HOMER W. SMITH
Graphic Rule
MAN
AND HIS
GODS
Graphic Rule
FOREWORD BY ALBERT EINSTEIN

 
 

MAN AND HIS GODS

VI
Graphic Rule
The Rise and Fall of His Satanic Majesty's Empire

 

THE devil's origin is hidden in almost impenetrable mystery. Having no organized priesthood and no written testaments of his own to preserve his history, his biography can be recovered only from fragmental references, scarcely more than whispered calumnies and innuendos, to be found in the history of that good world the despoliation of which was his desire and destiny.

One may confidently anticipate that his genealogy will lead back, as is so frequently the case with the great in vision and achievement, to an exalted ancestor, himself divine. One tempting trail points to Ahriman, the Persian god of darkness and evil, who stands in opposition to Ormazd, the god of light and goodness, but when Satan appears in the legends of Israel it is neither as a deity co-ordinate with Yahweh, or as an effective agent in the creation of the world, but as a lesser angelic being of morally good character who lives on friendly terms with Yahweh and converses with him. He acquires a truly divine status and a truly evil character which is in opposition to the supreme deity only by slow assimilation. To whatever extent Persian philosophy influenced later Hebrew thought, its abstractions and its dualisms are foreign to early Yahwistic cosmology.

The only other promising trail leads to the Babylonian legend of the creation of the world, wherein the good god Marduk cleaved the goddess Tiamat in twain, and of the halves molded the heaven and earth; after which he cast her henchman Kingu out of heaven and had him bound, and from his blood fashioned mankind, while Kingu's army of demons he confined to a dark place.

The episode of the 'revolt of the angels' which stands in close apposition to the story of creation in Genesis appears to be an echo of this rebellion. Here it is briefly noted, 'And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose .... There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.'

At first reading this isolated verse is unimpressive. It is chiefly the fact that it appears in the Genesis account as a polytheistic obscenity obtruding in the middle of the sacred history of the world that it commands attention. In Hebrew of the period, the expression 'sons of God' must be taken to mean divine beings, and such beings are inconsonant with the Yahwistic account of creation. The position of the verse in Genesis, close to the story of creation, itself indubitably Mesopotamian, renders plausible the supposition that the otherwise inexplicable reference to the 'giants' who were 'sons of God' is an echo of the divine beings who had been cast out of the Babylonian heaven.

That the 'sons of God' should see that the daughters of men were fair is in no way surprising, and it may be that the earlier redactors of Genesis viewed the matter in the heroic light, as the Greeks were wont to view the amours of Zeus. In view of the centuries in which this history of the world was edited and re-edited, it is unimaginable that the inharmonious verse could have escaped censorious deletion were it not supported by the oral legend which must ever have embellished the written text, but which compunction forbade the priestly scribes from recording on their rolls. Written references to evil angels which make a sudden appearance in the sacred books in later centuries possibly represent fragments of such an oral gloss.

At the period when Genesis was written, the notion of divine beings of any kind, other than Yahweh himself, was in a confusing state of flux. The god of the Israelites had been adequate for all forms of action, both good and evil; a savage, jealous, inexorable deity inflicting punishment out of all proportion to the fault, rejoicing in a frightful and brutal vengeance, striking the guilty and the innocent alike, he had never stood in need of angelic assistance. It was when, under prophetic transmutation, Yahweh became a remote spirit of righteousness akin to Ormazd that in order to preserve his divine transcendence there were introduced between heaven and earth mediating agents in the form of Persian angels who could perform both good and evil works in his behalf.

Satan is not even mentioned in the Pentateuch and, strangely enough, as a proper name signifying the power of evil the word appears only five times in the Old Testament, once with the meaning of Yahweh himself. It is in the postexilic prologue of the Book of Job that His Evil Majesty makes his historic appearance. Here Yahweh is depicted as attended by a group of spirits called 'sons of God' who go about and do things of their own volition, and not just at Yahweh's bidding; and here one of them is for the first time called Satan (adversary), apparently for no worse reason than for the way he pesters Job. Yet in this sad affair, the only really independent and perhaps evil attribute of Satan is skepticism. The Lord had called Satan to him and inquired, 'Whence camest thou?' and Satan had replied, 'From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.' Thus Satan starts his evil career by being curious. Thinking that in his perambulation Satan must certainly have met that epitome of virtue, Yahweh boasts, 'Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth Yahweh, and escheweth evil?' It is when Satan ventures to suggest that Job does not fear Yahweh for nought, that he is good only because he appreciates Yahweh 's blessings, that the leader of the angelic spirits is revealed for what he is, a doubter, a skeptic, a misanthrope. It is to teach Satan a lesson in the power of unselfish and disinterested faith, and not to punish Job for being good, that Yahweh gives Job over to Satan's unceasing torment and multiplied misfortunes. The Book of Job is an apology, set forth in dramatic form, for the existence of evil.

Satan's next appearances, both brief ones, are in Zechariah (520 B.C.) as the prosecutor of Israel, where he acts without Yahweh's permission and even incurs Yahweh's rebuke; and then in Chronicles (300-200 B.C.), where in retrospect it is made to appear that it had been Satan who had provoked David to number Israel.

