1. Good and bad angels have the same nature
I AM going to discuss the creation of man; for it will be apparent that the two cities took their origin from that creation, as far as they are concerned with beings who are both rational and mortal. But, as I showed in my last book,1 the beginning of the two cities had already been seen in the angels; and so I see that I must say something about them first. I hope to demonstrate, if I can, that there is no absurdity or incongruity in asserting a fellowship between men and angels. So that there is no need to suppose four cities, two of angels and two of men. We may speak of two cities, or communities, one consisting of the good, angels as well as men, and the other of the evil.
The contrasted aims of the good and the evil angels did not arise from any difference in nature or origin. It would be utterly wrong to have any doubt about that, since God created both, and he is good in his creation and fashioning of all substances. We must believe that the difference had its origin in their wills and desires, the one sort persisting resolutely in that Good which is common to all – which for them is God himself – and in his eternity, truth, and love, while the others were delighted rather with their own power, as though they themselves were their own Good. Thus they have fallen away from that Supreme Good which is common to all, which brings felicity, and they have devoted themselves to their own ends. They have chosen pride in their own elevation in exchange for the true exaltation of eternity; empty cleverness in exchange for the certainty of truth; the spirit of faction instead of unity in love; and so they have become arrogant, deceitful, and envious. The cause of the bliss of the others is their adherence to God; and so the cause of the misery of the apostates must be taken to be the exact contrary, their failure to adhere to him. Therefore the correct reply to the question, ‘Why are the one sort happy?’ is ‘Because they cling to God’; and to ‘Why are those others wretched?’ the reply is, ‘Because they do not cleave to him.’ It follows that there is only one Good which will bring happiness to a rational or intellectual creature; and that Good is God. And so although felicity is not possible for all creatures (for such things as beasts, trees, and stones are incapable of enjoying this blessing), yet those creatures which are capable of it, do not attain it by themselves, being created out of nothing, but receive it from him who created them. In attaining this Good they find their happiness; in losing it they are sunk in misery. But a being whose felicity springs from his own goodness, instead of from another’s, cannot be wretched, because he cannot lose himself.
Thus we say that there is only one unchanging Good; and that is the one, true, and blessed God. The things he made are good because they were made by him; but they are subject to change, because they were made not out of his being but out of nothing. Therefore although they are not supreme goods, since God is a greater good than they, still those mutable goods are of great value, because they can adhere to the immutable Good, and so attain happiness; and this is so truly their Good, that without it the creatures cannot but be wretched. Yet the other things in the created universe are not in a better condition because they are incapable of misery; for the other members of our body are not to be called better than our eyes, just because they cannot be blind. A sentient nature, when suffering, is better than a stone which is quite incapable of suffering; and in the same way the rational nature, even in wretchedness, is superior to the nature which is bereft both of reason and sense and therefore cannot be the victim of misery.
This being so, the failure to adhere to God must be a perversion in this rational nature. For it is created in such a privileged position that, though it is itself changeable, it can yet obtain blessedness by adhering to the unchangeable Good, that is, to the supreme God; and, as we can see, it cannot satisfy its need except by attaining that bliss which only God can supply. Moreover, any perversion does harm to nature, which means that it is contrary to nature. Therefore it is not by nature but by a perversion that the rebellious creation differs from the good, which adheres to God; yet even this perversion shows how great and honourable is the nature itself. For if we are right to condemn the perversion, that shows without doubt that the nature is honourable, since what justifies the condemnation of the perversion is that the perversion disgraces a nature which deserves honour. We call blindness a fault in the eyes, and that shows that it is of the nature of eyes to see; we call deafness a fault in the ears, which shows that it is of the nature of ears to hear. In the same way, when we say that it was fault, or perversion, in the angelic creation not to adhere to God, it shows quite plainly that adherence to him belonged to their nature. How great a glory it is to cleave to God, so as to live for him, to gain wisdom from him, to rejoice in him, and to enjoy so great a Good without death, without distraction or hindrance – this is beyond our power to imagine or describe. And thus the perversion of the evil angels in not adhering to God is a proof (since all perversion is contrary to nature) that God created their nature so good that it is harmful for it to be separated from him.
2. No existence is contrary to God. Non-existence is contrary to him, who is supreme existence
The reason for saying all this is to prevent anyone from thinking, when we are talking of the apostate angels, that they could have had another kind of nature derived from some other First Principle, and that God was not the author of their nature. The quickest and easiest way for anyone to divest himself of that erroneous and blasphemous notion is to understand clearly what God said by the mouth of his angel when sending Moses to the children of Israel: God said, ‘I am HE WHO IS.’2 For God is existence in a supreme degree - he supremely is – and he is therefore immutable. Hence he gave existence to the creatures he made out of nothing; but it was not his own supreme existence. To some he gave existence in a higher degree, to some in a lower, and thus he arranged a scale of existences of various natures. Now ‘existence’ (essentia) is derived from the verb ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’ (esse), in the same way as ‘wisdom’ (sapientia) from the verb ‘to be wise’ (sapere). It is a new word, not employed by ancient Latin writers, but it has come into general use in modern times to supply the need for a Latin word to express what the Greeks call ousia, of which essentia is a literal translation.
Thus to this highest existence, from which all things that are derive their existence, the only contrary nature is the non-existent. Non-existence is obviously contrary to the existent. It follows that no existence is contrary to God, that is to the supreme existence and the author of all existence whatsoever.
3. Enmity to God arises not from nature but from choice, in violation of a nature essentially good
Scripture speaks of ‘enemies of God’; but these enemies oppose God’s sovereignty not by nature but by their perversion, and they have power only to hurt themselves; they cannot harm God. They are his enemies because of their will to resist him, not because of their power to hurt him. For God is utterly incapable of any change or injury; and therefore the perversion which makes these ‘enemies of God’ resist him does harm to themselves, not to God, and it harms them simply because it does injury to the goodness of their nature. No nature is contrary to God; but a perversion, being evil, is contrary to good.
Now, can anyone deny that God is supremely good? It follows then that any perversion is contrary to God, as evil to good. Further, the nature which it injures is also a good, and therefore the perversion must be contrary to this good also. It is contrary to God only as evil is opposed to good; but to the nature that it perverts it is not merely evil but harmful. It goes without saying that no evil can harm God; but evils can harm natural substances liable to change and injury, although the very fact that perversions are perversions is a proof that such natures are in themselves good; if they were not good these faults would not harm them. What, in fact, is the harm effected by such faults? It can only be the loss of integrity, beauty, health or virtue, or of any goodness in a nature that is, as a general rule, liable to destruction or diminution through perversion. If there is no good there at all, there is nothing for perversion to destroy; and if no harm can be done, there can be no perversion. The conclusion is that although a fault cannot hurt unchangeable good, it cannot hurt anything except a good of some kind, since it only exists where it does harm. It may be put in this way: a fault cannot exist in the Highest Good, but it cannot exist except in some kind of good.
Therefore good may exist on its own, but evil cannot. The natures which have been perverted as a result of the initiative of an evil choice, are evil in so far as they are vitiated, but in so far as they are natures, they are good. And when this vitiated nature is punished there is, apart from the good that is there because it is a nature, the further good that it does not go unpunished; for the punishment is just, and what is just is undoubtedly good. It is just, in that no one is punished for faults of nature but for faults of will; and even the wickedness which has become habitual, and has developed and hardened into ‘second nature’, had its origin in an act of choice. At the moment, of course, we are speaking of the perversions of that nature in which there is a mind capable of the intellectual light, by which we distinguish between right and wrong.
4. Irrational and inanimate natures; their place in the beauty of the universe
It would be ridiculous, on the other hand, to regard the defects of beasts, trees and other mutable and mortal things which lack intelligence, sense, or life, as deserving condemnation. Such defects do indeed effect the decay of their nature, which is liable to dissolution; but these creatures have received their mode of being by the will of their Creator, whose purpose is that they should bring to perfection the beauty of the lower parts of the universe by their alternation and succession in the passage of the seasons; and this is a beauty in its own kind, finding its place among the constituent parts of this world. Not that such things of earth were meant to be comparable with heavenly realities. Yet the fact that those other realities are of higher value does not mean that these lower creatures should have been excluded from the whole scheme of things.
Consequently, in those areas of the universe where such creatures have their proper being, we see a constant succession, as some things pass away and others arise, as the weaker succumb to the stronger, and those that are overwhelmed change into the qualities of their conquerors; and thus we have a pattern of a world of continual transience. We, for our part, can see no beauty in this pattern to give us delight; and the reason is that we are involved in a section of it, under our condition of mortality, and so we cannot observe the whole design, in which these small parts, which are to us so disagreeable, fit together to make a scheme of ordered beauty. Hence the right course for us, when faced with things in which we are ill-equipped to contemplate God’s providential design, is to obey the command to believe in the Creator’s providence. We must not, in the rashness of human folly, allow ourselves to find fault, in any particular, with the work of that great Artificer who created all things.
