Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Abbott and Costello Meet the Middle Ages

A Sidenote

An alert reader notes this:

I found this quote
“[God] is the author of all things, evil excepted. But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures.”
very interesting: did they not read Isaiah 45:7, when he said "I form the light and create the darkness; I make peace and create evil; I am the LORD who does this"?

The medieval church did not insist on what was termed historico-literal readings of every passage.  Many were recognized as poetical, and they looked for the truth in whole sense rather than the word-for-word.  This was especially so when certain reason showed that the literal sense was impossible.  For example: what does "evening and morning the nth day" mean on a sphere like the earth? 

In this case, the problem is "evil."  In the Isaiah passage we have some poetic parallel: light/darkness and peace/evil.  But the parallelism leads me to suspect the word translated as "evil" may likely mean something like "strife" or "war" rather than what we moderns mean by "evil."  That is, Freddy Krueger with a hockey mask. 

Evil does not exist per se.  Evil is defectus boni, a defect or lacking in a good.  As such, it is parasitical on the good.  For example, "life" is a good.  "Death" is an evil.  But death cannot be conceived without life.  We can easily conceive of life without death, but not of death without life, since death is defined in terms of life.  Similarly, there can be health without sickness, but not sickness without  health becasue "sickness" just is an impairment in heath.  There can be truth without falsity, but you cannot be false without some truth to be false to.  Likewise, theft depends on property, error on correctness, and so on and so forth for any evils we care to name

Since evils are not things-in-themselves, they are not created.  Hence, William of Conches little aside.   

In this sense "evil" really is analogous to "darkness" in the Isaiah passage.  Darkness is not a thing-in-itself, either, but is simply the absence of light.


  1. Way late in the game, but here goes...

    Might you note the verse as analogous to, "The good Lord giveth, and the good Lrod taketh away"?

  2. "Ver. 7. Create evil, &c. The evils of afflictions and punishments, but not the evil of sin. (Challoner) --- I afflict and comfort my people."

    Haydock on Isaias 45

  3. Yo. Catholic-sympathizing protestant here to deliver your scripture fact of the day.

    "Evil" here translates Strong's 7451, transliterated ra', which literally means "adversity" or "affliction." Given the contextual contrast to shalom, which means "wholeness" as well as "peace," your initial suspicion hit the nail right on the head.

    Love your blog - esp. Your series on Galileo. Peace out!

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