Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XX.—Of the judgment of Christ, of Christians, and of the soul
Chap. XX.—Of the Judgment of Christ, of Christians, and of the Soul.
After these things the lower regions shall be opened, and the dead shall rise again, on whom the same King and God shall pass judgment, to whom the supreme Father shall give the great power both of judging and of reigning. And respecting this judgment and reign, it is thus found in the Erythræan Sibyl:—“When this shall receive its fated accomplishment, and the judgment of the immortal God shall now come to mortals, the great judgment shall come upon men, and the beginning.”
Then in another:—“And then the gaping earth shall show a Tartarean chaos; and all kings shall come to the judgment-seat of God.”
And in another place in the same:—“Rolling along the heavens, I will open the caverns of the earth; and then I will raise the dead, loosing fate and the sting of death; and afterwards I will call them into judgment, judging the life of pious and impious men.”
Not all men, however, shall then be judged by God, but those only who have been exercised in the religion of God. For they who have not known God, since sentence cannot be passed upon them for their acquittal, are already judged and condemned, since the Holy Scriptures testify that the wicked shall not arise to judgment. 1407 Therefore they who have known God shall be judged, and their deeds, that is, their evil works, shall be compared and weighed against their good ones: so that if those which are good and just are more 1408 and weighty, they may be given to a life of blessedness; but if the evil exceed, they may be condemned to punishment. Here, perhaps, some one will say, If the soul is immortal, how is it represented as capable of suffering, and sensible of punishment? For if it shall be punished on account of its deserts, it is plain that it will be sensible of pain, and even of death. If it is not liable to death, not even to pain, it follows that it is not capable of suffering.
This question or argument is thus met by the Stoics: that the souls of men continue to exist, and are not annihilated 1409 by the intervention of death: that the souls, moreover, of those who have been just, being pure, and incapable of suffering, and happy, return to the heavenly abodes from which they had their origin, or are borne to some happy plains, where they may enjoy wonderful pleasures; but that the wicked, since they have defiled themselves with evil passions, have a kind of middle nature, between that of an immortal and a mortal, and have something of weakness, from the contagion of the flesh; and being enslaved to its desires and lusts, they contract an indelible stain and earthly blot; and when this has become entirely inherent through length of time, souls are given over to its nature, so that, though they cannot altogether be extinguished, inasmuch as they are from God, nevertheless they become liable to torment through the taint of the body, which being burnt in by means of sins, produces a feeling of pain. Which sentiment is thus expressed by the poet: 1410 —“Nay, when at last the life has fled,
And left the body cold and dead,
Een then there passes not away
The painful heritage of clay:
Full many a long contracted stain
Perforce must linger deep in grain.
So penal sufferings they endure
For ancient crime, to make them pure.”
These things are near to the truth. 1411 For the soul, when separated from the body, is, as the same poet says, 1412 such as“No vision of the drowsy night,
No airy current half so light,”
because it is a spirit, and by its very slightness incapable of being perceived, but only by us who are corporeal but capable of being perceived by God, since it belongs to Him to be able to do all things.
The reference is to Ps. i. 5: “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” They shall indeed arise, but it will be to “the resurrection of damnation.” See Dan. xii. 2; John 5:28, 29; Acts xxiv. 15.216:1408
Good and bad actions will not be compared by reference to number: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”—Jas. ii. 10. [The figure, however, is not dissimilar in Job xxxi. 6. We must be judged by our works, though saved by faith in Christ.]216:1409
In nihilum resolvi.216:1410
Virg., Æneid, vi. 735.216:1411
[1 Cor. iii. 13-15. An approximation to this truth is recognised by our author in a heathen poet. See p. 217, n. 2.]216:1412
Virg., Æneid, vi. 702.
Next: Chap. XXI.—Of the torments and punishments of souls
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