As for those defects, in things of this earth, which are neither voluntary nor punishable; if we observe them closely we shall find that, on the same principle as before, they attest the goodness of the natures themselves, every one of which has God as its sole author and creator. For in their case also we are displeased when a defect takes away the pleasure we find in their original nature, although it is true that men are often displeased by the natural state or behaviour of things, when they experience discomfort from them, and so think only of how they affect them personally, not of those natural properties in themselves. An example would be those animals, whose excessive abundance plagued the pride of the Egyptians.3 But by the same token men might find fault with the sun, because offenders against the law, or defaulting debtors, are sometimes exposed to the sun by order of the magistrates.
Therefore it is the nature of things considered in itself, without regard to our convenience or inconvenience, that gives glory to the Creator. Thus the nature of the eternal fire is without doubt a subject for praise, although to the wicked after their condemnation it will be the fire of punishment. For what is more beautiful than a fire, with all the vigour of its flames and the splendours of its light? And what more useful, with its heat, its comfort, and its help in cooking? And yet nothing can cause more distress than the burns inflicted by fire. Thus a thing which is dangerous and destructive in some situations proves to be of the greatest utility when properly employed. Who could give a complete account of all the useful functions of fire in the whole universe?
So we must not give a hearing to those who praise the fire’s light and find fault with its heat, because they are not thinking of its natural properties, but are judging it by the standard of their own convenience or inconvenience. They like to see the fire; but they do not like being burned. They fail to notice that even the light, which they certainly enjoy, does harm to weak eyes, because it does not suit them; while many animals live and flourish in the heat4 which these critics dislike, because it happens to suit their nature.
5. The Creator is to be praised in respect of every kind and mode of being in nature
And so all nature’s substances are good, because they exist and therefore have their own mode and kind of being, and, in their fashion, a peace and harmony among themselves.5 And when they are in that situation where they ought to be in the orderly scheme of nature, they preserve the full existence they have been given. Those which have not been given an eternal existence obey the laws of the Creator in changing for the better or the worse in accordance with the lines of development he has laid down for them in the scheme of things; and all tend, in God’s plan, to that end which is included in the whole design for the government of the universe. But it is ensured that the process of destruction, which results in the disappearance of mutable and mortal natures, brings what existed to non-existence in such a way as to allow the consequent production of what is destined to come into being.
Now God supremely exists, and therefore he is the author of every existence which does not exist in this supreme degree. No existence which came from nothing can claim to be equal to him; nothing could exist in any way, if it had not been created by him. Therefore God is not to be blamed for any fault or defect which offends us; he is to be praised, when we contemplate everything that exists in nature.
6. The cause of the bliss of the good angels and of the misery of the bad
The true cause therefore of the bliss of the good angels is their adherence to him who supremely is. When we ask the cause of the evil angels’ misery, we find that it is the just result of their turning away from him who supremely is, and their turning towards themselves, who do not exist in that supreme degree. What other name is there for this fault than pride? ‘The beginning of all sin is pride.’6 Thus they refused to ‘keep watch for him who is their strength’.7 They would have existed in a higher degree, if they had adhered to him who exists in the highest degree; but in preferring themselves to him they chose a lower degree of existence.
This was the first defect, the first impoverishment, the first fault of that nature, which was so created that it did not exist in the supreme degree; yet it was capable of attaining blessedness in the enjoyment of him who supremely exists. Even when it turned away from him it did not become nothing; but it sank to a lower state of being, and therefore came to misery. If you try to find the efficient cause of this evil choice, there is none to be found. For nothing causes an evil will, since it is the evil will itself which causes the evil act; and that means that the evil choice is the efficient cause of an evil act, whereas there is no efficient cause of an evil choice; since if anything exists, it either has, or has not, a will. If it has, that will is either good or bad; and if it is good, will anyone be fool enough to say that a good will causes an evil will? If it does, it follows that a good will is the cause of sin; and a more absurd conclusion cannot be imagined. Now if whatever is supposed to cause the evil will itself had an evil will, then I go on to ask what caused that evil will, and thus, to set a limit to these questions, I look for the cause of the first evil will. An evil will which is caused by an evil will is not the first; the first is that which has no cause, since cause precedes effect.
If it is replied that it had no cause, and therefore always existed, I ask whether it existed in any nature. If it was not in any nature, then it did not exist at all. If it existed in some nature, it vitiated that nature and corrupted it; it was harmful to it and therefore deprived it of good. Therefore a bad will cannot exist in a bad nature, but in a good but mutable nature, which this fault could harm. For if it did no harm, it obviously was not a fault, and if not a fault it could not rightly be called an evil will. And if it did harm, it must have done harm by destroying or diminishing good. Therefore an evil will could not be eternal in anything. For there would have to be a preceding goodness of nature for the evil will to harm and destroy. Then if that evil will was not eternally there, who created it?
The only possible answer is: Something which had no will. Was this, then, superior, inferior, or equal to it? If superior, it must be better. How then could it have no will? Must it not have a good will? The same applies if it is equal. When two things are equally good in will, the one cannot cause an evil will in the other. It remains that an inferior thing, without will, caused an evil will in the angelic nature, which first sinned.
But any existing thing which is inferior, even to the lowest depth of earth, is a nature and an existence, and therefore it is undoubtedly good, having its own mode and form in its own kind and order. How then can a good thing be the efficient cause of evil choice? How, I repeat, can good be the cause of evil? For when the will leaves the higher and turns to the lower, it becomes bad not because the thing to which it turns is bad, but because the turning is itself perverse. It follows that it is not the inferior thing which causes the evil choice; it is the will itself, because it is created, that desires the inferior thing in a perverted and inordinate manner.
Suppose that two men, of precisely similar disposition in mind and body, see the beauty of the same woman’s body, and the sight stirs one of them to enjoy her unlawfully, while the other continues unmoved in his decision of chastity. What do we suppose to be the cause of an evil choice in the one and not in the other? What produced that evil will? It was not the beauty of the woman; for it did not have that effect in both of them, although both had precisely the same view of her. Was it the flesh of the beholder? Then why did it affect one and not the other? The mind? Why not the mind of both? For we assumed them to be alike in both mind and body. Are we to say that one of them was tempted by an unseen suggestion from a malignant spirit, which would imply that he did not of his own will fall in with the suggestion, or whatever sort of persuasion it was?
It is just this consent, this evil choice which responded to the evil suggestion for which we are trying to find the efficient cause. Now if both experienced the same temptation, and one succumbed and consented to it, while the other remained unmoved, the only way to solve the difficulty is evidently to say that one refused and the other agreed to lose his chastity. What other reason could there be than this personal decision, given that their dispositions were precisely the same, in body and mind? The woman’s beauty was seen by the eyes of both of them, the same beauty, in the same way. The unseen temptation was equally present in both of them. And so, if anyone tries to discover a cause which produced the evil choice in one of the pair, if he scrutinizes the situation carefully, no cause suggests itself.
Suppose we say that the man himself caused it? But before that evil choice he was simply a good nature, created by God, who is the immutable Good. Now we have assumed that these two men both had the same chance of seeing the beautiful body, and both were alike in mind and body, before the sight of the woman brought temptation; yet the one yielded to the persuasion of the Tempter to enjoy her unlawfully; the other resisted it. And so if anyone asserts that the man himself caused the evil choice, though before that evil choice he was undoubtedly good, he must go on to ask whyhe caused it. Was it because he is a natural being, or because his natural being is created from nothing? It will then be found that the evil choice takes its origin not from the fact that the man is a natural being, but from the fact that his natural being is created from nothing. For if nature is the cause of the evil will, can we help saying that evil is derived from good, and that good is the cause of evil? This must be so, if the evil will derives from a nature which is good. But how can this be? How can a nature which is good, however changeable, before it has an evil will, be the cause of any evil, the cause, that is, of that evil will itself?
7. We must not look for any efficient cause of the evil act of will
The truth is that one should not try to find an efficient cause for a wrong choice. It is not a matter of efficiency, but of deficiency; the evil will itself is not effective but defective. For to defect from him who is the Supreme Existence, to something of less reality, this is to begin to have an evil will. To try to discover the causes of such defection – deficient, not efficient causes – is like trying to see darkness or to hear silence. Yet we are familiar with darkness and silence, and we can only be aware of them by means of eyes and ears, but this is not by perception but by absence of perception.
