Based on article originally published in Portuguese by Paulo Henrique de Figueiredo at: http://revolucaoespirita.com.br/livre-arbitrio-espiritos-superiores. Translated to English and adapted by Rodolfo de Oliveira.
St. Augustine officially converted to Christianity on the year 386, when he became a priest in Milan, Italy. After living quietly in a farm, with relatives and some disciples, he suffered with the death of his mother caused by a fulminating disease. While awaiting the arrival of the ship that would take him back to his native land, which currently corresponds to the geographic location of Algeria, North Africa, he wrote the book “De libero arbitrio” (The free will). The concept of “free will”, which in the future would become a fundamental term of the Spiritist doctrine, was then born.
Augustine had in mind his own experience of life, a contrast between a youth filled with earthly excesses, particularly with women and night life; and now his dedication to the life of a monk. He pondered about the fundamental cause of evil. This was for him a key point of meditation.
At first, the manicheist hypothesis seduced him. An ancient idea, born from Zoroaster’s thoughts in the Arab world. There would be two great forces, one for good and the other for evil, competing in the universe for supremacy and influence. But this current of thought was considered a heresy, false teaching, being opposed fiercely by Augustine himself.
In this period of history the doctrine of the church was in formation, and there was no place for diverse debates and opinion. The aim was to establish undeniable dogmas. The problem of evil, hence, posed some fundamental points than ought to be observed. Firstly, God cannot be the creator of evil as this would contradict his infinite goodness. Secondly, evil couldn’t be an opposing force either, a power capable of putting at risk the divine supremacy in the universe. The whole of the understanding of reality cannot contain contradictions that would erode it, destroying its logic.
In his work, Augustine established that evil must proceed from the choice of man; a wrongful choice, different from the determination of the divine good – therefore evil. The cause of sin, then, lies in the free will of people, which is the potential to choose. Liberty, in turn, is the right choice. That is the difference between free will and liberty in his book.
The goods to which people are exposed in the world can be divided between superior goods, which are the virtues, and inferior goods, which are the pleasures of the body. Something’s are intermediary, middle goods, so to speak. Free will, for instance, was in this middle category. Augustine built a logic to classify the experiences of human beings, considering it as a union of two substances: the soul and the body.
When we are under divine grace, Augustine proposes, our choice is oriented to the higher goods, hence the good and the happiness, and later the divine rewards. This is the condition of liberty. On the other hand, when we act without grace, we choose inferior goods, exercising free will, and thus creating sin, the cause of misfortunes, sufferings and eternal punishment.
A millennium and a half later, the teachings of superior spirits, in the dialogues with Allan Kardec and other spiritist researchers, led them to a new explanation, adequate to modern times. The key point to comprehend the new understanding is that Augustine analyzed the issue considering that human life is one, and in it will be resolved its destiny. He also believed, as most of the ancient world, that the soul had been created perfect by God, with all virtues, and degenerated by sin. For the church, every human being is born with original sin, degenerating its essence.
Spiritism, however, was founded when mankind lived the awakening of a new era, determined by freedom of thought and freedom from systems and dogmas. It was not believed that the world would be destroyed by God to give way to paradise. Instead, it was believed that united and determined, it would be possible to regenerate humanity, creating a new world, in the path of happiness. The means would be education and acts of duty, which was the determined use of reason and free will. People choose only what they understand, so free will is subordinated to the use of reason. This is the fundamental importance of education in transforming humanity according to rational spiritualists, free-thinkers of the XIX century.
Society, studying morality independent of religious dogmas, was identifying a new place for free will, now associated with rational thought. But other doubts took place in the debate. Physical pleasures being also “good”, why would their pursuit be an evil? Nature could not oppose divine laws, after all God created both the material and the moral worlds. God would not establish a contradiction, a trap, a trick to submit humankind to error by deception. Pleasure is a natural impulse, everyone feels it, even animals.
The answer of the rational spiritualists, who dominated the moral sciences in Kardec’s time, was brilliant, as Paul Janet explains it in his Elementary Treatise of Philosophy (1879): “Pleasures are good, but they are not the principle of good.” It’s an idea to think about carefully! The materialists who regards pleasure as the fundamental impulse of good are confusing things. Pleasure is a natural good, for it leads human beings to their self-preservation, as well as the species. However, it is not the principle of moral good. The individual acts for the moral good when he freely and rationally chooses what is best for all, based on the moral laws present in its consciousness. Interesting, solves a lot, but does not explain everything properly.
An even better solution lies in spiritism. According to Kardec, spiritism is a complement to rational spiritualism, which was a dominant philosophical movement in the university of its time. The spirits teach, solving the question, that the soul is a progressive, evolving being, elaborating its potentials in three phases of its existence: soul (or spirit), intellect-moral and finally co-creator. Let’s explain this better.
The animistic phase goes from the atom to the higher animal. In this period, the spiritual principle is developed naturally by the impulse of the pleasures and pains, then governed by the instincts and passions, elaborating itself through the evolution of species. It passes through trillions of lives, experiencing the mineral, vegetable and animal states, without ever being conscious of this trajectory.
Then comes the human life, when the intellectual-moral evolution occurs. The soul, at this stage, begins simple and unlearned, that is, without morality and intelligence. In the first few lives, not much change is affected, Kardec explains, continuing the spirit under the infallible command of the instincts. After hundreds or thousands of lives, reason starts to bring forth the understanding. Only then does free will develop the capacity for rational choice, that is, with an understanding of the options. Only then the spirit becomes responsible for both the mistakes made and the progress made. It is important to stress: According to Spiritism, free will is a capacity that the spirit achieves progressively, sustained by reason.
Finally, when the spirit awakens its virtues and overcomes all imperfections contracted over time, it begins to assume missions in the universe. It assists other spirits overcome their difficulties; become the protector spirit of someone; help a family, a group, a nation, a planet. It can then participate in the creation and evolution of the species of a planet, then acquire responsibilities to an entire solar systems, then galaxies and so forth. The co-creative spirits assist God in the establishment of universal harmony, voluntarily and cooperatively.
The reality of free will, thus understood, shows all its logic and purpose in divine creation. All developed spirits have come to this condition by their dedicated effort in thousands of lives, conquering each of their virtues, and overcoming any imperfection they may have experienced in their past. Like them, we are forgers of our own destinies and ability to act in the good.
We have already overcome the almost endless animistic evolution in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. We have overcome the thousands of first lives aimed solely to awaken intelligence and free will. We now must make use of these instruments of the soul to overcome attachments and imperfections, facing the challenges of life, and awakening the qualities that will be the tools to act in the universe in favor of universal harmony, our reason for being and source of true happiness.