Common section

BOOK XIII

1. The Fall of Man and his consequent mortality

WE have disposed of some very difficult questions about the beginning of the world and the start of the human race. Next on the list of subjects to be treated is the fall of the first man, or rather of the first human beings, and the origin and propagation of human mortality. For God did not create men in the same condition as the angels, completely incapable of death, even if they sinned. The condition of human beings was such that if they continued in perfect obedience they would be granted the immortality of the angels and an eternity of bliss, without the interposition of death, whereas if disobedient they would be justly condemned to the punishment of death. I have already made this point in the previous book.1

2. The death of the soul and the death of the body

It is clear to me that I must explain more carefully the kind of death I am talking about. For though the human soul is rightly described as immortal, it has nevertheless a kind of death of its own. It is said to be immortal for this reason, that it never entirely ceases to live and to feel, even if only in the slightest degree. The body, on the other hand, is mortal in that it can be completely bereft of life, and by itself it has no life of any sort. Thus the death of the soul results when God abandons it, the death of the body when the soul departs. Therefore the death of the whole man, of both these elements, comes when the soul, abandoned by God, leaves the body. For then the soul no longer derives life from God, nor does the body receive life from the soul. This death of the whole man is followed by what is called, on the authority of the divine oracles, ‘the second death’.2 And this is what the Saviour meant when he said, ‘Fear him, who has power to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.’3

Now since this cannot happen until soul and body have been so combined that they cannot be sundered or separated, it may seem strange that the body is said to be killed by a death in which it is not abandoned by the soul, but remains possessed of soul and feeling, and endures torment in this condition. For in that final and everlasting punishment (about which we shall have to speak in greater detail in the appropriate place)4 we correctly talk of the ‘death of the soul’, because it no longer derives life from God. But how can we talk in this case of the death of the body, since it is deriving life from the soul? For otherwise it cannot feel the bodily torments which are to follow the resurrection. Is it because life of any kind is a good thing, while pain is an evil, and for that reason the body cannot be said to be alive, when the purpose of the soul is not the body’s life, but the body’s pain?

The soul therefore derives life from God, when its life is good – for its life cannot be good except when God is active in it to produce what is good – while the body derives life from the soul when the soul is alive in the body, whether the soul derives its life from God or not. For the life of the bodies of the ungodly is not the life of their souls but of their bodies, a life which souls can confer even when those souls are dead, that is, when God abandons them; for their own life, in virtue of which they are immortal, still persists, in however low a degree.

But in that last condemnation, although a man does not cease to feel, his feeling is not that of pleasure and delight, nor that of health and tranquillity. What he feels is the anguish of punishment, and so his condition is rightly called death rather than life. The second death is so called because it follows the first, in which there is a separation of natures which cohere together, either God and the soul, or the soul and the body. It can therefore be said of the first death that it is good for the good, bad for the bad; but the second death does not happen to any of the good, and without doubt it is not good for anyone.

3. Death has passed to all mankind through the sin of the first human beings. Is it the punishment of sin in the case of the saints?

A question now arises which must not be suppressed. Is death, which separates soul and body, really a good thing for the good? If so, how can it be maintained that death is itself the penalty of sin? For the first human beings would certainly not have suffered it, if they had not sinned. Now if death could only have happened to the bad, how could it be good for the good? In fact, if it could only have happened to the bad, so far from being good for the good, it ought not to have happened to them at all. Why should there have been any punishment where there were no sins to be punished?

We must therefore admit that the first human beings were created under this condition, that they would not have experienced any kind of death, if they had not sinned; and yet those first sinners were sentenced to death, with the provision that whatever sprang from their stock should incur the same punishment. For whatever was born from them could not have been different from what they themselves had been. In fact, because of the magnitude of that offence, the condemnation changed human nature for the worse; so that what first happened as a matter of punishment in the case of the first human beings, continued in their posterity as something natural and congenital.

This is because the descent of man from man is not like the derivation of man from the dust. Dust was the raw material for the making of man; but in the begetting of a human being man is a parent. Hence, although flesh was made out of earth, flesh is not the same as earth, whereas the human parent is the same kind of thing as the human offspring. Therefore the whole human race was in the first man, and it was to pass from him through the woman into his progeny, when the married pair had received the divine sentence of condemnation. And it was not man as first made, but what man became after his sin and punishment, that was thus begotten, as far as concerns the origin of sin and death.

For the first man was not reduced by his sin, or by its punishment, to the state of infantile torpor and weakness of mind and body which we observe in little children. Such was to be the early state of children, like the early state of young animals, according to the decision of God, who had cast down their parents to a life and death like that of animals. As Scripture says, ‘Man was in a place of honour, but did not realize it: he has been brought to the level of the animals without understanding and been made like them.’5 Though in fact we observe that infants are weaker than the most vulnerable of the young of other animals in the control of their limbs, and in their instincts of appetition and defence; this seems designed to enhance man’s superiority over other living things, on the analogy of an arrow whose impetus increases in proportion to the backward extension of the bow.

Thus the result of the first man’s lawless presumption and his just condemnation was not a relapse – or a repulse – into the rudimentary condition of infancy. But human nature in him was vitiated and altered, so that he experienced the rebellion and disobedience of desire in his body, and was bound by the necessity of dying; and he produced offspring in the same condition to which his fault and its punishment had reduced him, that is, liable to sin and death. But if infants are released from the bonds of this sin through the grace of Christ the Mediator, they can only suffer the death which separates soul from body; they do not pass on to that second death of unending punishment, since they have been freed from the entanglement of sin.

4. Why absolution from sin does not entail deliverance from death, sin’s punishment

If anyone is troubled by the question why those whose guilt is removed through grace should suffer the death which is the penalty of sin, this problem has been treated, and its solution given, in another book of mine, On the Baptism of Infants.6 There it is suggested that the experience of the separation of soul from body remains, although its connection with guilt is removed, because if the immortality of the body followed immediately upon the sacrament of regeneration, faith itself would be weakened, since faith is only faith when what is not yet seen in reality is awaited in hope.7

Futhermore, it was by the strength of faith and in the conflict of faith that even the fear of death admitted of being conquered, at any rate in the earlier ages; and this was seen pre-eminently in the holy martyrs. This conflict would have had no victory, no glory, since there could have been no conflict at all, if after the ‘washing of regeneration’8 the saints were straightway exempt from bodily death. If this were so, surely everyone would rush to the grace of Christ, with the children to be baptized, just to avoid being released from the body. And faith would not be tested by the fact that its reward was unseen; indeed, it would not be faith any longer, since the reward of the act of faith would be demanded and taken immediately.

But as it is, the punishment of sin has been turned by the great and wonderful grace of our Saviour to a good use, to the promotion of righteousness. It was then said to man, ‘You will die if you sin.’ Now it is said to the martyr, ‘Die, rather than sin.’ It was then said, ‘If you break the commandment you will certainly die.’ Now it is said, ‘If you shrink from death, you will break the commandment.’ What was then an object of fear, to prevent man from sinning, is now something to be chosen, to avoid sinning.

So by the ineffable mercy of God even the penalty of man’s offence is turned into an instrument of virtue, and the punishment of the sinner becomes the merit of the righteous. Then death was purchased by sinning; now righteousness is fulfilled by dying. This is true of the holy martyrs, who are presented by their persecutors with this choice; either to abandon the faith, or to suffer death. The righteous prefer to endure for their belief what the first sinners suffered for their unbelief. For if those sinners had not sinned, they would not have died; the martyrs would sin, if they did not die. And so the former died because they sinned; the latter do not sin, because they die. The effect of the fault was to bring the offenders under punishment; the effect of their punishment is now to prevent the incurring of guilt. It is not that death has turned into a good thing, when it was formerly an evil. What has happened is that God has granted to faith so great a gift of grace that death, which all agree to be the contrary of life, has become the means by which men pass into life.

5. The wicked turn a good, the law, to bad account: the good turn death, an evil, to good

When the Apostle wanted to show sin’s power to do harm when grace was not there to help, he did not shrink from saying that the law, which forbids sin, is itself the strength of sin. ‘The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.’9 This is very true; for the prohibition increases the desire to commit the unlawful act, when the love of righteousness is not strong enough to overcome the sinful desire by the delight it affords. And genuine righteousness is never so beloved, never gives such delight, without the help of God’s grace. But the Apostle is concerned that the law should not be considered an evil because it is called ‘the strength of sin’; and so he says, in another place, when dealing with the same problem,

And so the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just and good. Does this mean that something which is good has turned into death for me? Perish the thought! What has happened is that sin was made to show its true character: it used a good thing to effect my death, so that sin should appear for what it is, and sinner or sin should go beyond all bounds, because of the commandment.10

‘Beyond all bounds’, because violation of the law is added, when the law itself is despised by the increased lust for sinning.

