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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 6

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 6.—What We are to Understand by God’s Speaking to the Angels.

We might have supposed that the words uttered at the creation of man, “Let us,” and not Let me, “make man,” were addressed to the angels, had He not added “in our image;” but as we cannot believe that man was made in the image of angels, or that the image of God is the same as that of angels, it is proper to refer this expression to the plurality of the Trinity.  And yet this Trinity, being one God, even after saying “Let us make,” goes on to say, “And God made man in His image,” 878 and not “Gods made,” or “in their image.”  And were there any difficulty in applying to the angels the words, “Come, and let us go down and confound their speech,” we might refer the plural to the Trinity, as if the Father were addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit; but it rather belongs to the angels to approach God by holy movements, that is, by pious thoughts, and thereby to avail themselves of the unchangeable truth which rules in the court of heaven as their eternal law.  For they are not themselves the truth; but partaking in the creative truth, they are moved towards it as the fountain of life, that what they have not in themselves they may obtain p. 314 in it.  And this movement of theirs is steady, for they never go back from what they have reached.  And to these angels God does not speak, as we speak to one another, or to God, or to angels, or as the angels speak to us, or as God speaks to us through them:  He speaks to them in an ineffable manner of His own, and that which He says is conveyed to us in a manner suited to our capacity.  For the speaking of God antecedent and superior to all His works, is the immutable reason of His work:  it has no noisy and passing sound, but an energy eternally abiding and producing results in time.  Thus He speaks to the holy angels; but to us, who are far off, He speaks otherwise.  When, however, we hear with the inner ear some part of the speech of God, we approximate to the angels.  But in this work I need not labor to give an account of the ways in which God speaks.  For either the unchangeable Truth speaks directly to the mind of the rational creature in some indescribable way, or speaks through the changeable creature, either presenting spiritual images to our spirit, or bodily voices to our bodily sense.

The words, “Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do,” 879 are assuredly not meant as an affirmation, but as an interrogation, such as is used by persons threatening, as e.g., when Dido exclaims,

“They will not take arms and pursue?” 880

We are to understand the words as if it had been said, Shall nothing be restrained from them which they have imagined to do? 881   From these three men, therefore, the three sons of Noah we mean, 73, or rather, as the catalogue will show, 72 nations and as many languages were dispersed over the earth, and as they increased filled even the islands.  But the nations multiplied much more than the languages.  For even in Africa we know several barbarous nations which have but one language; and who can doubt that, as the human race increased, men contrived to pass to the islands in ships?



Gen. 1.26.


Gen. 11.6.


Virgil, Æn., iv. 592.


Here Augustin remarks on the addition of the particle ne to the word non, which he has made to bring out the sense.

Next: Chapter 7

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