Late one night, a few of us shameless young folk went to shake and rob it, having, according to our disgraceful habit, prolonged our games in the streets until then. We carried away great loads, not to eat ourselves, but to fling to pigs, having only eaten some of them. This pleased us all the more because it was not permitted. [Book 2]

            I came to Carthage, where a cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me. . . . I contaminated the spring of friendship with the filth of sensuality, and I dimmed its luster with the hell of lustfulness. Foul and dishonorable as I was, through an excess of vanity, I nevertheless craved to be thought elegant and urbane. I fell rashly, then, into the love in which I longed to be ensnared. . . . [In time] I directed my mind to the Holy Scriptures, so that I might see what they were . . . [but] my inflated pride rejected their style, nor could the sharpness of my wit pierce their inner meaning. . . . I then fell among [Manichean] men proudly raving, very carnal, and voluble, in whose mouths were the snares of the devil—the lure being composed of a mixture of the syllables of your name, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Intercessor, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. [Book 3]

            For nearly the whole of those nine years during which, with unstable mind, I had followed the Manicheans, I had been looking forward with great eagerness for the arrival of [the Manichean teacher] Faustus. The other members of the sect whom I had chanced to encounter, when unable to answer the questions I raised, always directed me to look forward to his coming. By discoursing with him, these, and greater difficulties if I had them, would be most easily and amply cleared away. When at last he arrived, I found him to be a man of pleasant speech, who spoke of the very same things as they themselves did, although more fluently, and in better language. But of what profit to me was the elegance of my cup-bearer, since he failed to offer me the more precious draught for which I thirsted? . . . When it became plain to me that he was ignorant of those arts [of rhetoric] in which I had believed him to excel, I began to despair of his clearing up and explaining all the perplexities that harassed me.

            I came to Milan and went to Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men. . . . I studiously listened to him preaching to the people, not with the proper motive, but trying to discover whether his eloquence matched his reputation. . . . While I opened my heart to admit how skillfully he spoke, there also gradually entered with it how truly he spoke! These things also began to appear to me to be defensible. The Catholic faith, for which I had felt nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manichaeans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption. . . . So I earnestly bent my mind to see if I could possibly prove the Manichaeans guilty of falsehood. . . . Because these philosophers were without the saving name of Christ, I utterly refused to have them cure my fainting soul. I resolved, therefore, to be a catechumen in the Catholic Church, which my parents had commended to me, until something settled should manifest itself to me towards which I might steer my course. [Book 5]

            When I had disclosed to my mother that I was now no longer a Manichaean, though not yet a Catholic Christian, she did not leap for joy. . . . She replied to me that she believed in Christ, that before she departed this life, she would see me a Catholic believer. . . . Active efforts were made to get me a wife. I wooed, I was engaged, my mother taking the greatest pains in the matter, that when I was once married, the health-giving baptism might cleanse me. . . . A maiden came forward who was two years under the marriageable age, but, as she was pleasing, I waited for her. . . . Meanwhile my sins were multiplying. My mistress was torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, and my heart, which clung to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding. She went back to Africa, making a vow to you to never know another man, and leaving with me my natural son by her. But I unhappily could not imitate her and, impatient of delay, I took another mistress—since it would be two years until I was to marry my betrothed, and I was not so much a lover of marriage as a slave to lust. [Book 6]

            The very toys of toys, and vanities of vanities, my old mistresses, still enthralled me. . . . But when a profound reflection had, from the secret depths of my soul, drawn together and heaped up all my misery before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by as mighty a shower of tears. So that I might pour forth fully with natural expressions, I left [my friend] Alypius; for it seemed to me that solitude was fitter for the business of weeping. So I retired to such a distance that even his presence could not be oppressive to me. . . . I flung myself down, how, I do not know, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice to you. Not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, I spoke to you: “But you, Lord, how long? How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?”. . .

            I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice, sounding like a boy or girl—I do not know which—coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my expression changed, and I earnestly considered whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing these words. Nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard that Anthony, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.” By this oracle he was immediately converted to you. I quickly returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose from there. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts there of.” I did not read any further, nor did I need to; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light of security, so to speak, infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt vanished away. [Book 8]


From Possidius’s Life of Augustine

When he had received the grace of God, he determined, with others of his neighbors and friends who served God with him, to return to Africa to his own home and lands to which he came and in which he was settled for almost three years. He now gave up these possessions and began to live with those who had also consecrated themselves to God, in fastings and prayers and good works, meditating day and night in the Law of the Lord. . .

            Now at this time the holy Valerius was bishop in the Catholic church at Hippo. But owing to the increasing demands of ecclesiastical duty he addressed the people of God and exhorted them to provide and ordain a presbyter for the city. The Catholics, already acquainted with the life and teaching of the holy Augustine, laid hands on him—for he was standing there among the people secure and unaware of what was about to happen. . . . Soon after he had been made presbyter he established a monastery within the church and began to live with the servants of God according to the manner and rule instituted by the holy apostles.

            In private and in public, at home and in the church, Augustine taught and preached the Word of salvation with all confidence against the African heresies, especially against the Donatists, Manichaeans and pagans both in his finished books and extemporaneous sermons, the Christians, who did not keep silent but spread it abroad wherever they could, being filled with unspeakable joy and praise. [Valerius] began to fear, however, for such is human nature, that Augustine would be sought for the episcopal office and be taken from him by some other church which lacked a bishop. . . . . [Valerius arranged] that Augustine might be ordained bishop of the church of Hippo, because he would not in that case then succeed to his office, but would be associated with him as coadjutor-bishop. . . . As bishop he preached the Word of eternal salvation much more earnestly and fervently and with greater authority, no longer in one district only, but wherever he went in answer to requests. . . .

His garments and foot-wear and even his bedclothing were modest yet sufficient—neither too fine nor yet too mean. . . . Shortly before the time of his death he revised the books which he had dictated and edited, whether those which he had dictated in the time immediately following his conversion when he was still a layman, or while he was a presbyter or a bishop. Now the holy man in his long life given of God for the benefit and happiness of the holy Church (for he lived seventy-six years, almost forty of which he spent as a priest or bishop), in private conversations frequently told us that even after baptism had been received exemplary Christians and priests ought not depart from this life without fitting and appropriate repentance. This he himself did in his last illness of which he died.




Plato is Superior to other Philosophers

4. Among the disciples of Socrates, Plato was the one who shined with a glory that far exceeded that of the others, and who not unjustly eclipsed them all. . . .

             5. If, then, Plato defined the wise man as one who imitates, knows, loves this God, and who is made blessed through fellowship with Him in His own blessedness, why should we discuss the other philosophers? It is evident that none come nearer to us than the Platonists. The sensationalist theology delights the minds of men with the crimes of the gods. Let this the give way to the Platonists. So too with the civil theology in which impure demons, under the name of gods, have seduced the peoples of the earth given up to earthly pleasures . . . Let these two theologies, then, the sensationalist and the civil, surrender to the Platonic philosophers, who have recognized the true God as the author of all things, the source of the light of truth, and the bountiful giver of all blessedness.


Against the Materialist Philosophers

Not only these [theologies], but to these great [Platonist] acknowledgers of so great a God, other philosophers must yield who, having their mind enslaved to their body, supposed the principles of all things to be material. This includes Thales, who held that the first principle of all things was water; Anaximenes, that it was air; the Stoics, that it was fire; Epicurus, who affirmed that it consisted of atoms, that is to say, of minute corpuscles. There are many others whom it is needless to enumerate, but who believed that bodies, simple or compound, animate or inanimate, but nevertheless bodies, were the cause and principle of all things. For some of them (as, for instance, the Epicureans) believed that living things could originate from things without life. Others held that all things living or without life spring from a living principle, but that, nevertheless, all things, being material, spring from a material principle. For the Stoics thought that fire, that is, one of the four material elements of which this visible world is composed, was both living and intelligent, the maker of the world and of all things contained in it, and that it was in fact God.

            These and others like them have only been able to suppose that which their hearts enslaved to sense have ineffectively suggested to them. Yet they have within themselves something which they could not see [i.e., the rational soul]. They represented to themselves inwardly the [material] things which they had seen without, even when they were not seeing them, but only thinking of them. But this representation in thought is no longer a body, but only the similitude of a body; and that faculty of the mind by which this similitude of a body is seen is neither a body nor the similitude of a body. The faculty which judges whether the representation is beautiful or ugly is without doubt superior to the object judged of.


Platonists Hold to a Supreme Immaterial God

This principle is the understanding of man, the rational soul. It is certainly not a body, since that similitude of a body which it beholds and judges of is itself not a body. The soul is neither earth, nor water, nor air, nor fire, of which four bodies, called the four elements, we see that this world is composed. If the soul is not a body, how coul God, its Creator, be a body? Let all those philosophers, then, give place, as we have said, to the Platonists, and those also who have been ashamed to say that God is a body, but yet have thought that our souls are of the same nature as God. They have not been astounded by the great changeableness of the soul (an attribute which it would be impious to ascribe to the divine nature), but they say it is the body which changes the soul, for in itself it is unchangeable. As well might they say, "Flesh is wounded by some body, for in itself it is invulnerable." In a word, that which is unchangeable can be changed by nothing, so that that which can be changed by the body cannot properly be said to be immutable.

             6. These [Platonist] philosophers, then, whom we see not undeservedly elevated above the rest in fame and glory, have seen that no material body is God, and therefore they have transcended all [material] bodies in seeking for God. They have seen that whatever is changeable is not the most high God, and therefore they have transcended every soul and all changeable spirits in seeking the supreme. They have seen also that, in every changeable thing, the form which makes it that which it is, whatever be its mode or nature, can only be through Him who truly is, because He is unchangeable. We may consider the whole body of the world, its figure, qualities, and orderly movement, and also all the bodies which are in it; or we may consider all life, either that which nourishes and maintains, as the life of trees, or that which, besides this, has also sensation, as the life of animals; or we may consider that which adds to all these intelligence, as the life of man; or we may consider that which does not need the support of nutriment, but only maintains, feels, understands, as the life of angels. Regardless of which of these we consider, all can only be through Him who absolutely is. For to Him it is not one thing to be, and another to live, as though He could be, not living; nor is it to Him one thing to live, and another thing to understand, as though He could live, not understanding; nor is it to Him one thing to understand, another thing to be blessed, as though He could understand and not be blessed. . .


Epicurean and Stoic Logic Emphasizes Bodily Senses

7. Consider now the doctrine which deals with that which they call logic, that is, rational philosophy. Far be it from us to compare them [i.e., the Platonists] with those who attributed to the bodily senses the faculty of discriminating truth, and thought, that all we learn is to be measured by their untrustworthy and fallacious rules. Such were the Epicureans, and all of the same school. Such also were the Stoics, who ascribed to the bodily senses that expertness in disputation which they so ardently love, called by them dialectic, asserting that from the senses the mind conceives the notions (ennoiai) of those things which they explicate by definition. Hence is developed the whole plan and connection of their learning and teaching. I often wonder, with respect to this, how they can say that none are beautiful but the wise. For, by what bodily sense have they perceived that beauty, and by what eyes of the flesh have they seen wisdom's attractiveness of form? However, those [Platonists] whom we justly rank before all others, have distinguished those things which are conceived by the mind from those which are perceived by the senses, neither taking away from the senses anything to which they are competent, nor attributing to them anything beyond their competency. The light of our understandings, by which all things are learned by us, they have affirmed to be that very same God by whom all things were made.


