This paper analyzes the work of Christopher Southgate with a view toward interpreting his insights into the integrity of creation, redemption and theodicy in terms that are plausible in light of Augustine’s theology. Drawing on various contributions that Southgate has made, this paper seeks to establish parallels, connections and some agreement between his work and the great African bishop without papering over the obvious disagreements over the Fall, Original Sin, the premises of salvation and biblical hermeneutics.
The crux of my analysis is that Southgate's category of groaning in a cosmic theodicy associates the human struggle with evil with the persistence of non-human creatures evolutionary endurance. His depiction of suffering is framed christologically so that God is the great companion of suffering creatures.
Southgate’s work is largely premised on the claim that value and disvalue are necessarily intertwined in an evolutionary creation. This claim parallels Irenaeus' claim that evil’s presence is designed to foster moral character in human creatures, a form of 'soul-making'. But in this emphasis upon experience and divine participation in this struggle within creation's limits, Southgate meanders into Augustinian territory. With Augustine, the only adequate response to evil is the redemptive love of God made through the embodiment of virtue in history and community. In my view, Southgate relies on a semi-Manichaean interpretation of nature. So, implicitly, while he does not endorse the view that nature is straightforwardly wicked or that there is a Fall of some kind to account for evil, there is a fascinating parallel with Augustine's own semi-Manichaean affirmation of nature's disorder that thwarts God's orderly love for creation.
This paper will deal with a number of specific points of convergence and divergence between Southgate’s corpus and the Augustinian tradition. These include:
a) a biblical hermeneutic that extends a certain primacy to the Incarnation of God in Jesus, though the difference between Southgate and the Augustinian tradition on the question of atonement and salvation from sin is still stark. Nevertheless, I will highlight a certain resemblance between Southgate's treatment of Romans and that of Augustine's interpretation.
b) a resemblance between Southgate’s characterization of ecological ethics and the Augustinian stress on virtue and the pervasiveness of sin that is in need of God's healing grace. As Pope Francis has stressed, ecological ethics cannot gain traction without the category of sin. Augustine's hamartiological legacy is impossible to avoid.
c) an Augustinian note of Southgate’s scepticism around non-human “sin and responsibility” and his appraisal of 'anti-theodicy'.
d) some references to Southgate's poetry, in which desire and experience complement Augustinian autobiography, which, among other things, re-frames theological scholarship understood in terms of the triad of scripture, tradition and reason.
I conclude that Southgate's evolutionary theodicy helps update an Augustinian approach to theology. Equally, Augustinian themes can aid Southgate's Christian theological aims. The paper incorporates some comparisons and contrasts with other contemporary scholars, some of whom endorse a roughly Augustinian approach (eg: Plantinga, McMullin, Deane-Drummond, Stump and Coakley).