It is in the apocryphal writings, and especially in the Enoch apocalypses, that Satan first appears as the full-fledged instrument of evil. The earlier portions of Enoch, written in the second and first centuries B.C., several times refer to the 'sons of God' and make it clear that in coming to earth these angels were undergoing punishment for rebellion, and that in cohabiting with women they were doing evil. It is implied that during their sojourn on earth they imparted to their wives various arts as well as evil practices, and that the women passed this knowledge on to subsequent generations. Their leader is variously identified as Cain (who thus comes close to apotheosis as an evil fiend), Azazel, or Satan. In the Wisdom of Solomon (100-1 B.C.), Satan alone is charged with the responsibility for evil, while in Similitudes, satans are distinguished from angels, and are supposed to have existed before them; indeed, the descent of the angels to earth is represented as due not to a desire to unite with the daughters of men but to the desire to become subjects of these satans. In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (200 B.C.) it is made to appear that the angels had been led astray by the women of earth, while the Life of Adam relates that Yahweh commanded the angels to worship Adam, and Satan was banished for refusing to do this, and for saying, on being threatened with Yahweh's wrath, that he would exalt his throne above the stars of heaven. In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch (A.D. 1-50), myriads of angels attend the sun, regulate the stars and control the lightning, frost and hail; here the leader is first called Satanial, his name being changed to Satan after he left the heavens; envious of Adam, he endeavored to rule the world. Although in these apocryphal books there is no unified belief, there is a common objective -- to explain the existence of evil by blaming it directly or indirectly on a celestial fiend.

Thus there was available to the authors of the New Testament a substantial if unintegrated mass of references to the Prince of Evil. John in his Revelation spoke both symbolically and historically when he told of the war in heaven, when 'Michael and his angels fought against a dragon, and the great dragon was cast out with him and who made war on those who kept the commandments of God.' For the Christian movement generally Satan became the divine scapegoat to purify God of the evil taint. He is referred to as the 'slanderer,' the 'accuser,' the 'destroyer,' the 'evil one,' the 'enemy,' the 'prince of devils,' and 'Beelzebub.' He rules over a world of malignant, supernatural agencies whose dwelling is the low heavens: 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world,' says Paul. He is made to be the tempter of Judas, and even of Jesus himself, and Jesus represents him sowing tares among the wheat, and rebukes his favorite disciple, Peter, with the words, 'get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of Yahweh, but those that be of men.' Sinner and murderer from the beginning, Satan is a liar by nature, he and his minions falsely presenting themselves as angels of light. He is identified as a serpent, a dragon, a leviathan, as the flash of lightning -- all the mysteries of dreaded aerial forces are concentrated in Paul's name for him as the 'Prince of the Power of the Air.'

Jesus made it clear that it was his mission to oppose Satan and to cast devils out of men. 'He healed many that were sick of divers diseases ... and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him'; the 'unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him and cried, saying, Thou art the son of God.' Jesus expels an unclean spirit from a man in Capernaum; he casts seven devils out of Mary Magdalene; in Peter's house he casts out the spirits of 'many' who were possessed with devils; and he casts the devils out of two Gadarenes and into a great herd of swine nearby, which thereupon throw themselves down a steep cliff into the sea and perish.

It was in shaping Satan into the Great Tempter, God's nominal enemy and the despoiler of his moral universe, that Christian doctrine struggled with the problem of the origin of evil and, in solving it, made its most original contribution to theology. Judaism had long accepted uncleanness, in the sense of transgression against the edicts of the deity, as the cause of most of the sufferings of life. In explaining the paradox that the innocent suffered with the guilty, the Jews fell back upon the doctrine of guilt acquired by inheritance or contamination, a doctrine essentially identical with the primitive belief in the solidarity and joint responsibility of the family and tribe, and their introversive view that Israel as a whole was unclean, was, by the opening of the Christian Era, well justified by experience. When it was asked why man generically should be unrighteous it was assumed that the propensity for disobedience had been received directly from the hand of the Creator in order to test the counterbalancing force of virtue. It remained for the writers of the apocalyptic books to discover, some in the story of the Garden of Eden, and some in the legend of the fallen angels, that abstract contamination which, in anglicized Latin, is called 'sin.'

The earliest reference in this connection is in Sirach (200-175 B.C.): here the writer, reflecting disparagingly on the various evils which a bad woman may bring into her husband's life, remarks lightly and incidentally, 'From a woman was the beginning of sin; and because of her we all die.' Although the author appears to have meant not that a woman was the first cause of sin, but only that sinning begins with women generally, the charge is an opening wedge for the story of Eve's guilt. The Wisdom of Solomon records that, 'God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.' Since this writer had previously recorded his belief that 'God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living,' he is logically forced to seek in the devil and the devil's advocates the implement of misery. Again, in the Book of Enoch, it is made to appear that it had been fallen angels who, under the leadership of Satan, tempted man to act contrarily to the wishes of his God. Up to this time neither the canonical nor apocryphal writings mention any great offense as contaminating the human race as a whole, or calling for universal judgment, apart from the episode of the tower of Babel wherein men presumed to become as gods. But the author of the Wisdom of Solomon knew wherein lay sin: speaking of the ungodly, he says, 'Their wives are foolish, and their children wicked: Their offspring is cursed. Wherefore blessed is the barren that is undefiled, which hath not known the sinful bed: she shall have fruit in the visitation of souls. And blessed is the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity .... Better it is to have no children, and to have virtue: for the memorial thereof is immortal ....'