Plato’s Ethics involves Loving the Highest Good

8. The remaining part of philosophy is morals, or what is called by the Greeks ethike, in which is discussed the question concerning the chief good. It is that which will leave us nothing further to seek in order to be blessed, if only we make all our actions refer to it, and seek it not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake. Therefore it is called the end, because we wish other things on account of it, but itself only for its own sake. . . At present, it is sufficient to mention that Plato determined the final good to be to live according to virtue, and affirmed that he only can attain to virtue who knows and imitates God, insofar as knowledge and imitation are the only cause of blessedness. Therefore he did not doubt that to philosophize is to love God, whose nature is incorporeal. From this it certainly follows that the student of wisdom, that is, the philosopher, will then become blessed when he will have begun to enjoy God. For though he is not necessarily blessed who enjoys that which he loves (for many are miserable by loving that which ought not to be loved, and still more miserable when they enjoy it). Nevertheless, no one is blessed who does not enjoy that which he loves. For even they who love things which ought not to be loved do not count themselves blessed by loving merely, but by enjoying them. Who, then, but the most miserable will deny that he is blessed, who enjoys that which he loves, and loves the true and highest good? But the true and highest good, according to Plato, is God, and therefore he would call him a philosopher who loves God. For philosophy is directed to the obtaining of the blessed life, and he who loves God is blessed in the enjoyment of God.


Platonists Come the Closest to Christianity

9. Concerning the supreme God, these philosophers held that He is both the maker of all created things, the light by which things are known, and the good in reference to which things are to be done. They held that we have in Him the first principle of nature, the truth of doctrine, and the happiness of life. Whether these philosophers may be more suitably called Platonists, or whether they may give some other name to their sect . . . we prefer these to all other philosophers, and admit that they come nearest to us. . . .

             11. Certain partakers with us in the grace of Christ are surprised when they hear and read that Plato had notions concerning God, in which they recognize considerable agreement with the truth of our religion. Some have concluded from this, that when he went to Egypt he had heard the prophet Jeremiah, or, when travelling in the same country, had read the prophetic scriptures, which opinion I myself have expressed in certain of my writings. But a careful calculation of dates, contained in chronological history, shows that Plato was born about a hundred years after the time in which Jeremiah prophesied, and, as he lived eighty-one years, there are found to have been about seventy years from his death to that time when Ptolemy, king of Egypt, requested the prophetic scriptures of the Hebrew people to be sent to him from Judea, and committed them to seventy Hebrews, who also knew the Greek tongue, to be translated and kept. Therefore, on that voyage of his, Plato could neither have seen Jeremiah, who was dead so long before, nor have read those same scriptures which had not yet been translated into the Greek language, of which he was a master, unless, indeed, we say that, as he was most earnest in the pursuit of knowledge, he also studied those writings through an interpreter, as he did those of the Egyptians.




Knowledge from Bodily Sensation: Doubting this is Irrational

21. When we speak what we know, [let us ask] of what sort and how great is the very knowledge itself that a man can attain, as skillful and educated as he is, by which our thought is formed with truth? Suppose that we dismiss those things that come into our mind from the bodily senses, among which so many are different than they seem to be. In this case, he who is overly impressed by their [false] resemblance to truth, seems sane to himself, but really is not sane. From this it is that the Academic philosophy has so succeeded as to be still more miserably insane by doubting all things.


Knowledge from the Mind Itself: Certainty that We are Alive

Passing over, then, those things that come into the mind by the bodily senses, how large a proportion is left of things which we know in such manner as we know that we live? In regard to this, indeed, we are absolutely without any fear unless perhaps we are being deceived by some resemblance of the truth. For it is certain that he who is deceived, yet lives. This again is not considered among those objects of sight that are presented from without, where the eye might be deceived about it. For example, an oar looks bent when it is in the water, or towers seem to move as you sail past them, and a thousand other things that are different [in truth] than they appear to be. For this is not something that can be distinguished by the eye of the body.

            The knowledge by which we know that we live is the most inward of all knowledge, of which even the Academic philosopher cannot challenge. Perhaps you are asleep, and do not know it, and you see things in your sleep. For who does not know that what people see in dreams is precisely like what they see when awake? But he who is certain of the knowledge of his own life, does not say, “I know I am awake”, but says instead “I know I am alive”. Therefore, whether he is asleep or awake, he is alive. Nor can he be deceived in that knowledge by dreams, since a living man must both sleep and see in sleep. Nor can the Academic again say, in denial of this knowledge, “Perhaps you are insane, and do not know it: for what the insane see is precisely like [i.e., as convincing as] what the sane see.” But he who is insane is alive. Nor does he answer the Academic by saying, “I know I am not insane,” but instead [he successfully answers the Academic by saying], “I know I am alive.” Therefore, he who says he knows he is alive, can neither be deceived nor lie. Let a thousand kinds, then, of deceitful objects of sight be presented to him who says, “I know I am alive”. Yet he will fear none of them, for he who is deceived yet is alive.


Similar Truths that are Certain

But if such things alone pertain to human knowledge, they are very few indeed, unless they can be so multiplied in each kind, as not only not to be few, but to reach in the result to infinity. For he who says, “I know I am alive”, says that he knows one single thing. Further, if he says, “I know that I know I am alive”, now there are two. But that he knows these two now has a third thing to know. So he can add a fourth and a fifth, and innumerable others, if he holds out. But he cannot either comprehend an innumerable number by additions of units, or say a thing innumerable times. Accordingly, he comprehends this at least, and with perfect certainty, namely, that this is both true and so innumerable that he cannot truly comprehend and say its infinite number.

            This same thing may be noticed also in the case of a will that is certain. For if anyone who would say, “I will to be happy” it would be inappropriate to respond “perhaps you are deceived.” If he would say, “I know that I will this, and I know that I know it,” he can add yet a third to these two, namely, that he knows these two. He adds a fourth, that he knows that he knows these two, and so on to infinity. Similarly, suppose someone were to say, “I will not to be mistaken.” Will this not be true, whether he is mistaken or whether he is not, that nevertheless he does will not to be mistaken? Would it not be most inappropriate to say to him, “Perhaps you are deceived” when beyond doubt, however he may be deceived he may be deceived, he is nevertheless not deceived in thinking that he wills not to be deceived. If he says he knows this, he adds any number he chooses of things known, and perceives that number to be infinite. For he who says, “I will not to be deceived”, and “I know that I will not to be so, and I know that I know it,” is able now to set forth an infinite number here also, however awkward may be the expression of it.


Knowledge from Sensation and Testimony

Other things can also be found that are capable of refuting the Academics, who contend that man can know nothing. But we must restrict ourselves, especially as this is not the subject we have undertaken in the present work. There are three books of ours on that subject [i.e., Against the Academics], written in the early time of our conversion. Those who can and will read them, and who also understands them, will doubtless be unmoved by the any of the many arguments which they [i.e. the Academics] have made against the discovery of truth.

            For there are two kinds of knowable things. The first is of those things which the mind perceives by the bodily senses, and the second of those which it perceives by itself. Of these, [Academic] philosophers have babbled much against the bodily senses, but have never been able to cast doubt upon those most certain perceptions of true things which the mind knows by itself, such as that mentioned above, namely, I know that I am alive. But far be it from us to doubt the truth of what we have learned by the bodily senses. For, by them we have learned to know the heaven and the earth, and those things in them which are known to us, so far as He who created both us and them has willed them to be within our knowledge. Far be it from us too to deny that we know what we have learned by the testimony of others. Otherwise we would not know that there is an ocean. We would not know that the lands and cities exist which numerous reports convey to us. We would not know that those men existed, along with their works, which we have learned by reading history. We would not know the news that is daily brought us from this quarter or that, and confirmed by consistent and conspiring evidence; lastly, we would not know at what place or from whom we have been born. For, in all of these things we have believed the testimony of others. If it is most absurd to say this, then we must admit, that not only our own senses, but those of other persons also, have added very much indeed to our knowledge.


True Words formed from Knowledge of True Things

22. All these things which the mind knows are laid up and retained in the storehouse of the memory, including those which it knows by itself, those which it knows by the bodily senses, and those which it has received and knows by the testimony of others. From these is produced a word that is true when we speak what we know. But it is a word that is before all sound, before all thought of a sound. For the word is then most similar to the thing known, from which also its image is produced, since the sight of thinking arises from the sight of knowledge. It is a word belonging to no specific tongue, but instead is a true word concerning a true thing, having nothing of its own, but entirely derived from that knowledge from which it is produced. Nor does it signify when he learned it, who speaks what he knows. For sometimes he says it immediately when learning it (provided only that the word is true, that is, it springs from things that are known).




Trinity in Human Nature, Indubitable Knowledge that I Am (City of God, 11:25-26)

As far as one can judge, it is for the same reason [i.e., indications of the Trinity in all of God’s works] that philosophers have aimed at a threefold division of science. More precisely, they were enabled to see that there was a threefold division, for they did not invent it, but only discovered it. Of this, one part is called physical, another logical, the third ethical. The Latin equivalents of these names are now naturalized in the writings of many authors, so that these divisions are called natural, rational, and moral, on which I have touched slightly in the eighth book. I would not conclude that these philosophers, in this threefold division, had any thought of a trinity in God, although Plato is said to have been the first to discover and disseminate this distribution. He saw that God alone could be the author of nature, the giver of intelligence, and the source of love by which life becomes good and blessed. Though philosophers disagree both regarding the nature of things, and the way of investigating truth, and of the good to which all our actions ought to tend, yet it is certain that in these three great general questions all their intellectual energy is spent.

            As I said, from these the philosophers have elaborated the threefold division of that science by which a blessed life is attained: the natural having respect to nature, the rational to education, the moral to practice. If, then, we were ourselves the authors of our nature, we would have generated knowledge in ourselves, and would not require to reach it by education (that is, by learning it from others). Our love, too, proceeding from ourselves and returning to us, would be sufficient to make our life blessed, and would stand in need of no extraneous enjoyment. But now, since our nature has God as its necessary author, it is certain that we must have Him for our teacher so that we may be wise. We must also have Him to give to us spiritual sweetness so that we may be blessed.

            We indeed recognize in ourselves the image of God, that is, of the supreme Trinity. It is an image that is not equal to God, or rather, and in fact very far removed from Him, being neither co-eternal, nor, to say all in a word, consubstantial with Him. Yet it is nearer to Him in nature than any other of His works, and is destined to be yet restored, that it may bear a still closer resemblance. For we both are, and know that we are, and delight in our being, and our knowledge of it.

