The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Theodicy:"Augustinians are from Mars, Irenaeans from Venus"

Hi All,
Sorry about the cheesy title but couldn’t resist. :wink: I’ve been reading John Hick’s Evil and the God of Love and thought I’d post some thoughts that tie in with the recent discussion on “the inevitability of sin”. First off, John Hick is famous for the specific “soul-making” theodicy but in this post, I am more interested in the systems or types of theodicy he discusses earlier in the book. Basically, in this portion of the book, he describes the development of the Augustinian type theodicy and describes what it entails as well as what he terms the “Irenaean” type and contrasts them. Let me start with two quotes from that recent conversation.

Quite different views on natural evil and the world in which we live and how to explain it. The stark contrast puzzled me until I had read further in Hick’s book.

As a simplified overview, the Augustinian type theodicy was developed (naturally) by the great theologian, Augustine and essentially restated unchanged by Thomas Aquinas. The reformers essentially revived Augustinianism, particularly the biblical and theological side as opposed to the philosophical. The Augustinian theodicy type has continued to to be the dominant theodicy type in both the Roman Catholic Church as well as the reformed tradition

Hick develops the idea of an “Irenaean” type theodicy first presented by Irenaeus (c. 130-c.202) Bishop of Lyons which continued with and Clement becoming “dormant” after that (though some features continued in the Eastern Church), before this type of theodicy was revived by Friedrich Scliermacher (1768-834) “the father of modern liberal christianity”. Schleiermacher was not apparently influenced by Irenaeus, but revived this “type” of theodicy independently.

So what are these two types of theodicy or at least how are they different?

  1. Augustinian theodicy is motivated to “relieve the Creator of responsibility” for evil by placing it on dependent beings who misused their God-given freedom. Irenaean theodicy accepts God’s “ultimate omni-reponsibility” and seeks to show “for what good and justifying reason He has created a universe in which evil is inevitable”.
  2. The Augustinian tradition embodies certain Neo-Platonic ideas such as “evil as non-being”, “the great chain of being” and “aesthetic vision of the perfection of the universe as a complex harmony”. The Irenaean theodicy is more purely theological and not committed to a specific philosophic framework.
  3. The Augustinian theodicy sees God’s relation to His creation in predominantly non-personal terms: God bestows existence upon a dependent realm, God as part of a hierarchy of forms of existence, the existence of evil harmonized within the whole by the balancing effect of “just punishment”. In the Irenaean tradition, man is created for fellowship with God and is valued as an end in himself. “The world exists to be an environment for man’s life, and its imperfections are integral to its fitness as a place of soul-making”.
  4. The Augustinian theodicy looks to the past and the fall of man and/or angels as the explanation of evil, the “Irenaean type of theodicy is eschatological, and finds the justification for the existence of evil in an infinite (because eternal) good which God is bringing out of the temporal process.”
  5. In Augustinian theodicy, the tradition of the doctrine of the fall is central.In Irenaen theodicy, the fall is not necessarily denied, but plays a much less important role.
  6. The Augustinian tradition points, at the end of history, to “a final division of the saved and the damned”. The Irenaean type (since Schleiermacher) sees the doctrine of hell as rendering a Christian theodicy impossible.

So how does this apply to the recent discussion? My point of view regarding natural evil is certainly Irenaen, looking at an undeveloped or immature world that is not corrupted or infected with evil, but not yet perfected. Pog’s viewpoint is classically Augustinian in many aspects, with the fall of angels and a world that is now “corrupted” central to explaining evil. (Interesting, as his avatar, Pog has an image of Aragorn from Tolkien’s LOTR and the theodicy in LOTR would be classically Augustinian as well :wink: ) Finally, my input in the entire conversation was to try to find a logical reason why “sin was inevitable” (an Irenaen idea) if God was to create us humans. As Caleb Fogg pointed out, the attempt was to point to “an inevitable ‘fallenness’ of humans”, while the notion of the inevitability of sin was to be resisted entirely from Pog’s point of view.

Certainly, the Augustinian type of theodicy has been the dominant form for hundreds of years; why not continue with it? Hick points out a couple of specific reasons. One is that as our knowledge of the history of this earth from a geological and biological standpoint has increased, it becomes untenable to hold the view of an “unfallen” earth (as traditionally understood), followed by the fall and the world we have today. Further he says in regards to the fall of men/angels, “It is impossible to conceive of wholly good beings in a wholly good world becoming sinful. To say that they do is to postulate the self-creation of evil ex nihilo! There must have been some moral flaw in the creature or his situation to set up the tension of temptation; for creaturely freedom in itself and in the absence of any temptation cannot lead to sin.”