No one therefore must try to get to know from me what I know that I do not know, unless, it may be, in order to learn not to know what must be known to be incapable of being known! For of course when we know things not by perception but by its absence, we know them, in a sense, but not-knowing, so that they are not-known by being known – if that is a possible or intelligible statement! For when with our bodily eyes, our glance travels over material forms, as they are presented to perception, we never see darkness except when we stop seeing. And we can only perceive silence by means of our ears, and through no other sense, and yet silence can only be perceived by not hearing. In the same way, the ‘ideas’ presented to the intellect are observed by our mind in understanding them. And yet when these ‘ideas’ are absent, the mind acquires knowledge by not-knowing. For ‘who can observe things that are lacking?’8
8. The perverse affection whereby the will defects from the immutable to the mutable good
This I do know; that the nature of God cannot be deficient, at any time, anywhere, in any respect, while things which were made from nothing are capable of deficiency. And such things have efficient causes, the higher their degree of reality, the greater their activity in good, for it is then that they are really active; but in so far as they fail, and consequently act wrongly, their activity must be futile, and they have deficient causes. I likewise know that when an evil choice happens in any being, then what happens is dependent on the will of that being; the failure is voluntary, not necessary, and the punishment that follows is just. For this failure does not consist in defection to things which are evil in themselves; it is the defection in itself that is evil. That is, it is not a falling away to evil natures; the defection is evil in itself, as a defection from him who supremely exists to something of a lower degree of reality; and this is contrary to the order of nature.
Greed, for example, is not something wrong with gold; the fault is in a man who perversely loves gold and for its sake abandons justice, which ought to be put beyond comparison above gold. Lust is not something wrong in a beautiful and attractive body; the fault is in a soul which perversely delights in sensual pleasures, to the neglect of that self-control by which we are made fit for spiritual realities far more beautiful, with a loveliness which cannot fade. Boasting is not something wrong with the praise of men; the fault is in a soul which perversely loves the praise of others and cares nothing for the ‘witness of conscience’.9 Pride is not something wrong in the one who loves power, or in the power itself; the fault is in the soul which perversely loves its own power, and has no thought for the justice of the Omnipotent. By the same token, anyone who perversely loves the goodness of any nature whatsoever, even if he obtains the enjoyment of it, becomes evil in the enjoyment of the good, and wretched in being deprived of a higher good.
9.Whether the Creator is the author of the good will of the holy angels
There is then no efficient natural or (if we may so call it) ‘essential’cause of evil choice, since the evil of mutable spirits arises from the evil choice itself, and that evil diminishes and corrupts the goodness of nature. And this evil choice consists solely in falling away from God and deserting him, a defection whose cause is deficient, in the sense of being wanting – for there is no cause. Now if we draw the conclusion that a good will also has no efficient cause we must beware of giving the idea that the good will of the good angels is uncaused in the sense of being co-eternal with God. In fact, since the angels were themselves created, it follows that their will must also be created. Now if their will was created, was it created together with them, or did they first exist without it? If with them, obviously it was created by him who created them: and as soon as they were created they adhered to their Creator with that love with which they were created. And the rebellious angels were separated from fellowship with the good, because the latter continued in that good will, while the others were changed by falling away from it, by an act of will which was evil in the very fact that they fell away from that good will; and they would not have fallen away, had they not willed to do so.
If, on the other hand, the good angels were at first without this good will, and produced it by themselves without the operation of God, then they themselves improved upon God’s original creation, which is unthinkable. Indeed, without a good will they could not but be evil. Or if they were not evil, because there was no evil will in them, and they had not fallen away from something which they had never begun to possess, at any rate they were not as good as they began to be when they had a good will. But if they could not by themselves have improved upon the work of the best possible Creator, then clearly they could only have gained possession of a good will, by which they would be improved, by the assistance of the Creator’s activity. And the effect of their good will was to turn them not to themselves who were inferior in being, but to him who supremely exists, so that by adhering to him they might advance in being and live in wisdom and felicity by participation in him. And so they demonstrate just this: that any good will would have been impoverished, remaining in the state of longing, had it not been that he who made, out of nothing, a nature that was good and capable of enjoying him, made it better by fulfilling that desire, first having excited it to greater eagerness for that fulfilment.
There is another point to be discussed. If the angels themselves created this good will in themselves, did they do this by some act of will? If there was no act of will, they could not have created it. That needs no saying. Then, if there was some act of will, was it a bad or a good act of will? If the former, how could a bad will produce a good? If the latter, then they had a good will already. And who had produced that will but the one who created them with a good will, that is with pure love, the love with which they could adhere to him, the one who showered grace on them at the same time as he formed their nature? Hence we must believe that the holy angels were never without good will, never that is, without the love of God.
Those other angels were created good but have become evil by their own bad will; and this bad will did not originate from their nature, which was good. It came through a voluntary falling away from the good, so that evil is caused not by good, but by falling away from good. Either they received less grace of the divine love than did the others, who continued in that grace; or, if both were created equally good, the one sort fell through their evil will, while the others had greater help to enable them to attain to the fullness of bliss with the complete assurance that they will never fall away – a point we have already made, in the previous book.10
Therefore we must acknowledge, giving due praise to the Creator, that ‘the love of God diffused by the Holy Spirit who has been given’11 does not refer merely to holy men, but is applicable also to the holy angels; that when the Scripture says, ‘As for me, my true good is to cling to God’12 it refers not only to the good for mankind, but first and foremost, to the good of the holy angels. Those who share in this good have holy fellowship with him to whom they adhere, and also among themselves; and they are one City of God, and at the same time they are his living sacrifice13 and his living temple.14 Part of this community, which is an assembly formed of mortal men destined to be united with the immortal angels, is now on pilgrimage on earth, under the condition of change, or else is at rest, in the persons of those who have passed from this life, in the secret resting-places of the souls of the departed.15 I see that I must go on to describe how this part of the community originated with God as its creator, as I have already described the origin of the angels.
Now the whole human race took its beginning from the one man, whom God first created. This we believe on the authority of the holy Scriptures, an authority which is held, and rightly, in unique respect in all the world, and among all nations.16 In fact, among the other true predictions given in the Scripture, by divine inspiration, is the prophecy that all those nations would believe its testimony.17
10. Of the opinion that the human race, like the world itself, has always existed
We may pass over the speculations about the nature and origin of the human race that have been put forward by men who do not know what they are talking about. Some have supposed that the world itself always existed,18 and they have expressed the same belief about mankind. Thus Apuleius describes this class of living creatures in these words: ‘Mortal as individuals; but eternal as a whole species’.19 Now we may put this question to the theorists: ‘If the world has always existed, how can the statements in your histories be true, when they ascribe various inventions to various people, and name those responsible for the first establishment of liberal education and of other arts, or the first inhabitants of different regions of the world and of the various islands?’ And we get this answer: ‘At periodic intervals the world, or rather the greater part of it, is so devastated by floods and conflagrations, that mankind is reduced to a meagre few, and the original population is restored by the progeny of that remnant. And so things are discovered and started time after time, and it seems as if each time is the first beginning; whereas in fact these “beginnings” are restorations of what has been interrupted and extinguished by these colossal devastations. Man can come into existence only from man.’20 Now such statements are based on mere supposition, not on knowledge.
11.The falsity of such history as ascribes to the world a past of many thousand years
Those who hold such opinions are also led astray by some utterly spurious documents which, they say, give a historical record of many thousand years, whereas we reckon, from the evidence of the holy Scriptures, that fewer than 6,000 years have passed since man’s first origin.21 To avoid any long argument in refutation of the nonsense of the writings which allege many more thousands of years, and to show how utterly inadequate is their authority on this subject, I need only refer to the well-known letter of Alexander the Great to his mother Olympias.22 This incorporates the narrative of an Egyptian priest, which he produced from writings considered sacred by the Egyptians. This document records, among other empires, the monarchies which are also known to Greek historical sources. In Alexander’s letter the Assyrian monarchy is represented as lasting more than 5,000 years, while in the Greek records it covered only 1,300 years, from the reign of Belus, who appears as the first king in the Egyptian’s story as well as in the Greek.23 The Egyptian alleged a duration of more than 8,000 years for the Persian and Macedonian Empires down to the time of Alexander, to whom he was speaking. But in the Greek account the Macedonian monarchy is found to have lasted only 485 years up to the death of Alexander,24 while the Persian Empire, according to this reckoning, was brought to an end by Alexander’s conquest after 233 years of power.25The Greek figures are thus much smaller than the Egyptian. In fact they would not equal them,even if multiplied by three. Now it is said that the Egyptians at one time had short years, lasting only four months, so that one real year, a full year, like the modern Egyptian year (which is the same as ours) would contain three of those old Egyptian years.26 But even so, as I said, Greek records would not coincide with the Egyptian in chronology. And there is good reason for regarding the Greek account as more worthy of credence, in that it does not exceed the true statement of the number of years, as presented in our Scriptures, which are truly sacred. Moreover if this well-known letter of Alexander is so widely discrepant from the trustworthy record of the facts in respect of chronology, how much less credence should be given to those writings, packed with fairy-tales about reputed antiquity, which our opponents may decide to produce in attempts to controvert the authority of our sacred books, whose inspiration is so generally acknowledged. This is the authority which foretold that the whole world would believe in it; and the belief of the whole world has answered to that prophecy.27 The fulfilment in reality of those prophecies of the future guarantees the truth of the biblical narrative of the past.