In the Apocalypse of Abraham Satan is first definitely identified with the serpent in the Paradise story, an episode that originally had no connection with the legend of the fallen angels, and in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch the idea appears that mankind somehow inherits from Adam the moral scar which Adam acquired as a consequence of the serpent episode. Then the Apocalypse of Baruch (A.D. 80-150) presents the Fall as having brought upon the race a potentiality or liability to future punishment, while II Esdras (A.D. 50-150) makes it clear that in consequence of Adam's sin, all men are born wicked, though here neither the devil nor the serpent is made responsible; 'The grain of evil seed hath been sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning ... and how much shall it yet bring forth until the time of threshing come!' Who sowed the grain of evil seed in Adam's heart Esdras does not tell, only that the infection would never die out of his progeny: 'For the first Adam, bearing a wicked heart transgressed, and was overcome; and so be all they that are born of him. Thus infirmity [sinfulness] was made permanent ....' 'This is my first and last saying, that it had been better not to have given the earth unto Adam: or else, when it was given him, to have restrained him from sinning. For what profit is it for men now in this present time to live in heaviness, and after death to look for punishment? O thou Adam, what hast thou done? for, though it was thou that sinned, thou are not fallen alone, but we all that come of thee.'

The two significant features in these tentative, first-century Judaic views are the notion of an inherited depravity or infirmity, and the notion of inherited guilt. Even primitively the two ideas are essentially independent since a man may consanguineously acquire contamination and guilt without himself being depraved, as witness the whole pre-exilic history of holy Israel. The Paradise story, which had been neglected by all the prophets and postexilic scribes, now began to serve not only as an explanation of death, the derangement of nature and the universal existence of evil in the world, but also of the hereditary presence in mankind of an infirmity or tendency to sinfulness. Meanwhile in the rabbinical literature, the Targum, Talmud and Midrashim, dating from 200 B.C. to A.D. 300, the endowments of Adam had been greatly magnified. He was represented as having been of enormous stature, physically perfect and of surpassing beauty and wisdom, a bright angel possessing extraordinary powers of perception and enjoying unblemished bliss. He had been ministered to by angels and had even been an object of their worship. It was variously supposed that he and Eve had lived in Eden, enjoying a happy married life, for a period ranging from a few hours to seven years before his superior endowments and unique privileges had been taken away as punishment for disobeying God's command. When conceived on this heroic scale by thinkers now familiar with the notions of incorruptibility and perfection, it was clear that Adam's capacity to sin constituted an almost inexplicable blemish in his otherwise angelic character.

The New Testament scarcely more than touches on this subject. Jesus holds no doctrine of sin or evil and does not even refer to the Garden of Eden; he simply assumes that all have sinned. In the Pauline letters it is made to appear that man is sinful not because he commits sin, but rather that he commits sin because he is sinful -- a highly important point in Christian belief -- and sinfulness to Paul is, if not an inherent virulence identifiable with the flesh, at least an alien power which resides in the flesh and uses it as an instrument, this emphasis on the evil of the flesh being an original note in the Pauline teaching. Only once does Paul refer to the devil, 'the god of this world [who] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not' (to Paul skepticism of his new doctrine was the most heinous of moral offenses), and only incidentally does he refer to the Paradise story: 'Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.' Paul was less concerned with the remote origins of sin and evil than with the possibilities of immediate redemption from both. The author of Revelation refers to the scenery of Paradise, and particularly to the 'tree of life'; he mentions the war in heaven when 'Michael and his angels fought against the dragon ... and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him'; but for him, as for Paul, sin is chiefly the denial of Jesus and the persistence in unbelieving Judaism; like Paul, he throws no light on the mystery of Adam's sin or the means by which the first man's sinfulness was transmitted to posterity.

With both Testaments saying so little on the subject, the fathers of the early church were free to develop their doctrines as they elected. Justin attributed evil to the angels who had 'transgressed the Divine appointment, and by sinful intercourse with women produced offspring who are demons.' These demons 'sowed among men all manner of wickedness.' Justin is thus the earliest Christian authority to accept the fallen angel theory. Origen in his earlier years held the Paradise story to be an allegory describing the fall of all individual souls from a previous celestial existence, to which event he attributed evil; but in later life he became convinced of an inborn uncleanness inherited from Adam by virtue of the fact that Adam's children were present in seminal form in the father of the race. Thus, as opposed to Justin, he supported the theory of the forbidden fruit. Tertullian, subscribing to the latter theory, conceived that every human soul is a 'branch' of Adam's soul, reproducing its qualities and therefore its corruption. Irenaeus and Athenasius conceived that Adam's sinfulness resulted not so much from an inherent derangement in his nature as from the loss of those supernatural graces with which he had originally been endowed. Clement of Alexandria went so far as to repudiate the idea that death was in any way a consequence of the Fall, and Chrysostom rejected both the doctrine of inherited guilt and the inherent sinfulness of human nature, although paradoxically he was condemned and exiled chiefly because of his resolute denunciation of the vices of the clergy and the court.

It was a British monk, Pelagius, arriving in Rome sometime between 398 and 402, who stirred up what was perhaps the most important controversy in Christian history and forced, through the medium of Augustine, the crystallization of Christian tenets on the origin of evil. Pelagius's antecedents are unknown, though one enemy asserted that he was of too humble an origin to have had a liberal education; nevertheless before he distinguished himself as a heretic he had written three books of unquestioned orthodoxy on the Trinity. Appalled by the lax morality of the great mass of nominal Christians in the empire's capital, he set himself to rouse them to a sense of their duty to God. In this moral reformation he was supported by a lay friend, Coelestius, and a pupil, Julian of Eclanum; though the subsequent furore is known as the Pelagian heresy, it appears to have been Julian who was chiefly responsible for the doctrinal arguments. The Pelagian heresy was based on the premise, nominally accepted by the church, that man enjoys free will and the power to choose between good and evil. As incompatible with this premise Julian questioned both inherited sinfulness or inherited guilt, and these and related issues quickly brought the three friends into conflict with numerous bishops. Against these Julian declared, 'we ought to weigh and not count opinions' and would have set reason above authority, but this argument in the eyes of the orthodox was the fruit of evil vanity.