The Irenaean type of theodicy, though with ancient roots, is much more a “minority” viewpoint (though universalism itself certainly is as well). Additionally, this view, with its ties to Schleiermacher, might be seen as unacceptably “liberal” by some. After realizing how closely my theodicy aligned with the Irenean type, I had to ask myself “why?” I’m no theologian, I’ve read no Schleiermacher, and though I’ve read some of the early Greek fathers, it wasn’t until this viewpoint was already my own. The answer of course is George MacDonald. :slight_smile: Prior to reading GMD, I held the traditional Augustinian theodicy. C.S Lewis and Tolkien undoubtedly reinforced this as the Narnia books and the “Space Trilogy” take a decidedly Augustinian type theodicy view of things.

As far as George MacDonald goes, I think the Irenaen type theodicy saturates his works. Very little mention of the “fall”, “soul-making” everywhere and a view of nature as “our Grandmother”. MacDonald was heavily influenced by Novalis (the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, German Romantic poet, author and philosopher) who was in turn influenced by (and influenced) Schleiermacher. S.T. Coleridge (poet, literary critic and philosopher) and the other English Romantic poets were influences on MacDonald and were themselves influenced by Schleiermacher. From what I’ve read it’s unclear if MacDonald read the Greek Fathers, though his good friend F.D. Maurice who influenced his theology, certainly did.

So those are some observations and thoughts and I would wonder if anyone else coming to universalism (where the Irenaen theodicy is more prominent than elsewhere) has noticed a change in their theodicy “type”? Other thoughts regarding Hick’s ideas from the learned ones amongst us?

All the best,

Just to note that although by the definitions you’ve given I’m more Augustinian than Irenaen, I actually consider myself somewhat of a fusion and take account of soul-making ideas in my theodicy.

Based on your numbered points: 1) I’m A; 2) I’m mixed; 3) I’m more I; 4) I’m A; 5) I’m neither; 6) I’m I. :slight_smile:

Hi Pog,
I know you’re a fusion, Pog. :slight_smile: It’s just that there was such a stark contrast in those quotes I listed, that it led me to post this. I suspect there are many (most?) forum members who are a fusion of A and I theodicy types. I also think that the various points can be more strongly* weighted* in various individuals, so even if they (by count) lean one way, the individual may be more, in fact, the other. I’m also interested in what the implications might be for these two theodicies as far as how we see our role in the world, react to evil we encounter and pitfalls that each might have. In the post of yours I quoted, you stated quite eloquently how your theodicy (The “Cosmic Warfare” portion–very Augustinian) causes you to react to at least certain evils. So, thanks for the quote and sorry to misrepresent you to some degree. :blush:


No worries :slight_smile:

The question about implications is interesting. If one is hyper-soul making, would that lead one to not give people pain relief (as Mother Teresa was accused of doing) to benefit their souls? And if one was hyper-Cosmic Warfare, would that lead to belief in a demon infested world and the attempt to solve all problems with prayer alone?

From my own point of view, I guess that Cosmic Warfare has affected me in the following ways: 1) I feel an increased responsibility to combat evil and suffering, 2) I feel that prayer is more urgent and efficacious, 3) I have a much more magical or super naturalistic worldview, 4) I see God as weaker and less capable, 5) I feel more guilty over sin and lack of virtue, 6) I find impossible to give any specific reason for any particular instance of evil or suffering as there’s too many variables and possibilities, 7) I consider that things like faith and holiness to be somehow connected to spiritual power.

Not all of the above are positive, I tried to give both the good and the bad as honestly as I could.

Not sure I’ll have time to join in, but I’m registering for comment tracking. :slight_smile:

The following remarks aren’t meant to be critical so much as categorical. (I know very little about Augustinian theology, much less Irenaes, so I have nothing at all to say about how well the categorizations fit the actual Fathers; but I note in passing that the Calvinists must not be very Augustinian, or are schizophrenically so, since on one hand they typically emphasize God’s authoritative responsibility for evil while on the other hand often trying to deny it and blaming creatures for evil instead. Be that as it may.)

Hm. Well I don’t regard God as having created a universe in which evil is inevitable, although I do note that the characteristics of a universe in which distinct created persons can interact with one another (and even with God) requires a neutral field of reactive behaviors and thus various inconveniences which ‘naturally’ will occur to a person living within a natural system. This contributes tensions which could but not necessarily would lead to a fall. (Nor do I exempt rebel angels from that: whatever their contact is with this Nature, they must exist in their own natural system of some kind, whether that’s our Nature or some other, and the same principles would apply though the details might differ.)