12. The theory of the periodic disintegration and renewal of innumerable worlds, or of one
There are others who hold that this world is not eternal. They suppose an infinite series of dissolutions and restorations at fixed periods in the course of ages; some of them believing that this happens to the one world,28 which is the only one, while others believe in an infinite number of worlds.29These theorists are forced to admit that the human race existed first, before men were begotten. They cannot suppose that when the whole world is destroyed any representatives of humanity could remain, as happened according to the other theory of periodic inundations and conflagrations. For according to that contention, these disasters did not affect the whole earth, and so a few human beings remained on each occasion, and from them the original population could be restored.30 But this present theory supposes that the world itself is rebuilt from its own material, and so it also holds that mankind is produced again out of its elements, and then from those first parents comes the teeming progeny of mortals, and that the same happens in the other animals.
13. The reply to the argument against the recent creation of man
Some people raise the question why an infinity of ages passed without man’s being created, why his creation was so late that less than 6,000 years, according to scriptural evidence, have passed since he first came into existence. Our answer to this is the same as that we offered to the similar objection about the origin of the world,31 raised by those who refused to believe, not that the world has always existed, but that it had a beginning (as Plato clearly admits,32 although some33 believe that he was not expressing his real opinion). If the idea of so short a time upsets them, and the years since man’s creation, as recorded in our authorities, seem so few, they should consider that nothing which has a limit is of enormous duration, and that all the finite spaces of the ages, when compared with endless eternity, are to be counted not as very little, but as nothing at all. Therefore even if we speak of not just 5,000 or 6,000 years, but even 60,000 or 600,000 or 6,000,000 or 60,000,000 or 600,000,000, and go on squaring the numbers until we reach a number to which we cannot give a name, and make that the time since man’s creation, the question could still be asked: ‘Why not earlier?’
For God’s pause before the creation of man was eternal and without beginning, so that compared with it an inexpressibly great number of centuries, which must still have an end and a defined extent, is not so much as the smallest drop of water compared with all the oceans of the world: for in this comparison, though one is tiny and the other incomparably huge, still both terms are finite. But any space of time which starts from a beginning and is brought to an end, however vast its extent, must be reckoned when compared with that which has no beginning, as minimal, or rather as nothing at all. For if you take from it the shortest moments one by one, beginning from the end, however great the number may be, even if it is too great to have a name, it will still decrease as you go back, until the process of subtraction brings you to the beginning. It is like subtracting the days of a man’s life working back from the present until you reach his birthday. But if you take what has no beginning, and work backwards, not subtracting moments one by one, or hours, or days, or months, or years, but intervals equal to that number of years which exceeds all possible computation and yet can be wiped out by the subtraction of moments one by one, and if you subtract those immense spaces of time not once or twice or any number of times, but without limit, it is all to no avail; you never reach the beginning, because there is no beginning at all. Therefore the question which we now ask after 5,000 years or more, posterity could as well ask, with the same curiosity, after 600,000 years, if the mortal state of humanity, with its succession of birth and death, should last so long, and our frailty, with all its ignorance, should endure. And our predecessors might have raised the same question soon after the creation of man. In fact the first man himself might have asked, on the day after he was made, or even on the very day of his creation, why he had not been made sooner. And whenever he had been made, no matter how much earlier, this objection about the beginning of temporal things would have had precisely the same force then as now – or at any other time.
14.The cyclical theory of the world’s history
The Physicists, for their part, considered that there was only one possible and credible way of solving this difficulty; and that was by the postulate of periodic cycles.34 They asserted that by those cycles all things in the universe have been continually renewed and repeated, in the same form, and thus there will be hereafter an unceasing sequence of ages, passing away and coming again in revolution. These cycles may take place in one continuing world, or it may be that at certain periods the world disappears and reappears, showing the same features, which appear as new, but which in fact have been in the past and will return in the future. And they are utterly unable to rescue the immortal soul from this merry-go-round, even when it has attained wisdom; it must proceed on an unremitting alternation between false bliss and genuine misery. For how can there be true bliss, without any certainty of its eternal continuance, when the soul in its ignorance does not know of the misery to come, or else unhappily fears its coming in the midst of its blessedness? But if the soul goes from misery to happiness, nevermore to return, then there is some new state of affairs in time, which will never have an end in time. If so, why cannot the same be true of the world? And of man, created in the world? And so we may escape from these false circuitous courses,whatever they may be, which have been devised by these misled and misleading sages, by keeping to the straight path in the right direction under the guidance of sound teaching.
Now there are some35 who quote the passage in the book of Solomon called Ecclesiastes, ‘What is what has been? The same as what will be. What is what has been done? The same as what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun. If anyone says: “Look, here is something new”.; it has already happened in the ages before our time.’36 And they want this to be taken as referring to those circular movements, returning to the same state as before, and bringing all things back to the same condition. But in fact the writer is speaking of what he has just been mentioning: the successive generations, departing and arriving, the paths of the sun, the streams that flow past. Or else he is speaking generally of all things which come to be and pass away: for there were men before us, there are men contemporary with us, and there will be men after us; and the same holds good for all living creatures, and for trees and plants. Even the very monsters, the strange creatures which are born, although different one from another, and even though we are told that some of them are unique, still, regarded as a class of wonders and monsters, it is true of them that they have been before and they will be again, and there is nothing novel or fresh in the fact of a monster being born under the sun.
Some interpreters, to be sure, have taken the passage quoted to mean that all things have already happened in God’s predestination, and that is why there is ‘nothing new under the sun’. They think this is what the wise man intended to convey. However this may be, heaven forbid that correct faith should believe that those words of Solomon refer to those periodic revolutions of the Physicists, by which, on their theory, the same ages and the same temporal events recur in rotation. According to this theory, just as Plato, for example, taught his disciples at Athens in the fourth century, in the school called the Academy, so in innumerable centuries of the past, separated by immensely wide and yet finite intervals, the same Plato, the same city, the same school, the same disciples have appeared time after time, and are to reappear time after time in innumerable centuries in the future.
Heaven forbid, I repeat, that we should believe this. For ‘Christ died once for all for our sins’; and ‘in rising from the dead he is never to die again: he is no longer under the sway of death.37 And after the resurrection ‘we shall be with the Lord for ever’;38 and even now we say to the Lord, as the holy psalm reminds us to say, ‘Lord, you will preserve us and guard us from this generation for ever.’39 The following verse I think suits our theorists very neatly, ‘The ungodly will walk in a circle’;40 not because their life is going to come round again in the course of those revolutions which they believe in, but because the way of their error, the way of false doctrine, goes round in circles.
15.God’s creation of mankind in time involved no change of purpose
It is no wonder that those theorists wander in a circuitous maze finding neither entrance nor exit, for they do not know how the human race, and this mortal condition of ours, first started, nor with what end it will be brought to a close. They cannot penetrate ‘the depth of God’,41 the deep counsel by which, being himself eternal and without beginning, he started time and man from a beginning, and made man in time, as a new act of creation, and yet with no sudden change of purpose but in accordance with his unchanging and eternal plan. Who could plumb this unplumbable depth of God’s counsel, and scrutinize his inscrutable design? This is the design by which God made man as a being in time, when no man had existed before him, making him in time with no change of purpose, and multiplying the whole human race from that one man.
