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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 18

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 18.—By “Breath” Is Signified Sometimes the Holy Spirit.

How, again, does he know whether the repetition of the idea in the sentence, “who giveth breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk over it,” may not be understood of only one thing under two expressions, and may not mean, not the life or spirit whereby human nature lives, but the Holy Spirit? For if by the “breath” the Holy Ghost could not be signified, the Lord would not, when He “breathed upon” His disciples after His resurrection, have said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” 2355 Nor would it have been thus written in the Acts of the Apostles, “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as if a mighty breath were borne in upon them; and there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” 2356 Suppose, now, that it was this which the prophet foretold in the words, “who giveth breath unto the people upon it;” and then, as an exposition of what he had designated “breath,” he went on to say, “and spirit to them that walk over it.” Surely this prediction was most manifestly fulfilled when they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. If, however, the term “people” is not yet applicable to the one hundred and twenty persons who were then assembled together in one place, at all events, when the number of believers amounted to four or five thousand, who when they were baptized received the Holy Ghost, 2357 can any doubt that the recipients of the Holy Ghost were then “the people,” even “the men walking in the earth”? For that spirit which is given to man as appertaining to his nature, whether it be given by propagation or be inbreathed as something new to individuals (and I do not determine which of these two modes ought to be affirmed, at least until one of the two can be clearly ascertained beyond a doubt), is not given to men when they “walk over the earth,” but whilst they are still shut up in their mother’s womb. “He gave breath, therefore, to the people upon the earth, and spirit to them that walk over it,” when many became believers together, and were together filled with the Holy Ghost. And He gives Him to His people, although not to all at the same time, but to every one in His own time, until, by departing from this life, and by coming into it, the entire number of His people p. 323 be fulfilled. In this passage of Holy Scripture, therefore, breath is not one thing, and spirit another thing; but there is a repetition of one and the same idea. Just as “He that sitteth in the heavens” is not one, and “the Lord” is not another; nor, again, is it one thing “to laugh,” and another thing “to hold in derision;” but there is only a repetition of the same meaning in the passage where we read, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” 2358 So, in precisely the same manner, in the passage, “I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession,” 2359 it is certainly not meant that “inheritance” is one thing, and “possession” another thing; nor that “the heathen” means one thing, and “the uttermost parts of the earth” another; there is only a repetition of the self-same thing. He will, indeed, discover innumerable expressions of this sort in the sacred writings, if he will only attentively consider what he reads. 2360



John xx. 22.


Acts ii. 2.


Acts iv. 31.


Ps. ii. 4.


Ps. ii. 8.


[It is the parallelism of Hebrew poetry to which Augustin here appeals: and that soundly, although the interpretation of “spirit” in the passage in hand, which is suggested in the chapter, is untenable.—W.]

Next: Chapter 19