JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl


§ 78.

1. The subjective basis of moral life is free will. Augustine uses the term liberty in a twofold sense: the one liberty of choice, the other freedom from evil, and freedom for (supernatural) good.

Free will, as a faculty of choice, is, according to Augustine, an essential attribute of man, for

(a) Will is will precisely because it is exempted from physical necessity and determines itself to act or to forbear. Freedom is involved in this essential notion of will; a will without freedom is inconceivable. (De Lib. Arb., III. c. 3.)

(b) Furthermore, consciousness testifies clearly to the freedom of the will. Of what are we more keenly conscious than of the fact that we have a will, and that we act by our will, unconstrained by any necessity? (De Lib. Arb., III. c. 1.)

(c) Without free will, the distinction between good and evil becomes unintelligible. If we were not free we could not be bound by any moral law: merit and demerit, reward and punishment, praise and blame, would be wholly meaningless. The very remorse which we experience in reference to certain actions is evident proof of free will, for we could not feel remorse for an act the performance or omission of which was not in our power. (De Act. cont. Felic. Man., II. c. 8.)

2. Freedom from evil and freedom for (supernatural) good is not, according to Augustine, an essential attribute of the human will, it depends on the grace of God. This grace alone can free us from evil and bestow the capability for (supernatural) good, as well as the desire of attaining it. Free will, as a faculty of choice, the liberum arbitrium, cannot be lost, but the freedom from evil and the freedom for (supernatural) good may be forfeited, though not otherwise than by our own fault.

Free will, as a faculty of choice, is not destroyed or impaired by God's providence. God foresees the actions of men as they are, namely, as free acts, which we are at liberty to perform or to omit. The foreknowledge of God does not deprive free acts of their character of freedom. Man's act is not what it is, because God foresees it thus, but rather God foresees it thus, because it is what it is. If man's act were other than it is, God would have foreseen it to be otherwise.

3. With this teaching regarding free will we may associate Augustine's doctrine regarding the Sovereign Good. He distinguishes two kinds of good, the enjoyable and the useful. The enjoyable is that which, when possessed, makes us happy, and which, therefore, we desire for its own sake; the useful is that which is merely a means to the attainment of another good, and which, therefore, we desire and strive after for sake of something else.

4. This being premised, it becomes clear that the Sovereign Good must have the following characteristics: -- It must be an enjoyable good, which being possessed makes us completely happy. It must be inalienable; a happiness which could be lost would not be true or perfect happiness at all. Lastly, it must be the source not only of our highest happiness, but also of our supreme perfection, for good, of its own nature, is calculated not only to make us happy but also to make us perfect.

5. If this be so, it follows that the Sovereign Good cannot consist either in sensual pleasure, or in virtue, for neither of these exhibits the characteristics which belong to the Sovereign Good. The Sovereign Good must be something higher than man; it can be no other than God -- the Infinite Good. The supreme happiness of man must, therefore, consist in the eternal contemplation and love of God, the Sovereign Good. It follows that for man God is the only enjoyable good, and that every other good is merely a useful good, that is to say, it should be used only for the attainment of eternal happiness in God.

6. It follows, further, that supreme happiness is not attainable in this life, and that it is reserved for us in the life to come. The ultimate end of man is to attain eternal happiness in God; his ultimate end is, therefore, not attainable in this life, it must be secured hereafter. This leads at once to the rule of life for man. Man's duty here below is to strive after the Sovereign Good, that is, to live so as to attain to the Sovereign Good in the life to come.

7. The path of duty, in this respect, is marked for us by the Divine Law. We must act according to this law in order to fulfil the duty set us in life, and it is precisely in living and acting according to this law that moral goodness consists. But to fulfil this law in every respect, it is necessary to strive after virtue; in virtue consists our moral perfection. Moral goodness is essentially connected with the final destiny of man; so too, is virtue. Virtue is essentially the means to the attainment of the Sovereign Good; this relation apart, virtue ceases to be virtue; it becomes a mere form of self-deification which is vice, not virtue.

