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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 19

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 19.—The Meaning of “Breath” In Scripture.

The term, however, that is used in the Greek version, πνοή, is variously rendered in Latin: sometimes by flatus, breath; sometimes by spiritus, spirit; sometimes by inspiratio, inspiration. This term occurs in the Greek editions of the passage which we are now reviewing, “Who giveth breath to the people upon it,” the word for breath being πνοή.  2361 The same word is used in the narrative where man was endued with life: “And God breathed upon his face the breath of life.” 2362 Again, in the psalm the same term occurs: “Let every thing that hath spirit praise the Lord.” 2363 It is the same word also in the Book of Job: “The inspiration of the Almighty is that which teaches.” 2364 The translator refused the word flatus, breath, for adspiratio, inspiration, although he had before him the very term πνοή, which occurs in the text of the prophet which we are considering. We can hardly doubt, I think, that in this passage of Job the Holy Ghost is signified. The question discussed was concerning wisdom, whence it comes to men: “It cometh not from number of years; but the Spirit is in mortals, and the inspiration of the Almighty is that which teaches.” 2365 By this repetition of terms it may be quite understood that he did not speak of man’s own spirit in the clause, “The Spirit is in mortals.” He wanted to show whence men have wisdom,—that it is not from their own selves; so by using a duplicate expression he explains his idea; “The inspiration of the Almighty is that which teaches.” Similarly, in another passage of the same book, he says, “The understanding of my lips shall meditate purity. The divine Spirit is that which formed me, and the breath of the Almighty is that which teacheth me.” 2366 Here, likewise, what he calls adspiratio, or “inspiration,” is in Greek πνοή, the same word which is translated flatus, “breath,” in the passage quoted from the prophet. Therefore, although it is rash to deny that the passage, “Who giveth breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk over it,” has reference to the soul or spirit of man,—although the Holy Ghost may with greater credibility be understood as referred to in the passage: yet I ask on what ground anybody can boldly determine that the prophet meant in these words to intimate that the soul or spirit whereby our nature possesses vitality [is not given to us by God through the process of propagation?] 2367 Of course if the prophet had very plainly said, “Who giveth soul to the people upon earth,” it still would remain to be asked whether God Himself gives it from an origin in the preceding generation, just as He gives the body out of such prior material, and that not only to men or cattle, but also to the seed of corn, or to any other body whatever, just as it pleases Him; or whether He bestows it by inbreathing as a new gift to each individual, as the first man received it from Him?



The passage stands in the LXX.: Καὶ διδοὺς πνοὴν τῷ λαῷ τῷ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς.


The LXX. text of Gen. ii. 7 is, Καὶ ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσω πον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς.


Ps. cl. 6: Πᾶσα πνοὴ αἰνεσάτω τὸν Κύριον.


According to the LXX., Πνοὴ δὲ παντοκράτορός ἐστιν ἡ διδάσκουσα.


Job 32:7, 8.


Job 30:3, 4, according to the LXX., of which the text is, Σύνεσις δὲ χειλεων μου καθαρα νοήσει. Πνεῦμα θεῖον τὸ ποιῆσάν με, πνοὴ δὲ παντοκράτορός ἐστιν ἡ διδάσκουσα.


The words here given in brackets are suggested by the Benedictine editor. [The Latin as it stands may be translated simply: “that the prophet meant to signify in these words the soul or spirit whereby our nature lives?” and is not this better than the conjecture?—W.]

Next: Chapter 20

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