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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 15

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 15.—That the Demons are Not Better Than Men Because of Their Aerial Bodies, or on Account of Their Superior Place of Abode.

Wherefore let not the mind truly religious, and submitted to the true God, suppose that demons are better than men, because they have better bodies.  Otherwise it must put many beasts before itself which are superior to us both in acuteness of the senses, in ease and quickness of movement, in strength and in long-continued vigor of body.  What man can equal the eagle or the vulture in strength of vision?  Who can equal the dog in acuteness of smell?  Who can equal the hare, the stag, and all the birds in swiftness?  Who can equal in strength the lion or the elephant?  Who can equal in length of life the serpents, which are affirmed to put off old age along with their skin, and to return to youth again?  But as we are better than all these by the possession of reason and understanding, so we ought also to be better than the demons by living good and virtuous lives.  For divine providence gave to them bodies of a better quality than ours, that that in which we excel them might in this way be commended to us as deserving to be far more cared for than the body, and that we should learn to despise the bodily excellence of the demons compared with goodness of life, in respect of which we are better than they, knowing that we too shall have immortality of body,—not an immortality tortured by eternal punishment, but that which is consequent on purity of soul.

But now, as regards loftiness of place, it is altogether ridiculous to be so influenced by the fact that the demons inhabit the air, and we the earth, as to think that on that account they are to be put before us; for in this way we put all the birds before ourselves.  But the birds, when they are weary with flying, or require to repair their bodies with food, come back to the earth to rest or to feed, which the demons, they say, do not.  Are they, therefore, inclined to say that the birds are superior to us, and the demons superior to the birds?  But if it be madness to think so, there is no reason why we should think that, on account of their inhabiting a loftier element, the demons have a claim to our religious submission.  But as it is really the case that the birds of the air are not only not put before us who dwell on the earth; but are even subjected to us on account of the dignity of the rational soul which is in us, so also it is the case that the demons, though they are aerial, are not better than we who are terrestrial because the air is higher than the p. 155 earth, but, on the contrary, men are to be put before demons because their despair is not to be compared to the hope of pious men.  Even that law of Plato’s, according to which he mutually orders and arranges the four elements, inserting between the two extreme elements—namely, fire, which is in the highest degree mobile, and the immoveable earth—the two middle ones, air and water, that by how much the air is higher up than the water, and the fire than the air, by so much also are the waters higher than the earth,—this law, I say, sufficiently admonishes us not to estimate the merits of animated creatures according to the grades of the elements.  And Apuleius himself says that man is a terrestrial animal in common with the rest, who is nevertheless to be put far before aquatic animals, though Plato puts the waters themselves before the land.  By this he would have us understand that the same order is not to be observed when the question concerns the merits of animals, though it seems to be the true one in the gradation of bodies; for it appears to be possible that a soul of a higher order may inhabit a body of a lower, and a soul of a lower order a body of a higher.

Next: Chapter 16

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