On Evil

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Rom. 3:23

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Subsections

On the First Sin

Original Sin

Sin

God is Not the Author of Evil

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Order of Contents

Articles
Book

Definition of Evil
On the Negative & Positive Aspects of the Nature of Evil
That Created-Being, Even in Evil-Workers, is Good
What Makes an Act Sinful?

Latin

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Articles

1600’s

Edwards, John – The Eternal & Intrinsic Reasons of Good & Evil, a Sermon Preached at the Commencement at Cambridge…  (Cambridge, 1699)

Fraser, James – Meditations 6, 8, 9, 1011  on the Power, Evil & Vileness of Sin  in Meditations on Several Subjects in Divinity…  (d. 1699; Edinburgh, 1721)

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1700’s

Wishart, William – The Certain & Unchangeable Difference Betwixt Moral Good & Evil: a Sermon Preached Before the Societies for Reformation of Manners, at Salters-Hall…  (London, 1732)  36 pp.

Chandler, Samuel – The Necessary & Immutable Difference Between Moral Good & Evil, Asserted & Explained: in a Sermon Preached to the Societies for Reformation of Manners, at Salters Hall…  (London, 1738)

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Book

Burroughs, Jeremiah – A Treatise of the Evil of Evils, or the Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin…  (London, 1654)

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On the Definition of Evil

Thomas Aquinas

A Compendium of Theology, ch. 114, ‘The Meaning of Good & Evil in Things’

“As the term ‘good’ signifies perfect being, so the term ‘evil’ signifies nothing else than privation of perfect being. In its proper acceptation, privation is predicated of that which is fitted by its nature to be possessed, and to be possessed at a certain time and in a certain manner.  Evidently, therefore, a thing is called evil if it lacks a perfection it ought to have.”

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On the Negative & Positive Aspects of the Nature of Evil

Early Church

Quote

Augustine

Enchiridion, or Handbook on Faith, Hope & Love, section 11  trans. Outler (1955)

“11. In this universe, even what is called evil, when it is rightly ordered and kept in its place, commends the good more eminently, since good things yield greater pleasure and praise when compared to the bad things. For the Omnipotent God, whom even the heathen acknowledge as the Supreme Power over all, would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil. What, after all, is anything we call evil except the privation of good? In animal bodies, for instance, sickness and wounds are nothing but the privation of health. When a cure is effected, the evils which were present (i.e., the sickness and the wounds) do not retreat and go elsewhere. Rather, they simply do not exist any more. For such evil is not a substance; the wound or the disease is a defect of the bodily substance which, as a substance, is good. Evil, then, is an accident, i.e., a privation of that good which is called health. Thus, whatever defects there are in a soul are privations of a natural good. When a cure takes place, they are not transferred elsewhere but, since they are no longer present in the state of health, they no longer exist at all.¹

¹ This section (Chs. III and IV) is the most explicit statement of a major motif which pervades the whole of Augustinian metaphysics.  We see it in his earliest writings, Soliloquies, 1, 2, and De ordine, II, 7…  The good is positive, constructive, essential; evil is privative, destructive, parasitic on the good. It has its origin, not in nature, but in the will. Cf. Confessions, Bk. VII, Chs. III, V, XII-XVI;  On Continence,  14-16; On the Gospel of John, Tractate XCVIII, 7; City of God, XI, 17; XII, 7-9.”

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Medieval Church

On the Thought of Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290 – 1340)

Bradwardine was an Augustinian in the Middle Ages and was often highly approved and cited by Samuel Rutherford.  His paradigm here on the nature of evil, from his book On the Cause of God, described by Dr. Leff, would be later adopted as standard by Reformed Orthodoxy.

Gordon Leff, Bradwardine and the Pelagians (1957; rep. Cambridge, 2008), pp. 54-56

“Everything created, therefore, as coming from God, is good; and nothing created is, by nature, bad.  We can, Bradwardine says, see this principle of goodness in everything that exists…

Accordingly, everything that tries to follow its true nature, as created and conserved by God, is good, since goodness is inherent in it.  Only when this nature is impaired does evil arise; for it then ceases to be a complete entity.

…Thus all that exists in its own right, possessing a positive nature, such as, say an apple, and is not a parasite on the positive, such as the canker in an apple, is by nature good.  In this sense we can include such actions [considered apart from their moral relations] as homicide and adultery; they cannot be bad [in themselves], according to Bradwardine, because they represent actions from which, by nature, value derives.  If we condemned the acts by which homicide and adultery were achieved, we should condemn the positive results which are achieved by these same actions.  Not only do these acts lend themselves to homicide and adultery; they are also responsible for death (in its natural sense) and marriage.