8. Virtue is defined by Augustine "Animi habitus, naturae modo et consentaneus" (Cont. Jul. Pelag., IV., c. 3); or, as "Ars bene recteque vivendi" (De Civit. Dei, XIV., c. 9). It is, therefore, a capability or tendency of the will for good, acquired by the practice of what is good, and which implies strength and firmness of will in well-doing. Virtue does not require that man should be wholly inaccessible to the movements of passion; the so-called apatheia is unnatural and contrary to virtue; virtue requires only that the pathê should be kept under control, that they should be restrained within the limits prescribed by the moral law, and thus made subservient to rightness of life.

9. The Divine Law being the rule and standard of moral action, the point or precept of this law which is the basis of the whole and which includes within it all other precepts, is the Law of Love. First in this order is the love of God; the love of God is our first and highest duty. This love leads us to refer to God all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do, and thus to make of ourselves an offering to Him. From the love of God is derived the true love of self, in virtue of which we seek what is best for us, our Supreme Good, God Himself. With this is united the love of our neighbour, which consists in this, that we desire for our neighbour as for ourselves his highest good, and, as far as in us lies, assist him to attain it.

10. As the law of love is the fundamental law of our moral life, so love is the fundamental virtue. It is the basis of all other virtues; all other virtues are only special aspects of the virtue of love, In the first place, this holds good with regard to the Cardinal Virtues -- Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. Prudence is love, in so far as it discriminates clearly between what is a help to it and what is a hinderance. Fortitude is love, in so far as it boldly and readily undergoes all things for sake of the object it loves. Temperance is love, in so far as it maintains itself inviolate and undefiled for sake of what it loves. Finally, Justice is love, in so far as its service is wholly for the object loved, and it thus acquires dominion over all things else. (De Mor. Eccl., I., c. 15.) Love is, thus, the source of all that is morally good, and no work has worth or merit before God if it be not done for love.

11. Evil is not a real substantial entity; everything that is, in so far as it is, is both true and good. Evil is merely negation -- negation of the good which ought to exist -- that is to say, it is a privation of good. Evil is, therefore, possible only through good; if there were no good, a privation of good or loss of good would not be possible. A being absolutely evil, in which no good whatever exists, is an impossibility; be it ever so evil, inasmuch as it is or has being, it is to that extent good. Absolute evil is absolute negation -- mere nothing.

12. These considerations exhibit to us the relation which subsists between evil and the natural order. Evil is contrary to nature, since it deprives nature of its befitting good. In this sense it may be described as a deterioration or corruption of nature. But evil cannot destroy nature, for the corruption induced by evil supposes a nature or substance corrupted, and the destruction of this would involve the disappearance of the evil.

13. With regard to the cause of evil, we must distinguish between the remote and the proximate cause. The remote cause is the finiteness and mutability of created things. It is only a being which is finite and changeable which can be subject to evil. God, the absolutely immutable, is beyond the reach of evil; for the immutable, as such, cannot undergo a privation of good. The proximate source of evil is the free will of man. Free will alone can effect evil, as it alone can effect good. But beyond its freedom no further reason can be assigned why the free will does evil rather than good. The Manicheans are absurd, when they assign man's bodily nature as a reason to explain why he does evil.

14. We must distinguish two kinds of evil (malum): the malum culpae, and the malum paenae. The former is moral evil -- evil in the strict sense of the term; the latter is a consequence of the former, and is occasioned by it. To begin with moral evil: it must consist in the privation of moral good, in man's turning away from his Sovereign Good, and giving himself to good that is changeable. Good that is changeable is not, indeed, evil in itself; but when man prefers it to the Sovereign Good, and sets it above the Sovereign Good, he perverts and disturbs right order, and precisely in this perversion of order lies the evil of bis action. This turning away from the Sovereign Good, and turning to evil, takes place when man violates the Divine law, which marks for him the path to the Sovereign Good. Hence moral evil -- sin -- may be defined "Dictum, factum vel concupitum contra legem Dei." (Contra Faust. Manich., XXII., c. 27.)

