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Augustine and Freedom: Some Tentative Philosophical Reflections

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 uestions 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 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 he 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 the arena within which two opposing forces were at war (good and evil). Human activity, according to the Manichees, was determined by these two powers, which were Augustine believed the Manichean error absolved individuals of moral responsibility. In De Libero Arbitrio he was combating the Manichean heresy that evil’s origin was independent of humanity. Instead, he demonstrates that evil is a product of liberum arbitrium or free choice of the will.

Moreover, Augustine explains why God gives freedom and that it is compatible with The second work was written as a rejoinder to the Pelagian heresy. Though Pelagianism may have been a response to the abuse of grace and the moral laxity of the Christian Church, it was far from being a biblical alternative to Augustine’s teachings. 2 In defending the grace of God as the initial and effectual influence upon the soul’s conversion, Augustine was interpreted as denying free choice of the will. Put simply, to defend grace is to deny freedom.

Pelagius maintained that humanity is born innocent of evil. That evil choices are made is not denied by the Pelagians. Evil springs from bad examples in the environment which persons Those influenced by Pelagius sought to defend free will in salvation and sanctification of the saints at the expense of God’s grace. In De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (ca. 426-427) Augustine insists upon (1) the insufficiency of human efforts in meriting grace and (2) the undeserved, ecessary, and gratuitous assistance of God in saving and sanctifying the saints.

Augustine’s anthropology significantly contributes to his understanding of free will. Denying Plato’s trichotomy, he affirms a dualistic view of existence; a soul-body distinction wherein an integrative unity of existence obtains. “Regarding [humans] as neither the soul alone nor the body alone but the combination of body and soul”4 is clear reference to Augustine’s dual integration of human nature. The soul is immortal but not eternally existing (contra Plato) and is “a certain substance, sharing in reason and suited to the task of ruling the body.

With this framework in mind, one can proceed in asking questions regarding the constitution of the soul What motivates the will? How does one decide between options? What is behind the capacity to choose? What is the sequence of movement in choices? For Augustine, choices are made based upon motives. Prior to motives are desires and affections. Furthermore, antecedent to desires is a pre-existing inclination, bias, or disposition toward good or evil. This inclination is the first cause, so to speak, of human decisions. But is there a cause beyond the inclination?

In other words, “what cause lies behind willing? “6 Augustine’s answer to this question takes on a somewhat sarcastic tone, yet is intended to show the absurdity of the question. “If I could find one, are you not going to ask for the cause of the cause I have found? What limit will there be to your quest, what end to inquiry and explanation? “7 While it may appear that he is avoiding the question, Augustine does point out that the cause of evil is an evil will and the cause of the evil will is self-determining. And the self is determined to choose for or against x based upon his/her inclination toward or away

This would appear to be in opposition with what has come to be known as one of the standard definitions of freedom, viz. , absolute power to contrary. This explanation of freedom is so prevalent that some have understood it to make God contingent in some way. 8 Alvin Plantinga is often quoted on freedom as power to contrary. If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions [italics mine] and/or causal laws determine that he will perform the action, or that he won’t.

It is within his power, at the time in question, to take or perform the action and within his power to refrain from it. 9 But Augustine understood that the antecedent condition for the movement of the will is a prior inclination. Far from coercion, Augustine believed in a predisposed bias or inclination toward either good or evil. Choices, motives, and desires do not happen in a vacuous environment nor are they indifferent to or disinclined toward any direction. Whether human freedom entails power to contrary choice or self-determination depends upon the inclination of the soul.

And he soul’s inclination depends upon which era of human existence is being assumed in the There are four distinct epochs of history in which humans exist. 10 At creation and before the Fall, after the Fall and before regeneration, after regeneration and before glorification and the eternal state after death. Each of these categories are necessary to keep in mind prior to understanding freedom of a creature. It is necessary to define the conditions under which the creature may operate. Otherwise the concept of freedom is unconstrained and confusion First, before the Fall humanity experienced power to contrary choice.

