St. Augustine's roadblocks in his Confessions

In his book, Confessions, St. Augustine makes some profound statements such as:

Through the Spirit we see that whatsoever exists in any way is good…

-Book 31, Ch 31

But then, he contests these thoughts with, such as when referring to the Manichaeans:

They themselves are truly evil, when they think such evil things.

-Book 8, Ch 10

What Augustine was dealing with was his own “shadow”, that is, the parts of himself that he repressed/resented. It might be interesting to begin a discussion about his possible roadblocks/contradictions by addressing his chapter that deals directly with the shadow, Book 2, Ch5, Why Men Sin, in which he shows some amazingly insightful shadow integration.

I am going to select just one, and I invite readers to select others from the chapter. One of the more obvious shadow elements (that is, something very common in people’s shadows) that he appeared to have integrated (part of our “beautiful bodies”) is the capacity to desire “power to command and rule over others” which is, more simply put, the desire to dominate, to be in control.

Please feel free to grab a copy of Confessions and enter into the discussion! :grinning:

Alright @OneSheep, I’ll devote as much time as I can. Should be interesting! So, we begin by taking a look at Why Men Sin?

Yes, it seems like a good place to start a baseline for what aspects of himself (and humanity) that he was able to integrate/accept.

I have been super busy lately too… so no pressure on the response time.

Try to keep it under two weeks. :slightly_smiling_face:

I think this is consistent with his thought, and Catholic teaching. Augustine also said, “The only possible source of evil is good.” Because everything in creation is inherently good, as God made it. But we get to play a hand in “making us”, so to speak. And so the Church teaches:

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him."26

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.27


1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil , and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

Anyway, I think that relates.

Yes, this is a common use of vernacular, but it is also something worth discussing.

Do we make ourselves? If so, what aspect(s) of ourselves do we make?

When Augustine said “Through the Spirit we see that whatsoever exists in any way is good…” was he also saying “through the Spirit, we see that what exists made by man can be bad”? That seems a bit of a stretch, but very possible, because like I pointed out, Confessions has such internal contradictions, and the contradictions are very normal given the phenomenon of the “shadow self”, which is what this thread is meant to address (not that a little side conversation is uncalled for :slightly_smiling_face:).

It just means that, when it comes to humans, by free will we can make things less good than they innately are. The basic goodness is still in there but something can change for the worse.

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So, by definition, “bad” or “evil” is the same as “less good”? Let’s say that a common malva is “less good” than a rose. Is that the same as Augustine saying “evil” in the quote I gave in the OP?

Do you see that there is commonly an underlying emotional difference between the usage of “evil” and “less good”?

No, “less good” has to do with being. Malva that’s been crushed by a truck or has been damaged by disease or pest is less good than healthy Malva. It is no longer able to function as Malva is intended so its lost some of the perfection of Malvaness.

As a farmer, however, I tend to think of all Malva as less than perfect; we have other names for it, in fact. But that is the emotional judgment thing you’re speaking of.

Okay, I can see calling it “less good”, though, as farmer, I would say the fate of such malva is headed in the right direction. However, would you call the malva “bad” or “evil”?

malvaness? :laughing: Surely a new philosophical term.

Like PITA?

Exactly. Are you thinking that there is commonly an emotional equivalent in the usage of “less good” and “bad” and “evil”, or are there some distinctions to be made in the emotional content?

By our choices we shape our lives. To commit murder is to be less good, to move away from being human or from the perfection of what that term means, because murder is a non-human act, a gravely disordered one in this case. Judgment isn’t necessary in this case, although morality can be argued either way of course. But I’m suggesting that murder is always objectively, intrinsically wrong for a human to commit such that our “humaness” is compromised by it. In creation only humans and angels can compromise their own natures due to freedom, free will.

Ill ask a question now. When Jesus told us not to judge or condemn others, is that in itself a judgment regarding how we “should be”, or does it speak to some universal objective truth?

A malva that has been crushed has suffered a physical evil as it’s suffered privation to the perfections of its nature. But that doesn’t make the crushed malva an evil substance or what or whoever did the crushing morally evil.