15. The malum paenae is the actual loss of the Sovereign Good, incurred as the punishment of moral evil. This last constitutes unhappiness, for happiness can consist only in the possession of the Supreme Good. In the present life, this unhappiness is not felt in its full force, for the good of the mutable and created order goes some way to compensate for the loss; but in the life to come such compensation is not admissible, and the fulness of misery must then be experienced. Such is the punishment of moral evil. That it should be inflicted is a requirement of God's justice, and from this point of view it may be called good. since it is an effect of God's justice. It is, therefore, an evil only for the man on whom it falls; and in so far as it is thus an evil it is caused by man himself, for he has provoked it by his sin. As a requirement of justice it is good, for it is a restoration of the order that had been disturbed; viewed in this light, it has God for its author.

16. We see, then, that a good action implies an approach to God, the Supreme Being; whereas an evil action implies a separation from the Supreme Being -- a movement towards nothingness. Hence, it is only the good action which is a positive entity in every respect; the evil act is positive only as an act; the direction in which it tends is to non-being, it is in this regard something merely negative. This analysis warranted Augustine in asserting that evil may be said to have, not a causa efficiens but a causa deficiens, for it is essentially a defection from the highest perfection -- a retrogression towards imperfection and nothingness. (De Civ. Dei, XII., c. 7.)

17. So much with regard to the general lines of Augustine's Ethics. His teaching on the subject of Grace and Redemption falls, no doubt, under this section; but we cannot follow him into these questions; they belong to the history of dogma, not to the history of philosophy. We content ourselves with noticing a few points:

(a.) The first man, says Augustine, enjoyed freedom from evil and freedom for good. He consequently had power not to sin -- "posse non peccare." He needed, it is true, for this the assistance of God, but this assistance was merely an adjutorium sine quo non, that is, an aid without which he could not succeed in avoiding evil and doing good; but not a grace by means of which he did good.

(b.) But when the first man sinned, the guilt and the punishment of his sin descended upon all his posterity, for the reason that they were all contained seminaliter in him. In consequence of this inherited sin, man can no longer do that which is connected with his supernatural destiny, and he is thus made subject to evil. To the "posse non peccare" has succeeded the "non posse non peccare." Not that man is forced to evil by any intrinsic necessity, but that man is so hampered by sensual desires, that he can no longer shake himself free from evil, for sensuality is ever dragging him down to it again.

(c.) The human race was delivered from sin and its punishments by Christ. By His Passion and Death, Christ has merited for us the race which destroys evil within us, and makes us again capable of good. This grace, by which we do good, is not a mere adjutorium sine quo non, it is an adjutorium quo, that is, it not only makes the good possible for us, it also effects the good within us, although not without our will, or further than our will co-operates. This grace restores the "posse non peccare," it leads us to the condition of eternal perfection, where the "posse non peccare is replaced by the "non posse peccare."

(d.) Redemption is, on the part of God, a free act. He would not have acted unjustly had He left all men in original sin and under the condemnation which follows it. But He was pleased to show, on the one hand, what the offence of man deserved, and on the other what His own mercy could effect. He, therefore, elected from the massa damnationis a portion of the human race to be saved by His gratuitous grace, while He left the rest in the massa damnationis.

(e.) This election is called in Scripture Predestination. The non-predestined are not altogether excluded from God's pace; but it is only in the elect that grace produces its full effect, leading them effectually to their destined end. To the non-predestined it is not an injustice that they are not elected; they have deserved condemnation; God does not predestine them to evil; it is only because of His knowledge of the evil which they do that they are condemned. This is what the Scripture signifies by the term Reprobation.

(f.) From the outset, God's grace delivered a certain number of human beings from perdition, and this number constituted the kingdom of God, as opposed to the kingdom of the world. The entire time covered by the existence of the human race is no more than the period of development for these two kingdoms. In the end will come the complete separation of the elect from the reprobate. After the general resurrection, the former will receive eternal reward, the latter eternal punishment. There is no restoration of the reprobate, as imagined by Origen.

18. The vastness of the doctrinal system of Augustine is apparent from even this brief sketch. His inquiries covered the whole range of speculative knowledge, and his clear and penetrating mind diffused light in every region of its investigations. It is not a matter of surprise that Augustine's teaching should have exercised a larger influence on the development of Christian philosophy than that of any other thinker.

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