            Moreover, in these three things no true-seeming illusion disturbs us. For we do not come into contact with these by some bodily sense, as we perceive the things outside of us. For example, we perceive colors by seeing, sounds by hearing, smells by smelling, tastes by tasting, hard and soft objects by touching. With all of these sensible objects, it is the images resembling them, but not themselves which we perceive in the mind and hold in the memory, and which excite us to desire the objects. But, without any delusive representation of images or phantasms, I am most certain that I am, and that I know and delight in this. In respect of these truths, I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, “What if you are deceived?” For if I am deceived, I am. For he who is not, cannot be deceived; and if I am deceived, by this same token I am. Since I am if I am deceived, how am I deceived in believing that I am? for it is certain that I am if I am deceived. Since, therefore, I, the person deceived, should be, even if I were deceived, certainly I am not deceived in this knowledge that I am. Consequently, neither am I deceived in knowing that I know. For, as I know that I am, so I know this also, that I know. [City of God, 11:26]


Indubitable Knowledge of Immediate Experience (Against the Academics, 3.26)

I do not know how the Academician can oppose someone who says I know that this appears white to me, I know that my hearing is delighted with this, I know that this has an agreeable odor, I know that this tastes sweet to me, I know that this feels cold to me. The skeptic might then ask, “If the leaves from an olive tree, which a goat greatly enjoys, are inherently bitter as you find them?” The goat is more reasonable than this quibbler. I do not know how goats find them, but to me they are bitter. But he continues, “There may be some person who does not find them bitter.” What audacity! I did not say that they are bitter to every man, but only that they are bitter to me now, and I do not even claim that they will be so for me in the future. “Perhaps at other times and situations something that you eat first tastes sweet, then later bitter?” I agree with this and hold that when someone tastes something, he can truly say that he knows that something tastes sweet or not sweet to his tongue. This knowledge cannot be undermined by sophistry. If I taste something that pleases me, it would be improper for him to say “You are in fact tasting nothing, because you are dreaming.” Still, I am pleased with the taste, and even if I am dreaming I would still be pleased by it. Thus, there is no [mistaken] resemblance to what is untrue that can demonstrate the falsehood of what I claim to know these things. There may be additional arguments by the Epicureans or Cyrenaics in support of the sense, which to my knowledge the Academics have not refuted. Regardless, they may do this if they can, and I might even assist them.


Lessons from Dialectics: Indubitable Knowledge of Logical Truths (Against the Academics 3.29)

Of all the parts of philosophy, I know the most about dialectics. Firstly, it had taught me that every proposition that I stated earlier was true. Dialectics has also taught me several other true things, which cannot easily be listed. If the world has only four elements, then it does not have five. If there is only one sun, then there are not two. An individual soul cannot be both mortal and immortal. A man cannot be both happy and unhappy at the same time. If the sun is now shining, it is not night. A man, at this moment, is either awake or asleep. Either there is a body that I seem to see or there is not a body. I have learned all of these through dialectics, and many others too that cannot be easily listed. Regardless of the condition that affects our senses, these are true of themselves. It is from dialects that I learned that if the antecedent of the conditional statement is true, then the consequent is also necessarily true. Regarding the contradictory and disjunctive statements that I mentioned, they are such that upon the removal of a part (comprising either a single or many things), another part thereby remains that is certain because of the removal of the first. I also learned from dialectics to avoid quarreling over terminology in situations where there is consensus about issues involving words, and those who engage in such quarrels should be educated. But we should disregard those who quarrel out of sheer meanness. For those who can be educated, we should encourage them to devote their efforts more important tasks. When such encouragement fails, such people may be left to their own fate.


ETERNAL TRUTHS (On the Trinity)


Knowledge concerns Virtuous Actions, Wisdom concerns Contemplation of Eternal Things (12.14)

21. Knowledge also has its own good regulation, if that in it which puffs up, or is inclined to puff up, is conquered by love of eternal things, which does not puff up, but, as we know, instructs. Certainly without knowledge the virtues themselves, by which one lives rightly, cannot be possessed, by which this miserable life may be so governed, that we may attain to that eternal life which is truly blessed.

22. Yet action, by which we use temporal things well, differs from contemplation of eternal things. Such contemplation involves wisdom, whereas actions involve knowledge. That which is wisdom can also be called knowledge, as the apostle too speaks, where he says, "Now I know in part, but then will I know even as also I am known." But undoubtedly he meant his words to be understood as of the knowledge of the contemplation of God, which will be the highest reward of the saints. Yet where he says, "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit," certainly he distinguishes these two things, although he does not there explain the difference, nor in what way one may be distinguished from the other. But having examined a great number of passages from the Holy Scriptures, I find it written in the Book of Job, where that holy man [Job himself] speaks, "Observe, piety is wisdom, but to depart from evil is knowledge." In thus distinguishing, it must be understood that wisdom belongs to contemplation, knowledge to action. For in this place he meant by piety the worship of God (which in Greek is called theosebeia). For the sentence in the Greek manuscript [i.e., the Septuagint] has that word. What is there in eternal things more excellent than God, of whom alone the nature is unchangeable? What is the worship of Him except the love of Him, by which we now desire to see Him, and we believe and hope that we will see Him; and in proportion as we make progress, see now through a glass in an enigma, but then in clearness? For this is what the Apostle Paul means by "face to face." This is also what John says, "Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we will be; but we know that, when He will appear, we will be like Him; for we will see Him as He is." Discourse about these and similar subjects seems to me to be the discourse itself of wisdom. But to reject evil, which Job says is knowledge, undoubtedly concerns temporal things. For, it is in reference to time [and this world] that we are subject to evil, from which we ought to abstain so that we may come to those good eternal things. Therefore, whatever we do prudently, boldly, temperately, and justly, belongs to that knowledge or discipline whereby our action is able to avoid evil and desire good. Further, whatever we gather by the knowledge that comes from inquiry, in the way of examples either to be guarded against or to be imitated, and in the way of necessary proofs respecting any subject, accommodated to our use.


We Fleetingly See Eternal Things are through the Mind’s Eye, then Remember them and Systematize them (12.14)

23. When a discussion then relates to these [worldly] things, I understand it to be a discussion about knowledge. This must be distinguished from a discussion about wisdom, to which those [eternal] things belong, which neither have been, nor will be, but are. Because of that eternity in which they are, they are said to have been, and to be, and are about to be, without any changeableness of times. For neither have they been in a way such that they can cease to be, nor are they about to be in a way such that they are not now. But they have always had, and always will have, that very absolute being. They exist, but not as if fixed in some place as is the case of [physical] bodies. Rather, they exist as intelligible things in incorporeal nature, and they are present to the glance of the mind, just as visible or tangible things in [physical] location are to the sense of the body. Just as in the case of sensible things posited in [physical] location, where there also exists intelligible and incorporeal reasons form them apart from local space; so too there are motions that pass by in successive times such that apart from any passage in time, there also exist similar reasons that are certainly intelligible and not sensible.

            To see these with the eye of the mind is the lot of few. When they are attained as much as they can be attained, he himself who attains them does not retain them, but is repelled, so to speak, by the retraction of the eye of the mind itself. Thus, he has a transitory thought of a thing that is not transitory. Yet this temporary thought is committed to the memory through the instructions by which the mind is taught. Thus, the mind that is compelled to pass from it may be able to return to it again. But if the thought should not return to the memory and find there what it had committed to it, the mind would nevertheless be led to it, just as an uninstructed person, who had been led before, and would find it where it had first found it. That is, [the mind would be led to] that incorporeal truth, from which yet once more it may be written down, so to speak, and fixed in the mind. For the thought of man, for example, does not so remain in that incorporeal and unchangeable reason of a [geometrically] square body, even though that reason itself remains (if, indeed, the mind could even attain to it at all without the phantasy of local [physical] space). Similarly, suppose that one were to capture the rhythm of any artificial or musical sound, as it passed through certain intervals of time. When it then rested without time in some secret and deep silence, it could at least be thought as long as that song could be heard. Yet what the glance of the mind (fleeting though it was) caught from it and absorbed into its belly, so to speak, it so stored in the memory. Through recollection, the mind will then be able to reflect upon it, to at least some extent, and then transfer what it has thus learned into systematic knowledge. But if this has been blotted out by absolute forgetfulness, yet once again, under the guidance of teaching, one will come to that which had altogether fell away, and it will be found just as it was.


Against Platonic and Pythagorean Recollection of Eternal Truths (12.15)

 24. Plato, that great philosopher, tried to persuade us that the souls of men lived even before they acquired these bodies. According to him, those things which are learned are actually remembered, as having been already known, and not acquired by knowledge as something new. For [in the Meno] he told us that a boy, when questioned about this or that regarding geometry, replied as if he was perfectly skilled in that branch of knowledge. Being questioned step by step and skillfully, he saw what was to be seen, and said that which he saw. But if this was a recollecting of things previously known, then certainly everyone, or almost everyone, would not have been able to answer in that manner when questioned. For not everyone was a geometrician in the former life, since geometricians are so few among men that scarcely one can be found anywhere. Rather we should instead believe that, by its nature, the intellectual mind is formed to see those things which (by the nature of the Creator) are connected to intelligible things in a natural order, by a sort of incorporeal light of a unique kind. It is just as the eye of the body sees things near itself in this bodily light, where the light is made to be receptive and adapted to it. Similarly, it is not the case that this bodily eye distinguishes black things from white without a teacher, presuming that it had already known them before it was created in this body.

            Finally, why is it possible only with intelligible things that anyone properly questioned should answer according to any branch of learning, although ignorant of it? Why can no one do this with sensible things, except those which he has seen in his present body, or has believed the information of others who knew them, whether somebody's writings or words? For we must not believe the story that Pythagoras of Samos recollected some things of this kind which he had experienced when he was previously here in another body. Others tell us about other people who have experienced something of the same sort in their minds. But it may be conjectured that these were untrue recollections, such as we commonly experience in sleep, when we imagine we remember, as though we had done or seen it, what we never did or saw at all. The minds of these persons, even though awake, were affected in this way at the suggestion of malignant and deceitful spirits, whose job it is to confirm or to sow some false belief concerning the changes of souls to deceive men. From this we may conjecture that, if they actually remembered those things which they had seen here before while occupying other bodies, the same thing would happen to many people, indeed to almost everyone. Since they suppose that as the dead from the living, so, without cessation and continually, the living are coming into existence from the dead; as sleepers from those that are awake, and those that are awake from them that sleep.




Divine Light gives Truth (Confessions, 4.15.25)

In the case of acts of violence, the emotion of the soul is depraved and it asserts itself arrogantly and rebelliously, from which violent impulses spring. In acts of passion, the affection of the soul is unrestrained, which gives rise to physical desires. In a similar way, if the rational soul itself is depraved, then false opinions will contaminate one’s life. This was the case with me when I was ignorant that my soul must be illuminated by another light so that it may partake of truth, considering that the soul itself is not that nature of truth. "You will light my lamp, the Lord my God will illuminate my darkness” (Psalms 18:28), and "of His fullness have all we received" John 1:16), for "the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world" (John 1:9) for in you there is "no change or shifting shadow" (James 1:17).


