Infomotions, Inc.Nature, miracle and sin : a study of St. Augustine's conception of the natural order / By T. A. Lacey ... / Lacey, T. A. (Thomas Alexander), 1853-1931

Author: Lacey, T. A. (Thomas Alexander), 1853-1931
Title: Nature, miracle and sin : a study of St. Augustine's conception of the natural order / By T. A. Lacey ...
Publisher: London ; New York [etc.] : Longmans, Green, and co., 1916.
Tag(s): augustine, saint, bishop of hippo; augustine; natura; contra; miracle; sin; contra naturam; supra naturam; evil; libero arbitrio; god
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable; PDF
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 49,935 words (really short) Grade range: 10-13 (high school) Readability score: 53 (average)
Identifier: naturemiracleand00laceuoft
Delicious Bookmark this on Delicious

Discover what books you consider "great". Take the Great Books Survey.


r , >f 1 



AND SIN : A Study of 

St. Augustine s Conception of 

the Natural Order. - - - By 
T. A. LAGEY, M.A. 


BfBf ... MAI 




All rights reseived 






THESE lectures were delivered in the Schools at 
Oxford during the summer term of the year 1914, 
on the appointment of the Warden and Council 
of Keble College under the terms of the Pringle 
Stuart Trust. They are printed for the most part 
as read, but some passages were omitted in the 
Schools for lack of time, and other gaps after 
wards observed in the argument have been filled. 
In the fourth lecture I have expanded the single 
sentence which was all that I could devote to an 
interesting suggestion made two or three days pre 
viously by Dr. Sanday. The sixth has undergone a 
drastic revision, which owes not a little to a brief and 
pungent criticism passed upon it at the time of 
delivery by Mr. Way of the Pusey House. 

I have tried to keep close to my subject, and I hope 
it will be allowed that on the whole I have been 
successful. Some strength of will was needed, for 
St. Augustine s discursiveness is an infectious quality, 
and he spreads another snare, even more insidious, 
for the interested reader. If on one page he seems 
to belong to a world almost grotesquely antique, 
on the next he may stand forth as a modern of all 


times. That is due partly to his large humanity, 
partly to his devouring curiosity and wide sweep of 
vision. He is constantly provoking discussion of a 
question of to-day, and his challenge will no doubt 
be repeated to-morrow. But my task has been to 
find out what he himself thought, not what he may 
suggest to successive ages. His suggestions will 
perhaps be the more fruitful if we are careful to 
make sure what they meant for his own mind. 

These two disturbing qualities make quotation 
from his works a perilous adventure. He was a 
master of phrase, a rhetorician born and made, but 
a laborious thinker ; his dialectic circled round his 
words with disconcerting digression. A sparkling 
epigram, an apparently precise definition, leaps to 
the eye ; it is well to be careful, to look backward 
and forward, and to look far. Indexing is as danger 
ous with him as versicular quotation with St. Paul. 
Well-known flowers of speech, culled from his luxuri 
ant garden, have a history. Every student of the 
history of dogmatic theology knows what has been 
built on his vivid remark, * accedit uerbum ad ele- 
mentum et fit sacramentum an incomplete quota 
tion even of a single sentence. Thousands have cited 
Securus iudicat orbis terrarum, for one who has 
taken the trouble to find out what he meant by it. 

Consideration of this difficulty has induced me 
to make for myself a rule which may seem whimsical, 
but in which I have found safety. Where two 
sets of reference numbers are current in the editions, 
one for longer chapters and the other for shorter 
sections, I have made a point of using the larger 
divisions. If this gives a little more trouble to a 


reader who wishes to follow up a reference or to 
catch me tripping, his time may be well spent. 

There is an Appendix. I have ventured to 
disinter two essays, previously published, which 
deal less academically with some of the topics of the 
lectures. One of them was written many years 
ago, at a time when I had read nothing of St. Augus 
tine except some minor treatises, with parts of the 
Confessions and De Ciuitate Dei. How far he had 
then influenced me I cannot say. My memory 
calls up no consciousness of indebtedness, but, looking 
back, I think that something must have filtered into 
my mind from his to make me write this essay. It 
was, to be sure, very imperfectly assimilated. I 
hope that my present acquaintance with him, which 
is certainly wider, may also be found less super 
ficial. A third essay, on Dr. McTaggart s Idealism, 
appears here for the first time. 

I must apologize to the reader for faults in the 
correction of the press due to the present weak 
ness of my sight. I have had valuable help, but 
there is no sufficient substitute for the author s eye. 
The references, happily, were twice verified before 
my trouble began, but two small errors have been 
detected, and perfection is far to seek in this field ; 
a third revision intended has been found im 

The publication of the book has been delayed 
for many months by the disturbance of business 
due to the war. The delay has an effect. Some of 
the controversies glanced at in the lectures may seem 
to be antiquated, like many disputes, by this great 
cataclysm in human affairs. But in other respects 


the questions treated are made even more urgent. 
The war and its incidents, the appalling collapse 
of Christian civilization, the abandonment in certain 
quarters of the barest pretence of conforming to 
Christian ideals, make the problem of evil more 
insistent than it has ever been for our generation. 
We have returned to that loosening of social order, 
that contempt for law, that domination of material 
power, which in other ages forced upon men the 
question whether there is any moral government 
of the world, or any eternal standard of right ; it 
will not be surprising if the notion of an equally eternal 
and indestructible force of evil, set in conflict with 
good, comes into new prominence. Moral dualism 
is a refuge from solid thinking always welcome to 
a faltering intelligence ; it is always resurgent in 
Christendom, and a recrudescence of it at the present 
time may be a greater peril than appears on the 
surface. St. Augustine s hard fight for the moral 
unity of creation may have to be renewed in our 
selves ; his great syntheses will help us, and his 
mistakes may warn us off treacherous ground. 

T. A. L. 

March, 1916. 





Augustine and Augustinianism i 

The origins of Augustine : 

Christian ....... 7 

African .8 

Manichaean ....... 9 

Sceptic 12 

Neoplatonic ... . .20 

His conversion . . . . . . .23 



Various meanings of the word Natura ... 26 

Rerum natura ....... 29 

Cursus naturae . . . . . . 31 

Dualism and Monism ...... 33 

Plurality of natures 34 

Determination by creative will .... 37 

Created will ..... 39 

The source of Evil . .... 41 

Mutability . 43 

Human misery ....... 46 

Augustine and Plato 47 




Augustine s interest ethical ..... 49 
Cosmic freedom : 

Self-evident 50 

An essential characteristic of human nature . 53 

Determination of the will . . . . 53 

Will an ultimate reality 55 

Definition of will 56 

Will regarded as cause . . . . . 57 

Divine prescience 61 

Its conflict with freedom ..... 66 

Time and eternity 67 


MIRACLE 71-91 

Ordo causarum . . . . . . -71 

Including Will .72 

Natural laws ........ 73 

Portents included in the course of nature. . . 75 
Definition of Miracle ...... 76 

Omnipotence 81 

Credulity 82 

Dr. Sanday s distinction : Miracles not supra naturam 85 
The conception of a closed order and of intervention 86 



The goodness of nature ...... 92 

The conception of goodness : 

In abstract being ...... 93 

In God ........ 97 

Justification of God ...... 97 

Human goodness : 

The Stoic conception 99 

The Platonic ... 100 



Physics and Ethics at one : Goodness is fitness . 101 
Whence unfitness in God s work .... 102 

Evil a defect of good 103 

The cause of it : 

Not the intractability of matter . . .105 
Nor metaphysical remoteness . . . .105 

But the tendency in nihilum .... 106 

Criticism of this idea . . . . . .108 

Reduction of evil to peccatum 114 



Definitions of sin 115 

The condition of freedom . . . . .117 

Why choice of evil is possible . . . .118 

Sinfulness as the penalty of sin . . . .122 

Concupiscence . . . . . . .124 

Nature and grace 128 

Non posse peccare . . . . . . .130 

Is sin a power in the world ? 132 

Original sin ........ 134 

Its causes : 

Heredity 137 

Human solidarity . . . . . .138 

Concupiscence in generation . . . .139 

The problem left unsolved . . . . .140 

Augustine s fidelity to fact 141 




DR. McTAGGART S IDEALISM . . . . . i6l 



THE founder of this Lecture gave his benefaction for 
the purpose of promoting the study of the writings 
of the Early Fathers of the Church, and also of the 
writings of John Keble. Invited by the trustees to 
read the first set of lectures on the foundation, 
I thought it my duty to bear in mind this double 
intention. It need not be difficult, for Keble, entirely 
as he was of his own time and place in the history of 
Christianity, so steeped himself in certain branches 
of patristic theology that many openings might be 
found for entering into that way of reference to 
Catholic antiquity in which he wished his whole 
thought to move. But what may seem easy in 
general is not always easy for this or that person. 
The habitual movement of my own mind is so different 
from that of this master, revered and loved, that 
I hesitated before the task imposed. One subject 
I put aside expressly because my treatment of it 
would be likely rather to conflict with Keble s habit 
of thought than to illustrate it. Seeking another. 


and turning over some of his less familiar writings, 
I lighted upon an essay dealing with Miller s Bampton 
Lectures, in the course of which he passes judgment 
on a certain theological exaggeration characteristic 
of the time. Let me read this passage : As there 
fore it is a sound rule in common life to make up 
our minds beforehand that in those whom we admire 
most there is some evil, and in those for whom we 
fear most some good, though neither perhaps be 
yet discernible by us : so the Scripture doctrine of 
original and actual sin, being no more than this 
position generalized and accounted for, is found 
strictly in accordance with real observation. And it 
is grievously to be lamented that many good and 
wise men should have so far forgotten this as to 
have given, unnecessarily, double ground of grievous 
offence, by stating the doctrine of man s guiltiness 
as if God had positively declared it equal in every 
case, and infinite in all. We say " double ground 
of offence : " for it is notorious that to the speculative 
unbeliever this statement must be a stumbling-block, 
because it seems immediately to contradict experience ; 
and to the practical one it supplies an excuse too 
sure to be taken hold of, in the encouragement which 
it gives him to lay his own sin upon Adam s, or upon 
his Maker ; in its tendency to foster that worst 
kind of fatalism, whereby we look upon certain crimes 
as matters of course, much to be regretted indeed, but 
as regularly to be expected in certain seasons and 
situations as fog in autumn, or blight in spring. 1 

1 Occasional Papers and Reviews, 1877, p. 195. The essay 
was not published until it appeared in this collection, but it 
was evidently written soon after the delivery of the lectures 
in the year 1817, and intended for publication in some Review. 


The teaching here reprobated is commonly reck 
oned to be Augustinian. Its disseminators have 
always claimed St. Augustine as their patron, and 
their opponents have in many cases surrendered 
him without investigation. 

Here was a subject made to my hand. What is, 
in truth, the teaching of St. Augustine about the 
depravity of human nature ? But that question 
cannot be isolated. Man is but a part of the natural 
universe, the rerum natura. The whole must be 
considered as a whole, and the most superficial 
acquaintance with the writings of Augustine makes 
it plain that he was himself peculiarly aware of this 
necessity. It is soon evident that for him nature is 
nothing if not a continuum. But then two questions 
are forced upon the reader. 

The first is concerned with a problem always 
urgent, the moral difficulty confronting all monistic 
ways of thinking, the problem of the appearance of 
evil in the world. We must not ask how St. Augus 
tine solved the problem, for he left it unsolved ; 
but we may ask how he stated the problem, how 
he related evil of all kinds, and especially human 
depravity, to the natural order. Did he evade the 
difficulty by outfacing evil and reducing it to a kind 
of inferior good ? Did he, on the other hand, attri 
bute to it a mode of existence which involves a per 
manent and universal dualism, a conflict inherent 
in nature ? Or, finally, did he find some midway track 
between these courses of thought ? We have to 
ask how he related sin to nature. 

The second question is one that is urgent in 
our day. What is Miracle, and how related to 


nature ? It is a question which, did not much trouble 
Augustine, though he could not altogether escape it ; 
for whole ages it slept, because men rested in a 
conception of nature which allowed ample room for 
miraculous occurrences ; it is possible that we may 
soon achieve another conception equally elastic ; 
but at the present time most of us are in difficulties, 
and we cannot approach the study of St. Augustine s 
conception of nature without asking how he found 
room in it for those miracles which he unhesitat 
ingly believed to happen. Happily, he had occasion 
now and then to consider the question for himself, and 
his incidental treatment of it may serve to satisfy 
our curiosity ; perhaps, also, it may afford us some 
help in the readjustment of our own ideas. We 
have to inquire, then, how St. Augustine related 
miracle to nature. 

The bounds of my subject are thus determined. 
There are whole tracts of St. Augustine s teaching which 
I dare not, indeed, neglect, because the mystery of 
nature so possessed his soul that flashes of thought 
concerning it leap out from the most unexpected 
places, but which have no content bearing expressly 
on my theme. It is well. A reader of St. Augustine 
draws a deep breath of relief when he passes away, 
never for a long spell, from the Donatist controversy. 
It is always cropping up, but there are times when 
it is at least in the background, and we shall not be 
troubled with it. The worst that we have to put up 
with professedly is the block of the antipelagian 
treatises. These have a charm for some minds. Saint- 
Cyran is said to have read them all through, care 
fully, thirty times. That may account for a good 


deal in Jansenism. Others find in them much that 
is unlovely ; a hardness, a cold and relentless ratio 
cination, that handles human actions and human 
fortunes as if they were cog-wheels in some huge 
machine, and grinds out consequences with fatalistic 
inevitability. Others, again, think to find something 
worse : the attribution to God of a tyrannous will, 
a justice that rejoices against mercy. A third 
opinion, more obviously wide of the mark, has con 
siderable vogue. It has become a commonplace to 
say that Augustine, under the stress of the Pelagian 
controversy, relapsed into Manichaeism. It amazes 
me that anyone acquainted with his writings can 
repeat the stale slander. The charge was laid against 
him in his own day by Julian of Eclanum, 1 but that 
was mere bludgeon-work of controversy ; a more 
penetrating criticism might have found in the same 
department of his teaching a dangerous likeness to 
the Platonic form of dualism. The Pelagians, indeed, 
began by making great play with his earlier writings 
against the Manichseans. When he proceeded to fill 
up the interstices of the argument in which they had 
entrenched themselves, they accused him of going 
back on his conclusions. He did modify them as 
he saw need, but he continued to affirm without 
wavering the great principles which he had main 
tained from the time of his conversion. In debate 
with Julian, no less than when writing de libero 
arbitrio, he affirmed the fundamental doctrine that 
sin is a spontaneus defectus a bono 2 To the very 

1 Contra lulianum, i. 3. Tu qui tarn crebro nobis Mani- 
chaeorum nomen opponis. 

2 Ibid. i. 8, Bonorum auctor est Deus, dum auctor est 
naturarum, quarum spontaneus defectus a bono non indicat a 


end he kept bringing up, with almost wearisome 
iteration, the phrase which he made a kind of catch 
word : * Omnis natura, in quantum natura est, 
bonum est. The phase of St. Augustine s thought 
with which we are concerned is singularly stable 
and consistent. If the hammerer of the Pelagians 
seem to you another man than the urbane author 
of the Dialogues or the passionate pilgrim of the 
Confessions, you will do well to remember that you 
are dealing with one who was always various. He 
was of a largeness and a depth to find room for many 
moods. At the crisis of his conversion he did not 
wear his heart on his sleeve, but discoursed serene 
philosophy with friends and pupils in the pleasant 
retreat of Cassiciacum. I can doubt neither the 
superficial veracity of the Dialogues, nor the story of 
the deep agony of soul that you read in the Confes 
sions. Look at him on all sides, and in those early 
days you will find traces of the grim judgment which 
becomes dominant when he is at grips with the 
smooth prophesyings of the Pelagians ; you will find 
no less in his latest writings the fundamental postulates 
from which he set out. 

But what is the starting point ? He himself 
dated everything from his conversion. Until his 
thirty-second year he was a mere seeker. Then he 
pictured himself as entering into the truth, and 
reducing all his speculations to order. He apologized 
for including in his Retractations even those books 

quo factae sunt, sed unde factae sunt ; et hoc non est aliquid, 
quoniam penitus nihil est, et ideo non potest auctorem habere 
quod nihil est. Cf. De Libero Arbitrio, iii. I, where he shows 
that the movement of the will from good to evil non est utique 
naturalis sed uoluntarius. 


which he wrote in the first days of his renunciation, 
before he was practised in Christian thought and 
letters ; all that was earlier was negligible. We 
can hardly follow him in this judgment. We want 
to know what he brought of the glory and honour 
of the nations into the Christian Church ; and 
happily he has himself supplied sufficient evidence 
of the formative influences which made his thought 
what it was. 

I must keep as closely as possible to my own 
subject, which is not the whole of St. Augustine s 
thought, but a part of it. Let us rapidly consider 
his formation. 

Of his humanity it is needless to say much. The 
whole world, and not Christendom alone, acknow 
ledges the Confessions for one of the great human 
documents of history. Other qualities need con 

He was a Christian in some sense from the first, 
a catechumen. While yet a boy, he says, I heard 
of the eternal life promised us through the coming of 
our Lord God who humbled Himself to the level 
of our pride. That implies a considerable amount 
of Christian teaching. He knew enough to desire 
baptism when sick. 1 It will not do to lay much stress 

1 Confess, i. n. Audieram enim ego adhuc puer de uita 
aeterna promissa nobis per humilitatem domini Dei nostri 
descendentis ad superbiam nostram, et signabar iam signo crucis 
eius et condiebar eius sale iam inde ab utero matris meae, quae 
multum sperauit in te. Uidisti, domine, cum adhuc puer essem et 
quodam die pressu stomachi repente aestuarem paene moriturus, 
uidisti, Deus meus, quoniam custos meus iam eras, quo motu 
animi et qua fide baptismum Christi tui, Dei et domini mei, 
flagitaui a pietate matris meae et matris omnium nostrum, 
ecclesiae tuae. 


on his mother s influence. It has been suggested 
that he never understood her, and I am disposed to 
think that is true ; the mind of a woman was probably 
a sealed book to him ; however that may be, the 
Monnica of Cassiciacum, and of the wonderful days 
at Rome that followed, was a very different woman 
from the pious but rather frivolous girl who found 
herself so helpless in dealing with his boyish esca 
pades. Still, he grew up under her eye, more or less 

In the next place he was an African. It means 

a good deal. Climatic influence made the Romans 

of the African provinces what they would not have 

been elsewhere. Their literature from Appuleius 

onwards bears the mark of it. The Garden of Allah 

was close at hand, then as now. There is a hardness 

and coarseness of fibre in the people of this country 

which produced effects in ecclesiastical controversy. 

Tertullian did not live there for nothing. The 

Circumcellions were thoroughly African, and if 

we knew all we should probably find them fairly well 

matched by Catholic zealots. The foeda et intem- 

perans licentia scholasticorum, which drove Augustine 

from Carthage to teach in the more disciplined schools 

of Rome, 1 was characteristic. There is a particular 

aspect of nature, and especially of human nature, 

proper to the country. Things will stand out in vivid 

nakedness. I am inclined to attribute to this the 

brutality there is no other word for it displayed 

by Augustine in his treatment of women. You find 

it in his conduct towards the mother of his son, 

the faithful companion of many years, whom he 

1 Confess, v. 8. 


dismissed, in view of a suitable marriage, with 
considerable regard for his own loss, but little or 
none for her feelings. 1 You find it in his conduct 
towards the young bride chosen for him by his mother 
at Milan, whom he accepted coldly and then tossed 
aside without further thought. 2 You find it in the 
curious lack of reserve, the downright indelicacy, with 
which he would discuss the most intimate matters 
of sex in his public discourses. You find it in the 
frank animality of which he made no secret, while he 
rode it on the curb. There was a touch of romance 
in his youth, when he was in love with love * amare 
amabam, he says ; 3 but it was burnt out of his 
manhood. There are finer things which you may put 
down to the same influence. In his incessant use 
of imagery there is a vivid appreciation of nature. 
If the fierceness of the African sun was in his veins, 
the splendour of it inspired his frequent comparison 
of that corporeal shining with the uncreated light of 
God s presence. 4 While you reverence the saint in 
Augustine, you are never allowed for long to forget 
that he is an African saint. 

The third influence to be reckoned with is Mani- 
chaeism. This must not be misunderstood. The 

1 Confess, vi. 15. Auulsa a latere meo tamquam impediment o 
coniugii cum qua cubare solitus eram, cor, ubi adhaerebat, 
concisum et uulneratum mihi erat et trahebat sanguinem, et 
ilia in Africam redierat uouens tibi alium se uirum nescituram 
relict o apud me naturali ex ilia filio meo/ 

1 Ibid. vi. 13. 3 Ibid. iii. i. 

4 See, for example, De Genesi contra Manichaeos, i. 3. Solis 
istius lumen non illuminat omnem hominem, sed opus hominis 
et mortales oculos, in quibus nos uincunt aquilarum oculi, qui 
solem istum multo melius quam nos dicuntur adspicere. Illud 
autem lumen non inrationabilium auium oculos pascit, sed pura 
corda eorum qui Deo credunt. 


Manichaeism which. Augustine knew was not the pure 
offshoot of Persian dualism to which that name 
properly belongs. It was the doctrine of Faustus, of 
the Epistula Fundamenti ; a doctrine which professed 
to be distinctively Christian. Manichseus apostolus 
lesu Christi is the name in which the Epistle was 
written. Augustine tells us why he was drawn to 
this doctrine. There were two attractions. In the 
first place it offered a simple solution of the problem 
of evil, which had the farther advantage of delivering 
the evil doer from responsibility for his acts. 1 In the 
second place it promised complete intellectual enlight 
enment. The Catholic Church bade men believe, 
assent to doctrines unproved and irrational ; but 
the Manichsean teachers would lead the disciple 
on from proof to proof, asking only for adhesion to 
what was made good at each step. 2 There were 
fantastic mythologies in their writings, but the 
meaning of these would be gradually unfolded. To 
the perfect, all would be clear. 

It seems to have been chiefly this promise of proof, 
this appeal to the intellect, which drew the young 
Augustine. He describes himself as passionately 

1 De Libero Arbitrio, i. 2. E. Die mihi unde male faciamus. 
A. lam quaestionem moues quae me admodum adulescentum 
uehementer exercuit, et fatigatum in haereticos impulit. 
Confess, v. io. Adhuc enim mihi uidebatur non esse nos qui 
peccamus, sed nescio quam aliam in nobis peccare naturam, et 
delectabat superbiam meam extra culpam esse, et, cum aliquid 
mali fecissem, non confiteri me fecisse, ut sanares animam 
meam, quoniam peccabat tibi, sed excusare me amabam et 
accusare nescio quid aliud, quod mecum esset et ego non essem/ 

2 De Utilitate Credendi, i. Non aliam ob causam nos in 
tales homines incidisse, nisi quod se dicebant, terribili auctoritate 
separata, mera et simplici ratione eos qui se audire uellent 
introducturos ad Deum et errore omni liberaturos. 


seeking the truth, apertum et sincerum uerum 
tenere atque haurire cupientem. l And observe it 
is important for us that what he was seeking was 
the truth of nature. There was in him at this time 
the making of a natural philosopher. According 
to our modern notions there is something tragic in 
his turning aside from this course. He was ready to 
be an explorer, a discoverer. And not without fruit. 
He acquired some knowledge of elementary astronomy, 
and thereupon found the Manichaean myths of the 
heavenly bodies to be ridiculous. 2 He was told to 
wait until he had heard Faustus. Faustus came 
to Carthage, and Augustine found him a windbag. 3 
Perhaps he would have been less dissatisfied if he had 
not discovered that the famous teacher had read 
nothing but some of Cicero s orations, a little of 
Seneca, some fragments of poetry, and the Latin 
books of his own sect. It is probable that he did 
Faustus less than justice, but all the scholar in him 
revolted from this pretentious professor of little 
learning, and all his confidence in the Manichaean 
teachers went by the board. If you are inclined to 
complain that he did not afterwards apply the same 
measure to Christian teachers, you must remember 
that these made no such parade of universal know 
ledge. The Manichaeans promised too much, and 
failed him. 

With what result ? It seems that Augustine 
gave up once and for all his dream of penetrating the 
secrets of nature. He never lost his interest in 
phenomena. That is constantly reappearing. He 
arrived eventually at a fairly complete synthesis of 

1 De U tilitate Credendi, i. a Confess, v. 3. 3 Ibid. 6. 


the known and the unknown. But he was content 
to leave vast tracts unknown. He acquired the 
Socratic attitude, questioning, but confessing that no 
answer could be found. 1 

For a time he took refuge in the complete scep 
ticism of the Academy. He resumed, indeed, his 
place in the Catholic Church as a catechumen, but not 
hopefully. He would wait for more light. Fourteen 
years afterwards he gave in the Confessions a curious 
account of his attitude at this time. Philosophic 
scepticism had destroyed his belief in Manichseism, 
but he could not commit his soul to the Academics, 
because they had not * the saving name of Christ. 
He was casting back. e Spes mea a iuuentute mea, 
he cries, ubi mihi eras et quo recesseras ? 2 There 
is probably some measure of afterthought in this, but 
you should read it along with his curious testimony that 
when he was first drawn to the study of philosophy at 

1 Enchir. 3. Cum ergo quaeritur, quid credendum sit quod 
ad religionem pertineat, non rerum natura ita rimanda est 
quemadmodum ab eis quos physicos Graeci uocant : nee metuen- 
dum est ne aliquid de ui et numero elementorum, de motu atque 
ordine et defectibus siderum, de figura caeli, de generibus et na- 
turis animalium, fruticum, lapidum, fontium, fluminum, montium, 
de spatiis locorum et temporum, de signis inminentium tempes- 
tatum, et alia sexcenta de eis rebus, quas illi uel inuenerunt uel 
inuenisse se existimant, Christianus ignoret : quia nee ipsi omnia 
reppererunt tanto excellentes ingenio, flagrantes studio, abun- 
dantes otio, et quaedam humana coniectura inuestigantes, 
quaedam uero historica experientia perscrutantes, et in eis quae 
se inuenisse gloriantur plura opinantes potius quam scientes. 
Satis est Christiano rerum creatarum causam, siue caelestium 
siue terrestrium siue uisibilium siue inuisibilium, non nisi boni- 
tatem credere Creatoris. But cf. In loan. 53. Non quia ista 
negata sunt nobis, cum Deus magister dicat : Nihil est occultum 
quod non reuelabitur ; sed in quo peruenimus in eo ambulemus. 
Also De Trinit. iii. 2 ; infra, p. 79. 

2 Confess, v. 14 ; vi. i. De Util. Cred. 8. 


nineteen years of age by reading Cicero s Hortensius, 
he shrank from complete and enthusiastic surrender 
to that guidance because the name of Christ was not 
there ; that name he had drunk in with his mother s 
milk, and without it nothing could satisfy him. 1 So 
now, in his thirtieth year, he could not give himself 
wholly to a philosophy that was not Christian. But 
the Dialogue Contra Academicos, written immediately 
before his baptism, seems to imply a closer entangle 
ment than his memory afterwards charged him 
with. 2 During his sojourn at Rome, and in the first 
year of his public teaching at Milan, it is pretty clear 
that he went far in the profession of scepticism. Some 
little time later, he wrote of his escape from that net 
with an air of great relief. 3 

This, however, should be observed. In the letter 
to Hermogenianus, sent with a copy of the Dialogue, 
he hints that the teaching of the Academics was 
popularly misunderstood, 4 and in the Dialogue 
itself there is a suggestion that their scepticism 

1 Confess, iii. 4. 

E Contra A cad. ii. 9. Tune ergo nescis nihil me certum 
adhuc habere quod sentiam, sed ab eo quaerendo Academicorum 
argumentis atque disputationibus impediri. Nescio enim 
quomodo fecerunt in animo quandam probabilitatem, ut ab 
eorum uerbo nondum recedam, quod homo uerum inuenire non 
possit ; unde piger et prorsus segnis effectus eram, nee quaerere 
audebam quod acutissimis ac doctissimis uiris inuenire non 

3 Epist. i. 3. Non tam me delectat, ut scribis, quod Aca- 
demicos uicerim scribis enim hoc amantius forte quam uerius 
quam quod mihi abruperim odiosissimum retinaculum, quo a 
philosophiae ubere desperatione ueri, quod est animi pabulum 

* Ibid. i. i. Academicos ego ne inter iocandum quidem 
unquam lacessere auderem . . . nisi eos putarem longe in aliam 
quam uulgo creditum est fuisse sententiam. 


was little more than a pose ; they veiled their meaning 
behind such words as probabile, which were under 
stood only by the keener intellects among their 
hearers. 1 This may indicate either that Augustine 
did not go very deeply into their thought, and sus 
pected the presence of an esoteric sense beyond, or 
that he himself was conscious of such posing in his 
experiments with their philosophy. 

The lasting effect of these expriements may be 
found in Augustine s correlation of faith and reason. 
Credere meant for him the acceptance of statements 
or opinions on authority. Quod intellegimus, he 
wrote in early days, c debemus rationi : quod credi- 
mus auctoritati. 2 But the word auctoritas must 
not be misunderstood. It had not yet started on its 
travels to acquire the sense of arbitrary command 
in which it is now used. It still meant for Augustine 
pretty much what it meant for Cicero. This will 
be clearly seen from his comment in the Retracta 
tions on the sentence just now quoted. Substituting 
scimus for intellegimus, he says that in common 
parlance we need not be afraid to speak of knowing 
quod idoneis testibus credimus 3 The reference to 
( sufficient witness, which is constant with him, is thus 
identified with the reference to authority. We be 
lieve the records of history on such authority, without 
the knowledge that comes of immediate experience. 4 

In his first book against Manichseism, De Utilitate 

1 Contra Acad. ii. 10, 13. 

* De Util. Cred. n. Cf. Soliloquia, i. 3. Omne quod scimus 
recte fortasse etiam credere dicimus ; at non omne quod credimus 
etiam scimus. 3 Retract, i. 14. 

4 De Util. Cred. n. Credo enim sceleratissimos coniuratos 
uirtute Ciceronis quondam interf ectos : atqui id non solum nescio, 
sed etiam nullo pacto me scire posse certo scio. Cf . Confess, vi. 5. 


Credendi, Augustine frankly confessed that the 
scepticism of the Academy helped to deliver him from 
the spurious intellectualism to which he had sur 
rendered himself. But he explained also why he 
could not rest in this new way of thinking. The 
human mind, so intensely alive, so keen, so clear- 
seeing, how could it be incapable of attaining truth ? 
The difficulty could arise only from ignorance of 
method : since this could not be discovered by 
introspection, it must be accepted ab aliqua 
diuina auctoritate. x Two things stand out here : 
an obstinate conviction of the reality of self, and an 
obstinate trust in God as one who can communicate 
with men. The former is expressed in a passage 
of the Soliloquies which anticipates Descartes : * You 
who would know yourself, do you know that you 
are ? I know it. How do you know this ? I know 
not. Do you know that you are moved ? I know 
not. Do you know that you think ? I know it. 2 
Augustine brought scepticism to a pragmatic test. 
He found himself compelled to affirm some things 
because he could not get away from them ; he found 
himself compelled to believe some things because 
he could not do without them. 

1 De UtiL Cred. 8. 

2 Soliloq. ii. i. Tu qui uis te nosse, scis esse te ? Scio. 
Unde scis ? Nescio. Simplicem te sentis an multiplicem ? 
Nescio. Mover! te scis ? Nescio. Cogitare te scis ? Scio. Ergo 
uerum est cogitare te ? Uerum. Cf. De Lib. Arbitr. ii. 3, where 
he makes this the fundamental axiom of existence : Prius abs 
te quaero, ut de manifestissimis capiamus exordium, utrum tu 
ipse sis : an tu fortasse metuis ne in hac interrogatione fallaris, 
cum utique, si non esses, falli omnino non posses ? Compare 
also De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 26, where it is the primary certainty. 
Nulla in his ueris Academicorum argumenta formido dicentium 

" Quid si falleris ? " Si enim fallor, sum. 