For when the psalmist has said, ‘Lord, you will preserve us and guard us from this generation for ever’,42 he then goes on to hit back at those whose foolish and godless teaching allows no room for the eternal liberation and felicity of the soul, when he adds, ‘The ungodly will walk in a circle.’ It is as if he had been asked: ‘What then do you believe? What do you think? How do you understand it? Are we really to imagine that God suddenly decided to make man, whom he had not made in all that previous infinite eternity, remembering that nothing new can happen to God, and there is no possibility of change in him?’ And the psalmist immediately replies by addressing God himself:‘According to your deep design you multiplied the sons of men.’43 He says, in effect, ‘Let men form their opinions from their own imaginations: let them theorize and argue as they please, but “according to your deep design you multiplied the sons of men” – that deep design which no human being can discover.’ For it is certainly a profound mystery that God existed always and yet willed to create the first man, as a new act of creation, at some particular time, without any alteration in his purpose and design.
16. Does God’s eternal sovereignty imply an eternal creation for its exercise?
I certainly would not dare to deny that God is eternally sovereign Lord; yet at the same time I must not doubt that man was first created at a certain time, before which he did not exist. But when I ponder the question what was the eternal subject of God’s eternal sovereignty, if creation did not always exist, I am afraid to give any positive answer, because I examine myself, and remember what the Scripture says, ‘What human being can know the design of God? Who will be able to think what God intends? For the thoughts of morfals are timorous, and our speculations uncertain. For the corruptible body weighs down the soul, and the earthly habitation depresses the mind as it ponders many thoughts.’44
There are many thoughts which I ponder while in this earthly habitation – many, just because I cannot find one thought, among those I ponder, or any thought beyond them which happens not to be among my thoughts, which is certainly true. Suppose I say that creation has always existed, for God to be its sovereign (since God always is sovereign, and always has been) but that one creation followed another in the passage of ages – to avoid saying that any creation is co-eternal with God, an idea condemned alike by faith and sound reason. Then we must beware of the absurdity (an absurdity remote from the light of truth) of supposing that the mortal creation has existed from the beginning, though changing through the ages, with the departure of one creation and the succession of another, and saying at the same time that the immortal creation did not come into being until this age of ours was reached, when the angels also were created. (I am assuming that we are right in taking ‘first created light’ as referring to them, or, more probably, in so interpreting ‘heaven’ in the statement, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’)45 For the angels did not exist before they were made; otherwise these eternal beings would be thought to be co-eternal with God, if they are said to have existed always.
On the other hand, if I say that the angels were not created in time, but existed before all time was for God to be sovereign over them, since he has always been sovereign, then I shall be asked whether beings who were created could exist always – if it is true that they were made before time was. Perhaps the reply should be: ‘Why should they not exist always, seeing that what exists for all time may appropriately be said to exist always? They have existed for all time: so much so that they were created before all measured time, if we accept it that measured time began with the creation of the sky, and they existed before that. But time, we suppose, did not begin with the sky, but existed before it; though not indeed in hours, days, months and years. For these measurements of temporal spaces, which are by usage properly called “times”, evidently took their beginning from the motion of the stars; hence God said, in creating them, “Let them serve for signs and times and days and years.”46 Time, we suppose, existed before this in some changing movement, in which there was succession of before and after, in which everything could not be simultaneous. If then before the creation of the sky there was something of this sort in the angelic motions, and therefore time already existed and the angels moved in time from the moment of their creation, even so they have existed for all time, seeing that time began when they began. Will anyone assert that what has existed for all time has not existed always?’
But if I make this reply, I shall be asked, ‘Surely then they must be co-eternal with the Creator, if they, as he, have always existed? How can they be said to be created, if we take it that they have always existed?’ What answer is there to this? Are we to say that they have always existed, in that they were made together with time, or that measured time began with them, and so they have existed for all time; but that nevertheless they were created? For we shall not deny that ‘times’ were created, although no one doubts that time has existed for all time.
For if time has not existed for all time, it would follow that there was a time when there was no time. And the most complete fool would not say that! We can correctly say, ‘There was a time when Rome did not exist: there was a time when Jerusalem, or Abraham, or man, or anything of this kind, did not exist.’ We can in fact say, ‘There was a time when the world did not exist’, if it is true that the world was created not at the beginning of time, but some time after. But to say, ‘There was a time when time did not exist’, is as nonsensical as to say, ‘There was a man when no man existed’, or, ‘This world existed when this world was not.’ If we are referring to different individuals, we can rightly say, ‘There was a man when that man did not exist’, and so we can say, ‘There was a time when this time did not exist’; but to say, ‘There was a time when there was no time’ is beyond the capability of the veriest idiot.
And so, since we say that time was created, while it is said to have existed always, because time has existed for all time, the fact that the angels have existed always does not entail that they were not created. They are said to have existed always because they have been for all time; and they have existed for all time because without them periods of time could not exist. For when there was no created thing whose change and movement could be the condition of time’s passage, time could not exist. Thus although the angels always existed, they were created, and the fact that they always existed does not make them co-eternal with the Creator. For he has always existed in changeless eternity; whereas they were created. But they are said to have existed always because they have existed for all time, and without them no time could exist.
However, since time is changing and transitory, it cannot be co-eternal with changeless eternity.47 Now the immortality of the angels is not transitory or temporal; it is not in the past, as if it no longer existed, nor in the future, as though it had still to come into existence; and yet their movements, which condition the passage of time, pass from the future into the past, and therefore they cannot be co-eternal with the Creator. For in the movement of the Creator there is no question of a past which no longer exists or a future which is yet to be.
Hence, if God has always been sovereign, he has always had a creation subject to his sovereignty, not begotten from him, but made by him out of nothing, and not co-eternal with him. He existed before his creation, although not in any time before it; he preceded it not by a transitory interval of time but in his abiding perpetuity.48
This is my answer to those who ask how the Creator was always Creator and always sovereign Lord if created beings did not always exist to serve him: but, if I make this reply, I am afraid I shall readily incur the criticism that this is an affirmation of ignorance, not the communication of knowledge. And so I return to what our Creator wished us to know. What he has allowed wiser heads to know in this life, or has reserved for the knowledge of those who have reached their fulfilment in the other life, that I confess to be beyond my powers. But I thought I should discuss this question, without reaching any positive conclusion, so that my readers may see what questions they should refrain from tackling, as dangerous, and to discourage them from thinking themselves capable of understanding everything. Instead they should realize that they ought to submit to the wholesome instruction of the Apostle, when he says, ‘In virtue of the authority given to me by God’s grace I say this to all in your company: do not be wiser than you ought to be: but be wise in moderation, in proportion to the faith which God has allotted to each of you.’49 For if a child’s upbringing is adjusted to his strength, he will grow, and become capable of further progress, but if he is strained beyond his capacity he will fade away before he has the chance to grow up.
17. The meaning of God’s promise to man of eternal life, before eternity
I confess my ignorance about the ages which passed before the creation of mankind, yet I am certain that no creature is co-eternal with the Creator. The Apostle also talks of eternal times not as in the future but, what is more surprising, in the past. He says, ‘In the hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before eternal times; but at his own appointed times he manifested his word.’50 You see how he speaks of ‘eternal times’ as being in the past, but not as co-eternal with God; seeing that, ‘before eternal times’, he not only existed, but also promised eternal life, which he ‘manifested at his own appointed times’, that is, at fitting times. What else is this than his Word? For this is life eternal. But in what sense did he ‘promise’ it, since it was clearly to men that he made the promise, and men did not exist before eternal times? It can only mean that what was to happen at his appropriate time was already fixed, by his predestination, in his eternity and in this co-eternal Word.
18. God’s immutable purpose defended against cyclical theories
I am quite certain that no man existed before the creation of the first man; there were no repeated appearances of the same man, coming round again goodness knows how often in the course of goodness knows what cyclical revolutions;51 nor had there there ever been any other being like him in nature. And the arguments of philosophers cannot drive me from this conviction. The most effective of those arguments, in their opinion, is that ‘infinite things are beyond the comprehension of any knowledge.’52 Therefore, they say, God himself has finite conceptions in his mind of all the finite things he creates. And yet, they say, his goodness cannot be thought of as ever inactive, for otherwise his activity would be temporary, with an eternity of rest before it; and it would seem as if he repented of his former everlasting leisure, and that was why he began to set to work.
Hence, they say, there must be this continual sequence in which the same events happen repeatedly, and things pass away only to reappear, while the world either persists, though in a state of continual change, and this world has always existed, and yet is created, though without a beginning in time; or else the world comes to be and passes away in these cyclical revolutions, coming to be as a repetition of what was before, and passing away only to be brought back again. Otherwise, if we ascribe to God’s works a beginning in time, we obviously suggest the idea that in some way he disapproved of his own previous eternal inactivity, and condemned it as sloth and idleness, and therefore changed his ways!
