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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 3

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 3.—That the Sin is Caused Not by the Flesh, But by the Soul, and that the Corruption Contracted from Sin is Not Sin But Sin’s Punishment.

But if any one says that the flesh is the cause of all vices and ill conduct, inasmuch as the soul lives wickedly only because it is moved by the flesh, it is certain he has not carefully considered the whole nature of man.  For “the corruptible body, indeed, weigheth down the soul.” 646   Whence, too, the apostle, speaking of this corruptible body, of which he had shortly before said, “though our outward man perish,” 647 says, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:  if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.  For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened:  not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in life.” 648   We are then burdened with this corruptible body; but knowing that the cause of this burdensomeness is not the nature and substance of the body, but its corruption, we do not desire to be deprived of the body, but to be clothed with its immortality.  For then, also, there will be a body, but it shall no longer be a burden, being no longer corruptible.  At present, then, “the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon p. 264 many things,” nevertheless they are in error who suppose that all the evils of the soul proceed from the body.

Virgil, indeed, seems to express the sentiments of Plato in the beautiful lines, where he says,—

“A fiery strength inspires their lives,

An essence that from heaven derives,

Though clogged in part by limbs of clay

And the dull ’vesture of decay;’” 649

but though he goes on to mention the four most common mental emotions,—desire, fear, joy, sorrow,—with the intention of showing that the body is the origin of all sins and vices, saying,—

“Hence wild desires and grovelling fears,

And human laughter, human tears,

Immured in dungeon-seeming nights

They look abroad, yet see no light,” 650

yet we believe quite otherwise.  For the corruption of the body, which weighs down the soul, is not the cause but the punishment of the first sin; and it was not the corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful, but the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible.  And though from this corruption of the flesh there arise certain incitements to vice, and indeed vicious desires, yet we must not attribute to the flesh all the vices of a wicked life, in case we thereby clear the devil of all these, for he has no flesh.  For though we cannot call the devil a fornicator or drunkard, or ascribe to him any sensual indulgence (though he is the secret instigator and prompter of those who sin in these ways), yet he is exceedingly proud and envious.  And this viciousness has so possessed him, that on account of it he is reserved in chains of darkness to everlasting punishment. 651   Now these vices, which have dominion over the devil, the apostle attributes to the flesh, which certainly the devil has not.  For he says “hatred, variance, emulations, strife, envying” are the works of the flesh; and of all these evils pride is the origin and head, and it rules in the devil though he has no flesh.  For who shows more hatred to the saints? who is more at variance with them? who more envious, bitter, and jealous?  And since he exhibits all these works, though he has no flesh, how are they works of the flesh, unless because they are the works of man, who is, as I said, spoken of under the name of flesh?  For it is not by having flesh, which the devil has not, but by living according to himself,—that is, according to man,—that man became like the devil.  For the devil too, wished to live according to himself when he did not abide in the truth; so that when he lied, this was not of God, but of himself, who is not only a liar, but the father of lies, he being the first who lied, and the originator of lying as of sin.


Footnotes

263:646

Wisd. 9.15.

263:647

2 Cor. 4.16.

263:648

2 Cor. 5.1-4.

264:649

Æneid, vi. 730–32.

264:650

Ib. 733, 734.

264:651

On the punishment of the devil, see the De Agone Christi, 3–5, and De Nat. Boni, 33.


Next: Chapter 4

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