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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 5

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 5.—That the Opinion of the Platonists Regarding the Nature of Body and Soul is Not So Censurable as that of the Manichæans, But that Even It is Objectionable, Because It Ascribes the Origin of Vices to the Nature of The Flesh.

 There is no need, therefore, that in our sins and vices we accuse the nature of the flesh to the injury of the Creator, for in its own kind and degree the flesh is good; but to desert the Creator good, and live according to the created good, is not good, whether a man choose to live according to the flesh, or according to the soul, or according to the whole human nature, which is composed of flesh and soul, and which is therefore spoken of either by the name flesh alone, or by the name soul alone.  For he who extols the nature of the soul as the chief good, and condemns the nature of the flesh as if it were evil, assuredly is fleshly both in his love of the soul and hatred of the flesh; for these his feelings arise from human fancy, not from divine truth.  The Platonists, indeed, are not so foolish as, with the Manichæans, to detest our present bodies as an evil nature; 659 for they attribute all the elements of which this visible and tangible world is compacted, with all their qualities, to God their Creator.  Nevertheless, from the death-infected members and earthly construction of the body they believe the soul is so affected, that there are thus originated in it the diseases of desires, and fears, and joy, and sorrow, under which four perturbations, as Cicero 660 calls them, or passions, as most prefer to name them with the Greeks, is included the whole viciousness of human life.  But if this be so, how is it that Æneas in Virgil, when he had heard from his father in Hades that the souls should return to bodies, expresses surprise at this declaration, and exclaims:

“O father! and can thought conceive

That happy souls this realm would leave,

And seek the upper sky,

With sluggish clay to reunite?

This direful longing for the light,

Whence comes it, say, and why?” 661

This direful longing, then, does it still exist even in that boasted purity of the disembodied spirits, and does it still proceed from the death-infected members and earthly limbs?  Does he not assert that, when they begin to long to return to the body, they have already been delivered from all these so-called pestilences of the body?  From which we gather that, were this endlessly alternating purification and defilement of departing and returning souls as true as it is most certainly false, yet it could not be averred that all culpable and vicious motions of the soul originate in the earthly body; for, on their own showing, “this direful longing,” to use the words of their noble exponent, is so extraneous to the p. 266 body, that it moves the soul that is purged of all bodily taint, and is existing apart from any body whatever, and moves it, moreover, to be embodied again.  So that even they themselves acknowledge that the soul is not only moved to desire, fear, joy, sorrow, by the flesh, but that it can also be agitated with these emotions at its own instance.



See Augustin, De Hæres. 46.


Tusc. Quæstiv. 6.


Æneid, vi. 719–21.

Next: Chapter 6

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