Plotinus on Divine Illumination (City of God, 10.2)

We have no dispute with these more admirable [Platonist] philosophers in this matter [of angels and immortal spirits that they call “gods”]. For, in various ways abundantly expressed in their writings, they perceived that these spirits have the same source of happiness as ourselves. This is a certain intelligible light, which is their God, and is different from themselves, and illumines them so that they may be penetrated with light, and enjoy perfect happiness in the participation of God. Plotinus, commenting on Plato, repeatedly and strongly asserts that not even the soul which they believe to be the [universal] soul of the world, derives its blessedness from any other source than we do, namely, from that Light which is distinct from it and created it, and by whose intelligible illumination it enjoys light in intelligible things. He also compares those spiritual things to the vast and visible heavenly bodies, as if God were the sun, and the soul the moon (for they suppose that the moon derives its light from the sun). That great Platonist, therefore, says that the rational soul, or rather the intellectual soul (in which class he includes the souls of the blessed immortals who inhabit heaven) has no nature superior to it except God, the Creator of the world and the soul itself. [It is from God] that these heavenly spirits derive their blessed life, and the light of truth in their blessed life. That the light of truth, the source for ourselves, agrees with the gospel where we read, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John, who came for a witness to bear witness of that Light, so that through Him all might believe. He was not that Light, but that he might bear witness of the Light. That was the true Light which lights every man that comes into the world." This is a distinction which sufficiently proves that the rational or intellectual soul such as John had cannot be its own light, but needs to receive illumination from another, the true Light. This John himself affirms when he delivers his witness: "We have all received of His fullness."


Spiritual Illumination compared with Material Illumination (City of God, 11.10)

The soul itself, too, though it is always wise (as it will be eternally when it is redeemed), will be so by participating in the unchangeable wisdom, which it is not; for though the air be never robbed of the light that is shed abroad in it, it is not on that account the same thing as the light. I do not mean that the soul is air, as has been supposed by some who could not conceive a spiritual nature. But, with much dissimilarity, the two things have a kind of likeness, which makes it suitable to say that the immaterial soul is illumined with the immaterial light of the simple wisdom of God, as the material air is irradiated with material light. Accordingly, as the air, when deprived of this light, grows dark, (for material darkness is nothing else than air wanting light) so too the soul, when deprived of the light of wisdom, grows dark.


Divine Illumination of Forms that Exist in God’s Mind (83 Questions, 46)

Where are we to believe that these reasons [by which God created things] exist, if not in the very mind of the Creator? Indeed he saw nothing outside of him that could serve him as a type for what he wanted. To make such a supposition would be sacrilegious. Suppose that these reasons of all things (created or yet to be created) are contained in the divine intelligence. Suppose also that there can be nothing in the divine intelligence that is not eternal and immutable. Suppose finally that it is these first reasons of things which Plato calls ideas. It thus follows that not only do ideas exist, but that they are true because they are eternal, permanent in their form, and immutable. It is by participation in them that everything exists, in whatever way it exists. Now, the rational soul prevails over all creatures, and it is close to God when it is pure. In the proportion in which it is united to Him by charity, it finds itself filled and illuminated by that intelligible light, by means of which it sees. It is not by the eyes of the body, but by that which is best in itself that it sees, namely, by its intelligence. When contemplating these reasons she enjoys great happiness. Moreover, as we have said, we call these reasons ideas, or forms, or species, or reasons. People may name it as they choose, but it is only very few who can see the truth.


Divinely Illumined Mind forms Good Habits (Against Fortunatus, 22)

You will see, that that habit is carried along as it has become accustomed to be. This is what wars against the soul, habit formed in the flesh. This is indeed the mind of the flesh, which, as long as it cannot be subject to the law of God, it remains the mind of the flesh. But when the soul has been illuminated it ceases to be the mind of the flesh. For thus it is said the mind of the flesh cannot be subject to the law of God, just as if it were said, that snow cannot be warm. For as long as it is snow, it can in no way be warm. But as the snow is melted by heat, it may become warm. Soo too with the mind of the flesh, that is,[evil] habit formed with the flesh. When our mind has become illuminated (that is, when God has subjected for Himself the whole man to the choice of the divine law) the mind makes a good habit, rather than an evil habit of the soul.


Intellectual Perception Regarding what is Illuminated and Not Illuminated (Concerning Two Souls, 5.6)

It now should be thought proper to designate as objects of sense perception not only all those things that we perceive by the senses, but also all those things that, though without perceiving by the senses, we judge by means of the body, such as darkness through the eyes, or silence through the ears. For not by seeing darkness and not by hearing silence do we know of their existence. Similarly, in the case of objects of intellectual perception, this includes not only those things that we see illuminated by the mind, such as wisdom itself, but also those things which by the illumination itself we avoid, such as foolishness, which I might fittingly designate mental darkness.


TIME (Confessions, c. 400 CE)


The Non-Existence of Time-past and Time-future (11:14)

At no time had you, God, not made anything, because time itself was made by you. No times are coeternal with you, because you remain unchanged, and if time did not change it would not be time. For what is time? Who can quickly and briefly explain this? Who can even in thought understand it so as to utter a word about it? But, when talking, what do we mention with more familiarity and knowledge than time? Further, we understand it when we speak of it, and we understand also when someone else speaks of it.

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I wish to explain it to someone that asks, I do not know. Yet I say boldly that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no time-past. If nothing were coming, there would be no time-future.

These two times then, past and future, how can they exist since the past is gone and the future is not yet here? But if the present stayed present, and never passed into time-past, then, truly, it would not be time, but eternity. Suppose that time present (if it is to be time) only comes into existence because it passes into time-past. How, then, can we say that it exists, since its existence is caused by the fact that it will not exist? We cannot truly say that time is, then, unless because it tends towards non-being.


Problems with Determining Past, Present and Future lengths of Time (11:14)

Yet we say, “a long time” and “a short time”, speaking only of time-past or time-future. A long time past. For example, we call a hundred years past “a long time past”, and a hundred years hence “a long time future”. But a short time past, we call, for example, ten days ago, and a short time future ten days hence. But in what sense is that long or short, if it does not exist? For the past, is not now, and the future is not yet here. Let us not then say of the past “it is long”, but instead that “it has been long”. Of the future, [let us say] “it will be long. “But, Lord, my light, does not your truth mock us here too? For if a past time was long, was it long when it became the past, or when it was still in the present? It can be long only when it existed and could be long. But when past, it was no longer exists; for this reason, neither could that be long, which did not exist. Let us not then say, “time past has been long” for we will not find what has been long. For, since it was past, it is no more. Let us say instead, that “that present time was long” since, when it was present, it was long. This is so since it had not yet passed away, so as to not exist. Therefore, there was what could be long, but after it was past, that ceased also to be long, which ceased to exit.

Let us see then, human soul, whether present time can be long since you have been given the ability to feel and measure lengths of time. What will you answer me? In the present, are a hundred years a long time? Examine first whether a hundred years can be present. If the first of these years is now current, then it is present; however, the other ninety-nine are future, and therefore do not yet exist. If, instead, the second year is current, the first is now past, another present, and the rest future. Thus, if we assume any middle year of this hundred to be present, all years before it are past, and all after it are future. For this reason, a hundred years cannot be present. But examine now whether that one year which is now current is itself in the present. For, if the current month is present, then the rest are in the future. If the second month is present, then the first is already past, and the rest do not yet exist. Therefore, neither is the year now current existing in present. If it is not present as a whole, then is not the year present. For a year is twelve months, and which ever month is current, it is in the present, and the rest are past or future. Still further, the current month also does not exist in the present, but one day only. The rest are in the future (if they are first), the past (if they are last), or if any in the middle, then between past and future.

See how the present time (which alone we found could be called “long”) is shortened to the length scarcely of one day! But let us examine this also, since neither is one day present as a whole. It is made up of twenty-four hours of night and day. The first sees the rest as the future, the last sees the previous as the past, and any in the middle has those before it past, those behind it future. Indeed, that one hour passes away in vanishing minutes. Whatever of it has vanished away is past, and whatever remains is the future. If we conceive of an instant of time which cannot be divided into the smallest particles of moments, then that alone is we may be called the present. Yet this flies with such speed from future to past, that it cannot be extended at all. For if it is extended, it is divided into past and future. Thus, the present takes up no space. Where, then, is the time which we may call long? Is it in the future? We do not say of it that “it is long”, since it is not yet here, so as to be long. But we say, “it will be long”. When, though, will that be? For if even it is in the future, it will not be long (because it does not yet exist and cannot thereby be long). Perhaps it will only be long when in the future (which is not yet here) it will come into being and become present that so there should exist what may be long; But the present time present cries out in the words above, that it cannot be long!


Problem with Measuring Time (11:16)

Yet, Lord, we indeed perceive intervals of time, and compare them, and say that some are shorter and others longer. We also measure how much longer or shorter this time is than that. We say, “This is double, triple, single, or only just the same as that”. But we measure times as they are passing by perceiving them. As for the past times (which now do not exist) or the future times (which do not yet exist), who is able to measure them? No one can, unless, perhaps, someone would presume to say that something can be measured which does not exist. Therefore, while time is passing, it may be observed and measured: but when it is once past, it cannot, because it does not exit.


But the Past and Future must Exist (11:17)

I am asking, Father, not affirming. God, teach me and guide me. We learned and taught each other when young that there are three times: past, present, and future. Who will tell me, then, that there is only the present because the other two do not exist? Or do they also exist by coming into the present from some secret in the future, or retiring from the present into some secret pace of the past? Where did the prophets see future events if these events do not yet exist? For that which does not exist cannot be seen. Similarly, those who relate past events could not do so without mentally discerning these events; and such discernment is not possible if the events themselves didn’t exist.


How time Past and Future are now Present (11:18)

Permit me, Lord, to seek further. My hope, do not let my purpose be defeated. For if the past and future do exist, I would know where they are. Even if I do not, I at least know that, wherever they are, they are not in the future or past, but in the present. For if they are there in the future, then they are not yet there, and if they are there in the past, then they are not there still. Wherever they are and whatever they are, they exist only as present. When past facts are related, they are drawn out of the memory – not the events themselves which are past, but the words. These words are conceived by the images of the passing events which, through the senses, left traces in the mind. Thus my childhood, which now does not exist, is in time-past, which now also does not exist. But now when I recall these images and speak of them, I view them in the present because they are still in my memory. I confess, God, that I do not know whether there is a similar cause of foretelling future events – of things which do not yet exist – whereby the images are perceived before the events exist. However, I do know that we generally reflect on our future actions, and that forethinking is present, even though the action in question does not yet exist because it is in the future. Once we set upon and begin to do what which we were forethinking, the action will exist because it is no longer future but present.

However this secret fore-perceiving of future events works, we can only see that which exists. What exists now is not the future, but the present. When the future is seen, we do not see the events themselves since these as yet do not exist. Instead, we see their causes or signs which already exist. Therefore they are not future but present to those who now see and foretell the future events as fore-conceived in the mind. Again, such fore-conceptions exist now, and those who foretell those things hold present conceptions. An illustration can be drawn from the wide variety of experience. I consider daybreak and predict that the sun is about to rise. What I consider is present; what I predict future – not the sun, which already exists, but the sun rising, which does not yet exist. Yet I certainly did imagine in my mind the sun itself rising (as now while I speak of it), otherwise I could not foretell it. But the day-break which I see in the sky is not the sun rising, although it precedes it. Neither is the day-break the image I have of it in my mind. The day break and image are both seen now present, the sun rise which is to come may be foretold. Future things, then, do not yet exist, and if they do not yet exist, then they do not exist. If they do not exist, then they cannot be seen, although they may be foretold from present things which exist not and can be seen.


