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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 7

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 7 [V.]—Victor Apparently Gives the Creative Breath to Man Also.

But what is the meaning of that, which you have thought proper to add to this simile, with regard to the example of the blessed Elisha because he raised the dead by breathing into his face? 2441 Now, do you really suppose that Elisha’s breath was made the soul of the child? I could not believe that even you could stray so far away from the truth. If, now, that soul which was taken from the living child so as to cause his death, was itself afterwards restored to him so as to cause his restoration to life: where, I ask, is the pertinence of your remark when you say “that no diminution accrued to Elisha,” as if it could be imagined that anything had been transferred from the prophet to the child to cause his revival? But if you meant no more than that the prophet breathed and remained entire, where was the necessity for your saying that of Elisha, when raising the dead child, which you might with no less propriety say of any one whatever when emitting a breath, and reviving no one? Then, again, you spoke unadvisedly (though God forbid that you should believe the breath of Elisha to have become the soul of the resuscitated child!) when you intimated your meaning to be a desire to keep separate what was first done by God from this that was done by the prophet, in that the One breathed but once, and the other thrice. These are your words: “Elisha breathed into the face of the deceased child of the Shunammite, after the manner of the original creation. And when by the prophet’s breathing a divine force inspired the dead limbs, reanimated to their original vigour, no diminution accrued to Elisha, through whose breathing the dead body recovered its revived soul and spirit. Only there is this difference, the Lord breathed but once into man’s face and he lived, while Elisha breathed three times into the face of the dead and he lived again.” Thus your words sound as if the number of the breathings alone made all the difference, why we should not believe that the prophet actually did what God did. This statement, then, requires to be entirely revised. There was so complete a difference between that work of God and this of Elisha, that the former breathed the breath of life whereby man became a living soul, and the latter breathed a breath which was not itself sentient nor endued with life, but was figurative for the sake of some signification. The prophet did not really cause the child to live again by giving him life, but he procured God’s doing that by giving him love. 2442 As to what you allege, that he breathed three times, either your memory, as often happens, or a faulty reading of the text, must have misled you. Why need I enlarge? You ought not to be seeking for examples and arguments to establish your point, but rather to amend and change your opinion. I beg of you neither to believe, nor to say, nor to teach “that God made the human soul not out of nothing, but out of His own substance,” if you wish to be a catholic.



2 Kings iv. 34.


In the original we have here another instance of Augustin’s frequent play on words, Non animando, sed amando: “not by ensouling but by loving him,” or “not by enlivening but by loving him.”

Next: Chapter 8