The major points advanced by Julian were that the chief glory of man is in his reason and free will, which remain unimpaired by previous choices. Sin is choosing that which is contrary to what reason indicates to be good conduct. The desires of the flesh are, as such, not evil. Every man is born in precisely the same condition morally as Adam was before he sinned, and hence there can be and have been sinless men. Adam sinned through free will, and his descendants also sin through free will. Neither the death of Adam (who would have died in any case) nor the death of men after him is attributable to sinfulness. The idea of either inherited sin or inherited guilt is unthinkable; therefore children are not damned at birth, baptism is not necessary to virtue, and the redemptive power of the grace of Christ is not a requisite to salvation.

After several condemnations Pelagius and Coelestius were denounced as heretics and exiled by the Emperor Honorius (418), while simultaneously a Carthage council in a series of nine emphatic and uncompromising canons anathematized anyone who held death to be a natural necessity, who denied the presence of original sin in children, who assigned any form of salvation to infants dying unbaptized, and who failed to see in grace the indispensable condition of redemption.

The refutation of the Pelagian heresy was largely the work of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, a diocese not far from Carthage in North Africa. Over a period of years he prepared no fewer than fifteen weighty treatises on punishment and the nature of sin, baptism of infants, divine grace and human corruption, and related topics. The Pelagian heresy is chiefly important for the replies it drew from Augustine, who has been called 'the father of orthodoxy,' 'the supreme authority,' 'the greatest among the fathers of the church,' the theologian 'whose formulas maintain up to today their supremacy in the whole extent of Western Christianity.' Since the accepted Christian answer to the conjoint problems of sin and evil stems from Augustine, it is a warrantable digression to examine briefly his character and life.

ii

Born in 345 at Thagaste, a village near Carthage, Augustine was the only child of a pagan father and a Christian mother. As a small boy he was led by his mother to accept without question the teachings of the church and was probably made familiar with the Old and New Testaments, which were then available in Latin codices. He never possessed any extensive knowledge of Greek and acquired all that he knew of Hellenic culture through Latin translations. In his nineteenth year, the reading of a now lost work of Cicero called Hortensius profoundly affected him and set him to seeking wisdom in its ultimate and highest form. Hortensius was an exhortation to the study of philosophy, and Augustine was sorely troubled by the absence of Christ from a work which he so admired; he was also embarrassed by the fact that the style of the pagan author was distinctly superior to that of the scriptures, and particularly the Old Testament, which he found to be not only inferior in rhetoric but full of things to be despised as 'old wives' fables.' From reading pagan philosophy he wandered to Manichaeism. He remained with the Manichaeans for nine years only to become engrossed, after a period of confused skepticism, with the mystical theories of Neoplatonism as propounded by Plotinus and his student Porphyry. From Porphyry particularly Augustine learned to seek truth outside the material world and came by the certainty that God is eternal and neither subject to change in his parts nor in his motions, and that to experience God, however partially, in the transcendent experience of ecstasy is to enjoy identification with the divine.

Trained as a rhetorician, Augustine practiced first at Thagaste, then successively at Carthage, Rome and Milan, achieving indifferent success. In Milan he came under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, who emphasized the allegorical nature of the Old Testament stories and paved the way for Augustine's literal acceptance of what he had hitherto characterized as 'old wives' fables.' It was while he was studying Christian doctrine under Ambrose that he encountered the major crisis of his life.

All the while that he had been seeking the middling ground of truth somewhere between pagan philosophy, Neoplatonic mysticism and Christian legend, a robust physique had been demanding and obtaining satisfaction. As a young man continence had seemed to him to be out of the question, and when he was nineteen years old he had taken a concubine, a practice then tolerated even by Christians, and immediately had had a son. As a Manichaean he had learned that matter, and therefore flesh, are but prisons for a divine spark; as a Neoplatonist he had accepted that truth is to be found not in appetite and lust, but along that road of fasting and mortification that leads to ecstasy; and under the long-continued deprecations of his Christian mother, fortified now by a Christian bishop whom he had every reason to admire, he had come to look with shame upon his sex life. The Christian tenets that reproduction was frivolous and futile in the face of the coming day of doom, the Christian legend of the immaculate conception of Christ and the Christian esteem which was generally accorded asceticism and self-immolation, all contrived to engender a painful conflict abruptly precipitated in Milan when his mother insisted that he take a legal wife and send his concubine, for whom he had great affection, back to Africa. His mother found a suitable bride for him, but she was, unfortunately, not yet of marriageable age. In the separation from the companion of his youth and from his son he was severely torn by the struggle between the spirit and the flesh: "Give me chastity," he said, "but not yet!" He came upon the Life of Saint Anthony, which vividly pointed the virtues of continence, but this book only caused him to suffer as Anthony had suffered and, not having the good saint's strength, while waiting for his bride-to-be to mature he took another concubine. The more he pondered over the nature of God the more acute became his sense of guilt, and the more evil he found in the world and in his life.

One day while talking with a friend who knew of his conflict, he learned of two officials, like himself betrothed, who had resolved to renounce the world for a life of asceticism; he was so overcome by their courage and strength that he rushed out of the house in tears and flung himself down in the garden, sobbing, "How long! tomorrow and tomorrow!" Suddenly he thought he heard the voice of a child singing in the next garden, "Take up and read; take up and read"; perhaps the words belonged to some childish game, but he afterward could remember nothing of the kind, and he immediately applied them to himself as a divine command. Returning to the house he took up a volume of St. Paul's Epistles, opened it and read the first words that met his eyes: 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.'

