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

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Order of Contents

On the Negative Nature of Evil
On God’s Concurrence in Evil Actions
What makes an act sinful?

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On the Negative 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

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  (RBO, 2019), pp. 82-83  (pp. 304-305 in the Latin)

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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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