Adam was endowed with the capacity to love and obey God at creation. He was given the freedom to do what he ought. “When we speak of the freedom of the will to do right, we are speaking of the freedom wherein man was created. “11 In this state the gift of freedom was bestowed upon Adam. He could “go straight forward, develop himself harmoniously in untroubled unity with God, and thus gradually attain his final perfection; or he could fall away, engender evil ex nihilo by Humanity is anything but a static being at creation.

Augustine says “Only as originally created, i. e. , before the Fall, had man freedom to will and to do right. 13 Adam was not created neutral nor disinclined (simile Pelagius). For to remain equidistant from both good and evil is to be indifferent, in which case indifference does not apply to the category of freedom since inherent in freedom is the idea of movement. One is free to act or refrain from the act. In either case movement is involved. Stated differently: to move toward the good is to move away from evil and vice versa.

As Shedd puts it: Holy Adam at the instant of his creation did not find himself set to choose either the Creator or the creature as an ultimate end, being indifferent to both, but he ound himself inclined to the Creator . . . His will if created at all must have been created as voluntary, since it could not be created as involuntary or uninclined. This inclination was self-motion. It was the spontaneity of a spiritual essence, not an activity forced ab extra [italics his]. 14 To further demonstrate power to contrary before the Fall, Augustine distinguishes between posse non peccare and possibilitas peccandi.

That is, the possibility of sinning was necessary unto Adam’s freedom but sinning itself was not. In the garden potential freedom from sin belonged to Adam prior to the Fall and its opposite (viz. potential slavery to sin) was equally implied. 15 Had Adam chosen to follow his holy inclination, things would be somewhat different Second, after the Fall Adam had only one inclination, posse peccare, viz. , the ability to sin. Freedom is not thereby removed. It simply takes the shape of self-determination. Fallen persons voluntarily determine to follow their own bent toward evil.

They are self-determined rather than God-determined. “Adam prior to the fall had freedom including both the ability not to sin (posse non peccare) and the ability to sin (posse peccare). But all the descendants of Adam, by reason of their inheritance, have only ability to sin (posse peccare) until they are redeemed. “16 Nevertheless, the unregenerate are periodically capable of complying with the demands of God, sporadically though it may be, in doing those things which are in accordance with God’s Law (cf. , Rom. 2:14-15).

This is not to say God’s Law is fulfilled in any sense in the way it is with believers through the Spirit (cf. , Rom. 8:4). It is unlikely Augustine was correct in applying Romans 2:14-15 to Gentile Christians. 17 It would be quite difficult to explain why Paul says of these so-called Christians that they are “a aw unto themselves,” not to mention Paul’s purpose of the entire pericope (Rom. 1:18-3:20) is to demonstrate that all persons live under the dominion of sin. That some do, on occasion, comply with God’s moral standards is the most this reference says.

And this is a far cry from regeneration. Persons aren’t free to live righteous lives unless they are free from an The third stage of freedom in the saga of human history is after regeneration. That it takes the enabling grace of God to transform the unregenerate is indication enough that free will is self-determination rather than power to contrary. This is probably the hallmark of Augustine’s contribution to Christianity. On the necessity of grace and the restoration of human freedom in salvation Augustine could not be more clear.

For the grace bestowed upon us through Jesus our Lord is neither the knowledge of God’s law nor nature nor the mere remission of sin, but that grace which makes it possible to fulfill the Law so that our nature is set free from the dominion of Still further, Augustine says; “Freewill is always present in us, but it is not always good . . . But the grace of God is always good and brings about a good will in a man who before was ossessed of an evil will. “19 He was emphatic that the ability to perform good works does not merit God’s favor. For it is God alone who enables individuals to believe unto salvation.

God . . . works in us, without our cooperation, the power to will, but once we begin to will, and do so in a way that brings us to act, then it is that He cooperates with us. But if He does not work in us the power to will or does not cooperate in our act of willing, we are powerless to perform good works of a Augustine understood that the same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies. Dependence upon God in yielding one’s own will over to God was a continual process that begins at salvation and extends throughout the believer’s life.