This experience of the garden, which occurred when he was thirty-two, led him finally to renounce all thought of marriage, and was chiefly instrumental in his conversion to the Christian faith. He was baptized by Bishop Ambrose the next year, though for a protracted period thereafter he appears to have continued the study of Neoplatonism. He resigned his chair of rhetoric at Milan and, returning to Africa, he went into retirement with some friends on a small estate at Thagaste and at the age of thirty-seven entered the priesthood. Five years later he was consecrated Bishop of the nearby city of Hippo. A rule forbade the translation of bishops, and Augustine was therefore fixed for life, at the age of forty-two, in the small North African seaport where he had attained the bishopric. Having little drain upon his time he gave himself over to letters and theology, entering into every argument and addressing himself to colleagues in every part of Asia and Europe, as well as laboring upon more original ideas and formal works. Among his numerous books were fifteen on the Trinity to which he devoted thirty years. For most of his life he was engaged in heated controversies with other ecclesiastics, and many of his theological conclusions were reached as expedients to get himself out of embarrassing debates. Although Christian doctrines had by this time become fairly fixed in their major outlines, he was the first to attempt to unify them into a body of belief that would have no internal contradictions. His work, as represented in his letters, tracts and books, was to set the problems, and in part the answers, of Christian theory for a thousand years, and although his ideas were to be supplanted in part by later thinkers, they, more than the ideas of any other man, were responsible for the theological and social pattern of the next fifteen centuries.

Augustine's approach to theology was by the method known as 'dialectic,' which is the art of investigating the truth or falsity of opinions by arguing from certain explicitly stated but not necessarily substantiated premises. Inasmuch as during his experiences with Manichaeism, skepticism and Neoplatonism, he had at one time or another been skeptical of almost all beliefs, he first inquired whether a man can ever be certain of anything. He proceeded to the demonstration that such a thing as certitude exists by such arguments as the following: For example, he said, if we say there are four elements in the world, we may be certain that there are not five; if we say a soul is immortal, we may be certain that it cannot die; if we say we are awake, we may be certain that we are not asleep. I say I am conscious that I exist, therefore I do exist, and even if I say I am mistaken, some sort of existence is necessary for me to err. Since these things are certain, they demonstrate the possibility of certitude and the existence of demonstrable truth.

The demonstration of certitude is ipso facto a demonstration of the existence of God, since 'God' himself is 'truth' and therefore synonymous with 'certitude.' God is also proved to exist by the statement of the Holy Scriptures which no one can deny. He is also proved to exist by the fact of 'universal consent' -- his existence has been believed by all men, everywhere, and at all times ('with the exception of a few in whom nature has become outrageously depraved,' and as for these, he asks, 'Why should I consider the method of dealing with them, when it is doubtful whether they ought to be dealt with at all?'). The existence of God is furthermore proved by 'order': every cause is one of an endless chain of causes, else there would be no order; and since there must be a first cause, all order leads back to the true First Cause, or God. God is also proved to exist by the unity of things, such as stones, trees, animals, friends, states, armies, for the unity of parts can be derived only from a unity of a whole, and the Whole is God. God is also proved to exist by beauty: as order in the universe is evidence of the existence of a father of order, and unity is evidence of the supreme and eternal unity, so beauty is evidence of perfect beauty, or God. Those who deny these proofs, said Augustine, are so lost in vice and so degraded by sin that they have been made blind to the good and the true and have become veritable fools.

However, so little do we really know of God, Augustine admitted, that we really know him better in not knowing him at all. Our only exact knowledge of God consists in knowing how little we actually know about him. God is ineffable, for words are of too coarse a texture to describe his divinity: nevertheless, his attributes may be reduced to these twelve: 'eternal, immortal, incorruptible, unchangeable, living, wise, powerful, beautiful, righteous, good, blessed, spirit,' while we may be sure that he is not to be identified with 'Angels, Virtues, Powers, Archangels, Thrones, Seats, or Principalities,' all of which are less than God. When the Bible speaks of God's anger, his repentance, his jealousy or his compassion, it is merely using metaphors to insinuate itself into the minds of men who are unable to comprehend the incomprehensible and ineffable.

Concerning the world, Augustine conceived that God made it from nihil, which is, he emphasized, to be read as absolutely nothing. 'No attention should be paid to the ravings of men who think that nihil should be understood to mean something ....They have lost their senses by zeal in contradicting.' Out of this 'nothing' which no one is to take as meaning 'something,' God created the world by the Word.

At first thought, the existence of evil seems to deny either God's goodness or his omnipotence; this paradox is not to be believed, however, for God is both omnipotent and good, even in permitting the existence of evil. The nature of every created thing is good; this good nature is subject to corruption not because of defect in God's workmanship, but simply because it was made from nothing, from nihil, rather than from the substance of God himself. 'As anything is corrupted, in that proportion it approaches decrease ... tends to nonexistence. God exists immutably and incorruptibly, while what is called nothing is clearly altogether non-existent; and since, after setting before yourself existence and non-existence ... why are you at a loss to tell regarding any nature what in it is from God, and what from nothing?' That is to say, evil is the absence of goodness as darkness is the absence of light, silence is the absence of sound, a crooked line is a straight line the beauty of which has been destroyed without introducing any new material. To be sure, evil is not in itself good, but the fact that evil as well as good exists is, one might say, the greater good. The circumstance that God's creation contains pain, hunger, death, terrific volcanoes, venomous serpents, troublesome mosquitoes and other evil features so numerous that examples will occur to everyone, is entirely comprehensible: these evil features embellish the beauty of creation as antitheses set off an exquisite poem; as 'the oppositions of contraries lend beauty to language, so the beauty of the course of the world is achieved by the opposition of contraries, arranged, as it were, by an eloquence not of words but of things.' The executioner, the prostitute, man's sexual organs, considered in themselves are thoroughly detestable, but each is necessary to society and contributes to the harmony and perfection of the whole.

