Term Paper: Augustine's Main Problem

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[. . .] But if nothing could harm you, that removes any ground for combat [between good and evil], and indeed combat under such conditions that some portion of you, one of your members, or an offspring of your very substance, is mingled with hostile powers and with natures not created by you, and is corrupted by them and so changed for the worse that it is altered from beatitude to misery and needs help to deliver or purify it (VII.ii.3).

3. What made Augustine give up on astrology? Compare what he says about astrology in book VII with what he says about it in book IV, Chapter 3.

Augustine gave up on astrology because of an argument that Firminus presented to him. Previous to this, he regularly consulted astrologers, and even described himself as being addicted to such consults. During this time, a friend named Vindicianus often tried to persuade Augustine that the science or art of reading the stars was driven by nothing more than chance:

asked him why it was that many of their forcasts turned out to be correct. He replied that the best answer he could give was the power apparent in lots, a power everywhere diffused in the nature of things... he used to say that it was no wonder if from the human soul... some utterance emerges not by art but by 'chance' which is in sympathy with the affairs or actions of the inquirer (IV.iii.5)

At this point in his life, however, Augustine was not thoroughly convinced that those who studied the stars and formed forecasts of people's lives were wrong:

had not yet found the certain proof for which I was seeking, by which it would be clear beyond doubt that the true forecasts given by the astrologers when consulted were uttered by chance or by luck, not from the science of studying the stars (IV.iii.6).

The convincing argument that would finally inspire Augustine to abandon all hope in the truth of astrology was offered up by a friend named Firminus. It was after Firminus' explanation that Augustine finally came to believe that "the certain inferences that the true predictions on the basis of horoscopes are given not by skill but by chance, while false forecasts are due not to lack of skill in the art but to chance error" (VII.vi.9).

The story that Firminus told was the story of his own birth. At the time when his mother was in labor with him, a friend of the family was also in labor. This friend was a slave woman, and his mother was not. Both Firminus and the slave woman's child were born simultaneously, thus having the exact same horoscope. Firminus explained that while his "wealth increased," and he was elevated to high honors," his friend with the same horoscope "experienced no relaxation of the yoke of his condition" (VII.vi.8). Thus Augustine concluded that the art of astrologers was subject to doubt.

4. What question about the origin of evil troubled Augustine, and what answers did he find?

The question about the origin of evil that troubled Augustine was how evil could have come to exist if God, who was entirely good and perfect, created the entire universe. Augustine reasoned that a good and perfect God who was incapable of being corrupted could only create things that were good. The universe itself had its foundation in God, and there was not even a realm outside of the universe from which some substance or force called evil could have come:

For you evil does not exist at all, and not only for you but for your created universe. There is nothing outside it which could break in and destroy the order which you have imposed upon it (VII.xiii.19)

As might be expected, Augustine found that "evil" was not a substance to be discovered. The reason, then, that he had such a hard time finding out the origin of evil was because evil was not a substance that could have the sort of origin that he expected. Instead of being a substance, it was a condition, a disposition, a state of mind wherein the person's will was " twisted away from the highest substance, you, O God, towards inferior things, rejecting its own inner life and swelling with external matters" (VII.xvi.22). [END OF PREVIEW]

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