I am not at present concerned with the use which 
he made of the principle of authority in finding his 
way to the Catholic Faith. But his conception of 
nature, which is our concern, depends on the same 
principle. Here also the maxim Crede ut intellegas 
holds good. Here also fides praecedit rationem. 1 

Something must be taken for granted, upon which 
the mind may work. Augustine s concentration 
upon ethical and religious interests made him work 
out his theory of knowledge in this region alone, but 
his theory is applicable to all kinds of knowledge. 
In the Dialogue De Ordine he states the process 
succinctly. Authority and reason are both necessary 
for learning. Authority is prior in time, though not 
in reality. There must be a process from inexperi 
ence to experience ; but the inexperienced does not 
even know how to learn, and therefore authority 
must open the way to him. Entering on this way 
without doubting, he is taught by precept, and so 
will at length learn the reasonableness of what he 
has accepted without reasoning. 2 

Here is a method which, if applied to the study 
of phenomena, would approach closely to the scien- 

1 In loan. 29, 6. Epist. cxx. 3. 

* De Ordine, ii. 9. Ad discendum necessario dupliciter 
ducimur, auctoritate atque ratione. Tempore auctoritas, re 
autem ratio prior est. . . . Quia nullus hominum nisi ex imperito 
peritus fit, nullus autem imperitus nouit qualem se debeat 
praebere docentibus et quali uita esse docilis possit, euenit ut 
omnibus bona magna et occulta discere cupientibus non aperiat 
nisi auctoritas ianuam. Quam quisque ingressus sine ulla dubi- 
tatione uitae optimae praecepta sectatur ; per quae cum docilis 
factus fuerit, turn demum discet et quanta ratione praedita sint 
ea ipsa quae secutus est ante rationem, et quid sit ipsa ratio 
quam post auctoritatis cunabula firmus et idoneus iam sequitur 
et comprehendit. 


tific process of working hpyothesis and verification. 
Augustine learnt it in his struggle with. Academic 
scepticism. It was not the less truly his method 
because he made but a partial application of it. He 
reckoned credulity a vice, 1 but we certainly count 
him credulous. He could not make up his mind 
whether to take as fact or as fiction the wildest 
inventions of Appuleius. But the character of the 
doubt should be observed. It is contemptuous ; 
aut indicauit aut finxit, he says, and dismisses 
the subject. 2 It did not matter whether such stories 
were true or not ; they were not worth verifying. 
The philosophers of the Academy had taught him not 
to affirm anything ; he refused compliance, but he 
had learnt not to deny rashly. He read wonderful 
stones in books of respectable authority like those 
of Varro ; 3 he accepted them with indifference 
knowing that some very strange things are probably 
true, and that our knowledge of nature is limited ; 
he was curious, but nothing more ; his attention 
was engaged with things of real moment. In regard 
to these he had escaped from scepticism. Deum 
et animam scire cupio, he cried, and for the rest, 
* Nihil omnino. 4 Here, too, he knew that know 
ledge was limited ; for example, he could find no 
answer to a question about the origin of the soul 

1 De Util. Cred. 9. Ipsa, inquis, credulitas, a qua creduli 
nominantur, uitium quoddam mihi uidetur esse : alioquin hoc 
nomen non pro conuicio obiectare soleremus . . . Interim accipio 
hanc opinionem ac distinctionem. 

2 De Ciuit. Dei, xviii. 18. Appuleius in libris quos Asini 
Aurei titulo inscripsit sibi ipsi accidisse ut accept o ueneno, 
humano animo permanente, asinus fieret aut indicauit aut 

3 Ibid. vi. 2 seqq. 4 Soliloq. i. 2. 



which was constantly baffling him, and he tried 
in vain to draw Jerome into a discussion of it ; x 
but there were some matters on which authority 
and reason could speak with positive results. Here 
he was busy, eagerly questioning and boldly answer 
ing. Elsewhere he was more or less contentedly 
uncertain. His very credulity was touched with 
scepticism. He stiffened in this attitude as he grew 
old ; in the Retractations he withdrew the praise 
bestowed in the Dialogues on the liberal sciences ; 
many holy men, he says, had been ignorant of these, 
and many versed in them were not holy. 2 In this 
way Augustine became the father of much obscur 
antism ; but his own practice was to drain all the 
sources of knowledge that seemed to him accessible. 
Alike in the flush of his conversion and when preaching 
to his little flock at Hippo, he demanded the applica 
tion of the mind even to the deepest things of God. 

The impulse of learning, he says at the end of 
the Dialogue Contra Academicos, comes from the two 
forces of authority and reason ; he was now firmly 
resolved to accept the authority of Christ, but his 
affections were set no less on understanding than 
on believing the truth. 3 Many years afterwards 

1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. 20 : Epist. clxvi. 

2 Retract. i. 3. In his libris displicet mihi . . . quod multum 
tribui liberalibus disciplinis, quas multi sancti multum nesciunt, 
quidam autem qui sciunt eas sancti non sunt. 

8 Contra A cad. iii. 20. Nulli autem dubium est gemino 
pondere nos impelli ad discendum, auctoritatis atque rationis. 
Mihi autem certum est nusquam prorsus a Christi auctoritate 
discedere ; non enim reperio ualentiorem. Quod autem sub- 
tilissima ratione persequendum est ita enim iam sum affectus 
ut quid sit uerum non credendo solum sed etiam intellegendo 
apprehendere impatienter desiderem apud Platonicos me in 
terim quod sacris nostris non repugnet reperturum esse confido. 


he warned his people against neglect of intelligence 
in the words of the psalm, Be ye not like to horse 
and mule, which have no understanding. The deep 
things of God were to be understood. The human mind 
was created for that function. And things of sense 
were no less the work of God than spiritual things. 
Here also piety called men to understand. There were 
practical limits to knowledge, but none in principle. 1 
Augustine s brief passage through scepticism was 
of no small importance in his formation. Unlike 
Manichaeism, it contributed something positive and 
permanent. But incomparably more important was 
the next influence under which he came. It was not 
to the faith of a Christian that he turned from scep 
ticism. The grip that Christianity had upon him must 
not be ignored ; but, while holding him, it did not 
satisfy him. There is in the Confessions a flashing 
phrase which possibly gave birth to Francis Thomp 
son s c Hound of Heaven. He addresses God : Tu 
inminens dorso fugitiuorum tuorum. 2 A conscious 
ness of God drove him from the Academy, but not 
yet into the arms of the Church. Christianity as 
he knew it, as then presented in the Latin tongue, 
was perhaps too unsystematic to satisfy his craving 
for ordered truth. I have quoted the account which 
he gave to his friend Honoratus of his passage from 
scepticism ; elsewhere he tells more. At Milan, a 
man whom he unkindly describes as c inmanissimo 
tyfo turgidum brought to his notice quosdam 
Platonicorum libros. 3 It was a case of love at first 
sight. Augustine became a Platonist. 

1 In Ps/xlii. ; In loan. 53. Supra, p. 12. 

2 Confess, iv. 4. 3 Ibid. vii. 9. 

c 2 


What did he know of Plato and Platonics ? That 
question brings up the further question of his know 
ledge of Greek. He tells us how he loathed it as a 
boy ; he learnt enough of it under the ferule to be 
able to correct the mistakes of others, and this he 
was rather fond of doing, but it is doubtful whether 
he could read a Greek book without labour and 
weariness. He read the Timaeus in Cicero s trans 
lation. 1 He quotes five or six of the other Dialogues. 
The books that he read at Milan were translated into 
Latin by Victorinus, who, as Augustine afterwards 
learnt, had been a convert late in life to Christianity. 2 
What were they ? He does not name them ; but 
there is no doubt that they were the Enneads of 
Plotinus. He says expressly in one place that the 
Platonics are those more recent philosophers who 
would not call themselves Peripatetics or Academics, 
and he names as the most distinguished of them 
Plotinus, lamblichus, Porphyry, and Appuleius. 3 
It was upon the Neoplatonism of Plotinus that 
Augustine lighted. 

It never ceased to influence him. It gave to 
whole tracts of his thought their lasting form. In 
the passage which I last quoted from the Dialogue 
Contra Academicos, he says that he confidently ex 
pected to find in the Platonics materials, consonant 
with the Christian faith, for that rational apprehen 
sion of the truth after which he was thirsting. In 
later years this enthusiasm faded, and in the Retracta 
tions he found fault with it, but to the end he testified 
that Plato s near approach to the truth might raise 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xiii. 16. 2 Confess, viii. 2. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, viii. 12. 


a question whether he had not drawn from the fount 
of inspiration. 1 It is while this influence is still 
fresh upon him that you find him talking with his 
mother of the access of the soul to God in the very 
terms of the mystic ascent of Plotinus. There is a 
characteristic difference, for the philosopher lacks 
the tense note of personality sounding in the words 
intra in gaudium domini tui ; but the prelimin 
aries are the same. If you say that the Confessions 
were written ten years later, and the account of that 
wonderful discourse may owe something to literary 
artifice, you are only arguing for the permanence 
of the impression. 2 Augustine himself said that the 
study of the Platonics brought him to the Christian 
faith. There is in his story much that bears imme 
diately upon our subject. Apart from the doctrine 
of the Word, which he found in these books and 
afterwards found completed in the Gospel, apart 
from the doctrine of the One, pure and holy, the 
source of all, which threw him back upon himself 
to the realization of his own vileness apart from 
these dominant doctrines there were other things, 
of less moment indeed, but still fruitful in the forma 
tion of his Christian thought. 

He learnt from Plotinus that in all things below 
God there is an admixture of being and not-being. 

1 Retract, i. i. Laus quoque ipsa qua Platonem uel Platoni- 
cos seu Academicos philosophos tantum extulit, quantum ipsos 
impios homines non oportuit, non inmerito mini displicuit. 
De Ciuit. Dei, viii. n. Quod et me plurimum adducit ut pene 
assentiar Platonem illorum librorum expertem non fuisse. 

2 Confess, ix. 10. Si cui sileat tumultus carnis, etc. Plotinus : 
Ennead. v. I, 2. ^crv^ov Be avrrj CTTO> /XT) /xoVov TO 

/cat 6 TOV craJttaTO? /cAvSwv, dAAa KOL TraV TO Trepieyov. 
, ^crv^os Se OdXacrcra KOI aijp /cat avros ovpavos, K.T.A.. 


God is pure being ; these other things are, since they 
are from Him ; at the same time they are not, since 
they are not what He is. That alone truly is which 
is immutable. Thought was delivered from the ebb 
and flow of mere phenomena, and found even in the 
most transitory things an element of permanence. 

Then he learnt that existence is good. All things 
that are, as being, are good. Things that are in process 
of corruption are good, in so far as they partake of 
being. They are not supremely good, for they have 
no true immutable being, else were they not corrupt 
ible ; but if they were not in some degree good there 
would be no sense in saying that they are corrupted. 
Corruption is a loss of good, priuatio boni ; but not 
of all good, else would they cease to be. Thus he 
found the source of evil. 1 

That is of first-rate importance. His rejection 
of the Manichaean mythology had left him face to 
face with this problem of evil : quod quaerebam, he 
says, ( unde esset. 2 To have no answer to that 
question was intolerable, and for that reason alone 
he would probably have done battle with scepticism. 
One of his troubles with Christianity was that the 
doctrine of an omnipotent Creator seemed to make 
God the author of evil, a monism which was worse 
than the Manichaean dualism. Plotinus delivered 
him from that nightmare. There was no substance 
that was not either God or created by God ; but evil 
was no substance ; it was the loss of the goodness 
which inheres in substance. 

This conception of evil is, so far, purely meta 
physical. But moral evil, or sin, would easily be 
1 Confess, vii. 9-12. 2 Ibid. vii. 7. 


subsumed under it. Augustine always had a con 
science of sin, but of sin as a thing to be resented. 
He was drawn to Manichaeism by the doctrine that 
sin was inevitable under existing conditions, a fault 
for which he therefore had no responsibility ; he 
was held to it by the promise of liberation from this 
necessity when he should escape from connexion 
with the substance of evil. He now learnt to regard 
it as a falling away from his own proper and natural 
good, the cause of which he must find in himself. 
There was a remedy, to be sought in a return to that 
goodness from which he had lapsed. But how ? 

You must not think of Augustine as converted 
by philosophic reasoning. He speaks rather bitterly 
of those who could point whither one should go, 
but could not indicate the way. The first effect of 
this new reading was not good : inflabar scientia, 
he says. He thought that, if he had read the Pla 
tonics when already an instructed Christian, they 
might have led him astray. The beatitude of Plotinus 
to be won by sheer withdrawal from contaminating 
influences, was not for him. 1 To begin with, his 
will was weak. He would and he would not. Those 
were the days when he cried Give me chastity and 
continence, but not just now ; when he replied to 
the call of holiness, Suffer yet awhile. 2 In the 
second place, there was an infirmity of the flesh. 
Christianity meant for Augustine a tremendous 
renunciation. No half-measures would satisfy him. 
There were many things to be given up, and one 
thing in particular. For some reason which eludes 
inquiry he was persuaded that, in his case, it involved 
1 Confess, vii. 120. * Ibid. viii. 5, 7. 


the renunciation of marriage, and complete continence 
in the celibate state. This seemed to be impossible- 
You need not imagine him a profligate or a volup 
tuary. It is probable that he was always temperate 
in the indulgence of appetite. But renunciation 
was another matter. The habitually chaste Alypius 
urged him to adopt the celibate life, as good for 
philosophic study ; he replied that he could not 
endure it, and he afterwards reproached himself 
for having thus tempted his friend to a morbid 
curiosity. 1 When he dismissed the mother of Adeo- 
datus, in view of the marriage arranged by Monnica, 
he could not put up with the proposed delay, and 
callously took a temporary mistress. 2 Bear in mind 
that this was immediately before the crisis of his 
conversion. His soul was clamouring for the uita 
beata which Plotinus taught him to seek in communion 
with God, but the way was barred. He embarked 
on the study of St. Paul s writings, where he found 
the same conflict described. He could still discuss 
beatitude in philosophical fashion with his friends 
at Cassiciacum, but he knew that he must find some 
other way. St. Paul s doctrine of grace laid hold on 
him : there was a gift of God. The aspiration after 
ascent to the One was complemented by the idea of 
the stooping of the One to meet him. The stories 
told him by Porticianus of the Egyptian hermits 
and of the officers of the Court who were moved by 
their example, broke down his conviction of the im 
possibility of this thing. If they could make renun 
ciation, why not he ? He was ready for the critical 
and decisive words, * Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, 
1 Confess, vi. 12. 2 Ibid. vi. 15. 


and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the 
lusts thereof. 1 

I have thought it necessary to follow St. Augustine 
into the secrets of his spiritual struggle, in order to 
complete this rapid survey of his formation, but I 
must conclude by returning to my proper subject. 
Augustine brought with him into the Christian Church 
a connected conception of nature as the work of the 
One God. As such, it partakes of that goodness 
which is sheer existence. But it was created out of 
nothing, and has a tendency to return to nothing. 
That is evil, a merely negative state, a loss of good. 
To this purely metaphysical conception the intensity 
of his struggle with sin added a rich moral content, 
and the note of vivid personality. He applied this 
conception to the problems of Christian doctrine. 
It was not drawn from Christian doctrine ; or, if 
his elementary Christian training had contributed 
anything to it, the form at least came from another 
source. It was not easily applied to Christian doctrine ; 
Augustine, convinced of the truth of both alike, did 
not hesitate to use some force in effecting the con 
nexion. You often see him struggling with incom 
patibilities. In one province of the doctrine of sin 
he was landed in difficulties of his own making, 
from which he found no escape. This conception 
of Nature, its problems, its triumphs, and its failures, 
will be the subject of these lectures. 

1 Confess, vii. 21 ; viii. 6, 12. 



I MUST bespeak your attention to-day for some dry 
verbalism. It is useless to talk about Nature unless 
we understand in what sense we are using an equi 
vocal term. We must be careful in dealing with St. 
Augustine s use of it, for he is not himself verbally 
consistent. There are in his writings inconsistencies 
common to all who use the word or its equivalent in 
various languages, and others which are consequent 
upon his own special way of thinking. 

Take this first. The Manichaeans interpreted 
the conflict of wills in a human soul by the assumption 
of two warring natures, good and evil ; he replied 
that such opposing purposes were not two only, but 
many, and on this hypothesis the natures also must 
be many : non iam duae sed plures. * This he 
considers evidently absurd ; but in a different con 
nexion he speaks without hesitation, and constantly, 
of a plurality of natures. 

Take this again. Where there is a distinction to 

be drawn between physics and ethics, you will find 

him contrasting natura and uoluntas : he discusses, 

for example, the question whether the movement of 

1 Confess, viii. 10. 


the soul is natural or voluntary. 1 Yet nothing is 
more integral to his thought than the conception 
of uoluntas as a natural endowment of man, without 
which human nature would not be what it is. Volun 
tary movement is therefore a perfectly natural 
movement for man. 

Once more, when you come across a contrast of 
natura and mores, some offences being contra naturam 
and others contra mores bominum* you will walk 
warily, reflecting that custom is a natural growth, 
and you will ask how the distinction can stand. 
You may then pursue the subject further, and find 
him saying elsewhere that all faults alike are contra 
naturam? You turn the page, and read of uitia 

There are verbal inconsistencies, therefore, and 
other less obvious discrepancies which show that 
the word natura is sometimes used with less than 
its largest content. It is a familiar linguistic diffi 
culty. Indeed you will find in St. Augustine almost 
the whole range of the common use, not to say the 
abuse, of the derivative in modern English. 

For one use or abuse of the word, however, there 
was little room in his thought. What is barbarously 
but conveniently called natura naturans disappeared 
before the intensity of his theism. He had no need 
to personify nature as a worker, since he saw in nature 
nothing but the direct work of God. The avoidance 

1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. i. 

z Confess, iii. 8. Contra Faustum, xxii. 47. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. i. Omne autem uitium naturae nocet, 
ac per hoc contra naturam est. 

* Ibid. xii. 3. Non enim quisquam de uitiis naturalibus sed 
de uoluntariis poenas luit. 


of this thought was of a piece with his emphatic 
repudiation of the Stoic pantheism. If there be such 
a thing as anima mundi, he says, it certainly is not 
what we mean by God. 1 But he could not avoid 
an occasional lapse into less theistic language. In 
one place he speaks of nature as the agent by whose 
working medicine becomes a remedy for sickness ; 
in another he makes nature the giver of qualities 
or powers to fire and water ; qualities which, as a rule, 
he more accurately calls the natura or uis naturalis 
of things, given to them by the Creator. 2 But such 
lapses into common speech, which are not numerous 
in his writings, no more indicate a weakening 
of his fundamental thought than our talk of 
sunrise implies a concession to the Ptolemaic 

Another common use of the word he allowed 
with hesitation for a time, but afterwards rejected. 
Faustus the Manichaean alleged certain miracles 
of the gospel as done contra naturam. Augustine 
demurred. In a sense it was true ; with a glance at 
St. Paul s phrase, irapa faa-iv, 3 he allowed that in 
a certain fashion of speech the word natura stands 
for the ordinary course of events familiarly known 
to us. But even so he would not allow an argument 
to be based on this popular use, and at a later period, 

1 Retract, i. 1 1 . Hoc sane inconcusse retinendum esse non 
dubito, Deum nobis non esse istum mundum, siue anima eius 
ulla siue nulla sit. It will be seen in De Immortal. Animae, 15, 
how he clung to the conception of anima mundi. 

2 De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 15. Natura id agit interiore motu 
nobisque occultissimo. De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 7. At hoc esse 
potius contra naturam uidetur, quae non igni sed aquae dedit 
salem soluere, torrere autem igni non aquae. 

3 Rom. xi. 24. 


as we shall see, he was even less tolerant of it in 
serious discussion. 1 

We will turn to the more seriously determined 
uses of the word. You must observe one broad 
distinction, belonging to the common use of language, 
which needs careful watching in Augustine. Natura 
sometimes means the whole frame of things rerum 
natura ; at other times it stands for parts of the 
whole, distinguished by their specific constitution or 

And first, of the rerum natura : how does he 
understand it ? Quite alien from his thought is the 
dualism which sets nature over against God. All 
that occurs in nature is the work of God, but you 
are not to think of God as setting up an external order 
of nature, and then standing apart, directing and 
controlling it from without. The distinction between 
God and the works of God remains always clear. 
The works of God are not God ; if there be an anima 
mundi, that also is a creature, and not the creator, 
nor even a demiurge. But God and the works of 
God are conceived as being in one continuous order. 
There is no clear cut distinction of nature and super- 
nature ; there is nothing absolutely supernatural. 
Nature includes all that exists. Augustine speaks 

1 Contra Faustum, xxvi. 3. Dici autem humane more 
contra naturam esse quod est contra naturae usum mortalibus 
notum nee nos negamus. . . . Contra naturam non incongrue 
dicimus aliquid Deum facere, quod facit contra id quod nouimus 
in natura. Hanc enim etiam adpellamus naturam, cognitum 
nobis cursum solitumque naturae, contra quern Deus cum aliquid 
facit magnalia uel mirabilia nominantur. Contra illam uero 
summam naturae legem, a notitia remotam siue impiorum siue 
adhuc infirmorum, tarn Deus nullo modo facit quam contra se 
ipsum non facit. Cf . De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 8. Infra, pp. 76 seqq. 


freely of natura Dei, or in metaphysical terms of trie 
natura quae summe est, or, in his more Platonizing 
mood, of that quae summum atque incommutabile 
bonum est. 1 Is this a case of using the same word 
for disparate ideas ? No ; you must not separate 
this nature of God by an impassable chasm from the 
nature of God s works. Augustine argues in his 
treatise De Anima that the human soul is not -pars 
Dei or eiusdem naturae* but he is here using the 
word in its second sense, to which we will come 
presently ; the human soul is of another nature than 
God just as it is of another nature than the soul of 
a dog. But God and man, man and dog, are in the 
same system. There is an ordo naturarum, con 
tinuous ab eo quod summe est ad id quod minus 
est. 3 

This continuous ordo is the rerum natura. If you ask 
in what it consists, you will find a continuous sequence 
of natural causes : naturalium causarum ordo. 4 
Can it be known as such ? In the Enchiridion 
Augustine deprecates a curious investigation of the 
rerum natura^ or the study of physics, on the ground 
that for a Christian it is sufficient to acknowledge in 
the goodness of the Creator the cause of all created 
things. 5 This scientific pessimism had grown upon 
him in his old age, but even then he was not agnostic 
in principle. In the more philosophic mood of his 
treatise De Trinitate he had been able to express 

1 De Util. Cred. p. 18. De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 2, 6. Contra 
Julian, i. 8. 

2 De Anima, ii. 3. Cf. Plotinus, Enn. v. i, 2. Averts ovcra 
erepa oiv Kooyxet /cat &v KLVCL KOL a ^rjv TTOICI. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 8. 4 Ibid, xiv. n. 

5 Enchir. g. Supra, p7i2. 


admiration of the investigators of such secrets, 
who follow even extraordinary events at which most 
men stand agape and track them to their true place 
in the natural order. The task is very difficult, 
perhaps waste of time, but not impossible. 1 

There is, then, a cursus naturae. To the use of 
this phrase Augustine is pretty constant. The course 
of nature is knowable, but imperfectly. When it is 
important to distinguish what is more or less familiar, 
he speaks of naturae usitatissimus cursus. This 
implies the existence of another sequence of causes, 
which is not the less natural and orderly because it 
is manifest only at comparatively rare intervals. 
The two sequences must not be kept in separate 
compartments ; they are to be conceived as inter 
penetrating one another in all the phenomena of 
the world. There is no hard and fast limit, for scien 
tific investigation may transfer a cause and effect from 
one side of the distinction to the other, and men 
cease to marvel at what is so explored. 2 Augustine 
tells us how he shuddered when he first saw a magnet 
draw to itself fragments of iron, but he was soon able 
to place it in the customary course of nature. 3 The 
distinction is only that of the known and the unknown, 
the usual and the unusual. 

But did not Augustine leave a whole group of causes 
and effects permanently on the side of the unknown ? 
In the ninth book De Genesi, he distinguishes two 
modes of the working of God s providence, the creative 
and the administrative. 4 The work of creation 
and bear in mind that Augustine understood this 

1 De Trinit. iii. 2. Infra, p. 84. a Ibid. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 4. * De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 18. 


to be a single simultaneous act, creauit omnia simul l 
started the sequence of causes in rebus which can be 
explored ; for the work of administration there are 
certain causes reserved by God in se ipso absconditae. 
As if to show what snares of language are about our 
feet, Augustine says that things done in this way are 
effected non naturali motu rerum sed mirabiliter ; but 
you must not judge his thought by that lapse. You 
will judge him more fairly by an earlier passage in the 
same treatise, where he is confronted with the question 
how God moves created things. We do not know, 
he says, how the mind moves the body, and what we 
do not know in respect of our own acts we cannot 
hope to know in respect of another s. 2 So the acts 
of God done in the administration of the world are 
brought under the same rule as the acts of a man. 
The secret causes hidden in the divine nature are 
related to the known causes of created nature. They 
are properly natural. 

There is no room here for the deistic conception 
of nature constructed, wound up, and set going by 
the Creator. Equally excluded is the idea of an 
absolutely transcendental Ruler of the universe. 
God is conceived at once as the first in a continuous 
sequence of causes, and as acting immediately within 
the resultant system of phenomena. On the other 
hand, a merely immanental divinity is no less out of 
question. To attain to the knowledge of the immut 
able substance of God, he says, is to pass beyond the 
confines of this changing universe of things corporal 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. viii. 20. Compare, however, Epist. clxvi. 
8, where he treats as tenable Jerome s opinion quod singulas 
animas singulis nascentibus etiam modo Deus faciat. 

* Ibid. viii. 21. 


and incorporal, and so to learn that the whole of 
nature which is not God Himself is made by God. 1 
Sometimes this dualism finds crude expression, as 
when he says that the world is the greatest of visible 
things and God the greatest of invisible things. 2 

Dualism I call it, and let drop a dangerous word. 
Wherever there is dichotomy there is incipient 
dualism, and Augustine loved dichotomy ; but you 
must always look to find his two subsumed under one. 
There is a striking example in a passage of the treatise 
De Anima to which I have already referred. 6 Omnis 
natura, he says, uel Deus est, uel ex Deo. That 
which is ex Deo is either made or not made. That 
which is not made is either begotten of God or pro 
ceeding from God. 3 It is a daring attempt to bring 
the mystery of the Trinity and the phenomena of 
the world into a single conception. The word natura 
stands for the idea under which all is subsumed. 
You will find dualism of this kind everywhere in St. 
Augustine, but the dualism is never final. 

Shall we then speak of his monism ? I will do so 
with caution ; a false impression may easily be con 
veyed. Foreign to his thought is that element of 
necessity which seems to be involved in monism 
as commonly understood. If I take the meaning 
of Plotinus correctly, his thought also was not mon 
istic in this sense. The One and the All are not 
identical, as they would be if emanation from the 
One were eternally necessary. In Augustine the 
distinction is of the clearest. With his strong sense 
of personality and his frank use of anthropomorphism, 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xi. I. a Ibid. 4. 

3 De Anima, ii. 3. 


he had no difficulty in basing the unity of nature on 
the one supreme will of the Creator, consciously and 
continuously exercised. In another connexion we 
shall have to consider the perplexing element in that 
unity caused by the presence of created wills ; it is 
sufficient to say here that these are an integral 
part of the system. The system holds together as 
the expression of an ever active but immut 
able will. Nature is not more separable from 
God than sunshine from the sun. In this sense 
only you may call St. Augustine s thought 

It is time to turn to his other use of the word 
natura. And first, he is continually compelled to 
employ it, for the purpose of polemic, in the Mani- 
chaean sense. Here it stands for that which is self- 
existent, co-eternal with other existences. There 
is no such plurality, he says ; it is one of his last words 
that there is no aliena natura which can interfere with 
the nature that is of God. 1 Over against the nature 
of God, who is supreme being, there can be no opposed 
nature, but only sheer non-existence : contraria 
natura non est nisi quae non est. 2 But his polemic 
in this connexion was not exclusively directed against 
Manichaeans. Others among his beloved Platonics 
thought of a nature, formless but self-existent and 
eternal, of which, as praejacent material, the world 
was made. You may look into the popular tract, 
De Fide et Symbolo, to see how peremptorily he could 
treat this notion. God has made one thing of another, 
he says man of the dust of the earth, for example 
but this praejacent material was itself created by 
God ; the ultimate term of the series thus begun 
1 Retract, i. 15. 2 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 2. 


is that all things were called into being out of 
nothing. 1 

The existence of any nature independent of God 
is thus ruled out of court ; but in another sense, 
plurality of natures and differences of nature are 
everywhere emphasized, not to say exaggerated, by 
Augustine. He had no hankering after physical unifi 
cations. His attitude was that of a common-sense 
realism. Things are what they are, and as a rule 
they are what they seem. They are what they are be 
cause they are so made by the constituent will of God. 
For their specific differences his usual word is natura. 
The nature of a man is different from the nature of a 
horse ; the difference has an ethical value, because 
the unreasonableness which calls for bit and bridle 
is natural to the one, but is a fault in the other : 
* quod equo natura est homini crimen est. 2 By 
an easy transition natura then comes to mean a 
class of individuals distinguished by common quali 
ties : c naturae quae corrumpi possunt 3 are marked 
off by the capacity for going to pieces, or of sinking, 
as he would say, towards the nothingness out of 
which they were called. Sometimes, indeed, he pre 
fers the word species, as in the characteristic assertion : 
6 Species ipsas Deus fecit, non priuationes. 4 He 
has in mind his dominating thought that evil is but 
the loss of natural good, and you see that species 
and natura are interchangeable terms. 

Here, however, we may detect a subtle shifting 
of the word. There would be no point in using 
either term for designating an object merely as an 
object. Yet Augustine sometimes comes near to 

1 De Fide et Symbolo, 2 ; infra, p. 105, a In Ps. ciii. 4. 

* Contra Ep. Fundamenti, 36. * De Genes. Imperf. 5. 

D 2 


such use. Natura shares with substantia the ambi 
guity of application alike to the genera] and to the 
particular. These terms also are interchangeable. 
I will give you three examples, taken from different 
periods. In the early dialogue De Libero Arbitrio 
he says expressly, Naturam uoco quae et substantia 
dici solet. l In a popular exposition of the evil 
of falsehood he writes : Ne quis putet aliquam 
substantiam uel naturam ueritati esse contrariam. 2 
In the antipelagian treatise Contra lulianum you 
may read : Natura est ipsa substantia et bonitatis 
et malitiae capax. 3 The confusion caused by the 
ambiguity of the word substantia is well known, and 
the same difficulty occurs at times in Augustine s 
use of the word natura. It is aggravated by his 
fondness for epigram. There is an evident straining 
after effect in the sentence : * Uitium ita contra 
naturam est ut non possit nisi nocere naturae. 4 
This can only mean that a vice injures an individual 
existing in nature because it is a disturbance of 
the order of nature. Such an use of the word would 
be impossible if it were not habitually employed for 
the distinction of objects, not merely as objects, 
but by their qualities. 

We are remitted, therefore, to the consideration 
of these qualities. We must be careful to approach 
them on the right side. They are not to be thought 
of as constituting this or that nature ; the will of 
God is the only constituent power, and by the same 
will these qualities are imposed on things when created. 
Things are what they are suae determinatione naturae, 

1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. 13. 2 In Ps. v. 

3 Contra lulianum, i. 8. * De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 17. 


and the will of the Creator is the determinant. He 
can put it even more peremptorily : Uoluntas 
conditoris conditae rei cuiusque natura est. 1 Then 
are natures fixed ? In the ordinary course of nature, 
yes ; but Augustine will tell you that the will of God 
is not exhausted in the act of creation. Changes of 
nature, the most portentous, are to be referred to 
the same cause. As he says elsewhere, certain 
seminal principles were implanted in things whereby 
they should in the course of nature become what 
they were to be, but the results can be varied by the 
continuing operation of the will of God. 2 

This postulate seemed to Augustine so obvious 
that he could use it with perfect simplicity in argu 
ment against those who questioned the possibility 
of the resurrection of the body and of the fire of 
eternal judgment. It is well known, he says, that 
extraordinary things do occur : what do these people 
say of them ? Agrigentine salt, for example, melts 
in fire and crackles in water, reversing the usual 
behaviour of salt in the ordinary course of nature : what 
do they say to this ? They say that it is the nature 
of this particular kind of salt so to do. A short 
answer, and sufficient, he allows. Well then, since 
God is the author of all natures, why should we be 
expected to give a better reason for the marvels 
which we believe. It is the will of Almighty God : 
that is enough. It is the will of God that quick 
lime should boil in water and be cold in oil, that straw 
should keep ice from melting and warm apples to their 
ripening, that hard and beautiful wood should turn 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 8. 

2 De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 17 ; infra, p. 89. 


into ugly and fragile charcoal, and at the same time, 
wonderful to relate, should become incorruptible 
instead of corruptible. It is the will of God : what 
more can be said to account for anything ? 1 

You are not to infer from this that Augustine lived 
in fairyland, in an irrational universe where anything 
might happen. He did not understand by the will 
of God a whimsical indetermination. He believed 
in the fixity of the course of nature, the inevitable 
sequence of cause and effect. It was his business to 
proclaim in a Christian sense that Oneness of God 
which he had learnt of the Platonics, and Oneness 
implied an immutable fixity of purpose. But it 
was no undifferentiated unity, no mere negation 
of multiplicity. The Unity of God means infinite 
richness of content, excluding nothing ; therefore 
the works by which God is known are infinitely 
various ; we know a small part of them as sequence 
of cause and effect ; the rest we may refer by unknown 
sequences to Him as the First Cause. 