Man occupies an intermediate position between nihil and God, being of course greater than nihil, and also greater than plants or animals by virtue of the fact that he possesses a soul; but he is less than God in consequence of the fact that he is imperfect. He was not created imperfect, however, for in the beginning God looked with favor upon him, even creating him in his very image. And then something happened to destroy this perfection.

When Augustine came to the paradox presented by the good God of Christian theory and the evil of life, the miserable mortal of fact, he was, of course, wrestling with the problem that had tried the best intellects throughout the entire history of mankind. Explanations of evil had been offered by the Egyptians, the people of Mesopotamia and the Greeks, but Egyptian and Assyrian were almost forgotten languages, and Augustine read no Greek. The only explanations of evil that lay ready to his hand were the sacred writings of the Jews and Christians.

The skepticism of his early years had given way, after his conversion, to a belief in the relative infallibility of faith. Of all uncertainties, faith was least uncertain. He considered his faith in his friends, his obedience to the authority of his physicians, the vast number of things which he had never seen but which he accepted as true, such as distant cities and strange animals, and the confidence which he had in the records of secular history -- if such things as these are to be accepted on faith, he argued, why should one hesitate to believe the Christian scriptures? Surely there would follow the overthrow of all literature, 'if what is supported by such a strong popular belief and established by the uniform testimony of so many men and so many times is put into such suspicion that it is not to have the credit and authority of common history.' Above all, he had faith in the power of the Christian church: 'It is not without reason that so eminent height of the authority of the Christian faith is diffused throughout the entire world'; and so deeply was he impressed by the universal character of the church, by the purity of its doctrine and wisdom, its authority 'inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, and established by age,' that he declared he would not believe the scriptures themselves except as moved to do so by the authority of the church. Having arrived at the conclusion that the authority of the church was unimpeachable, it followed that 'we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet or apostle or evangelist'; and thus he came circuitously to what is in practical consequences his most important dictum: 'Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, for greater is this authority than all the powers of the human mind.' In the scriptures there is nought but absolute truth; in them is all that is true, while they condemn the false that may be learned elsewhere. So Augustine was now constrained, in order to find the explanation for the misfortunes of humanity, to turn to the scriptural stories which as 'old wives' fables' he had once disdained.

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To the Jews who had told the stories of the Garden of Eden and of the fallen angels around their campfires at a time probably before that of Saul and David, they were veritable accounts of things that had taken place in the long, long ago when Yahweh had been accustomed to walk in his garden in the cool of the morning, to eat of its fruit and to admire its trees.

Where the Jews got the story of Paradise has not been discovered, but it contains so many elements foreign to the beliefs of Israel that it must be inferred they acquired it whole or piecemeal from some of their Asiatic neighbors. The tree 'which is in the midst of the garden' is identified in Genesis both as the 'tree of knowledge' and the 'tree of life'; in Mesopotamia the two ideas were essentially identical, since to all the ancients wisdom was magic or that which enabled a man to avoid death and to live like a god. The serpent might represent any supernatural being such as would mingle with the gods, animals and men in a Syrian, Arabian, Persian or Mesopotamian oasis; he speaks as if he were on terms of intimacy with the divine circle, and is even in a position to say what the deity knew; he is aware of the potentiality of the fruit, knowing that if Adam and Eve ate of it 'ye shall be as gods' (the reading 'knowing good and evil' is accepted to be a postexilic interpolation), and only neglecting to say that in order to continue living in the divine estate they must continue eating of the fruit; he knows that Yahweh is deceiving them when he threatens, 'Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch, lest ye die.' (It was thus that Ea had deceived Adamu and prevented him from eating the food and drink of the gods and attaining immortality.) He is proved to be speaking truly by the fact that when the fruit is eaten, Adam and Eve do not die as Yahweh had said they would, while Yahweh himself declares, 'Behold, the man is become as one of us.'

Thus the episode of the forbidden fruit appears to be a dramatic narrative intended to explain how man's ancient felicity had been lost in consequence of Adam's transgression, which was aspiring to be as a god; to this presumption he was tempted by one deity, symbolized in the serpent, who was pitting himself against a superior deity. This is a familiar theme. In its original form it was probably embellished with many lively details which editorial purification has stripped from Genesis, and it is interesting to recount one of the several other recensions, which has not been so purified.

In the apocryphal History of the Creation and of the Transgression of Adam, the serpent has watched Eve until he can get her alone, when he approaches her and asks:

 

Why dost thou eat of the fruits of all the trees, and of this beautiful fruit thou eatest not?

Eve said: Because the Lord God did command us not to eat of that fruit, saying: When ye eat ye shall die.

The serpent said: God is willing to deceive you; He was like you, as long as He had not eaten of that fruit; when He ate thereof, He reached the glory of Divinity. Wherefore He told you to eat not of that fruit, that ye should not become equal unto Him, and sharers of His glory and of His throne.

Then she took and ate of the fruit, and instantly she was bereft of her glory. When Adam came and saw that the woman was despoiled of her splendor, he was grieved, and said: Didst thou eat of the fruit?

