So many scholars have written about St. Augustine and his views on free will, but there is little consensus to be formed from their literature.

According to John Rist:

There is still no consensus of opinion on Augustine's view of each man's responsibility for his moral behaviour... There are those who attribute to Augustine the full-blown Calvinist position that each man has no say in his ultimate destiny ... Other interpreters reject this view in varying degrees. They will not hold that for Augustine man's will is enslaved, or they would dispute about the sense in which it is enslaved and the sense in which it is free.

This led me to question whether Augustine was intentionally ambiguous in his texts. Augustine has argued that free will definitely exists and that people can choose to be good or bad. But he also argues in favor of predestination, saying that people who are saved by God were already determined to be saved before they were born.

Why do you think Augustine so unclear about free will? Could he have intentionally written in an ambiguous manner for some reason?

  • It may have been his real understanding. We often think in black and white, in reality !everything! is super multidimensional. Free will is there but not everybody has it, and even those lucky who have it do not have it all the time. Free will is the same what others call Enlightenment or Super Human.
    – Asphir Dom
    Apr 22, 2014 at 0:08

1 Answer 1


It should be kept in mind that Augustine was a proponent of Manichaeism, a form of Gnosticism. He converted to Christianity shortly after Emperor Constantine's decree of a death sentence for all followers of this religion. This isn't much of a jump since Manichaeists already considered themselves to be Christians, but many leaders in the Christian church of that time rejected them on the basis of their beliefs in determinism/predestination (which Augustine taught), the corruption of the flesh (which Augustine also taught), and the idea that knowledge is required for salvation (a tenet of most Gnostic sects).

Perhaps his lack of clarity was in an attempt to avoid a death sentence, lest he be exposed as a Manichaen Gnostic. Granted, it wouldn't be entirely fair to say that Augustine did not convert to Christianity, as he rejected one of the central tenets of Gnosticism: salvation through knowledge (gnosis). Augustine came to believe that knowledge alone was powerless to save a man and change his behavior. So Augustine likely was grappling with the implications of Christian faith, but he brought his Manichaen worldview and background with him.

But to answer the question: yes, he may have been ambiguous for one of two reasons:

  1. To avoid a death sentence (knowing his views were heretical).
  2. Because he was struggling to define and articulate his own views (perhaps even Augustine wasn't entirely sure what he believed).

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