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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 19

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 19.—Against the Opinion of Those Who Do Not Believe that the Primitive Men Would Have Been Immortal If They Had Not Sinned.

At present let us go on, as we have begun, to give some explanation regarding the bodies of our first parents.  I say then, that, except as the just consequence of sin, they would not have been subjected even to this death, which is good to the good,—this death, which is not exclusively known and believed in by a few, but is known to all, by which soul and body are separated, and by which the body of an animal which was but now visibly living is now visibly dead.  For though there can be no manner of doubt that the souls of the just and holy dead live in peaceful rest, yet so much better would it be for them to be alive in healthy, well-conditioned bodies, that even those who hold the tenet that it is most blessed p. 255 to be quit of every kind of body, condemn this opinion in spite of themselves.  For no one will dare to set wise men, whether yet to die or already dead,—in other words, whether already quit of the body, or shortly to be so,—above the immortal gods, to whom the Supreme, in Plato, promises as a munificent gift life indissoluble, or in eternal union with their bodies.  But this same Plato thinks that nothing better can happen to men than that they pass through life piously and justly, and, being separated from their bodies, be received into the bosom of the gods, who never abandon theirs; “that, oblivious of the past, they may revisit the upper air, and conceive the longing to return again to the body.” 602   Virgil is applauded for borrowing this from the Platonic system.  Assuredly Plato thinks that the souls of mortals cannot always be in their bodies, but must necessarily be dismissed by death; and, on the other hand, he thinks that without bodies they cannot endure for ever, but with ceaseless alternation pass from life to death, and from death to life.  This difference, however, he sets between wise men and the rest, that they are carried after death to the stars, that each man may repose for a while in a star suitable for him, and may thence return to the labors and miseries of mortals when he has become oblivious of his former misery, and possessed with the desire of being embodied.  Those, again, who have lived foolishly transmigrate into bodies fit for them, whether human or bestial.  Thus he has appointed even the good and wise souls to a very hard lot indeed, since they do not receive such bodies as they might always and even immortally inhabit, but such only as they can neither permanently retain nor enjoy eternal purity without.  Of this notion of Plato’s, we have in a former book already said 603 that Porphyry was ashamed in the light of these Christian times, so that he not only emancipated human souls from a destiny in the bodies of beasts but also contended for the liberation of the souls of the wise from all bodily ties, so that, escaping from all flesh, they might, as bare and blessed souls, dwell with the Father time without end.  And that he might not seem to be outbid by Christ’s promise of life everlasting to His saints, he also established purified souls in endless felicity, without return to their former woes; but, that he might contradict Christ, he denies the resurrection of incorruptible bodies, and maintains that these souls will live eternally, not only without earthly bodies, but without any bodies at all.  And yet, whatever he meant by this teaching, he at least did not teach that these souls should offer no religious observance to the gods who dwelt in bodies.  And why did he not, unless because he did not believe that the souls, even though separate from the body, were superior to those gods?  Wherefore, if these philosophers will not dare (as I think they will not) to set human souls above the gods who are most blessed, and yet are tied eternally to their bodies, why do they find that absurd which the Christian faith preaches, 604 namely, that our first parents were so created that, if they had not sinned, they would not have been dismissed from their bodies by any death, but would have been endowed with immortality as the reward of their obedience, and would have lived eternally with their bodies; and further, that the saints will in the resurrection inhabit those very bodies in which they have here toiled, but in such sort that neither shall any corruption or unwieldiness be suffered to attach to their flesh, nor any grief or trouble to cloud their felicity?


Footnotes

255:602

Virgil, Æn, vi. 750, 751.

255:603

Book x. 30.

255:604

A catena of passages, showing that this is the catholic Christian faith, will be found in Bull’s State of Man before the Fall (Works, vol. ii.).


Next: Chapter 20

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