The nature of anything must not be confused with the purposes to which it is put: an apple as an apple is a positive nature, and good; if it is worm-eaten instead of healthy, its nature as an apple is still good.  Being alone is pure goodness.  Evil, on the other hand, has no essence or positive nature; it is lack of goodness, and so negative [Rom. 3:23], without a positive cause; it cannot therefore be regarded as part of the natural order of creation.  Moreover as parasitic on the good, which alone is positive, evil is always associated with good, as for example in the case of homicide and adultery which represent the distortion of death and marriage.  Evil can thus never exist on its own, for pure evil is the equivalent of pure deficiency, that is, nothing.  Indeed, it is only because the created world is by nature good that evil comes about, being conditional upon it.  Hence the presence of evil is simply further evidence for the existence of good.”

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1600’s Articles

Rutherford, Samuel – Ch. 5, Section 4, ‘Whether Sinful Concupiscence is a Negative Entity or Positive Quality?  We distinguish.’  in Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism: The Tables of Contents with Excerpts from Every Chapter, trans. Johnson & Fentiman  (1639-1643; RBO, 2019), pp. 82-83  (pp. 304-305 in the Latin)

Hickman, Henry – A Justification of the Fathers & Schoolmen, showing that they are not Self-Condemned for Denying the Positivity of Sin, being an Answer to so much of Thomas Pierce’s book…  (Oxford, 1659)  110 pp.  No table of contents

Hickman (bap.1629-1692) was one of the ejected English puritans at 1662, and was some time pastor of the English church at Leyden.  Pierce (c.1621-1691) was an Arminian Anglican and president of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Turretin, Francis – 9th Topic, Q. 11, ‘Whether Original Sin has Corrupted the Very Essence of the Soul.  Also Whether it is a Mere Privation or a Certain Positive Quality Too.’  in Institutes (P&R), vol. 1, pp. 636-640

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1600’s Quote

Peter van Mastricht

Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 3, bk. 4, ch. 2

section 17, pp. 454-55

“XVII. There are as it were two essential parts of the corruption: an aversion from all moral good, especially spiritual and saving good, and an inclination to all moral evil ( Jer. 2:13).  Here the description of actual sin presents an image of original sin, as a daughter does of her mother.  The latter is expressed in the Scriptures στερητικῶς, privatively (Rom. 3:23) and the former θετικῶς, positively (Rom. 7:23; Gen. 6:5).  Yet they do not differ so much as if both did not have a privation, but rather, that in the one a good habit is absent, and in the other a habit is indeed present, yet one that tends not toward good, but toward evil.  Therefore, there is here a positive that is nothing but logical, as they say, and one that is such only verbally, which Scripture employs, partly so that we would not consider sin as merely nothing or negative, and partly so that we would more easily recognize its most pernicious fruits.

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section 21, p. 457

“The Reformed certainly acknowledge that there is some substrate present under sin, namely a faculty or action in which inheres wickedness, although it is not a substance subsisting through itself; likewise they acknowledge that sin is not something negative; but they deny that it is something real, something substantial or positive; they affirm rather that it is something privative, which consists
only in lawlessness, or the absence of moral uprightness in a capable subject.  They do so because:

(1) John in his first epistle (3:4) defines sin as precisely as possible, by only ἀνομία, lawlessness: ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία, “sin is lawlessness.”

(2) Because if it were something real, substantial, or positive, it would necessarily require God to be its author, because he is the first cause of everything real, the author of what is substantial and positive.

(3) Nor does it consist in parts, in a substrate as the matter, and in lawlessness as the form, for in this
way God, at least partly, would become the author of sin, since without a doubt he is the author of what is material.

Objections
Nor do I see anything that could be said to the contrary, except:

(1) that the original stain is everywhere called the flesh, the old man, the body of death, the law of the members, and so forth.  To this it is easily responded that this occurs through a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, because this stain pervades the whole man.

(2) That a nothing does not contract the guilt of punishment, nor can it be punished.  I respond, We do not say that a sin is a nothing, but that it is a privation of moral uprightness that ought to be present.”

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Latin

1600’s

Pareus, David – Bk. 5, Selection 86, ‘The Error of [Matthew Flacius] Illyricus is Refuted, which Asserts Original Sin to be a Substance’  in 6 Books on the Loss of Grace & the State of Sin by Robert Bellarmine…  to which three following are joined, on Original Sin, are Explicated & Castigated  (Heidelberg, 1613)

Pareus (1548-1622) was a German Reformed Protestant theologian and reformer.