I have stepped aside from my immediate subject. 
Resuming, I would say that for the mind of St. 
Augustine those qualities of created things which he 
calls natures are ordinarily fixed and necessary. 
Creatoris uoluntas, he says, * rerum necessitas est. 
But this must be taken with some qualification. It 
is in the nature of a young man to grow old. But 
what if he die before old age is reached ? That, says 
Augustine, is the effect of another set of causes, 
either worked into the texture of the world or reserved 
in the will of God. 2 Either event is equally natural 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 7. What agrigentinus sal may be I 
confess I do not know. 2 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 15-16. 


and inevitable. There is no such thing as chance. 
Already in his earliest writings he had suggested 
that when we speak of chance we are merely confessing 
our ignorance of causes. 1 Only in this sense is it a 
chance whether the young grow old or not. That 
result will inevitably follow from natural qualities, 
unless the course of things be complicated by other 
causes, working in a like inevitable order. That 
which happens in any case is the effect of an immense 
multiplicity of causes, few of which are open to our 
investigation, but all are assumed as working in 
flawless order. If on the one hand Augustine rejected 
the Stoic doctrine of predestination, he condemned 
on the other hand, even more vehemently than the 
Stoics themselves, Cicero s denial of a determined 
sequence of causes. 2 There are some tremendous 
consequences that will have to be faced. Things are 
not merely what they are, beasts are not merely 
what they are, men are not merely what they are, 
by reason of the nature given to them ; but also 
their actions, in so far as they are capable of action, 
are determined by that nature, except as modified 
by the influence of causes, external to themselves, 
which run up ultimately to the will of God. 

To put it so is to make it seem that Augustine s 
conception of nature, under God, was purely deter- 
minist. But then comes in the great complication. 
What of the books de libero arbitrio, which were the 

1 Contra Acad. i. i. Fortasse quae uulgo fortuna nominatur 
occulto quodam ordine regitur, nihilque aliud in rebus casum 
uocamus nisi cuius ratio et causa secreta est. 

2 De Ciuit. Dei, v. 9. Quod uero negat ordinem omnium 
causarum esse certissimum et Dei praescientiae notissimum, 
plus eum quam Stoici detestamur. 


first-fruits of his official Christian teaching ? What 
of the insistence on the human will, its working and 
its effects, with which he perpetually assailed the 
ethical determinism of the Manichaeans ? What of 
the unfaltering, if unsuccessful, endeavour of his later 
years to achieve in controversy with the Pelagians 
a just synthesis of the sovranty of grace and that 
human freedom without which morality and sin 
have no meaning ? Here would be the place to enter 
on this subject. But I am not going to tackle it at 
the end of a lecture. It must be postponed, even 
though I have in the meantime to pass on to aspects 
of nature which depend in part on the working of this 
disputed force. This only I will say, to keep myself 
in line. Augustine thinks of the human will as an 
integral part of human nature. Without it man 
would not be man. It is one of the endowments, 
given him by the Creator, without which he would 
not be what he is. This being so, the action of the 
human will is a part of the whole course of nature ; 
it comes into a sequence of causes, a sequence on the 
one side among the most obscure, on the other side 
perhaps the most completely explored of all that we 
can investigate. The action of the will is therefore 
natural action, and yet it differs so much from all 
other natural activities that, as we have seen, Augus 
tine could, at some expense of accuracy, distinguish 
between voluntary and natural movements. 1 Natural 
motions are here those with the determination of 
which the human will has little or nothing to do; 
to-day, I suppose, we should call them automatic, 
though that ill-used word would be used far more 
1 Supra, p. 27. 


appropriately where there is conscious self-deter 
mination. For the present, I assume the existence 
of this faculty of will, and go on to complete in 
other respects my survey of nature as seen through 
the eyes of St. Augustine. 

Since all created things are called out of nothing 
by the will of God, and only by the continual opera 
tion of the same will are sustained in that kind of 
existence which is proper to them, it follows that 
they have a tendency to return to nothing ; should 
the sustaining will be withdrawn, they lapse into 
not-being. And since it is good to be, or in any 
measure to share that existence which is found 
supremely and perfectly in God, it follows that to 
cease to be must in some sort be an evil. 1 So 
much Augustine learnt from his Platonics. But 
in one respect he would not follow them. Plotinus 
conceived creation in the terms of a cold and imper 
sonal emanation from the One, becoming more and 
more remote from the source, and therefore tending 
inevitably to extinction. In his cosmological scheme 
he placed sensible matter at the outer verge of being, 
where it trembled on the brink of the abyss of nothing 
ness. It was as light fades away in distance. 2 To 
be implicated with matter was therefore a misfortune, 
an evil, for spiritual beings. 3 Augustine s experience 
of Manichaeism was sufficient to put him on his guard 
against such conclusions; his conception of creative will 
and of the divine providence made them impossible. 

1 Confess, vii. 12. z Ennead. ii. 4, 5 ; iv. 3, 9. 

3 Ibid. iv. 8, 4. EiA/^TTTai ovv Trecrova-a /cat Trpos ra> SeoyAO) 
ovara Kal rfj alcrOrjcrcL evepyoOcra Sta TO K<oAve<r$ai TO> vw evepyeiv 
, Te0a<j60at re Aeyerat KCU cv o-Tr^Xatu) cii/at. 


It is important to note this limitation of Augustine s 
Platonism. I doubt whether he was quite aware of 
it himself. He seems to have read so much of his 
own into Plotinus that he supposed himself to be 
still following his guide when diverging. It is difficult 
to ascertain what #eo? meant for Plotinus ; the con 
ception of godhead is shot through the web of his 
thought with baffling irrelevance ; but it is probable 
that Augustine took it without hesitation in the sense 
of his own bold anthropomorphism. Personal will 
was for him the most real thing in the universe, 
and the source of all subordinate reality. Much 
that is persistently vague in his teacher thus became 
clear cut in his own thought, and the consequences 
are important. The clear cut may be no more true 
than the vague, but it is incomparably more religious. 
For that very reason it induces peril of idolatry. 
Augustine himself, for all his strong conviction that 
the sensible world was an imperfect copy of the 
intelligible, may not have kept himself always aware 
that his boldly outlined images of the unseen were but 
images ; and some of his disciples seem to have had 
no suspicion of it. The risk was worth running. 
There may be safety in a vast vagueness, but there 
is not much vitality. 

The difference that I am noting is not the dis 
tinction of immanence and transcendence. Neither 
Plotinus nor Augustine was baffled by that Scylla- 
Charybdis of theology. Nothing can be more clearly 
marked than the contrast of e/cel and evravda in 
Plotinus, and Augustine followed him without diffi 
culty ; yet for both alike there was a continuity of 
Here and Beyond that made a brusque transcendent- 


ism nonsense. But there is a difference. You may 
say that Augustine transferred to the Heaven of 
Heavens much of what Plotinus would reckon to 
be of the earth, earthy. I think you may be nearer 
the mark if you draw two different plans of the 
continuum. For Plotinus, eVe? is central, evravda 
peripheral ; for Augustine, hie mundus, the world of 
human experience, is central, the other world is 
peripheral and all-embracing. This figure brings 
me back to the point. We were considering Augus 
tine s refusal to follow his guides to the conclusion 
that union with body is a misfortune for spirit. It 
is not the body, he constantly insisted, but the cor 
ruptibility of the body, which presses down the soul. 
He appealed audaciously from the Platonics to Plato, 
to the myth of the created gods in the Timaeus, 
bringing their promised immortality and indissolu- 
bility into forced comparison with the Christian belief 
in the resurrection of the body. 1 But he had better 
standing ground than these ingenuities. He steeped 
himself in the healthy naturalism of the Hebrew 
Psalms. Here he found the Lord rejoicing in his 
works. That joy reaches to the utmost bounds of 
creation. If men puff themselves up mountain- 
high in a false spirituality, let them reflect, he says, 
that a sparrow is winged and feathered by the care 
of God. 2 

Yet there is the fact that all corporal things are 
mutable and have a tendency to annihilation. But 
Augustine refused to see any fault in this mutability, 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xiii. 16. 

2 In Ps. x. Si uos montes esse dicitis per superbiam, 
oportet quidem esse passerem pennatum uirtutibus et praeceptis 


It is interesting to observe that his confidence in 
the order and completeness of the world brought 
him into remarkably close touch with some undis 
covered principles of physics. It was enough for 
him that God had created material things in this 
condition of flux and variation, but as usual he tried 
to rationalise his belief, and as a consequence he 
seems to have come near to grasping the principle 
of the conservation of energy. At the end of his 
argument against the Manichaean Epistula Funda- 
menti he sets out his conception of these changes. 
Things pass away, but not into utter nothingness. 
Speech affords an illustration. A word spoken is 
gone ; it drops into silence, which is the mere negation 
of sound ; and yet a whole sentence is produced by 
a succession of vanishing syllables. So, too, the whole 
beauty of the world is made up of transitory things ; 
it stands in birth and death. 1 He returned to this 
thought when writing De Ciuitate Dei. Everything 
in its proper natural order retains the measure of being 
assigned to it ; things to which a temporary being 
is assigned move towards that end which the plan 
of the universe requires : in eum exitum quern 
ratio gubernandae uniuersitatis includit ; there 
fore, even when they perish, they pass away only 

1 Contra Ep. Fund. 41. Nam et species uocis emissae 
praeterit et silentio premitur, et tamen sermo noster ex prae- 
tereuntium uerborum decessione ac successione peragitur, et 
moderatis silentiorum interuallis decenter suauiterque distin- 
guitur. Ita sese habet etiam temporalium naturarum infima 
pulcritudo, ut rerum transitu peragatur et distinguatur morte 
nascentium. Cuius pulcritudinis ordinem et modos si posset 
capere sensus noster atque memoria, ita nobis placeret ut defectus 
quibus distinguitur nee corruptiones uocare auderemus. Infra, 


in such sort that something else consequently and 
meetly comes into existence. 1 

So St. Augustine satisfied himself about the 
transitoriness of mundane things. He looked at the 
world as a whole, and found it fair. It was like a 
picture, the beauty of which is made up of light and 
shade. 2 The African hardness, which I have ventured 
to ascribe to him, possibly helped to deliver him for 
good or for evil from the sentiment which makes 
the world seem to some minds unendurable. c Nature 
red in tooth and claw gave him no more trouble 
than the lions roaring after their prey gave to the 
Hebrew poet. He dismissed such anxieties with 
something like contempt. Pain was but evidence 
of the movement towards good which is in the 
world. 3 I am not attributing to Augustine any 
originality. The image of the picture in light and 
shade is one of his borrowings from Plotinus, who 
taught him the unreasonableness of expecting all 
things in the world to be alike good, or conversely of 
making a lesser good positively evil. 4 But if not 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 5. 

2 Ibid. xi. 23. Sicut pictura cum colore nigro loco suo 
posito, ita uniuersitas rerum, si quis possit intueri, etiam cum 
peccatoribus pulcra est. So Plotinus, Ennead. iii. 2, u. 

3 De Lib. Arb. iii. 22. Dolor autem quern bestiae sentiunt 
animarum etiam bestialium uim quamdam in suo genere mira- 
bilem laudabilemque commendat. Hoc ipso enim satis apparet in 
regendis animandisque suis corporibus quam sint appetentes 
unitatis. Quid est enim aliud dolor nisi quidam sensus diuisionis 
uel corruptionis impatiens ? 

4 Ennead. ii. 9, 13. /cat OVK aTratrryreov TrdXiv ayaOovs Travra?, 
ov$ OTL /XT) TOVTO SwciTov /Ae/z<e<r$ai Trpo^ip<a<5 TraAtv a^LOvcrL /xrySev 
Siac^epetv ravra eKeiVwv, TO TC KCLKOV /xr) i/o/xt^ctv aXXo ri rj TO 
cvSeecrrepov ct? <pov?7(7iv KCU lAarrov ayaOov /cat det Trpos TO oyxiKpo- 
Tepov. A difficult and probably defective text, the essential 
meaning of which I hope I have seized. 


original, this confidence in the good ordering of 
the world acquired a new robustness from his 
conception of will. 

Human misery, however, was another story. He 
was not an unmitigated optimist. He was not 
like Emerson, taken by Carlyle to view the 
squalor of Shoreditch, and saying contentedly 
that it had its place in the great scheme of things. 
He had battled with sin, and come off scarred. 
The stress of this conflict was in part, no doubt, 
responsible for that complete predominance of 
the ethical element in his thought which made him 
unwilling to include uitia naturalia among evil 
things. There is a real remoteness from God, 
but it is a moral remoteness only, and is unnatural. 1 
Nature is thus vitiated. I reserve this moral 
corruption of nature for separate treatment, 
noting only these points for the completion of 
my present task. This kind of vice darkens and 
weakens what is good in nature, which nevertheless 
remains good in so far as it is natural. 2 In one of 
his vivid comparisons he likens vitiated nature to the 
state of a man trying to walk with broken legs. 3 
That condition is penal, and therefore is part of the 
good and righteous ordering of the world ; 4 it is 

1 De Lib. Arb. ii. 14. Ueritatem autem atque sapientiam 
nemo amittit inuitus ; non enim locis separari ab ea quisquam 
potest, sed ea quae dicitur a ueritate et sapientia separatio 
peruersa uoluntas est qua inferiora diliguntur. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 3. Naturae illae quae ex malae uolun- 
tatis uitio uitiatae sunt, in quantum uitiatae sunt, malae sunt : 
in quantum autem naturae sunt, bonae sunt. 

9 De Natura et Gratia, 49. 

* De Natura Boni, 37. Recte ordinans in poenis qui se 
peruerse ordinauerunt in peccatis. 


therefore in a secondary sense natural ; l man is 
brought to this misery by his own habit, not by 
nature non natura sed consuetudine but this 
consuetudo becomes a kind of nature. * Natura nobis 
facta est poena. For this reason alone St. Paul could 
say that men are by nature children of wrath. 2 

Let us conclude. In his introduction to the 
TimczuS) Jowett attributes the obscurity of that 
dialogue to the desire to conceive the whole of nature 
without any adequate knowledge of the parts. 
He laments this weakness of the ancient philosophers, 
but excuses it on the ground that before men could 
observe the world they must be able to conceive the 
world. The judgment is characteristic of its time 
forty years ago. At the present day we are perhaps 
less complacent in our judgment of the ancients. 
We find this fault in most philosophies. It is cer 
tainly in Hegel. And then we may begin to doubt 
whether it is a fault, whether the excuse put forward 
is not the rule for all philosophy. We are not so 
confident about our knowledge of the parts. The 
more we learn, the more there is to learn. We see 
that a synthesis of the parts, made even forty years 
ago, would have been defective, and we are afraid that 
if we make one now it may after all be only partial. 
If we must have a conception of the whole, it has to 
be sought some other way. St. Augustine sought 
it. We know incomparably more of physics and 
physiology than he did ; we may be inclined to think 

1 De Lib. Arb. iii. 19. Ipsam naturam aliter dicimus, cum 
proprie loquimur, naturam hominis in qua primum in suo genere 
inculpabilis factus est, aliter istam in qua ex illius damnati poena 
et mortales et ignari et carni subditi nascimur. 

2 De Fide et Symbolo, n. In Ps. xxxvii. 


that we know more of psychology, since we have 
invented a name for that science ; but it is not clear 
that our knowledge will be more successful than his 
ignorance in attaining to a conception of the whole. 
He passed by physics, of which he was very curious 
but knew little, to attempt an ethical construction 
of the world. In this he improved on his masters ; 
he was sometimes nearer to Plato than Plotinus 
himself. But he improved even on Plato, by putting 
the whole stress upon Will. If once or twice he 
wavered in the Platonic direction, as if confusing 
moral evil with ignorance, it was only for a moment. 1 
He was taught to put the stress on Will, partly by 
his own experience, partly by the wholesome anthro 
pomorphism of the Hebrew and the Christian religion. 
I will pluck another flower from Jowett s introduc 
tion : The Platonic compared with the Jewish 
description of the process of creation has less of 
freedom or spontaneity ; the Creator in Plato is 
still subject to a remnant of necessity which he cannot 
wholly overcome. Augustine found no necessity 
in creation, but abounding Will, spontaneous, free ; 
thence a world that is at once rational and moral : 
that is to say, the world of our experience. 

1 De Util. Cred. 12. Sapientes uoco, non cordatos et in- 
geniosos homines, sed eos quibus inest, quanta inesse homini 
potest, ipsius hominis Deique firmissime percepta cognitio, atque 
huic cognition! uita moresque congruentes. . . . Solus igitur 
sapiens non peccat. 



I SHALL consider in this lecture the place of created 
will in the order of nature as conceived by St. Augus 
tine. We must remember that he did not set man, 
as a free agent, on a solitary pinnacle ; he spoke as 
positively of angelic wills as of human. It is needless 
for our present purpose to raise any question about 
this exploration of a less familiar field. Will, free 
choice of action, is our subject, in whatever kind of 
nature it is found or assumed, but we shall study it 
best in man. 

Augustine approached this subject on the ethical 
side. He seems to have been interested hardly at all 
in its physical or purely psychological aspect. He 
explains in the Retractions that he wrote the treatise 
De Lib era Arbitrio to meet the necessitarian con 
ception of sin which was, in his judgment, the worst 
feature of Manichaeism. That is evident, indeed, 
from the treatise itself, and one finds nothing else 
where in his writings to indicate a more detached 
interest. If ethics were always predominant in his 
philosophy, the predominance is nowhere so marked 
as here. 

It is possible, however, to separate the strands of 


his argument, and it will be convenient to do so. 
In this lecture I shall try as far as possible to prescind 
the ethical interest, and to ascertain what was at the 
back of Augustine s mind. How did he place human 
freedom cosmically, in the order of nature ? We 
shall in this way avoid one difficulty : we can for the 
present steer clear of his amazing paradox that 
the most perfect liberty is non posse peccare. There 
is no lack of other difficulties. Augustine seems at 
times to have tackled the most intractable of all 
questions almost with a light heart, and certainly 
with a confidence which few serious thinkers have 
imitated ; but problems which he had solved to his 
own satisfaction were pressed upon him anew by 
others, and he found that he could no more escape 
from them than the world has done since his time. 

Augustine approached the human will as a reality 
self-evident, and to be accepted on the basis of com 
mon sense. He puts the question bluntly in the dia 
logue De Libero Arbitrio : Is there such a thing as a 
will of our own ? Evodius answers with an affected 
scepticism, I do not know. The retort is, Do you 
wish to know ? The English distinction of wish 
and will disguises the thrust. For the purpose of 
the argument the distinction is invalid. The faintest 
wish is a choice of one thing rather than another ; 
the strongest will is but the same kind of choice 
intensified into a resolution of endeavour. Uisne 
hoc scire ? To say yes, is to acknowledge the 
existence of uoluntas. Evodius still plays the sceptic, 
and replies, I do not know that either. Augustine 
turns on him roughly : * Then ask me nothing more. 
It is useless to answer one who does not wish for 


information. And besides, you cannot be my friend 
unless you wish me well. The force of common 
speech prevails, and Evodius confesses, Negari non 
potest nos habere uoluntatem. l 

That is legitimate reasoning. There is no getting 
away from the fact that I do at times choose one 
thing rather than another. I can distinguish my 
own voluntary actions from actions which are invol 
untary, and the distinction is not vitiated because 
there are some actions on the border line about which 
my judgment may be mistaken. Sentimus et 
nouimus, says Augustine, we perceive and know 
that some things are not done by us unless we choose 
to do them. 2 Nothing is better known to us, he 
says elsewhere, than our own will, for I should not 
know that I wish for a thing if I did not know what 
will is. 3 There is some playing with words here. 
Augustine seems to have supposed that in the passage 
from verb to substantive, from uelle to uoluntas, 
there was a real advance of thought. But for his 
argument uelle suffices. 

The testimony of bare consciousness is reinforced 
by that of the moral sense. For Augustine there 
was no escape from the fact of sin, or from the con 
demnation of sin by the conscience. But how can 
a man be condemned if he is not a free agent ? The 
necessary, inevitable sin of which the Manichaeans 
talked could not rightly be called sin at all. It would 
have no implication of guilt. This argument is so 
constant with him that citation is hardly needed, 

1 De Lib. Arb. i. 12. 2 De Ciuit. Dei, v. g. 

8 De Duabus Animabus, 10. Nobis autem uoluntas nostra 
notissima est ; neque enim scirem me uelle si quid sit uoluntas 
ipsa nescirem. 



but take this from the tract De Uera Religione: 
6 Sin is so entirely a voluntary evil that an act is not 
sin at all if it be not voluntary. * I choose this because 
of the way in which he guards the statement in the 
Retractions. We can speak of involuntary sins, 
he there says, which are committed in ignorance or 
under stress of temptation, quia uel a nescientibus 
uel a coactis perpetrantur ; but there is always some 
element of will in such actions ; the ignorant man 
makes an ignorant judgment, and he who under 
stress of concupiscence does the thing he would not 
yields with some measure of willingness to his appe 
tite. 2 That is important, for it shows Augustine 
with his finally matured judgment defending some 
remnant of freedom even in those whom he would 
reckon most enslaved. 

This will remind us also of his own explanation 
that in writing de libero arbitrio he had in view human 
nature as created in its original integrity. This was 
not an afterthought, forced upon him by the Pelagian 
controversy ; it is in the dialogue itself : Cum de 
libera uoluntate recte faciendi loquimur, de ilia 
scilicet in qua homo factus est loquimur. 3 Human 
nature is vitiated ; that is a cardinal point of doctrine 
which Augustine never allowed himself to forget. 
The corruption of human nature involves some loss of 
freedom. All that we shall have to consider later ; 
but some degree of freedom is so essential to the 
constitution of human nature that, if all were lost, 
man would cease to be man. Though our soul be 

1 De Uer. Rel. 14. Usque adeo peccatum uoluntarium est 
malum, ut nullo modo sit peccatum si non sit uoluntarium. 

2 Retract, i. 13. * De Lib. Arb^iiL 18. 


weakened by sin, he says, it is yet on a loftier plane 
of being than the light of the sun. Even a vicious 
horse is better than a stone ; so he who sins by free 
will is more excellent than a creature which does not 
sin for lack of freedom ; the worst drunkard is a 
nobler being than the good wine which he drinks 
to his own hurt. 1 

So Augustine treats the will as an indestructible 
element in human nature. As such, it has a fixed place 
in the cursus naturae. What is that place ? What 
is the relation of will to the other forces of nature ? 

The worst defect in St. Augustine s treatment 
of the subject is the inadequacy of his consideration 
of the motives on which the determination of the will 
turns. We must pick our words carefully here. We 
must not speak of the will being determined by 
motives, however dominant, for it is the capital 
principle of his thought that man is ultimately self- 
determining ; but self-determination means judg 
ment, and this judgment is always exercised upon 
motives. In his later years he was concerned to 
maintain the sovranty of divine justice and divine 
grace ; he held it impious folly to deny that God can 
at pleasure turn to a good purpose the evil wills of 
men. 2 It is this consideration that gives us a familiar 
phrase about the power of God to order the unruly 
wills and affections of sinful men. But you must not 
take this to mean the forcing of the will itself to 
become good. If mala uoluntas were so forced, it 
would cease to be uoluntas. It is the power to con- 

1 De Lib. Arb. iii. 5. 

2 Enchir. 25. Quis porro tarn impie desipiat ut dicat Deum 
malas hominum uoluntates, quas uoluerit, quando uoluerit, ubi 
uoluerit, in bonum non posse conuertere ? 


trol events that is in question. Freedom of the 
will, liberum arbitrium, is one thing : freedom of 
achievement is another thing. There is much more 
than such beneficial ordering in the work of grace, 
as understood by Augustine ; he certainly held that 
inveterate evil will cou]d not become good will 
without the help of divine grace, but this was a 
motive working with other motives, on which human 
judgment was exercised. In the first stage of his 
thought he recognized equally inclusive motives of 
another sort. He was interested only in motives to 
sin, but from his treatment of them you can deduce 
a more general conception. He puts the case of a 
motive too powerful to be resisted ; then there is no 
sin in yielding. If it can be resisted, then to yield is 
sin. He puts the case of deception : is it possible 
to guard against this ? If so, to let oneself be misled 
is sin ; if not, there is no sin, for there is no truly 
voluntary act. But sins are unquestionably com 
mitted in such cases ; therefore it is evident that 
resistance or caution is possible. 1 The argument 
is circular, you may say, or at least elliptical ; but 
that is because its orbit is traced round the foci, the 
two fixed points which are the facts of human choice 
and human sin. Augustine will not allow us to call 
in question those two facts of human experience. 
He does sometimes use the language of determinism. 
c Quod amplius nos delectat, secundum id operemur 
necesse est. 2 So he says in his exposition of the 
Epistle to the Galatians. The merest hedonist could 
hardly say more. But an isolated sentence will 
seldom give you Augustine s mind, and when you 
1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. 18. 2 Expos. Ep. ad Galatas, v. 22, 


follow the explanation, you will soon find this domin 
ant delectation interpreted, not in the sense of an 
impact to which the will is passive, but of an energy 
of love : Manifestum est certe secundum id nos 
uiuere quod sectati fuerimus ; sectabimur autem 
quod dilexerimus. If the will is necessarily deter 
mined by the strongest motive, the supreme strength 
may be imparted to this motive by an affection which 
is itself a preference founded in freedom of choice. 
If that movement, again, is circular, it is because 
human nature is in fact rounded to itself, and is 
endowed with a function of originality. 

Behind Augustine s investigation of motives, left 
incomplete because of his contented acquiescence 
in facts, lies the conviction that will is an ultimate 
reality. Quid opus est quaerere unde iste motus 
existat ? This movement of the soul non est 
utique naturalis sed uoluntarius. When we call 
an act voluntary we are assuming a cause behind 
which we cannot get to any other cause short of the 
original will of the Creator. He contrasts with the 
voluntary movement of a man the natural movement 
of a stone in falling, which he could hardly have 
placed more accurately if he had read Newton. 1 
Nothing is more clearly in our own power, he says, 
than the will ; and weakly corroborates this strong 
assertion by observing that as soon as we will a 
thing, the will is present. 2 What cause can there be 
of will, he asks, prior to will ? It is the root of the 
whole matter. 3 He said the same thing later, when 
writing De Ciuitate Dei. We must not seek an 

1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. i. 2 Ibid. iii. 3. 

3 Ibid. iii. 17. A radice ista uoluntatis non receditur. 


efficient cause of evil will. He is concerned, of 
course, to show that there is no natural evil which 
can cause it ; it springs spontaneously from human 
nature, which is a good thing. He closes the question, 
after a fashion to which he was too much addicted, 
with a verbal quip. Non enim est efficiens, sed 
deficiens. 1 He is thinking of his favourite con 
tention that evil is a loss of good, and not something 
positive ; but why should there not be an efficient 
cause of a loss ? And what is the efficient cause of 
a good will ? The creative will of God ? But the 
creative act produces man, able to choose freely 
this or that. Whichever he may choose, the power 
of choice springs equally from creative will. In the 
Enchiridion Augustine will face the consequence 
squarely, saying that nothing, good or evil, can be 
done unless the Almighty should will it to be done, 
either by way of permission or by way of action. 2 
What man chooses to do is done by divine permission, 
with no anterior cause except the gift of the power. 
Reviewing his own Manichaean errors, Augustine 
observed that freedom from compulsion is of the 
essence of will. He thus arrived at a formal defini 
tion, in which ethical complications are for once 
ignored. Uoluntas est animi motus, cogente nullo, 
ad aliquid uel non amittendum uel adipiscendum. 3 
The motion is therefore spontaneous ; so he described 
it in the height of the Pelagian controversy ; sin 
is spontaneus defectus a bono. 4 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 7. 

8 Enchir. 95. Non ergo fit* aliquid nisi omnipotens fieri 
uellet ; uel sinendo ut fiat, uel ipse faciendo. 

3 De Duabus Animabus, 10. 

4 Contra lulianum, i. 8. Infra, p. 107. 


The human will, thus empowered by the Creator, 
becomes a cause. It is in causarum ordine. But 
we must not place it low down as a link in a con 
tinuous chain. It comes into the course of nature 
direct from the First Cause. It is not a disturbance, 
because it has its appointed place. But it is a new 
cause. When brought in, it produces effects for 
which there is no secondary cause antecedent to 
itse]f. The free action of a man has, therefore, a kind 
of secondary creative power. It is not properly 
creative, because it cannot call natures into being, 
but it does produce new qualities in existing natures. 
You find him saying that in plain terms. c Tantum 
ualent uoluntates ut earum naturarum, quarum 
sunt, faciant qualitates. * If you ask about a man 
of evil will, * qualis sit, the answer must be malus. 
But he is not bad by reason of his nature or substance, 
for that is good ; he is called bad because of the 
quality impressed upon him by his will. Evil will 
does not produce an evil substance, for there is no 
such thing ; but it does produce a real quality in 
a substance which is otherwise good. Put aside the 
ethical interest, and it remains that the will is pro 
ductive. The will of man impresses certain qualities 
on a quantity of wood we had better not talk peri- 
patetically of matter and form and produces some 
thing new. Let us accept the truth of common 
speech : he makes a chair. There is an angel in this 
block of marble, said Michelangelo, c and I am going 
to release him. But the sculptor did more : he made 
the angel. 

It follows that the human will may produce an 
1 Contra lulianum, i. 8. 


effect contrary to trie will of the Creator. 6 But who 
withstandeth His will ? demands St. Paul, or rather 
a disputant supposed by St. Paul ; and Augustine 
felt the pressure of the question. 1 He extended the 
meaning of omnipotence beyond the original signi 
ficance of the word, and beyond what the Greek 
word TravTo/cpdrcop seems able to convey, and so was 
entangled in a difficulty ; but he extricated himself 
by falling back on the natural sense of universal 
sovranty. Opposition to God, and even successful 
opposition, does not mean effective withdrawal from 
under the sovranty of God. In the first place, it 
comes within the rule that the will of God controls 
all things, uel sinendo uel faciendo. But further, 
Augustine depicts a large scheme of omnipotence, 
in which with infinite patience God controls the 
wills of men, bending them to a far-off purpose. 
God is ordinator no less than creator ; if he is natur- 
arum bonarum creator, he is also malarum uoluntatum 
ordinator ; if human wills make a bad use of good 
things, he in turn makes a good use even of evil 
wills. 2 God has not so ordered nature that a creature 
endowed with free judgment can overpower the 
will of the Creator, even though he be able at times 
to do something contrary to that will. When you 
sin, he says, do not suppose that something has 
happened to God against his will, for you are still 

1 See, for example, Enchir. 25. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 17. Non itaque esset uitium recedere a 
Deo, nisi naturae cuius id uitium est potius competeret esse cum 
Deo. Quapropter etiam uoluntas mala grande testimonium 
est naturae bonae. Sed Deus, sicut naturarum bonarum optimus 
creator est, ita malarum uoluntatum iustissimus ordinator, ut 
cum male illae utuntur naturis bonis, ipse bene utatur etiam 
uoluntatibus malis. 


under his hand and cannot evade his power ; whatever 
you may choose to do, the Almighty will not lack 
means for fulfilling his will in you. 1 That he said in 
popular exposition of a Psalm. In solid argument, 
de Ciuitate Dei, he expounded scriptural sayings 
about God s repentance, or change of purpose, as 
to be understood tropically of that imperfect exhibi 
tion of the divine purpose which is contained in the 
known order of natural causes : behind, and out of 
sight, is the unchanging purpose alike of doing good, 
of suffering evil, and of bringing ultimate good out 
of evil. Therefore no man by the exercise of his own 
will can compel any change in the divine decrees. 
You must let me read you the passage : 

Sed quia Deus cuncta praesciuit, et ideo 
quoque hominem peccaturum ignorare non potuit, 
secundum id quod praesciuit atque disposuit ciui- 
tatem sanctam debemus adserere, non secundum 
illud quod in nostram cognitionem peruenire non 
potuit quia in Dei dispositione non fuit. Neque 
enim homo peccato suo diuinum potuit perturbare 
consilium, quasi Deum quod statuerat mutare com- 
pulerit ; cum Deus praesciendo utrumque praeue- 
nerit, id est, et homo quern bonum ipse creauit quam 
malus esset futurus, et quid boni etiam sic de illo 
esset ipse facturus. Deus enim etsi dicitur statuta 
mutare unde tropica locutione in scripturis etiam 
paenituisse legitur Deum iuxta id dicitur quod homo 

1 In Ps. ex. Si peccaueris, non putes hominem fecisse quod 
uoluit et Deo accidisse quod noluit. Sicut enim uult ut homo 
non peccet, ita uult peccanti parcere ut reuertatur et uiuat ; 
ita uult postremo in peccato perseuerantem punire, ut iustitiae 
potentiam contumax non euadat. Itaque quicquid elegeris 
omnipotent! non deerit unde suam de te compleat uoluntatem. 


sperauerat uel naturalium causarum ordo gestabat, 
non iuxta id quod se omnipotens facturum esse 
praesciuerat. 1 

I think you will capture Augustine s thought 
best if you picture man as exposed to a rain of influ 
ences so various as more or less to neutralize one 
another, leaving him in a condition of unstable 
equilibrium. Other creatures are entirely controlled 
and moved by natural impulses ; they are in ordine 
causarum to such effect that an irresistible current 
carries them along. Their course can be calculated 
by an intelligence large enough and acute enough to 
ascertain either the real causes of their movements 
or the usual direction of the forces which drive them. 
The date of an eclipse can be accurately determined 
by an astronomer. The behaviour of sheep in given 
circumstances can be predicted pretty certainly by 
an experienced shepherd. If the constitution of 
human nature were altogether like that of other creat 
ures, we should be able, by a more difficult and com 
plicated calculation of the same kind, to plan before 
hand the actions of men. The skill of the shepherd 
might be matched in the study of ethics ; politics 
would approximate to an exact science. With 
sufficient knowledge it would be possible to measure 
the influences at work in every case, and the sum 
of the motives acting upon him as forces would give 
the direction in which a man would go. Man would 
not ultimately be more unstable than any other 
creature, animate or inanimate. But if he has a 
power of choice, originating in himself, he can alter 
the balance of forces by leaning this way or that in 
1 De Ciuit. Dei, xiv. n. 


a manner altogether incalculable. Freedom does not 
imply the absence of motive ; it means that to the 
multitude of motives pressing on the man from with 
out is added a motive from within strong enough to 
determine the instability which is the result of their 
cross currents. 