Why have we thought this worth mentioning? Because, just as the law is not an evil thing when it increases the evil desire of the sinner, so death is not itself a good thing when it enhances the glory of the sufferer; when the law is abandoned for wickedness and thus produces law-breakers, or when death is accepted for truth’s sake and so produces martyrs. It follows that the law is good, because it is the prohibition of sin, while death is evil, because it is the reward of sin.11 But as unrighteousness puts all things, good and evil alike, to a bad use, so righteousness puts all things, evil as well as good, to good employment. Thus it is that the evil make bad use of the law, though it is a good thing, and the good die a good death, although death itself is an evil.

6. Death, the severing of soul from body, is, in general, an evil

For this reason, the death of the body, the separation of the soul from the body, is not good for anyone, as it is experienced by those who are, as we say, dying. This violent sundering of the two elements, which are conjoined and interwoven in a living being, is bound to be a harsh and unnatural experience as long as it lasts, until the departure of all feeling, which depended on this interconnection of soul and body. All this unpleasantness is sometimes cut short by one sudden physical blow, or by the sudden snatching away of the soul, where the speed of the stroke outruns sensation and does not allow death to be felt. But whatever it is which in dying men takes away sensation with such a distressing sensation, it increases the merit of patience if it is endured with devout faith, though it does not cancel the term ‘punishment’. And so, although death is perpetuated by propagation from the first man, and is without doubt the penalty of all who are born, yet it becomes the glory of those who are reborn, if it is the price paid for piety and righteousness; and death, the recompense of sin, sometimes ensures that there is no sin to be recompensed.

7. Some who are not reborn in baptism undergo death for the confession of Christ

For whenever men die for confessing Christ, even though they have not yet been reborn in baptism, their death is of the same value for the remission of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism. It is true that Christ said, ‘No one will enter into the kingdom of heaven if he has not been reborn from water and the spirit;’12 but in another statement he made an exception in favour of those to whom I am referring. For he said, with the same generality, ‘Anyone who acknowledges me before men, I shall acknowledge before my Father in heaven’;13 and in another passage, ‘Anyone who loses his life for me will find it.’14

Hence the text, ‘Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his saints.’15 For what is more precious than a death which ensures that all offences are forgiven and the store of merits abundantly increased? Those who have been baptized when they could not postpone their death and have departed from this life with all their sins wiped out, have won less merit than those who could have deferred their death but did not, because they chose to end their life by confessing Christ, rather than by denying him to arrive at his baptism. Even if they had denied him, this also would have been forgiven in that sacramental washing, because that denial was prompted by the fear of death. For in that sacrament forgiveness was given even to the appalling crime of those who killed Christ. But how could they have loved Christ so dearly as to be unable to deny him in the ultimate crisis, when offered the hope of official pardon? How, except by the abundant grace of the Spirit which ‘inspires where he wills’?16

Therefore the death of the saints is precious, the saints for whom the death of Christ was the price already paid in advance. And such grace came from Christ’s death that to gain him they did not hesitate to pay the price of their own death, the death which showed that what had been imposed as the penalty for sin had been turned to such good use that it brought to birth a richer harvest of righteousness. Death therefore ought not to be regarded as a good thing because it has been turned to such great advantage. For this happened not in virtue of any quality of its own, but by the help of God; so that death, which was put forward as a fearful warning against sin, is now set before men as something to be accepted when that acceptance means the avoidance of sin and the cancellation of sins committed, and the award of the palm of victory as the just reward of righteousness.

8. The acceptance of the first death in the cause of truth abolishes the second death

Careful consideration shows that the very act of dying faithfully and laudably for the truth’s sake is a precaution against death. A partial death is certainly accepted, but that is so that total death may not come, so that the second death may not supervene, that death which has no end. For the separation of soul from body is accepted, so that the soul may not be separated from God and then severed from the body, and thus when the first death of the whole man was past, the second death, the eternal death, should follow.

For this reason, as I have said, death as it is experienced by the dying, death as the cause of that condition, is not good in itself for anyone, but it is endured (and this is praiseworthy) for the attainment and possession of a good. But when men are in the state of death, when they are called ‘the dead’, then death is evil for the evil, but good for the good. This may be said without absurdity. For the souls of the faithful, when separated from the body, are at rest, while the souls of the wicked are paying their penalty, until the bodies of the righteous come to life again for eternal life, and the bodies of the wicked rise to be consigned to the eternal, the second, death.

9. Problems about the meaning of ‘death’, ‘dying.’ dead’

There is a problem about the period when the souls separated from the body exist either in a state of good or in a state of evil. Are we to say that this period is after death or in death? If it is after death, then it is not the actual death, which is by now past and gone, which is good or bad, but the present life of the soul after death. Death was evil for them, certainly at the time when it was present, that is, when they were experiencing it in the act of dying, since it entailed a heavy burden of suffering – though the good make good use of that evil. But now that death is past, how can it be good or evil, since it no longer exists?

Again, a more careful consideration will make it clear that the heavy burden of suffering we spoke of as experienced by the dying, is not in fact death. For as long as men feel, they are obviously still alive; and if so, they should be said to be ‘before death’, not ‘in death’. For death, when it comes, takes away all feeling from the body, including the feeling of anguish at death’s approach. Thus it is difficult to explain how we can describe people as dying, when they are not yet dead, but are struggling in the last mortal pangs at the imminence of death; and yet they are rightly called ‘dying men’, because when the impending death has arrived they are said to be dead, not dying.

Therefore a man who is dying must be living; for when he is in the last extremity, ‘giving up the ghost (that is, the soul)’ as we say, he is evidently still alive, because his soul has not yet left him. So he is at once dying and living; but he is approaching death and leaving life. He is still in life because the soul is still in his body; he is not yet in death, because the soul has not yet departed. But when the soul has departed, he will not be in death, but after it. Then can anyone say precisely when one is in death? No dying man can be, assuming that no one can be dying and living at the same time. As long as the soul is in the body we clearly cannot say a man is not living. Or, if a person should be said to be dying, when in his body the process is going on which ends in death, and if no one can be simultaneously living and dying – then I do not know when anyone is living.

10. The life of mortals: should it be called death?

In fact, from the moment a man begins to exist in this body which is destined to die, he is involved all the time in a process whose end is death. For this is the end to which the life of continual change is all the time directed, if indeed we can give the name of life to this passage towards death. There is no one, it goes without saying, who is not nearer to death this year than he was last year, nearer tomorrow than today, today than yesterday, who will not by and by be nearer than he is at the moment, or is not nearer at the present time than he was a little while ago. Any space of time that we live through leaves us with so much less time to live, and the remainder decreases with every passing day; so that the whole of our lifetime is nothing but a race towards death, in which no one is allowed the slightest pause or any slackening of the pace. All are driven on at the same speed, and hurried along the same road to the same goal. The man whose life was short passed his days as swiftly as the longer-lived; moments of equal length rushed by for both of them at equal speed, though one was farther than the other from the goal to which both were hastening at the same rate. There is a difference between a longer journey and a slower pace of walking. If a man passes through a more extended period of time on this road to death, his progress is no slower; he merely has a longer journey.

Now if each man begins to die, that is to be ‘in death’, from the moment when death – that is, the taking away of life – begins to happen in him (and we may assume this, since when this taking away is completed he will not be in death, but after death) then everyone is in death from the moment that he begins his bodily existence. For what else is going on, every day, every hour, every minute, but this process of death? And when that comes to fulfilment, and death has completed its work, then the period after death follows the period in death, when life was being taken away. And so, if one cannot be in death and in life at the same time, man can never be in life, from the moment that he begins to exist in a body which is dying rather than living. Or is he really in life and in death at the same time? In life, that is, because he is alive until life is wholly taken away; but in death, because he is dying all the time that life is being taken from him. For if he is not in life, what is it that is being taken away, until the process of diminution is completed? While if he is not in death, what is this taking away of life? When all the life has been taken from the body, we use the phrase ‘after death’, which would be meaningless, were it not that death was the time when life was being taken away. For if a man is not ‘in death’ but ‘after death’ when life has being taken away, when will he be ‘in death’, if not while life is being diminished?

