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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 20

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 20.—The Sting of Death, What?

But even in the passage to the Corinthians, where he had been treating fully of the resurrection, the apostle concludes his statement in such a way as not to permit us to doubt that the death of the body is the result of sin. For after he had said, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality: so when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality, then,” he added, “shall be brought to pass the saying which is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” and at last he subjoined these words: “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” 694 Now, because (as the apostle’s words most plainly declare) death shall then be swallowed up in victory when this corruptible and mortal shall have put on incorruption and immortality,—that is, when “God shall quicken even our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us,”—it manifestly follows that the sting of the body of this death, which is the contrary of the resurp. 77 rection of the body, is sin. The sting, however, is that by which death was made, and not that which death made, since it is by sin that we die, and not by death that we sin. It is therefore called “the sting of death” on the principle which originated the phrase “the tree of life,”—not because the life of man produced it, but because by it the life of man was made. In like manner “the tree of knowledge” was that whereby man’s knowledge was made, not that which man made by his knowledge. So also “the sting of death” is that by which death was produced, not that which death made. We similarly use the expression “the cup of death,” since by it some one has died, or might die,—not meaning, of course, a cup made by a dying or dead man. 695 The sting of death is therefore sin, because by the puncture of sin the human race has been slain. Why ask further: the death of what,—whether of the soul, or of the body? Whether the first which we are all of us now dying, or the second which the wicked hereafter shall die? There is no occasion for plying the question so curiously; there is no room for subterfuge. The words in which the apostle expresses the case answer the questions: “When this mortal,” says he, “shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying which is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” He was treating of the resurrection of the body, wherein death shall be swallowed up in victory, when this mortal shall have put on immortality. Then over death itself shall be raised the shout of triumph, when at the resurrection of the body it shall be swallowed up in victory; then shall be said to it, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” To the death of the body, therefore, is this said. For victorious immortality shall swallow it up, when this mortal shall put on immortality. I repeat it, to the death of the body shall it be said, “Where is thy victory?”—that victory in which thou didst conquer all, so that even the Son of God engaged in conflict with thee, and by not shrinking but grappling with thee overcame. In these that die thou hast conquered; but thou art thyself conquered in these that rise again. Thy victory was but temporal, in which thou didst swallow up the bodies of them that die. Our victory will abide eternal, in which thou art swallowed up in the bodies of them that rise again. “Where is thy sting?”—that is, the sin wherewithal we are punctured and poisoned, so that thou didst fix thyself in our very bodies, and for so long a time didst hold them in possession. “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” We all sinned in one, so that we all die in one; we received the law, not by amendment according to its precepts to put an end to sin, but by transgression to increase it. For “the law entered that sin might abound;” 696 and “the Scripture hath concluded all under sin;” 697 but “thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” 698 in order that “where sin abounded, grace might much more abound;” 699 and “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe;” 700 and that we might overcome death by a deathless resurrection, and sin, “the sting” thereof, by a free justification.



1 Cor. xv. 53-56.


[This is only one of many examples of the care with which Augustin, writing for the popular eye, illustrates his exegetical points. “Of death” he thus shows is genitive of the object, not of the subject; giving to the phrase the meaning of “the sting which slays man.”—W.]


Rom. v. 20.


Gal. iii. 22.


1 Cor. xv. 57.


Rom. v. 20.


Gal. iii. 22.

Next: Chapter 21

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