So far I think it is clear that Augustine s con 
ception of nature was large enough to allow room for 
the play of human will. Freedom does not mean here 
merely an unlimited capacity for desire ; cupiditas 
is not uoluntas ; will is mockery unless a man is free 
to act on his own judgment. Freedom of human 
action is, of course, limited ; following his own 
judgment, man comes up sooner or later against 
impassable bars. But Augustine would not set 
bounds of eternal necessity, for he acknowledged no 
such thing ; the restraint is exercised by the living, 
yielding, controlling will of God ; the only rerum 
necessitous is creatoris uoluntas}- He thus attributes 
to the system of nature an elasticity which is denied 
to any purely mechanical scheme. 

But there remains an immense question. I ask 
you to recall that fine argument which I have just 
now quoted, about the unchanging purpose that 
brings good out of evil. It fetches me up against a 
difficulty which we have not yet faced. It was built 
by Augustine upon a foundation which for the moment 
I purposely ignored. We must come to it. Quia 
Deus cuncta praesciuit that is why Augustine 
could see an eternal purpose working through all 
the aberrations of man. And what is involved in 
foreknowledge ? 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 15. 


Augustine stumbled on that question from the 
first. One does not know whether Evodius in the 
dialogue De Libero Arbitrio is a merely conventional 
interlocutor, or whether his difficulties were actually 
propounded by Augustine s friend of that name. 
This is one of them. If God, he asks, has fore 
knowledge of all things that will be, how can there be 
any freedom ? If God foreknew the sin of man, how 
could that sin be a work of free will ? If God fore 
knows that a thing will happen, happen it must. 
How can there be freedom of will where there is 
this inevitable necessity ? 1 

Augustine was not afraid of putting the difficulty 
strongly. It is a great question, he says, but there 
is an easy reply. Easy it is ; but few readers, I should 
say, can have found it sufficient. Why do you 
think, he asks, c that there is a contradiction between 
our free choice and the foreknowledge of God ? 
Because it is God s, or because it is foreknowledge ? 
Evodius elects the former alternative. But if you 
know beforehand that a man will do something, 
continues Augustine, c is he not bound to do it ? 
That is so, replies Evodius, for my knowledge 
would not be knowledge unless I knew something 
fixed and assured. So necessity follows, if at all, 
on any foreknowledge, not only on that of God. 
Evodius accepts this, correcting his former statement. 
But you do not compel the man, says Augustine, 
to do what you know him to be going to do. He 
certainly will do it, otherwise you could not know, 
but your foreknowledge does not make him do it. 
You know that he will do it, but none the less he 
1 De Libero Arbitrio, iii. 2. 


does it of his own free will. In the same way God 
does not compel men to do what he foresees them 

You will see at once that Augustine here draws 
a comparison that will not hold good. He is arguing 
as if divine knowledge were of exactly the same kind 
as human knowledge. Five or six years later he had 
to come to closer quarters with the question. His 
old friend Simplicianus, now Bishop of Milan, con 
sulted him about the changes of purpose attributed 
to God. Augustine replied that neither knowledge 
nor foreknowledge, neither scientia nor praescientia, 
can be predicated of God in the strict sense of the 
words. They are terms of human experience ; know 
ledge is of things past, foreknowledge is of things 
future ; but neither past nor future is to be thought 
of in the eternity of God. Therefore when we speak 
of God s knowledge, we use the word in a special 
sense, and a comparison of human and divine know 
ledge is absurd inridenda. 1 Yes : but then his reply 
to Evodius goes by the board. 

What is this foreknowledge which we attribute 
to God ? The category of time is improperly intro 
duced, as a concession to human modes of thought. 
It follows that things which to us are past, present, or 
future, are to God neither past nor future, nor yet 
properly present. For by the present we mean that 
which is now passing, and will in a moment be past. 
Eternity is existence without relations of time. Then 
how is it possible to speak of foreknowledge ? The 
word introduces the relation of futurity which is 
supposed to be prescinded. 

1 Ad Simplicianum, ii. 2. 


I would ask you to observe that this conception 
is not properly Christian. Augustine did not draw 
it from the Scriptures either of the Old or of the New 
Testament, or from any ecclesiastical source. When 
he says that God neither was nor will be, he is Platon- 
ising. 1 The Hebrew or Christian way of speaking 
is rather to say that God was and is and is to come. 
You may interpret that as a poetical phrase excluding 
temporal relations, since that which is of all three 
times is of none in particular ; but this will be an 
afterthought. The foreknowledge implied in the 
prophecies of the Old Testament is in the proper 
sense knowledge of the future ; it is strictly com 
parable with human foresight, the calculation of 
consequences from causes more or less known ; it 
always seems to be contingent ; it is capable of being 
referred to an extraordinary knowledge of causes 
secretly working towards a definite end, which may 
nevertheless be frustrated by other causes cutting 
across them. 

You can draw from this source the conception of a 
course of nature so orderly and regular as to allow a 
far range of prevision, which shall yet be subject to 
modification by the free action of the human will. 
You may assume also factors tending to the deter 
mination of the will which so lie open to a sufficiently 
penetrating intelligence as to allow the prediction of 
human actions ; but even the smallest remnant of 
free choice, undetermined by external causes, will 
introduce an inevitable element of contingency. 

1 Plotinus, Ennead. iii. 7, 3. o ovv n/fjTe TJV /x^r lorrat, 
cart fjiovov, TOVTO ecrTws X OV TO etvat TO) /x,?) fjLTaj3dX\W ei5 TO ecrrai 
av xeTa3e3ATKeVai fcrrlv o atwv. 


One can imagine Augustine constructing a scheme 
of the world on these lines, and making the most 
of the repentances of God in illustration. Indeed, his 
doctrine of the economy of grace, where God appears 
as ordinator uoluntatum malarum, loudly demands such 
a scheme. But he was barred out from this by 
his acceptance of the Platonic conception of eternity, 
incongruously interpreted in terms of time, which 
involved him in the difficulties of absolute fore 

How absolute he made it, and into what diffi 
culties it brought him, may be seen from his treatment 
of the case of Hezekiah. The story of the king s 
sickness, of his predicted death, of his prayer and 
his recovery, would seem to be a crucial example of 
the divine repentances and of the contingency of 
prophecy. What does Augustine make of it ? You 
will find it in the sixth book De Gene si ad Liter am. 
A chain of causes was leading Hezekiah to immediate 
death, but other causes known to God from eternity 
were prolonging his life for fifteen years ; if this was 
granted in answer to his prayer, it was because 
God had from eternity foreseen the prayer and the 
answer. Augustine does not account for the first 
prophecy of immediate death ; he would perhaps 
refer it to a revelation of the temporal causes working 
to that end. The most interesting part of the com 
ment is the conclusion : What God foreknew was 
necessarily bound to happen. Quod praesciebat neces- 
sario futurum erat* 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 17. Secundum quasdam futurorum 
causas moriturus erat Ezechias, cui Deus addidit quindecim 
annos ad uitam, id utique faciens quod ante constitutionem 


Then what freedom is there ? Augustine was 
continuously wrestling with the problem, sometimes 
using means that were little more than verbal quib 
bling. In the fifty-third tract on St. John, he says 
that God must not be supposed to compel our actions, 
for He foreknows them as our own, and if they are 
not really our own, God s foreknowledge is at fault, 
which is impossible ; we freely resolve to do what 
we will, and our resolution was foreknown. 1 That 
is merely to state the antinomies of the problem, 
without any solution. In the fifth book De Ciuitate 
Dei you will find him almost comically angry with 
Cicero for denying the possibility of divination on 
the ground of the freedom of the will. To Cicero s 
contention that foreknowledge is possible only if 
there be a fixed ordo causarum, which excludes vol 
untary action, he replies that our wills are included 
6 in causarum ordine qui certus est Deo. That is 
true in a large sense, and is involved in his con 
ception of nature ; but if it means that our wills 
are wholly determined by precedent causes and 

mundi se facturum esse praesciebat et in sua uoluntate seruabat. 
Non ergo id fecit quod futurum non erat ; hoc enim magis erat 
futurum quod se facturum esse praesciebat. Nee tamen illi anni 
additi recte dicerentur, nisi ad aliquid adderentur quod se aliter 
in aliis causis habuerat. Secundum aliquas igitur causas in- 
feriores iam uitam fmierat ; secundum illas autem quae sunt in 
uoluntate et praescientia Dei, qui ex aeternitate nouerat quid 
illo tempore facturus erat et hoc uere futurum erat tune erat 
fmiturus uitam quando finiuit uitam ; quia etsi oranti con- 
cessum est, etiam sic eum oraturum ut tali orationi concedi 
oporteret ille utique praesciebat, cuius praescientia falli non 
poterat ; et ideo quod praesciebat necessario futurum erat. 
I follow the readings of Zycha in C.S.E.L. 

1 In loan. 153. Ipsorum enim praesciuit peccata, non sua, 
non cuiusquam alterius, sed ipsorum. Quapropter si ea quae 
ille praesciuit ipsorum non sunt ipsorum, non uere ille praesciuit. 


nothing less fits the argument he is in conflict 
with his own doctrine of the originality of will. 
Hard pressed, he falls back on his mastery of 
phrase. Non ergo propterea nihil est in nostra 
uoluntate quia Deus praesciuit quid futurum 
esset in nostra uoluntate ; non enim qui hoc 
praesciuit nihil praesciuit. 1 That is epigram, not 

Was there no escape ? I think we can see that 
Augustine, when he wrote the eleventh book of the 
Confessions, was labouring to find a way out of the 
difficulty by analysis of the idea of time. Consider 
his argument with himself on the subject, and his 
passionate appeal to God for guidance. It was not 
on a metaphysical subtlety that he so expended 
himself. He was moved to the depth of his moral 
being by this problem of reconciliation. What was 
the divine prescience ? How could it stand with 
human freedom ? How could the future be revealed 
to men, for whom the future does not exist ? * It 
is beyond me, he cries ; I cannot attain unto it ; 
but of Thee I shall have attainment, if Thou give 
it, dear light of my blinded eyes. 2 He seems to 
have felt that a solution was just evading him. 
He had learnt, probably from Plotinus, to distin- 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, v. 9. 

2 Confess, xi. 19. Quisnam ille modus est quo doces futura 
cui futurorum quicquam non est ? Uel potius de futuris doces 
praesentia ? Nam quod non est nee doceri utique potest. Nimis 
longe est modus iste ab acie mea ; inualuit ex me, nee potero 
ad ilium ; potero autem ex te, cum dederis tu, dulce lumen 
occultorum oculorum meorum. I follow Knoll s reading. It 
would be grammatically simpler to refer cui futurorum quicquam 
non est to God, for whom there is no future ; but the context 
seems to demand a reference to the present non-existence for 
man of things future. 

F 2 


guish between duration and time, and he could adjust 
the former conception to the Christian idea of God. 
He had read in the Psalms, Ipsi peribunt, tu autem 
permanes. This gave him a phrase. Nulla tempora 
tibi coaeterna sunt, he says, * quia tu permanes ; 
at ilia, si permanerent, non essent tempora. 1 He 
had lifted from Plato the conception of time as a 
measure inherent in created things ; the world was 
not made in time, but with time. 2 He thought 
for a while that he could identify it as distentio ipsius 
animi, making it a mere form of perception. 3 Dura 
tion and time would then run parallel courses ; 
or rather, time would be a measurement of duration, 
exclusively proper to human experience. In that 
case, past and future would have a meaning in re 
spect of duration ; they would be a clumsy way of 
describing, in the terms of our broken experience, 
its continuous flow ; futureness would have some 
correspondence with reality. 

It seems to me that Augustine was feeling his way 
along these lines when he harped on the common- 
sense notion that what is future does not yet exist. 
It cannot therefore be seen. But its causes exist, 
and may be known ; from which it is possible to 

1 Confess, xi. 17. Plotinus, Ennead. iii. 7, 7. TO yap oTacriv 
77 TO (TTr]Ko<s r) crracrecus re Aeyeiv TravraTratrt TTO/O/HO rijs eVyotas av 
ctv; TOV \povov ovSajjirj rov avrov oWos. Time, as a flux of suc 
cession, is contrasted with the stability of abiding existence. 

2 Timaeus, p. 37. EIKU> o iirwoel Kivrjrov nva aiwvos Tronjcrai, 
/cat StaKcxr/Acoi/ a/xa ovpavov Troiet p^ivovro^ alwvos ev en KOT apiO/AW 
iovcrav atconov etKOva, TOVTOV oV 8y \povov wvo/xcx/ca/xev. rj/jLpa<s yap 
Kal i/UKTas /cat /Jif)va<s Kal eviaurovs OVK oVras irpiv ovpavov yeveo-Oai, 
TOTC a/xa cKetVa) ^wta-ra/xeva) rr/v yevecrtv avrwv /jt^^avarai. 
De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 6. Non est mundus factus in tempore, sed 
cum tempore. 

3 Confess, xi. 26. 


foresee the future. I see the dawn : I predict the 
sunrise. Is it thus that God reveals the future in 
prophecy, making known its antecedent causes which 
now are ? Augustine shrank from the question. 
This also was beyond him. 1 

A tempting conclusion must have danced before 
his eyes. There was an epigram ready made. It 
would be quite in his style to say that, since things 
future do not exist, to know the future is to know 
nothing. That would be a way of getting rid of 
this troublesome foreknowledge, without impugning 
the omniscience of God ; for knowledge is of things 
that are, and knowledge of nothing is not knowledge. 
His avoidance of this quibble indicates the high 
seriousness of his inquiry. He was more entirely 
candid when speaking to himself or to God, as in the 
Soliloquies and the Confessions, than when disputing 
with an adversary. But such an epigram might 
be tolerable even here ; it need not be a mere quip. 
If time is a copy of eternity a Platonic notion 
which is not quite so nonsensical as Jowett thought 
there is room for comparison. If measured time 
differs from duration only as the mode of human being 
differs from the mode of divine being, futurity and 
the nonentity of future things may have some meaning 
also for God. Augustine could be boldly anthropo 
morphic on occasion. Here his boldness deserted 
him. He realised that for man the present is a 

1 Confess, xi. 18. Quoquo modo se itaque habeat arcana 
praesensio futurorum, uideri nisi quod est non potest. Quod 
autem iam est, non futurum sed praesens est. Cum ergo uideri 
dicuntur futura, non ipsa, quae nondum sunt, id est quae futura 
sunt, sed eorum causae uel signa forsitan uidentur, quae iam 


mere point the turning-point from past to future. 1 
But he held to the incongruous notion that the divine 
existence can be conceived in terms of an enduring 
present. He was tied to the arid abstraction which 
makes eternity nothing else but a point of time, 
and so a mere negation of time. 

That was the cause of his trouble, from which 
he never escaped. He maintained the freedom of 
the human will. With complete and ineluctable 
inconsistency, he maintained the divine foreknow 
ledge in a sense which involved, as he admitted in his 
more unguarded moments, a necessary determination 
of the will. 

1 Confess, xi. 15. Quod tamen ita raptim a future in praeteri- 
tum transuolat, ut nulla morula extendatur. Nam si extenditur, 
diuiditur in praeteritum et futurum : praesens autem nullum 
habet spatium. 



WE have seen that, according to the mind of St. 
Augustine, there is a cursus naturae, which may be 
otherwise described as an ordo causarum. In arguing 
against Cicero s denial of vaticination, he urges 
the principle that nothing is made or done without 
an efficient cause preceding. He attributes the divine 
foreknowledge, in his more tempered treatment of 
the subject, to the fixity of this order, by reason of 
which consequences may be reckoned already existent 
in their antecedents. So far he is in pretty close 
agreement with most modern thought. We part 
company from him in respect of the importance which 
we attach to the investigation of causes. This sort 
of thing seemed to him mere curiosity, rather puerile, 
and reprehensible if it should distract the mind from 
more serious pursuits. It must be admitted that 
he himself shows in his writings many traces of such 
curiosity, and the results may be held to justify 
his condemnation of its indulgence. Much of the 
investigation that he found possible was indeed futile, 
and he could not anticipate the triumphs of an unborn 
science to which even the trivialities of natural 
history should bring precious materials. But if his 


natural history seems to us childish, his natural 
philosophy was not fundamentally different from 
our own. It assumed a continuous chain of causality. 
Yet there is a difference, perhaps not altogether 
to St. Augustine s disadvantage. The place that he 
found for Will in the production of consequences 
made room for certain facts of experience which seem 
to wander homeless in some other systems, and 
in others again are provided for by the elimination of 
the one thing that is surely known about them. 
The human will is not for Augustine an intrusive 
element, at odds with all natural causes ; neither, 
on the other hand, does he attempt violently to bring 
it into a false co-ordination with them. Will is for 
him a force in nature, unique, but only as gravitation 
is unique ; and it is included with other forces in the 
ordo causarum. In spite of the convenient distinction 
between natural and voluntary motion, will is for 
him an integral part of the rerum natura. He does 
not succeed in establishing a complete continuity, 
because in the operation of will he recognises an 
element of comparative originality. However much 
the determination of will may be controlled by 
prevenient motives, there is at some point a self- 
determination which is free. But even this free 
action of the human spirit is brought within the 
system by the ultimate reference of all force to the 
originating will of God the Creator. He is able in 
this way to get rid of the fortuitous causes l which 
he found to be assumed in Cicero s account of con 
tingency. They can be brought, hypothetically 
at least, within the ambit of voluntary causes. We 
1 De Ciuit. Dei, v. 9. Supra, pp. 39, 66. 


are left, therefore, with the single distinction of 
natural and voluntary causes ; but the distinction is 
merely provisional, for voluntary causes are funda 
mentally natural, and natural causes also may be 
described as voluntary, since they spring from the 
will of God. 

The will of God is not whimsical. Before his 
baptism Augustine spoke doubtfully of the doctrine 
of chance, suggesting only that what is so called 
may be the working of ordered causes unknown 
to us. 1 In later days he had no doubts on this head. 
Omnipotence does not mean reckless power, but the 
strength of wisdom. 2 The course of nature is ordered. 
It is subject to necessity ; not the blind necessity 
of the Stoics, but a law intelligently imposed. c Crea- 
toris uoluntas rerum necessitas est. 3 Augustine s 
conception of the divine foreknowledge constantly 
reinforces this sense of inevitable order, but apart 
from that questionable element of his thought, his 
conception of creation is sufficient to establish the 
point. He speaks of the laws of nature in a fashion 
that would almost satisfy the demands of modern 
science. There is ratio et causa even of the most 
casual occurrences. 4 Omnis iste naturae usitatissimus 
cursus habet quasdam naturales leges suas. 4 He 
is sparing in the use of this phrase, but it sometimes 
falls from his pen so incidentally as to seem clearly 
familiar. Discussing the years of the antediluvian 
patriarchs, he remarks as a matter of course that, 

1 Contra Acad. i. i. 

2 De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 17. Neque enim potentia temeraria 
sed sapientiae uirtute omnipotens est, et hoc de unaquaque re in 
tempore suo facit quod ante in ea fecit ut possit. 

3 Ibid. vi. 15. 4 De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 16. 


according to a well-known law of nature, a boy cannot 
procreate children at the age of twelve years. 1 

By a law of nature Augustine probably meant 
something more congruous to the word than is now 
usually intended. He had a clear vision of a legis 
lator. But the practical effect is much the same. 
For this legislator has an unchanging purpose. His 
laws do not vary, and they bind all creatures. We 
are not concerned here with a moral law, which free 
wills may flout, but with laws of causation, which 
control with equal rigour voluntary and involuntary 
motions. For Augustine had no illusions about the 
limits of human action. I can will what I will, but 
to perform what I will is another matter. Some 
things are naturally within my power ; I may have a 
will to do other things, but the will is futile. Our 
wills can do just so much as God has willed them 
to be able to do. 2 

Augustine would probably have limited human 
action much more narrowly than we do. I am not 
thinking only of the artificial harnessing of the forces 
of nature which we have achieved. There is some 
thing less obvious. We know the material universe 
as consisting of masses, large and small, which hang 
in such delicate equilibrium that the slightest move 
ment of the smallest mass affects the position of all 
the rest. If I walk across the room, I move the sun 
a measurable distance. And I choose for myself 
whether I will do this. By a voluntary act I can 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xv. 12. Quis potest hac aetate generare 
usitata ista nobisque notissima lege naturae ? 

2 De Ciuit. Dei, v. 10. Nostrae uoluntates tantum ualent 
quantum Deus eas ualere uoluit. 


move the sun. I think that St. Augustine would have 
accused me of impiety for making such a claim. How 
ever that may be, he certainly dreamt of no power 
so far-reaching given to man. He set narrower 
bounds. But whether they be narrow or wide, the 
point is that his conception of nature involves the 
setting of such bounds. Man is a free agent within 
limits. He is not the only free agent. Other wills 
are to be recognised as operative, no less than the 
human will. All these work within a scheme, an 
ordered frame, which is determined by the will of 
the Creator. And that supreme will works by self- 
determination through the same order, which is indeed 
itself. It follows that Augustine s thought allowed 
no room for any action upon nature from without. 
No will of God, of angel, of demon, or of man 
could be pictured as a foreign power, intervening 
in the course of nature. Once more I must note the 
absence of that distinction of nature and super- 
nature which afterwards invaded theology. 

And what, then, of miracle ? It is our con 
ception of the unitormity or continuity of nature, 
so near akin to that of St. Augustine, which makes 
of the miraculous a fretting problem for us. What 
problem was there for Augustine ? None whatever. 
He discussed many questions about miracles, but he 
does not seem to have been aware of any question 
about miracle in general. He takes the occurrence 
of miracles as a matter of course, of common notoriety. 
Particular miracles, or particular groups of miracles, 
might be challenged, but it does not seem to have 
occurred to him that any wider question could be 
raised. There is consequently in his writings no 


broad treatment of the subject; if we would frame 
one according to his mind, it has to be pieced together 
from scattered indications. Moreover, his attitude is 
such that to get from him what we need we sometimes 
have to invert his arguments. A modern reader 
discovers with something of a shock that a sentence 
often quoted by apologetic writers was framed by St. 
Augustine, not for the defence of the credibility of 
miracles, but for the assertion of the continuity of 
nature. Portentum fit, he says, non contra 
naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura. * Observe 
where that sentence occurs. He is discussing the 
doctrine of hell-fire, to which some objected that it 
was contrary to the nature of a human body to be 
burnt without being consumed. In reply he refers 
to a portent reported by Varro. Why did Varro 
call it a portent ? Because it seemed to be contrary 
to nature. But that was a mistake. Nothing occurs 
in nature which is contrary to nature ; it seems so 
to us only because it is the effect of some natural 
causes which are unknown to us. The fact, you 
see, is taken for granted ; the authority of Varro is 
incontestable ; what Augustine labours to show 
is that the fact is no violation, no disturbance of the 
course of .nature. Miracles are visible ; this inter 
pretation of miracle requires an act of faith. 

But what did Augustine mean by a miracle ? 
Much may turn upon a definition. There are dis 
putations on this subject which seem to have no other 
turning-point. How did he understand miraculum ? 
It was a wonder. I think that to some extent he 
was at the mercy of the word. He may have used 
1 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 8. Supra, p. 28. 


his little Greek to the extent of observing that in the 
canonical books of the New Testament the works of 
power which accompanied the preaching of the gospel 
are rarely described by a corresponding word of that 
idiom. I believe there is only one instance. 1 Thau 
maturges belonged to other religions ; Christianity 
seemed to avoid the name. But he might reflect 
further that wonder was at all events the first and 
most general effect of such works ; to call them 
miracula was not to fall out with the facts. And if 
Augustine sometimes laid undue stress on the merely 
marvellous, he kept well in view the causes of amaze 
ment. In one of his earlier books there is a definition 
which will serve equally well for the study of his 
latest : Miraculum uoco quidquid arduum aut in- 
solitum supra spem uel facultatem mirantis apparet. 2 
Here are two factors making an event miraculous. 
First, there is a percipient mind, which is moved to 
wonder. Secondly, the thing done is alternatively 
either unexpected because unusual, or difficult beyond 
the measure of the beholder s power. We may work 
from this definition. 

The phrasing is less happy than might be expected, 
for Augustine s neatness in this kind of sentence stands 
out as a rule in striking contrast with his diffuse and 
clumsy periods. The definition needs explication. 
Two kinds of miracle are maladroitly conjoined ; 
the kind which a beholder instinctively compares 
with his own actions, telling himself that it is beyond 
his power to do the like, and another kind which 

1 Matt. xxi. 15. TO, 0auyuacrta a eTrot^crc. And this may perhaps 
refer only to the moral miracle of the cleansing of the Temple. 

2 De Util. Cred., p. 16. 


provokes no such comparison. It is evident that 
the former kind must be regarded as the act of a volun 
tary agent ; the latter need not be so regarded. At 
the present day, if I am not mistaken, the former 
kind alone would be reckoned properly miraculous, 
the most amazing and inexplicable recovery from 
sickness would be excluded from that category unless 
there were supposed to be some definite relation of 
the event to a personal influence. St. Augustine 
did not so limit the category. He would make it 
include every unusual and inexplicable event, without 
reference to any voluntary action, other than the 
ultimate ordering of the will of God. 

This I would press, for there is an important 
consequence. I cannot find any hard and fast line 
drawn by St. Augustine between one kind of wonder 
working and another. He passes without any feeling 
of incongruity from freaks of nature, or conjuring 
tricks displayed in popular shows, to the veiled work 
ing of natural causes, thence to magic arts, and finally 
to the signs and wonders which tempters of God 
may demand under colour of religion. 1 He contem- 

1 Confess, x. 35. Ex hoc morbo cupiditatis in spectaculis 
exhibentur quaeque miracula. Hinc ad perscrutanda naturae, 
quae praeter nos non est, operta proceditur, quae scire nihil 
prodest et nihil aliud quam scire homines cupiunt. Hinc etiam, 
si quid eodem peruersae scientiae fine per artes magicas quaeritur. 
Hinc etiam in ipsa religione Deus temptatur, cum signa et 
prodigia flagitantur non ad aliquam salutem, sed ad solam 
experientiam desiderata. All previous editors had read with 
codd. quae praeter nos est/ but Knoll seems to have been 
clearly right in restoring the negative, which Cod. Sessorianus 
retains. The ordinary reading gives the facile but pointless 
sense of external nature ; the more difficult reading with the 
negative points to a distinction between those secrets of nature 
which are entirely pvaeter nos, beyond our ken, and others which 
are not so inaccessible. Cf. De Trinitate, iv. n. Facile est 


plates the removal of certain things from the category 
of miracle by means of progressive science. There 
is an ordo naturalis, he says in the third book De 
Irinitate, which custom has robbed of its wonder ; 
but some things belonging to that order occur so rarely 
as to inspire amazement, until investigation brings 
them within the compass of the human understanding, 
and many recorded repetitions abate surprise. 1 Recall 
the definition of Miracle, and you will see that in this 
case what was insolitum is no longer supra spem. 
The thing which was miraculous is miraculous no 
longer. This relativeness of miracle appears even 
in Augustine s most popular teaching. Does the 
Psalmist talk of God s wondrous works ? Augustine 
takes occasion to explain that a thing is wonderful 
in proportion to the abstruseness of its cause. 2 

Portents, prodigies, tricks of magic, miracles of 

enim spiritibus nequissimis per aerea corpora facere multa quae 
mirentur animae terrenis corporibus aggrauatae etiam melioris 
affectus. Si enim corpora ipsa terrena nonnullis artibus et 
exercitationibus modificata in spectaculis theatricis tanta miracula 
hominibus exhibent ut ei qui nunquam uiderunt talia narrata 
uix credant, quid magnum est diabolo et angelis eius de corporeis 
elementis per aerea corpora facere quae caro miretur. These 
two passages conclusively indicate the extension of the term 
miraculum for St. Augustine s mind. 

1 Ibid. iii. 2. Alius est ordo naturalis in conuersione et 
mutabilitate corporum qui, quamuis etiam ipse ad nutum Dei 
seruiat, perseuerantia tamen consuetudinis amisit admirationem, 
sicuti sunt quae uel breuissimis uel certe non longis interuallis 
temporum caelo terra marique mutantur, siue nascentibus siue 
occidentibus rebus, siue alias aliter atque aliter apparentibus ; 
alia uero, quamuis ex ipso ordine uenientia, tamen propter 
longiora interualla temporum minus usitata ; quae licet multi 
stupeant, ab inquisitoribus huius saeculi comprehensa sunt, et 
progressu generationum, quo saepius repetita et a pluribus cognita, 
eo minus mira sunt. 

2 In Ps. cxviii. 27. Quanto enim quaeque res abstrusiores 
habet causas tanto est mirabilior. 


the gospel, miracles of the saints all are brought 
under one general rubric, as things startling and 
inexplicable. They differ among themselves ; they 
can be classified, but by qualities only. For example, 
after propounding the definition of miracle which I 
have quoted, Augustine proceeds to distinguish two 
kinds : those which induce wonder alone, and those 
which also promote sentiments of gratitude and 
goodwill. 1 All alike are miracles. But further, these 
various events, broadly described as miraculous, must 
not be too sharply distinguished from others which are 
not miraculous. What is there among all the works 
of God, he asks, which would not be marvellous, were 
it not cheapened by daily use ? 2 The most ordinary 
operations of nature, he says elsewhere, would be 
miracles to one seeing them for the first time ; we 
pass them by unnoticed, not because we have mastered 
their secrets for nothing is more obscure than the 
causes of growth, of the opening or falling leaf, of 
the moving stars, of colour and sound, of taste and 
scent but merely because of constant familiarity. 3 
Indeed, the common things of the world, when justly 

1 De Util. Cred. 16. In duo diuidimtur : quaedam enim 
sunt quae solam faciunt admirationem, quaedam uero magnam 
etiam gratiam beneuolentiamque conciliant. 

2 Epist. cxxxvii. 3. Quid autem non mirum facit Deus in 
omnibus creaturae motibus, nisi consuetudine quotidiana uiluis- 
sent ? 

3 De Util. Cred. 16. Nam diei et noctis uices et constant- 
issimum ordinem reruni caelestium, annorum quadrifariam 
conuersionem, decidentes redeuntesque frondes arboribus, in- 
finitam uim seminum, pulcritudinem lucis, colorum sonorum 
odorum saporumque uarietates, da qui primum uideat atque 
sentiat, cum quo tamen loqui possimus, hebescit obruiturque 
miraculis ; nos uero haec omnia non cognoscendi facilitate 
quid enim causis horum obscurius ? sed certe sentiendi assi- 
duitate contemnimus." 


estimated, are seen to be greater than those of rare 
and exceptional occurrence which move us to wonder. 1 
And so he passes on to some reflexions which have 
become commonplaces. Any marvellous thing which 
happens in the world is less marvellous than the 
world taken as a whole. 2 The government of the 
whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding 
of five thousand men from five loaves. 3 More mar 
vellous than any miracle wrought by man is man 
himself. 4 

It may be necessary to observe that these remarks 
are not evasions of a distressed apologetic. Augustine 
was anxious to fit miracles into the general scheme 
of things, not for the purpose of countering objections 
to miracle, but rather with the intention of showing 
that such abnormal events did not break up the con 
tinuity of nature. He was defending the universality 
of providence, the doctrine of the unity and omnipot 
ence of God, against theories of chance, of pluralism, 
of intrusive agencies. It is true that he had some 
times to contend with doubters or deniers, but he 
seems to have regarded them as either cranks or 
partisans. It was only particular miracles that were 
called in question. He shrewdly remarks that im- 
pugners of the miracles recorded in Holy Scripture 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, x. 12. Cum ea sapienter intuemur, inusita- 
tissimis rarissimisque maiora sunt. 

2 Ibid. Quicquid igitur mirabile sit in hoc mundo, profecto 
minus est quam totus hie mundus. 

8 In loan. 24. Maius enim miraculum est gubernatio 
totius mundi quam saturatio quinque milium hominum de 
quinque panibus, et tamen hoc nemo miratur. Illud mirantur 
homines, non quia maius est, sed quia rarum est. 