11. Can one be living and dead at the same time?

Now it may seem absurd to say that a man is in death before he arrives at death; for how can he be approaching death as he passes through the periods of his life, if he is already there? In particular, it seems extremely odd to say that a man is living and dying simultaneously, when he cannot be waking and sleeping at one and the same time. If so, we must try to discover when a man is dying. Now before death comes, he is not dying, but living; and when death has come, he is dead, not dying. Thus there is a period which is still before death, another which is already after death.

So when is he ‘in death’? For it is then that he is dying; and so there are three situations: ‘before death’, ‘in death’, and ‘after death’, and three corresponding adjectives: ‘living’, ‘dying’, and ‘dead’. This makes it very hard to define when he is dying, that is ‘in death’; a state in which he is neither living (which is the state before death) or dead (which is after death), but dying, or ‘in death’. It is evident that as long as the soul is in the body, especially if sensibility remains, a man is alive, his constituent parts being soul and body. Consequently he must be described as being still ‘before death’, not ‘in death’. But when the soul has departed and has withdrawn all bodily sensation, a man is said to be ‘after death’, and dead.

Thus between these two situations the period in which a man is dying or ‘in death’ disappears. For if he is still alive, he is ‘before death’; if he has stopped living, he is by now ‘after death’. Therefore he is never detected in the situation of dying, or ‘in death’. The same thing happens in the passage of time; we try to find the present moment, but without success, because the future changes into the past without interval.

We must evidently then beware of using this argument to assert that there is no such thing as the death of the body. For (we might say) if there is such a thing, when is it? It cannot be in anyone; nor can anyone be in it. If a man is alive, there is as yet no death, because this is the period before death, not in death. Whereas if life has ceased, then there is no death any more, because it is now after death, not in death. On the other hand, if there is no such thing as death, what is meant by ‘before death’ and ‘after death’? Before or after what? For these phrases also are meaningless if there is no such thing as death. Would that we had ensured, by living rightly in paradise, that there really was no death! But as it is, death is a reality; and so troublesome a reality that it cannot be explained by any verbal formula, nor got rid of by any rational argument.

We had better conform to normal usage, as indeed we are bound to do, and use the phrase ‘before death’ to mean before death occurs, as in the scriptural text: ‘Do not praise any man before his death.’17 And after death has happened we should say. ‘This or that occurred after the death of so and so.’ And when we are using the present participle we must do the best we can with such statements as, ‘He made his will when dying’ and, ‘When dying he made this and that bequest to so and so’, although he could have done no such thing unless he had been living – and in fact it was before death, not ‘in death’ that he did it.

And we may use the same expressions as we find in holy Scripture. For the Bible has no hesitation about referring to the dead as being ‘in death’, not ‘after death’. Hence we get the statement. ‘Because there is no one who remembers you in death.’18 For until they come to life again, they are correctly spoken of as ‘in death’, just as a person is said to be ‘in sleep’ until he wakes. And yet, although we say that those who ‘in a deep sleep’ are sleeping, we cannot say, by analogy, that those who are dead are dying. For those who are separated from their bodies are not still dying. (I am referring, it will be understood, to that death of the body, which is our present subject.)

But this is what I said could not be explained by any verbal formula. How can the dying be spoken of as living, or those who are already dead be said, after death, to be still ‘in death’? For how can they be ‘after death’ if they are still ‘in death’; especially as we do not say that they are dying, as we say that those in sleep are ‘sleeping’ and those in a faint are ‘fainting’, those in sorrow are certainly ‘sorrowing’, and those in life are ‘living’? And yet the dead, until they rise again, are said to be ‘in death’, although they cannot be called ‘the dying’.

Hence I find it significant and appropriate – though it happened not by human design, but perhaps by divine decision – that the grammarians have not been able to decline (or conjugate) the Latin verb moritur (‘he dies’) by the same rule as other verbs of this form. For from oritur (‘he arises’)comes the past tense ortus est (‘he has arisen’), and all similar verbs are declined in the perfect with the perfect participle. But if we ask the perfect of moritur, the invariable answer is mortuus est (‘he has died’ or ‘he is dead’), with the doubling of the u. Now mortuus is a word of the same form as fatuus (‘silly’), arduus (‘steep’), conspicuus (‘visible’) and others, with no reference to past time; they are adjectives, and as such are declined without any temporal implications. The adjective mortuus, however, is used instead of a perfect participle as if to give a conjugation for an impossible tense. And so, most appropriately, the verb cannot be declined in speech, just as the reality which it signifies cannot be declined (that is, avoided) by any action.

Nevertheless with the help of the grace of our Redeemer we may be enabled to decline (or avoid)19 that second death. For that death, which means not the separation of soul from body but the union of both for eternal punishment, is the more grievous death; it is the worst of all evils. There, by contrast, men will not be in the situations of ‘before death’ and ‘after death’, but always ‘in death’, and for this reason they will never be living, never dead, but dying for all eternity.

In fact, man will never be ‘in death’ in a more horrible sense than in that state where death itself will be deathless.

12. The meaning of the death with which God threatened the first human beings

Now it may be asked what sort of death God threatened to the first human beings if they broke the commandment he had given and did not maintain obedience. Was it the death of the soul? Or of the body? Or of the whole person? Or was it what is called the second death? Our reply to the question is, ‘All of these deaths.’ For the first death consists of two; total death consists of all of them. Just as the whole earth consists of many lands, and the whole Church of many churches, so total death consists of all the deaths.

This is because the first death consists of two, the death of the soul and the death of the body; so that the first death is the death of the whole person, when the soul is without God and without a body, and undergoes punishment for a time. The second death, on the other hand, is when the soul is without God, but undergoes punishment with the body. Thus, when God spoke about the forbidden food to the man whom he had placed in the garden, he said, ‘On whatever day you eat of it, you will surely die’;20 and the threat embraced not only the first part of the first death, when the soul is bereft of God, nor only the second part, in which the body is bereft of the soul; it comprised every kind of death, down to the last or second death, which has no other death to follow it.

13. The first punishment of the first offence

For after their disobedience to God’s instructions, the first human beings were deprived of God’s favour; and immediately they were embarrassed by the nakedness of their bodies. They even used fig leaves, which were perhaps the first things they could lay hands on in their confusion, to cover their pudenda, the ‘organs of shame’.21 These organs were the same as they were before, but previously there was no shame attaching to them. Thus they felt a novel disturbance in their disobedient flesh, as a punishment which answered to their own disobedience.

The soul, in fact, rejoiced in its own freedom to act perversely and disdained to be God’s servant; and so it was deprived of the obedient service which its body had at first rendered. At its own pleasure the soul deserted its superior and master; and so it no longer retained its inferior and servant obedient to its will. It did not keep its own flesh subject to it in all respects, as it could have kept it for ever if it had itself continued in subjection to God. This then was the time when the flesh began to ‘lust in opposition to the spirit’,22 which is the conflict that attends us from our birth. We bring with us, at our birth, the beginning of our death, and with the vitiation of our nature our body is the scene of death’s assault, or rather of his victory, as the result of that first disobedience.

14. Man as he was created, and man’s condition after his Fall

God created man aright, for God is the author of natures, though he is certainly not responsible for their defects. But man was willingly perverted and justly condemned, and so begot perverted and condemned offspring. For we were all in that one man, seeing that we all were that one man who fell into sin through the woman who was made from him before the first sin. We did not yet possess forms individually created and assigned to us for us to live in them as individuals; but there already existed the seminal nature from which we were to be begotten. And of course, when this was vitiated through sin, and bound with death’s fetters in its just condemnation, man could not be born of man in any other condition. Hence from the misuse of free will there started a chain of disasters: mankind is led from that original perversion, a kind of corruption at the root, right up to the disaster of the second death, which has no end. Only those who are set free through God’s grace escape from this calamitous sequence.

15. The first death of the soul. Adam forsook God, and was then forsaken by God

Now the words of the threat, ‘You will certainly die’, are literally, ‘You will die by the death.’ It does not say ‘by the deaths’, in the plural; and so we may take it as meaning only the death which happens when the soul is forsaken by its own life; and this, for the soul, is God. The soul, we note, was not first forsaken by God, so that it forsook him as a result; it first forsook, and as a result it was forsaken. For the evil of the soul, its own will takes the initiative; but for its good, the will of its Creator makes the first move; whether to make the soul which did not yet exist, or to recreate it when it had perished through its fall. We may therefore take it that this was the death God meant when he gave the warning, ‘On the day that you eat from that tree you will die by the death’, this being tantamount to saying, ‘On the day that you forsake me in disobedience, I shall forsake you with justice.’ But even so, he certainly gave warning, in this death, of the other deaths also, which without doubt were destined to follow.