That is a really great question. Going back to the subject of the thread, our judging of others is a part of our nature that we come to commonly repress, but realistically we are completely unsuccessful.

Do you see an underlying truth?

Bringing it back to Augustine’s use, would you say that murderer is “evil”, or “bad”?

When you say “non-human”, it would be good to know your definition. For example, murder is an act commited by humans, so it is a human act, though an extremely harmful one. Is a person who commits such a harmful act in himself non-human?

Looks like I posted the rest of this after you responded to the first part. I’ll wait awhile.

Yes, we can call things good or evil from a purely emotional or selfish perspective, but that doesn’t make it so, that doesnt make our judgment right.That’s the distinction I’ve been trying to make.

Yes, but I would also suggest that there are some judgments that can be based on non-subjective or unselfish motives. And that in this case Jesus is trying to move us to exactly that place.

And this is the point of difference. I can argue that some acts are non-human even though they’re committed by humans. Would you say that murder is a human act for you? Would you say that any and all acts that humans commit are necessarily human acts, just because we’re physically able to commit them and someone somewhere along the line has actually done so? One point of our faith is that some acts are objectively wrong for a human to commit, and yet some do so anyway. So, then, the act is either 1) natural, or 2) an abuse of the freedom that humans possess.

So the church teaches that humans, unique among creation, can move themselves by their choices nearer to or further away from their perfection, from what it means to be fully human or what they were created to be.

The perfect human would always make the right choice, for the greater rather than for a lesser good. Any choice for less than the greatest good is intrinsically evil by comparison, and more or less gravely evil depending on the circumstances and particular act in question, and generally influenced by a lack of love, by selfishness. Anyway, either all acts are good or evil based strictly on man’s determination/judgment-or they’re good or evil by some objective standard lying outside man’s province.

I hope you will be patient with this, but we are defining terms, and I am happy to go with your definitions for the purpose of continued discussion.

When you say “unselfish” are you contrasting that with “selfish”? If so, are you saying that subjectivity is in itself “selfish”? If so, are “selfish” and “unselfish”, when used, expressed subjectively, or are they expressed objectively?

Are you saying that Jesus is moving us to a place of objectivity?

I think we can proceed by leaving the word “human” out of the discussion, but I can completely accept that your use of “non-human” essentially means “not in keeping with the ‘true self’ that underlies our nature” if that’s okay with you.

Yes, but remember that Augustine said things like They themselves are truly evil, when they think such evil things. When the word “are” is used there, we would commonly say that he is referring to existence or being.

Back to the original question, then, it is reasonable to conclude that Augustine looked upon the Manicheans with some “subjective” judgment? If so, what aspect of himself, of our nature, was he repressing, resenting, giving negative affect, etc.?

As my own first post mentioned, I think Augustine knew that all creation is inherently good, but that, in the case of humans, we can move ourselves away from that good, from our perfection, or nearer to it by our choices as the Church teaches we can.

If that’s not the case then I’d speculate that he was simply not adhering in a precise way to his own understanding of morality at that point and perhaps slipped into to an emotion-driven comment.

Bear with me. I was meaning to contrast purely subjective, personal motives for judgment with those based on higher objective standards, and self-centered, self-righteousness motives with those of self-giving: mercy, compassion, etc. Forgive me if my usage is incorrect. Maybe we should set some more precise definitions.

Yes, given the contradiction, he probably slipped into an emotion-driven comment, which we all do, constantly.

What we are looking at is what specifically triggered his emotion. Jesus addressed this in His “post in your own eye” request. So, in addressing the posts in our own eyes, we take a hard and objective look at what triggers our negative emotions. Since it is a bit difficult to address what is in our own eyes because our own eyes are clouded by the very posts we are trying to remove, it actually serves some purpose in examining the effort by Augustine to address the posts in our eyes, the parts of ourselves that we repress/deny/condemn/etc.

And in that effort, my suggestion was that we start with all the aspects of his shadow that he was able to integrate as part of our “good” nature, as we see through the Spirit.

I think St. Augustine addressed something like these in Book 2, Chapter 5. Do you have a copy?

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