Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good

A dissertation was written to explore the potential Gnostic influence on Augustine’s (354-430) doctrine of Predestination. John Calvin (1509-1564) admits that his theology was already developed by Augustine, so the question is then: How did Augustine arrive at his view of Predestination, which is quite the opposite of what was publicly taught within the church for the first 300 years of early church history. It should be noted that Augustine was himself a Gnostic Manichaean for nearly a decade before converting to Catholicism. Generally, it is thought that Augustine developed his theology on predestination after debating with Pelagius (354-420/440), but Kam-lun E. Lee suggests that it was developed from Augustine’s debates with the Manichaeans, in terms of the inevitability of personal evil and divine cosmic ordering (or divine sovereignty, if you will).

The Manichaeans represent the Persian branch of Gnosticism, and they taught both determinism and total depravity. However, their determinism was based upon dualistic mythology (p.128, 209), and also maintained a carnal outlook on bodily pleasure.

Lee writes: “It is evident that the preceding discourse reflects Augustine’s conscious effort to seek an alternative explanation of the phenomenon of what the Manichees believe to be caused by a metaphysical evil principle (xxiii.44), and only in De uera religione has he embarked on developing a full theory.” (p.117)

The determistic Manichaeans had a dualistic view of the origin of sin, while Augustinian determinism had a monistic view of the origin of sin. Therefore, determinism is the common root between Gnosticism and Augustinianism.

Lee writes: “[The] concept of the inevitability of personal evil is fundamental to the development of his doctrine of predestination. Therefore, from this consideration, we may say that Manichaeism has contributed to the doctrine by drawing Augustine to wrestle with the issue of the evil principle in the context of the Manichaean concept of the Good as the Beautiful.” (p.139)

Lee writes: “We will show that Augustine’s consideration of cosmic order as beautiful is his address to the Manichaean view of the universe.” (p.140)

Lee writes: “The notion of cosmic order is actually the framework of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, and is his response to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil.” (p.144)

Lee writes: “...Augustine’s concern is to affirm the initiative of God, the summe esse, to preserve the existence of the universe by maintaining its proper order.” (p.147)

Lee writes: “Manichaeism, as understood by Augustine, seeks to answer the question unde sit malum? (mor. II.ii.2) and arrives at a dualistic solution well reflected in its cosmogony which is constituted in three Moments: the pristine universe, the present world order, and the eschatological restoration.” (p.149)

Lee writes: “...the Manichees arrive at the conclusion that the present universe is a mixture of both good and evil. Augustine, reasoning along similar lines, concludes differently. He argues that an individual creature is good because of the harmonious congruence of its parts, just as the universe is good by reason of its harmonious order (mon. II.v.7-ix.18).” (p.153)

Lee writes: “But since, according to Augustine, God is good and he is the only ground of existence, then how can something evil come out of the good God? In the affirmation of a Trinitarian monism, Augustine is faced with the challenge of explaining the total goodness of the universe despite the presence of evil in it. To put it in Manichaean terms, Augustine must show that the universe is wholly beautiful.” (p.154)

Is the origin of evil, one’s voluntary defection from God? Or, is the origin of evil, God’s pre-determination that evil is a creation of God that is to be manifested, in order for God to display the sum total of His various attributes?

Lee writes: “In the preceding discussion, we have shown the first part of Manichaean influence on Augustine’s doctrine of predestination by demonstrating that the doctrine assumes a two-tiered framework of cosmic order, which is his response to the Manichaean view of the universe. While the Manichees believe that the universe is an admixture of both good and evil, Augustine thinks that it is good, therefore beautiful, as a whole.” (p.163)

So what should we say, it’s all good, because it comes from God?

