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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXI.—Concerning the Living Soul, Birds, and Fishes (Ver. 24)—The Sacrament of the Eucharist Being Regarded.

29. And hereby, in Thy Word, not the depth of the sea, but the earth parted from the bitterness of the waters, 1346 bringeth forth not the creeping and flying creature that hath life, 1347 but the living soul itself. 1348 For now hath it no longer need of baptism, as the heathen have, and as itself had when it was covered with the waters,—for no other entrance is there into the kingdom of heaven, 1349 since Thou hast appointed that this should be the entrance,—nor does it seek great works of miracles by which to cause faith; for it is not such that, unless it shall have seen signs and wonders, it will not believe, 1350 when now the faithful earth is separated from the waters of the sea, rendered bitter by infidelity; and “tongues are for a sign, not to those that believe, but to those that believe not.” 1351 Nor then doth the earth, which Thou hast founded above the waters, 1352 stand in need of that flying kind which at Thy word the waters brought forth. Send Thy word forth into it by Thy messengers. For we relate their works, but it is Thou who workest in them, that in it they may work out a living soul. The earth bringeth it forth, because the p. 200 earth is the cause that they work these things in the soul; as the sea has been the cause that they wrought upon the moving creatures that have life, and the fowls that fly under the firmament of heaven, of which the earth hath now no need; although it feeds on the fish which was taken out of the deep, upon that table which Thou hast prepared in the presence of those that believe. 1353 For therefore He was raised from the deep, that He might feed the dry land; and the fowl, though bred in the sea, is yet multiplied upon the earth. For of the first preachings of the Evangelists, the infidelity of men was the prominent cause; but the faithful also are exhorted, and are manifoldly blessed by them day by day. But the living soul takes its origin from the earth, for it is not profitable, unless to those already among the faithful, to restrain themselves from the love of this world, that so their soul may live unto Thee, which was dead while living in pleasures, 1354 —in death-bearing pleasures, O Lord, for Thou art the vital delight of the pure heart.

30. Now, therefore, let Thy ministers work upon the earth,—not as in the waters of infidelity, by announcing and speaking by miracles, and sacraments, and mystic words; in which ignorance, the mother of admiration, may be intent upon them, in fear of those hidden signs. For such is the entrance unto the faith for the sons of Adam forgetful of Thee, while they hide themselves from Thy face, 1355 and become a darksome deep. But let Thy ministers work even as on the dry land, separated from the whirlpools of the great deep; and let them be an example unto the faithful, by living before them, and by stimulating them to imitation. For thus do men hear not with an intent to hear merely, but to act also. Seek the Lord, and your soul shall live, 1356 that the earth may bring forth the living soul. “Be not conformed to this world.” 1357 Restrain yourselves from it; the soul lives by avoiding those things which it dies by affecting. Restrain yourselves from the unbridled wildness of pride, from the indolent voluptuousness of luxury, and from the false name of knowledge; 1358 so that wild beasts may be tamed, the cattle subdued, and serpents harmless. For these are the motions of the mind in allegory; that is to say, the haughtiness of pride, the delight of lust, and the poison of curiosity are the motions of the dead soul; for the soul dies not so as to lose all motion, because it dies by forsaking the fountain of life, 1359 and so is received by this transitory world, and is conformed unto it.

31. But Thy Word, O God, is the fountain of eternal life, and passeth not away; therefore this departure is kept in check by Thy word when it is said unto us, “Be not conformed unto this world,” 1360 so that the earth may bring forth a living soul in the fountain of life,—a soul restrained in Thy Word, by Thy Evangelists, by imitating the followers of Thy Christ. 1361 For this is after his kind; because a man is stimulated to emulation by his friend. 1362 “Be ye,” saith he, “as I am, for I am as you are.” 1363 Thus in the living soul shall there be good beasts, in gentleness of action. For Thou hast commanded, saying, Go on with thy business in meekness, and thou shalt be beloved by all men; 1364 and good cattle, which neither if they eat, shall they over-abound, nor if they do not eat, have they any want; 1365 and good serpents, not destructive to do hurt, but “wise” 1366 to take heed; and exploring only so much of this temporal nature as is sufficient that eternity may be “clearly seen, being understood by the things that are.” 1367 For these animals are subservient to reason, 1368 when, being kept in check from a deadly advance, they live, and are good.



See sec. 20, note, and sec. 21, note, above.


Gen. 1.20.


Gen. 2.7.


John 3.5.


John 4.48.


1 Cor. 14.22.


“Fundasti super aquas,” which is the Old Ver. of Ps. cxxxvi. 6. Augustin sometimes uses a version with “firmavit terram,” which corresponds to the LXX., but the Authorized Version renders the Hebrew more accurately by “stretched out.” In his comment on this place he applies this text to baptism as being the entrance into the Church, and in this he is followed by many mediæval writers.


Ps. 23.5. Many of the Fathers interpret this text of the Lord’s Supper, as Augustin does above. The fish taken out of the deep, which is fed upon, means Christ, in accordance with the well-known acrostic of ΙΧΘΥΣ. “If,” he says in his De Civ. Dei, xviii. 23, “you join the initial letters of these five Greek words, Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτὴρ, which mean, ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour,’ they will make the word ἰχθύς,—that is, ‘fish,’ in which word Christ is mystically understood, because He was able to live, that is, to exist without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth of waters.” So likewise we find Tertullian saying in his De Bapt. chap. I.: “Nos pisciculi, secundum ΙΧΘΥΝ nostrum Jesum Christum in aqua nascimur; nec aliter quam in aqua permanendo salvi sumus.” See Bishop Kaye’s Tertullian, pp. 43, 44; and sec. 34, below.


1 Tim. 5.6.


Gen. 3.8.


Ps. 69.32.


Rom. 12.2.


1 Tim. 6.20. See p. 153, note 7, above.


Jer. 2.13. See p. 133, note 2, and p. 129, note 8, above.


Rom. 12.2.


1 Cor. 11.1.


See p. 71, note 3, above.


Gal. 4.12.


Ecclus. 3.17etc.


1 Cor. 8.8.


Matt. 10.16.


Rom. 1.20.


In his De Gen. con. Manich. i. 20, he interprets the dominion given to man over the beasts of his keeping in subjection the passions of the soul, so as to attain true happiness.

Next: Chapter XXII

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