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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:
Philosophical Works.: An establishment of the doctrine that the cause of the existence of soul and body is one and the same.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

XXIX. An establishment of the doctrine that the cause of the existence of soul and body is one and the same. 1735

1. Nor again are we in our doctrine to begin by making up man like a clay figure, and to say that the soul came into being for the sake of this; for surely in that case the intellectual nature would be shown to be less precious than the clay figure. But as man is one, the being consisting of soul and body, we are to suppose that the beginning of his existence is one, common to both parts, so that he should not be found to be antecedent and posterior to himself, if the bodily element were first in point of time, and the other were a later addition; but we are to say that in the power of God’s foreknowledge (according to the doctrine laid down a little earlier in our discourse), all the fulness of human nature had pre-existence (and to this the prophetic writing bears witness, which says that God “knoweth all things before they be 1736 ”), and in the creation of individuals not to place the one element before the other, neither the soul before the p. 421 body, nor the contrary, that man may not be at strife against himself, by being divided by the difference in point of time.

2. For as our nature is conceived as twofold, according to the apostolic teaching, made up of the visible man and the hidden man, if the one came first and the other supervened, the power of Him that made us will be shown to be in some way imperfect, as not being completely sufficient for the whole task at once, but dividing the work, and busying itself with each of the halves in turn.

3. But just as we say that in wheat, or in any other grain, the whole form of the plant is potentially included—the leaves, the stalk, the joints, the grain, the beard—and do not say in our account of its nature that any of these things has pre-existence, or comes into being before the others, but that the power abiding in the seed is manifested in a certain natural order, not by any means that another nature is infused into it—in the same way we suppose the human germ to possess the potentiality of its nature, sown with it at the first start of its existence, and that it is unfolded and manifested by a natural sequence as it proceeds to its perfect state, not employing anything external to itself as a stepping-stone to perfection, but itself advancing its own self in due course to the perfect state; so that it is not true to say either that the soul exists before the body, or that the body exists without the soul, but that there is one beginning of both, which according to the heavenly view was laid as their foundation in the original will of God; according to the other, came into existence on the occasion of generation.

4. For as we cannot discern the articulation of the limbs in that which is implanted for the conception of the body before it begins to take form, so neither is it possible to perceive in the same the properties of the soul before they advance to operation; and just as no one would doubt that the thing so implanted is fashioned into the different varieties of limbs and interior organs, not by the importation of any other power from without, but by the power which resides in it transforming 1737 it to this manifestation of energy,—so also we may by like reasoning equally suppose in the case of the soul that even if it is not visibly recognized by any manifestations of activity it none the less is there; for even the form of the future man is there potentially, but is concealed because it is not possible that it should be made visible before the necessary sequence of events allows it; so also the soul is there, even though it is not visible, and will be manifested by means of its own proper and natural operation, as it advances concurrently with the bodily growth.

5. For since it is not from a dead body that the potentiality for conception is secreted, but from one which is animate and alive, we hence affirm that it is reasonable that we should not suppose that what is sent forth from a living body to be the occasion of life is itself dead and inanimate; for in the flesh that which is inanimate is surely dead; and the condition of death arises by the withdrawal of the soul. Would not one therefore in this case be asserting that withdrawal is antecedent to possession—if, that is, he should maintain that the inanimate state which is the condition of death is antecedent to the soul 1738 ? And if any one should seek for a still clearer evidence of the life of that particle which becomes the beginning of the living creature in its formation, it is possible to obtain an idea on this point from other signs also, by which what is animate is distinguished from what is dead. For in the case of men we consider it an evidence of life that one is warm and operative and in motion, but the chill and motionless state in the case of bodies is nothing else than deadness.

6. Since then we see that of which we are speaking to be warm and operative, we thereby draw the further inference that it is not inanimate; but as, in respect of its corporeal part, we do not say that it is flesh, and bones, and hair, and all that we observe in the human being, but that potentially it is each of these things, yet does not visibly appear to be so; so also of the part which belongs to the soul, the elements of rationality, and desire, and anger, and all the powers of the soul are not yet visible; yet we assert that they have their place in it, and that the energies of the soul also grow with the subject in a manner similar to the formation and perfection of the body.

7. For just as a man when perfectly developed has a specially marked activity of the soul, so at the beginning of his existence he shows in himself that co-operation of the soul which is suitable and conformable to his existing need, in its preparing for itself its proper dwelling-place by means of the implanted matter; for we do not suppose it possible that the soul is adapted to a strange building, just as it is not possible that the seal impressed on wax should be fitted to an engraving that does not agree with it.

8. For as the body proceeds from a very small original to the perfect state, so also the operation of the soul, growing in correspondence with the subject, gains and increases with it. p. 422 For at its first formation there comes first of all its power of growth and nutriment alone, as though it were some root buried in the ground; for the limited nature of the recipient does not admit of more; then, as the plant comes forth to the light and shows its shoot to the sun, the gift of sensibility blossoms in addition, but when at last it is ripened and has grown up to its proper height, the power of reason begins to shine forth like a fruit, not appearing in its whole vigour all at once, but by care increasing with the perfection of the instrument, bearing always as much fruit as the powers of the subject allow.

9. If, however, thou seekest to trace the operation of the soul in the formation of the body, “take heed to thyself 1739 ,” as Moses says, and thou wilt read, as in a book, the history of the works of the soul; for nature itself expounds to thee, more clearly than any discourse, the varied occupations of the soul in the body, alike in general and in particular acts of construction.

10. But I deem it superfluous to declare at length in words what is to be found in ourselves, as though we were expounding some wonder that lay beyond our boundaries:—who that looks on himself needs words to teach him his own nature? For it is possible for one who considers the mode of his own life, and learns how closely concerned the body is in every vital operation, to know in what the vegetative 1740 principle of the soul was occupied on the occasion of the first formation of that which was beginning its existence; so that hereby also it is clear to those who have given any attention to the matter, that the thing which was implanted by separation from the living body for the production of the living being was not a thing dead or inanimate in the laboratory of nature.

11. Moreover we plant in the ground the kernels of fruits, and portions torn from roots, not deprived by death of the vital power which naturally resides in them, but preserving in themselves, hidden indeed, yet surely living, the property of their prototype; the earth that surrounds them does not implant such a power from without, infusing it from itself (for surely then even dead wood would proceed to growth), but it makes that manifest which resides in them, nourishing it by its own moisture, perfecting the plant into root, and bark, and pith, and shoots of branches, which could not happen were not a natural power implanted with it, which drawing to itself from its surroundings its kindred and proper nourishment, becomes a bush, or a tree, or an ear of grain, or some plant of the class of shrubs.



Otherwise Chap. xxx. But in the Latin translation of Dionysius, the new chapter does not begin till the end of the first sentence of the Greek text. As Forbes remarks, either place is awkward: a better beginning would be found at §8 of the preceding chapter. The Bodleian ms. of the Latin version gives as the title:—“That God equally made the soul and the body of man.”


Sus. 42.


The reading αὐτῆς μεθισταμένης, “itself being transformed,” seems to give a better sense, but the weight of ms. authority seems to be against it.


Altering Forbes’ punctuation.


Deut. iv. 23.


Reading φυτικὸν for φυσικόν, see note 6 on ch. 8, §4.

Next: A brief examination of the construction of our bodies from a medical point of view.

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