4 De Ciuit. Dei, x. 12. Omni miraculo quod fit per 
hominem maius miraculum est homo. 



would eagerly take credit for similar incidents reported 
of Appuleius or Apollonius of Tyana. 1 There can be 
little doubt that he is here speaking from real experi 
ence. The field of miracle was a field of competition. 
There was less of this, perhaps, in Augustine s day 
than at some earlier periods, but it continued. He 
felt the pressure of signs and wonders which might 
deceive even the elect, and argued that the quality 
as well as the quantity of miracles should be tested. 
A visible marvel, he says, does not always indicate 
the presence of invisible wisdom. 2 The miracles of 
Christian saints, he urges, can be distinguished from 
similar wonders recorded of pagan gods, for these 
are demons labouring to pass themselves off as divine, 
while the saints claim no such honour, but bear witness 
to the one true God, theirs and ours. 3 The argument 
is forced, but it shows two things : first, that miracles 
were taken generally as indisputable facts, and 
secondly, that Augustine would measure them by 
a moral standard. Test a miracle, he says elsewhere, 
by its purpose : is it done for the glory of God or for 
the glorification of the doer ? 4 

A question is here inevitable. Augustine reckoned 
credulity a vice : did he himself escape that vice 
in regard to miracles ? He had an insatiable curiosity, 
which also he was inclined to blame, and a readiness 
to accept marvels on the slenderest evidence. The 
authority of the written page weighed much with him, 
he exaggerated the value of common report, and he 
seems to have had a childlike confidence in travellers 
tales. But remember what he himself had seen. 

1 Epist, cii. 6. 2 De Sermone Domini in Monte, ii. 25. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, xxiii. 10. * LXXXIII. Quaest. 79. 


He had seen a magnet with, a pendent chain of iron 
rings, and shuddered at the sight. The world before 
his eyes was full of inexplicable things, c plenus 
innumerabilibus miraculis. * Why boggle at one or 
two more ? He was credulous, not because he was 
greedy of miracle, or anxious to sustain a wavering 
faith, but for sheer excess of evidence. He was not 
greedy of miracle. His warnings against the tempta 
tion of God implied in seeking after a sign are pretty 
constant. He comments on the comparative rarity 
of evangelic miracles in his own day, remarking with 
content that if they were common they would lose 
all moving power. 2 That was in the early days of his 
conversion. Much later he encountered the objection 
that such miracles do not happen. He replied with 
the story of the relics of Protasius and Gervasius, 
but referred with greater fervour to the standing 
miracle of the conversion of the world, which would 
be all the greater if the preaching of the gospel had 
not been supported by stupendous marvels. 3 Here 
is a very modern touch. It must be admitted, I 
think, that he acted with some inconsistency when 
he sent a priest and a clerk of his own monastery, 
who accused each other of grave disorders, to be tested 
by a miracle at the shrine of St. Felix of Nola, as he 
had heard of a thief being detected at Milan ; but the 
open letter in which he tells the story shows how 
deeply he was moved and agitated by the scandal, 
and his pastoral earnestness redeems what he himself, 
at another time, might have condemned as pre 
sumption. It is significant that he sent the accused 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 7. 2 De Util. Cred. 16. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, xxii. 8. 


so far because he had heard of no such miracle being 
done at the numerous shrines of saints in Africa. 1 

Looking at miracles, then, through the eyes of St. 
Augustine, you must regard them as events occurring 
in the course of nature, but oat of the ordinary course. 
The explanation is sometimes forced. The portent of a 
speaking ass must be taken as natural, in the sense, 
not that speech is natural to the dumb beast, but 
that the beast is naturally subject to a potent will. 2 
Taken by itself, that would seem to imply an arbitrary 
intervention, or the physics of fairyland. But you 
must correlate it with a conception more general. 
The will of the Creator is the nature of each created 
thing. 3 There are monstrous births as well as normal 
births, exceptional events as well as ordinary events, 
all with their several places in the economy of nature. 
The ordinary is more familiar to us, but not more 
natural. There are sequences of cause and effect so 
customary that we cease to wonder at them ; others 
more abstruse are equally consequential. Moses 
rod takes the form of a serpent unnaturally, as it seems 
to us who know nature only in part ; but this wonder 
happens in the course of nature as known to God. 4 
God works alike in the ordinary way of nature and 
in extraordinary ways ; it is by the will of God 
that water is drawn through root and branches to 
the grape, and distills in wine ; it was by the will 
of God that water became wine at Cana with unwonted 

1 Epist. Ixxviii. 2 De Genes, ad Lit. ix. 17. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 8. Uoluntas tanti utique conditoris 
conditae rei cuiusque natura est. 

4 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 13. Nee ista cum fiunt contra 
naturam fiunt, nisi nobis, quibus aliter naturae cursus innotuit, 
non autem Deo cui hoc est natura quod fecerit. 


swiftness. 1 Everything that happens has a natural 
cause, and stands in the order of nature. But of that 
order we know little. And so you come to St. Augus 
tine s culminating conclusion ; a miracle is done, non 
contra naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura. 

Within the last few days Dr. Sanday has been ask 
ing us to distinguish. He accepts the contention of 
St. Augustine that a miracle is not contra naturam ; 
but he takes this in a negative sense, and not, like 
the African Father, in a positive sense. It means for 
him, not so much that all marvels actually occurring 
must have a place in the natural order, but rather 
that some asserted miracles must be ruled out because 
they are inconsistent with what is known in that 
order. He then makes, or finds, a distinction. Some 
recorded miracles he would place, not contra naturam^ 
but supra naturam. 2 He limits nature, but allows a 
transcendence of the limits ; there is something 
beyond, a region of * higher spiritual forces ; these 
produce effects which are apparently within the 
natural order though not of it, and are to be considered 
possible because not inconsistent with its normal 
constituents. These forces are supra naturam^ and 
to the events resulting from their action is attributed 
the quality of a like elevation. The events them 
selves are supra naturam^ and it is on this account 
that they are properly miraculous. I might step 
aside to criticise this conception of miracle, interesting 
as coming so freshly from such a source, but my 
present concern is only to ask how it may illustrate, 
by agreement or contrariety, the conception of St. 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 13. Cf. De Trinitate, iii. 5. 

* Bishop Gore s Challenge to Criticism, p. 23. Infra, pp. 154-160. 


Augustine. I shall then observe that the limitation 
implied in Dr. Sanday s distinction would be impos 
sible for Augustine ; there is for him nothing above 
and beyond that nature which is continuous ab eo 
qui summe est to the last effect of the last sub 
ordinate cause ; there are higher and lower forces, 
but the highest are within the course of nature. The 
conclusion is imperative. According to the mind of 
St. Augustine, a miracle can no more be supra naturam 
than contra naturam. All things that happen are 
within the natural order. 

If you would compare this conception of nature 
and miracle with that which has now been current 
for some centuries, I think you will find the difference 
coming in when the course of nature is taken to be a 
sort of closed order. The theologians of the school 
took over from the peripatetic philosophy the notion 
of a system, complete, compact, entirely knowable, 
cohering in a causal nexus. They hung this upon 
the idea of creation out of nothing by the Word of 
God, so that the whole system sprang into existence 
with all its potentialities at the fiat of the Creator. 
There was thus set up an approximate dualism of 
God and the world ; not a true dualism, for that 
would involve the eternity of the world, but a dualism 
in working ; God will have imparted to the world cer 
tain causal powers, which then work in a measure 
independently. He is a kind of emperor, reigning 
apart, while the affairs of the empire are managed 
by local authorities deriving their functions from the 
throne. A miracle will then be an act of God inter 
vening directly, and to that extent disturbing the 
natural order. It is not merely unusual, unexpected, 


transcending the narrow field of causality that is 
known to us ; it is altogether apart from nature ; 
it is, in the style of St. Thomas, praeter ordinem 
totius naturae creatae. * In a word, it is a super 
natural event. 

The juristic temper of the Middle Ages found 
an opportunity here. Augustine spoke of leges natu- 
rales as expressions of the controlling will of God. 2 
These leges became iura, with an implication of self- 
subsistence. What the legislator commanded was 
lex ; what became stable in the social order was ius, 
and even the Prince could not without grave reason 
depart from this or modify it at his will. The natural 
order was likened to the social order. God became 
in some sort a constitutional monarch. He had 
prerogatives : among them the prerogative of dis 
pensation. Bartolus of Sassoferrato, the great jurist 
of the fourteenth century, expressly brought miracles 
under this head of government : iura naturalia, he 
says, are mutable by divine empiry, or at the bidding 
of one to whom God has granted that power, as we 
see in the case of miracles. 3 But dispensation is 

1 S.T. i. no, 4. See, however, in 5. contra Gent. iii. 100, 
the proof that miracles, regarded from this point of view, are 
non contra naturam. 

2 Supra, p. 73. 

3 Woolf, Bartolus of Sassoferrato, p. 13, quotes as follows : 
Iura enim non ad singulares personas, sed generaliter constitu- 
untur et etiam de necessario se habentibus. Leges enim con- 
stringunt hominum uitas, et eis omnes oboedire oportet, maxime 
quia est inuentio et donum Dei, ut ait Demosthenes et retulit 
Martianus. Nee praedictis obuiat quia mutabilia sunt per 
Principis imperium, uel alterius cui attinet, quia etiam quae iura 
naturalia sunt mutabilia sunt diuino imperio uel alterius cui 
Deus concesserit, ut in miraculis declaratum est : nee tamen per 
hoc minus dicuntur necessario se habere. Mr. Woolf has been 
good enough to correct an error of transcription for my benefit. 


confessedly an undesirable exercise of power, uulnus 
in legem,) to be tolerated only when there is a just 
and necessary cause. Hence the maxim, miracula 
non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. It 
seems to have been felt that there was a touch of 
impropriety in such interferences with the course of 
nature. The feeling grew stronger as the domain 
of natural law was more accurately mapped. The 
great paradox of the nineteenth century, insistence 
on law coupled with doubt or denial of the existence 
of a law-giver, left no room for a dispensing power. 
The other paradox of the time, the tacit assumption 
that the part of nature more or less accurately mapped 
is a faithful representation of the whole, and the 
supposed discovery that within this range miracles 
do not happen, completed the doctrine of the closed 
order. 1 There seems to be a genuine feeling that 
miracle is indecent. If we used the language of the 
school we should call it inconveniens. Even a con 
vinced theist may be disposed forgive the irreverence 
to warn off the Creator from this ground. The 
profane witticism of the Jansenist pasquinade finds 
a new meaning : 

De par le Roi, defense a Dieu 
De faire miracle en ce lieu. 

Ce lieu is the world as we know it. 

It is not to be denied that support for this devel 
opment can be extracted from the writings of St. 
Augustine. Passages isolated from their context can 

1 Sir Oliver Lodge wrote in the Times of November 28, 1914 : 
The average scientific man has made up his mind that things 
out of the common are impossible, and he will not listen with 
any seriousness to evidence for them. 


be cited, and have been cited, in defence of almost 
every new position taken up. We have seen with 
what strictness he would sometimes define the sequence 
of cause and effect. On the other hand, his doctrine 
of reserved causes, those which are not implanted 
in the creature but retained in the custody of the 
divine will, lends itself to a theory of interference. 1 
I will direct your attention to one passage which has 
never been used, so far as I know, in this fashion, but 
which may lend some colour even to the fantastic 
notion of dispensation. He has been speaking of the 
leges naturales by virtue of which living beings 
generate only their own kind. They have this 
inherent power by the will of God, not apart from 
God, and the Creator has in himself a further power 
to produce from them something other than their 
own seminales rationes allow. 2 That looks very 
much like an exaggerated anticipation of the greater 
variations in which biologists have recently been 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. vi. 18. Si autem non omnes causas 
creatura primitus condita praefixit, sed aliquas in sua uoluntate 
seruauit, non sunt quidem illae quas in sua uoluntate seruauit ex 
istarum quas creauit necessitate pendentes. 

* Ibid. ix. 17. Omnis iste naturae usitatissimus cursus 
habet quasdam naturales leges suas, secundum quas et spiritus 
uitae, qui creatura est, habet quosdam appetitus suos deter 
minates quodam modo, quos etiam mala uoluntas non possit 
excedere, et elementa mundi hums corporei habent definitam 
vim qualitatemque suam, quid unumquodque ualeat uel non 
ualeat, quid de quo fieri possit uel non possit. Ex his uelut 
primordiis rerum omnia quae gignuntur suo quaeque tempore 
exortus processusque sumunt, finesque et decessiones sui cuiusque 
generis. Unde fit ut de grano tritici non nascatur faba, uel de 
faba triticum, uel de pecore homo, uel de homine pecus. Super 
hunc autem motum cursumque rerum naturalem potestas crea- 
toris habet apud se posse de his omnibus facere aliud quam 
eorum quasi seminales rationes habent ; non tamen id quod non 
in eis posuit ut de his fieri uel ab ipso possit. Supra, p. 37. 


seeking the origin of species ; but before the 
appearance of this hypothesis it would have 
looked still more like a suspension of natural law. 
The passage might be quoted in support of a 
theory of miraculous intervention, whether reduced 
to the category of dispensation or otherwise 

This use of isolated texts, however, becomes 
impossible when you take St. Augustine s conception 
of nature and miracle as a whole. He is not invariably 
consistent. That is not to be expected. He was 
feeling his way through a maze of natural causes, 
a very small part of which was explored, with no clue 
but a conviction that all was rationally ordered, and 
that what seemed intrusive was part of a connected 
plan. It was not a labyrinth of stone, built and left 
by a master mind, but was in part a complicated dance 
of living powers, threading the pillars and gateways 
of the world. The designer himself was present, 
taking part in the action, controlling every movement. 
The traveller s comfort was an assurance that these 
evolutions were not laid out for his bewilderment, 
but that by observing them closely he might find his 
way. The miracles of Jesus Christ, says Augustine 
in one of his profoundest moods, were wrought for 
the purpose of drawing the human mind from visible 
things to the task of understanding God. For inas 
much as he is not of a substance to be seen by our 
eyes, and his miracles whereby he rules and admin 
isters the whole created world are cheapened by 
constant use, so that few or none will note his wonder 
ful works in each grain of seed, he has of his mercy 
reserved to himself some works to be done at befitting 


times apart from the customary course of nature, in 
order that, beholding things not greater but unwonted, 
they for whom the daily round is naught may stand 
amazed. 1 

It is possible that before long we may find our 
selves in thought nearer to St. Augustine than to St. 
Thomas Aquinas or Herbert Spencer. 
1 In loan. 24. 



OMNIS natura, in quantum natura est, bonum est. 1 

That sentence became, as I have said, a catchword 

in the mouth of St. Augustine. It summed up his 

contention against Manichaeism, and in his later 

years he was maintaining against the followers of 

Pelagius the limitation which it implied. Bonum 

est. Subject to the limitation implied in the words 

* in quantum natura est, he might have gone further 

and said bona est ; for evil things, he maintained, 

are not evil by nature. He did, in fact, say as much, 

and that in the latest stage of his thought, when 

the saying could be sufficiently guarded : Omnis 

natura, etiam si uitiosa est, in quantum natura est, 

bona est ; in quantum uitiosa est, mala est. 2 An 

earlier assertion, more rashly made, he corrected 

in his Retractations ; it should be applied only to that 

quae proprie natura dicitur, to nature as originally 

called into being by God. 3 Things as they are may 

have become evil ; it is risky to call them good 

because of some remnant of good that is still in them ; 

1 De Natura Boni, I ; et alibi. 

1 Enchiridion, p. 4. Cf. De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 3 ; supra, p. 46. 
3 De Duabus Animabus, 12. Natura esse malae animae 
nullo modo queunt. Retract, i. 15. 


but neither, on the other hand, are they entirely evil ; 
no work of God, however spoilt, ceases to be God s 
creature, and as such it is still bonum aliquid, a good 

What did Augustine mean when he called a thing 
good ? In the first place, he meant that it exists. 
To be is good. Obviously. And yet there is much 
circular argument about the point, which seems to 
indicate dissatisfaction or restlessness. The goodness 
of abstract being is, indeed, a thin conception. St. 
Augus^ne did not feed freely on abstractions. His 
Platonic studies had not destroyed in him the Roman 
or African inclination to the concrete. He faced 
the conception rather as involving the proposition 
that the thing which exists is good. Est was more 
for him than esse. But then he was confronted with 
the fact of experience, not to be gainsaid, that some 
things which exist are bad. He could, however, 
enjoy abstraction to the point of abstracting the 
category of being from that which is, so as to arrive 
at something indisputable : Quicquid est, in quantum 
est, bonum est. l This abstract being may then be 
treated quantitatively ; a thing may have more or 
less of it ; a diminution of it is a diminution of good 
ness, and so evil comes in. Quicquid minus est quam 
erat, non in quantum est sed in quantum minus est, 
malum est. 2 

You might suppose, then, that evil stands to 
good as non-existence to existence. But no : the 
philosophy of the abstract may draw that con 
clusion, but Augustine still holds by the concrete. 
Evil things do in fact exist, but you cannot abstract 

1 De UeraRel. n. 2 Ibid. 12. 


their evil from them as a positive quality. It is 
negative ; a mere diminution. It is only a tendency 
to non-existence. Therefore it co-exists with good, 
but has no other mode of existence. It is only a 
good thing that can suffer diminution of goodness, 
only an existing thing that can be moving towards 
non-existence. In other words, only a good thing 
can be evil. 1 It is Augustine s favourite paradox. 
Evil is the diminution of good, to the point of extinc 
tion ; 2 but when that point is reached where a thing 
has lost all its goodness, it has lost its being; there 
is nothing. And since there can be no further 
diminution of good, this particular evil ceases ; it 
cannot continue in any way of itself. Ergo quae- 
cumque sunt, bona sunt. 3 

Goodness, then, is a positive quality inherent 
in that which is. Evil is merely negative. We 
must not only deny it the substantiality which the 
Manichaeans attributed to it ; even as a quality 
we must refuse to allow it any positive existence. 
Good and evil are not properly in opposition, for they 

1 Enchir. 4 ; to the conclusion, Non igitur potest esse 
malum, nisi aliquod bonum. Quod cum dici uideatur absurde, 
connexio tamen ratiocinationis huius uelut ineuitabiliter nos 
compellit hoc dicere. Infra, p. 107. 

2 Confess, iii. 7. Priuationem boni usque ad quod omnino 
non est. 

3 Ibid. vii. 12. Aut igitur nihil nocet corruptio, quod fieri non 
potest, aut, quod certissimum est, omnia quae corrumpuntur 
priuantur bono. Si autem omni bono priuabuntur, omnino non 
erunt. Si enim erunt et corrumpi iam non poterunt, meliora 
erunt, quia incorruptibiliter permanebunt. Et quid monstrosius 
quam ea dicere omni bono amisso facta meliora? Ergo si omni bono 
priuabuntur, omnino nulla erunt : ergo quamdiu sunt, bona 
sunt. Ergo quaecumque sunt, bona sunt, malumque illud, quod 
quaerebam unde esset, non est substantia, quia si substantia esset 
bonum esset. 


are not on the same plane of reality. You may 
illustrate this from Augustine s treatment of two 
physical phenomena, one of which he understood 
much better than the other. To compare evil with 
darkness was common form, and the comparison 
served him well, for he was aware that darkness was 
nothing else but defect of light. We need not trouble 
ourselves about his particular conception of the 
nature of light, which he took to be corporeal ; 
the point is that he assigned to it a real existence, 
which darkness had not. 1 But he was not so well 
informed about the physics of heat. He took heat 
and cold to be positive qualities counteracting each 
other. He could speak of them almost as if they 
were substances a heat that makes things hot and 
a coldness that makes things cold. What is hotter 
than heat itself ? he asks. 2 But in the same breath 
he speaks of the swiftness that makes things swift. 
There follows a not very profound examination of 
the phenomena of motion, and I think you will 
conclude that on this occasion he was speaking 
mere commonplaces. You may sometimes be told 
that an express train was velocity itself, but you 
will not credit your informant with belief in a sub 
stance so named. So in this passage we need not 

1 De Gen. contra Manich. i. 4. Ubi lux non est, tenebrae 
sunt ; non quia aliquid sunt tenebrae, sed ipsa lucis absentia 
tenebrae dicuntur. Cf. Confess, xii. 3. In Psalmvii. Non quod 
aliqua sit natura tenebrarum. Omnis enim natura, in quantum 
natura est, esse cogitur. Esse autem ad lucem pertinet : non 
esse ad tenebras. Qui ergo deserit eum a quo factus est et 
inclinat in id unde factus est, id est in nihilum, in hoc peccato 

2 In Psalm, cxlvii. Quid calidius ipso calore quo calet 
quicquid fit calidum ? 


see anything but the meaningless convention of 
certain philosophies which would say that velocity 
makes things swift, and heat makes things hot. But 
even so, Augustine could not compare good and 
evil with heat and cold, as he compared them with 
light and darkness. I am tempted to observe that 
we could do so in his name, since we understand 
coldness to be nothing but loss of heat, and the 
catastrophe that awaits us at the absolute zero of 
temperature, if I am rightly informed about that 
mystery, is not unlike the result of the absolute zero 
of good as conceived by him. 

But can we imagine St. Augustine playing with 
these arid speculations about the good of abstract 
being ? Well, he did more than play with them. 
They came to him with his Platonizing, and he took 
them very seriously. They were never far from the 
forefront of his mind. But they could not satisfy 
him. He improved on his Platonics. The summum 
bonum was for him far more than supreme being. He 
read Plato himself with a difference. What Plato 
said in myth he read as reality. He was more daringly 
and more consistently anthropomorphic. He pictured 
the Eternal as good in the ethical, human sense, 
and so he interpreted Plato s doctrine that the 
motive of creation was the unselfish desire of God 
to make creatures like himself. He was helped by 
Cicero s translation, in which the apxn KvpicordTi) 
of the Timaeus became causa iustissima. For 
Augustine, goodness is never without ethical content. 1 

1 Plato, Timaeus, 29. Aeycojatv Brj SL rfvrwa alrLav yivecrw 
KCLL TO TTO.V ToSe 6 vvi<TTa<s vve<TTr)crcv. Aya$os ^v, dya#a> Se ovSets 
TTC/H ovSevos ovSeVorc eyyiyverai <f>06vo<s. TOVTOV 8 CKTO? a>j/ Trai/ra 

Tavrrjv &) 



I speak, as before, of his bold anthropomorphism. 

But it was limited. Push it far enough, and you 

come up against the protest of John Stuart Mill, 

who refused to call good a being conceived as doing 

things that would be condemned in a man. I do 

not think that Augustine would have had much 

patience with that refusal. He would probably 

have called it petulance. He would not make man 

the measure of God. He was fully satisfied with 

St. Paul s grim rejoinder : c Nay, but, O man, who art 

thou that repliest against God ? He would not 

set up two moral standards, one for the sovran will 

of God and one for the subject will of man ; but he 

would brush aside as absurd the contention that the 

imperfect apprehension of the single standard by 

means of which men judge one another is the true 

measure of absolute goodness. He was seldom happy, 

as it seems to me, in his attempts to justify the 

obscure working of providence in nature, or the 

scriptural records which he took to be indisputable 

revelations of the divine will ; but that is partly 

because he was less sensitive than we are to some 

moral perplexities ; he touches us more nearly when 

he leaves questions frankly unsolved, declaring his 

conviction that God s judgment is certainly righteous, 

but inscrutable. 

Then why justify God ? Can that be attempted 
without the assumption of a standard of goodness or 

yeve<reo)? KOL KOCT/X,OV /-taAcoV av TL<S ap^v Kvptwrar^v Trap 
tfrpovifjuov aTToSe^d/xevos opOorara aTroSe^otr av. There is a cha 
racteristically Roman touch in Cicero s rendering of ayaOos by 
probus, of KvpitoTttTT; by iustissima, and the tendency to identify 
goodness with justice was always dogging the footsteps of 
Augustine himself. 


rectitude external to God ? In view of Augustine s 
ordinary postulates, no such standard can be sought ; 
there can be no moral arraignment, no moral defence, 
of what God does. Whatever ethical content you 
may read into the idea of goodness will be consequent, 
not antecedent ; you are forced back to find your 
only standard in bare existence ; whatever is, is right* 
Yet Augustine laboured this way and that, sometimes 
in face of insuperable difficulties, to justify God. 

The only answer, I think, is to be found in a 
certain moral necessity of our nature. As we are 
restless until we rest in God, so are we driven to seek 
a harmony in the whole of nature, and especially 
a correspondence of our nature with its Author. 1 
But we have a natural habitus animi> which we call 
justice ; and there is a natural law of right : natura 
ius est quod non opinio genuit sed quaedam innata 
uis inseruit. 2 Knowing this, we are impelled to 
correlate our own sense of right and the known opera 
tions of God. So far as we fail to do this, our thought 
is incoherent. When Augustine labours to justify 
the ways of God, he is not attempting the impossi 
bility of judging them by some external standard ; 
he is comparing one work of God with another, for 
the purpose of reducing his own knowledge of both to 

1 Confess, i. i. Tu excitas ut laudare te delectet, quia 
fecisti nos ad te, et inquietum est cor nostrum donee requiescat 
in te. This seems to be the sense of the baffling words ad te. 

8 Qu. Ixxxiii. 31. Cf. De Util. Cred. 12 ; Sapientes uoco, 
non cordatos et ingeniosos homines, sed eos quibus inest, quanta 
inesse homini potest, ipsius hominis Deique firmissime percepta 
cognitio, atque huic cognitioni uita moresque congruentes. 
Both Socrates and the Stoics are here at bare arm s length. 



The coherence of nature implies an ethical purpose 
in the Creator of which the ethical purpose of man 
is an imperfect image. We can therefore more or 
less accurately trace that purpose. I am here 
speaking of ethical purpose in the broadest possible 
sense. In everything there is an intention, a 
irpoalpevis. We shall find a thing good in proportion 
as it fulfils the purpose of its maker : goodness is 
suitability. That is covered by two words out of 
three in a passage of the book Zte Natura Boni : 
6 Omnia enim, quanto magis moderata speciosa 
ordinata sunt, tanto magis utique bona sunt. * 
Moderatum and ordinatum stand for adaptation to 
purpose, and I think you will not find it difficult 
to bring speciosum under the same rubric. There is 
a lex aeterna, identified as c ratio diuina uel uoluntas 
Dei, which requires the conservation of natural 
order ; that which obeys this law is good. 2 I shall 
cite once more the saying, Quod equo natura est 
homini crimen est. 3 The irrationality of horse and 
mule, requiring bit and bridle, befits them as much 
as it would disgrace a man. The beasts of the field 
are blessed because they fulfil the purpose of their 
being : * in sua natura quam acceperunt peragunt 
uitam. 4 

You might expect Augustine to adopt the Stoic 
standard of human goodness : 0/^.0X070^6^0)9 TVJ 
(frvo-ei, &v> He comes near it in the Dialogue contra 
Academicos, where he reckons it beatitude to live 
secundum id quod in homine optimum est. This 
that is best in man is then defined as mens et ratio, 

1 De Nat. Boni, 3. 2 Contra Faustum, xxii. 27. 

8 Supra, p. 35. * De Gen. contra Manich. ii. 17. 

H a 


and the good of life is thus to be in all things rational. 1 
That, however, savours rather of Plato than of the 
Porch. Compare the passage in the book De Utilitate 
Credendi, where he says bluntly fi recta ratio est 
ipsa uirtus, and draws the conclusion, solus igitur 
sapiens non peccat. * Wisdom is here ipsius hominis 
Deique cognitio. In later years he shifted his 
ground. He saw that even what was best in man 
might become an unsafe standard. He found a 
fundamental absurdity in the Stoic ethics, which 
bade man seek beatitude by living in accordance 
with nature, and at the same time advised an escape 
from life by suicide, if natural troubles became more 
than one could bear with dignity. 8 He found similar 
flaws in all human standards. So the earlier definition 
was revised. In the Retractations, Augustine con 
fessed that he should have made beatitude consist 
in living, not according to the best that is in man, 
but c secundum Deum. 4 But to live secundum 
Deum is to live according to the will of the Creator, 
and the will of the Creator is, for Augustine, the order 
of nature. It may seem, therefore, that you are 
brought back to the Stoic maxim ; and that would 
be true, were there not a serious difference between 
the Stoic conception of <f>vo-i$ and St. Augustine s 
conception of nature. 

Here we are at the critical point of our investi 
gation. Augustine allowed no separation of physics 
and ethics ; there was, at most, a topical distinction. 
Still less could he recognize any border line between 
physic and metaphysic. All was held in unity by 

1 Contra Acad. i. 2. * De Util. Cred. 12. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xix. 4. * Retract, i. I. 


his conception of Will, the creative and ordaining 
will of God. If I may venture to evoke him as dis 
putant in the controversies of our day, he would 
certainly have rejected the dualism of Huxley s 
contrast between nature and civilization : a nature 
in which the relentless struggle for existence makes 
for continual progress through the survival of the 
fittest, and a civilization which cuts athwart that 
natural process to seek a wholly disparate method 
of advancement. If he adopted a theory of evolution 
his own doctrine of seminales rationes would suit 
a more recent theory than Huxley s, but let that 
pass I think he would ask how civilized man, 
regarded as the product of a causal order, could be 
anything else but what that order made him ; he 
would bring to bear his conception of unity and 
continuity, would show that civilization itself is a 
product of cosmic evolution, would correlate the 
Law of the Jungle and the Law of the City upon the 
one sure base of the will of God. Just as we have 
seen that his system allows no absolute distinction 
of nature and supernature, so now we must observe 
that it affords no room for two separate planes of 
being, physical and ethical. It is therefore a mistake 
to say that he confused cosmic or metaphysical good 
with ethical good. He did not confuse them ; he 
reduced them logically to a single category. Good 
ness is suitability. That is good which fills its 
proper place, fitting harmoniously into the whole 
system of nature, which is the working of the 
will of God. 

But what then is evil ? Unfitness. But how 
can this be ? If all things issue from one .creative 


act, 1 or even if they come from the continuous working 
of one self-consistent will, how can there be any dis 
crepancy, any lack of correspondence, any unfitness ? 
Each thing will have its place in accordance with the 
general plan, and there is no alien or intrusive power 
that can force it elsewhere. If this be the standard 
of goodness, we seem to be heading straight for inviol 
able optimism. Assume the perfect goodness of the 
Creator, and the world that he has made will be the 
best of all possible worlds ; assume his omnipotence, 
the absence of any independent power that might 
interfere, 2 and in this best of worlds all will be ordered 
for the best. If Augustine had not been a stern realist, 
he might have been carried far in this sense by his 
reaction from the Manichaean hypostatizing of evil. 
Being what he was, and having his experiences behind 
him, he could not reduce all even to gradations of 
goodness. 3 I shall try to show presently that the 
pressure of his argument forced him to eliminate much 
that is commonly reckoned evil, and to attribute the 
ordinary valuation !of it to imperfect apprehension ; 
but his consciousness of sin gave him certain facts 
which could not be explained away. They had to be 
accounted for. I have already, in my second lecture, 
glanced at his attitude in face of this difficulty ; I 
must now bespeak your attention to it more in detail. 
Whence, then, is evil ? 

But, first, what is evil ? It is needless to pile up 

1 De Genes, ad Lit. viii. 20. Creauit omnia simul. 
* Confess, vii. 13. Et tibi omnino non est malum, nonsolum 
tibi sed nee uniuersae creaturae tuae, quia extra non est aliquid, 
quod inrumpat et corrumpat ordinem quern imposuisti ei. 

8 Ibid. vii. 7. lam itaque me, adiutor meus, illis uinculis 
solueras ; et quaerebam unde malum, et non erat exitus. 


citations. Augustine s most familiar doctrine is that 
which he himself says he learnt from the Platonics, 1 
that evil is merely negative, a defect of good. 
He seems to have seized on this at once as solving 
the riddles which had formerly driven him to Mani- 
chaeism. 2 From the doctrine thus received at the 
beginning of his conversion he never swerved. Even 
when his theology has taken its gloomiest coJour, 
he still maintains that animorum quaecunque sunt 
uitia, naturalium sunt priuationes bonorum. 3 He 
has various phrases of the same sense. Evil is nothing 
else but corruptio 4 ; it is nothing if not a bonitate 
defectus. 5 These terms are borrowed from Plotinus, 
for whom evil is o-re/^o-t? or eXXe^t? rov aydOov, 6 
and there can be little doubt that Augustine took 
them ready-made from the translation of Victorinus. 
He begins to part company with his teachers when he 
insists on the essential goodness of that in which there 
is a falling away. Plotinus thought of all that is good 
in the world of human experience as being lodged 
in something * other, not good, which makes failure 
inevitable. 7 There is no such c other for Augustine, 
and no inevitable evil. All nature is good, and evils 
are uitia naturarum? I have referred to the com 
parison of evil with darkness, which is merely absence 

1 Confess, vii. 12, 13. 

1 Ibid. iii. 7. Quibus rerum ignarus perturbabar et recedens 
a ueritate ire in earn mihi uidebar, quia non noueram malum non 
esse nisi priuationem boni. 

