Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is among the most influential thinkers in Christianity. He contributed a great number of ideas and notions to Christian theology that would have lasting effect on belief systems in Christian churches. One of his most notable contributions is the notion of “original sin” and his concept of “evil.” These notions evolved over the years. Augustine traces their evolution in his Confessions, a thirteen-volume autobiography he wrote when he was in his forties.
An essential part of Confessions is Augustine’s conversion to Christianity and his evolving understanding of good and evil. In book seven of Confessions, Augustine describes his perception of God before his conversion to Christianity. He explains that he conceived of God as a material supremely good being, who is “incorruptible, inviolable, and immutable” (117). At this time, he perceived of evil as manifesting in two distinct ways; one, evil as imperfections, defects, or limitations in physical objects. These would manifest as illness, death, or pain. Secondly, evil would be revealed in people’s actions and deeds, especially when their souls were corrupted by vices such as greed, envy, pride, and lust (Mann 40).
Augustine describes in Confessions how these perceptions of God and Evil posed a major inconsistency in his thinking. If God, as he assumed before his conversion to Christianity, was supreme and omnipotent, how was it possible that there was evil in the world? In his search for answers to this question, he turned towards Manichaeism, which provided him with some answers to his questions. Manichaeism proposes a dualistic worldview, in which Good and Evil exist independent of each other (331). Furthermore, Manichaeism perceives of the world as the battleground of these two cosmic forces and while God is good and benevolent, he cannot completely remove evil (Mann 40).
Significantly, Manichaeism perceives of God and his evil antagonist, Satan, as being restricted to the world. This notion appealed to the young Augustine, as he struggled to comprehend how anything like evil could exist. He seek out Neoplatonic books only to conclude that it shares similar Manichean teaching where evil...