Eve said: It is a most delicious one, take and taste thyself, and thou shalt see how sweet it is.

Adam said: I cannot eat of it and be stripped like thee.

Eve said: I ate too much, and therefore have been stripped; do thou eat only a little.

Adam said: I cannot eat and be stripped of my glory like thee.

Eve said: If thou eatest, God shall not be wroth with thee, for He loves thee very much.

Then he took the fruit and examined it, and was afraid to be stripped like the woman. He would not eat it, but the woman wept and entreated him saying: 'If we die let us die together, and if we live let us live together, separate me not from thee.' And Adam as he looked at the beauty of the woman was beside himself; for though she had lost her glory she was beautiful, her body was of a dazzling white like a pearl; for she was newly created, and God had created and decked her with his own hands. And Adam after much thought said: 'It may be that God will have mercy upon me and strip me not. And if I be deprived of my glory when shall He have mercy upon me? Better were it for me to die than to be separated and parted from my wife.' For he did not understand that had he kept the commandment, God could have created another and much more handsome woman than she. Having held the fruit in his hand, and examined it for about three hours, he said: 'I cannot live without my wife.' So he cast aside the word of God, and in obedience to the word of the woman he ate the fruit, and was stripped of his glory. Not that the fruit was evil, for there was not any evil fruit in the Garden, but the evil was in what Eve did in despising the word and the commandment of God, and in listening to the word of the serpent. And Adam despised the word and the commandment of God and listened to that of his wife.

Wherefore they were deprived of their glory and they sought and covered themselves with the leaves of a fig-tree; for they thought that a covering of leaves could hide them from the sight of God; for God always appeared unto them, coming gently and talking with them in a sweet voice. But at that moment when they ate the fruit and were stripped of their splendor, and had covered their nakedness with leaves, the voice came from the fig-tree, crying out, and saying: 'Adam, where art thou?'

And Adam said: Lord, I heard thy voice, and I ran and hid myself.

The Lord said: Why didst thou run away and hide thyself?

Adam said: I ran away and hid myself, because I was naked, and was ashamed before thee.

The Lord said: I had covered you with glory, why did you strip yourselves of it? Did you eat of the fruit?

Adam said: This woman that thou hast created, she deceived me.

And the Lord spake unto the woman, saying: Woman, didst thou do that?

And the woman said: Lord, the serpent that thou hast created, he deceived me.

Then the Lord was wroth against them, and said unto Adam: Because thou hast done this, and didst not listen to my counsel, but didst quickly listen to the counsel of thy wife, instead of this immortal plant, thorns shall be brought forth for thee; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread; for dust thou wast and unto dust shalt thou return.

And turning unto Eve, He said: Because thou hast done this, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, in thy confinement thou shalt suffer death, in sorrow thou shalt eat thy bread, and in sorrow thou shalt live all the days of thy life.

And turning unto the serpent He said: Thou art cursed above all cattle, upon thy breast and belly thou shalt creep, and dust thou shalt eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel.

And God commanded the angels to drive them out from the Garden, and with a flaming sword to keep the ways of the Garden of Life. So they drove Adam and Eve out from the Garden.

And they went out to a place dark and gloomy; there they remained the whole day and they ate nothing, but inconsolable, they wept and bemoaned themselves. And six days after, the Lord had mercy upon them, and sent his angel to take them out of the darkness, and to guide and bring them to this bright world, where he shewed them the fruit-bearing trees, with which they had to satisfy themselves and live. And when Adam and his wife saw it, they said: 'Although it is not so good, and the light and fruits of this world are not equal to the light and the fruits of the Garden; yet through these we shall neither die nor remain in darkness.'

So they were comforted.

 

In the Genesis account the only reason given why the serpent should tempt Eve is because he 'was more subtle than any beast of the field.' This, no doubt, is the echo of the reputation of some ancient god. In earlier passages of the recension quoted above, the serpent is identified with Satan who, it is expressly stated, has been expelled from heaven for refusing to worship God, and for wishing to put his throne as high as the throne of God. Since Satan dares not enter the Garden in propria persona, he moves as a serpent to deceive Adam's wife.

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Thus the legend of the rebellious angel, presumably Kingu in disguise, meets and fuses with the legend of the forbidden fruit, the tree of magic or eternal life, to supply Augustine with an explanation for the origin of evil. By his own logic he could no longer disdain the tales of the Old Testament as old wives' fables but must perforce accept them as facts of history. In terms of his description of creation as something posed somewhere between God and nihil, good in so far as it contains the substance of God, evil in so far as it lacks that substance and approaches nihil, the episode in Paradise revealed that before the Fall the creation had contained more of God and less of nihil than at the present time. Adam, for whatever period he remained within the Garden, possessed such power that absolutely nothing could resist his will; he had everything that a rational creature needed, including the power to live forever. It would have been easy for him, so Augustine argued, had he willed to keep God's injunction, to have reached the stage of perfect freedom and to have attained an estate subordinate only to that of God himself. God had required of him almost nothing in the way of service, imposing on him only a very light precept in order to remind him who was Lord. It was so easy for Adam to obey the command, so difficult for him to disobey, that his disobedience amounted to pride, envy, lust, self-love, a desire even to be equal to God himself; and because God was just it was necessary for him to be swift and severe. Since in his pride Adam sought to be his own satisfaction, God abandoned him to himself, to live by the sweat of his brow, dissatisfied, doomed to die in body as he had willingly become dead in spirit, forever out of the bounds of grace and condemned to eternal death except he be delivered by God's redemption.

