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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 2

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 2.—Of Carnal Life, Which is to Be Understood Not Only of Living in Bodily Indulgence, But Also of Living in the Vices of the Inner Man.

First, we must see what it is to live after the flesh, and what to live after the spirit.  For any one who either does not recollect, or does not sufficiently weigh, the language of sacred Scripture, may, on first hearing what we have said, suppose that the Epicurean philosophers live after the flesh, because they place man’s highest good in bodily pleasure; and that those others do so who have been of opinion that in some form or other bodily good is man’s supreme good; and that the mass of men do so who, without dogmatizing or philosophizing on the subject, are so prone to lust that they cannot delight in any pleasure save such as they receive from bodily sensations:  and he may suppose that the Stoics, who place the supreme good of men in the soul, live after the spirit; for what is man’s soul, if not spirit?  But in the sense of the divine Scripture both are proved to live after the flesh.  For by flesh it means not only the body of a terrestrial and mortal animal, as when it says, “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, another of p. 263 birds,” 639 but it uses this word in many other significations; and among these various usages, a frequent one is to use flesh for man himself, the nature of man taking the part for the whole, as in the words, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified;” 640 for what does he mean here by “no flesh” but “no man?”  And this, indeed, he shortly after says more plainly:  “No man shall be justified by the law;” 641 and in the Epistle to the Galatians, “Knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law.”  And so we understand the words, “And the Word was made flesh,” 642 —that is, man, which some not accepting in its right sense, have supposed that Christ had not a human soul. 643   For as the whole is used for the part in the words of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him,” 644 by which she meant only the flesh of Christ, which she supposed had been taken from the tomb where it had been buried, so the part is used for the whole, flesh being named, while man is referred to, as in the quotations above cited.

Since, then, Scripture uses the word flesh in many ways, which there is not time to collect and investigate, if we are to ascertain what it is to live after the flesh (which is certainly evil, though the nature of flesh is not itself evil), we must carefully examine that passage of the epistle which the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, in which he says, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these:  adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:  of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” 645   This whole passage of the apostolic epistle being considered, so far as it bears on the matter in hand, will be sufficient to answer the question, what it is to live after the flesh.  For among the works of the flesh which he said were manifest, and which he cited for condemnation, we find not only those which concern the pleasure of the flesh, as fornications, uncleanness, lasciviousness, drunkenness, revellings, but also those which, though they be remote from fleshly pleasure, reveal the vices of the soul.  For who does not see that idolatries, witchcrafts, hatreds, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, heresies, envyings, are vices rather of the soul than of the flesh?  For it is quite possible for a man to abstain from fleshly pleasures for the sake of idolatry or some heretical error; and yet, even when he does so, he is proved by this apostolic authority to be living after the flesh; and in abstaining from fleshly pleasure, he is proved to be practising damnable works of the flesh.  Who that has enmity has it not in his soul? or who would say to his enemy, or to the man he thinks his enemy, You have a bad flesh towards me, and not rather, You have a bad spirit towards me?  In fine, if any one heard of what I may call “carnalities,” he would not fail to attribute them to the carnal part of man; so no one doubts that “animosities” belong to the soul of man.  Why then does the doctor of the Gentiles in faith and verity call all these and similar things works of the flesh, unless because, by that mode of speech whereby the part is used for the whole, he means us to understand by the word flesh the man himself?


Footnotes

263:639

1 Cor. 15.39.

263:640

Rom. 3.20.

263:641

Gal. 3.11.

263:642

John 1.14.

263:643

The Apollinarians.

263:644

John 20.13.

263:645

Gal. 5.19-21.


Next: Chapter 3

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