For in that unruly disturbance that arose in the flesh of the unruly soul, which caused our first parents to cover their pudenda, there was experienced one death, the death in which God forsook the soul. This death was indicated by the words addressed to the man, who was hiding himself, out of his wits with fear, when God said, ‘Where are you, Adam?’23 Obviously God was not asking for information; he was rebuking Adam; and by the form of the rebuke he was warning him to take notice where he was, in that God was not with him.

But when the soul itself forsook the body, worn out with the passage of time and exhausted with the weight of years, another death came into man’s experience, the death about which God had spoken to him, when still pronouncing punishment on his sin saying, ‘You are earth, and into earth you will go.’24 And so by those two deaths the first death was completed, the death of the whole man. This is followed in the end by the second death, unless a man is set free by grace. In fact, even the body, which is made of earth, would not return into the earth, except through its own death, which comes to it when its own life, the soul, forsakes it. Hence all Christians who truly hold the Catholic faith25 are agreed that even the death of the body was not inflicted on us by the law of our nature, since God did not create any death for man in his nature, but it was imposed as a just punishment for sin. For it was when God was taking vengeance on sin that he said to the man, in whom we all existed at that time, ‘You are earth, and into earth you will go.’

16. The philosophers who do not regard the separation of body and soul as penal. Plato’s evidence on the other side

Now the philosophers against whose attacks we are defending the City of God, that is to say, God’s Church, think that they show their wisdom in laughing at our assertion that the separation of soul from body is to be reckoned among the soul’s punishments. Their reason for this is that, in their view, the perfect bliss of the soul comes only when it has been completely stripped of the body and returns to God, simple and alone, and, as one may say, naked.

On this point, if I had found nothing in their own writings to refute this notion, I should have to engage in a more laborious argument to prove that it is not the body as such, but the corruptible body, that is a burden to the soul. Hence the scriptural statement which we quoted in the last book, ‘The corruptible body weighs down the soul.’26 The addition of ‘corruptible’ shows that the writer meant that the soul was weighed down, not by any kind of body but by the body as it became as a result of sin and the punishment that followed. Even if he had not added this epithet, we ought still to have given this meaning to the statement, as the only correct interpretation. But in fact Plato teaches quite plainly that the gods who were made by the supreme God have immortal bodies; and he represents God himself, their creator, as promising them, as a great boon, that they will remain for ever with their bodies and will never be parted from them by any death. In the face of this, why is it that these philosophers, in their desire to rail at the Christian faith, pretend not to know what they know very well; or even choose to quarrel with themselves, and to argue against themselves, provided that they never stop their attacks on us.

Here then are the actual words of Plato,27 in Cicero’s Latin translation, in which he represents the supreme God as addressing the divinities he created in these words,

You who are sprung from the seed of the gods, listen to this. The works of which I am parent and maker cannot suffer dissolution against my will, although everything that is composite can be dissolved; but it is in no way good to seek to undo what has been bound together by reason. Now since you had a beginning, you of yourselves cannot be immortal and indissoluble. Yet you will certainly not be dissolved, nor will any doom of death destroy you, or be more powerful than my design, which is a stronger bond for your perpetuity than those bonds by which you were joined together at the time when you were brought to birth.28

Notice that Plato says both that the deities are mortal because of the linking of body and soul,29 and yet immortal by reason of the will and design of God, who made them.

Now if it is a punishment for the soul to be bound to any sort of body, why is it that God addresses the gods as though they were worried by the fear that they might die, that is, be severed from the body? Why does he give them the assurance of their immortality? And this assurance does not depend upon their nature, which is composite not simple, but on his own irresistible will, which gives him the power to ensure that things which have a beginning shall not die, things joined together shall not be sundered, but shall continue without impairment.

It is another question whether what Plato says about the stars30 is true or not. We do not need to grant him, out of hand, that those globes of light or small discs that shine on the world with physical light by day or night are alive in virtue of souls of their own, and that these souls are endowed with intelligence and possessed of happiness. This is an assertion he also makes, with emphasis, about the whole universe, speaking as if it were a single immense living being, including in itself all other living things.31 But this, as I said, is another question, and I do not propose to discuss it at the moment.

I have made the only point I want to make. I thought it right to bring it up against those who pride themselves on being called, or on being, Platonists, and whose arrogance about that title makes them ashamed to be Christians. They are afraid that if they share an appellation with ordinary people it will cheapen the scarcity value of the wearers of the pallium,32 a value inflated in proportion to their rarity. They are trying to find something to criticize in Christian doctrine, and so they attack the immortality of the body, as if there were a contradiction in seeking the felicity of the soul and at the same time wishing it to exist for ever in the body, bound to the body by what they conceive as a burdensome connection. And yet Plato, their own founder and master, asserts that this was a boon granted by the supreme God to the deities created by him, the assurance that they would never die, never, that is, be separated from the bodies with which he had linked them.

17. Against the assertion that earthly bodies cannot become immortal

These philsophers also contend that earthly bodies cannot be eternal, although they have no doubt that the whole earth is itself a constituent part of their god, situated in the centre and everlasting – this god being not the supreme God but the great god who is the whole universe.33 Now, that supreme God created for them another being whom they regard as a god, that is, this universe of ours, and this divinity is to be ranked above all the others, who are below him. They suppose also that this god is animate, that is, he has a soul, according to them, a rational or intelligent soul enclosed within all this physical mass which is his body.34 Moreover the supreme God established the four elements, the constituent parts, as it were, of that same body, arranged and distributed in their own places; and to ensure that this great god of theirs shall never die, they insist that the conjunction of these elements is indissoluble and everlasting.35 On this asumption if the earth, the so-called ‘central member’, in the body of this larger living being, is eternal, is there any reason why the bodies of other living beings of the earth should not be everlasting, if God willed this as he willed the other?

But, they say, the earth from which the earthly bodies of living creatures are derived, has to be returned to the earth; and this, according to them, is why those bodies must inevitably disintegrate and perish, and in this way be restored to the enduring and everlasting earth from which they were taken. Now suppose someone made the same assertion about fire, and said that the bodies taken from the universal fire for the creation of heavenly beings must be returned to it. Then surely, if this were admitted, the immortality which Plato,36 speaking as the mouthpiece of the supreme God, promised to such deities would fall a victim, as it were, to the violence of this argument. Or does this not apply in this case, just because God does not so will; and God’s will, as Plato says, no force can conquer? If, so, what prevents God from having the power to affect the same result in respect of earthly bodies also, seeing that Plato admits that God is able to ensure that things which have a beginning should not perish, things which have been bound together should not be sundered, that what has been derived from the elements should not be returned to them, and that souls established in bodies should never forsake them, but should with them enjoy immortality and everlasting bliss?37

Then why should God not be able to ensure that terrestrial bodies also should not die? Are we to suppose that his power does not extend as far as Christians believe, but only as far as the Platonists are ready to allow? Those philosophers, to be sure, were able to know God’s purpose and power, but the prophets could not! In fact the contrary is true. The prophets were taught by God’s Spirit, so that they could make known his purpose, as far as he deigned to reveal it; whereas the philosophers were misled by human speculation when they tried to learn the divine intention.

But they ought not to have been so far misled either by ignorance, or a combination of ignorance and wrong-headedness, as to contest their own position. They assert with great force of argument that the soul, if it is to be capable of bliss, must get away not only from an earthly body but from any kind of body; on the other hand, they say that the gods have souls which are utterly blessed, and yet are bound to eternal bodies – celestial souls bound to bodies of fire;38 while the soul of Jupiter himself, whom they hold to be the universe, is wholly enclosed in all the material elements which compose the massive structure which rises up from earth to heaven.39

Plato’s theory is that this soul is diffused and extended by harmonic proportions from the middle point in the heart of the earth, from what the geometers call the centre, through all its parts as far as the highest and furthest zones of heaven.40 And so this universe is a living being, of the greatest size and the utmost felicity, and it is everlasting: its soul enjoys continually the perfect bliss of wisdom, and it does not abandon its own body, while that body derives its life from this soul for all eternity, and, although it is not simple but composed of so many bodies of great size, it cannot deaden or benumb the soul.

These philosophers certainly give free rein to their guesswork. Why then are they so unwilling to believe that by God’s will and power earthly bodies can be made immortal, and souls can live in those bodies everlastingly and in felicity, not separated from them by any death, nor weighed down by their burden? They are quite ready to maintain that this is possible for their deities in fiery bodies, and for Jupiter himself in all the material elements. For if a soul must avoid any kind of body in order to attain bliss, then their deities should escape from the starry globes, and Jupiter should get away from sky and earth. Or if they cannot, they should be accounted miserable.

