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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 23

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 23 [XVI.]—Figurative Speech Must Not Be Taken Literally.

“In short,” you say, “members are in this parable ascribed to the soul, as if it were really a body.” You will have it, that “by the eye the whole head is understood,” because it is said, that “he lifted up his eyes.” Again you say, that “by tongues are meant jaws, and by finger the hand,” because it is said, “Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue.” 2489 And yet to save yourself from the inconsistency of ascribing corporeal qualities to God, you say that “by these terms must be understood incorporeal functions and powers;” because with the greatest propriety you insist on it, that God is not corporeal. What is the reason, therefore, that the names of these limbs do not argue corporeity in God, although they do in the case of the soul? Is it that these terms must be understood literally when spoken of the creature, and only metaphorically and figuratively when predicated of the Creator? Then you will have to give us wings of literal bodily substance, since it is not the Creator, but only a human creature, who said, “If I should take my wings like a dove.” 2490 Moreover, if the rich man of the parable had a bodily tongue, on the ground of his exclaiming, “Let him cool my tongue,” it would look very much as if our tongue, even while we are in the flesh, itself possessed material hands, because it is written, “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue.” 2491 I suppose it is even to yourself self-evident, that sin is neither a creature nor a bodily substance; why, then, has it a face? For do you not hear the psalmist say, “There is no peace in my bones, in the face of my sins”? 2492



Luke xvi. 24.


Augustin’s reading of Ps. cxxxix. 9.


In manibus linguæ= the Hebrew phrase בְּיַד לָשֹׁון, Prov. xviii. 21.


Ps. xxxviii. 3, מִפְּנֵי חַטָּאתִי.

Next: Chapter 24

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