Enchiridion, 3. * Contra Ep. Fund. 35. 

6 Contra lulianum, i. 8. 8 Ennead. i. 8, i ; iii. 2, 5. 

7 Ibid. AvayKTj 8e tfAAai/av etvat cvravOa dya#ov, OTI ei> aAAa>. 
TO ovv aAXo, fv $ cart TO dya0ov, ercpov ayaflov ov Troiet rrjv 

8 Contra lulianum, i. 8. 


of light. 1 The same conception of evil as negative 
is otherwise expressed in Augustine s continuous 
denial that it is in any way substantial or has any 
natural existence. Here too I will not accumulate 
examples, but will note only the emphatic teaching 
of the Enchiridion. An injury done to the body 
by disease or wound is nothing else but a loss of 
health, and healing is not the removal of an evil from 
the body to continue in existence elsewhere, as would 
be the case if it were a substance ; the disorder is a 
mere accident of the body s existence, and merely 
ceases when health is restored. 2 That is Augustine s 
last word on the subject, as it was his first. 

But to ascertain what evil is was not to account for 
it. Manichaeism was so far countered ; but can the 
human mind be satisfied with a simple refutation of 
error ? Augustine s mind could not. There was 
an obvious difficulty. If nature is the work of God, 
entirely good, whence comes this tendency to failure ? 
What is the cause of this loss, this corruption ? How 
can nature be vitiated ? How is evil possible ? 
If you seek an efficient cause, Augustine rebukes 
you ; it is a case of deficiency, not of efficiency. 3 

1 Supra, p. 95. 

1 Enchiridion, 3. Nam sicut corporibus animalium nihil 
est aliud morbis et uulneribus adfici quam sanitate priuari neque 
enim id agitur, cum adhibetur curatio, ut mala ista quae inerant , 
id est morbi ac uulnera, recedant hlnc et alibi sint, sed utique 
ut non sint ; non enim ulla substantia sed carnalis substantiae 
uitium est uulnus aut morbus, cum caro sit ipsa substantia, et 
profecto aliquid bonum, cui accidunt ista mala, id est priuationes 
eius boni quod dicitur sanitas ita et animorum quaecunque 
sunt uitia naturalium sunt priuationes bonorum, quae, cum 
sanantur, non aliquo transf eruntur, sed ea quae ibi erant nusquam 
erunt, quando in ilia sanitate non erunt. 

8 Supra, p. 56. 


But that play of words leaves you where you were. 
If he will have it so, let us ask what is the deficient 
cause ? Augustine thought that he had found it. I 
have already stated his conclusion ; let us now 
examine it. 

And first observe how he ruled out what he would 
learn from Plato. He could not trace evil to the 
resistance of an intractable material from which the 
world was formed. That was but one remove from 
Manichaeism. He found mention, even in Scripture, 
of a materia informis from which the world was made, 
but this also was created by God, and created with 
a capacity for receiving form. 1 This also was good, 
and entirely subject to the will of God. That avenue 
was closed. 

Equally intolerable was the Plotinian reduction 
of evil to metaphysical remoteness from the One ; 
partly because Plotinus identified this remoteness 
with matter, and so would lead him back by another 
way to the practical consequences of Manichaeism. 
It was always against those practical consequences 
that Augustine was in revolt, and any theory involving 
them stood condemned. 

1 Wisdom, xi. 18. Krurcura rov KOCT^OV e 
The Vulgate has quae creauit orbem terrarum ex materia 
inuisa. Augustine was acquainted with the better rendering 
qui fecisti mundum ex materia informi, and he comments : 
Nullo modo credendum est illam ipsam materiam de qua 
factus est mundus, quamuis informem, quamuis inuisam, 
quocunque modo esset, per se ipsam esse potuisse, tanquam 
coaeternam et coaeuam Deo ; sed quemlibet modum suum, 
quern habebat ut quoquo modo esset et distinctarum rerum 
formas posset accipere, non habebat nisi ab omnipotente Deo, 
cuius beneficio est res non solum quaecunque formata sed etiam 
quaecunque formabilis. De Fide et Symbolo, 2. Cf. Confess. 
xii. 3. Supra, p. 34. 


What then ? We come to the solution which he 
persistently put forward, and which evidently satisfied 
him. He may have loved it the better because it 
was the child of his own wit. Starting from the 
metaphysical identification of good with being, 
he observed that all created things were called into 
being out of not-being : that is to say, out of nothing 
ness, e nihilo. Lucretius, if none other, would give 
him the phrase, and insistence on it would be an 
apt rejoinder to Epicurean physics. This contingent 
being is therefore the root of goodness for created 
things ; it is their nature so to be, and by nature they 
are good. But, because they were called out of 
nothingness, they have a tendency to return thither : 
that is, to fall away from their proper goodness. 
Evil is such falling away. 

St. Augustine s writings are full of this thought. 
Illustrations may be found everywhere. Take this 
from the passage about darkness in the exposition of 
the seventh Psalm, to which I have already referred : * 
Qui deserit eum a quo factus est et inclinat in id 
unde factus est, id est in nihilum, in hoc peccato 
tenebratur. Take this, again, from the sixth book 
de Ciuitate Dei. It is asked how the will can go 
wrong, and the conclusion of an elaborate investi 
gation is that a nature, originally good, is perverted 
to evil choice, quia ex nihilo facta est. 2 In the 
treatise Contra Epistulam Fundamenti you read that 
natures are capable of corruption because they are 
not produced from God s substance but are made by 
him of nothing : * non de Deo genitae, sed ab eo 
de nihilo factae. 3 Long after he says the same in 
1 Supra, p. 95. * De Ciuit. Dei, vi. 6. 3 Contra Ep. Fund. 36. 


the first book Contra lulianum. Natures would not 
be mutable if they were de Deo ; they can fall away 
from good because they are de nihilo. * 

So far we are concerned with good only as it is 
identified with being. It is obvious that the tendency 
in nihilum can be found only in things that actually 
exist : when the bourne is reached, they will exist 
no longer. Hence the paradox that evil is found 
only in things that are good. We know it, not as total 
deprivation of good, but as a movement away from 
good. Things purely good can exist, says Augustine, 
things purely evil cannot ; there can be no nature 
in which no element of good remains. 2 Even at 
the end, when the ethical interest has almost excluded 
all else, you find him arguing in the Enchiridion, as 
formerly in the Confessions : So long as nature is 
being corrupted there is in it some good of which it 
is being deprived. If it can lose no more good, it 
becomes incorruptible by process of corruption, 
which is absurd. If it be totally corrupted, then 
indeed no good will remain in it, for it will cease to 
exist. Corruption therefore can destroy good only 
by destroying nature. 3 But he is not content with 
this dry metaphysic. Goodness belongs to the cate 
gory of quality, as well as to that of existence. In 
all things that exist there are certain good qualities, 
and evil is recognized only in evil qualities which are 
a set-off to these. You ask of a man, qualis sit ? 
and the answer is mains? He argues curiously that 
corrupt gold is worth more than incorrupt silver, 

1 Contra lulian. i. 18. a De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 3 ; xix. 13. 

8 Enchir. 4. Cf. Confess, viii. 12. Supra, p. 94. 
1 Contra lulianum, i. 8. Supra, p. 57. 


by virtue of its abiding qualities. 1 In this sense you 
should read the penetrating remark : Nullius uitupe- 
ratur uitium nisi cuius natura laudatur. 2 When he 
is at grips with Pelagianism, and is being driven 
to make the worst of fallen human nature, he still 
emphasizes the good things that man retains, in 
formatione, uita, sensibus, mente. 3 Qualities are set 
against qualities, but the good qualities of any given 
thing are wrapped up with its existence, because they 
were impressed upon it by the will that called it into 
being ; the loss of those qualities will be a relapse 
towards nothingness, in nihilum. 

Here, then, Augustine places the origin of evil. 
Can we accept his account of it ? There is an obvious 
question. Why should things created by God out 
of nothing have this tendency to return to nothing ? 
If you watch his argument critically you will find that 
he often seems to be on the verge of treating this 
nibil as if it were a real state of existence. But that 
would be to fall back upon the very dualism that 
he is combating. His nihil would answer either to 
the Manichaean Kingdom of Darkness, as Julian of 
Eclanum roundly asserted that it did, or to the 
Platonic materia informis, into which things might 
relapse through loss of form. It is hard to say how 
far Augustine was unconsciously affected by this 
latter conception. The v\rj of Plotinus, on which 
he must have expended much thought, was not the 
prejacent material of the world, imperfectly plastic 
and therefore resistant, which Plato imagined ; the 
theory of emanation allowed no more independence 

1 De Natura Boni, 5. 2 De Libero Arbitrio, iii. 13. 

8 De Nat. et Gratia, 3. 


of the One than did his own doctrine of Creation ; 
in the Plotinian system matter is an effect of extreme 
differentiation, and the idea has been boldly rendered 
in modern terminology as the limitation inseparable 
from finitude. l Room might be found for that idea 
in St. Augustine s system also, but not for making 
this work of God the source of evil. Against the 
Plotinian doctrine of the necessity of evil he stood firm. 
I think you will get hold of his fundamental 
thought in a passage that I have quoted, where he 
gives to the phrase de nihilo fieri a negative sense. 2 
The point is that created things are not de Deo ; 
and since there is nothing of independent existence 
over against God, there is no other alternative, but 
they are de nihilo. And since they are not de Deo, 
they do not share the immutability of God. They 
have a certain relation to the supreme and immutable 
good, and this relative existence is their own proper 
good ; but, being mutable, they are necessarily 
capable of falling away from this good, and such 
falling away is their proper evil. The origin of evil 
lies, therefore, in the mutability of created things, 
and this mutability is due to their being de nihilo, and 
not de Deo. So far good. But it seems to me that 
Augustine was fascinated with this idea de nihilo, 
and played with it dangerously. It is obvious that a 
falling away from the good of being is a movement 
towards not-being, and so he made a graphic scheme 
of good and evil as a process de nihilo in nihilum. 

1 I have borrowed this from an unpublished essay by Mr. W. 
Montgomery, editor with Dr. Gibb of the Confessions. 

2 Contra Ep. Fund. 36. Supra, p. 106. The argument is 
further developed, De Anima et eius Origine, ii. 3. 


What was originally a mere way of accounting for 
the mutability of things took on the appearance 
of a causal explanation, and he narrowly escaped 
the fantastic error of attributing to this nihil a real 
existence. It may serve to show how persistent 
is the peril of dualism. 

But now there is another difficulty. If God has 
created things mutable, is not mutability their natural 
constitution, and therefore good ? Unquestionably. 
I quoted in my second lecture Augustine s description 
of the process by which one thing perishing gives 
birth to another,and so maintains the course of nature. 1 
He argues the case more elaborately in the third 
book De Libero Arbitrio. Fruits of the earth are 
consumed as such, and so are corrupted, when a 
man eats them. Is that evil ? No, for they are 
finding their proper use in the order of nature. With 
characteristic insistence on etymology, he says that 
you vituperate only what is vicious. Natural muta 
tions are not blameworthy ; he is unwilling to call 
them corruptions ; at all events they are not vicious : 
4 Aut nee corruptiones quidem dicendae sunt, aut 
certe, quia uitiosae non sunt, dignae uituperatione 
esse non possunt. 2 He was not always so careful 
of his words ; you will find him speaking of uitia 
naturalia for which no punishment is due. 3 But 
that is only a verbal discrepancy. He had and 
retained a firm grip on the principle that a vicious 
mutation, an evil, is one that disturbs the order of 

That is thoroughly sound. Things have not a 

1 Supra, p. 44. a De Libero Arbitrio, iii. 14. 

8 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 3. Supra, p, 27. 


merely individual existence in nature ; they are part 
of an order, and their proper good is to fill their 
proper place in that order whether by enduring or 
by changing. But as you pursue this thought evil 
seems to be a vanishing quantity. A diminishing 
measure of existence, minus esse, defectus a bono 
corruptio^ priuatio boni what is left of it all ? Are 
individual things so entirely wrapped up in the 
universe that their good is nothing else but what 
they contribute to the general good ? Is it enough 
that loss to one is gain to another ? That is Emer 
sonian optimism. Is our human language at fault 
when we speak of things becoming worse ? Ought 
we to say merely that they are changing ? Is it 
a mistake to complain that our clothes are wearing 
out ? Is it wrong to say that wine goes bad ? 

Augustine stood by common sense and common 
speech, but I think it must be allowed that in this 
particular he parted from it in search of more accurate 
thought. Doing so, he revealed the inadequacy of 
the notion that mutability means a tendency in 
nihilum. In point of fact, as he plainly saw, things 
do not tend by natural mutation to become nothing : 
they tend to become something else in nature. But 
do they always tend to become something equally 
good ? He cites an instance of a rise in the scale 
of being : the fruits of the earth are transmuted into 
human flesh. 1 But what of other cases ? If salt 
has lost its savour, it may still be fit for the dung 
hill, and fitness is goodness. What is corrupted wine 
good for ? Augustine was troubled about men with 
sore eyes : the splendour of the African sun was good, 
1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii, 14, ut supra. 


but it caused them excruciating pain. At one time 
he was disposed to blame the owner of the eyes for 
opening them ; x at another time he seems by analogy 
to make the soreness a penalty for sin. 2 This latter 
notion belongs to another connexion, but both are 
evasions. Augustine forgot that the patient ox may 
have sore eyes. I noted in my first lecture his African 
callousness to the sufferings of the brute creation. 
You may perhaps look further for an explanation ; 
there is some depth of meaning in his remark that 
body, as such, is incapable of misery. 3 But he had a 
broader and more general solution of these difficulties. 
It is our perception that is at fault. Our range of 
vision is so narrow that we cannot trace the plan 
of goodness. There is in the dialogue De Ordine a fine 
simile of an excessively short-sighted man examining 
a tessellated pavement ; he can see only two or three 
fragments of marble, apparently thrown down at 
random, and can make nothing of the pattern. 4 

Augustine was convinced that the world was 
well ordered, but he held this rather by an act of 
faith in God than by experience. Yet, even so, he 
could exult in the visible splendour of nature. His 
dreary censure of the Epistula Fundamenti is relieved 
by a vivid chapter in which he sets against the horrors 

1 De Lib. Atbitr. iii. 14, ut supra. 

a De Nat. Boni, p. 38. Nam nee ipse ignis aeternus, qui 
cruciaturus est impios, mala natura est, habens modum et 
speciem et ordinem suum nulla iniquitate deprauatum, sed 
cruciatus est damnatis malum, quorum peccatis est debitus. 
Neque enim et lux ista, quia lippos cruciat oculos, mala natura 

3 De Lib. Arb. iii. 9. Nulla autem corpora, quantum ad 
sese attinet, uel beata possunt esse uel misera, quanquam 
beatorum aut miserorum corpora possunt esse. 

4 De Ordine, i. I. 


of the material world depicted by the Manichaean 
the countervailing beauties and the joyous aspects 
of nature. I join with you/ he says, in all your 
fault-finding ; join with me in the praise of all good 
things. 1 For the sake of argument he could vituper 
ate uitia naturalia taken by themselves, but the 
world should be looked at as a whole and it would be 
found magnificent. Apart from controversy he could 
expatiate more freely on the beauty of nature. He 
would show how the truth and goodness of God 
exceed all our human experience, and to heighten 
the comparison he makes the most of this. You 
love what is good ; he says, c for good is the earth 
with its towering mountains and rolling hills and 
wide stretches of plain ; good and pleasant is the 
fruitful meadow ; good is a well-ordered house, 
roomy and lightsome ; good are living bodies, good 
the temperate and wholesome air, good is savoury 
and health-giving food, good is health itself without 
pain or weakness ; good is the face of man, comely 
and cheerful and richly coloured ; good is the soul of 
a friend in pleasant comradeship and faithful love ; 
good is a righteous man ; good is wealth and its 
convenience ; good is the sky with sun and moon and 
stars ; good are the angels in their holy obedience ; 
good is human speech, informing and moving the 
hearer ; good are the tuneful numbers and the sense 
of poetry. 2 

Omnis natura bonum est. We come back to that. 
Cosmic evil is a possibility, because created things 
are mutable and may fall away from their proper 
good ; but seek it in fact and you will not find it. 

1 Contra Ep. Fund. 31. * De Trinitate, viii. 3. 


God is not only bonus creator ; he is also iustissimus 
ordinator. His mercy is over all his works ; all are 
ordered meetly, the rerum natura is good, and God 
can rejoice in his works to the uttermost. 1 

Is this conclusion dazing ? Does it reduce all 
our questions and answers to nonsense ? We have 
watched Augustine dealing with the common experi 
ence of evil in the world, and struggling with its 
problems ; we have noted his careful adhesion to 
fact, his stern rejection of explanations which explain 
things away, his uncompromising realism. For him, 
I have said, things are what they are, and are for the 
most part what they seem. Yet now he seems to drive 
us to the conclusion that evil is the nothing from 
which it springs, a sick fancy, a misreading of nature. 

But has he eliminated evil ? No. There is one 
check on his optimism ; there remains something 
contra naturam. There is the fact of sin. Created 
wills can fall away perversely from their proper good, 
and do fall. When all other evil is eliminated from 
nature, this remains. The discordance of uitia 
naturalia may be resolved into the harmony of the 
world ; sin alone and its consequences are obstinately 
evil. Hoc est totum quod dicitur malum, peccatum 
et poena peccati. 2 This remains to be examined. 
The examination may reveal the cause of the pre 
judice that finds evil in the course of nature. 

1 Plotinus came close to this relative optimism. While evil 
is c:AAeu/rts TOV ayaOov, it is to be observed that TO eAXeiTrov oXiyov 
TOV ayaOov is not evil, but only oYai/ Trai/rcAws cAAeiTny oVep eo-Tti/ 
Y] v\Tf), i.e. abstract matter, TO 6 Ao>s KOLKOV. Ennead. i. 8, 5 and 
15. But Augustine would be repelled by this, and he probably 
reached his conclusion by independent reasoning. 

2 De Uera Rel. 12. 



* NEC ipsius diaboli natura, in quantum natura est, 
malum est. 1 Here also, in the typical evil one, 
Augustine finds the goodness of nature surviving. 
This particular nature is not in good estate ; there 
is a balancing statement added : ( sed peruersitas 
earn malam facit. The typical sinner is therefore at 
once both good and evil ; good in respect of nature, 
evil in respect of the perversion of nature ; nee 
malum unquam potest esse ullum ubi bonum est 
nullum. 2 

Sin, as we have seen, is the only malum which 
Augustine will definitely recognize as such sin and 
its consequences. We have to ascertain the place 
of this evil in Augustine s conception of nature. 

He attempts many definitions of sin. He was 
severely Platonic, as I have remarked, in the early 
work De Utilitate Credendi : Omne factum, si 
recte factum non est, peccatum est, and that is not 
rightly done c quod non a recta ratione proficiscitur. 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xix. 13. Cf. De Vera Rel. 13. Nee 
aliquid sanctificatis malus angelus oberit, qui diabolus dicitur ; 
quia et ipse, in quantum angelus est, non est malus, sed in 
quantum peruersus propria uoluntate. 

* Enchir. 13. 

I 2 


The consequence is boldly drawn : Solus igitur 
sapiens non peccat. * That, however, is not a true 
definition. Here is one drawn from the same thought : 
Peccatum est factum uel dictum uel concupitum 
aliquid contra aeternam legem, lex aeterna being then 
identified as ratio diuina* But this will be found too 
large ; it will include acts which are not properly 
voluntary, and it was of paramount importance with 
Augustine from first to last to maintain peccatum 
nusquam esse nisi in uoluntate. 8 In later years he had 
to defend that judgment against misrepresentation, 
but he stood by it. The will must have a place in 
every true definition of sin. You find it in the defini 
tion of human perverseness as c fruendis uti uelle 
atque utendis frui. 4 He makes will the prime factor 
when he sets down the formal definition : Peccatum 
est uoluntas retinendi uel consequendi quod iustitia 
uetat et unde liberum est abstinere. 5 He draws 
this from no recondite source ; it is not given by 
obscure revelation ; it is what omnis mens apud 
se diuinitus conscriptum legit. It rests on the 
sufficient testimony of the human conscience. 

Sin is here taken in the abstract. For practical 
purposes some modification of the definition will be 
necessary. The stress laid on the will, for example, 
seems to support the Stoic doctrine of the equality 
of all sins, against which Augustine contended 
laboriously in a long letter to Jerome. 6 On the other 
hand, the condition of freedom introduced into the 
definition raises a peculiar difficulty. Will and 

1 De Util. Cred. 12 ; supra, 100. a Contra Faustum, xxii. 27. 
3 De Duab. Anim. 10. * Qu. Ixxxiii. 30. 

B De Duab. Anim. n. Ep. clxvii. 2. 


freedom are here distinguished. There is a sense 
in which they are inseparable : liberum arbitrium 
is a necessary condition of uoluntas. But while the 
internal operation of the will is free, or it would not 
be will, external action according to the determina 
tion of the will may be impossible ; or, conversely, 
action may be imposed by constraint without the 
determination of the will, and perhaps contrary 
to it. Augustine is concerned to establish the 
principle that no action done under constraint, 
however vile or injurious, is properly sinful. There 
fore he interposes the difference, unde liberum est 
abstinere. But if this be pressed, a consequence 
will ensue which he certainly did not intend. It will 
follow that neither consent of the will to an action 
done under compulsion, nor the determination of the 
will to an action which is forcibly restrained, can be 
sinful. But we shall see presently that the sinfulness 
of consent to an act which cannot be avoided is a 
cardinal point in Augustine s treatment of one problem 
of sin, 1 and his theory of omnipotence requires the 
assumption that evil wills are sooner or later reduced 
to impotence by restraint of the divine government 
of the world. 2 We must therefore understand the 
condition, unde liberum est abstinere, only in a 
negative sense. An act done under constraint is 
not sinful, but freedom from external constraint is not 
a necessary condition of sin. Quicquid uis et non 
potes, factum Deus computat. 8 In saying that, 
Augustine does but conform to the canons of all 
ethical judgment. It is a platitude. The one 

1 Infra, pp. 127, seqq, * Supra, p. 58. 

8 In Psalm. Ivii. 3. 


essential element in sin is mala uoluntas. We have 
seen that Augustine disallowed the search for any 
cause behind this. It is spontaneus defectus a bono. 1 
There is nothing more to be said. Do not suppose that 
he is here riding the high horse of a priori assump 
tion. He depends entirely upon practical reasoning. 
He is quite pragmatic. Sin is what the human 
conscience condemns. He argues from the case of 
a sleeping man whose hand is made to transcribe 
something vile. You cannot condemn the man ; 
he himself has no uneasy conscience ; why ? Because 
he has not consented to the deed. 2 Not the deed, but 
the will behind the deed, is sin. And behind the 
will there is nothing. It is ultimate. 

But the will is from God. Why was man thus 
created ? When he has eliminated all other evil 
from nature, Augustine has to face this ; man is 
naturally capable of evil will. Why ? 

The pressure of the question was perhaps the 
heavier upon him because of the sharp distinction 
that he drew between man and the rest of the animal 
creation. He could recognize created will in angels, 
demons, and men : nowhere else. Brute beasts, he 
held, are innocent because incapable of choice be 
tween good and evil, and therefore incapable of sin. 
Viewing the distinction broadly, we can follow him 
here. Passing from one level of life to another, we 
can see that new conditions are reached, new powers 
and new responsibilities. But we do not find it so 
easy to mark the turning-point. Even if we shrink 
from saying with Bergson that the first appearance 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xii. 6 ; Contra lulian. i. 8. Supra, p. 56. 

2 De Duab. An. 10. 


of life involves indetermination, and that slight 
changes of contour in the amoeba are the result of 
an act of will, we may still acknowledge rudimentary 
movements of a spontaneous kind in various forms 
of life ; thence we pass by insensible degrees to 
animals which seem incontestably to exercise a certain 
power of deliberate choice, and we are compelled 
to compare these gradations with those of the human 
embryo and the child. Augustine took no account 
of these refinements. He could not escape the 
appeal of unconscious infancy, but he disposed of 
it by the analogy of sleep ; human intelligence is 
there in full measure, but is not yet awakened. 1 The 
denial of a rudimentary conscience to horse or dog 
diminishes that continuity of nature which Augustine 
maintained, and makes the problem of sin the more 
abrupt. The defectibility of man may, indeed, 
be brought under the general head of a natural 
tendency in nihilum, but that kind of mutability 
has been explained as not involving evil ; man has 
a proper good, a natural endowment, to depart from 
which is sin, an evil incontestable ; he is naturally 
capable of this evil, and even inclined to it, if the 
tendency in nihilum is for all created things a natu 
ral tendency. Optimism fails here. How shall we 
account for this natural tendency to evil ? 

Augustine was not usually disposed to attempt 
an answer when a question seemed to impugn the 
sovranty of God. It is useless, not to say impertinent, 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xxii. 24. Ipse itaque animae humanae 
mentem dedit, ubi ratio et intellegentia in infante sopita est 
quodam modo, quasi nulla sit, excitanda scilicet atque exserenda 
aetatis accessu, qua sit scientiae capax atque doctrinae et 
habilis perceptioni ueritatis et amoris boni. 


to ask why nature is what it is. But he could occa 
sionally stoop or rise to such speculation, and then 
he guessed pretty much as others have guessed. c It 
seems to me, he says, that man would not have 
had much to boast of in leading a good life merely 
because there was none to lead him astray. I This 
apology for the existence of a tempter covers the 
whole case of the possibility of sin. It is of a piece 
with his vigorous assertion of the superiority of sinful 
man to the sinless ox. Sin is possible in order that 
man may achieve the honour of abstaining from it. 
Posse non peccare is the glory of human freedom. 

This argument is based on the dignity of man 
according to the purpose of creation. But under 
stress of polemic Augustine tried another apology. 
He stumbled on what he read in Isaiah : Ego 
facio bona et condo mala. 2 The Manichaeans made 
play with it in their polemic against the Old Testa 
ment ; he retorted on them the words of St. Paul : 
Quisquis templum Dei corruperit, corrumpet eum 
Deus. 3 He defended this reading by reference to 
the Greek. Then God is in some sense the author 
of corruption. In what sense ? Augustine answers 
that God did not indeed make man corruptible, but 
made him in such sort that, if he corrupted himself, 
he might be handed over to corruption as a penalty. 4 

1 De Gen. ad Lit. xi. 4. Non mihi uidetur magnae laudis 
futurum fuisse hominem, si propterea posset bene uiuere quia 
nemo male suaderet. 

8 Is. xlv. 7. In the Vulgate, Ego Dominus, et non est 
alter, formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans 

8 i Cor. in. 17. Vulgate : Si quis autem templum Dei 
uiolauerit, disperdet ilium Deus. 

* Contra Ep. Fundamenti, 38-9. 


There, you may think, you see him at his worst : 
ingenious, unconvincing, repulsive. It comes to this, 
that God made man capable of sinning, in order that 
he might reap the fruits of sin. That thought is 
intolerable ; Augustine was caught in an evil snare of 
controversial exegesis. 

But it will not do so to dismiss the judgment 
of such a man. It is probable that what repels will 
be found to have a close relation to important truths ; 
he may be struggling with a profundity in which 
he has lost his footing. The Roman tendency to 
regard justice, including penal justice, as an end in 
itself seems to be making itself felt. But I am rather 
disposed to seek another explanation of this strange 
conception of the divine purpose. There can be no 
doubt that here, as elsewhere, Augustine started 
from the facts of human life. It is a fact, obvious 
alike to the intensity of St. Paul and to the frivolity 
of Ovid, that I approve certain acts as good, desire 
to do them, purpose to do them, but do otherwise. 
* Uideo meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. But 
if I thus fail to do my own will, how shall I be blamed ? 
Yet the common sense of mankind blames me, and 
my conscience consents to the condemnation. What 
then becomes of the doctrine that sin is an act of the 
will ? Augustine had two answers, which he did not 
reduce to consistency, though he wrote them on the 
same page. On the one hand he found in this im 
potence of the will an element of slothful consent, 
attested by the slowness of men to lay hold on the 
succours of grace when offered. On the other hand 
he traced the cause of it to sin previously indulged ; 
sin breeds a sinful habit, and so an incapacity for 


avoiding sin is a guilty state, the guilt of which, 
proceeds from the original act that was done in the 
state of freedom. 1 

The former reply prepared for Augustine some 
difficulties in the Pelagian controversy ; the latter 
was probably at all times more in accordance with 
his mind, and became one of his most characteristic 
doctrines. Sinfulness is the penalty of sin. It is 
an evil habit ; and so you arrive at the reduction of 
all evil to the twofold head, peccatum et poena peccati. 

This theory of penalty must be examined. There 
is an obvious difficulty on the threshold. If this state 
of weakness be a penalty ordained by the divine 
justice, how can it be called evil ? You will remember 
that when it is a question of external penalties of 
hell-fire, for example he insists that they are good 
in themselves, as befits the ordinance of God, and 
become evil to those who suffer because of their own 
corrupted nature : they are as sunshine to sore eyes. 2 
But now we are concerned with that interior state 
itself which turns good things to evil. It is good, 
because just, he will say, that the sinner should be 
thrown into that state. At times he advances the 
proposition that all punishment is good ; it is no more 
evil than any other dark passage of nature, forming 
an integral part of the beautiful harmony of creation. 3 

1 De Lib. Arb. iii. 1819. * D& Ciuit. Dei, xii. 4. Supra, p. 112. 

3 De Uera Rel. 23. Neque de peccatis poenisque eius 
animae efftcitur ut uniuersitas ulla deformitate turpetur ; quia 
rationalis substantia, quae ab omni peccato munda est, Deo sub- 
iecta, subiectis sibi ceteris dominatur ; ea uero, quae peccauit, 
ibi ordinata est ubi esse tales decet, ut Deo conditore atque 
rectore uniuersitatis decora sint omnia. Et est pulcritudo 
uniuersae creaturae per haec tria inculpabilis, damnationem 
peccatorum, exercitationem iustorum, perfectionem beatorum. 


If he had been able to regard all punishment as 
corrective, 1 he would have been clear of the difficulty ; 
he knew, and defended, the value of correptio, and he 
might have brought poena by the same way into the 
category of good ; but he treated the impotence which 
is the penalty of sin, not as a means of correction, 
but as itself needing the correction of grace. It is 
itself called sin, though with some impropriety of 
language. It is our shame, he says, that the flesh is 
not subject to our rule, for this rebellion is due to 
the weakness that we have earned by sinning, and so 
it is called c the sin that dwelleth in our members. 2 
It is a standing corruption of nature, and is so far 
permanent that it becomes a kind of second nature. 
6 Consuetude in naturam uersa est. 3 One of Augus 
tine s most emphatic sayings on this head occurs, 
not in controversy or in a formal treatise, but by 
way of casual reference in the commentary on the 
Psalms : Natura nobis facta est poena. 4 Here also 
he makes the most of the sense of poena : the result 
is ex uindicta. It is, indeed, a natural consequence, 
ilium enim praecedens meruit ista sequentia ; 5 
to fall away by one s own choice from good is to 
become evil by one s own act, but the control of all 
natural courses by the originating will of the Creator 

1 He expressly repudiates this, De Ciuit. Dei, xxi. 13, and 
elsewhere. When he writes ut peccati dedecus emendet poena 
peccati (De Lib. Arbitr. iii. 9), he is thinking of the harmony 
of nature. 

* De Peccatorum Mentis, ii. 22. Nobis pudendum est quod 
imperio nostro caro non seruit, quia hoc fit per innrmitatem quam 
peccando meruimus, uocaturque peccatum habitans in membris 
nostris. Sic est autem hoc peccatum ut sit poena peccati. 

3 De Fide et Symbolo, n. 4 In Ps. xxxvii. 

6 De Lib. Arb. iii. 19. 


necessitates the acceptance of the result as in some 
sort an act of God. c Ego facio bona et condo mala. 
There were practical perils as well as intellectual 
difficulties in this point of view. If the result is in 
any way an act of God, why struggle against it ? The 
thought may induce an irresponsible acquiescence 
in sin as complete as that which followed logically 
from Manichaean necessity. The induction was made ; 
Augustine frankly recognized the zeal of Pelagius, at 
the outset of his controversy, against those who sought 
a defence for their sins in the plea of human infirmity. 1 
The persistent evil of antinomianism was evidently 
pushing forward under the shelter of Augustine s 

What cover did he afford ? Looking back at the 
end of his life to the definition of sin upon which I 
have been working, he saw that the uoluntas 
retinendi uel consequendi might in the penal state of 
sinfulness be more accurately distinguished as cupi- 
ditas. 2 If uoluntas, it was perverted. But there is no 
entire perversion of the will, for that would mean 
the destruction of human nature. There is, there 
fore, in fallen man a conflict of wills ; or, to speak more 
precisely, a conflict between uoluntas, continuing 
in its natural goodness, and that which he calls 
indiscriminately cupiditas, concupiscentia, and libido. 