Similarly I emphasize God’s personal and authoritative responsibility for the situation while also emphasizing human (or other rational creature) personal responsibilities for acting with or against what light is available to them. I’m very much against trying to appeal to one in order to reduce or eliminate the responsibility of the other. Because God is ethical and perfectly moral, He insists on taking responsibility for the evil done by the creatures He actively supports (and for the suffering that the reactive field of Nature impersonally imposes on occasion, also actively supported by God), in the best way proper to the situation. He would be sinning if He did try to avoid responsibility, or took responsibility in an improper way (toward the fulfillment of non-fair-togetherness between persons). Creatures who sin either act actively irresponsibly (trying to dodge responsibility for their actions) or insist on responsibility in a tyrannical fashion as a way of magnifying their power and importance over-against other people (or at least in competition with them toward that as a goal).

So am I Aug or Ir? :wink:

I’m pretty sure I’m committed to a philosophic framework but I doubt it’s Platonic or Aristotelian or anything else like that. (Categorizing me along that line would be a whole other project. :wink: ) I’m certainly committed to the aesthetic vision of the perfection of the universe as a complex harmony, but not to the notion of evil as non-being: only existent creatures can do evil, but on the other hand I do acknowledge that evil would nominally result in non-being if not for the gracious action of God (since evil involves acting against our ground of existence). I certainly reject the idea of evil having independent existence, which of course was a major concern of Augustine vs. the dualism of his former Manicheaism. Evil is only a perversion of the good in some degree, and that’s the moral horror of evil: that it does exist in rebellion trying to ruin existence, abusing existence.

I can’t tell from the description whether this puts me closer to Ir than Aug. More detail would be needed about what the more purely theological theodicy of Ir involves. (I might have a substantially different theology on some points after all.)

I’m certainly a big proponent of the value of Nature in its necessary inconveniences as a integral tool for making created souls; and as a trinitarian theist I definitely see God’s relation to creation in predominately personal terms. On the other hand, an integral part of my theology involves the 2nd Person of the Trinity self-sacrificing for creation in a fashion somewhat different (but still ethically related) to the Son’s self-sacrifice in the unity of deity, which is how God generates and actively keeps in existence a non-rational level of reality. The Son actively dies (while still remaining alive) for Nature to exist and so for creatures to exist within Nature, and that does involve some dependent impersonality. So there are also non-personal relations to God, but the personal relations are more important. On this I’m definitely more Ir than Aug, but I still have some touches of Aug where I think they’re theologically necessary to connect God with that which is not-God (precisely in order to avoid a God/Nature dualism no more than a God/Anti-God dualism). Obviously I don’t agree that a hopeless punishment of any kind (even annihilation) harmonizes the existence of evil within the whole, by providing any kind of balance or otherwise: a just punishment aims at justice being fulfilled which cannot happen if the unjust person ceases to exist or continues forever unjust.

I guess I go both ways because both ways explain evil and are important for explaining evil.

I don’t think Augustinians would disagree that evil is justified in an infinite good which God is bringing out of the temporal process, though; they would disagree about what the good is that God is thus bringing about by creating and upholding a situation where creatures can and do sin. I find that a key point of debate with Calvs (and Arms): they appeal to the glory of God as the final good being aimed at by God, but present the final and ultimately permanent dishonor of God as somehow glorifying God by God’s own design and intention. That’s hugely inconsistent to their own principles. (Which they’re usually well aware of, and so appeal to inscrutable mystery and then try to denigrate ‘human reasoning’ etc. etc. etc. :unamused: )

Um, I dunno. I do think the doctrine of the fall is important (though I’m broadly agnostic about how exactly it played/plays out), but I don’t think it’s as important as God’s various intentions (or the various modes of God’s intention, perhaps I should say) in connection to the fall. But the Augustinians I know of would agree with that! So are there no real Augustinians??

I note that Ireneus was thus not an Irenaen type, but whatever. :wink: I agree that a doctrine of final injustice, and thus a hell (ECT or anni either one) of final justice, renders a Christian theodicy impossible. Dr. Ramelli seems to be arguing in her new book that Ir himself accepted that in regard to humans but not in regard to rebel angels (thus was a universalist in regard to humanity).

Hi Pog,
Thanks for the thoughtful and honest response. :slight_smile: For myself, viewing the natural world as “undeveloped”, (I was going to say "or perhaps ‘wild’ ", but that has different implications)1. I don’t feel real anger when hearing about or witnessing “natural evil”, just sadness and sympathy. In my line of work (physician) I am confronted with natural evil everyday and, perhaps this response is a protective mechanism to some degree as well. I don’t look to blame anyone for the fact of this type of evil. In fact, the idea of “a battle” against something like cancer in a moral sense is problematic to me. Too often I see “cancer survivors” praised with the implication that those who “lose” the battle are lesser and also the thought that it should always “be fought”–that patients should be subjected to futile, expensive and toxic treatment when there will be little to no benefit as opposed to accepting the situation and opting for hospice or palliative care. Certainly there can be moral growth from “battling” cancer, but also in accepting the inevitable where appropriate. 2. In regards to “nature” in the sense of wilderness, mountains and plains , oceans and the wild animal kingdom etc. I have a sense of awe and joy and perhaps discount aspects of animal suffering I shouldn’t. 3. I do think the Irenaean view of the natural world has given me a greater appreciation of the English Romantic poets such as Wordsworth. 4. I do continue to feel extreme anger with horrendous “moral evil”, but perhaps look for more mitigating factors in the individuals who commit it such as genetics, up-bringing, culture etc. as opposed to thinking of them as inherently “evil” 5. I also look to the epokatastasis (as I think just about everyone on this forum does) for “all to be well”.