Lee writes: “[Augustine] draws on the Manichees for insights of experience of personal evil, borrowing from them the double notion of ‘wickedness’ and ‘mortality,’ although he has substantially transformed these simplistic ideas into an elaborate theory that eventually does away with dualism.” (p.169)

Lee writes: “It is recognized that in Contra Fortunatum (392) Augustine, due to Fortunatus’ invocation of Pualine support for the notion of the inevitability of evil, is forced to focus on Paul’s notion of the flesh as an intrinsic principle rebellious to what is instituted by God.” (p.172)

Fortunatus was a Manichaean Gnostic, with whom Augustine had been debating, and Fortunatus had appealed to the writings of the Apostle Paul. But the Gnostics did not correctly teach Pauline theology. So what exactly did Augustine learn from them?

Lee writes: “As Augustine focuses more on the Pauline writings, the shift of attention from consuetudo to concupiscentia hinted at in De sermone domine in monte I becomes more apparent in his first systematic commentary on the Book of Romans.” (p.177)

So what other biblical proof-texts did Augustine witness of the Gnostics in their debates? Virtually all of the familiar proof-texts evident in the Calvinist vs. Arminianism debates of today, were present in Augustine’s fully developed view of predestination.

Lee writes: “...Augustine’s emphasis on the hiddenness of divine ordering at this point signals a gradual shift toward a more predestinarian view. The idea of hiddenness of divine judgment indeed reflects his attempt to incorporate the notion of election into the hidden divine operation of the cosmic order. The fact that Augustine is giving up his theory of election by divine foreknowledge is also reflected in his explanation of selective calling.” (p.189)

Lee writes: “ soon as Augustine is convinced of the total inability of the human initiative and the total hiddenness of divine judgment, the formulation of his mature view is just a matter of time.” (p.190)

Lee writes: “...the only other factor needed besides the notion of concupiscentia for Augustine to arrive at his mature view of grace is the notion of limited salvation....” (p.191)

Lee writes: “The final transition to the mature view is marked by the phasing out of the idea of election by foreknowledge. ... As Augustine diminishes the place of human initiative, increasingly he ascribes election to the hiddenness of divine judgment.” (p.194)

Lee writes: “Thus, considered psychologically, the human will is free, but the outcome of the willing is divinely arranged and therefore guaranteed.” (p.198)

Lee writes: “But for a solution as to why one is chosen and another not, Augustine has to appeal to God’s secret arrangement....” (p.198)

Lee writes: “From Augustine’s perspective, God’s administering of his hidden arrangement to confer grace and pass judgment is an ordering of good and evil (Faus. XXI.2-3). It then seems logical for him to make God’s secret administration of salvation part of the grand cosmic order....” (p.199)

Lee writes: “While the outcome of the individual salvation in the former case is not predetermined, the latter case reflects the determinism that is inherent in the notion of effectual calling.” (p.200)

Lee writes: “ grace, some are set apart from rest of the sinful mass...whom God has already secretly called at the beginning of the world...each one’s destiny is fixed in the eternal plan of God...which could well be a part of the cosmic ordering.” (p.202)

Lee writes: “As such, the determinism inspired by the Manichaean notion of the Good in terms of the concepts of consuetudo and concupiscentia, under the aspect of limited salvation, is brought to its logical conclusion.” (p.204)

In summary, Lee writes: “Augustine borrowed from the Manichees their dual notion of evil as ‘wickedness’ and as ‘mortality.’ These were considered evil because they are the antithesis of tranquil pleasure at the spiritual and the physical levels of existence. He shared with the Manichees the view that these aspects of evil are inevitable so long as life is lived in this world. Together, these borrowed approaches to evil helped Augustine to formulate an alterative explanation of the principle of personal evil....” (p.205)

Lee writes: “...the framework of cosmic order within which Augustine developed his doctrine is a result of his response to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil. In this response, he again employs the Manichaean idea of the Good to affirm that the whole universe is beautiful despite the presence of evil. So long as evil is put in its proper place, the cosmic harmony is preserved.” (p.206)