But these philosophers refuse either of those alternatives. They cannot bring themselves to ascribe to their deities either a separation from their bodies, for fear of seeming to worship mortal gods, or a deprivation of felicity, for fear of admitting that their gods are unhappy.

The conclusion is that it is not necessary for the achievement of bliss to avoid every kind of body, but only bodies which are corruptible, burdensome, oppressive, and in a dying state; not such bodies as the goodness of God created for the first human beings,41 but bodies in the condition which the punishment for sin forced upon them.

18. The contention that earthly bodies cannot exist in the heavenly regions

These philosophers object that earthly bodies must inevitably be held down on the earth or forced down to the earth by their natural weight; and therefore they cannot exist in heaven.42 Those first human beings did indeed live on earth, in a wooded and fruitful land which was given the name ‘paradise’. Now we must reply to this objection, in view of the body with which Christ ascended into heaven, and the sort of body that the saints are to have at the resurrection. And so I should like them to give a closer examination to this question of earthly weights in themselves.

Now human skill makes possible the construction, by certain methods, of vessels capable of floating, even out of metals which immediately sink when placed in water. How much more credible is it that God should operate more effectively in some unexplained way! Plato tells us that God’s almighty will prevents the disappearance of things which had a beginning and the disintegration of things that were bound together;43 and immaterial things are much more wonderfully linked with material things than bodies are with bodies of any kind. Then surely God’s mysterious operation can ensure that earthly masses should not be pressed down to the lowest regions by any weight and, more than that, can allow the souls themselves, enjoying the highest perfection of bliss, to put their bodies (which though earthly are also incorruptible) wherever they wish, and to move them wherever they wish, thus enjoying complete facility of position or movement.

Well then, if angels can do this, and can carry off any earthly creatures from wherever they please and deposit them wherever they please,44 are we to suppose that they cannot do so without feeling the weight? Then why should we not believe that the spirits of the saints made perfect and happy by God’s bounty can without any difficulty convey their bodies wherever they wish and place them wherever they wish? Now the weight of earthly bodies is in direct proportion to their size, like the weight of burdens we normally feel in carrying them; and the heavier the weight the more oppressive the burden. And yet the soul finds the limbs of its own body lighter to carry when they are in health and therefore robust than when they are emaciated with weakness; and though a strong and healthy man is heavier for others to carry than a thin and sickly person, still the man himself can move and carry his body more briskly when he is in good health and has more weight to carry than when disease or want of food has left him very little strength. Thus even when we are dealing with earthly bodies, though still liable to corruption and death, it is not their size and weight that matters but their state of health. And words cannot express the immense difference between what we call health in our present condition and the immortality which is to be ours in the future.

Thus our belief is not refuted by the objections of those philosophers about the weights of bodies. And I will refrain from asking them why they do not believe that an earthly body can exist in heaven, although the whole earth is ‘balanced on nothing’.45 It may be, indeed, that an even more plausible argument may be based on the fact of a centre of the universe on which all heavier bodies converge. What I do say is this: Plato entrusted the lesser divinities with the task of creating man, as well as the other animals on earth;46 and they had the power, according to him, to remove from fire the property of burning, while leaving the property of illumination to flash through the eyes.47 And Plato allowed the will of the supreme God to have the power to ensure that things which had a beginning should not perish, and to preserve from any possibility of disintegration and dissolution the connection of material and immaterial substances, for all their diversity and dissimilarity. Shall we then hesitate to allow him to remove the possibility of corruption from the flesh of a man to whom he grants immortality, while leaving its nature unaltered, and to keep the symmetry of its outline and limbs, while getting rid of the inertia of its weight?

But I shall have to discuss in more detail our belief in the resurrection of the dead and their immortal bodies at the end of this work, if God wills.48

19. Against the doctrine that the first human beings would not have been immortal had they not sinned and the contention that the eternal life of souls is bodiless

Let us continue our discussion about the bodies of the first human beings. They could not have suffered even that death which is said to be good for the good, and which is known not merely to the few who have understanding or faith but to all, if it had not been the merited consequence of sin. This is the death which brings the separation of soul from body, and which certainly brings it about that the body of a living being, which was demonstrably alive, demonstrably dies. And although we must never for a moment doubt that the souls of the righteous and devout live in a state of rest after their departure from this life, yet they would be in a better state if they were living in conjunction with their bodies in perfect health. So true is this that even those who think that to be disembodied is the height of felicity, disprove this theory of theirs by a conflicting opinion.

For none of them will venture to rank wise men, whether already dead or still to die (that is, men who are already bodiless or who are going to abandon their bodies) above the immortal deities to whom, according to Plato, the supreme God promises, as an inestimable privilege, an indissoluble life, that is, an everlasting union with their bodies.49 On the other hand, Plato also thinks that men receive the best possible treatment, assuming that they have passed their lives on earth in piety and justice, when they are separated from their bodies and received into the bosom of the gods – those gods who never forsake their own bodies,50

So that, forgetful, they may seek again

The vault of heaven, and once more desire

To take a mortal body.51

as Virgil says, expressing Plato’s teaching admirably.

Thus Plato certainly does not believe that the souls of mortals can always exist in their bodies. He holds that they are set free by the inevitability of death. Yet he does not believe that they continue for ever without bodies; there is, he thinks, a ceaseless alternation, in which men pass from life to death and from death to life. But there is a difference, apparently, between the destiny of the wise and that of the rest. The wise, on this theory, are borne aloft after death to the stars, where each of them rests for a considerably longer time on the star appropriate to him; and from there, after he has forgotten his earlier misery and thus has given way to desire for the possession of a body, he returns again to the trials and troubles of mortal men. While those who have lived a life of folly are almost immediately brought back again to inhabit bodies suitable to their deserts, whether bodies of men or of animals.52

This then is the excessively harsh condition which Plato has imposed even on good and wise souls; for they were not assigned bodies with which they could live for ever in immortality. Consequently they could neither continue in their bodies, nor live without them in eternal purity. I have already mentioned in an earlier book53 that Porphyry, in the Christian era, was embarrassed about this Platonic dogma; and I have shown how he refused to allow the union of animal bodies and human souls, and how he went further, in holding that the souls of the wise are so thoroughly released from connection with the body that they shun a body of any kind and are kept in the Father’s presence in endless bliss. Thus to avoid appearing to be surpassed by Christ, with his promise of eternal life for his saints, Porphyry also established purified souls in a state of everlasting felicity, without any return to their former miseries. And he carried on his opposition to Christ by denying the resurrection of imperishable bodies, asserting that souls would live for all eternity not only without earthly bodies but without bodies of any sort.54

And yet in proposing this theory, for what it was worth, Porphyry stopped short of teaching that those souls should not submit themselves in religious homage to the embodied deities. Why was this, unless it was because he did not believe that those souls, although not associated with a body, were superior to those deities? Therefore, if those philosophers will not venture (and I do not think they will) to rate human souls above gods who are in the height of bliss and yet incorporated in eternal bodies, why does it seem to them ridiculous that the Christian faith should proclaim that the first human beings were so created that, if they had not sinned, no death would have sundered them from their bodies? In fact, that faith declares that as a reward for preserving obedience, they would have received the gift of immortality and would have lived for ever, united with those bodies; and that at the resurrection the saints will inhabit the actual bodies in which they suffered the hardships of this life on earth; yet these bodies will be such that no trace of corruption or frustration will affect their flesh, nor will any sorrow or mischance interfere with their felicity.

20. The flesh of saints, now resting in hope, will be restored to a better state than that of our first parents before their sin

In the same way, the souls of departed saints do not find death grievous, when it has separated them from their bodies; and for this reason, that their flesh ‘rests in hope’,55 whatever the insults that flesh may seem to have received after it has been bereft of sensation. It is not, as Plato imagined,56through forgetfulness that they long to have their bodies again. In fact it is just because they remember the promise of him who never lets anyone down, who gave them the assurance that even the hairs would remain intact;57 remembering this, they look for the resurrection of their bodies with patient longing, for though they suffered much hardship in those bodies, they will experience nothing of the kind hereafter.

