Sorry about the cheesy title but couldn’t resist. 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?
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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 ) 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. 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,