How we should refer to the Past, Present, and Future (11:20)

            It is now plain and evident that neither future nor past things exist. Nor can we properly say, “there are three times: past, present, and future”. Instead, it we might properly say “there are three times: a present-of-things-past, a present-of-things-present, and a present-of-things-future.” For these three do exist in the mind in some way, but any other way I cannot see them. The present-of-things-past involves memory, the present-of-things-present involves perception, and the present-of-things-future involves expectation. If I am permitted to speak, I see and admit that there are three times. I also say that there are three times, past, present, and future, according to our misapplied custom. However, I will not object or find fault with this custom as long as it is understood neither the future or past exist. We speak properly of few things, and improperly of most things, although we understand what we mean.




Whether God is the Author of Any Evil (1.1)


God does not Do Evil, but Inflicts Evil as a Punishment on the Wicked

            Evodius. Please tell me whether God is not the author of evil?

            Augustine. I will tell you, if you will make clear what kind of evil you mean. For we are inclined to speak of evil in two senses: first, when we say that someone has done evil, and, second, when we say that he has suffered some evil.

            E. I want to know about both,

            A. But if you know or believe that God is good (and to think otherwise is impious) then He does no evil. Again, if we acknowledge God to be just (which it is blasphemy to deny since He rewards the good), so He assigns punishments to the wicked, and those punishments are certainly evil for those who suffer them. For this reason, if no one is punished unjustly (which we are bound to believe, since we believe the world is ruled by divine providence) then God is in no way the author of that first kind of evil. But He is the author of the second kind.

            E. Is there then another author of that evil of which God is not the author?

            A. Surely, for it could not be done but by some author. But if you ask who he may be, that cannot be said, for it is no one somebody. Rather, each wicked man is the author of his own deeds. If that is not clear, think of what we just said: evil deeds are avenged by God's justice. But they could not be avenged justly unless they were done willingly.


People do not Learn Evil, but Commit Evil by Departing from Learning

            E. I do not know whether one can sin, unless he has learned to sin. But if this be true, who, I ask, is he from whom we have learned it?

            A. Do you think that education is a good thing?

            E. Who would dare to say that education is bad?

            A. What if it is neither a good nor a bad thing?

            E. I think it is a good thing.

            A. Very well: so long at least as it imparts or arouses knowledge. Nor does one learn anything without being educated. Or do you not agree?

            E. I think that only good things are learned by education.

            A. But observe then, in that case we cannot learn evil things; for the very word education (disciplina) means learning (discendo).

            E. How then do men commit evil deeds, if they do not learn how?

            A. Perhaps it is because they turn away and are separated from education, that is, from learning. But whether it be this or something else, this much is surely obvious: since education is a good thing; and education (disciplina) gets its name from the act of learning (discendo), it is not at all possible to learn evil things. For if they are learned, they are contained in a discipline, and so the discipline will not be a good thing. But it is good, as you yourself admit. Therefore evil things are not learned, and we seek in vain for him from whom we learn to do ill; or if they are learned we learn to avoid them, not to do them. Thus to do evil can only be to depart from the way of learning.


There is No Teacher of Wickedness

            E. I am strongly of the opinion that there are two kinds of education: one by which we learn to do well, and another by which we learn to do ill. But while you were asking whether education was good, my mind was so taken up by love of the good, that I was looking only at the education for well-doing; so I said it was good. But now I am reminded that there is another, which I affirm to be evil beyond doubt; and it is of this that I would know the author.

            A. You think, at any rate, that understanding is only good?

            E. That, I think, is so obviously good that I cannot see what in man can be more excellent; and I would never say that any sort of understanding can be bad.

            A. How then, if one is taught, but does not understand; would you say that he had learned anything?

            E. By no means.

            A. If therefore all understanding is good, and he who understands nothing learns nothing, then everyone who learns does well. Whoever, therefore, seeks the author through whom we learn anything, seeks surely the author through whom we do well. So, stop trying to discover some wicked teacher or other; for if he is wicked he is not a teacher, and if he is a teacher he is not wicked.


Before Inquiring into the Origin of Evil, it Must be Asked What we Should Believe Concerning God (1.2)


Unless you Believe, you will not Understand

            E. Since you force me to acknowledge that we do not learn to do evil, continue now and tell me why we do it.

            A. You raise a question with which I wrestled mightily as a young man, and which drove me, wearied, into the company of [Manichean] heretics and threw me down. So hurt was I by that fall, and so smothered in a rubbish-heap of idle talk, that if my love of finding the truth had not won divine assistance for me, I would never have emerged to draw my first free breath of inquiry. Since I had to struggle hard to be rid of that problem, I will retrace with you the path by which I escaped. For God will be with us, and He will give us understanding of that which we believe. For we are well assured that we are keeping to the course prescribed by the Prophet who said: “Unless you believe, you will not understand" (Isaiah 7:9). Further, we believe that all things that are, are from the one God, [and yet that God is not the author of sins]. But the mind is troubled by this problem: If sins come from souls which God has created, and those souls are from God, why is it that sins are not to be indirectly thrown back upon God?


Importance of Believing in God’s Supremacy

            E. Now you have put clearly what I have been racking my brain to think through, and what drove and drew me to this questioning.

            A. Be courageous in heart, and believe what you believe. For nothing is more worth believing even if the reason is hidden from us. For in very truth, is the beginning of piety to hold that God is supreme. Nor does anyone hold Him supreme who does not believe Him almighty and least unchanging; creator also of all things good, whose excellence He himself transcends; most just ruler also of all that He has made, and made without help of any nature, as if, indeed, He were not self-sufficing. From this it follows that He made all things from nothing. From His own substance, however, He did not create; but caused that which to Him is equal, whom we call the only Son of God, but whom when we try to speak more clearly we call the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God; through whom He made all those things that are made from nothing. So much being settled, let us strive in this manner toward an understanding of the matter about which you ask.


The Nature of Evil is From Lust (1.3)


Adultery is not Wrong because it is Illegal

            A. You ask, to be sure, why we do evil. But first we must discuss what evil-doing is, so let me have your views on this point. Or, if you cannot state the whole matter in a few words, give me your view by listing some particular evil deeds.

            E. Adultery, and murder, and blasphemy; not to mention the others, which even could I remember them all would take too long to name. Who is there who would not deem these evil?

            A. Tell me then, first, why you think adultery is wrong. Is it wrong because the law forbids it?

            E. Surely no. It is not wrong because the law forbids it. Instead, it is forbidden because it is wrong.

            A. How if someone were to take issue with us, magnifying the delights of adultery, and wanting to know why we think it is evil and deserving of condemnation. Do you think that those who want not only to believe, but to understand, must fall back on the Law for a reason? For I too believe with you, and steadfastly, and proclaim it as worthy of belief by all peoples and races, that adultery is wrong. But we are now trying to hold in the secure grasp of understanding what we have received by faith. So give the matter your best thought, and tell me for what reason you know adultery to be wrong.


Adultery is not Wrong because it is Contrary to the Golden Rule

            E. I know it to be wrong because I would be unwilling to suffer it in my own wife. But whoever does to another what he would not want done to himself surely does wrong.

            A. What if someone finds a perverted pleasure in offering his wife to another, and willingly allows her to be debauched by him, desiring in turn to have the same freedom with the wife of the other man? Does such a wrong seem to you to do no wrong?

            E. No, he does all manner of wrong.

            A. But by your rule he does not offend, since he does nothing that he would be unwilling to have done to him. So you must look for something else to prove that adultery is wrong.

            E. It seems wrong to me because I have often seen men condemned for the crime.

            A. What, have you not often seen men condemned for doing right? Not to send you to other books, review your history; that very history which by its divine authority excels all other. See how badly we must think of the Apostles and all the Martyrs, if we are going to take condemnation as sure proof of guilt; since they were all adjudged worthy of condemnation on what they themselves confessed, If, therefore, whatever is condemned is wrong, it was at that time wrong to believe in Christ, and to confess the Christian faith; but if not everything that is condemned is bad, try to find some other reason for saying that adultery is wrong.

            E. I find nothing with which to answer you.


Evil is in the Intention, not just in the Action

            A. Is it not perhaps lust (libido) that is the evil thing in adultery, and that you are having difficulty because you are looking for evil in the act itself, which can be seen? For we can see that lust is the evil thing: if a man did not have the opportunity to lying with another's wife, but if it were none the less somehow evident that he wanted to, and would do so if given occasion, he is no less a criminal than if he were taken in the very act.

            E. Nothing is more altogether evident; and now I see that there is no need for a long discourse to convince me about murder and blasphemy, and any sins whatsoever. For it is now clear that it is the sinful desire, and nothing else, that holds first place in every kind of evil-doing.


Reason, by which Man is Superior to the Animals, Should Also have the Mastery in Man Himself (1.8)


A Properly Ordered Person is Master of his Emotions

            A. This is what I wish to say: it is this something--call it mind, or spirit, or more rightly both (for we find both in the sacred Scriptures) by which man is set above the animals. If this has mastery and rules all else in man, then is he man most perfectly ordered. For we see that we have many things in common not only with animals, but with trees and plants. We see in fact that it is given to trees also to take bodily nutriment, to grow, to reproduce, to become strong; and these belong to a very low kind of life. We know further that animals can see and hear, and perceive corporeal things by taste and smell and touch; and generally more acutely than we. Add to this strength, and power and endurance of limb, and speed and ease of bodily movement. In all of these we are superior to some and equal to others, but by some we are surpassed. Things like these we certainly share with the animals; for indeed to seek bodily pleasure and to escape harm are the whole business of an animal’s life. But there are certain other things which do not seem to be the lot of animals, which yet are not the highest things in man himself, such as jesting and laughing. These are indeed human, but are placed low among human attributes by those who judge human nature rightly. Then again the love of praise and glory, the striving for mastery: these, though the animals do not have them, are not desires by which we may be judged better than the animals. For these desires, when not subject to reason, make men unhappy; but no one would think himself better than another because of his own misery. Thus, a man is said to be well-ordered when reason is master of these emotions. For it cannot be called right order, or even order at all, when better things are subject to worse. Do you agree?

            E. It is obvious.

            A. When this reason therefore, or this mind, or spirit, is master of irrational emotions, then that has the mastery of the man to which mastery is due by that law which we found to be eternal.

            E. I follow and understand.


That Mind is Justly Punished, which of its Own Free Will is a Slave to Lust (1.11)


Only Free Choice can make the Mind Lustful

            A. For the present it is enough to know that whatever be that nature, that by right is superior to a mind strong in virtue, it can nowise be unjust; so that not even that, though it have the power, will compel the mind to serve lust.

            E. Surely there is no one who will not unhesitatingly acknowledge that.

            A. Since then whatever is equal or superior to a mind possessed of virtue, and in control, will not for justice sake make it the slave of lust, and since whatever is inferior cannot for weakness do so, as follows from what we have established. There remains only the conclusion that nothing can make the mind the companion of lust but its own will and free choice.

