Augustine and Freedom
Evil-doing is neglect of eternal things and love of temporal things to the extent of
becoming subject to them. This is done by the free choice of the will . . . Free will
makes sin possible but it was given that man might live righteously.1
This is a brief summary of what Augustine believed regarding (1) the origin of sin and (2) the
purpose for which humanity was endowed with free choice of the will. Though insightful as it
may seem, Augustine's statement will not set to rest all the issues raised by the notion of
human freedom and divine activity, since with free choice of the will come perplexing
questions that continue to rage in philosophical circles. Some questions, however, can be set
forth that outline parameters within which to begin understanding Augustine on the issue of
human freedom and its origins/causes.
If evil originates in the human will, from where does the will come? Are there any limitations to
human freedom? Is the human will neutral or does it have a bias toward good? A bias toward
evil? Where does free choice of the will come into play when individuals are saved by God's
grace alone? What is meant by free will? On these questions, and many more related,
Augustine has been an immense help.
In this work an attempt will be made to illustrate Augustine's view of free will. Such categories
as God's sovereignty in election and salvation, the origin of evil and its impact upon humanity,
the justice of God, human responsibility and the providence of God in sanctification of the
believer will be utilized. Augustine's understanding of human freedom should corroborate with
(1) the nature and character of God, (2) the integrity of Scripture and (3) human nature and
experience. Finally, an endeavor will be made toward a definition of free will that is faithful to
Scripture and Augustine.
It is important to say that this work is not meant to resolve the tension that has emerged
over the centuries between God and human freedom. Philosophical and theological variations
on this theme abound. The philosophical nature of the problem alone has resulted in countless
monolithic efforts, notwithstanding innumerable theological implications. If clarification should
result from this work, it would more than likely not be the product of this writer's tentative
reflections on the issue. Rather, it would issue from the depth and breadth of wisdom given to
the Bishop of Hippo who's intellect, for at least 1500 years, has enriched the Church of God.
It is necessary at the outset to expose what was doctrinally significant for Augustine during
the time of his writings on free will. His two most important works on freedom of the will are
De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Will) and De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (On Grace and Free Will). The
former was written early (ca. 387-395) as a charge against the Manichees who believed the
world to be...