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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:
Philosophical Works.: That it is possible, when the human body is dissolved into the elements of the universe, that each should have his own body restored from the common source.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 418 XXVII. That it is possible, when the human body is dissolved into the elements of the universe, that each should have his own body restored from the common source 1726 .

1. Yet it may be thou thinkest, having regard to the elements of the universe, that it is a hard thing when the air in us has been resolved into its kindred element, and the warmth, and moisture, and the earthy nature have likewise been mingled with their own kind, that from the common source there should return to the individual what belongs to itself.

2. Dost thou not then judge by human examples that even this does not surpass the limits of the Divine power? Thou hast seen surely somewhere among the habitations of men a common herd of some kind of animals collected from every quarter: yet when it is again divided among its owners, acquaintance with their homes and the marks put upon the cattle serve to restore to each his own. If thou conceivest of thyself also something like to this, thou wilt not be far from the right way: for as the soul is disposed to cling to and long for the body that has been wedded to it, there also attaches to it in secret a certain close relationship and power of recognition, in virtue of their commixture, as though some marks had been imprinted by nature, by the aid of which the community remains unconfused, separated by the distinctive signs. Now as the soul attracts again to itself that which is its own and properly belongs to it, what labour, I pray you, that is involved for the Divine power, could be a hindrance to concourse of kindred things when they are urged to their own place by the unspeakable attraction of nature, whatever it may be? For that some signs of our compound nature remain in the soul even after dissolution is shown by the dialogue in Hades 1727 , where the bodies had been conveyed to the tomb, but some bodily token still remained in the souls by which both Lazarus was recognized and the rich man was not unknown.

3. There is therefore nothing beyond probability in believing that in the bodies that rise again there will be a return from the common stock to the individual, especially for any one who examines our nature with careful attention. For neither does our being consist altogether in flux and change—for surely that which had by nature no stability would be absolutely incomprehensible—but according to the more accurate statement some one of our constituent parts is stationary while the rest goes through a process of alteration: for the body is on the one hand altered by way of growth and diminution, changing, like garments, the vesture of its successive statures, while the form, on the other hand, remains in itself unaltered through every change, not varying from the marks once imposed upon it by nature, but appearing with its own tokens of identity in all the changes which the body undergoes.

4. We must except, however, from this statement the change which happens to the form as the result of disease: for the deformity of sickness takes possession of the form like some strange mask, and when this is removed by the word 1728 , as in the case of Naaman the Syrian, or of those whose story is recorded in the Gospel, the form that had been hidden by disease is once more by means of health restored to sight again with its own marks of identity.

5. Now to the element of our soul which is in the likeness of God it is not that which is subject to flux and change by way of alteration, but this stable and unalterable element in our composition that is allied: and since various differences of combination produce varieties of forms (and combination is nothing else than the mixture of the elements—by elements we mean those which furnish the substratum for the making of the universe, of which the human body also is composed), while the form necessarily remains in the soul as in the impression of a seal, those things which have received from the seal the impression of its stamp do not fail to be recognized by the soul, but at the time of the World-Reformation, it receives back to itself all those things which correspond to the stamp of the form: and surely all those things would so correspond which in the beginning were stamped by the form; thus it is not beyond probability that what properly belongs to the individual should once more return to it from the common source 1729 .

6. It is said also that quicksilver, if poured out from the vessel that contains it down a dusty slope, forms small globules and scatters itself over the ground, mingling with none of those bodies with which it meets: but if one should collect at one place the substance dispersed in many directions, it flows back to its kindred substance, if not hindered by anything intervening from mixing with its own kind. Something of the same sort, I think, we ought to understand also of the composite nature of p. 419 man, that if only the power were given it of God, the proper parts would spontaneously unite with those belonging to them, without any obstruction on their account arising to Him Who reforms their nature.

7. Furthermore, in the case of plants that grow from the ground, we do not observe any labour on the part of nature spent on the wheat or millet or any other seed of grain or pulse, in changing it into stalk or spike or ears; for the proper nourishment passes spontaneously, without trouble, from the common source to the individuality of each of the seeds. If, then, while the moisture supplied to all the plants is common, each of those plants which is nourished by it draws the due supply for its own growth, what new thing is it if in the doctrine of the resurrection also, as in the case of the seeds, it happens that there is an attraction on the part of each of those who rise, of what belongs to himself?

8. So that we may learn on all hands, that the preaching of the resurrection contains nothing beyond those facts which are known to us experimentally.

9. And yet we have said nothing of the most notable point concerning ourselves; I mean the first beginning of our existence. Who knows not the miracle of nature, what the maternal womb receives—what it produces? Thou seest how that which is implanted in the womb to be the beginning of the formation of the body is in a manner simple and homogeneous: but what language can express the variety of the composite body that is framed? and who, if he did not learn such a thing in nature generally, would think that to be possible which does take place—that that small thing of no account is the beginning of a thing so great? Great, I say, not only with regard to the bodily formation, but to what is more marvellous than this, I mean the soul itself, and the attributes we behold in it.



Otherwise Chap. xxviii. The title in the Bodleian ms. of the Latin version is:—“That although bodies rise together they will yet receive their own souls.”


Cf. S. Luke xvi. 24-31.


The word, that is of the Prophet, or of the Saviour, as in the cases cited.


The “form” seems to be regarded as a seal, which, while taking its pattern from the combination of elements, yet marks those elements which have been grouped together under it; and which at the same time leaves an impression of itself upon the soul. The soul is thus enabled to recognize the elemental particles which make up that body which belonged to it, by the τύπος imprinted on them as well as on itself.

Next: To those who say that souls existed before bodies, or that bodies were formed before souls; wherein there is also a refutation of the fables concerning transmigration of souls.

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