Implications for the Augustinian type of theodicy are easy to see in the real world as it has been the majority viewpoint for centuries. In the region I live in, wolves were re-introduced after being exterminated in the early 1900’s. I think both their original extermination as well as some of the continued hatred of these magnificent animals can be tied (to a degree) to the Augustinian type theodicy as they are specifically referred to as “evil” by many. (Interestingly, GMcD has used wolves allegorically as a “type” of evil in a few of his stories.)

More important, however, would be those who conflate the “cosmic warfare” you ascribe to (with Christians weapons being prayer) with *actual * warfare. “Warfare” as a concept and “fighting evil” are very seductive (at least to many men, and I count myself one of these). The imagery in LOTR is gripping and corresponds very well to WWII where “good” and “evil” are likewise very distinct. Likewise, the same type of good vs evil dynamic is present in the JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But this type of thinking can easily lead to wars like the Crusades or GW Bush talking about “an Axis of Evil” and leading us into questionable wars or viewing groups of people as somehow allied with Satan (liberals, homosexuals, muslims etc.) and therefore especially “evil”.


Addendum: Just saw your post, Jason, so will have a look and reply a bit later.

I’m not sure where the practical differences lie, given what you posted alec. I agree with everything except the discounting of animal suffering. And, as a side note, I’d say that one doesn’t have to look to Tolkein to see spiritual warfare played out with a real warfare metaphor, some early church expositions of Joshua etc do this.

Jason, interesting post, and I pretty much agree with you.

The term “Augustinian theodicy” is a meaningless oxymoron. Under Augustinian theology, all human actions are preordained by God, right? Hence God is the author of evil. That’s all she wrote.

Hi Jason,

Very true! :wink: Besides that, Schleiermacher revived this “dormant” strain of thought and did not even refer to Irenaeus. It makes me wonder if Hick’s associating it with Irenaeus and the Greek fathers was simply to give it added gravitas. “Scleiermachian” just doesn’t have the same ring. Though, to be fair, combining the “soul-making” ideas of Irenaeus with the universalism of Clement makes his terminology reasonable.

I listed the differences between the two types of theodicies that Hick sees, but I honestly think he is really only concerned with three specific points: 1. Whether there was a literal “fall” of men and/ or angels
2. The doctrine of “the saved and the damned” versus universalism.
3. Whether the world was made out of “God’s overflowing plenitude” with man as simply part of a hierarchy or whether the “world exists to be an environment for man’s life, and its imperfections are integral to its fitness as a place of soul-making”

The synopsis I gave necessarily oversimplifies his argument and he goes into quite a bit of detail, especially in tracing the Augustinian type theodicy through major theologians up to the time the book was written (1966)

Hick treats Calvin at length and I find his wording amusing, here is are some longer quotes:

Referring to Calvin’s views on the fall of man:

Referring to divine reponsibillity for the fall of Adam:

So Hick agrees (agreed?) with you about Calvinists!

Thanks for the input. :slight_smile:


Hi Pog,

I think you’re right. :slight_smile: Not much in the way of practical differences especially as universal reconciliation is I believe, a dominant part of our theodicies. I suspect our theodicy “type” is indeed very similar as is its practical implications, especially compared to someone like Johnny’s favorite, Mark Driscoll. :wink:


Hi Johnny,




I had just noted Hicks option to Johnny Parker´s current query, and then found your exposition with much appreciation of your summary. I´m a novice here, but the Irenean emphasis sounds to me reminiscent of Thomas Talbott´s sense that God ultimately takes responsibility for creation´s inevitable shortcomings, especially in his articles on the nature of the creation, fall and freedom.

Hi Bob,
I would agree that Tom Talbott’s emphasis is a perfect example of the Irenaean type theodicy. :slight_smile: I wonder if this emphasis (like mine) also came through the influence of George MacDonald. I’m just about done with John Hick’s book and as you can tell, am really enjoying it (Thanks Chrisguy!). May have some spin off posts in the future. :wink: I think it’s well worth reading and, as a non-theologian, I’m learning a lot about the development of theology through history in a very accessible, and eloquent manner.

All the best,