            E. I can see no other conclusion.


Vice its own Punishment

            A. I take it then that you think it just to pay penalties for so great a sin.

            E. I cannot dispute that.

            A. How should we view this [penalty]? Should we consider this a light punishment? Lust is master of the mind, and pulls the mind this way and that poor and helpless. It robs its wealth of virtue. It the accepts false things for true, and even defends them. Then it rejects what it accepted before, but still rushes into new error. Then it is fearful of all clear reasoning and withholds its assent. Then it gives up on all discovery of truth and cowers deep within the lurking places of folly. Then it struggles toward the light of understanding, and soon falls back in weariness. All the while there rages that tyrannical reign of lusts, and the whole soul of the man is tossed by changing and conflicting storms: here by fear, there by longing; here by anxiety, there by empty and pretended delight; here by torment of losing something dear, there by eagerness to get what it does not possess; here by the pains of injury received, there by the fires of vengeance. Turn where you will: avarice heaps up and extravagance wastes; ambition lures and pride puffs up; he is tortured by envy and buried in sloth, provoked by obstinacy and harassed by inferiority; and so with all the other countless things that crowd and busy themselves in that kingdom of the lusts. Can we then think that there is no punishment, which, as you see, all must suffer who do not cling to wisdom?


Summary [On Free Choice, 1.16]


All Evil Deeds involve Following Temporal things as if they were Great

            A. Very well. We have begun to see, I think, how strong eternal law is, and we have found to what extent the temporal law can go in punishing. We have distinguished pretty well the two kinds of things, the eternal and the temporal, and also the two kinds of men, the one who loves and follows eternal things, and the other the temporal. We have seen that what each man chooses to follow and embrace is fixed in the will, and that only by the will can the mind be unseated from its entitled position and its stronghold taken. It is also clear that things themselves are not to blame when someone makes bad use of them, but only he who so uses them. So now let us return, if you will, to the question raised at the beginning of this discussion, and see whether it is solved. We began by asking what it is to do evil, and from this question has come all that we have said. Accordingly, we may now turn our attention to it, and consider whether to do evil is anything other than to neglect eternal things that are perceived and enjoyed by the mind itself, and which while it loves them it cannot lose, and to follow instead those temporal things that are perceived through the senses of man's baser part (i.e., the body), as if they were great and wonderful. For in this one kind I think all evil deeds, that is all sins, are included. But I would like to hear what you think.


Disordered Minds are Slaves to Temporal Things

            E. It is as you say, and I agree: all sins are contained in this one kind, when one is turned away from things that are divine and truly enduring, and turned instead to things that are changing and unsure. For though these latter are rightly placed in their own order, and display a certain beauty of their own, it is none the less a mark of a perverted and disordered mind to be a slave to their pursuit. For the mind is by divine right and ordinance set above them to bend them to its will. I see that we have at the same time solved that other problem (i.e., why we do wrong), which we undertook in consequence of the first (i.e., what wrong-doing is). For, if I am not mistaken, our systematic discussion has shown that we do it by the free choice of our will. But I would ask whether that free choice itself, by which we are shown to have the power to sin, should have been given to us by Him who made us. For lacking it would seem that we would not be liable to sin; thus, it is to be feared that God may thus be judged to be the author also of our evil deeds.


Proof for God from Eternal Truths (2.14-15)


There exist Unchanging Truths Higher

Even if this sweetness of seeing light and hearing voices were always present to me, it would be no great thing, considering that it would be common to me and to the animals. But the beauty of truth and wisdom, so long as there is a persistent will to enjoy it, does not exclude any spectators because of crowded mass of listeners, nor does it pass through time, nor move to different places, nor is it interrupted by night or blocked by shadows, nor is it subject to the senses of the body. To those who from the whole world have turned to it for their delight, it is very near to everyone, and to everyone eternal. It is in no specific place, it is never away. It reprimands openly but it teaches inwardly. It changes all who see it for the better, but changes none for the worse. No one judges it, but without it no one judges well. From this it is clear beyond all doubt that it is superior to our minds, which are each made wise by it. You may not judge it, but through it you may judge everything else.


These Truths are Higher than Anything Else outside our Minds, and are God

Now, you conceded, that if I would show you something higher than our minds, you would confess that it is God, if there were nothing yet higher. Accepting this concession of yours I said that it would be enough if I should prove this. For if there is something still more excellent than truth, that instead is God. But if not, then truth itself is God. Whether therefore there is this more excellent thing, or whether there is not, you cannot deny that God exists, which was the question set for our discussion and examination.


God's Foreknowledge does not Exclude our Freedom from Sinning (3.2)


Possible Conflict between God’s Foreknowledge and Human Choice to Sin

            A. It is this, to be sure, that troubles you, and that you cannot understand why these two things are not conflicting and opposed: that God has foreknowledge of all things to come, and that we sin, not by necessity, but by our own will. For, you say, if God foreknows that a man is going to sin, it is necessary that he should sin; but if it is necessary, there is then no choice of the will in sinning, but rather an inevitable and fixed necessity. By this reasoning, indeed, you are afraid that it might follow either that (1) God's foreknowledge of all things to come is impiously denied; or (2) if we deny this, that we admit that man sins not by choice, but by necessity. Is there anything else that troubles you?

            E. Nothing else at the moment. . . .


God Foreknows our Wills, and our Wills are within our own Power

            A. Tell me, please, are not you His creature, and will not your happiness be made in you?

            E. I am indeed His creature, and in me will it happen that I will be happy.

            A. Therefore your happiness will come to pass in you not by will, but by necessity, God doing it.

            E. His will is my necessity.

            A. So, then, you will be happy against your will?

            E. If I had the power to be happy I would surely be so. For even now I wish to be, and am not; because it is not I, but He that makes me happy.

            A. Most excellently does the truth cry out from you. For you cannot perceive anything else to be in our power, except that which we do when we will. Thus, nothing is so completely in our power as the will itself. For it is present with absolutely no interval, as soon as we will. Therefore we can say rightly that we grow old not by will, but by necessity; or that we die not by will, but by necessity; and anything else like that. But who but a crazy man would say that we do not will by will?

            For this reason, although God foreknows our wills to be, it does not thereby follow that we do not will a thing by our will. You said about happiness that you could not become happy through yourself, and said it as if I would deny it. But I say, when you are going to be happy you are not going to be happy against your will, but wanting to be happy. When, therefore, God foreknows your future happiness, it cannot come to pass otherwise than as He has foreknown it, else there is no foreknowledge; nevertheless we are not obliged to think what is most absurd and far removed from the truth, that you are going to be happy when you do not want to. Further, just as God's foreknowledge, which today is certain of your future happiness, does not take away your will for happiness when you begin to be happy; so also a culpable will, if you are going to have one, will be nonetheless your own will because God foreknows that it is to be so. . . .

            Further, because it is in our power, it is free to us. For that is not free to us that we have not, or cannot have, in our power. So, it comes about both that we do not deny that God foreknows all that is to be, and nevertheless we may will what we will. For when He foreknows our will, it will be that very will that He foreknows. It will therefore be a will, because His foreknowledge is of a will. Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. Therefore He also foreknows the power. Therefore that power is not taken from me by His foreknowledge; rather, because of it, it will be more surely present to me, since He whose foreknowledge never errs has foreknown that it will be present to me.

            E. Observe now that I no longer deny that whatever God foreknows must come to pass, and [I assert instead] that He so foreknows our sins and at the same time there yet remains to us a will that is free, and placed in our power.


A Foreknowing God does not Compel Men to Sin, and Therefore Punishes Sins Justly (3.4)


Possible Conflict between God’s Foreknowledge and Free Choice

            A. What is it then that troubles you? Have you forgotten what we established in our first discussion? Will you deny that we do not sin by the compulsion of anyone (higher, or lower, or equal) but by our own will?

            E. Certainly, I do not dare to deny any of these things. But I confess that I still do not see why these two things--God' s foreknowledge of our sins, and our free choice in sinning--are not opposed to one another. For we must acknowledge that God is just, and also foreknowing. But I would like to know what sort of justice that is, which punishes sins that have to be committed; or how is it that they do not have to be, when He foreknows that they will he; or why anything that is necessarily done in his creation is not to be attributed to the Creator.


My Foreknowledge would not Necessitate your Action, and Neither would God’s Foreknowledge

            A. Why then do you think that our free choice is opposed to God's foreknowledge? Is it because it is foreknowledge, or because it is God's foreknowledge?

            E. Rather because it is God's.

            A. Well, if you foreknew that someone was going to sin, would it not be necessary that he will sin?

            E. Surely it would be necessary that he should sin, for it would not be foreknowledge, if I did not foreknow a certainty.

            A. Therefore, it is necessary that what God foreknows must happen, not because it is God's foreknowledge, but simply because it is foreknowledge. For if what He foreknew were not certain, it would be no foreknowledge.

            E. I agree: but why are you making these points?

            A. Because, if I am not mistaken, you would not necessarily compel a man to sin who you foreknew was going to sin; although without doubt he will sin, for otherwise you would not foreknow that it will be so. Thus, just as these two are not opposed, that you know by your foreknowledge what another is going to do of his own will, so too God, while compelling no one to sin, nevertheless foresees those who will sin of their own volition.


God’s Justice, not his Foreknowledge, Compels him to Punish Freely Willed Sins

            A. Why then may He not with justice punish those things, which foreknowing He does not compel? For just as you do not by your memory compel past things to have been done, in like manner God does not by His foreknowledge compel the doing of things that are to be. Just as you remember certain things that you have done, and yet do not remember all that you have done; so God foreknows all things of which He is the author, but is nevertheless not the author of all He foreknows. But of the things of which He is not the evil author, He is the just avenger. Understand from this, therefore, that God punishes sins justly, because He does not do those things which He foreknows are to be. For if He should not visit sinners with punishment because He foreknows that they will sin, neither should He visit well-doers with rewards, because He foresees equally that they will do right.

            Rather indeed we should confess, that it is proper to His foreknowledge that nothing that is to be is hidden from Him, and [that it is proper] to His justice that sins, because they are committed by free will, should not go unpunished by His judgment, just as they are not compelled to be done by His foreknowledge.


The Misery of the Souls of Sinners Contributes to the Perfection of the Universe (3.9)


Criticisms of the Universe imply the Desire to Add to or Diminish something in It

            A. Suppose he says the following: It would not have been difficult or troublesome for almighty God so to make all things in a way that each should have its own order, and so that no creature would be unhappy. For being almighty, He would not lack the power, and being good He would not grudge it. To this I answer that the order of creatures so descends by just degrees from the highest to the lowest. He, then, is merely spiteful when saying "This should not have been," and he who says, “This should have been so and so” is also spiteful. For if he wishes it to be something higher, [such higher things] already exists, and in such measure that it should not be added to, for it is perfect. He therefore who says, "This should be so and so" either wishes to add to a higher that is perfect (and thus will be intemperate and unjust), or he wishes to do away with it (and thus will be wicked and ill-willed”. But he who says: “This should not exist”, will be no less wicked and ill-willed, since he is not willing that it should be, while he is yet constrained to praise that which is inferior to it.

            It is as if he would say there should be no moon; while he must either acknowledge (or foolishly and contentiously deny), that even the light of a lamp, though far inferior in brightness, is yet beautiful in its own kind in the darkness of earth, and seemly and useful for the uses of night, and in all these uses thoroughly praiseworthy in its small way. How therefore can he rightly attempt to say "There should be no moon in the universe" when he knows that if he said "There should be no lamp" he would be laughed at. But suppose that he does not say there should be no moon, but, rather, when seeing the sun says that the moon should be like the sun. In this case, he does not realize that what he is saying is: "There should be no moon, but there should be two suns". By saying this he commits two errors: he desires to add to the perfection of things by wanting another sun, and he desires to diminish it by taking away the moon.


