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City of God: Chapter 21
Chapter 21.—Utterances of the Prophet Isaiah Regarding the Resurrection of the Dead and the Retributive Judgment.
The prophet Isaiah says, “The dead shall rise again, and all who were in the graves shall rise again; and all who are in the earth shall rejoice: for the dew which is from Thee is their health, and the earth of the wicked shall fall.” 1413 All the former part of this passage relates to the resurrection of the blessed; but the words, “the earth of the wicked shall fall,” is rightly understood as meaning that the bodies of the wicked shall fall into the ruin of damnation. And if we would more exactly and carefully scrutinize the words which refer to the resurrection of the good, we may refer to the first resurrection the words, “the dead shall rise again,” and to the second the following words, “and all who were in the graves shall rise again.” And if we ask what relates to those saints whom the Lord at His coming shall find alive upon earth, the following clause may suitably be referred to them; “All who are in the earth shall rejoice: for the dew which is from Thee is their health.” By “health” in this place it is best to understand immortality. For that is the most perfect health which is not repaired by nourishment as by a daily remedy. In like manner the same prophet, affording hope to the good and terrifying the wicked regarding the day of judgment, says, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will flow down upon them as a river of peace, and upon the glory of the Gentiles as a rushing torrent; their sons shall be carried on the shoulders, and shall be comforted on the knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so shall I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And ye shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall rise up like a herb; and the hand of the Lord shall be known by His worshippers, and He shall threaten the contumacious. For, behold, the Lord shall come as a fire, and as a whirlwind His chariots, to execute vengeance with indignation, and wasting with a flame of fire. For with fire of the Lord shall all the earth be judged, and all flesh with His sword: many shall be wounded by the Lord.” 1414 In His promise to the good he says that He will flow down as a river of peace, that is to say, in the greatest possible abundance of peace. With this peace we shall in the end be refreshed; but of this we have spoken abundantly in the preceding book. It is this river in which he says He shall flow down upon those to whom He promises so great happiness, that we may understand that in the region of that felicity, which is in heaven, all things are satisfied from this river. But because there shall thence flow, even upon earthly bodies, the peace of incorruption and immortality, therefore he says that He shall flow down as this river, that He may as it were pour Himself from things above to things beneath, and make men the equals of the angels. By “Jerusalem,” too, we should understand not that which serves with her children, but that which, according to the apostle, is our free mother, eternal in the heavens. 1415 In her we shall be comforted as we pass toilworn from earths cares and calamities, and be taken up as her children on her knees and shoulders. Inexperienced and new to such blandishments, we shall be received into unwonted bliss. There we shall see, and our heart shall rejoice. He does not say what we shall see; but what but God, that the promise in the Gospel may be fulfilled in us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” 1416 What shall we see but all those things which now we see not, but believe in, and of which the idea we form, according to our feeble capacity, is incomparably less than the reality? “And ye shall see,” he says, “and your heart shall rejoice.” Here ye believe, there ye shall see.
But because he said, “Your heart shall rejoice,” lest we should suppose that the blessings of that Jerusalem are only spiritual, p. 441 he adds, “And your bones shall rise up like a herb,” alluding to the resurrection of the body, and as it were supplying an omission he had made. For it will not take place when we have seen; but we shall see when it has taken place. For he had already spoken of the new heavens and the new earth, speaking repeatedly, and under many figures, of the things promised to the saints, and saying,“There shall be new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind; but they shall find in it gladness and exultation. Behold, I will make Jerusalem an exultation, and my people a joy. And I will exult in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her;” 1417 and other promises, which some endeavor to refer to carnal enjoyment during the thousand years. For, in the manner of prophecy, figurative and literal expressions are mingled, so that a serious mind may, by useful and salutary effort, reach the spiritual sense; but carnal sluggishness, or the slowness of an uneducated and undisciplined mind, rests in the superficial letter, and thinks there is nothing beneath to be looked for. But let this be enough regarding the style of those prophetic expressions just quoted. And now, to return to their interpretation. When he had said, “And your bones shall rise up like a herb,” in order to show that it was the resurrection of the good, though a bodily resurrection, to which he alluded, he added, “And the hand of the Lord shall be known by His worshippers.” What is this but the hand of Him who distinguishes those who worship from those who despise Him? Regarding these the context immediately adds, “And He shall threaten the contumacious,” or, as another translator has it, “the unbelieving.” He shall not actually threaten then, but the threats which are now uttered shall then be fulfilled in effect. “For behold,” he says, “the Lord shall come as a fire, and as a whirlwind His chariots, to execute vengeance with indignation, and wasting with a flame of fire. For with fire of the Lord shall all the earth be judged, and all flesh with His sword: many shall be wounded by the Lord.” By fire, whirlwind, sword, he means the judicial punishment of God. For he says that the Lord Himself shall come as a fire, to those, that is to say, to whom His coming shall be penal. By His chariots (for the word is plural) we suitably understand the ministration of angels. And when he says that all flesh and all the earth shall be judged with His fire and sword, we do not understand the spiritual and holy to be included, but the earthly and carnal, of whom it is said that they “mind earthly things,” 1418 and “to be carnally minded is death,” 1419 and whom the Lord calls simply flesh when He says, “My Spirit shall not always remain in these men, for they are flesh.” 1420 As to the words, “Many shall be wounded by the Lord,” this wounding shall produce the second death. It is possible, indeed, to understand fire, sword, and wound in a good sense. For the Lord said that He wished to send fire on the earth. 1421 And the cloven tongues appeared to them as fire when the Holy Spirit came. 1422 And our Lord says, “I am not come to send peace on earth, but a sword.” 1423 And Scripture says that the word of God is a doubly sharp sword, 1424 on account of the two edges, the two Testaments. And in the Song of Songs the holy Church says that she is wounded with love, 1425 —pierced, as it were, with the arrow of love. But here, where we read or hear that the Lord shall come to execute vengeance, it is obvious in what sense we are to understand these expressions.
