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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 14

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 14.—Of the Temporary Punishments of This Life to Which the Human Condition is Subject.

Quite exceptional are those who are not punished in this life, but only afterwards.  Yet that there have been some who have reached the decrepitude of age without experiencing even the slightest sickness, and who have had uninterrupted enjoyment of life, I know both from report and from my own observation.  However, the very life we mortals lead is itself all punishment, for it is all temptation, as the Scriptures declare, where it is written, “Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation?” 1521   For ignorance is itself no slight punishment, or want of culture, which it is with justice thought so necessary to escape, that boys are compelled, under pain of severe punishment, to learn trades or letters; and the learning to which they are driven by punishment is itself so much of a punishment to them, that they sometimes prefer the pain that drives them to the pain to which they are driven by it.  And who would not shrink from the alternative, and elect to die, if it were proposed to him either to suffer death or to be again an infant?  Our infancy, indeed, introducing us to this life not with laughter but with tears, seems unconsciously to predict the ills we are to encounter. 1522   Zoroaster alone is said to have laughed when he was born, and that unnatural omen portended no good to him.  For he is said to have been the inventor of magical arts, though indeed they were unable to secure to him even the poor felicity of this present life against the assaults of his enemies.  For, himself king of the Bactrians, he was conquered by Ninus king of the Assyrians.  In short, the words of Scripture, “An heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother’s womb till the day that they return to the mother of all things,” 1523 —these words so infallibly find fulfillment, that even the little ones, who by the layer of regeneration have been freed from the bond of original sin in which alone they were held, yet suffer many ills, and in some instances are even exposed to the assaults of evil spirits.  But let us not for a moment suppose that this suffering is prejudicial to their future happiness, even though it has so increased as to sever soul from body, and to terminate their life in that early age.



Job 7.1.


Compare Goldsmith’s saying, “We begin life in tears, and every day tells us why.”


Ecclus. 40.1.

Next: Chapter 15

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