Greater Objects depend upon the Lesser Objects

In contemplating the differences of [celestial] bodies, and seeing that some are brighter, you would be unjust if you would seek to take away those that you see to be dimmer, or to make them equal to the brighter. For referring all things to the perfection of the universe, you see that their existence depends upon the degree that they are brighter or dimmer among themselves. Nor would the world seem perfect to you unless the greater things were results in the lesser ones by comparison. In like manner, you may think of the differences of souls. You will find here that their unhappiness (about which you lament) very much serves the same purpose in that they have the power to complete the universe, even though they have become unhappy because they have willed to sin. Not only is it wrong to say that God should not have made such, on the contrary, He is praised for making even creatures far inferior to unhappy souls.


Against the Complaints about the Suffering and Death of little Children (3.23)


Nothing in the Universe is Superfluous

            A. To this argument a certain disparaging objection is often made by ignorant people, regarding the death of infants, and some of the bodily sufferings with which we often see them afflicted. For they say: What need was there that he should be born, who before he could enter upon any merit of life has departed from life? Or what will be the future judgment regarding him for whom there is no place among the Just, for he has done nothing rightly; nor among the wicked, for he has never sinned?

            To such it is answered: In the breadth of the universe and in the ordered connection of all creation throughout space and time, no man whatsoever can be created superfluously, where no leaf on a tree is created superfluously. But it is surely superfluous to inquire concerning the deserts of him who has deserved nothing. For it is not to be feared that there could be a life which is a mean between righteousness and sin, and no sentence of the judge intermediate between reward and punishment. . . .


Suffering of Children Tests and Improves the Parents

            Consider further the bodily sufferings which afflict small children, who have done no sin by reason of their age (unless the souls which animate them have sinned before they began to be human). A great lament, and as it were a tenderhearted one, is set up when it is said: "What evil have they done that they should suffer these things?" As if there could be merit of innocence before one could harm anything. But since God works some good in correcting the parents, when they are afflicted by the sufferings and deaths of the little ones who are dear to them, why should not these things be done, when after they have passed they will be as if they had never happened in those in whom they were done? Those for whose sake they were done will either be better, if chastened by temporal trials they elect to live more uprightly; or they will have no excuse in the punishment of the final judgment, if with the distress of this life they will be unwilling to turn their desire toward the life eternal. Who knows further how far faith is exercised or mercy is tested by these little ones, by whose suffering the hardness of the parents is broken. Who then knows what good compensation God may reserve, in the secrecy of His judgments, for these same little ones, who although they have done nothing rightly, have nevertheless suffered these things when they have done no sin? For it is not without reason that the Church entrusts to us those children who were slain by Herod, when he sought out our Lord Jesus Christ to slay Him, and who are received into the honor of Martyrs.


LOVE OF GOD AS OUR PRIMARY GOOD (Morals of the Church)


Happiness is the Enjoyment of Our Primary Human Good

4. How, rationally speaking, should people live? Certainly, we all desire to live happily, and everyone agrees with this statement almost before it is made. But, in my opinion, the term “happy” cannot belong either to the person who lacks what he loves (whatever it may be), or to the person who has what he loves if it is harmful, or to a person who does not love what he has even though it is perfectly good. For a person who seeks what he cannot obtain experiences torture, and a person who has what is undesirable is cheated, and a person who fails to seek for what is worth seeking for is diseased. Now in all these cases the person will certainly be unhappy, and happiness and unhappiness cannot reside in one person at the same time. So in none of these cases can the person be happy. But I find a fourth situation where the happy life exists: when a person both loves and possesses that which is our primary human good. For what do we call enjoyment but having at hand the objects of love? And no one can be happy who does not enjoy what is our primary good, nor is there anyone who enjoys this who is not happy. We must then have our primary good within reach if we think of living happily.

            5. We must now inquire into what is our primary human good, which of course cannot be anything inferior to human nature itself. For whoever follows what is inferior to himself, becomes himself inferior. But every person is bound to follow what is best. For that reason, our primary human good is not inferior to human beings. Is it then something similar to human nature itself? It must be so, if there is nothing above humans that we can enjoy. But if we find something which is both superior to human beings, and can be possessed by the person who loves it, who can doubt that in seeking for happiness we should try to reach that which is more excellent than the being who makes the effort. For if happiness consists in the enjoyment of a good than which there is nothing better, which we call the primary good, how can a person be properly called “happy” who has not yet attained his primary good? Or how can that be the primary good beyond which something better remains for us to arrive at? Insofar as it is the primary good, it must be something that cannot be lost against the will. For no one can feel confident regarding a good which he knows can be taken from him, although he wishes to keep and cherish it. But if a person feels no confidence regarding the good which he enjoys, how can he be happy while in such fear of losing it?


Human Beings as Body and Soul

6. Let us then see what is better than human nature. This will certainly be hard to discover, unless we first examine what human beings are. I do not now need to give a definition of “human being.” It seems to me that the question here is that we are made up of soul and body. Almost everyone agrees with this—or at least, which is enough, the group I have now to do with [that is, the Manichean religious believers] agree with my opinion. What, then, is a human being? Is it both of these, or is it just the body or just the soul? While the soul and body are two things, neither of these could be called “human” without the other. For, the body would not be human without the soul, nor similarly would the soul be human if there were not a body animated by it. Still it is possible that one of these may be considered “human nature” and may be called such. What then do we call human beings? Are we soul and body, like a double harness or a centaur? Perhaps we mean the body only, as being in the service of the soul which rules it. For example, it might be like how the word “lamp” refers only to the container (and not to both the light and the container) even though it is because of the light that the lamp gets its name. Perhaps instead we mean the mind only insofar as the mind rules the body. For example, it might be like how the term “horseperson” refers only to the person who rules the horse, and not to the person and the horse together. This dispute is not easy to settle, or, if the proof is plain, presenting it requires time. But this is an expenditure of effort and time that we need not take on. For whether the term “human being” refers to both, or only to the soul, our primary human good is not the main good of the body. Instead, our primary human good is the main good of either the soul and body combined, or the soul by itself.


Our Primary Good is not the Body or Soul, but what Perfects the Soul

7. Now if we ask, “What is the primary good of the body?” reason requires us to admit that it is that by means of which the body comes to be in its best state. But of all the things which invigorate the body, there is nothing better or greater than the soul. The primary good of the body, then, is not bodily pleasure, not absence of pain, not strength, not beauty, not swiftness, or whatever else is usually considered among the goods of the body, but simply the soul. For, by its presence, the soul supplies all the things mentioned to the body, which is above them all, life. Hence I conclude that the soul is not the primary human good, whether we give the name of man to soul and body together, or to the soul alone. For, rationally speaking, the primary good of the body is that which is better than the body, and from which the body receives strength and life. So whether the soul itself is human nature, or soul and body both, we must discover whether there is anything which goes before the soul itself (whereby in following that thing the soul comes to the perfection of good of which it is capable in its own manner). If such a thing can be found, all uncertainty must be at an end, and we must pronounce this to be really and truly the primary human good.

            8. If, again, the body is human nature, it must be admitted that the soul is the primary human good. But clearly, when we deal with morals (the inquiry into what kind of life we must follow in order to obtain happiness) it is not the body to which moral precepts are addressed. It is not bodily discipline that we discuss. In short, the observance of good guidelines belongs to that part of us that inquires and learns, which is the domain of the soul. So, when we speak of attaining virtue, the question does not regard the body. It thus follows that the body (which is ruled over by a soul possessed of virtue) is ruled both better and more honorably, and is in its greatest perfection because of the perfection of the soul which rightfully governs it. Accordingly, that which gives perfection to the soul will be our primary human good, even though we call the body “human.” Suppose that my coachman, obeying my wishes, feeds and drives the horses he has charge of in the most satisfactory manner; he himself will receive more reward from me in proportion to his good conduct. Can anyone then deny that the good condition of the horses, as well as that of the coachman, is due to me? So the question seems to me to be not whether human beings are soul and body together, or the soul only, or the body only. Instead, it is a question of what gives perfection to the soul. For when this is obtained, a person cannot but be perfect, or at least will be much better than when lacking this one thing. . . .


God is the Primary Good, Whom We must Love Supremely

13. Let us see how the Lord himself in the gospel has taught us to live, and so too Paul the apostle (for the Manicheans would not dare reject these scriptures). Let us hear, Christ, what primary end you establish for us, and that is evidently the primary end after which we are told to strive with supreme love. He says, “You will love the Lord your God.” Tell me also, I pray to you, what must be the amount of love? For I fear that the desire burning in my heart might either exceed or fall short in commitment. “With all your heart” he says. Nor is that enough: “With all your soul.” Nor is it enough yet: “With all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). What do you wish more? I might, perhaps, wish more if I could see the possibility of more. What does Paul say on this? He says, “We know that all things result in good to them that love God.” Let him, too, say what is the amount of love. He says, “Who then, will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” (Romans 8:28, 35). We have heard, then, what and how much we must love. This is what we must strive after, and to this we must submit all our plans. The perfection of all our good things and our perfect good is God. We must neither come short of this nor go beyond it: the one is dangerous, the other impossible.




Christians need to Know that God is Creator, but not Theories of Natural Philosophy

9. When the question is asked what we are to believe in regard to religion, it is not necessary to probe into the nature of things, as was done by those whom the Greeks call physici. Nor need we be alarmed that the Christian might be ignorant of the force and number of the elements; the motion, and order, and eclipses of the heavenly bodies; the form of the heavens; the species and the natures of animals, plants, stones, steams, rivers, mountains; about chronology and distances; the signs of coming storms; and a thousand other things which those philosophers either have found out, or think they have found out. For even these men themselves, endowed though they are with so much genius, burning with zeal, abounding in leisure, tracking some things by the aid of human conjecture, searching into others with the aids of history and experience, have not discovered everything. Even their boasted discoveries are oftener mere guesses than certain knowledge. It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity, that is, the Father, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.


The Supremely Good Creator Made All Things Good

10. The Trinity (which is supremely and equally and unchangeably good) created all things. The creations are not supremely and equally and unchangeably good, but yet they are good, even taken separately. Taken as a whole, however, they are very good, because their ensemble constitutes the universe in all its wonderful order and beauty.


What is Called Evil in the Universe is Just the Absence of Good

11. In the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God (who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things) being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, unless He were not so omnipotent and good that He could bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health. For when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present (namely, the diseases and wounds) go away from the body and dwell elsewhere. Instead, they completely cease to exist. The wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance. For, the flesh itself is a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils are accidental properties, insofar as the evils are privations of the good that we call health. In the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. When they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere. When they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.