To be sure, if they did not hate their own flesh58 when in its weakness it resisted their mental resolve, when they had to discipline it by the law of the spirit, how much more do they love it now, when it too is to become spiritual! For just as the spirit is quite appropriately called carnal when it is the servant of the flesh, the flesh will with equal propriety be called spiritual, when it serves the spirit. This is not because the flesh will be converted into spirit (a notion which some people derive from the scriptural text: ‘It is sown as an animal body: it will arise as a spiritual body’)59 but because it will submit to the spirit with a ready obedience, an obedience so wonderfully complete that the body will fulfil the will of the spirit in such a way as to bring perfect assurance of indissoluble immortality, free from any feeling of distress, and relieved of any possibility of corruption, any trace of reluctance.

Not only will the body be different from the body as it is now even when in perfect health; it will not even be such as it was in the first human beings, before their sin. For though they would not have been destined to die, if they had not sinned, still, as human beings, they took nourishment, since the bodies they bore were not yet spiritual but animal, still bodies of earth. Those bodies were not indeed growing old and senile, so as to be brought in the end to an inevitable death. This condition was granted to them by the wonderful grace of God, and was derived from the tree of life which was in the middle of paradise, together with the forbidden tree. For all that, they took other kinds of food, except from that one tree which had been banned, not because it was an evil in itself, but in order to emphasize the good of pure and simple obedience which is the great virtue of a rational creature set under the authority of the Lord his creator. For where nothing evil was touched it is obvious that, if something forbidden was touched, the sin consisted solely in the disobedience.

Thus the purpose of the other foods was to prevent their animal bodies from experiencing any distress through hunger or thirst, whereas the reason for their tasting of the tree of life was to prevent death that might come on them unawares from any source, or the death that would come in extreme old age after their lives had run full course. It could be said that other foods served as nourishment, but that from the tree of life was a kind of sacrament. On this interpretation the tree of life in the material paradise is analogous to the wisdom of God in the spiritual or intelligible paradise; for Scripture says of wisdom, ‘It is the tree of life to those who embrace it.’60

21. The spiritual interpretation of the paradise of Eden does not conflict with its historical truth

Hence a number of interpreters give a symbolic meaning to the whole of that paradise, in which dwelt the first parents of mankind, according to the truthful narrative of holy Scripture. They give a spiritual reference to those fruit-bearing trees, and the others, turning them into symbols of virtues and moral qualities. They take it for granted that those were not visible and material objects, but were thus described in speech or writing to stand for spiritual and moral truths.

It is, however, arbitrary to suppose that there could not have been a material paradise, just because it can be understood also in a spiritual significance; it is like the assumption that there were not two wives of Abraham, named Hagar and Sarah, who bore two sons, one a slave’s son, the other the son of a free woman, just because the Apostle finds in them the prefiguration of the two covenants;61 or that there was no rock from which water flowed when Moses struck it, just because it can be interpreted in a symbolic sense, as prefiguring Christ; which is how the same Apostle takes it when he says, ‘Now the rock was Christ.’62

And so no one can stop us from interpreting paradise symbolically as the life of the blessed; its four rivers as the four virtues, prudence, courage, temperance, and justice; its trees as all the beneficial disciplines; the fruit of the trees as the character of the righteous; the tree of life as wisdom, the mother of all good things; and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as the experience of disobedience to a commandment. For it was certainly a good thing, because it was just, that God should have imposed a punishment for sinners; but it is not a good thing for man himself that he experiences it.

We can also interpret the details of paradise with reference to the Church, which gives them a better significance as prophetic indications of things to come in the future. Thus paradise stands for the Church itself, as described in the Song of Songs,63 the four rivers represent the four Gospels; the fruit trees, the saints; and the fruit, their achievements; the tree of life, the Holy of Holies, must be Christ himself; while the tree of knowledge of good and evil symbolizes the personal decision of man’s free will.

For it is certain that if man ignores God’s will he can only employ his own powers to his own destruction; and thus he learns what a difference it makes whether he gives his adherence to the good that is shared by all, or finds pleasure only in his own selfish good. In fact, if he loves himself, a man is given over to himself so that when as a result he has had his fill of fears and griefs he may use the words of the psalm (if, that is, he is aware of his evil plight) and sing, ‘My soul is troubled within me’,64 and then, when he is set right, he may then say, ‘I shall keep watch for you, my strength.’65

This is the kind of thing that can be said by way of allegorical interpretation of paradise; and there may be other more valuable lines of interpretation. There is no prohibition against such exegesis, provided that we also believe in the truth of the story as a faithful record of historical fact.

22. The post-resurrection bodies of the saints will be spiritual, but without the conversion of flesh into spirit

The bodies of the righteous, after the resurrection, will not need any tree to preserve them against death from disease or from extreme old age, nor any material nourishment to prevent any kind of distress from hunger or thirst. This is because they will be endowed with the gift of assured and inviolable immortality, and so they will eat only if they wish to eat; eating will be for them a possibility, not a necessity. This is what the angels also did, when they appeared in visible and tangible form. They ate, not because they needed food, but because they were able to eat, and they wanted to do so, to fit in with men’s ways by displaying some human characteristics in the performance of their ministry. For we ought not to suppose that the angels ate only in illusory appearance when they were entertained by human beings.66 Though it seemed to their hosts, who did not know whether they were angels, that they partook of food because, like us, they needed nourishment. That is why the angel in the book of Tobias says, ‘You saw me eating, but it was in your own vision that you saw me’,67 which means, ‘You supposed that I took food, as you do, because of the need to restore the body’s losses.’

Well, it is possible that a more credible suggestion might be put forward on the subject of the angels. However that may be, the Christian faith has no doubts about the Saviour himself. Christians believe that even after his resurrection, when he was now appearing in spiritual, though still real, flesh, he took food and drink in the company of his disciples.68 For it is not the ability, it is the need to eat and drink that will be taken away from bodies like this. They will be spiritual, not by ceasing to be bodies, but by being supported in their existence by a life-giving spirit.69

23. The meaning of ‘animal’ body and ‘spiritual’ body; and of ‘all die in Adam’ and ‘all are brought to life in Christ’

Bodies which have a living soul, but not yet a life-giving spirit, are called ‘animal’ bodies (that is, bodies with anima‘life’ or ‘soul’; and yet they are not souls, but bodies). In the same way, those other bodies are called ‘spiritual’. Yet we must not allow ourselves to believe that they will be spirits; we must think of them as bodies having the substance of flesh, though never having to experience corruption or lethargy, being preserved from such a fate by the life-giving spirit. Then man will no longer be earthly, but heavenly, not because his body, made of earth, will not be the same, but because the heavenly gift will fit it for living in heaven itself, not by a loss of its natural substance, but by a change in its quality.

The first man, however, was ‘of the earth, earthly’, and he was made as a ‘living soul’, not a ‘life-giving spirit’;70 that condition was reserved for him after he had merited it by obedience. There is no doubt that his body was animal, not spiritual; this is shown by the fact that it needed food and drink to prevent its suffering from hunger and thirst; and it was preserved from the inevitability of death and kept in the flower of youth, not by that ultimate immortality, which is absolute and indissoluble, but by the tree of life. Yet that first man would certainly not have died had he not, by his offence, fallen under the sentence of God who had given him ample warning in advance. Then, though he was not denied nourishment, outside paradise, he was banned from the tree of life and handed over to time and old age, for them to make an end of him, in respect of that life, at least, which he might have enjoyed perpetually in paradise, had he not sinned, though he would have been in an animal body, until that body became spiritual as a reward for obedience.

Therefore, even if we were to suppose that when God said, ‘On the day you eat of it, you will die by the death.’71 he referred to that obvious death in which the soul is separated from the body; still we need not see any inconsistency in the fact that the offenders were not immediately severed from the body on the actual day when they took the forbidden and mortal food. It was in fact on that day that their natural condition changed for the worse; there was a taint on that nature, and they were barred from the tree of life as the just punishment of their offence. The result was that they became subject to the inevitable death of the body; and we are born under the same necessity. That is why the Apostle does not say, ‘The body will die because of sin.’ but, ‘The body is dead because of sin: but the spirit is life because of righteousness.’ And then he adds, ‘Then, if the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will bring to life your mortal bodies also, through the indwelling of his Spirit in you.’72

The body will thus be related to the life-giving spirit as it is now to the living soul. Nevertheless, the Apostle calls it dead because it is in the grip of inevitable death. Yet originally it was related to a living soul, though not to a life-giving spirit, in such a way that it could not rightly be called dead, since it could not be faced with death, as an inevitability, except in consequence of a sin committed.

