Evil in both a philosophical sense and a practical sense was something with which Augustine struggled considerably in the formative years of his life.
As a student in Carthage during his final years of adolescence, he was attracted to Manicheanism. One reason for this was because of its proposal of dual principles of good and evil. In Manicheanism, he was able at least partially to absolve himself from the personal evil he saw in his life. He could attribute much of it to some external force of evil for which he was not responsible. On his pathway to conversion to Christianity in Milan and at Cassisiacum, he came to reject the Manichean notion that evil was an active force in front of which goodness was essentially helpless or passive. By accepting the consequences of his misuse of the gift of free will, Augustine came to appreciate that evil is something each person has to contend with personally. There exists no conscious or intelligent external force of evil has control over any person.
He realised that evil was not a controlling external power. In fact, evil was nothing more than the absence of good. It is the graveyard of the human spirit. Human nature is by definition good. It is a spark of the Divine Being. It is the creation of a God Who created it is goodness and in no way touched by evil. But, Augustine said, by the Fall in the Garden of Eden, the first human beings succumbed to temptation, and evil – the absence of good – entered the human spirit. In this, Augustine focused not only on the commission of sin by individuals but also on the broader picture of creation by a good God. Augustine rejected the notion that God created evil either as a malevolent force existing in itself, or as a dualistic partner in direct opposition to goodness. To seek the creation of evil, Augustine turned his attention not to God but to humanity. The human person, from free will, commits a sin and germinates in himself or herself that which we describe by the word evil. It is human beings who foster and propagate evil. God neither has the role of allowing evil to be done, nor does God create wickedness in order to have a clash between good and evil. For Augustine, evil only happens when human beings succumb to temptation and unleash the ever-widening ripples of its ill effects. Evil is the absence of – or the removal of – some of the goodness that God created. "The loss of good has been given the name of 'evil'," Augustine wrote in Book XI of City of God. From the very fact that sin is decadence of being, it carries in itself its own punishment. By sinning a person injures himself in his being because he falls from what he ought to be. As a result of this fall the consequence is the sufferings which he must bear, such as remorse in the present life. There is also the matter of what is now termed Original Sin. This is a term (in Latin, peccatum originale) which Augustine used, and which some also say he invented.
Augustine was writing in opposition to what he regarded as the excessively optimistic view of humanity entertained by Pelagianism. All that Augustine said on Original Sin over a span of decades does not fully synthesise. It is not surprising therefore that some aspects of the view of Augustine on Original Sin have been disregarded by later scholars of the Church.
Thomas Aquinas in particular offered greater clarity. Whereas Augustine regarded sinfulness as a culpable inclination of the human will towards evil, Aquinas saw it more as a privation. It was the absence in human nature of the original blessings with which God had endowed creation. The view of Augustine on evil and sin offered the church a step forward in his own times and for centuries afterwards. That the topic is a difficult one is indicated by the remarkable reality: nowhere in the long tradition of the Church has there yet appeared a clear definition of what constitutes Original Sin.
Why does evil happen?
(Below is the second half of an article by Maureen McKew in the Summer 2000 issue of the Villanova Magazine of Villanova University, Pennsylvania, USA.)
Why did …. God create evil? Augustine’s answer was that God did not create evil. In fact, evil was totally incompatible with an all-good God. Augustine eventually came to see that evil was not an entity in itself but, rather, was simply an "other than good." Augustine's explanation was that evil did its damage by limiting the freedom of the human will: a will infected by evil does not choose good.
That still left the question: If God is not responsible for evil, where did it come from? Augustine proposed that all evil in the world is the result of the original sin, the sin of the first human who turned away from the goodness of God. As he wrote in De natura boni (On the Nature of the Good), "every nature, insofar as it is a nature, is good." Original sin is one of the most difficult and painful concepts that the human mind has ever been asked to comprehend. As Blase Pascal would write centuries later, "it is easier to explain the world with a concept of original sin than to explain the world without it" (Pensées). Augustine found his answer in the Book of Genesis. For Augustine, there was no doubt about just what the Original Sin was. In an article written for Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Wm. P. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999) Professor John Cavadini of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana wrote: "Pride for Augustine, is the archetypal sin, the original sin from which all other sin proceeds as from a root. In essence, pride is the desire to replace God with oneself." Is there an antidote for this? Yes, says Augustine. In fact, there is only one antidote: Baptism.
Father Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., general editor of the encyclopaedic Augustine through the Ages, has said, "There was a time when there was no sin in the world. Then sin came from human choice and changed the relationship between humanity and God." The identity of the human who committed the first sin is not the most important issue. What really matters is that it happened. A human being broke the covenant between humanity and the Creator, unleashing terrible consequences for that human and all of that human's descendants. There is no doubt that Augustine believed in the existence of Satan, the prince of darkness. Professor Frederick Van Fleteren of La Salle University in Philadelphia, writing in Augustine through the Ages, noted that Augustine used the term "devil" no fewer than 2,300 times. Using Scripture passages as his references, Augustine described Satan as the ruler of darkness, the sower of bad seed, the prince of Babylon, and more. As a result of Adam's sin, humans were betrayed into the devil's power.
Augustine also blamed the entrance of death into the world on the devil, who was once a good angel before falling from God by sins of pride, disobedience and envy. Before that first sin, physical death, illness and aging did not exist. Augustine stated the bald reality that the human race, successfully tempted to sin by the devil, must take responsibility for all the ills in the world. The first human being who rejected God's will in favour of his own wilfulness has made us all his co-conspirators, and sold us all into a slavery, from which Christ redeemed us. However, we are left with the consequences: limited knowledge and strength that must seek God's help. Baptism is the first sign of a desire to depend on God. However, as Augustine knew, baptism is only the beginning of our journey to the vision of God. Each human must travel his or her own road to the Beatific Vision. The road is filled with peril but the grace for a safe passage, i.e., the grace to avoid evil or to be forgiven for it, is ours for the asking.
St Augustine and the problem of evil. Extracts from various writings of Augustine. http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_1/enchiridion.html AN2306