All Beings Were Made Good, But Not Being Made Perfectly Good, are Liable to Corruption

12. All things that exist, therefore, considering that the Creator of them all is supremely good, are themselves good. But because they are not, like their Creator, supremely and unchangeably good, their good may be diminished and increased. But for good to be diminished is an evil, although, however much it may be diminished, it is necessary, if the being is to continue, that some good should remain to constitute the being. For however small or of whatever kind the being may be, the good which makes it a being cannot be destroyed without destroying the being itself. An uncorrupted nature is justly held in esteem. But if, still further, it be incorruptible, it is undoubtedly considered of still higher value. When it is corrupted, however, its corruption is an evil, because it is deprived of some sort of good. For if it is deprived of no good, it receives no injury; but it does receive injury, therefore it is deprived of good. Therefore, so long as a being is in process of corruption, there is in it some good of which it is being deprived. If a part of the being should remain which cannot be corrupted, this will certainly be an incorruptible being, and accordingly the process of corruption will result in the manifestation of this great good. But if it does not cease to be corrupted, neither can it cease to possess good of which corruption may deprive it. But if a being should be thoroughly and completely consumed by corruption, there will then be no good left, because there will be no being. For this reason, corruption can consume the good only by consuming the being. Every being, therefore, is a good: it is a great good if it cannot be corrupted, and it is a little good if it can. But in any case, only the foolish or ignorant will deny that it is a good. If it is completely consumed by corruption, then the corruption itself must cease to exist, as there is no being left in which it can dwell.


There can be No Evil Where There is No Good, an Evil Man is an Evil Good.

13. Accordingly, if there is nothing good, then there is nothing of what we call evil. But a good which is entirely without evil is a perfect good. On the other hand, a good that contains evil is a faulty or imperfect good, and there can be no evil where there is no good. From all this we arrive at the unique result: that since every being, so far as it is a being, is good, when we say that a faulty being is an evil being, we just seem to say that what is good is evil, and that nothing but what is good can be evil, seeing that every being is good, and that no evil can exist except in a being. Nothing, then, can be evil except something which is good. Although this, when stated, seems to be a contradiction, yet the strictness of reasoning leaves us no escape from the conclusion. We must, however, beware of inviting the prophetic condemnation: "Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Yet our Lord says: "An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil." Now, what is evil man but an evil being? For a man is a being. Now, if a man is a good thing because he is a being, what is an evil man but an evil good? Yet, when we accurately distinguish these two things, we find that it is not because he is a man that he is an evil, or because he is wicked that he is a good. Rather, he is a good because he is a man, and an evil because he is wicked. Whoever, then, says, "To be a man is an evil," or, "To be wicked is a good," falls under the prophetic denunciation: "Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil!" For he condemns the work of God, which is the man, and praises the defect of man, which is the wickedness. Therefore every being, even if it is a defective one, in so far as it is a being is good, and in so far as it is defective is evil.




The City of God exists Here on Earth and in Eternity (preface)

The glorious city of God is my theme in this work, which you, my dearest son Marcellinus, suggested to me, and which I promised to give you. I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city. It is a most glorious city, whether we view it in this fleeting course of time where it lives by faith and travels like a stranger among the ungodly, or whether we view it as it will exist in the fixed stability of its eternal home. It patiently awaits this when "Judgment will again be founded on justice," and, through its excellence, obtain final victory and perfect peace.


Differences between the Two Cities (14.1)

We have already stated in the preceding books that God desired that the human race might be able by their similarity of nature to associate with each other. He also desired that they might be bound together in harmony and peace by the ties of relationship. Accordingly, he happily created all people from one individual, and gave humans such a nature that the members of the race should not have died, had not the two first (of whom the one was created out of nothing, and the other out of him) deserved this by their disobedience. For they committed such a great sin that human nature was altered by it for the worse, and this was passed on to their offspring, namely, the capacity to sin and to die. The kingdom of death reigned so much over people that the deserved penalty of sin would have hurled all headlong even into a second and eternal death, if it had not been for the undeserved grace of God which saved some people from it. It has come about that there are very many and great nations all over the earth, whose rituals, customs, speech, and dress, are distinguished by clear differences. Nevertheless, there are no more than two kinds of human societies, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures. The one consists of those who wish to live after the body, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit. When they respectively achieve what they wish, they live in peace, each after their kind.


Two Cities formed by Two Loves (14.28)

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self (even to the point of contempt for God); the heavenly by the love of God (even to the point of contempt for self). The former, in a word, praises itself, the latter the Lord. The one seeks praise from men, but the other seeks the greatest praise which is from God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to God, "You are my glory, and the lifter up of my head." In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve each other in love, the latter obeying, while the former show consideration for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, "I will love You, Lord, my strength." Therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both. Those of them who had once known God "did not glorify him as God; they were unthankful, became proud in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened as they professed themselves to be wise." That is, praising their own wisdom, and being possessed with pride—"they became fools, and exchanged the praise of the immortal God for images made like mortal man, birds, animals, and reptiles." For they were either leaders or followers of the people in worshiping images, "and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:21-25). But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers proper worship of the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, "that God may be all in all."


Earthly City founded on Disorderd Love (15:22)

Beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved with proper order; evilly, when disordered. It is this which someone has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: "These are Yours, they are good, because You are good who did create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of You love that which you have made." But if the Creator is truly loved (that is, if he himself is loved and not another thing in his stead), he cannot be evilly loved. For love itself is to be properly ordered loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love. For this reason, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, "Order love within me." It was the order of this love, then, this charity or attachment, which the sons of God disturbed when they abandoned God, and were enamored by the daughters of men. By these two names the two cities are sufficiently distinguished.


Peace and Discord between the Two Cities (19.17)

But the families which do not live by faith seek their peace in the earthly advantages of this life. By contrast, the families that live by faith look for those eternal blessings which are promised. As travelers, they do not use those advantages of time and place that preoccupy them or divert them from God. Rather, they use those that aid them to endure with greater ease, and to keep down the number of those burdens of the mortal body that weigh upon the soul. Thus the things necessary for this mortal life are used by both kinds of men and families alike, but each has its own unique and widely different aim in using them. The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace. The end it proposes, in the well-ordered harmony of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men's wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which travels on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it will pass away. Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, (though it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as the earnest of it) it makes no scruple to obey the laws of the earthly city, whereby the things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life are administered. Thus, as this life is common to both cities, so there is a harmony between them in regard to what belongs to it.

            But, the earthly city has had some [polytheistic] philosophers whose doctrine is condemned by divine teaching. They are deceived either by their own conjectures or by demons. . . . The heavenly city, on the other hand, knew that one God only was to be worshipped, and that to him alone was due that service which the Greeks call adoration (latreia λατρεία), and which can be given only to a god. Consequently, the two cities could not have common laws of religion. The heavenly city has been compelled to dissent in this matter, and to become hated by those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecutions. The minds of some of their enemies, though, have been alarmed by the multitude of the Christians, and suppressed by the evident protection of God given to them. This heavenly city, then, while it travels on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of travelers of all languages. They do not scruple about differences in the customs, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained. Rather, they recognize that, however different these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from revoking and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.

            Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of travel, takes advantage of the peace of earth. So far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, it desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessities of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven. For this alone can be truly called and properly judged to be the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of each other in God. When we will have reached that peace, this mortal life will give place to one that is eternal, and our body will be no more this animal body which by its corruption weighs down the soul. Instead, it will be a spiritual body feeling no wants, and in all its members subjected to the will. In its travelling state, the heavenly city possesses this peace by faith. By this faith it lives righteously when it looks towards the attainment of that peace for every good action towards God and man. For the life of the city is a social life.


Questions for Review

            1. According to Augustine’s discussion of Greek philosophers in The City of God (8) what are the main features of Plato’s philosophy that make it similar to Christianity?

            2. According to Augustine’s discussion of Greek philosophers in The City of God (8) what is wrong with the materialist philosophers?

            3. According to Augustine’s discussion of skepticism in On the Trinity (15.12), why are we certain that we are alive, and what are some similar truths that we also know beyond doubt?

            4. According to Augustine’s discussion of skepticism in On the Trinity (15.12), what are some truths of sensation and testimony that would be absurd to deny?

            5. According to Augustine’s discussion of skepticism in Against the Academics, what are some truths of immediate experience and dialectics that we can know beyond doubt?

            6. According to Augustine’s discussion of eternal truths in On the Trinity (12:14), how do we acquire knowledge of eternal truths?

            7. According to Augustine’s discussion of eternal truths in On the Trinity (12:15), what is wrong with Plato’s theory of recollection of eternal truths?

            8. According to Augustine, what are the main features of divine illumination?

            9. According to Augustine’s discussion of time in Confessions (11), what is the problem with determining past, present and future lengths of time?

            10. According to Augustine’s discussion of time in Confessions (11), how should we refer to the past, present, and future?

            11. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, in what way is God the author of evil?

            12. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, why does the golden rule fail to show that adultery is wrong?

            13. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, what is involved with properly ordered desires and disordered desires?

            14. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, what is the proof for God from eternal truths?

            15. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, how does he resolve the conflict between divine foreknowledge and free will?

            16. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, in what way does the misery of the souls of sinners contribute to the perfection of the universe?

            17. According to Augustine in On Free Choice, how does he justify the suffering and death of little children?

            18. According to Augustine in Morals of the Church, why does our primary good relate to our soul, rather than to our body?

            19. According to Augustine in the Enchiridion, what example does he use to show how evil is just the absence of good?

            20. According to Augustine’s discussion of the earthly and heavenly cities in The City of God, what are the primary differences between the two cities, and how is there both harmony and discord between them?


Questions for Analysis

            1. Contrary to skeptics, Augustine argues that we can know the certainty of basic facts about one’s existence, logical truths, and the immediacy of sense perceptions. How might an Academic or Pyrrhonean skeptic respond to this?

            2. In City of God, 11:25-26, Augustine argues that the threefold structure of the trinity is reflected in human nature and throughout creation, and Plato was the first to detect such a threefold structure. Is there anything to his view or is it simply blind reliance on Neoplatonism?

            3. In On the Trinity 12.15, Augustine criticizes Plato’s theory of recollection on the grounds that, on Plato’s view, people only recall eternal truths from previous lives, not events from their previous reincarnated physical lives. Discuss Augustine’s criticism and how Plato might respond.

            4. Although Augustine regularly alludes to divine illumination, it remains unclear whether this pertains only to religious truths, or also includes moral truths, logical truths, and even practical knowledge. Discuss this issue as it appears in the selections in this chapter (for help see the article on “Divine Illumination” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

            5. Scotus makes the following criticism of divine illumination: “When one of those [elements of knowledge] that come together is incompatible with certainty, then certainty cannot be achieved. For just as from one premise that is necessary and one that is contingent nothing follows but a contingent conclusion, so from something certain and something uncertain, coming together in some cognition, no cognition that is certain follows” (Ordinatio n.221). That is, if our natural capacity for knowledge is limited, as Augustine and others maintained, then divine illumination cannot help, since it too will be subject to uncertainty. Discuss Scotus’s point and how Augustine might respond.

            6. In the Meno, Plato argues that virtue cannot be taught, and In On Free Choice, Augustine argues that evil cannot be taught. Examine their arguments in the relevant texts and discuss whether Augustine’s position is just a version of Plato’s, or whether Augustine offers a unique argument for his position.

            7. In On Free Choice, Augustine argues God that foreknows our wills, and our wills are within our own power. Thus, for Augustine, divine foreknowledge does not conflict with free will. Explain Augustine’s argument and discuss whether it succeeds.

            8. In On Free Choice, Augustine argues that human suffering is compatible with divine goodness since greater objects depend upon lesser objects. Explain Augustine’s argument and discuss whether it succeeds.

            9. In The City of God, Augustine states that the main point of discord between the heavenly and earthly cities is their respective advocacy of monotheism vs. polytheism. Are their ways of resolving this discord? Explain.