Nowhere in Augustine’s writings is the balance between freewill after regeneration (power to contrary) and the rule of God in the believer’s life more clearly seen than in this passage where Augustine reflects upon the He who is thus renewed by daily advancing in the knowledge of God, in righteousness and holiness of truth, is changing in the direction of his love from the temporal to the eternal, from the visible to the intelligible, from the carnal to he spiritual; diligently endeavoring to curb and abate all lust for the one, and to bind himself in charity to the other.

In which all his success depends on the divine aid; for it is the word of God, that without me ye can do nothing. 21 The believer’s will is no longer motivated out of self-interests (self-determination). Rather, it is moved by God’s love and enabled by God’s Spirit to be what he intends. What is lost in salvation is a will that was governed by sinful passions and desires and replaced with voluntary surrender to the One whose will is supremely good and holy.

The first three periods of human freedom (viz. efore the Fall, after the Fall and after regeneration) could be stated in this manner: either God created Adam with (1) a disinclined indifferent will (simile Pelagius), (2) a spontaneous voluntary will inclined toward him, yet not externally compelled toward God or (3) a will disinclined toward him and inclined toward evil. For Augustine, holy inclination is the product of God and the activity of the creature. The possibility to err was present, hence power to contrary. Sinful inclination is both the creature’s product and activity. Holy will is in the self but not from the self.

It is a product of God who riginally and graciously gifted humanity with a desire for fellowship with him. 22 Evil self-determination is both in the self and from the self, hence self-determination. Activity which is self-determined and self-originating is only evil after the Fall and prior to regeneration. After regeneration, the will is restored to its holy inclination whereby power to contrary is reinstated and movement toward a righteous life and away from sin is progressively realized in the life of the believer (cf. , Rom. 6:6, 14a).

The final state of human freedom is the believer’s freedom in eternity. Here the believer will be ransformed into a glorious, immortal being where power to contrary is no longer necessary. Every thought, deed, and motive will be free to be all that God intended. In the glorified state the conditions will be such that individuals no longer are inclined away from God and toward evil. The tenacious problem Paul calls the “flesh” will be laid to rest once and for all.

“Making choices consistent with nature confirmed in righteousness will be our highest freedom! 23 If these categories obtain and (1) the conditions of the Fall radically affected human freedom and (2) redemption restores human freedom, then what is the source of sin? In the company of Augustine, one cannot discuss human freedom without discussing the origin of evil. According to Augustine, “There are two sources of sin, a man’s own spontaneous thought, and the persuasion of a neighbor . . . Both, however, are voluntary. “24 Sin issues from within and without. There are two mediums through which sin enters: (1) the bodily senses and (2) evil desires (cf. , I Jn. 2:14-15; Jam. 1: 14).

In either case the will is utilized. “Sins . . . are to be ascribed to nothing but to their own wills, and no further cause for sins is to be looked for. “25 That persons are both impotent and ignorant does not make them less guilty before God. These are the conditions under which unregenerate creatures exist. Ignorance and impotence Analogously, a drought is not the cause of hunger; lack of food is. The drought may be the condition under which hunger occurs, but it is not the cause of hunger. So too, God created the condition (viz. , freedom) from which humans could move closer toward him.

Adam voluntarily chose otherwise and, hence, became guilty. The cause of the guilt is the misuse of the condition (freedom). In essence, God caused the condition, Adam abused it and, Why should not the Author of the soul be praised with due piety if he has given it so good a start that it may by zeal and progress reach the fruit of wisdom and justice, and has given it so much dignity as to put within its power the capacity to grow towards happiness if it will? 26 Though God gives freedom at creation he is not to be charged with its misuse.

