The Augustinian Theodicy

Throughout history, the problems of evil and suffering have always been prevalent in the world. The problems can be split up into two types: moral evil and natural suffering. Moral evil is generally viewed as anything that is caused by humans and inflicts pain (physical or psychological) or death or obstructs life’s freedom and/or expression; for example, murder, war, crime. Natural suffering is generally viewed as events that occur because of the physical world or environment; for example, earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding.

Evil and suffering therefore present believers in the ‘God of Classical Theism’ with a logical problem- one of them being the ‘Inconsistent Triad’. The ‘Inconsistent Triad’ consists of three premises: 1- God is omnipotent; 2- God is omnibenevolent; 3- there is evil in the world. All three premises cannot be true at the same time which means either God does not exist or there is no evil in the world.

St Augustine of Hippo, who lived from 354 to 430 AD in the Roman Province of Africa, was a Manichaean (Persian and Dualist religion) in his early until he later converted to Christianity.

Augustine proposed a theodicy, which is an attempt to reconcile the existence of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God with the undeniable fact of evil and suffering in the world; it is derived from the Greek words ‘theos’ or God and ‘dike’ or justice. Augustine’s theodicy explains that according to Genesis, God being perfect created a perfect world where because of ‘His’ goodness and perfection, God gave humans free will.

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Therefore, the possibility of evil is necessary as the world can never be as perfect as God. ‘The Fall’ is also central to his theodicy because when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, man’s original purity was lost and all their descendents inherited original sin and original guilt because they were ‘seminally present in the loins of Adam’. As a result, we all deserve the consequences which means moral evil is a misuse of our freedom and natural evil is punishment for all man’s sins.

The theodicy goes further in explaining that we cannot blame God for evil as evil is not a thing in itself but rather ‘privatio boni’, which is Latin for ‘the privation of good’. This means evil is not an entity, but a lack of goodness or righteousness therefore evil only happens when good goes wrong. Augustine’s theodicy essentially says that God is right not to interfere with problems of evil and suffering in the world, as it is perfectly justified that we should suffer and at the end of our lives- if we have accepted that God’s forgiveness is necessary- we will go to Heaven, otherwise all non-believers will be punished in Hell for eternity.

For some Christians- mainly fundamental Christians- Augustine’s theodicy succeeds in justifying evil and suffering in the world. However, for non-Christians and even liberal Christians, the theodicy fails for a number of different reasons. The theodicy fails in some ways because of the advance in science. Augustine’s theodicy is based on the Bible being interpreted as literal which opens him up to two scientific criticisms.

In contrast to evolution theory, which is now widely accepted as an explanation for the existence of complex organisms through the gradual process of natural selection and random mutations over generations, if the Bible is taken as literal truth, then the theodicy is the reverse of evolution as it prescribes humans were created first. Another scientific criticism is whilst Augustine says we were all ‘seminally present in the loins of Adam’, our genes suggest otherwise. Not only does each person have their own unique DNA (with the exception of identical twins), other factors contribute to how a person develops, such as their socialization, which can create psychological differences too. Therefore it would be wrong to say that all humans are the same as Adam.

Furthermore, there are logical criticisms of Augustine’s theodicy. If evil is not a thing in itself, then good and evil would unknown to Adam and Eve in the ‘Garden of Eden’. So in Genesis, when Eve ate the ‘forbidden fruit’, she had no concept of evil. Schleiermacher, a late 18th/early 19th Century German philosopher, agreed the theodicy is flawed because he said it was a logical contradiction to say that a perfectly created world had gone wrong, since this would mean that evil had created itself ‘ex nihilo’, which is impossible. Either the world was created imperfect or God allowed it to go wrong.

Perhaps the most important criticisms are moral as they challenge God. Being omniscient, God should have known that things would go wrong and being omnipotent, ‘He’ could have made creation better and less flawed. Also, the creation of Hell is puzzling because surely God would not create it unless ‘He’ knew that ‘The Fall’ would happen which further questions ‘His’ perfection. Not only that, the selection process for Heaven is discriminate as Heaven can be viewed as an exclusive club for people who have turned to Christ and accepted the need for God’s forgiveness. Therefore, God is wasteful of good souls as they would be punished eternally for having no Christian belief- even if they had been morally good people their whole lives. This clearly questions God’s omnibenevolence and fairness.

At first evaluation, St Augustine’s theodicy appears to make some good points about the reasons for evil and suffering in the world, particularly his comparison of evil to darkness and them being an absence of good and light respectively. However on closer inspection, there are some clear flaws with the theodicy which challenge the ‘God of Classical Theism’ as they criticise ‘His’ creation and more importantly- God’s omnibenevolence. The theodicy works well for fundamental Christians, but is not effective in convincing other Christians and non-Christians into the reasons for the existence of evil and suffering in the world as it presents us with an arbitrary and flawed God.

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The Augustinian Theodicy. (2017, Sep 10). Retrieved from

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