Let us suppose, in contrast, that God is regarded as having been always engaged in the creation of temporal things, but as creating different things in succession, eventually arriving at the making of man, as a novel creation. Then he would appear to have effected all his creation not with knowledge (for our philosophers maintain that knowledge cannot embrace an infinity of things) but on the spur of the moment, as it were, just as it occurred to his mind, with haphazard capriciousness, as we might call it. But, they say, if we admit these revolutions which bring back the same temporal things and events time after time, we can either assume one continuing world, or suppose that the world itself provides its own dissolution and restoration in the course of these cycles. Then, in either case, we are no longer attributing to God the laziness of inactivity during all that length of eternity without beginning; and we acquit him of rashness in the creation of the unforeseen. For if the same things are not repeated, then there is an infinite range of possible variations, and that could not be embraced within God’s knowledge or foreknowledge.
Such are the arguments with which the ungodly try to turn our simple piety from the straight road, and to make us join them in ‘walking in circles’.53 But faith ought to laugh at these theories, even if reason could not refute them. In fact we can do more than that. With the help of the Lord our God, reason, and cogent reason, breaks up those revolving circles which speculative theory has devised. This is the chief source of the error of those theorists; they would rather walk in a mistaken circle than keep to the straight and right path, because they measure the utterly unchangeable mind of God, which can embrace any kind of infinity and numbers all the innumerable possibilities without passing them in sequence before its thought – they measure this mind by the standard of their own human intellect, with its mutability and narrow finitude. The Apostle describes what happens to them; ‘They measure themselves by their own standard, and fail to understand.’54 When it occurs to their minds to do something new, they change their plans in so acting; for their minds are subject to change. Thus it is not really God whom they are thinking of, in this argument; they find that impossible, and instead they imagine themselves in God’s place. And so they do not measure him by his own standard, but themselves by their own standard.
As for us, we are forbidden to suppose that God is in a different condition when he is at rest than when he is at work. In fact it is improper to speak of God’s ‘condition’, which would imply that some novel element might come into his nature, something that was not there before. When we speak of ‘condition’, we suggest something influenced or ‘conditioned’ from outside, and that implies a liability to change. So we must not think of God’s inactivity as involving sloth, or idleness, or laziness, any more than of his work as involving toil, effort, and industry. God knows how to be active while at rest, and at rest in his activity. He can apply to a new work not a new design but an eternal plan; and it is not because he repented of his previous inactivity that he began to do something he had not done before.
Even if he rested first and started work later (and I do not know how man can understand this) this ‘first’ and ‘later’ refer, without doubt, to things which first did not exist and later came into existence. But in God there was no new decision which altered or cancelled a previous intention; instead, it was with one and the same eternal and unchanging design that he effected his creation. So long as things did not exist it was his decree that prevented their existence at first, and when they came into being it was his will which brought them into existence later. In this way perhaps he shows, in a wonderful manner, to those who can see such things, that he did not stand in need of his creation, but produced his creatures out of pure disinterested goodness, since he had continued in no less felicity without them from all eternity without beginning.
19. The answer to the allegation that even God’s knowledge cannot embrace an infinity of things
Then there is the assertion that even God’s knowledge cannot embrace things which are infinite. If men can say this, it only remains for them to plunge into the depths of blasphemy by daring to allege that God does not know all numbers. It is certainly true that numbers are infinite. If you think to make an end with any number, then that number can be increased by the addition of one. More than that, however large it is, however great the quantity it expresses, it can be doubled; in fact it can be multiplied by any number, according to the very principle and science of numbers.
Every number is defined by its own unique character, so that no number is equal to any other. They are all unequal to one another and different, and the individual numbers are finite but as a class they are infinite. Does that mean that God does not know all numbers, because of their infinity? Does God’s knowledge extend as far as a certain sum, and end there? No one could be insane enough to say that.
Now those philosophers who revere the authority of Plato will not dare to despise numbers and say that they are irrelevant to God’s knowledge. For Plato emphasizes that God constructed the world by the use of numbers,55 while we have the authority of Scripture, where God is thus addressed, ‘You have set in order all things by measure, number, and weight.’56 And the prophet says of God, ‘He produces the world according to number’;57 and the Saviour says in the Gospel, ‘Your hairs are all numbered.’58
Never let us doubt, then, that every number is known to him ‘whose understanding cannot be numbered’.59 Although the infinite series of numbers cannot be numbered, this infinity of numbers is not outside the comprehension of him ‘whose understanding cannot be numbered’. And so, if what is comprehended in knowledge is bounded within the embrace of that knowledge, and thus is finite, it must follow that every infinity is, in a way we cannot express, made finite to God, because it cannot be beyond the embrace of his knowledge.
Therefore if the infinity of numbers cannot be infinite to the knowledge of God, in which it is embraced, who are we mere men to presume to set limits to his knowledge, by saying that if temporal things and events are not repeated in periodic cycles, God cannot foreknow all things which he makes, with a view to creating them, or know them all after he has created them? In fact his wisdom is multiple in its simplicity, and multiform in uniformity. It comprehends all incomprehensible things with such incomprehensible comprehension that if he wished always to create new things of every possible kind, each of them unlike its predecessor, none of them could be for him undesigned and unforeseen, nor would it be that he foresaw each just before it came into being; God’s wisdom would contain each and all of them in his eternal prescience.
20. ‘World without end’
Whether in fact this is what God does, whether, that is, there is a continuously connected series of what are called ‘ages of ages’, running on one after the other in an ordered diversity, with only those souls which are set free from misery remaining in their immortality of felicity without end; or whether the expression ‘ages of ages’ is to be taken as meaning that the ages continue with undisturbed stability in the wisdom of God, as the efficient causes of the transient ages of temporal history – these are questions to which I would not venture a definite answer. It is quite possible that there is no difference in meaning between the plural and the singular, that ‘age of age’ and ‘ages of ages’ are interchangeable, as are ‘heaven of heaven’ and ‘heavens of heavens’. For God gives the name heaven’ to the firmament above which are the waters; and yet the psalm says, ‘And let the waters, which are above the heavens, praise the name of the Lord.’60
Which of those two suggestions is correct, or whether the phrase ‘ages of ages’ can have some other meaning, besides these two, is a very deep question; and it is no hindrance to our present discusion to leave the matter unresolved for the present. We might be able to reach some conclusion; or a more thorough examination might only make us more cautious about venturing a rash judgement on so obscure a problem. In any case, our present concern is to combat the theory of cycles, which are alleged to effect the inevitable repetition of things and events at periodic intervals. And whatever be the true interpretation of ‘ages of ages’, it has no reference to those cycles. For if ‘ages of ages’ means not the repetition of the same ages, but an ordered series of connected ages running on one after the other, while the felicity of the souls set free remains permanent and assured, without any return to misery, or if the ‘ages of ages’ are the eternal ages which hold sway over the temporal ages, as over subjects; in either case these cyclical revolutions have no place. The eternal life of the saints61 refutes them completely.
21. The blasphemous notion of cyclical returns to misery of the souls in bliss
It is intolerable for devout ears to hear the opinion expressed that after passing through this life with all its great calamities (if indeed it is to be called life, when it is really a death,62 a death so grievous that for love of this death we shrink from the death which frees us from it), that after all these heavy and fearful ills have at last been expiated and ended by true religion and wisdom and we have arrived at the sight of God and reached our bliss in the contemplation of immaterial light through participation in his changeless immortality, which we long to attain, with burning desire – that we reach this bliss only to be compelled to abandon it, to be cast down from that eternity, that truth, that felicity, to be involved again in hellish mortality, in shameful stupidity, in detestable miseries, where God is lost, where truth is hated, where happiness is sought in unclean wickedness; and to hear that this is to happen again and again, as it has happened before, endlessly, at periodic intervals, as the ages pass in succession; and to hear that the reason for this is so that God may be able to know his own works by means of those finite cycles with their continual departure and return, bringing with them our false felicities and genuine miseries, which come in alternation, but are everlasting in this incessant round. For this theory assumes that God can neither rest from his creative activity, nor grasp within his knowledge an infinity of things.
Who could give a hearing to such a notion? Who could believe it, or tolerate it? If it were true it would be more prudent to suppress the truth, nay, wiser to be in ignorance – I am trying to find words to express what I feel. For if our happiness in the other life will depend upon our forgetfulness of these facts, why should we aggravate our wretchedness in this life by knowing them? If, on the other hand, we shall of necessity know them there, let us at least be ignorant here, that we may have greater felicity here in the expectation of the Supreme Good than there in the attainment of it, seeing that here we look for the achievement of eternal life, while there that life is known as blessed but not eternal, since it is at some time to be lost.