“The soul was not created evil because it was not given all that it had power to become. 27 The purpose for which God gifted his creatures with freedom was that they might live righteously. God is exonerated and humanity, being the efficient cause of evil/sin, is guilty. One might argue that “Freedom is not possible due to God having foreknowledge. Whether freedom be defined as power to contrary or self-determination, the creature is certain to choose what God has already known and, therefore, cannot be free in any sense.

A deterministic or even fatalistic view of God and his creation is the only possible alternative, given the infallible foreknowledge of God. Once again, the Bishop of Hippo provides a great deal of aid in understanding the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom In De Libero Arbitrio Evodius asks Augustine, “Since God foreknew that man would sin, that hich God foreknew must come to pass. How then is the will free when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity? “28 Augustine is quick to point out the disjunctive thinking on the matter. First, it assumes an either/or scenario (bifurcation) and doesn’t offer a third alternative, viz. , that God has foreknowledge of the power to will.

Second, this disjunction assumes, unnecessarily so, that foreknowledge is somehow causative. Once again, this Third, it makes foreknowledge out to be far more than is intended at this point. Augustine clearly states that foreknowledge is prescience, or knowing beforehand. God by his foreknowledge does not use compulsion in the case of future events . . . God has foreknowledge of all his own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows . . . he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he knows them beforehand. “29 God foreknew, for example, in 1899 that scores of Kosovo inhabitants would be brutely murdered in 1999.

This knowledge does not implicate God as responsible. The dilemma of foreknowledge and freedom has, for more than 17 centuries, troubled philosophers and theologians to their grave and, no doubt, will continue to do so. 30 Central to oth foreknowledge and freedom are (1) the infallible knowledge of God and (2) some idea of human freedom other than a hard determinism. Closely related to this problem is the question of God’s relationship to time. There is a sense in which one cannot begin to wrestle with the dilemma of foreknowledge and freedom until the issue of God’s relationship to time is resolved.

The simplest form of the equation would be to hold that God is timeless, which appears to be Augustine’s view. For He [God] does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge n time, the future, indeed are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal Certainly it would seem that if God has knowledge of all free choices, past, present and future, then he would have to have a vantage point outside of time in order to not be constrained by sequence.

On this, Geisler is correct in saying that “God knows everything in the eternal present but He does not know everything as the present moment in time; He knows the past as past, the future as future, etc. “32 [italics his]. Therefore, it could be said hat God knows all things a priori, yet sees them as a posteriori. But how does this position on foreknowledge and freedom cohere with Augustine’s view of salvation?

If it is true that God’s foreknowledge does not cause free decisions and humans are incapable of coming to God on their own, how does anyone enter into the kingdom? At this point it would be helpful to distinguish different categories of causes. Aristotle points to four kinds of causes for any given effect: (1) material, (2) efficient, (3) formal and (4) final or ultimate. God is the final or ultimate cause of all things but not the aterial or efficient cause of all things. Put simply, God efficiently, materially and ultimately causes regeneration of the soul.

He creates the conditions under which humans can freely love him (freedom = the material cause), lovingly persuades some to believe (enabling grace = the efficient cause) and carries them on to completion in the eternal state (gift of perseverance = final or ultimate cause). Augustine, throughout his writings, exonerates God of being the efficient cause of evil. That God decrees, in an ultimate sense, the means and the ends does not entail him being responsible for them. 3 Application of a singular causality principle to the metaphysical problem of freedom and evil is short-sighted, not to mention an informal fallacy.

That freedom is, in itself, a good thing given by God to the creature. Augustine states “free will, . . . is a good thing divinely bestowed, and that those are to be condemned who make a bad use of it. “34 The cause of human freedom is God, yet the cause of sin and evil is the use of freedom, which is in accordance with the antecedent inclination of the will. Augustine illustrates the responsible/irresponsible use of a good thing. If you see a man without feet you will admit that, from the point of view of the wholeness of his body, a very great good is wanting.

