On Free Choice of the Will

By Augustine; Thomas Williams | Go to book overview
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Book One, Chapter Nine

Near the end of his career, Augustine undertook to review all his works, establish their chronology, and reexamine them in the light of his views at the time. He called this survey Retractationes, from the Latin retractare, to rehandle or take up again. It is a mistake to call them Retractions, since often Augustine is perfectly satisfied with what he finds in his earlier writings. A better English title would be Reconsiderations.

In his Reconsiderations of On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine is chiefly concerned to distance himself from the Pelagians, a heretical group that had claimed to find support for their views in Augustine's writings on free choice.

While we were still waiting in Rome, we decided to discuss1.

the origin of evil. We carried on the discussion in such a way that reason would raise the things that we already believed on divine authority to the level of understanding, to the extent that we could do so with God's help. And since, after careful discussion, we agreed that the sole origin of evil is the free choice of the will, the three books that grew out of that discussion were entitled On Free Choice. I finished Books Two and Three, as well as I could at the time, after I had been ordained a priest at Hippo Regius.

So many things were discussed in these books that quite a few2.
issues arose that I could not elucidate, or that would have required an extended discussion. Whenever a question admitted of more than one solution, and we could not determine which of these was closest to the truth, we postponed the question with the understanding that, whatever might turn out to be the truth, we could believe, or even prove, that God ought to be praised.

We took up this discussion in order to refute those who deny that the origin of evil lies in the free choice of the will and therefore contend that we should blame evil on God, the Creator of all natures. In keeping with this perverse error, these men, the Manichees, wish to assert the existence of an unchangeable principle


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