But when God asked, ‘Where are you, Adam?’73 he signified the death of the soul, which came about when he forsook it; and when he said, ‘You are earth, and into earth you will go.’74 he signified the death of the body, which comes about when the soul forsakes it. We must believe that he said nothing about the second death because he wished to keep it from men’s knowledge with a view to the revelation of his purpose in the New Testament, where the second death is proclaimed in unmistakable terms.75 Thus it would first be made clear that the first death, which is the common lot of mankind, resulted from that sin which in one man became an act in which all mankind shared. Whereas the second death is certainly not the common lot of all men because those are exempt ‘who have been called in fulfilment of his purpose’, those whom he previously ‘foreknew and predestined’, as the Apostle says, ‘to be fashioned in the likeness of his Son, so that he might be the first-born in a family of many brothers’.76 They have been rescued from the second death by God’s grace, through the action of the Mediator.

Thus it was in an animal body, the Apostle says, that the first man was created. For when he is concerned to distinguish the present animal body from the spiritual body which is to come at the resurrection, the Apostle says, ‘It is sown in corruption: it will rise in incorruption; it is sown in humiliation: it will rise in glory; it is sown in weakness: it will rise in power; it is sown as an animal body: it will rise as a spiritual body.’ Then he adds, to support this, ‘If there is such a thing as an animal body, there is also a spiritual body.’ And to show what is meant by an animal body, he says, ‘This is the sense in which Scripture says: “The first man was made into a living soul.” ‘77 His intention in speaking in this way was to show what an animal body is, although in the account of the first man, named Adam, and the creation of his soul by the breath of God, the Scripture does not say, ‘And man was made in an animal body’, but, ‘Man was made into a living soul.’78 Thus in this scriptural statement, ‘The first man was made into a living soul’, the Apostle intended us to understand a reference to man’s animal body.

On the other hand, he shows how the spiritual body is to be understood by adding, ‘The last Adam was made into a life-giving spirit.’79 Here undoubtedly he means Christ, who has already risen from the dead so as to be thereafter utterly insusceptible of death. He then goes on to say, ‘But the spiritual does not come first: first comes the animal body, and the spiritual afterwards.’ Here he makes it much clearer that he finds a reference to the animal body in the scriptural statement that the first man was made into a living soul, and intends a reference to the spiritual body in his own statement that ‘the last Adam was made into a life-giving spirit.’

For the animal body comes first, a body like that of the first Adam, although that would not have died, if Adam had not sinned. Such is the body that we also have, with its nature as much changed and marred as it was in Adam, after his sin, with the result that death became inevitable for him. Christ also condescended to take such a body at first, not of necessity, but as an act of power. But afterwards will come the spiritual body, like that which has gone ahead of us in the person of Christ, who is our head;80 this spiritual body will follow, in the person of those who are ‘members of Christ’81 at the final resurrection of the dead.

The Apostle then adds a very striking difference between those two men. He says, ‘The first man is from the earth, earthly: the second man is from heaven. Those who are earthly are like the man of earth; those who are heavenly are like the man of heaven. And as we have put on the likeness of the man of earth, let us also put on the likeness of the man who is from heaven.’82 The Apostle put it in this way so that the sacrament of rebirth may even now have its effect in us; as he says in another place, ‘All of you who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ.’83 although this process will not be completed in reality until what is animal in us, because of our birth, has become spiritual because of our resurrection. For, to use his own words again, ‘It is in hope that we have been saved.’84

Now we have put on the likeness of the man of earth by the physical inheritance of sin and death, conveyed to us by birth; but we shall put on the likeness of the heavenly man, by the gracious gift of pardon and of perpetual life. This gift we receive by rebirth, but it comes only through ‘the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’.85 It is Christ whom the Apostle means to be understood by ‘the heavenly man’, because he came from heaven to be clothed in a body of earthly mortality, so that he might clothe it in heavenly immortality. The reason why he uses the epithet ‘heavenly’ of the others also is that they become, through grace, ‘members of Christ’, so that with them Christ forms a unity like that of head and body.86

The Apostle puts this in more striking terms in the same letter: ‘It was by a man that death came; and by a man came the resurrection of the dead. For as it is in Adam that all die, so also it is in Christ that all will be brought to life’87 – ‘brought to life’, undoubtedly, in a spiritual body which will exist in relation to a life-giving spirit. But it does not mean that all who die in Adam will be members of Christ, for the great majority of them will be punished with the second death, which is for ever. What the Apostle means by using ‘all’ in both parts of the statement is that no one dies in his animal body except ‘in Adam’; and in the same way no one is brought to life in a spiritual body except ‘in Christ’.

It follows then that we must certainly not suppose that at the resurrection we shall have the kind of body that the first man possessed before his sin. And the saying, ‘Those who are earthly are like the man of earth’, should not be taken as referring to the condition that resulted from his sin. We are not to imagine that the first man had a spiritual body before he sinned, and that it was changed into an animal body as the reward of that sin. To suppose this is to pay too little attention to the actual words of the great teacher. Paul says, ‘If there is such a thing as an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. As the Scripture also says, “The first man, Adam, was made into a living soul.”’ We cannot think that this happened after Adam had sinned, since it is the original condition of man; for the blessed Paul quotes this evidence from the Law88 about that condition, to show what is meant by the animal body.

24. The meaning of God’s breathing into the first man, and the Lord’s breathing on the disciples

There is another passage which has been thoughtlessly explained by some interpreters. This is the passage where we read, ‘God breathed into his face the breath (spiritus) of life, and man was made into a living soul.’89 They assume this to mean not that man was then first given his soul (anima), but that the soul was already in him, and now it was brought to life by the Holy Spirit (Spiritus).90 They are influenced by the fact that, after the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, he breathed on his disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’91 Hence they imagine that something of the sort happened on the first occasion, as if the evangelist had gone on to say here also, ‘and they were made into a living soul.’ If indeed this had been said, we should have taken it to mean that the Spirit of God is, in a sense, the life of souls, and without that Spirit rational souls are to be reckoned as dead, although their presence gives to bodies the semblance of life. But this was not what happened when man was created, as is clearly shown by the biblical evidence, in these words, ‘And God fashioned dust from the earth into a man.’92

Some interpreters have thought that this passage needed clearer explanation and have therefore put it thus: ‘And God devised a man from the mud of the earth.’ For the preceding passage was, ‘But a spring went up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground’,93 and they imagined that this implied mud, that being a mixture of earth and water. For the very next statement is, ‘And God fashioned dust from the earth into a man.’ This is the reading of the Greek manuscripts, of which the Latin Bible is a translation. It is of no importance whether the translation ‘fashioned’ (formavit) or ‘devised’ (finxit) is preferred, to represent the Greek eplasen; though ‘devised’ is a more literal rendering. But those who preferred ‘fashioned’ had decided that it was desirable to avoid the ambiguity of ‘devised’, since that word is employed in general Latin usage to describe the composition of something false with intent to deceive.

And so this man, formed from the dust of the earth or from mud (for the dust was moistened) – or, to use the express words of Scripture, this ‘dust from the earth’ – became an animal body, according to the Apostle’s teaching, when he received a soul. ‘And this man was made into a living soul’, that is, this dust, when fashioned, was then made into a living soul.

But, they say, he already had a soul. Otherwise, he would not have been called a man, since man is not merely a body or merely a soul, but a being constituted by body and soul together. This is indeed true, for the soul is not the whole man; it is the better part of man, and the body is not the whole man; it is the lower part of him. It is the conjunction of the two parts that is entitled to the name of ‘man’; and yet those parts taken separately are not deprived of that appellation even when we speak of them by themselves. For there is no law (as we may call it) of ordinary speech to prohibit such a statement as, ‘The man has died, and is now at rest, or under punishment’, when in fact this can be said only of his soul; or, ‘The man is buried in such and such a place’, although this can only be understood as meaning his body.

They may, perhaps, be ready with the retort that this is not the normal form of expression in holy Scripture. But the truth is that Scripture supports our contention on this point, to the extent of employing the term ‘man’ to designate the separate constituents, even during a man’s life, when the two elements are conjoined. That is to say, it calls the soul ‘the inner man’ and the body ‘the outer man’,94 as if there were two men, whereas the two elements together make up one man. We must, in fact, understand what is meant by speaking of ‘man made in the likeness of God’, and ‘man who is earth, and destined to return into earth’. The former refers to the rational soul, as God implanted it in man (in his body, that is) by breathing on him – ‘by inspiration’ might be a more suitable phrase. While the latter statement applies to man’s body, as devised by God out of dust, the thing which was given a soul so that it should become an animal body, that man should be made into a living soul.