1 De Natura et Gratia, i . Uidi hominem zelo ardentissimo 
accensum aduersus eos qui, cum in suis peccatis humanam 
uoluntatem debeant accusare, naturam potius accusantes 
hominum per illam se excusare conantur. Ibid. p. 7 : Quanto 
igitur zelo accensus est libri hums, quern misistis, conditor 
aduersus eos qui peccatis suis patrocinium de naturae humanae 
infirmitate perquirunt, tanto et multo ardentiore zelo nos oportet 
accendi, ne euacuetur crux Christi. 

8 Retract, i. 15. 


He observed with great accuracy that our bodily 
movements are controlled partly by the natural force 
of will, partly by these perverted impulses. And 
further, no movements of the body are in themselves 
sinful ; the fleshly appetites are in themselves natural 
and good ; even those which are habitually associated 
with sin would have had their proper exercise, he 
says, if man had remained unfallen. 1 But more ; 
even in our fallen state all human actions are still 
good in so far as they are natural. If a lame man 
sets out to do a good deed, the deed is not the less 
good because he halts by the way. 2 That is Augustine s 
matured judgment, found in an antipe]agian treatise. 
I think he says somewhere but I cannot recover 
the place that in an act of murder the skill and 
strength with which the knife is driven home are 
good ; the evil is only in the perverted will directing 
their use. 

There are, then, three sources of human action 
to be reckoned with : the corporal appetites, which 
are natural and good ; the naturally good will, by 
which the appetites ought to be directed and con 
trolled ; and the perversion of will, which is con 
cupiscence. But it may then be contended that the 

1 De Nupt. et Concupisc. i. i. Pudenda concupiscentia nulla 
esset, nisi homo ante peccasset, nuptiae uero essent, etiam si 
nemo peccasset ; fieret quippe sine isto morbo seminatio 
nliorum in corpore uitae illius, sine quo nunc fieri non potest in 
corpore mortis huius. Cf. De Ciuit. Dei, xiv. 21 : Amissa 
potestate cui corpus ex omni parte seruiebat. 

J Ibid. i. 7 : Tanquam si quispiam pede uitiato ad aliquod 
bonum etiam claudicando perueniat, nee propter claudicationis 
malum mala est ilia peruentio, nee propter illius peruentionis 
bonum bona est claudicatio : ita nee propter libidinis malum 
nuptias condemnare nee propter nuptiarum bonum libidinem 
laudare debemus. 


man himself, the responsible person, is represented 
by the natural appetites and the natural will, which 
remain good. St. Paul may seem to imply as much 
when he says : * The good that I would I do not. 
The perverted will, concupiscence or lust, becomes 
something not himself, an evil power in him against 
which he vainly struggles, and for the works of which 
he is not answerable. In a critical letter to Vitalis 
of Carthage, Augustine did not shrink from saying 
that as a consequence of sin man lies ( sub potestate 
tenebrarum. 1 He made much of this enslavement. 
Facing relentlessly the apostolic teaching about 
1 bond-servants of corruption, he asks what freedom 
they enjoy except when of their own pleasure they do 
evil. 2 This was not mere theory or dialectic. He 
was drawing upon his own experience. In the first 
book de Libero Arbitrio you will find a graphic de 
scription of the state of captivity. 3 Elsewhere he 
treats it as a diminution of the reasoning faculty, by 
which man is brought down to brutishness. 4 But 
in that case does not responsibility for sin disappear ? 
Is there sin at all ? What becomes of the words 
unde liberum est abstinere in the definition ? Augus 
tine did in set terms avow that there is for fallen 
man a dura necessitas. 5 In a work which he left 
unfinished because he was dissatisfied with it, he 
went so far as to say that there are in man s fallen 
state peccata naturalia quae necesse est committi. 6 
That shows what thoughts were troubling him long 
before the pressure of the Pelagian controversy 

1 Ep. ccxvii. 3. 2 Enchirid. 30. 

3 De Lib. Arb. i. n. * De Gen. contra Manich. i. 20. 

6 Retract, i. i. 6 De Genes. Imperf. i. 


began. Pelagius himself lie condemned from the 
first for saying that the human will could naturali 
possibilitate avoid sin ; 1 in other words, that posse 
non peccare still holds good. You may say, he 
retorts, that a man sound on his feet has the power 
of walking, but do not say it of a man with broken 
legs. 2 That is reasonable ; but is it reasonable 
to blame the poor wretch for not walking ? 
What becomes of the further responsibility of 
fallen man ? 

It was this crucial question, arising out of the 
most practical considerations, that drove Augustine 
to his theory of poena peccati. As we have seen, he 
did not consistently put this forward as the only 
answer. The fact of the enslavement of man by 
the sinful habit he took to be indisputable ; the 
fact of man s continued responsibility he took to be 
equally unassailable ; both facts were verified by 
experience and by conscience ; a theory correlating 
the facts was of minor importance. But he cast 
about for such a theory. We shall probably go with 
him readily enough when he insists on the remnant 
of freedom with which the man consents to his 
degrading servitude, or on his neglect of the succours 
of grace. 3 This explanation appears even in the 
antipelagian treatises. God does not command 
impossibilities, he says, but bids you do what you 
can and ask for what is beyond your power. 4 That 

1 Ep. cclxxviii. 

2 De Nat. et Grat. 49. De homine sanis pedibus tolera- 
biliter dici potest, " Uelit, nolit, habet ambulandi possibilitatem; " 
confractis uero, etsi uelit, non habet. Uitiata est natura de qua 

8 Supra, pp. 52, 117. * De Nat. et Grat. 43. 


recalls the great cry of weakness passing into strength : 
Da quod rubes et iube quod uis. l It is not to be 
denied that this touch of optimism conflicts with 
much that he says about the distribution of grace 
according to the divine predestination ; but you must 
not look for consistency there, and it is worthy of 
note that in the Retractations he harks back to the 
notion of succour as a gift to be had for the asking. 
He there places the will sub dominante cupiditate, 
but only * nisi forte si pia est ut oret auxilium. In 
so far as this is done, he adds, in tantum liberata 
est. 2 But it must be allowed that he leans more 
usually to the other explanation of responsibility. 
The enslavement of the will is a penal state, an 
infirmity quam peccando meruimus, and so, if the 
sinner s responsibility for a particular sin is conse 
quently diminished, he is yet responsible for the 
original loss of power. But that leaves over the vexed 
question of birth-sin, to which we must presently 

Before we tackle this, however, there is something 
else to be considered. St. Augustine s doctrine of 
grace lies outside my proper limits. He did not 
exactly set grace over against nature ; indeed he 
accused Pelagius, rather unfairly, of doing this ; 8 
but he sharply distinguished the two conceptions. 
In the formal complaint which he and his African 
colleagues addressed to Innocent of Rome, Pelagius 
was more accurately accused of identifying nature 

1 Confess, x. 29. 8 Retract, i. 15. 

8 Retract, ii. 42. Hominis naturam contra Dei gratiam, 
qua iustificatur impius et qua Christian! sumus, quanta potuit 
argumentatione defendit. 


and grace, quae non est natura. 1 It was in 
part a question of the use of words ; Pelagius 
might have alleged the authority of Cicero for saying 
that gratia means the general providence and bene 
volence of God, 2 but Augustine with good reason 
insisted on using the word in a specific Christian 
sense. It is that qua Christiani sumus. It is to 
be distinguished from the natural providence of God : 
non est natura, sed qua saluatur natura. But if 
you would enter into the mind of St. Augustine, you 
must not make it a superadded endowment. It is 
a remedy for the disorder of sin. Gratia Dei est 
qua nobis donantur peccata ut reconciliemur Deo. 3 
Room is left for supralapsarian theories, for Thomist 
and Scotist controversy ; Augustine himself is con 
cerned only with saving grace. You may call this 
healing influence supernatural in the sense that it lies 
entirely beyond the scope of man s natural powers ; 
that is emphatically asserted, and the fault of Pelagius 
was to obscure if not to deny the limitation ; but for 
reasons which I have given it seems to me unwise 
to use the word in connexion with St. Augustine s 
teaching. He keeps the operation of grace within the 
ambit of nature. It is the revival of human freedom ; 
it is the restoration of the integrity of human nature. 

1 Ep. clxxvii. 6. Ne nimium essemus onerosi, signa fecimus 
his locis, ubi petimus inspicere non graueris, quern ad modum sibi 
obiecta quaestione quod gratiam Dei negaret, ita respondit ut earn 
esse non diceret nisi naturam in qua nos condidit Deus. Si autem 
hunc esse suum librum negat aut eadem in libro loca, non con- 
tendimus ; anathematizet ea, et illam confiteatur apertissime 
gratiam quam doctrina Christiana demonstrat et praedicat esse 
propriam Christianorum, quae non est natura sed qua saluatur 

2 De Nat. Deorum, i. 43. Epicurus uero ex animis hominum 
extraxit radicitus religionem, cum dis inmortalibus et opem et 
gratiam sustulit.* 8 Expos. Ep. ad Galatas, i. 3. 



But there is one exception to this which I must 
notice, because it may raise a doubt whether after all 
he meant by liberty anything which can reasonably 
be so called. As we have seen, posse non peccare 
was for him the crown of the original freedom of 
human nature. But in his later writings you will find 
a frequent insistence on the strange paradox that 
supreme liberty is non fosse peccare, and this he 
assumes to be the final work of grace. But how can 
non posse be a note of liberty ? It is useless to say 
that true freedom is freedom to do what is right, for 
that is the condition of the inanimate and the brute 
creation, which has no choice, no liberum arbitrium. 
Augustine may have been influenced by the Platonic 
conception of the two inclinations of the soul, towards 
the things of reason and towards the things of sense, 
from which it follows that a man is truly free only 
when he moves in the one direction without being 
hampered by the contrary inclination. There seems 
to be a glance at this notion when he says that the 
soul, delivered from this present misery, will be 
semper sapiens* But I think that he was brought to 
his conception of non posse peccare partly by a sheer 
paralogism. He thought of liberty for fallen man 
in the passive sense of enfranchisement from the 
domination of concupiscence. He wrote passionately 
to Vitalis of Carthage that anyone who opposes the 
doctrine of grace must be willing his own captivity. 2 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 10. 

8 Ep. ccxviii. 3. Si uere uolumus defendere liberum arbit 
rium, non oppugnemus unde fit liberum. Nam qui oppugnat 
gratiam qua nostrum ad declinandum a malo et faciendum 
bonum liberatur arbitrium ipse arbitrium suum adhuc uult esse 


* Liberata est, and only so can the human will be 
rightly called uoluntas. Now it is obvious that such 
enfranchisement will be the more complete if there 
is no fear, no possibility of falling back into servitude. 
Multo liberius erit arbitrium, he says, c quod omnino 
non poterit seruire peccato. 1 In this sense, yes ; but 
he confuses two kinds of liberty : internal freedom, 
and deliverance from an external domination. In the 
hard dialectic of the unpleasant treatise De Correptione 
et Gratia the two are put side by side without any 
perception of their disparity : Prima libertas uolun- 
tatis erat posse non peccare ; nouissima erit multo 
maior, non posse peccare. 2 Yet from this false 
identification Augustine was carried forward to a 
sublime thought. The end of the City of God is the 
eternal felicity of the redeemed and their indefectible 
union with God. God cannot sin ; neither can they : 
God is free ; so too are they. 3 One shrinks from 
criticism of such rapture, and yet I must say that 
Augustine runs a grave risk in thus comparing a 
creaturely non posse peccare with the divine. For 
posse peccare is precisely the possibility of falling 
away from God. Deliverance from that risk of 
freedom may be described with strict accuracy as a 
supernatural work of grace, not indeed as raising 
man to a state of absolute supernature, but relatively 
as removing him out of his proper condition in nature. 

1 Enchiridion, 28. 2 De Correp. et Grat. 12. 

3 De Ciuit. Dei, xxii. 30. Certe Deus ipse mimquid quia 
peccare non potest, ideo liberum arbitrium habere negandus est ? 
Erit ergo illius ciuitatis et una in omnibus et inseparabilis in 
singulis uoluntas libera, ab omni malo liberata et impleta omni 
bono, fruens indeficienter aeternorum iucunditate gaudiorum, 
oblita culparum, oblita poenarum, nee tamen ideo suae libera- 
tionis oblita ut liberator! suo sit ingrata. 

K 2 


It is something additional to the restoration of natural 
liberty. But does it leave man free ? Freedom 
of the will stands in the absence of any absolutely 
dominant motive ; if the Love of God be such a 
motive, does freedom remain ? There is something 
in Jeremy Taylor s remark that freedom is an imper 
fection, a state of weakness. Non posse peccare may 
be the supreme beatitude of man, but I think that 
Augustine was ill-advised in trying to make out that 
it is freedom. The attempt throws a doubt on the 
sincerity of his vindication of human freedom under 
other conditions, a doubt which is resolved only at 
the expense of his consistency in the use of words. 

To return from these heights, we find him main 
taining that the effect of sin is a loss of freedom, not 
complete, but sufficient to make the sinner unable 
always and entirely to resist the impulse of appetite. 
Surveying mankind as a whole, Augustine saw that 
this enslavement did not affect individuals alone ; 
the uniuersa massa was suffering disablement. 1 Shall 
we then say that sin was become a power in the world ? 
Augustine s language about the he]plessness of man 
lent a handle to those who accused him of building 
again the dualism which he had destroyed. How can 
that which has no substantial existence dominate 
that which has ? If sin be dominant, where is the 
omnipotence of God ? He has two answers. 

In the first place the omnipotence of God is seen 
in the judgment of sin. He is malarum uoluntatum 
iustissimus ordinator. 2 Sinners do not escape, and 
by the overruling of Providence their perverseness 
turns to their own ruin. Si his bonis quisque 

1 De Nat. et Grat. 5. 8 De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 17. 


male uti uoluerit, nee sic uincit Dei uoluntatem, qui 
etiam iniustos iuste ordinare nouit : ut si ipsi per 
iniquitatem uoluntatis suae male usi fuerint bonis 
illius, ille per iustitiam potestatis suae bene utatur 
malis ipsorum, recte ordinans in poenis qui se peruerse 
ordinauerunt in peccatis. ] Augustine was able to 
think of punishment as restoring the balance of nature 
disturbed by ill-doing. Suffering follows guilt, the 
natural order is justified, and he is content ; c non 
est peruersum, he says, ( imo conuenientissimum 
et ordinatissimum apparet. 2 The hardness of the 
Roman temper is there. All men are in the same 
tale, and c iuste utique damnantur, quia sine peccato 
non sunt. 3 So the omnipotence of God and the 
impotence of sin are asserted. The fire of hell is like 
the sunlight that tortures sore eyes ; it is glorious and 
splendid, habens modum et speciem et ordinem 
suum, nulla iniquitate deprauatum ; 4 so the punish 
ment of sinners, which is an evil to them, is good in 
the whole order of the universe. Dante learnt of 
Augustine the inscription of Hell-gate : 

Fecemi la divina potestate, 

La somma sapienza, e l primo amore. 

But at this rate poena peccati will soon cease to be 

There is another answer, perhaps more to our taste : 
( nulli naturae nocere peccata nisi sua. 5 Augustine 

1 De Nat. Boni, p. 37. Cf. Ep. cxlix. 2 : Sicut illorum 
nequitiae est male uti bonis operibus ems, sic illius sapientiae 
est bene uti malis operibus eorum. 

2 De Lib. Arb. iii. 20, where the extreme case of inherited 
guilt is in question. 

3 De Nat. et Graf. 4. * De Nat. Boni, 38 ; supra, p. 112. 
6 De Gen. contra Manich. ii. 29 ; cf. Retract, i. 10 ; infra, p. 139. 


frequently insists that the sinner cannot really upset 
the counsel of God, cannot bring any accident to the 
divine nature, or hinder the fulfilment of the divine 
will, cannot prevent God from bringing good out of 
evil. 1 And if sin does not disturb the order of nature, 
it can hurt none but the soul that sins. The sinner 
injures himself, and none else ; he brings himself 
alone under the tyranny of sinful habit. But that 
hardly seems to be in accord with experience. What 
is the meaning of temptation ? In the Retractations 
Augustine desperately argued that he who wrongs 
a righteous man does not really injure him, but 
rather adds to his reward in heaven. 2 

This brings us to a grave question, the last that I 
shall raise. Men are born in sin. What shall we 
make of that ? How can a new-born child lie under 
guilt, and be liable to the penalty of sin ? The 
pressure of the question upon the mind of Augustine 
is revealed in his eager request for help from Jerome. 
6 Tell me, he wrote, pray tell me what sin there is 
in the little ones that they should need remission 
by the sacrament of Christ. Or if they do not sin, by 
what justice are they tied to the sin of another, so 
as to be damned if the Church does not come to their 
aid ? So many thousands of souls lost by the death 
of babes without baptism, what equity is here ? 3 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xi. 17, xiv. n ; In Psalm, ex. ; Enchirid. 24. 

1 Retract, i. 10. 

3 Ep. clxvi. 4. Doce ergo, quaeso, quod doceam, doce 
quod teneam, et die mihi, si animae singillatim singulis hodieque 
nascentibus fiunt, ubi in paruulis peccent ut indigeant in sacra- 
mento Christi remissione peccati peccantes in Adam ex quo caro 
est propagata peccati, aut, si non peccant, qua iustitia creatoris 
ita peccato obligantur alieno, cum exinde propagatis membris 
mortalibus inseruntur, ut eas, nisi per ecclesiam subuentum 


I extract the marrow of his questions, without the 
guarding expressions, to show how keenly he was 
aware of the moral difficulties of the case. He was 
putting them only as they arise in the face of one 
theory of the origin of the soul, but they are there 
for all theories. 

It is important to bear in mind that we are con 
cerned here with poena peccati^ not with peccatum 
properly so called. It is only by a sort of metonymy 
that the infirmity or corruption of nature is called 
sin. But this distinction affords no help, for such cor 
ruption is due to antecedent sin, and in the case of 
these children there is an imputation of guilt. That 
was precisely what was being called in question. When 
he made this eager appeal to Jerome, Augustine 
was already engaged with the Pelagian heresy, which 
he identified as a denial of the guilt remitted in 
the baptism of infants. 1 He did not hesitate to call 
this guilt peccatum originate. 

What is the basis of the doctrine of original sin ? 
It is twofold. First, there is the authority of the 
Church, exhibited not only in formal doctrine but 
still more in the practice of religion. Augustine 
met the Pelagians at every point with the fact that 

fuerit, damnatio consequatur, cum in earum potestate non sit 
ut eis possit gratia baptismi subueniri. Tot igitur animarum 
milia, quae in mortibus paruulorum sine indulgentia Christiani 
sacramenti de corporibus exeunt, qua aequitate damnantur, si 
nouae creatae nullo suo praecedente peccato sed uoluntate crea- 
toris singulae singulis nascentibus adhaeserunt, quibus eas 
animandis ille creauit et dedit, qui utique nouerat quod unaquae- 
que earum nulla sua culpa sine baptismo Christi de corpore fuerat 
exitura ? 

1 Ep. 3. Qui modo noua quaedam garrire coeperunt, 
dicentes nullum reatum esse ex Adam tractum qui per baptismum 
in infante soluatur. 


infants were held to be in need of redemption. That 
would be meaningless if they were not in the power 
of sin. They were baptized for the remission of sin. 
That would be meaningless if they were not guilty. 1 
As an argumentum ad hominem this certainly did not 
lack force, for the Pelagians claimed to be Catholic 
Christians, and were committed to the practice of 
the Catholic Church. But for Augustine to argue thus 
was much more than to score a point in debate. The 
authority of the Catholic Church was for him one 
of the great facts of life. Other facts also were 
adducible in corroboration. The second basis of the 
doctrine is the observed fact that infants suffer some 
of the consequences of sin. 2 Here, as always, you 
find him to the best of his ability holding fast to the 
realities of life. The facts being observed, he will 
not tolerate any attempt to escape from them. 

1 Quotation is hardly necessary, but two passages out of 
many may be cited. De Peccat. Mentis, i. 18 : Christus pro 
impiis mortuus est. Isti autem qui, ut manifestum est, nihil 
in sua propria uita impie commiserunt, si nee originaliter ullo 
impietatis uinculo detinentur, quomodo pro eis mortuus est qui 
pro impiis mortuus est ? Si nulla originalis peccati aegritudine 
sauciati sunt, quomodo ad medicum Christum, hoc est ad perci- 
piendum sacramentum salutis aeternae, suorum curantium pio 
timore portantur ? De Nuptiis et Concup. ii. 32 : Ipse dicit, 
" Quo modo rei sunt paruuli pro quibus Christus mortuus est ? " 
Nos respondemus, Imo paruuli quo modo rei non sunt pro quibus 
Christus mortuus est ? 

* De Peccat. Mentis, iii. 10 : Si anima non est ex traduce 
ergo quae ista iustitia est ut recens creata et ab omni delicto 
prorsus inmunis, ab omni peccati contagione penitus libera, 
passiones carnis diuersosque cruciatus et, quod est horribilius, 
etiam daemonum incursus in paruulis sustinere cogatur ? Neque 
enim aliquid horum caro sic patitur ut non ibi anima potius, quae 
uiuit et sentit, poenas luat. Observe that he is not defending 
the traducian theory, but he follows Pelagius in putting the case. 
Compare the curious study of infantile faults in Confess, i. 7. 


To theorize about the facts, to account for them, 
is another matter. It may be impossible, but it 
can be tried. Augustine made the attempt. His 
consciousness of the difficulty of the task is revealed 
in his trial of three inconsistent explanations. 

He was at first inclined to put all down to heredity. 
When man was fallen, he says, it was not equitable 
that he should generate offspring in better condition 
than himself. 1 The puzzling question of the origin of 
the soul was here embarrassing, and conversely he could 
urge this difficulty as a reason for suspending judg 
ment upon it. 2 Here it was that he sought in vain the 
help of Jerome. He had himself laboured in early 
days to show that even if the soul is not derived, like 
the body, from parental substance, the weakness which 
it acquires by union with the body is a misfortune 
consistent with creative goodness. On no other 
occasion did he come so near to affording an avenue 
of approach for the Pelagian heresy. The soul, he 
suggested, may be joined to the body, which is born 
in a corrupt state, for the express purpose of rising 
to higher things ; only if that duty be left undone 
will it share the guilt and degradation of the flesh. 3 

1 De Libero Arb. iii. 20 ; Non enim damnato primo homine 
sic adempta est beatitude ut etiam fecunditas adimeretur. 
Poterat enim et de prole eius, quamuis carnali et mortali, aliquod 
in suo genere fieri decus ornamentumque terrarum. lam uero 
ut meliores gigneret quam ipse esset non erat aequitatis. 

8 De Anima tt eius Origine, i. 13. 

3 De Libero Arb. iii. 20 : Non enim mediocria bona sunt 
non solum quod anima est, qua natura iam omne corpus praecedit, 
sed etiam quod facultatem habet ut adiuuante creatore seipsam 
excolat, et pio studio possit omnes acquirere et caper e uirtutes, 
per quas et a difncultate cruciante et ab ignorantia caecante 
liberetur. Quod si ita est, non erit nascentibus animis ignorantia 
et dimcultas supplicium peccati sed proficiendi admonitio et 


You may detect here some savour of the Plotinian 
doctrine of the descent of soul into body. Augustine, 
however, kept clear of any suggestion that the body 
is evil, claiming for it derivation from a good source, 
and capacity for restored perfection. He took not a 
word of this back in the Retractations, but when 
working his way slowly through the books De Ciuitate 
Dei he put the doctrine of heredity in safer because 
more general terms. What man became by the 
penalty of sin his offspring is in a sense by nature, 
because quod est parens, hoc est et proles. l Augus 
tine does not seem to have observed that in natural 
generation the original nature of the parent should 
be reproduced, and not the accidental qualities that 
may have been acquired. Yet he could speak of a 
natura seminalis in a way to suggest that conclusion. 2 
The intractable question of the origin of the soul, 
however, remained unsolved, baffling all theories 
of heredity, and in the long run you find him falling 
back wearily on a still more general conception 
of the solidarity of human nature. The Pelagians 
had now pushed home the question how new-born 

perfectionis exordium. Non enim ante omne meritum boni 
operis paruum est accepisse naturale iudicium, quo sapientiam 
praeponat error! et quietem difficultati, ut ad haec non nascendo 
sed studendo perueniat. Quod si agere noluerit, peccati rea 
iure tenebitur, tanquam quae non bene usa sit ea facultate quam 

1 De Ciuit. Dei, xiii. 3. 

* Ibid. 14 : Nondum erat nobis singillatim creata et 
distributa forma in qua singuli uiueremus, sed iam natura erat 
seminalis ex qua propagaremur. He seems to be scenting after 
germ-plasm/ but promptly turns the other way, adding : qua 
scilicet propter peccatum uitiata et uinculo mortis obstricta 
iusteque damnata, non alterius conditionis homo ex homine 


infants could be injured by the sins of others, and 
he replied that they have the common human nature 
which has been vitiated by human sin. 1 But that 
comes perilously near to a denial of individual life, 
nor is it clear how this theory can be reconciled with 
the sinlessness of the Son of Man. 

In the interval between the publication of these 
two suggestions, Augustine formulated a theory 
which is intimately associated with his name, and 
which has had grave consequences in theology. He 
attributed original sin to the lustfulness which in 
greater or less degree accompanies the act of genera 
tion. 2 The act itself, he was careful to insist, is 
natural and good, and in a sinless man he reckoned 
that it would have been completely controlled by 
reason, conformably to the will of the Creator ; 3 
but as things are he finds a certain taint of sin always 
present. It is here that he uses that striking figure 
of the lame man going lamely about a good work. 
The universal instinct of modesty and reserve, 
which he illustrates by the contrast of the wilful 
indecency of the Cynics, is the witness of the human 
conscience to this element of shame. 4 

1 Retract, i. 10. Possunt sane Pelagian! ad suum dogma 
trahere istam sententiam, et ideo dicere paruulis aliena non 
nocuisse peccata, quia dixi nulli naturae nocere peccata nisi sua, 
non intuentes ideo paruulos, qui utique pertinent ad humanam 
naturam, trahere originale peccatum quia in primis hominibus 
natura humana peccauit, ac per hoc naturae humanae nulla 
nocuere peccata nisi sua. 

This first appears explicitly in De Peccat. Mentis, i. 29, 
written when as yet he could praise Pelagius personally. The 
argument is developed in the two books De Nuptis et Concupis- 
centia, in which he deals at large with the objection that his 
doctrine dishonours marriage. 

3 De Nupt. et Concup. i. i and 21. * Ibid. i. 22. 


But for his very imperfect acquaintance with the 
physiology of generation, it is improbable that Au 
gustine would have ventured on this hypothesis. He 
seems to have thought that conception immediately 
accompanied the sexual act. Even so he found 
almost insuperable difficulties. There should have 
been a difference in the result as there was more 
or less of sin mingled with the act of generation, 
but he could see no difference between the offspring 
of adultery and the children of a chaste marriage, 
and it was a puzzling fact that the children of the 
enfranchised were themselves born in servitude. 1 
He cites in illustration the fact that the seed of an 
oil-olive produces an oleaster ; but that throws 
the argument into confusion, for it is misleading 
to compare an orderly natural process with a dis 
order of nature. Augustine attributes the sinlessness 
of our Lord to the absence of this contamination, 2 
and it is obvious that if the element of concupiscence 
were entirely eliminated from an act of natural 
generation, the result, according to the hypothesis, 
would be a conception naturally immaculate. This 
hypothesis therefore excludes the other two theories 
of heredity and of human solidarity, and is in turn 
precluded by them. 

It is clear that Augustine did not succeed in 
explaining, even to his own satisfaction, the perplexing 
problem of original sin. An examination of his 
treatment of it shows it resting unexplained on the 
twofold basis of human experience and ecclesiastical 
authority. It is to his credit that he did not grasp 
at the traducian hypothesis of the origin of the soul, 
1 De Nupt. et Concup. i. 19. * Ibid. i. 24. 


which would have gone far to solve his difficulty. 
This reserve is characteristic of all that is best in 
his treatment of nature. From fidelity to fact he 
seldom swerved, and never without return. He 
had the courage to leave things unexplained, perhaps 
always reluctantly, but without false shame. Two 
things he held fast through all perplexity : the fact 
that human nature, perhaps alone of all that we 
know by experience, is terribly vitiated ; and the 
fact that no degree of corruption can entirely destroy 
the good that is inherent in nature. The sinful 
soul, in spite of sin, is more glorious than beings 
incapable of sin. Sicut enim melior est uel aberrans 
equus quam lapis, propterea non aberrans quia 
proprio motu et sensu caret, ita est excellentior crea- 
tura quae libera uoluntate peccat quam quae propterea 
non peccat quia non habet liberam uoluntatem. 1 
Though he did not himself say that the virtues of 
fallen man are splendida uitia, that bold assertion of 
Augustinian theology comes near to his real thought. 2 
But if they are vices, remember that they are splendid. 
I have completed my review of the cursus naturae 
as it presented itself to the eyes of St. Augustine. 
It is orderly and good, the expression of the constant 
will of God. Apparent dislocations of the orderly 

1 De Lib. Arbitr. iii. 5. 

* It is probably based on De Ciuit. Dei, xix. 25 : Nam 
qualis corporis atque uitiorum potest esse mens domina, ueri Dei 
nescia nee eius inperio subiugata sed uitiosissimis daemonibus 
corrumpentibus prostituta ? Proinde uirtutes quas sibi habere 
uidetur, per quas inperat corpori et uitiis ad quodlibet adipis- 
cendum uel tenendum, nisi ad Deum retulerit, etiam ipsae uitia 
sunt potius quam uirtutes. But he defends this judgment 
rather on practical than on theoretic grounds, finding such virtues 
infected with inordinate pride. 


sequence of cause and effect are shown to be nothing 
else but obscure instances of natural process in ways 
which human experience has not yet explored. 
What seems to be evil is reduced to its true pro 
portions, and becomes an element in the harmony of 
nature which is discordant only to ears imperfectly 
percipient. But there is one exceptional thing, 
one cause of movement left undetermined by the 
sovran will of God. Created will, in angel or man, 
is free. The creature therefore can turn away from 
good. There is no objective evil to be chosen by 
preference, but it is possible to go this way or that 
in search of good, and self-determination contrary 
to the will of God becomes evil. It is the only form 
of evil. It entails consequences which are in a 
secondary sense evil, but which are so controlled by 
the sovranty of God as to redress the balance of 
nature and to resolve discord into harmony. Sin, 
and continuance in sin, alone remains evil. But 
even this is made possible for a good end. Man is 
made capable of sinning in order that he may be free 
to render a service of love. Thus the possibility 
of sin contributes to the glory of nature. Actual 
sin, however, is a disorder, removing the sinner from 
his proper place in nature. Here may be found 
the cause of the persistent delusion by which we are 
led to discover evil in nature. Fallen man is thrust 
into the neighbourhood of other creatures ; he knows 
himself to be evil, and consequently thinks evil 
of all that he resembles. Because it would be an 
evil thing for me to lay waste fenced cities into 
ruinous heaps, therefore I infer that pestilence and 
earthquake are evil ; because I know that it is wrong 


for me to be like horse or mule, whose mouths must 
be held with bit and bridle, therefore the qualities 
to the likeness of which I have sunk seem to me 
evil in themselves. Augustine escaped from this 
error, to draw a scheme of the world in which all 
things are good, sin only excepted, and to surmise 
that sin also may in the long run be turned to the 
glory of God. He lost himself in some labyrinthine 
by-ways, but the scheme on the whole is coherent. 




(From the Guardian of July 27, 1892) 

IN one of those weighty and pregnant sentences in which the 
author of the Analogy glances outside his own proper subject, 
he writes as follows : 

Nor is there any absurdity in supposing that there may 
be beings in the universe whose capacities, and knowledge, 
and views may be so extensive as that the whole Christian 
dispensation may to them appear natural i.e. analogous 
or conformable to God s dealings with other parts of His 
creation ; as natural as the visible known course of things 
appears to us/ 

I cannot help thinking that we have here an example of 
Butler s grave irony, that to his own mind this supposition 
was more than a possibility, but that he accepted the crude 
antithesis of the natural and the supernatural as expressing 
the common thought of his day, and as affording a basis 
for his polemic against the Deists. I wish to put forward for 
consideration the suggestion that this old antithesis, if harm 
less once, has become fraught with mischief ; and that the 
logical defence of religion should now proceed upon the lines 
hinted at in this pregnant sentence of Butler, the antithesis 
being suppressed. 

