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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 3

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 3.—How Much Do We Know of the Nature of the Body?

Well, now, this extremely lucid and eloquent castigation which you have inflicted on our ignorance lays you so strictly under the necessity of knowing every possible thing which appertains to the nature of man, that, should you unhappily be ignorant of any particular, you must (and remember it is not I, but you, that have made the necessity) be compared with “the cattle.” For although you appear to aim your censure at us more especially, when you quote the passage, “Man, although he was in honour, understood not,” inasmuch as we (unlike yourself) hold an honourable place in the Church; yet even you occupy too honourable a rank in nature, not to be preferred above the cattle, with which according to your own judgment you will have to be compared, if you should happen to be ignorant on any of the points which manifestly appertain to your nature. For you have not merely aspersed with your censure those who are affected with the same ignorance as I am myself labouring under, that is to say, concerning the origin of the human soul (although I am not indeed absolutely ignorant even on this point, for I know that God breathed into the face of the first man, and that “man then became a living soul,” 2457 —a truth, however, which I could never have known by myself, unless I had read of it in the Scripture); but you asked in so many words, “What difference is there between a man and a brute beast, if he knows not how to discuss and determine his own quality and nature?” And you seem to have entertained your opinion so distinctly, as to have thought that a man ought to be able to discuss and determine the facts of his own entire quality and nature so clearly, that nothing concerning himself should escape his observation. Now, if this is really the truth of the matter, I must now compare you to “the cattle,” if you cannot tell me the precise number of the hairs of your head. But if, however far we may advance in this life, you allow us to be ignorant of sundry facts appertaining to our nature, I then want to know how far your concession extends, lest, perchance, it may include the very point we are now raising, that we do not by any means know the origin of our soul; although we know,—a thing which belongs to faith,—beyond all doubt, that the soul is a gift to man from God, and that it still is not of the same nature as God Himself. Do you, moreover, think that each person’s ignorance of his own nature must be exactly on the same level as p. 355 your ignorance of it? Must everybody’s knowledge, too, of the subject be equal to what you have been able to attain to? So that if he is so unfortunate as to possess a slightly larger amount of ignorance than yourself, you must compare him with cattle; and on the same principle, if any one shall be ever so little wiser than yourself on this subject, he will have the pleasure of comparing you with equal justice to the aforesaid cattle. I must therefore request you to tell me, to what extent you permit us to be ignorant of our nature so as to save our distance from the formidable cattle; and I beg you besides duly to reflect, whether he is not further removed from cattle who knows his ignorance of any part of the subject, than he is who thinks he knows what in fact he knows not. The entire nature of man is certainly spirit, soul, and body; therefore, whoever would alienate the body from man’s nature, is unwise. Those medical men, however, who are called anatomists have investigated with careful scrutiny, by dissecting processes, even living men, so far as men have been able to retain any life in the hands of the examiners; their researches have penetrated limbs, veins, nerves, bones, marrow, the internal vitals; and all to discover the nature of the body. But none of these men have ever thought of comparing us with the cattle, because of our ignorance of their subject. But perhaps you will say that it is those who are ignorant of the nature of the soul, not of the body, who are to be compared with the brute beasts. Then you ought not to have expressed yourself at starting in the way you have done. Your words are not, “For what difference is there between a man and cattle, if he is ignorant of the nature and quality of the soul;” but you say, “if he knows not how to discuss and determine his own nature and quality.” Of course our quality and our nature must be taken account of together with the body, but at the same time the investigation of the several elements of which we are composed is conducted in each case separately. For my own part, indeed, if I wished to display how far it was in my power to treat scientifically and intelligently the entire field of man’s nature, I should have to fill many volumes; not to mention how many topics there are which I must confess my ignorance of.



Gen. ii. 7.

Next: Chapter 4