Hence, by the act in which the Lord breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’,95 he surely intended it to be understood that the Holy Spirit is the spirit (or breath) not only of the Father but also of the only-begotten Son himself. The Spirit of the Father and the Son is one and the same, and with the Spirit, the Father and the Son form the Trinity, the Holy Spirit being not created but creator. For that material breath which came from the physical mouth of Christ was not the substance and natural being of the Holy Spirit; rather it was a sign to enable us to understand, as I said, that the Holy Spirit is common to the Father and the Son, because they have not separate spirits, but one spirit belongs to both.

The spirit is always designated in the holy Scriptures by the Greek word pneuma, which is also the term used by Jesus in this passage, when he symbolized it by the breath of his physical mouth, in giving the Spirit to the disciples. But in the passage where it says, ‘And God fashioned dust from the earth into a man and breathed (or inspired) into his face the spirit (or breath) of life’, the Greek version does not use pneuma, the usual term for the Holy Spirit, but pnoê, a word which appears more often in relation to the created world than in connection with the Creator. Hence, to mark the distinction, some Latin versions also have preferred to translate the word by flatus (breath) instead of spiritus (spirit). This word flatus also occurs in the passage of Isaiah where God says, ‘I have made every breath’,96 which undoubtedly means ‘every soul’.

Thus the Greek pnoê is sometimes rendered into Latin by flatus (breath), sometimes by spiritus (spirit), inspiratio (breathing into, inspiration), or aspiratio (breathing on), even when used of God’s action. Whereas pneuma is invariably represented by spiritus. This holds good whether it is used of man (the Apostle says, ‘Among mankind, who knows the truth about a man except the spirit of the man within him?’97), or of an animal (for example, in the book of Solomon, ‘Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward into heaven, and the spirit of the animal goes downward into the earth?’98), or of the physical phenomenon which is also called wind (for this term is used in the verse of the psalm, ‘Fire, hail, snow, ice, spirit of the storm’99), or, lastly, of the Spirit which is not created but Creator. This last is the reference in the Lord’s saying in the Gospel, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’,100 with the symbolism of the breath from his physical mouth; and when he says, ‘Go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’,101 a passage where the Trinity is emphasized with a clarity unparalleled elsewhere; and in the place where we read, ‘God is spirit’,102 and in very many other places in holy Scripture.

Now in all these scriptural references we observe that, in the Greek text, the word is not pnoê but pneuma, and in the Latin, spiritus instead of flatus. Therefore, in the statement, ‘He inspired’ – or, to put it more accurately, ‘he breathed’ – ‘into his face the spirit of life’, even if the Greek had pneuma here, instead of pnoê (the actual reading), it would not have followed that we were forced to refer it to the Creator Spirit, who is properly called, in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, seeing that it is established that pneuma is frequently used of the created as well as of the creator.

But, these interpreters allege, when the author said ‘spirit’ (spiritus) he would not have added ‘of life’, if he had not intended the Holy Spirit to be understood, and when he said ‘Man was made into a soul’, he would not have put in the epithet ‘living’ if he had not meant the life of the soul which is divinely imparted to it by the gift of the Spirit of God. For, they argue, since the soul lives in a manner appropriate to its own life, what was the need to add ‘living’, except to ensure that it would be understood as meaning that life which is given to the soul through the Holy Spirit? It would not have entailed much effort for them, without going to any great lengths, to read, slightly earlier in the same book, ‘Let the earth produce the living soul’,103 at the time when the terrestrial animals were all created. It would not have cost them much to notice, a few chapters later, but still in the same book, these words: ‘And all things which have the spirit of life, and everyone who was on the dry land died’104 – which means that all things that lived on the earth perished in the Flood.

So we find both a ‘living soul’ and a ‘spirit of life’ even in the animals, according to the normal usage in divine Scripture. In this passage also, in the phrase, ‘all things which have the spirit of life’, the Greek word is pnoê, not pneuma. Then why do we not ask, ‘What need was there to add “living”, since the soul cannot exist without being alive? And what need to add “of life” after saying “spirit”?’ But we take it that Scripture, as usual, speaks of ‘living soul’ and ‘spirit of life’ because it intends us to take the meaning as ‘animals’, in the sense of animate bodies, obviously possessed of the bodily sense perception which comes through the possession of a soul. But when we think of the creation of man we forget the normal usage of Scripture. And yet Scripture here kept strictly to its customary language to make the point that man did indeed receive a rational soul, which (the Bible intends us to realize) was not produced from water or earth, like the soul of the other physical creatures, but created by the breath of God; but that man was nevertheless created to live in an animal body, which comes into life when a soul begins to live in it. For Scripture says of the animals in general, ‘Let the earth produce the living soul’; and it also speaks of them as having ‘the spirit of life’. In this latter phrase also the Greek word is pnoê, not pneuma; and it is obvious that the noun signifies not the Holy Spirit but the soul of the animals.

But in fact, comes the reply, the breath of God is to be taken as having issued from God’s mouth, and if we suppose it to be the soul, it follows that we must admit that it is of the same substance as God’s Wisdom, on an equality with that Wisdom which says, ‘I came out of the mouth of the Most High.’105 Yes, but Wisdom did not say that it had been ‘breathed’ out of God’s mouth, but that it ‘came out’. Besides, when we breathe out, we can expel our breath without taking from our own natural substance, the substance that makes us human beings; we breathe by taking from the surrounding air, drawing it in and letting it out by inhaling and exhaling. Almighty God equally has the ability to produce a breath which was taken neither from his own natural substance nor from anything in his subject creation; he could produce it from nothing. And to say that he ‘inspired’ or ‘breathed’ this breath when he implanted it into man’s body is the suitable way of expressing God’s action; for he is immaterial, as was the breath, but the breath was mutable, and he is immutable, the uncreated producing a created breath. And apart from this, I should like these people, who are ready to hold forth about Scripture without observing the linguistic usages of Scripture, to know that it is not only something of equal and identical nature with God that is said to come out of his mouth; and so I should like them to listen to, or to read, this passage in Scripture, where God is speaking, ‘Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I shall go on to spit you out of my mouth.’106

So there is no reason to withhold assent from the clear statement of the Apostle on this point. He is distinguishing the animal body from the spiritual, the body in which we are now from the body in which we shall be in the future; and he says,

It is sown as an animal body: it will rise as a spiritual body. If there is such a thing as an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. This is the testimony of Scripture: ‘The first man, Adam, was made into a living soul: the last Adam into a life-giving Spirit’. But the spiritual does not come first: the animal body is first, the spiritual comes later. The first man is of the earth, earthly: the second man is from heaven. Those who are earthly are like the man of earth: those who are heavenly are like the man from heaven. And just as we have put on the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also put on the likeness of the man who is from heaven.

We have already discussed these words of the Apostle.107

Thus the animal body, with which, the Apostle says, the first man Adam was made, was not made so as to be incapable of dying, but so as not to die, if the man had not sinned. For the body which will be incapable of death is that which will be spiritual and immortal in virtue of the presence of a life-giving spirit. In this it will be like the soul, which was created immortal. The soul, it is true, may be spoken of as dead because of sin, in that it loses one kind of life, namely the Spirit of God, which would have enabled it to live in wisdom and felicity. Still, it does not cease to live with a kind of life of its own, however wretched, since it is created immortal. The same holds good of the apostate angels; they have, in a fashion, died by sinning, because they forsook the fountain of life which is God; by drinking from that fountain they might have lived in wisdom and felicity. However, they could not die in the sense of ceasing altogether to live and feel, since they were created immortal. And so, after the last judgement, when they will be hurled into the second death, that will not mean that they will even there be deprived of life, seeing that they will not be deprived of feeling, when they are in pain.

But men who are in the sphere of God’s grace, who are fellow-citizens of the holy angels who live in continual bliss, will be equipped with spiritual bodies in such a way that they will sin no more, nor will they die. The immortality with which they are clothed will be like that of the angels, an immortality which cannot be taken away by sin; and though the natural substance of flesh will continue, no slightest trace of carnal corruptibility or lethargy will remain.

A question then arises which demands discussion and resolution, with the help of the Lord God of Truth. If sensual desire arose in the disobedient bodies of the first human beings as a result of the sin of disobedience, when they had been forsaken by divine grace, if, in the consequence, they opened their eyes to their own nakedness, that is, they observed it with anxious curiosity, and if they covered up their shameful parts because an excitement, which resisted voluntary control, made them ashamed – if this is true, how would they have produced children if they had remained without sin, in the state in which they were created?

But this book must now come to its close; and in any case this is too important a question to be discussed in a constricted space. I shall therefore postpone it for more adequate treatment in the next book.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!