If, however, they say that no one can reach that bliss unless he has learnt by instruction in this life about those cycles in which bliss and misery alternate, what becomes of their assertion that the more one loves God the easier is the approach to bliss, when their own teaching must make that love grow cold? For surely anyone’s love will grow feebler and cooler towards one whom, as he supposes, he will have to leave, whose truth and wisdom he will have to reject, and that after he has come to the full knowledge of them, according to his capacity, in the perfection of felicity. No one can love a human friend with loyalty, if he knows that in the future he will be his enemy.63 But God forbid that what the philosophers threaten should be true, that our genuine misery is never to have an end, but is only to be interrupted time and time again, throughout eternity, by intervals of false happiness. In fact, nothing could be falser or more deceptive than a happiness in which we shall be ignorant of our coming wretchedness, even while we are in that light of truth; or else we shall dread it even while we are at the summit of felicity. If in the other life we are going to be ignorant of the coming calamity, our misery here on earth is wiser, for in it we know of our coming happiness, while if the imminent disaster will not be hidden from us there, the soul passes these periods of wretchedness in a happiness greater than that of its periods of bliss. For after the periods of misery have passed, the soul will be lifted up to felicity; whereas after the passing of the times of felicity the turning circle will bring the soul to misery once more. And so our expectation in our unhappiness is happy, and the prospect before us in our felicity is miserable. In consequence, because here we suffer present ills, and there we dread them as imminent, it would be nearer the truth to say that we are likely to be wretched all the time than that we may sometimes enjoy felicity.
But piety cries out against this, and truth convicts it of falsehood. It is a true felicity which is truly promised us; we shall keep it always, in assured security, and no unhappiness can interrupt it. So let us keep to our straight way, which is Christ,64 let us take him as our guide and saviour, and turn our minds from the absurd futility of this circular route of the impious,65 and keep instead to the way of faith. Porphyry the Platonist refused to follow the opinion of his fellows of that sect in the matter of those cycles, those incessant and alternate comings and goings of souls. This was either because the absurdity of the very idea repelled him, or because he was impressed by the Christian dispensation, and (as I mentioned in my tenth book66) preferred to say that the soul is sent into the world to recognize evil for what it is, so that it may be cleansed and purified from it and come back to the Father, and experience no evil thereafter. If Porphyry so decided, how much more ought we to detest and shun this false teaching as the enemy of the Christian faith!
Now that we have done away with these cycles and consigned them to oblivion, there is nothing to compel us to suppose that the human race had no beginning, no start in time, because there is no reason to believe in those strange cycles which prevent the appearance of anything new, since everything has already existed in the past and will exist in the future and at certain intervals of time. For if a soul is set free, and will never return again to misery, just as it has never before been set free, then something has come into being which has never been before, and something of great importance, namely the eternal felicity of a soul, a felicity which will know no end.
Now if this happens in an immortal nature, something new, some thing not repeated and not to be repeated by any cyclic revolution – why is it argued that this cannot happen in mortal things? If they assert that bliss is no novelty to a soul, since the soul is returning to the bliss which before it always enjoyed, still the freedom is certainly a novelty, since the soul is set free from the misery which it never suffered before, and that misery itself is also a novelty, the production in the soul of something which had not existed before. If this novelty does not come about in the ordered course of God’s providential government of events, but by mere chance, then what has happened to those measured and regulated cycles, in which there is no novelty, but the repetition of the same things which have been already? If, however, this novelty is not excluded from the providential ordering, then novelties are possible, things which have not happened before and yet are not at variance with the ordering of the world. This holds true, whether the soul was consigned to the body by God or fell by its fault into this new condition.67 And if the soul through folly could make a new wretchedness for itself, and the divine providence foresaw this so that God included this also in his ordering of events, and, in his foresight, set the soul free from that misery, then how can we have the temerity, in our human folly, to venture to deny that the divine power can create things which are new, not to itself, but to the world, things which God never made before, though to him they were never unforeseen?
Now suppose they admit that souls are set free from misery, never to return to wretchedness, but contend that this introduces no novelty in events, since souls have continually been liberated, are being liberated, and will be liberated. Then at least they concede that new souls are created for them to have new misery and to be newly set free. If they say that these are not new souls, but souls existing from of old, from all eternity, and that with those souls new men come into being, from whose bodies the souls, if they have lived wisely, are set free so as never to return to misery; if they say this, they must go on to say that the souls are infinite in number. For however great had been the number of souls, if it was a finite number it could never be enough for all those infinite ages of the past to supply souls for all the men who came into being, if the souls were always to be set free from that mortality, never to return to it. And then they will be unable to explain how there could be an infinite number of souls when they insist that things must be finite in number, if God is to have knowledge of them.
Therefore, seeing that those cycles of theirs have been hissed off the stage, those cycles by which the soul was supposed inevitably to return to the same misery as before, the only possibility left which is agreeable to true religion is to believe that it is not impossible for God to make something new, something he has not made before, and at the same time, because of his unimaginable foreknowledge, never to change his design. The question whether the number of the liberated souls who are never to return to their misery can be continually increased, we leave to those who engage in subtle argument about the limit which is to be set to the infinity of things!
For our part, we will end this philosophical disputation with a dilemma. If that number can be increased, what reason is there for denying that something can be created which has never been created before, seeing that the number of freed souls, which never existed before, was not just created once for all, but will be continually created? On the other hand, if there must be a fixed number of freed souls, which never return to misery, a number which is never increased, then that number itself, whatever it may be, certainly did not exist before; and it cannot increase and reach its final sum without starting from a beginning; and that beginning did not exist before. And so to provide that beginning, a man was created, before whom no man ever existed.
22. The creation of man
I have done my best to elucidate this very difficult question about God’s creation of new things without any innovation in his design, in view of his eternity. And now it is not hard to see that it was far better that he should have started, as he did, with one man, whom he created as the first man, and should have multiplied the human race from him, instead of starting with many. For while he created some living creatures of a solitary habit, who walk alone and love solitude, such as eagles, kites, lions, wolves, and the like, he made others gregarious, preferring to live in flocks and herds, such as doves, starlings, deer, fallow-deer, and so on. Yet neither of these classes did he produce by starting with individuals of the species; he commanded many to come into existence at once.
But he created man’s nature as a kind of mean between angels and beasts, so that if he submitted to his Creator, as to his true sovereign Lord, and observed his instructions with dutiful obedience, he should pass over into the fellowship of the angels, attaining an immortality of endless felicity, without an intervening death;68 but if he used his free will in arrogance and disobedience, and thus offended God, his Lord, he should live like the beasts, under sentence of death, should be the slave of his desires, and destined after death for eternal punishment. God created man as one individual; but that did not mean that he was to remain alone, bereft of human society. God’s intention was that in this way the unity of human society and the bonds of human sympathy be more emphatically brought home to man, if men were bound together not merely by likeness in nature but also by the feeling of kinship.69 And to this end, when he created the woman who was to be joined with the man he decided not to create her in the same way as he created man himself. Instead he made her out of the man,70 so that the whole human race should spread out from the one original man.
23. God’s foreknowledge of man’s sin and of the salvation of the elect
God was well aware that man would sin and so, becoming liable to death, would then produce a progeny destined to die. He knew also that mortals would reach such a pitch of boundless iniquity, that brute beasts, deprived of rational will, would live in greater security and peace among their own kind – although their teeming multitudes took their origin from the waters and the earth – than men, whose race was derived from a single ancestor, a fact which was intended to foster harmony among them. Yet not even lions or serpents have ever carried on among themselves the kind of warfare in which men engage.71
But God also foresaw that by his grace a community of godly men was to be called to adoption as his sons,72 and these men, with their sins forgiven, were to be justified by the Holy Spirit and then to enter into fellowship with the holy angels in eternal peace, when the ‘last enemy’, death, had been destroyed.73 And this company of the godly was to benefit from consideration of this truth, that God started the human race from one man to show to mankind how pleasing to him is unity in plurality.74
24. Man’s soul, created in God’s image
Thus God made man in his own image,75 by creating for him a soul of such a kind that because of it he surpassed all living creatures, on earth, in the sea, and in the sky, in virtue of reason and intelligence; for no other creature had a mind like that. God fashioned man out of the dust of the earth76and gave him a soul of the kind I have described. This he did either by implanting in him, by breathing on him, a soul which he had already made, or rather by willing that the actual breath which he produced when he breathed on him should be the soul of the man. For to breathe is to produce a breath. He then took a bone from his side and made a wife77 to help him to beget children.
