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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 13

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 13.—That in Adam’s Sin an Evil Will Preceded the Evil Act.

Our first parents fell into open disobedience because already they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil will preceded it.  And what is the origin of our evil will but pride?  For “pride is the beginning of sin.” 729   And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation?  And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself.  This happens when it becomes its own satisfaction.  And it does so when it falls away from that unchangeable good which ought to satisfy it more than itself.  This falling away is spontaneous; for if the will had remained steadfast in the love of that higher and changeless good by which it was illumined to intelligence and kindled into love, it would not have turned away to find satisfaction in itself, and so become frigid and benighted; the woman would not have believed the serpent spoke the truth, nor would the man have preferred the request of his wife to the command of God, nor have supposed that it was a venial trangression to cleave to the partner of his life even in a partnership of sin.  The wicked deed, then,—that is to say, the trangression of eating the forbidden fruit,—was committed by persons who were already wicked.  That “evil fruit” 730 could be brought forth only by “a corrupt tree.”  But that the tree was evil was not the result of nature; for certainly it could become so only by the vice of the will, and vice is contrary to nature.  Now, nature could not have been depraved by vice had it not been made out of nothing.  Consequently, that it is a nature, this is because it is made by God; but that it falls away from Him, this is because it is made out of nothing.  But man did not so fall away 731 as to become absolutely nothing; but being turned towards himself, his being became more contracted than it was when he clave to Him who supremely is.  Accordingly, to exist in himself, that is, to be his own satisfaction after abandoning God, is not quite to become a nonentity, but to approximate to that.  And therefore the holy Scriptures designate the proud by another name, “self-pleasers.”  For it is good to have the heart lifted up, yet not to one’s self, for this is proud, but to the Lord, for this is obedient, and can be the act only of the humble.  There is, therefore, something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride which debases it.  This seems, indeed, to be contradictory, that loftiness should debase and lowliness exalt.  But pious humility enables us to submit to what is above us; and nothing is more exalted above us than God; and therefore humility, by making us subject to God, exalts us.  But pride, being a defect of nature, by the very act of refusing subjection and revolting from Him who is supreme, falls to a low condition; and then comes to pass what is written:  “Thou castedst them down when they lifted up themselves.” 732   For he does not say, “when they had been lifted up,” as if first they were exalted, and then afterwards cast down; but “when they lifted up themselves” even then they were cast down,—that is to say, the very lifting up was already a fall.  And therefore it is that humility is specially recommended to the city of God as it sojourns in this world, and is specially exhibited in the city of God, and in the person of Christ its King; while the contrary vice of pride, according to the testimony of the sacred writings, specially rules his adversary the devil.  And certainly this is the great difference which distinguishes the two cities of which we speak, the one being the society of the godly men, the other of the ungodly, each associated with the angels that adhere to their party, and the one guided and fashioned by love of self, the other by love of God.

p. 274

The devil, then, would not have ensnared man in the open and manifest sin of doing what God had forbidden, had man not already begun to live for himself.  It was this that made him listen with pleasure to the words, “Ye shall be as gods,” 733 which they would much more readily have accomplished by obediently adhering to their supreme and true end than by proudly living to themselves.  For created gods are gods not by virtue of what is in themselves, but by a participation of the true God.  By craving to be more, man becomes less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficing, he fell away from Him who truly suffices him.  Accordingly, this wicked desire which prompts man to please himself as if he were himself light, and which thus turns him away from that light by which, had he followed it, he would himself have become light,—this wicked desire, I say, already secretly existed in him, and the open sin was but its consequence.  For that is true which is written, “Pride goeth before destruction, and before honor is humility;” 734 that is to say, secret ruin precedes open ruin, while the former is not counted ruin.  For who counts exaltation ruin, though no sooner is the Highest forsaken than a fall is begun?  But who does not recognize it as ruin, when there occurs an evident and indubitable transgression of the commandment?  And consequently, God’s prohibition had reference to such an act as, when committed, could not be defended on any pretense of doing what was righteous. 735   And I make bold to say that it is useful for the proud to fall into an open and indisputable transgression, and so displease themselves, as already, by pleasing themselves, they had fallen.  For Peter was in a healthier condition when he wept and was dissatisfied with himself, than when he boldly presumed and satisfied himself.  And this is averred by the sacred Psalmist when he says, “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Thy name, O Lord;” 736 that is, that they who have pleased themselves in seeking their own glory may be pleased and satisfied with Thee in seeking Thy glory.


Footnotes

273:729

Ecclus. 10.13.

273:730

Matt. 7.18.

273:731

Defecit.

273:732

Ps. 73.18.

274:733

Gen. 3.5.

274:734

Prov. 18.12.

274:735

That is to say, it was an obvious and indisputable transgression.

274:736

Ps. 83.16.


Next: Chapter 14

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