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«Creatio ex nihilo» and the Theology of St. Augustine

The Anti-Manichaean Polemic and Beyond

Series:

N. Joseph Torchia

This study proceeds from an investigation of the significance of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in some of the key components of St. Augustine's extended anti-Manichaean polemic. To a great extent, his devastating critique of the Manichaeans' world view, their conception of evil, and their most fundamental theological presuppositions relied heavily upon the affirmation that God ultimately created everything that exists from nothing. In broader terms, the study demonstrates how the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo provided Augustine with an effective means of defining the character of created being as finite and mutable, and drawing a crucial ontological distinction between the Divine Nature and that which God creates. Such teachings were operative in some of the key themes of Augustine's theology.

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Chapter 4: Augustine's Theodicy 165

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Chapter 4 Augustine's Theodicy As the preceding chapter has shown, a major component of Augustine's refutation of the Manichaean cosmogony (and its radical dualism) was his definition of evil as a corruption of the good. By means of this definition, Augustine overturned the Manichaean conception of evil as a substantial reality which violates the Divine nature. For August- ine, the corruptibility of created things is rooted in the fact that they were brought into being from nothing by God. In contrast to God, creatures are inextricably bound up with non-being by virtue of their origins from nothing,. and the turning of the highest creatures (that is, rational spirits) from their Summum Bonum through sin. In the De Natura Boni Contra Manichaeos (written c. A.D. 397, at roughly the same time as the composition of the Contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti) Augustine refined his analysis of the na- ture and sources of evil. The De Natura Boni has been characterized as "an epitome of its author's anti-Manichaean polemic."1 In this compact work, we have a veritable compendium of Augustine's principal arguments against the Manichaean response to the problem of evil. On the one hand, the De Natura Boni demonstrates Augustine's powerful dialectical skills. On the other hand, his arguments are firmly grounded upon Scriptural teachings. From Augustine's standpoint, such Scriptural support has two benefits: first, it affords those unable to grasp these truths on an intellectual level a solid foundation of belief based on Divine authority; secondly, it enables...

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