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Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 1:1-30) ‘Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. […] As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.’Nicolaus de Lyra super Bibliam, Italy ca. 1402.
Manchester, John Rylands University Library, Latin MS 30, fol. 123v

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Ezekiel’s Vision 

(Ezekiel 1:1-30) ‘Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. […] As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.’

Nicolaus de Lyra super Bibliam, Italy ca. 1402.

Manchester, John Rylands University Library, Latin MS 30, fol. 123v

Augustine’s revolutionary insight insists on the insubstantiality of evil. Evil has no life of its own, since it is the wilful distortion of the good, the prideful misshaping of the divinely-ordered creation. As Delbanco notes, the image of the knot enables Augustine “to speak of the complexity and intransigence of evil without granting it any essence of its own. A distortion of something whose essence precedes its disfigurement, evil is in the twistedness, not in the rope.” Thus does Augustine deliberately guard against the Manichean error of making evil the co-equal counterpart of good - indeed, a virtual provocateur of the good, arousing it to necessary warfare against evil.

The paradoxical Christian counter-claim is that, while evil has horrific power and devastating effect, it is ultimately to be regarded as emptiness and nothingness. It is something alien rather than essential to God’s good creation. It has no power to create, only to damage and destroy. Indeed, it exists only parasitically, leeching off the good, as the very name of C.S. Lewis’s demonic Screwtape makes evident: he is akin to a pernicious tapeworm feeding off his host.

O Lord, who through spiritual discipline strengthened your servant Monica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Painting by Rain Ririn

O Lord, who through spiritual discipline strengthened your servant Monica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Painting by Rain Ririn