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Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Saint Augustine focuses on three major themes in his autobiography: the nature of evil, time, and wisdom. According to Saint Augustine, God cannot be the cause of evil. For God, he says, “evil does not exist.” Evil is a lack, an absence of good. Anything that has substance is good, therefore evil can have no substance. Furthermore, anyone who finds fault with any portion of God’s creation is bereft of reason. They fail to comprehend that wickedness is not a substance but a perversion.

Saint Augustine addresses the nature of time because in the Bible the concept of creation out of nothing is revealed. This, some had said, raised the issue of an absolute beginning, something that human experience simply could not conceive. (What happened before the creation always comes to mind.) Augustine responded by explaining that time does not have the same kind of being as events that occur in time. It is appropriate to ask particular questions about a sequence of events but not what happened before all events. Time, he observed, has no substantiality outside of its relation to temporal events. Time is nothing except in relation to temporal events.

Much of Saint Augustine’s life was involved in what he saw as a search for “the wisdom of eternal truth.” He spends years pursuing this wisdom while encountering doubt and temptation. He also is disappointed by the Manichaeans, whom he regards as lacking in wisdom. Gradually he comes to the understanding that faith is wisdom, and all values stem from God.