Of what nature is the antithesis ? Is it purely logical, 
or is it metaphysical ? If it is the former, it can be dispensed 


with ; it is merely a mode of distinguishing our mental opera 
tions. That is natural which we perceive or apprehend by 
certain faculties of our mind ; that is supernatural which we 
perceive or apprehend by certain other faculties : the natural, 
say, we apprehend by sense or by the understanding, the 
supernatural by faith. Then there is no need to suppose any 
fixed limit between the two ; for there is not necessarily any 
difference between the object of the understanding and the 
object of faith. That which is at one time apprehended by 
faith only may at another time come within the purview of 
the understanding. Faith may vanish into sight without 
any change in our exterior conditions. But in that case it is 
needless to distinguish sharply between faith and our other 
faculties. If faith is the gift of God, so also is the under 
standing,, If it is obscured in individuals, so also is sight or 
hearing. If it is clouded or even destroyed by sin, so also 
undoubtedly are many other powers of the perfect man which 
are allowed on all hands to be natural. We may then regard 
faith as part of the ordinary equipment of the complete and 
perfect man, and so dispense with the logical antithesis of the 
natural and the supernatural. 

But if the antithesis be a metaphysical one, the matter is 
more serious. And it can hardly be doubted that in England 
at least it does so present itself to most minds. It suggests 
the co-existence of two whole worlds of being ; they are not 
distinguished merely as cognizable to us by separate faculties ; 
each has its own substantial existence ; each its own laws, 
which are not necessarily alike ; and the one might be annihi 
lated leaving the other unaffected. The natural and the super 
natural have hard and fast limits : the one is cognizable to 
sense or understanding, the other is eternally to be appre 
hended by faith only, or by some spiritual faculty of perception 
hereafter to be developed, which shall transcend the moral 
certitude of faith ; in this spiritual sense only will faith be 
swallowed up in sight. 

Such is perhaps the common acceptance of the antithesis. 
It is certainly the source of much difficulty and conflict. 
Is it true, or is it false ? If it be true, we must face 
the difficulties and fight out the conflict. But if it is false, 


and can be got rid of, there may be great gain, and some 
of the attacks upon religion may lose all their force. In a 
certain state of public thought this antithesis, even if erron 
eous, could do little harm. God was recognized, even by the 
opponents of religion, as the Author of nature. The defenders 
acknowledged the same Author of the supernatural order 
as the proper object of religion. The dual universe was 
co-ordinated under one Creator and Governor. There was 
presumably an analogy between the two orders, and something 
of the supernatural order might be surmised by faith from 
the study of nature ; there was a natural religion ; but for 
the most part faith required direct instruction from the 
Creator ; religion was revealed. In this state of the public 
mind religion could be attacked only by a blank denial of the 
supernatural order, which was an irrational proceeding, or by 
the assertion of an incongruity in the accepted laws and facts 
of the supernatural order, which showed that it was not from 
the Author of nature but was the product of a disordered 
fancy. Such was the attack which Butler, in the concen 
trated argument of his few pages, crushed conclusively. 

The attack has shifted its ground, and now proceeds on 
two separate lines. The first is that of materialism and 
positivism. No author of nature is acknowledged, and there 
fore the existence of the supernatural order can rationally 
be denied nay, must be denied. A self-existent universe 
cannot be dual ; if nature be self-existent it is the universe, 
and there is room for nothing beside. The second is that of 
agnosticism. If there be two separate orders in the universe, 
so entirely antithetic, how can they interact ? A super 
natural world there may be, but it is not cognizable to our 
natural faculties ; and, furthermore, since conduct is a matter 
of our natural existence, this supernatural order cannot con 
cern our conduct. But the essential thought of Christianity 
of religion at large is supernatural influence over conduct. 
Religion is therefore an irrational absurdity the imagined 
interaction of two worlds between which there is no bridge of 
communication. It was perhaps in partial anticipation of 
this objection that the shrewd but narrow mind of Paley 
demurred to the description of miracles as supernatural, and 

L 2 


substituted the neutral term superhuman. It is perplexing 
to find a supernatural force affecting so natural a thing as 
bodily disease. 

If the foregoing be correct, the present-day attack upon 
religion rests entirely upon the antithesis of the natural and 
the supernatural. The process is obvious. We yield up the 
natural order to the man of science. He searches it through 
and through ; he finds it complete and consistent. We cannot 
gainsay him ; we believe it to come from the creative will of 
the unchanging God. Our searcher can find no room for 
arbitrary action or interference ; he will not hear of any 
inroad from without, any intervention from another world ; 
he finds nature self-sufficient and self-contained, impene 
trable to any action of the supernatural. And since we are 
clearly of the natural order ourselves, the supernatural, if it 
exist at all, is outside of us, alien to us, unknowable. 

We find it impossible to answer the logic of the agnostic, 
nor do we know how to meet the blank denial of the materialist, 
who says that he can trace our holiest feelings to the vibration 
of a nerve-centre. The result is that we are disposed to 
retire to our trenches, to take our stand behind the breast 
work of the faith of which we are conscious. There may be 
safety here for the individual, but it is an inglorious safety ; 
we leave the enemy to vaunt his triumph, and we leave ex 
posed to him the souls that have not so robust a self-defence. 
Another result is seen in a tendency to withdraw faith and 
religion more and more into a remote and circumscribed 
province of their own. There is an inclination to abandon 
morality entirely to the natural order, an acceptance of the 
hedonism which it is the special duty of religion to combat. 
In a word, we are face to face with an exaggerated spirituality ; 
it is hard to say where lies the greatest danger on this side 
materialism, on that side spiritualism. 

If we would defend historic Christianity we must either 
shatter the logic of agnosticism and materialism, or else we 
must remove the foundation on which they stand. If Chris 
tianity be true, and the logic unanswerable, then the founda 
tion must be false. It consists in the metaphysical antithesis 
of the natural and the supernatural ; we have supplied it, 


in fact, ourselves. If this be destroyed, the attack is paralysed. 
The materialist and the agnostic cannot consistently reassert 
the separate supernatural order if we renounce it. If we 
pronounce it, in Butler s words, c as natural as the visible 
known course of things, they can hardly gainsay us. The 
hardest materialist, the most arrogant positivist, does not 
pretend to have penetrated all the recesses of nature ; if we 
tell him that those facts known as supernatural are the result 
of natural causes as yet untraced, he may suspend his judgment, 
but he cannot rationally deny the phenomena. If we accept 
the universe as one, we shall see alike in the action of quinine, 
and in the touch of the thaumaturgic hand, the operation 
of causes moved by the will of God. In the one case the 
operation is just a little more traceable; that is all. Both 
are natural ; in Butler s definition similar, stated, and 
uniform. We shall permit the man of science to investigate 
the natural causes of the * miracle, and if they baffle him we 
shall bid him be patient, for nature has not yet revealed to 
him all her secrets. In what respect is it more miraculous 
that a human will should cast a mountain directly into the 
sea, than that a human will should set in motion countless 
molecules of nerve and muscle stuff, with the result that 
the Isthmus of Darien is cut through ? Only that in the one 
case the process is very imperfectly understood, while in the 
other it is not understood at all. 

It is impossible within the limits of an article like this to 
do more than barely indicate the lines which the argument 
might take. If we hold a monistic theory of the universe 
we have our answer to the materialist s objection to inter 
ference. The word becomes unmeaning. We hold with 
him that nature is all and one, only it is far wider than he 
thinks. There is no without from which interference can 
come. God is not without. He acts in nature, and His 
action is uniform. His action on the matter of the 
universe is as uniform, as natural, and at the same time, we 
shall be bold to say, as free as the action of man s will upon 
the matter of his muscles. 

The agnostic again loses on this hypothesis the hard and 
fast line between the knowable and the unknowable on which 


he bases his polemic. The whole universe is in itself knowable, 
and its parts pass by insensible gradations from the known 
to the unknown. The faculty of faith by which we appre 
hend the unknown is itself a part of the one natural order 
of the universe. 

Shall we then abandon the term, and cease to speak of 
the supernatural ? That would be difficult, perhaps impos 
sible. Our thought cannot cast loose from words, or treat 
them in any such arbitrary fashion. The word supernatural 
corresponds with an existing, and perhaps an indestructible 
idea. What is possible and necessary is to clear the idea 
from false and mischievous accretions, and to see that the 
word does not, in use, slip from the control of the idea. 

The idea of the supernatural is defined by the idea of the 
natural. Its meaning is determined by the limit set between 
the two. The sharp antithesis between the two presupposes 
an absolute fixity for this limit. It is taken for granted that 
the two are finally and essentially different. We may have 
been mistaken in our calculation of the boundary ; we may 
have supposed a phenomenon to be supernatural which 
further experience has proved to be natural ; but the limit, 
though miscalculated, is real and abiding, traceable if not 
yet traced. The conception of the universe which I would 
urge as the true one conciliates this antithesis. The universe 
is one ; one not merely as a dual existence co-ordinated under 
one creative will or law the argument of the Analogy but 
one in essence and in order, one in cause and operation, one 
alike to science and to philosophy, and one to the theology 
which is the sum of all sciences and the key to all philosophies. 
And if the universe be ontologically one, it is a false philosophy 
which should read into it even a logical dualism. 

But if we abandon as false the dualism which sets the 
supernatural and the natural in antithesis, how shall we define 
the supernatural ? It must be defined by the idea of the 
natural. The only limit that can now be recognized is that 
marked out by the extent of our knowledge. It has always 
been acknowledged by those to whom the antithesis was 
most dear that the natural world is that in which the under 
standing works. Let this be accepted as the definition of 


the natural modes of existence which are understood, and then 
by inevitable dichotomy the supernatural will be modes of 
existence which are not understood. 

We shall then see that this is no immovable limit, but, on 
the contrary, one that is shifting continually with the advance 
of science. We shall even see that the limit cannot be the 
same for all minds. To some minds phenomena will remain 
supernatural which to others are clearly natural. But we 
shall not deride the former as superstitious, nor denounce the 
latter as impious. We shall see that the former are not 
morally inferior, unless in like manner the man who does not 
know Chinese is morally inferior to the man who knows it ; 
but we shall regard the latter as having made a real progress 
a progress that is fulfilling the purpose of God, bringing 
them one step nearer to that perfection of knowledge suggested 
by Butler, which makes the whole Christian dispensation 
appear natural, as natural as the visible known course of 
things appears to us. 

We may thus usefully and safely retain the term super 
natural. It will represent those modes of existence, of the 
reality of which we have no doubt, being convinced thereof 
by the assurance of faith or even by the evidence of experience, 
but the causality of which our understanding has failed to 
investigate. Its proper use will be regulated by the average 
intelligence of the average educated man. There will always 
be many minds to whom the mysteries of nature are a sealed 
book ; they will not be our standard. There may from time 
to time be exalted spirits that can see, by some divine intuition, 
far into the dim vista of causes ; we shall, according to our 
temperament or our judgment, deride them as madmen, 
denounce them as impostors, or reverence them as inspired. 
Time and the slow growth of knowledge will show whether 
they were prophets or seers of lying visions ; but in neither 
case will they be our standard. The supernatural will 
remain for us all that lies for the time being beyond the actual 
understanding of intelligent men. 

It is obvious that this will not be a contraction, but rather 
an expansion of the term. We shall have to recognize as 
supernatural those phenomena of life, such as the assimilation 


of matter by the organic germ, which are the chosen study 
of the biologist, but which have as yet defied his analysis. 
And it would perhaps be no small gain to the clearness of our 
views if we were to arrive at the unity of thought as regards 
all the phenomena of life which such a classification, even if 
only temporary, would involve. Life has its higher and lower 
forms, its higher and lower powers, its higher and lower 
aims ; in all, or nearly all of them, it seems to be the meeting- 
point of spirit and matter ; and it is exactly in this con 
currence of spirit and matter that belief and scepticism find 
their battle-ground. Creation, miracles, sacraments, and 
prayer all rest upon the veritable interaction of spirit and 
matter. If, then, we can arrive at a natural philosophy 
which shall classify all these great religious phenomena, 
so to call them, under a common head with all the indisputably 
veritable phenomena of life, of whatever character if all 
alike are certainly supernatural, because sealed to the under 
standing, probably similar in their mode of causation, and 
conceivably, though with varying probability, capable of 
investigation by the methods of science, then we shall not, 
indeed, have * reconciled J science and faith the phrase 
itself is an absurdity but we shall have taken away the 
grounds alike for the contempt of the sciolist and for the 
jealousy of the believer. Tell a man of science that your 
prayer may bring rain, and he smiles incredulous ; tell 
him that this is effected by an immediate causation, differing 
in kind from those which he knows to be the causes of rain, 
and he will probably grow angry and intolerant. But tell 
him that just as your spoken wish, acting through a very 
obscure chain of causes, brings you a cup of water from a 
friendly hand, so your wish uttered in prayer, acting in exactly 
the same manner upon a slightly more obscure chain of causes, 
brings you water from the clouds, and he can but suspend 
his judgment ; laughter will now be evidence only of shallow- 
ness and narrowness. Tell him that the healing of disease 
by a word is but a miraculous that is, an extraordinary 
manifestation of knowledge and will, of the same kind as 
that which guides the surgeon s knife, and you may at least 
silence his answer that * Miracles do not happen. They are 


happening every day. The wonder is only a matter of 

It is to meet a new attack that I propose this change of 
front. I do not regard it as involving anything of concession 
or compromise. I think of it rather as a forward movement, 
a counter-attack. I would not have the spiritual give ground ; 
I would have it seize the whole field. 



(From the Church Times of May 15 and 22, 1914) 

FOR many years I have sat contentedly at the feet of Dr. 
Sanday. His influence over me began by accident, when I 
was yet a schoolboy and he was little known ; it suffered 
partial eclipse for a time, when I was of the age that demands 
abundance of clear-cut definition ; but it returned full tide, 
commanding both interest and gratitude. His great charm 
as a teacher is that he challenges criticism. There is per 
haps no man who has less of the magisterial temper. He 
does not reserve his judgments until they are completely 
rounded ; he publishes tentative solutions of difficulties, 
and fresh statements of questions which he does not pretend 
to have solved. The Bishop of Oxford has talked about 
sincerity, with a glance, it would seem, in his direction. But 
he is the most liquidly sincere of men. He loves to do his 
critical work, testing his belief and the grounds for it, 
under the eyes of men. There are those who would 
have him work in secret until he has some assured result ; 
they dread his inchoate syntheses and incomplete analyses ; 
they expect disappointment from the former and un 
necessary disturbance from the latter. But he knows that 
the way to settlement lies through disturbance, and the 
way to fruition through disappointment. He would take 
his disciples by the hand to go with him all the way, 
not transport them to the end of the journey on a magic 
carpet. Therefore he is perfectly candid with them, perfectly 


sincere ; not always perfectly wise, seldom or never perfectly 

He replies to the Bishop of Oxford, not without anger. 
His habitual candour forbids him to make a secret of it. * I 
must confess, he writes, * that I began this pamphlet 1 in 
an indignant mood. But if he let the sun go down twice 
or thrice upon his wrath, he hastened to abate it. In the 
finished pamphlet there is left hardly a trace of such feeling. 

* As I look back, he concludes, * I am conscious of having 
passed through more than one turbid vein both in writing 
and in thinking. But, as I bring what I have written to an 
end, I hope that I can do so on the noble note of Samson 
Agonistes, " With calm of mind, all passion spent." For any 
sins of thought or of word of which I may have been guilty, 
at any stage of this controversy, I humbly ask forgiveness. 
I resume my place at his feet. 

But critically. He would ask nothing else of a disciple. 
My criticism, whatever it may be worth, must go pretty deep, 
for I would burrow under the very foundations of his argu 
ment. There are three articles of the Creed which he inter 
prets in a sense different from that in which they are commonly 
received, and his interpretation is the result of a * compre 
hensive inquiry into the general subject of Miracles and the 
Supernatural. I set aside the article of the Ascension, for 
it does not seem to me that in this case Dr. Sanday s inter 
pretation differs seriously from that of most orthodox Chris 
tians. There remain the article of the Virgin-birth, and 
the article of the Resurrection of our Lord. Dr. Sanday s 
claim is that he believes both. * I would ask leave, he says, 

* to affirm once more my entire and strong belief in the central 
reality of the Supernatural Birth and the Supernatural 
Resurrection. But the ordinary interpretation of these 
events makes them, in his judgment, miraculous after a 
fashion that raises a great difficulty. It is needless to say 
that he has no vulgar objection to miracle. Describing 
the process by which he reached his present standpoint, he 
says : I was not disposed to put any limit to the divine 

1 Bishop Gore s Challenge to Criticism : a Reply to the Bishop 
of Oxford s Open Letter on The Basis of Anglican Fellowship. 


power or to ascribe any necessity to natural law as such. I 
did not for a moment doubt the power of God to make what 
exceptions He pleased. I only asked for better evidence of 
His will to make them. That is the point. He requires 
evidence. And these two events, as commonly understood, 
are miraculous in such sort that exceptional evidence is 
required ; there is an overwhelming presumption, itself 
founded on evidence, against their occurrence. He is at 
Hume s standpoint, with a difference ; not all miracles, but 
these miracles, are incredible. 

He thinks that his attitude cannot be said, in the Bishop 
of Oxford s words, to be based on a mistaken view of 
natural law, and on something much less than a Christian 
belief in God. I am quite sure that his belief in God does 
not fall short of that of any Christian, but I do contend that 
his view of natural law is entirely mistaken, and that his 
difficulties are mainly due to this mistake. 

He does not ascribe any necessity to natural law as such. 
No ; but for one who has the Christian idea of God, natural 
law means creative will. And this imposes a necessity. 
Dr. Sanday would, no doubt, accept the saying of St. Augustine 
that Creatoris uoluntas is rerum necessitas. And the Will 
of God is stable. Thus a theistic conception of the world 
provides for that continuous and necessary order of nature 
which it is difficult to explain on any other hypothesis. To 
accept miracles in vulgar profusion should not be easier for 
a believer in God than for an unbeliever, but rather more 
difficult. He should expect the course of nature to be most 
orderly, most regular, most uniform. 

It does not, however, seem quite as regular as we might 
expect, and some of the apparent irregularities are what 
we call miracles. Are they real irregularities ? Dr. Sanday 
takes them for such, calling them exceptions. He then 
distinguishes. Some of them occasion little difficulty. I 
was perfectly ready, he says, * to accept and believe whatever 
could be explained by the operation of a higher cause in the 
course of nature. I demur to this language. What are 
higher and * lower causes in nature ? The comparison 
seems to me unmeaning. He continues : * But as we see 


the Divine Providence in action, the highest cause never 
contradicts the lower. It overrules it and diverts it from its 
original direction, but it never breaks the proper sequence 
of cause and effect. That is loosely said. When I hold up 
a stone I do directly counteract the force which draws it 
towards the earth. That force is not in abeyance ; it is 
working all the time, but it is contradicted. And it is 
mutual contradiction that produces the result. To say 
that one cause overrules and diverts another is a very inexact 
statement. The truth is rather that various causes contri 
bute to an effect, which is the result of their combination. 
Everything that happens in nature is thus the result of an 
incalculable number of concurrent causes, some of which we 
can trace, while the rest are beyond our ken. That may be 
held just as true of a miracle as of all other events. 

Pursuing his line of thought, Dr. Sanday tested evidence, 
and this is what he found : * There was abundant evidence 
for the operation of higher spiritual causes ; but when it came 
to a breach of the physical order, the evidence was always 
found to be insufficient. That pleases me, in that spiritual 
causes are kept within the physical order ; Dr. Sanday will 
not tease us with the false distinction of natural and spiritual, 
which we owe to Luther s mistranslation of ^v^i/cos. But 
I want to know how anything can be identified as * a breach 
of the physical order. If anything happens, it is presumably 
in the physical order ; if anything is said, on good evidence 
or bad, to have happened, how can I determine that its occur 
rence would be out of the physical order ? What is the 
standard by which I recognize this order ? Do I know it 
right through, so that I can tell at a glance that some alleged 
event does not belong to it ? If Dr. Sanday had been shut 
in a dungeon for the last fifty years, and now issuing forth 
heard a man pretending to hold an audible conversation with 
a friend across the sea, I am sure that he would consider the 
alleged marvel a breach of the physical order, and he would 
probably find the evidence insufficient ; in a word, he would 
accuse the man of romancing. It could soon be explained, 
of course ; but for the moment the use of the telephone 
would seem to be a breach of the physical order. To an 


ignorant man, no doubt ; but how wide is the distance between 
one man s ignorance and another man s knowledge ? Does 
any man so know nature through and through as to be able 
to say that an alleged event is a breach of the physical order ? 

Taking this for a possibility, Dr. Sanday went forward to 
a distinction * between events that are supra naturam 
exceptional, extraordinary, testifying to the presence of 
higher spiritual forces and events, or alleged events, that 
are contra naturam, or involve some definite reversal of the 
natural physical order. I suspect this coupling of the words 
natural and physical as if they had distinct meanings, and 
I also fear that spiritual forces are here distinguished from 
natural forces ; but I must delve deeper than this for effective 
criticism. What are these things supra naturam which Dr. 
Sanday finds credible ? They are events, unusual and there 
fore miraculous, but events that we can observe, note, and 
record. And where do they occur ? Where, if not in nature ? 
Then they are not supra naturam. But is it on account of 
their cause that they are thus described ? Do they occur 
without a natural cause ? But what is a natural cause ? 
What else but the cause of something which occurs in nature ? 
This occurs in nature : therefore it has a natural cause. 
This causes something in nature : therefore it is a natural 
cause. What escape is there ? For a theist the Will of God 
is the ultimate cause of all that is in nature ; therefore the 
Will of God is the supreme natural cause. What theist 
denies it ? 

Supra naturam ; what does it mean ? I can find no meaning 
in the phrase except on the assumption of a closed order of 
nature, contained within fixed limits. What is outside ? God ? 
Various spiritual forces ? But what ground have we for such 
dualism ? If God be the Supreme Natural Cause, how shall 
we place Him outside nature ? Where shall we set the 
limits of nature ? I do not know any sense in which things 
occurring in nature can be described as supra naturam> or 
ascribed to causes supra naturam. This description or ascrip 
tion seems to suggest a false supernaturalism. Dr. Sanday 
says that he believes in the Supernatural Birth and the 
Supernatural Resurrection of our Lord. Good : there is a 


true sense of the word. But the term is relative. That is 
supernatural to a given part of nature which lies outside its 
ordinary endowment. There are powers in man which are 
supernatural to a dog, and equally the scenting power of a 
hound is supernatural to a man. Miraculous power is super 
natural to a man because it is apart from his ordinary endow 
ments. To work a miracle is precisely to do something which 
a man in the ordinary course of nature cannot do ; it is 
extraordinary. But that is all. The fact that it is done 
in nature shows that it is not supra naturam. To put it 
there is to set up an absolute distinction of nature and super- 
nature, of the natural and the supernatural. There is no 
such distinction in reality. The true distinction is merely 
relative, and is within the large order of nature taken as a 

So I go farther than Dr. Sanday. He allows events supra 
naturam^ disallows events contra naturam. I allow neither. 
He quotes the saying of St. Augustine that portents happen 
non contra naturam sea contra quam est nota natura. What 
more is needed ? If he woke to-day from fifty years sleep, 
the use of the telephone would seem to him contra naturam, 
but only because it would be contrary to his knowledge of 
nature. How do the * nature miracles of the Gospel differ 
from this miracle of modern science as it would have appeared 
to our grandfathers ? Dr. Sanday may safely refuse credence 
to any story told of things contra naturam. I, for my part, 
will refuse credence to any story that may be told of things 
supra naturam. But by what method of divination does Dr. 
Sanday ascertain that the story of the Birth or of the Resur 
rection, as ordinarily told, comes under either head ? If 
these things happened, they happened in nature, and had 
natural causes. They were extraordinary events, perhaps 
unique, but not the less natural. Unique things do happen, 
and happen in ways to confound our expectations based on 
the ordinary course of nature. The sporting of plants may 
serve for an example. We do not suppose this to be contra 
naturam or supra naturam. So, too, it is only in a loose 
sense of the word that we say it is unnatural for a man to be 
born with six toes ; we assume a natural cause for it, though 


it does not occur in the ordinary course of nature. Those 
greater variations to which recent biologists of the school of 
De Vries look for the origin of species are of the same kind ; 
they do not occur in any known sequence of cause and effect. 
But they occur in nature, and we assume for them an unknown 
natural cause. If one should think that cause to be nothing 
else but the will of God, it would none the less be a natural 
cause. Let such cause be assumed for the Birth of Christ. 
* Ex parte matris, says St. Thomas, * natiuitas ilia fuit 
naturalis. Of the other part is the operation of God, * mira- 
culosa, says St. Thomas, but what more natural ? Dr. 
Sanday says that he could not easily bring himself to regard 
that Birth as unnatural. Let us ask him to do no such 

Sitting at his feet to criticize as well as to learn, I must 
tell him my mind, that his attitude is based precisely on 
a mistaken view of natural law, a view inherited from the 
mediaeval schoolmen, a view of nature as a closed order, 
contained within fixed limits and more or less thoroughly 
explored. I am not merely answering him. If .the egoism 
may be pardoned, I would like to say that I wrote and pub 
lished the first adumbration of this argument as long ago as 
the year 1892. I have learnt much since then; not least 
from Dr. Sanday. 



SAMUEL JOHNSON did not dispose of Berkeley by kicking a 
stone. The stone, the foot, and the Doctor s temper, were 
alike parts of the ideal construction of the world. Berkeley s 
destructive criticism has not been answered, and is not likely 
to be answered ; he has left it certain that the existence of 
Matter, as a real Thing independent of the mind which con 
structs it out of formless sensation, is at least unproved, and 
is to all appearance unprovable ; but as a constructive 
theory his Idealism is open to grave objections. Attempts 
have been made to amend it. Dr. McTaggart has worked 
hard in this sense ; he has filled up some gaps, and his system 
is interesting, if only as calling attention to a need which is 
still left unsatisfied. 

An ideal construction of the universe starting from the 
human mind rests on a foundation too narrow for the build 
ing. Geocentric Idealism, so to call it, is compatible with 
a geocentric universe ; but it is at odds with itself when it 
constructs an universe in which Man is seen as occupying the 
surface of one of the smaller satellites of one of the smaller 
suns. This curious arrangement does not make the thing 
impossible. It is possible that we, occupying the position 
which our own intelligent observation assigns to us, may be 
ourselves the authors of the whole grouping ; but the con 
clusion is staggering, and the mind can hardly accept it. If 
we get over the difficulty presented by the light of a c Nova 
reaching us for the first time after a journey measured by 
decades or centuries, there are still more complicated prob- 



lems, and the circumstances of the discovery of Neptune rise 
in protest. 

Dr. McTaggart comes to the rescue. His scheme of a 
collegiate intelligence might be required to complete even a 
geocentric Idealism, for Berkeley s doctrine leads direct to 
Solipsism. Solipsism is tolerable on a purely theistic basis, 
and it may stand on the Monism which the dualism of Plotinus 
demands for its complement ; but it can account for no 
single universe ideally constructed by the human mind. 
Dr. McTaggart will not hear of a theistic hypothesis, for he 
insists on starting from common human experience, and 
he has too keen a sense of reality for pure Monism. He 
thinks there is good ground for believing in a common or 
collegiate reason. Men are Selfs ; of that he has no doubt ; 
but they are evidently capable of common action, and why 
not in the region of pure thought ? Thus he escapes from 
Solipsism. But his conception carries him farther. He 
escapes also from planetary conditions ; indeed, from exist 
ence in time as ordinarily understood. He assigns to the 
Selfs which we know as telluric men a boundless existence. 
Coming here they recognize one another in bodies, each of 
which is e only a temporary combination of matter * a part, 
that is to say, of the whole construction that we make of 
sensation ; they existed before that combination was made, 
and they will continue to exist when it is dissolved. The 
immortality of man is the corner-stone of Dr. McTaggart s 
system ; he does not believe in the absorption of the Self 
into the Whole. He thus arrives at a collegiate intelligence 
which is eternal. Here is made that ideal construction of 
the Universe, glimpses of which we catch in our fleshly taber 
nacles. The discovery of Neptune is explained. 

There is one obvious thing to be said of all this. It is 
pure mythology ; it falls into line with the more detailed 
story of Er, the son of Armenius. It is not on that account 
to be rejected, for mythologies tell much truth ; neither 
philosophy nor religion can very well dispense with them. I 
would further observe that Dr. McTaggart arrives at his 
goal by an Act of Faith. I shall not quarrel with him on 
that account. Belief in something that I cannot prove 


underlies almost every action of my life. Our ordinary 
beliefs, though dialectically unproved or unsusceptible of 
proof, can be verified by experience ; they are found to 
work, and we are all pragmatist enough to be thereby com 
forted. But Dr. McTaggart s faith stretches beyond the 
confines of experience. If he ask me to say his Credo, he 
makes severe demands upon me. He supposes an unanimity 
of Selfs which passes anything known to my experience. 
Nay, it contradicts my experience. Men, as I know them 
on this planet, are unanimous in hardly anything. There 
are a thousand millions of us or more, and our minds are 
about as various as our bodies. Perhaps it may be said that 
the divergences frequent among us in our fleshly tabernacles 
are due to the corruptible body which presses down the soul, 
and that other Selfs in happier circumstances are free from 
them. Our few millions may be treated as a negligible 
minority set against an infinite number of such happier 
Selfs. But this other-worldliness engenders doubt. What 
guarantee have I that all those other Selfs are not subject 
to planetary conditions like ours ? Reasoning from analogy, 
I should expect that to be the case. Then the farther you 
extend the bounds of the universe the harder of attainment 
becomes this unanimity. A 

There is something else in Dr. McTaggart s hypothesis 
even more inexplicably at variance with my knowledge of 
my own self. I stumble on the familiar difficulty of Causation. 
The causes studied by natural philosophers are part and 
parcel of the whole ideal construction. They run a course, 
and imperatively demand a beginning. Unless the whole 
construction is at fault, there must be this beginning ; and 
the construction is incomplete if no provision is made for it. 
Now what is it that I really know of Causation ? My know 
ledge springs from the fact that I myself can do things. 
I view myself as a Cause ; I see other things done which are 
not done by myself, or not wholly by myself, and I look for 
other causes. I throw a stone. When I come to analyse this 
action with sufficient scientific knowledge, I can distinguish 
various elements in the movement of the stone. I observe 
that it describes a curve, more or less accurately corre- 


spending to a section of a cone. I observe eccentricities 
which appear to be caused by the wind. I observe still more 
erratic movements, which I am able to refer to the shape of 
the stone, especially if it be flat, and I learn to attribute 
these to the pressure of the atmosphere at rest. I conclude 
to a number of causes determining the flight of the stone, 
over which I seem to have no control. But there is another 
cause residing in myself. I throw the stone at a mark. Its 
flight is determined, partly by my aim, partly by my skill 
or lack of skill in throwing, partly by those other causes 
which I cannot control. What is meant by my aim ? It is 
an intention, a purpose, of hitting something. That inten 
tion springs from a desire. But the desire, of itself, is 
infructuous. It promotes action, but not necessarily ; I 
am able to refrain from action. I can choose, in many 
cases, whether I will act or refrain from acting. We arrive 
at the Will. What is the Will ? Not a separable part of 
myself any such notion seems to be unfounded ; not even 
a separable endowment of my nature any such notion is 
superfluous ; but simply an operation of my Self. I choose 
to hit that object with a stone. My choice is suggested by 
various motives, but it remains mine. How do I give it 
effect ? By an obscure physiological process my Will produces 
motion the motion of the stone. I can trace the move 
ment back from the stone to my fingers, from my fingers 
to muscles, from muscles to nerves, from nerves to a cell of 
the brain ; I arrive at an imperceptible movement of the 
molecules of that cell. What sets them in motion ? It is 
an act of Will. I myself set them in motion, and the rest 
follows. This I know of causation ; to deny my knowledge 
of it is to deny all knowledge. It is the whole of my 
immediate knowledge in this field. I infer other causes from 
my knowledge of this cause. 

This being so, what is more reasonable than to suppose 
that all causation springs from Will ? The causes that are not 
within my own control I reasonably refer to a Will other than 
my own. What Will is this ? Shall we assume a collegiate 
Will corresponding to the collegiate Thought which makes 
the ideal construction of Dr. McTaggart s universe ? The 


assumption would go far to complete his scheme, but is it 
tolerable ? If absolute unanimity of thought in a multitude 
of Selfs be accepted with difficulty, it is far more difficult 
to accept a like unanimity of Will. The demand made upon 
us by such an Act of Faith is enormous. The hypothesis 
of theism seems more reasonable, and the mythology of 
the first chapter of Genesis holds together better than that 
which Dr. McTaggart designs. An Act of Faith in one God, 
the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, in whose 
Thought the universe is ideally constructed, from whose Will 
all proceeds, of whose Thought we so partake that we can 
read the structure of things, and of whose Will we have an 
image in ourselves this is possible. The hypothesis of 
Creative Will involves tremendous moral difficulties, with 
which St. Augustine did battle as few men have done before 
or since, but it satisfies the understanding. 




This file was acquired from London ; New York [etc.] : Longmans, Green, and co., 1916., and it is in the public domain. It is re-distributed here as a part of the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts ( by Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.) for the purpose of freely sharing, distributing, and making available works of great literature. Its Infomotions unique identifier is naturemiracleand00laceuoft, and it should be available from the following URL:

Infomotions, Inc.

Infomotions Man says, "Give back to the 'Net."