But was this kind of “cosmic order” in support of, or in contradiction to, the theology of the first 300 years of church history? “...the theological climate in Augustine’s time fostered free will and responsibility. Determinism would have gone against the tide.” (p.207)

Lee writes: “The Manichaean explanation for the cause of personal evil is relatively straightforward. One cannot escape from moral evil because there is a metaphysical evil principle at work behind the soul. In other words, one sins involuntarily. Considered cosmologically, the human soul is thrown into the predicament of constant struggle with evil not by its own choice but by the determination of an external factor. According to the Manichaean myth, this factor is the good principle or the God who sends the good soul to be mixed with evil in order to block the invasion of an advancing enemy (mor. II.xii.25; Faus XX.17, XXII.22; Fort. 7; nat. bon. xlii).” (pp.208-209)

Lee writes: “...once he began responding to the Manichaean view regarding the macrocosm, he could not avoid the issue of determinism. In his alternative proposal, divine cosmic ordering, Augustine had to address the question of what ultimately determines an individual’s place in the universal order. Since the more deeply one is bonded to evil, the less one is able to control one’s destiny, the belief in the inevitability of personal evil would then imply a view that the determination is made by the God who orders the cosmos. Expressed in the language of predestination, this view means that God has the power to elect from the massa damnata those who receive salvation and to leave the rest in damnation.” (p.210)

So the question is this: Did Augustine take the mythology of Gnostic determism, and bring it under the pale of Christian orthodoxy, simply by tinkering with it, by removing the mythological, dualistic component, and making the cause of evil, entirely the product of monistic, divine cosmic ordering, or otherwise stated, divine sovereignty? Is Augustinian predestination the “Christian” link to Gnosticism? Insofar as theological determinism, that appears to be the case. Who among the early Church theologians, prior to Augustine, taught Augustinian predestination? It appears to be a theology that was born out of Augustine’s research of Gnosticism.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Norman Geisler & Unconditional Election

Norman Geisler writes: “…God is the unconditional source of the election, and that election is done with full foreknowledge of all things. But we have demonstrated that the elect will freely choose to believe. Election is not based on or dependent on foreknowledge. Rather, it is merely in accord with it (see chapter 3).” (Chosen But Free, p.69)

Geisler presents an analogy to help clarify his proposed distinction.

Geisler continues: “An illustration is in order. Suppose a young man (whom we will call Jim) is contemplating marriage, and knows two young ladies (whom we will call Joan and Betty), either of whom would make a good wife for him. As a Christian, he has three basic choices: (1) to propose to neither of them; (2) to propose to Joan; or (3) to propose to Betty. Bear in mind that the young man is under no compulsion. There is nothing outside his own will that places demands on him to choose any one of the three options (or any other one). Suppose further that the young man happens to know that if he proposes to Joan she will say yes and if he proposes to Betty she will say no. Suppose, then in accordance with this foreknowledge of how she will freely respond, that Jim chooses to propose to Joan. Suppose even that he knew she would be reluctant at first but with persistent and loving persuasion she would eventually—freely—accept his offer. The decision on his part was entirely free, uncoerced, and not based on anything outside himself. But it was also a decision that was with full knowledge of the response and which respected the free choice of the person to whom he decided to propose. This is analogous to what moderate Calvinists believe about God’s unconditional election.” (Chosen But Free, pp.69-70)

It seems evident that Jim chose to propose to Joan (as opposed to Betty) because he knew that he could get a yes from her. So why couldn’t you say that he chose her “based upon” and “dependent on” his special knowledge of her response? In other words, I’m simply not understanding Geisler’s asserted dichotomy.

Geisler adds: “It is clear, of course, that God chose us before we chose to accept Him. And our decision to accept His offer of salvation is not the basis for His choice of us. We did not choose Him--either first or as the basis of His choice of us.” (Chosen But Free, p.74)

I simply do not understand how the illustration has clarified the distinction between “based on” vs. “in accord with.”