After briefly mentioning those who shall be consumed in this judgment, speaking of the wicked and sinners under the figure of the meats forbidden by the old law, from which they had not abstained, he summarily recounts the grace of the new testament, from the first coming of the Saviour to the last judgment, of which we now speak; and herewith he concludes his prophecy. For he relates that the Lord declares that He is coming to gather all nations, that they may come and witness His glory. 1426 For, as the apostle says, “All have sinned and are in want of the glory of God.” 1427 And he says that He will do wonders among them, at which they shall marvel and believe in Him; and that from them He will send forth those that are saved into various nations, and distant islands which have not heard His name nor seen His glory, and that they shall declare His glory among the nations, and shall bring the brethren of those to whom the prophet was speaking, i.e., shall bring to the faith under God the Father the brethren of the elect Israelites; and that they shall bring from all nations an offering to the Lord on beasts of burden and waggons (which are understood to mean the aids furnished by God in the shape of angelic or human ministry), to the holy city Jerusalem, which at present is scattered over the earth, in the faithful saints. For where divine aid is given, men p. 442 believe, and where they believe, they come. And the Lord compared them, in a figure, to the children of Israel offering sacrifice to Him in His house with psalms, which is already everywhere done by the Church; and He promised that from among them He would choose for Himself priests and Levites, which also we see already accomplished. For we see that priests and Levites are now chosen, not from a certain family and blood, as was originally the rule in the priesthood according to the order of Aaron, but as befits the new testament, under which Christ is the High Priest after the order of Melchisedec, in consideration of the merit which is bestowed upon each man by divine grace. And these priests are not to be judged by their mere title, which is often borne by unworthy men, but by that holiness which is not common to good men and bad.
After having thus spoken of this mercy of God which is now experienced by the Church, and is very evident and familiar to us, he foretells also the ends to which men shall come when the last judgment has separated the good and the bad, saying by the prophet, or the prophet himself speaking for God, “For as the new heavens and the new earth shall remain before me, said the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain, and there shall be to them month after month, and p. 443 Sabbath after Sabbath. All flesh shall come to worship before me in Jerusalem, said the Lord. And they shall go out, and shall see the members of the men who have sinned against me: their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be for a spectacle to all flesh.” 1428 At this point the prophet closed his book, as at this point the world shall come to an end. Some, indeed, have translated “carcases” 1429 instead of “members of the men,” meaning by carcases the manifest punishment of the body, although carcase is commonly used only of dead flesh, while the bodies here spoken of shall be animated, else they could not be sensible of any pain; but perhaps they may, without absurdity, be called carcases, as being the bodies of those who are to fall into the second death. And for the same reason it is said, as I have already quoted, by this same prophet, “The earth of the wicked shall fall.” 1430 It is obvious that those translators who use a different word for men do not mean to include only males, for no one will say that the women who sinned shall not appear in that judgment; but the male sex, being the more worthy, and that from which the woman was derived, is intended to include both sexes. But that which is especially pertinent to our subject is this, that since the words “All flesh shall come,” apply to the good, for the people of God shall be composed of every race of men,—for all men shall not be present, since the greater part shall be in punishment,—but, as I was saying, since flesh is used of the good, and members or carcases of the bad, certainly it is thus put beyond a doubt that that judgment in which the good and the bad shall be allotted to their destinies shall take place after the resurrection of the body, our faith in which is thoroughly established by the use of these words.
Isa. 66:12, 16.440:1415
Song of Sol. 2.5.441:1426
As the Vulgate: cadavera virorum.443:1430
Here Augustin inserts the remark, “Who does not see that cadavera (carcases) are so called from cadendo (falling)?”
Next: Chapter 22
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