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That Created-Being, Even in Evil-Workers, is Good & is Willed & Loved of God as a Good

Article

Aquinas, Thomas

Question 5, ‘Of Goodness in General’, Article 3, ‘Whether every being is good?’  in Summa Theologiae, pt. 1

ch. 118, ‘Foundation of Evil in Good as its Substratum’  in A Compendium of Theology

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Quotes

Aquinas

Summa Theologiae, pt. 1, Question 20, God’s Love, Article 2, ‘Whether God Loves All Things?’

“Reply to Objection 4: Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another.  God loves sinners insofar as they are existing natures; for they have existence and have it from Him.  In so far as they are sinners, they have not existence at all, but fall short of it; and this in them is not from God.  Hence under this aspect, they are hated by Him.”

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Rutherford

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On God’s Concurrence in Evil Actions

1300’s

Latin

Bradwardine, Thomas – Book 1, ch. 34, ‘If and How God Wills and does not Will Sin’  in Of the Cause of God, pp. 294-307

Bradwardine (c.1290-3140) was a proto-reformed theologian in the Middle Ages.

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1500’s

Zanchi, Jerome – ‘God is not the Author of Sin’  from ‘Observations on the Divine Attributes’, 4.3.  5 paragraphs

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What Makes an Act Sinful?

Medieval

Aquinas, Thomas – Question 18, ‘The Good & Evil of Human Acts in General’  in Summa, First Part of the Second Part

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Latin

Disputations & Chapters

1500’s

Pacius, Julius – Disputation 8, De restitutionibus in integrum: de eo quod met. causa et de dolo malo  (Heidelberg, 1589)

Polanus, Amandus – Bk. 1, ch. 13, ‘On Evil’ & ch. 14, ‘On Human Sin’  in The Divisions of Theology Framed according to a Natural Orderly Method  (Basil, 1590; Geneva, 1623), pp. 45-56

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1600’s

Zanchi, Jerome – Of the Fall of the First Man, of Sin and of the Law in The Theological Works, vol. 4  (1618; n.d.)

2. Of Evil in General  6

Thesis 1, Evil essentially & from its own nature is nothing, but that only to which it is accidental is evil, which thing is surely a substance or accident   6

Thesis 2, Every evil is proper to some good, as in a subject  7

Thesis 3, Evil is so as not to be able to be except in a good; thus it is not able to arise except from a good, and yet that is not its cause  8

Thesis 4, A good is not able to be a cause of evil per se, but only by way of accident  8

Thesis 5, Evil is always in some substance or in an action of its agent  10

Thesis 6, Evil is in a substance by way of a privation of that good: so it is able and so it must hold.  Indeed evil, as it must be, is in an action by way of a privation of such a kind of order and measure  10

Thesis 7, To be through no mode is such a highest category, as evil is, this is from where all evils come forth  10

Thesis 8, Every evil is either of guilt or of punishment.  That of guilt is sin.  That of punishment is thus death (which is the penalty of sin) and all those things which are broken paths, as much in the soul as in the body and eternal goods  10

Thesis 9, Yet the evil of guild is much more grave than whatever is simply the evil of punishment  11

3. Of the Evil of Guilt, or of Sin in General  12-30

Thesis 1  13

Thesis 2, Sin is twofold: original and actual  14

Thesis 3, The causes of sin are of a twofold kind, as some are outside us, and some inside us  15

Thesis 4  17

Of the causes of sin inside us  22

Scharp, John – ch. 19, ‘Of the Evil of Punishment’  in A Course of Theology, in which all the dogmas and controversies of faith agitated in this generation between us and Papists are handled…  (Geneva, 1620), vol. 1, pp. 531-42

Chamier, Daniel – bk 4, ch. 8, ‘Of Good & Evil’  in A Body of Theology, or Theological Common Places (Geneva, 1653), pp. 133-35

Heidegger, Johann H. – The First Philosophical Disputation on Good & Evil  (Heidelberg, 1659)

Du Moulin, Pierre – 20. ‘Theological Theses on Evil & Sin’  in Molina, Cappel, Ramburtio, Maresio, Calvino, Le Blanc, Le Vasseur, Alpaeo, A Collection of the Theological Disputations held at Various Times in the Academy of Sedan, vol. 1  (Geneva, 1661), pp. 178-85

Leydekker, Melchior – Of the Truth of the Reformed, or Evangelical, Religion  (Utrecht, 1688), bk. 2, pp. 213-54

7. Of the Origin of Evil  213
8. Of the Origin of Good  236

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Book

1600’s-1700’s

Poiret, Pierre – Bk. 4, ‘On Evil, or Sin’  in Rational Thoughts on God, the Soul & Evil, in 4 Books  3rd ed.  (1677; Amsterdam, 1713), pp. 647-716  ToC

Poiret was reformed.

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