Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpt from Augustine's "On Free Choice of the Will"

A quote fromOn Free Choice of the Will by Augustine, translated by Thomas Williams (1993, Hackett Publishing Company)


I came upon this striking quote in my readings for this week. To set the stage for you, this is a dialogue Augustine wrote early in his Christian life, and it is the question, set in the mouth of his friend Evodius, asking, “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” and “…From whom did we learn to sin?” (p 1)

Is God the author of evil? Why is there sin, and do we have a free will, and if we cause evil because of it, why did God give us this free will in the first place? These are the questions this little book attempts to answer;  questions that are still being asked today.

Augustine on “inordinate desires”:

     “Surely the very fact that inordinate desire rules the mind is itself no small punishment. Stripped by opposing forces of the splendid wealth of virtue, the mind is dragged by inordinate desire into ruin and poverty; now taking false things for true, and even defending those falsehoods repeatedly; now repudiating what it had once believed and nonetheless rushing headlong into still other falsehoods; now withholding assent and often shying away from clear arguments; now despairing completely of finding the truth and lingering in the shadows of folly; now trying to enter the light of understanding but reeling back in exhaustion.

     In the meantime cupidity carries out a reign of terror, buffeting the whole human soul and life with storms coming from every direction. Fear attacks from one side and desire from the other; from one side, anxiety; from the other, an empty and deceptive happiness; from one side, the agony of losing what one loved; from one side, the pain of an injury received; from the other, the burning desire to avenge it. Wherever you turn, avarice can pinch, extravagance squander, ambition destroy, pride swell, envy torment, apathy crush, obstinacy incite, oppression chafe, and countless other evils crowd the realm of inordinate desire and run riot. In short, can we consider this punishment trivial—a punishment that, as you realize, all who do not cleave to wisdom must suffer?” (p 17-18)

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25 TNIV 

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