One difficulty in this interpretation lay in the irrationality of a good and just God punishing not only Adam and Eve, but all their blameless offspring through ages without end, for the original sin of disobedience. In this complete abandonment of any semblance of human charity, divine despotism would seem to approach perpetual cruelty. A second difficulty lay in the necessity of transmitting Adam's uncleanness or sinful state to his posterity; the idea that the seeds of his progeny were in Adam when he sinned and were thereby defiled did not appeal to Augustine's logical mind, and he was forced to seek a basis not only for perpetual punishment but also for perpetual guilt. He found the answer to both problems in sexual intercourse.

The pressure of Augustine's sensuality is adequately revealed by his reply to pleas for continence, and by the circumstance that he took a second concubine shortly after his mother had persuaded him to send the first one back from Milan, and this in spite of his deep affection for the mother of his son and the fact that he was living near his prospective bride. The conflict here engendered could not have been lessened by his extraordinary affection for his devout and saintly mother, which he describes vividly in his Confessions. Apart from the asceticism of Neoplatonism and Christianity, the opposition between his desire for divine purity and the desires of the flesh must have been further aggravated by his experience with Manichaeism, which held that all matter, and therefore flesh, is evil, and that sexual intercourse is essentially Satanic and to be abhorred. The circumstances of his conversion, the lines of Paul which had effected it, and the fact that afterward he viewed his previous life in blackest colors, all must have aggravated his ever-present sense of uncleanness and helped to shape the later conviction that sexual intercourse was a transgression against the deity and a defilement of the spirit.

Augustine was the churchman who more than any other resisted the heresies of Manichaeism and Donatism; he, as much as any other, introduced into Christianity the doctrines of Neoplatonism and gave to the faith a seemingly philosophic fabric; and, first among the fathers, sketched in the pattern of the monastic life which from his day to the Reformation was officially and popularly conceived to be the highest ideal of Christian conduct. But in these matters his work stands not alone, but complemented by the work of others. However, it is to Augustine alone that the credit must go for giving Christianity an instrument of logical persuasion of such force as no other human institution had hitherto possessed: the doctrine, based on the defilement of sexual intercourse, of infant damnation and the necessity of redemption by baptism.

No evidence reveals that Augustine considered the fruit of Eden to be an allegorical symbol of the discovery of desire on the part of Adam and Eve, though later theologians, taking their clue from the meager reference to the fig-leaf aprons, wrote this into the doctrine. Rather, for the Bishop of Hippo, the fruit was simply a token of disobedience, itself a sin so heinous that it contained all sins and was necessarily greater than any single sin. But apart from Adam's sin, the sin of sex was, among sins, paramount. Had Adam and Eve escaped the Fall they would presumably have propagated, had they propagated at all, by some asexual process, perhaps by a further excision of ribs; but having sinned in disobeying God, they were condemned to propagate by lust, by self-interest, by the pleasure of the senses, by an act that in every respect was antithetical to the notion of deity; mankind must perpetually engage in sin in order that it should continue to exist, and its seed must be continually reinfected with corruption in the very act of propagation. To epitomize that corruption Augustine used the word 'concupiscence.' Through concupiscence the whole of humanity for all time was born both sinful and guilty, a massa perditionis out of which only certain individuals were to be lifted to grace by that special favor of God which had been perfected in the Christian sacrament, baptism. 'Even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth' is born an offender in the eyes of God and is damned without this precious rite, though since it adds no personal sin to the original sin inherited from Adam, its punishment in the other world is comparatively mild.

In sinning, Adam did not surprise God, for to suppose that such were the case would be to impugn God's omniscience. On the contrary, God foresaw not only Adam's sin but the sins of all his descendants: this is not to say that in sinning men are doing what God wishes them to do, or that God wills them to sin, but only that they are doing what he has foreseen they will do. It is just that their depravity is so great that they are impotent to do good actions or otherwise be redeemed without divine grace, and God has predestined who is and is not to enjoy this grace, and therefore to enjoy the power of election between sinning and not sinning. Consequently, those who do sin, do so out of the pitiful necessity of God's predestination.

If one can judge theological doctrines by the criterion of survival, no more satisfactory explanation for evil than that propounded by Augustine has since been found. Yet however such a finespun theory might appeal to the erudite, it remained inadequate for the common run of men. By logical deductions from Eve and the forbidden fruit, and by the aid of concupiscence, logicians might be able to explain to their entire satisfaction thorns and thistles, mosquitoes, aches and pains and all the other evils that Augustine considered, and even death; but to the slaves, servants, sailors, soldiers and merchants who made up the bulk of the Christian population the forbidden fruit appeared to be no more than a familiar dramaturgical accessory. They were, moreover, generally free from any sense of guilt in sex. On the whole, unsympathetic to asceticism and unaccustomed to rigorous logic, yet thoroughly familiar with dramatic symbolism, they proceeded immediately to identify the serpent as the true villain of the story: it was perfectly clear to their untutored minds that this creature was only the Devil in a clever disguise. And so it came about that Augustine's emphasis on the story of Paradise had a wholly unanticipated effect: it served in the imaginations of the masses to elevate Satan, the fallen angel, to a position subordinate only to Christ himself. All the pagan powers of evil, their numbers not one bit diminished in Christianity, waited only to be mobilized by the King of Hell to annoy the faithful with more plagues, droughts, boils, thunderstorms and other demonic torments than had ever been inflicted by the pagan gods. If the Christians hurried baptism it was as much to avoid the devil and his minions as to placate God.

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