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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 25

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 25.—Just as the Mother Knows Not Whence Comes Her Child Within Her, So We Know Not Whence Comes the Soul.

How I wish that, on so profound a question, so long as he is ignorant what he should say, he would imitate the mother of the Maccabean youths! Although she knew very well that she had conceived children of her husband, and that they had been created for her by the Creator of all, both in body and in soul and spirit, yet she says, “I cannot tell, my sons, how ye came into my womb.” Well now, I only wish this man would tell us that which she was ignorant of! She, of course, knew (on the points I have mentioned) how they came into her womb as to their bodily substance, because she could not possibly doubt that she had conceived them by her husband. She furthermore confessed—because this, too, she was, of course, well aware of—that it was God who gave them their soul and spirit, and that it was He also who formed for them their features and their limbs. What was it, then, that she was so ignorant of? Was it not probably (what we likewise are equally unable to determine) whether the soul and spirit, which God no doubt bestowed upon them, was derived to them from their parents, or breathed into them separately as it had been into the first man? But whether it was this, or some other particular respecting the constitution of human nature, of which she was ignorant, she frankly confessed her ignorance; and did not venture to defend at random what she knew nothing about. Nor would this man say to her, what he has not been ashamed to say to us: “Man being in honour doth not understand; he is compared to the senseless cattle, and is like unto them.” 2375 Behold how that woman said of her sons, “I cannot tell how ye came into my womb,” and yet she is not compared to the senseless brutes. “I cannot tell,” she said; then, as if they would inquire of her why she was ignorant, she went on to say, “For it was not I who gave you spirit and soul.” He, therefore, who gave them that gift, knows whence He made what He gave, whether He communicated it by propagation, or breathed it as a fresh creation,—a point which (this man says) I for my part know nothing of. “Nor was it I that formed the features and members of every one of you.” He, however, who formed them, knows whether He formed them with the soul, or gave the soul to them after they had been formed. She had no idea of the manner, this or that, in which her sons came into her womb; only one thing was she sure of, that He who gave her all she had would restore to her what He gave. But this man would choose out what that woman was ignorant of, on so profound and abstruse a fact of our nature; only he would not judge her, if in error; nor compare her, if ignorant, to the senseless cattle. Whatever the point was about which she was ignorant, it certainly pertained to man’s nature; and yet anybody would be blameless for such ignorance. Wherefore, I too, on my side, say concerning my soul, I have no certain knowledge how it came into my body; for it was not I who gave it to myself. He who gave it to me knows whether He imparted it to me from my father, or created it afresh for me, as He did for the first man. But even I shall know, when He Himself shall teach me, in His own good time. Now, however, I do not know; nor am I ashamed, like him, to confess my ignorance of what I know not.



Ps. xlviii. 12.

Next: Chapter 26

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