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Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:
The Confessions: Chapter XVII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVII.—Above His Changeable Mind, He Discovers the Unchangeable Author of Truth.

23. And I marvelled that I now loved Thee, and no phantasm instead of Thee. And yet I did not merit to enjoy my God, but was transported to Thee by Thy beauty, and presently torn away from Thee by mine own weight, sinking with grief into these inferior things. This weight was carnal custom. Yet was there a remembrance of Thee with me; nor did I any way doubt that there was one to whom I might cleave, but that I was not yet one who could cleave unto Thee; for that the body which is corrupted presseth down the soul, and the earthly dwelling weigheth down the mind which thinketh upon many things. 545 And most certain I was that Thy “invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Thy eternal power and Godhead.” 546 For, inquiring whence it was that I admired the beauty of bodies whether celestial or terrestrial, and what supported me in judging correctly on things mutable, and pronouncing, “This should be thus, this not,”—inquiring, then, whence I so judged, seeing I did so judge, I had found the unchangeable and true eternity of Truth, above my changeable mind. And thus, by degrees, I passed from bodies to the soul, which makes use of the senses of the body to perceive; and thence to its inward 547 faculty, to which the bodily senses represent outward things, and up to which reach the capabilities of beasts; and thence, again, I passed on to the reasoning faculty, 548 unto which whatever is received from p. 112 the senses of the body is referred to be judged, which also, finding itself to be variable in me, raised itself up to its own intelligence, and from habit drew away my thoughts, withdrawing itself from the crowds of contradictory phantasms; that so it might find out that light 549 by which it was besprinkled, when, without all doubting, it cried out, “that the unchangeable was to be preferred before the changeable;” whence also it knew that unchangeable, which, unless it had in some way known, it could have had no sure ground for preferring it to the changeable. And thus, with the flash of a trembling glance, it arrived at that which is. And then I saw Thy invisible things understood by the things that are made. 550 But I was not able to fix my gaze thereon; and my infirmity being beaten back, I was thrown again on my accustomed habits, carrying along with me naught but a loving memory thereof, and an appetite for what I had, as it were, smelt the odour of, but was not yet able to eat.



Wisd. 9.15.


Rom. 1.20.


See above, sec. 10.


Here, and more explicitly in sec. 25, we have before us what has been called the “trichotomy” of man. This doctrine Augustin does not deny in theory, but appears to consider (De Anima, iv. 32) it prudent to overlook in practice. The biblical view of psychology may well be considered here not only on its own account, but as enabling us clearly to apprehend this passage and that which follows it. It is difficult to understand how any one can doubt that St. Paul, when speaking in 1 Thess. 5.23, of our “spirit, soul, and body being preserved unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” implies a belief in a kind of trinity in man. And it is very necessary to the understanding of other Scriptures that we should realize what special attributes pertain to the soul and the spirit respectively. It may be said, generally, that the soul (ψυχή) is that passionate and affectionate nature which is common to us and the inferior creatures, while the spirit (πνεῦμα) is the higher intellectual nature which is peculiar to man. Hence our Lord in His agony in the garden says (Matt. 26.38), “My Soul is exceeding sorrowful”—the soul being liable to emotions of pleasure and pain. In the same passage (ver 41) he says to the apostles who had slept during His great agony, “The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” so that the spirit is the seat of the will. And that the spirit is also the seat of consciousness we gather from St. Paul’s words (1 Cor. 2.11), “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” And it is on the spirit of man that the Spirit of God operates; whence we read (Rom. 8.16), “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” It is important to note that the word “flesh” (σαρξ) has its special significance, as distinct from body. The word comes to us from the Hebrew through the Hellenistic Greek of the LXX., and in biblical language (see Bishop Pearson’s Præfatio Parænetica to his edition of the LXX.) stands for our human nature with it worldly surroundings and liability to temptation; so that when it is said, “The Word was made flesh,” we have what is equivalent to, “The Word put on human nature.” It is, therefore, the flesh and the spirit that are ever represented in conflict one with the other when men are in the throes of temptation. So it must be while life lasts; for it is characteristic of our position in the world that we possess soulish bodies (to employ the barbarous but expressive word of Dr. Candlish in his Life in a Risen Saviour, p. 182), and only on the morning of the resurrection will the body be spiritual and suited to the new sphere of its existence: “It is sown a natural [ψυχικὸν, “soulish”] body, it is raised a spiritual [πνευματικόν] body” (1 Cor. 15.44); “for,” as Augustin says in his Enchiridion (c. xci.), “just as now the body is called animate (or, using the Greek term, as above, instead of the Latin, “soulish”), though it is a body and not a soul, so then the body shall be called spiritual, though it shall be a body, not a spirit.…No part of our nature shall be in discord with another; but as we shall be free from enemies without, so we shall not have ourselves for enemies within.” For further information on this most interesting subject, see Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, ii. 4 (“The True and False Trichotomy”); Olshausen, Opuscula Theologica, iv. (“De Trichotomia”) and cc. 2, 17, and 18 of R. W. Evans’ Ministry of the Body, where the subject is discussed with thoughtfulness and spiritual insight. This matter is also treated of in the introductory chapters of Schlegel’s Philosophy of Life.


That light which illumines the soul, he tells us in his De Gen. ad Lit. (xii. 31), is God Himself, from whom all light cometh; and, though created in His image and likeness, when it tries to discover Him, palpitat infirmitate, et minus valet. In sec. 13, above, speaking of Platonism, he describes it as holding “that the soul of man, though it ‘bears witness of the Light,’ yet itself ‘is not that Light.’” In his De Civ. Dei, x. 2, he quotes from Plotinus (mentioned in note 2, sec. 13, above) in regard to the Platonic doctrine as to enlightenment from on high. He says: “Plotinus, commenting on Plato, repeatedly and strongly asserts that not even the soul, which they believe to be the soul of the world, derives its blessedness from any other source than we do, viz. from that Light which is distinct from it and created it, and by whose intelligible illumination it enjoys light in things intelligible. He also compares those spiritual things to the vast and conspicuous heavenly bodies, as if God were the sun, and the soul the moon; for they suppose that the moon derives its light from the sun. That great Platonist, therefore, says that the rational soul, or rather the intellectual soul,—in which class he comprehends the souls of the blessed immortal who inhabit heaven,—has no nature superior to it save God, the Creator of the world and the soul itself, and that these heavenly spirits derive their blessed life, and the light of truth, from the same source as ourselves, agreeing with the gospel where we read, ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of that Light, that through Him all might believe. He was not that Light, but that he might bear witness of the Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ (John 1.6-9);—a distinction which sufficiently proves that the rational or intellectual soul, such as John had, cannot be its own light, but needs to receive illumination from another, the true Light. This John himself avows when he delivers his witness (John 1.16): ‘We have all received of His fulness.’” Comp. Tertullian, De Testim. Anim., and the note to iv. sec. 25, above, where other references to God’s being the Father of Lights are given.


Rom. 1.20.

Next: Chapter XVIII