Reading Comprehension essay

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Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas

Question #1 from "Augustine Confessions 2nd edition. Translated by F.J Sheed: Please explain Augustine's theory that evil is the privation of good, and argue for its relevance to at least one other main theme in the confessions.

Rather than subscribe to the prevailing theory that evil represented the polar opposite of good -- acting as a necessary counterbalance within the realm of human morality -- Augustine proposes a radically divergent viewpoint in his "Confessions," asserting that "evil has no existence except as a privation of good, down to that level which is altogether without being" (VII, [XII], 18). This conclusion is reached after Augustine poses one of the most challenging theological conundrums ever constructed, postulating that if God is both supremely good and omnipotent, evil should have no reason to exist. The fact that evil is so clearly manifested by human behavior suggests that God is not all-powerful, but instead represents a facet of creation that has strayed from its original intent. By recognizing the paradox inherent in a wholly religious worldview, Augustine neatly solved this dilemma by proposing a truly novel solution in his theory that evil is simply the privation of good.

According to Augustine, a person's choice to commit a crime is not a manifestation of evil, but rather the purposeful distancing of themselves from the glory of God's grace. This sentiment is evidenced in Book II of his Confessions, when he confesses to the youthful indiscretion of theft, saying "I stole that, of which I had enough, and much better. Nor cared I to enjoy what I stole, but joyed in the theft and sin itself. A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste" (II: [IV] 9). For Augustine, his decision to commit the crime of theft was not evidence of his innate propensity for evil, but instead a sign that he had chosen to ignore and reject the inherent goodness of being which has been instilled in all creation by God himself.

Question #2 from "Augustine Confession 2nd. Translated by F.J Sheed: Identify at least three of the major people and/or event that led to Augustine's conversion at any point in his pre-Christian life and discuss how each plays a distinct role in the process of salvation, connecting the narrative to the theological.

The conversion of Augustine has been lauded by scholars and theologians alike for centuries, with the event standing as confirmation that even the most rigorously logical and intelligent minds could become enamored with spirituality and faith. It is said that the catalyst for Augustine's embrace of Christianity came in the summer of the year 386, when he heard the story of Placianus, a Christian man who told him the inspirational story of St. Anthony of the Desert. Upon hearing Placianus' story and reflecting on its true meaning, Augustine claims to have been compelled by an internal, childlike voice which commanded him to "take up and read," a directive he interpreted to mean the pursuit biblical studies.

There were other impetuses for Augustine's eventual conversion to Christianity, however, including the steady mentorship provided by St. Ambrose. Attempting to placate his devout mother, who prays daily for her son to turn towards God's divine light, Augustine states in his Confessions that "but to Thee, Fountain of mercies, poured she forth more copious prayers and tears, that Thou wouldest hasten Thy help, and enlighten my darkness; and she hastened the more eagerly to the Church, and hung upon the lips of Ambrose, praying for the fountain of that water, which springeth up unto life everlasting" (VI: [I] 1). Under the tutelage of St. Ambrose, Augustine began to recognize the moral messages embedded within scripture, but he still found himself unable to fully comprehend their meaning. When Augustine states in his Confessions that "what hope he bore within him, what struggles he had against the temptations which beset his very excellencies, or what comfort in adversities, and what sweet joys Thy Bread had for the hidden mouth of his spirit, when chewing the cud thereof, I neither could conjecture, nor had experienced" (VI: [III] 3), he reveals that despite St. Ambrose's evident contentment, Augustine remains unable to turn himself over fully to a life of faith. Only when Augustine hears the tales of others who have converted to Christianity, and the boundless happiness they now enjoy, does the learned scholar begin to seriously ponder the meaning of scriptural doctrine, and at the age of 30 he fully converts to a life of faith.

Question #3 from "Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Page 260 to 356: According to Why God Become Man, why did God have to became man? Your answer to this question will be evaluated on its specificity and on the degree to which it uses Anselm's specific vocabulary and logic.

In his seminal discourse on the subject of humanity's inherent link to the divine, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), Anselm of Canterbury poses a series of logical dilemmas to his contemporary Boso, and the subsequent dialectic attempts to present reasoned solutions to these problems. Chief among Anselm's concerns is explaining the process through which God absolves man of the sins he is certain to commit. According to Anselm's analysis of the subject, "this is the debt which man and angel owe to God, and no one who pays this debt commits sin; but everyone who does not pay it sins. This is justice, or uprightness of will, which makes a being just or upright in heart, that is, in will; and this is the sole and complete debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God requires of us" (Book First, Chapter XI). This postulation poses an interesting conundrum, in that only a human being can offer recompense for man's sin against God, while this act remains impossible for man to achieve, so such satisfaction can only be made by God himself.

Anselm attempts to resolve this logical paradox by demonstrating to Boso "How no being, except the God-man, can make the atonement by which man is saved. But this cannot be effected, except the price paid to God for the sin of man be something greater than all the universe besides God" (Book Second, Chapter VI), and it is the concept of atonement which forms the foundation of his central premise. In order for God to be truly capable of providing mankind with atonement for their sins, the only way that this satisfaction could ever be made, with humanity set free from the shackles of its sinful nature, was by the arrival of a redeeming force who is at once both God and man. This entity would have to exist in a sinless state, and thus would not be burdened by the same debt of owing recompense for sins. Anselm sums up his wider theory by opining on how "the Divine and human natures cannot alternate, so that the Divine should become human or the human Divine; nor can they be so commingled as that a third should be produced from the two which is neither wholly Divine nor wholly human" (Book Second, Chapter VII), and this passage illustrates perfectly the necessity of God becoming man.

Question #4 from "Aquinas On Nature and Grace" editor A.M. Fairweather. Page 164 to 172 (Q110), page 174 to 180 (Q111), and page 183 to 200 (Q 113): How does Thomas Aquinas describe the justification of the ungodly? What is God's role and what is man's role?

In order to justify the presence of ungodliness in a world ostensibly created and peopled by God himself, Thomas Aquinas sought to analyze the dilemma using his famously systematic rhetorical approach. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas poses a series of…[continue]

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