This he did as God. For we must not imagine this operation in the physical terms of our experience, where we see artisans working up material from the earth into the shape of human limbs, with the ability of skilled craftsmanship. God’s ‘hand’is his power, and God achieves even visible results by invisible means. But some people use the standards of their own daily experience to measure the power and wisdom of God, by which he has the knowledge and the ability to make seeds even without seeds. And so they regard the account of man’s creation as fable, not fact; and because the first created works are beyond their experience, they adopt a sceptical attitude. They do not realize that the facts of human conception and parturition, which fall within their experience, could seem even more incredible if told to those who were unacquainted with them. And yet some attribute even these phenomena to the working of natural physical causation and not to the operation of the divine purpose.
25. Angels are not creators
We have nothing to do, in this work, with those who hold that the divine mind does not create, and has no interest in this world.78 But there are others who follow their master Plato in asserting that all mortal creatures (among whom man holds the chief place, close to the gods themselves) were not made by the supreme God who fashioned the world, but by other gods, by lesser gods whom he created, though they did this with his permission or at his command.79 Now if these philosophers could rid themselves of the superstition which leads them to look for reasons to justify their offering of worship and sacrifice to their reputed creators, they would soon also free themselves from this misguided belief.
For it is out of the question to hold and assert that any creature, however small and mortal, has any other creator than God, even before anything can be known about him. Certainly the angels (the Platonists prefer to call them gods) have their part to play, at God’s command, or by God’s permission, in relation to the creatures which are born in the world. But we do not call them creators of living beings any more than we call farmers the creators of crops and trees.
26. God the sole creator of every nature and form
Forms are of two kinds. There is one sort of form given externally to material substances; potters, for instance, woodworkers, and craftsmen of that kind, fashion and paint forms resembling the bodies of living creatures in the pursuit of their art. There is another kind of form which operates internally; this form supplies the efficient causes, and it derives from a secret and hidden decision of a living and intelligent nature, which, being itself uncreated, is responsible for the creation not only of the natural, physical forms, but also of the souls of living creatures. The first kind of form may be ascribed to the artist or craftsman concerned; the second belongs to God alone, who alone is artist, maker and creator. He needed no material from the world, nor help from angels, when he made the world itself, and created the angels.
By his divine power, by what we may call his ‘effective’power, which cannot be made, but can only make, the round sky and the round sun received that form, when the world was made; and from the same ‘effective’ power of God, which cannot be made but can only make, came the roundness of the eye and the apple, and the other natural shapes which we observe as given to all things in nature, not externally, but by the power of the Creator working within, the power of the Creator who said, ‘I fill the sky and the earth’,80 and whose ‘Wisdom reaches from one end to the other in its strength and orders all things with grace.’81
Hence I do not know what kind of service the angels, who were made first, afforded to the Creator in the rest of his creation. I will not take the risk of ascribing to them more than may be in their power, and it would be wrong to detract from what they have the power to do. But I attribute the creation and establishment of all natures, that which makes them exist as natures at all, to God. And I do this with the approval of the angels themselves, for they know, and thankfully acknowledge, that it is to that same God that they owe their existence.
We do not call farmers ‘creators’ of crops, since we are told, ‘The planter does not matter, nor does the waterer. It is God who matters, for it is he who makes things grow.’82 We do not even ascribe creative power to the earth, although it is clearly the fruitful mother of growing things, promoting their growth as they burst out into shoots, and holding them safely by their roots; for we are also told, ‘God gives to the seed a body of his choosing, its own body to each seed.’83 We must not attribute to a woman the creation of her child, but instead to him who said to his servant, ‘I knew you, before I formed you in the womb.’84 The mother’s consciousness can induce some special characteristics in the unborn child, by being in some particular state; it was on this principle that Jacob ensured the birth of parti-coloured sheep by the device of parti-coloured rods.85 But even so, the mother has not made the nature that is produced, any more than she has made herself.
And so, whatever the physical or seminal causes that play their part in the production of living things, by the activities of angels or of men, or by the intercourse of male and female in animals or human beings, whatever effect the longings or emotions in the mother’s consciousness may have on the child in her womb, in its susceptible state, leaving some traces in its features or complexion, it remains true that only God most high can create the actual natures which are thus affected in different ways, each in its own kind. His hidden power, penetrating all things by its presence, yet free from contamination, gives existence to whatever in any way exists, in so far as it exists at all. For the absence of God’s creative activity would not merely mean that a thing would be different in some particular way; it simply could not exist.
In respect of the form which artists impose upon material things from outside, we speak of Romulus as the founder of Rome, and Alexander of Alexandria, ascribing the foundation of those cities not to the architects and builders, but to the kings at whose will and by whose design and command they were built. How much more are we bound to call God the founder of natures; for he does not create from material which he himself did not make, nor does he employ any workmen, except those of his own creation. And if he were to withdraw what we may call his ‘constructive power’ from existing things, they would cease to exist, just as they did not exist before they were made. When I say ‘before’, I mean in eternity, not in time. For the creator of time is none other than he who made the things whose change and movement is the condition of time’s course.86
27. The Platonic theory that the angels were created, but were creators of men’s bodies
Plato, to be sure, held that the lesser gods, created by the supreme God, are the makers of the other living beings; but the immortal part they took from God himself, while they themselves fashioned the mortal frame.87 Thus he refused to make them the creators of our souls; but they made our bodies, on his theory. Porphyry holds that the soul must escape from any kind of material body to achieve purification,88 and agrees with Plato and other Platonists that those who have lived undisciplined and dishonourable lives return to mortal bodies as a punishment – though Porphyry limits this return to the bodies of men, while Plato includes those of animals.89 Hence it follows that these thinkers are asserting that those gods of theirs, whom they want us to worship as our parents and creators, are simply the forgers of our fetters, the builders of our prisons; they are not our makers but our jailers, who lock us up in miserable prisons and lead us with heavy chains. Therefore the Platonists should either cease to threaten us with punishment for our souls in the shape of these bodies of ours, or else leave off proclaiming that we should worship their gods, while urging us by all possible means to escape from our involvement in their handiwork.
In fact, both of these positions are entirely false; for it is not true that souls are returned to this earthly life for punishment; and the one and only Creator of all living things in heaven and earth is the Creator by whom heaven and earth were made. In fact, if the only cause for our living in this body is that we should pay our punishment, how is it that Plato himself says that the world could only have reached the highest beauty and worth by being filled with living beings of all kinds, that is, with immortal and mortal beings?90
If, then, our creation, although we were made mortal, is the gift of God, how can it be a punishment to return to bodies which are God’s blessings? And Plato repeatedly insists that God’s eternal understanding contains the form of the whole universe and also the forms of all living creatures.91Surely, then, he must be the Creator of them all? Are we to imagine that he would have refused to be the artificer of some of them, when the art that could produce them was in his mind, that mind which is beyond our telling and whose praise is more than our words can express?
28. In the first man is the beginning of all mankind, and of the two cities
True religion therefore rightly acknowledges and proclaims that the Creator of the universe is also the Creator of all living creatures whatsoever, the Creator, that is, of both souls and bodies. Among those creatures of earth man is pre-eminent, being made in the likeness of God. And, for the reason I have mentioned (though it may be that there are other and weightier reasons that are hidden from us) man was created as one individual; but he was not left alone. For the human race is, more than any other species, at once social by nature and quarrelsome by perversion. And the most salutory warning against this perversion or disharmony is given by the facts of human nature. We are warned to guard against the emergence of this fault, or to remedy it when once it has appeared, by remembering that first parent of ours, who was created by God as one individual with this intention: that from that one individual a multitude might be propagated, and that this fact should teach mankind to preserve a harmonious unity in plurality. Furthermore, the fact that a woman was made for the first man from his own side shows us clearly how affectionate should be the union of man and wife.92
These first works of God are, of course, unparalleled just because they are the first. Those who refuse to believe in them ought to refuse credence to any extraordinary phenomena. But in fact these events would not be classed as extraordinary, if they had occurred in the normal course of nature. For no event is to no purpose under the all-embracing government of God’s providence, even if the reason for it is hidden from us. One of the sacred psalms contains these words, ‘Come and see the works of the Lord, the wonders he has placed on the earth.’93 I shall discuss in another place,94God helping me, the reason for woman’s creation from the side of her husband, and what was prefigured by this ‘prodigy’, if we should so call it.
But now I must bring this book to its close, with this thought: that in this first-created man we find something like the beginning, in the human race, of the two cities; their beginnings, that is, in the foreknowledge of God, though not in observable fact. For from that man were to come all men, some of them to join the company of the evil angels in their punishment, others to be admitted to the company of the good angels in their reward. This was God’s decision; a just decree, however inscrutable to us. For Scripture says, ‘All the Lord’s ways are mercy and truth’,95 and his grace cannot be unjust; nor can his justice be unkind.