And yet you would not deny that a man makes a bad use of his feet who uses them to hurt another or to Due to a sinful disposition or the bias toward evil no one can, apart from God’s intervening grace, choose to enter the kingdom. “Good works do not produce grace but are produced by grace. “36 And “calling [by God] precedes the good will . . . without his calling we cannot even Though God’s foreknowledge includes all free decisions, he does not share responsibility for them all. God is no more responsible for the misuse of freedom any more than the giver of a gift is responsible for how the gift is used.

For example, one might receive a gift of $1,000 to be used in helping an orphanage. If a high-powered rifle were instead purchased, then used to assassinate the President of the United States this in no way implicates any guilt on the part of the giver. Likewise, God gives the gift of freedom (and all things, for that matter), but he is not morally responsible for how it is used (cf. , 1 Cor. 4:7b). God is behind all free decisions in an ultimate sense, behind free decisions in salvation in an fficient sense and behind free decisions unto reprobation only in a material sense.

Consequently, “it is far from the truth that the sins of the creature must be attributed to the Creator, even though those things must necessarily happen which he has foreknown. “38 The ability to believe is the material cause of salvation. For the effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate, if he will have none of it. If God wills to have mercy on men, he can call them in a way that is suited to them, so that they will be moved to understand and to follow . . . t is false to say that “it is not of God who hath mercy but of man who willeth and runneth,” because God has mercy on no man in vain.

He calls the man on whom he has mercy in the way he knows will suit him, so that he will not refuse the call [italics mine]. 39 God’s decrees do not entail him being the material, efficient, formal and final cause of everything. It would be tantamount to blasphemy to assert that the perfect, holy and just God is the author of evil or sin. Evil is a deprivation or a lack of something that ought to have been otherwise. The lack of sight is, for a person, an evil whereas it isn’t for a tree. When the Bible speaks of God creating disaster or clamity (evil in Hebrew, cf. Is. 45:7) it is in the context of divine judgment upon a nation who ought to have behaved otherwise.

He is the efficient cause of judgment upon sin! One other aspect of God’s omniscience must be broached as it relates to human freedom. This is probably one of the most controversial facets of divine omniscience. It has been called various things such as contingent knowledge or middle knowledge. Put simply, God knows not only what will occur at all times by all people, but he knows what might occur given other variables which may have been different.

If God’s knowledge of all things actual and possible is simultaneous, then middle knowledge is nothing more than a heuristic means for understanding the logical processes of God’s thought. Whether or not Augustine held to any kind of middle (or contingent) knowledge of God is difficult to know. It is only mentioned to illustrate the scope of possible relationships between God’s knowledge and human choices. Craig says: Since God knows what any free creature would do in any situation, he can, by creating the appropriate situations, bring it about that creatures will achieve his ends and purposes and that they will do so freely .

Only an infinite Mind could calculate the unimaginably complex and numerous factors that would need to be combined in order to bring about through the free decisions of creatures a single Middle knowledge could serve to bridge the gap between God knowing all things simultaneously and the order of events which occur in the world that God foreknows will happen. Moreover, there are other kinds of relationships between subject and object than merely cause/effect. Craig demonstrates the difference between cause/effect and ground/consequent relationships that clearly show God’s foreknowledge of future events is not ausative.

He does this by suggesting that God foreknows x, because x will take place. The word because here indicates a logical, not a causal relation, one similar to that expressed in the sentence ‘four is an even number because it is divisible by two. ‘ The word because expresses a logical relation of ground and consequent. God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to [x], but [x] is logically prior to God’s But this argument is a double-edged sword.

If God foreknows x because it will take place, then is it not equally true that x will take place because God foreknows it, given the same elationship (i. . , ground/consequent) exists? In other words, the ground or basis upon which free choices are made is God’s infallible foreknowledge and free human choices are the consequent. God’s foreknowledge may be chronologically prior to the actualizing of a free choice, but this in no way makes his foreknowledge contingent. Otherwise, he makes decisions Election and the sovereignty of God demonstrate that he uses the perdition of some as a general deterrent from sin and the salvation of some as a general incentive for salvation (cf. , Rom. 9:10-29).

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