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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 9

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 9.—Of Hell, and the Nature of Eternal Punishments.

So then what God by His prophet has said of the everlasting punishment of the damned shall come to pass—shall without fail come to pass,—“their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” 1505   In order to impress this upon us most forcibly, the Lord Jesus Himself, when ordering us to cut off p. 461 our members, meaning thereby those persons whom a man loves as the most useful members of his body, says, “It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.”  Similarly of the foot:  “It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  So, too, of the eye:  “It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:  where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” 1506   He did not shrink from using the same words three times over in one passage.  And who is not terrified by this repetition, and by the threat of that punishment uttered so vehemently by the lips of the Lord Himself?

Now they who would refer both the fire and the worm to the spirit, and not to the body, affirm that the wicked, who are separated from the kindgdom of God, shall be burned, as it were, by the anguish of a spirit repenting too late and fruitlessly; and they contend that fire is therefore not inappropriately used to express this burning torment, as when the apostle exclaims “Who is offended, and I burn not?” 1507   The worm, too, they think, is to be similarly understood.  For it is written they say, “As the moth consumes the garment, and the worm the wood, so does grief consume the heart of a man.” 1508   But they who make no doubt that in that future punishment both body and soul shall suffer, affirm that the body shall be burned with fire, while the soul shall be, as it were, gnawed by a worm of anguish.  Though this view is more reasonable,—for it is absurd to suppose that either body or soul will escape pain in the future punishment,—yet, for my own part, I find it easier to understand both as referring to the body than to suppose that neither does; and I think that Scripture is silent regarding the spiritual pain of the damned, because, though not expressed, it is necessarily understood that in a body thus tormented the soul also is tortured with a fruitless repentance.  For we read in the ancient Scriptures, “The vengeance of the flesh of the ungodly is fire and worms.” 1509   It might have been more briefly said, “The vengeance of the ungodly.”  Why, then, was it said, “The flesh of the ungodly,” unless because both the fire and the worm are to be the punishment of the flesh?  Or if the object of the writer in saying, “The vengeance of the flesh,” was to indicate that this shall be the punishment of those who live after the flesh (for this leads to the second death, as the apostle intimated when he said, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” 1510 , let each one make his own choice, either assigning the fire to the body and the worm to the soul,—the one figuratively, the other really,—or assigning both really to the body.  For I have already sufficiently made out that animals can live in the fire, in burning without being consumed, in pain without dying, by a miracle of the most omnipotent Creator, to whom no one can deny that this is possible, if he be not ignorant by whom has been made all that is wonderful in all nature.  For it is God Himself who has wrought all these miracles, great and small, in this world which I have mentioned, and incomparably more which I have omitted, and who has enclosed these marvels in this world, itself the greatest miracle of all.  Let each man, then, choose which he will, whether he thinks that the worm is real and pertains to the body, or that spiritual things are meant by bodily representations, and that it belongs to the soul.  But which of these is true will be more readily discovered by the facts themselves, when there shall be in the saints such knowledge as shall not require that their own experience teach them the nature of these punishments, but as shall, by its own fullness and perfection, suffice to instruct them in this matter.  For “now we know in part, until that which is perfect is come;” 1511 only, this we believe about those future bodies, that they shall be such as shall certainly be pained by the fire.


Footnotes

460:1505

Isa. 66.24.

461:1506

Mark 9.43-48.

461:1507

2 Cor. 11.29.

461:1508

Isa. 51.8.

461:1509

Ecclus. 7.17.

461:1510

Rom. 8.13.

461:1511

1 Cor. 13:9, 10.


Next: Chapter 10

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