1. The disobedience of the first man would have involved all mankind in the second, everlasting, death, had not God’s grace rescued many
I HAVE already stated in the foregoing books1 that God chose to make a single individual the starting-point of all mankind, and that his purpose in this was that the human race should not merely be united in a society by natural likeness, but should also be bound together by a kind of tie of kinship to form a harmonious unity, linked together by the ‘bond of peace’. And this race would not have been destined for death, in respect of its individual members, had not the two first human beings (of whom one was created from no one, and the other from him) incurred death as the reward of disobedience: and so heinous was their sin that man’s nature suffered a change for the worse; and bondage to sin and inevitable death was the legacy handed on to their posterity.
Now the reign of death has held mankind in such utter subjection that they would all be driven headlong into that second death, which has no ending, as their well-deserved punishment, if some were not rescued from it by the undeserved grace of God. The result is that although there are many great peoples throughout the world, living under different customs in religion and morality and distinguished by a complex variety of languages, arms, and dress, it is still true that there have come into being only two main divisions, as we may call them, in human society: and we are justified in following the lead of our Scriptures2 and calling them two cities. There is, in fact, one city of men who choose to live by the standard of the flesh, another of those who choose to live by the standard of the spirit. The citizens of each of these desire their own kind of peace, and when they achieve their aim, that is the kind of peace in which they live.
2. The carnal life depends on defects of the mind as much as of the body
We need to examine first what is meant by living ‘by the rule of the flesh’ and ‘by the rule of the spirit’. For a superficial inspection of my statement may lead to misconception, if it is not carefully borne in mind how the holy Scriptures use the expressions. It may be thought that the Epicurean3philosophers certainly live ‘by the rule of the flesh’, since they place the Highest Good of man in physical pleasure,4 and that the same is true of other philosophers who have in various ways held that the good of the body is man’s Highest Good; and that it is also true of people in general, who are not attached to any philosophical doctrine, who hold no sort of theory, but, having a natural propensity towards sensuality, have no acquaintance with any delight except that derived from the pleasure they experience in physical sensations. On the other hand, it may be supposed that the Stoics5 live ‘by the rule of the spirit’, because they place man’s highest good in the mind;6 and what is man’s mind, but spirit? But in fact both of these groups live ‘by the rule of the flesh’, as divine Scripture uses the expression.
For Scripture does not confine the application of the term ‘flesh’ to the body of an earthly and mortal living being, as it is used, for example, in, ‘All flesh is not the same; there is one kind belonging to man, another to animals, another to birds, another to fish.’7 There are, in fact, many other ways in which it uses the noun, to describe different things; and among these different usages is its employment to denote man himself, that is, the essential nature of man, an example of the figure of speech known as ‘part for whole’. For example, ‘All flesh will not be justified by the works of the Law.’8 Obviously this can only be intended to mean ‘every man’. This is made explicit a little later, ‘No man is justified by the Law’,9 and in the epistle to the Galatians, ‘Knowing, however, that a man is not justified as a result of works of the Law.’10
It is on these lines that we interpret this passage, ‘And the Word became flesh’.11 that is, ‘became man’. Some people have misunderstood it and therefore have supposed that Christ had no human soul. But we have the part implied by the whole in the passage in the Gospel where Mary Magdalen’s words are quoted, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’,12 for she was speaking only about the flesh of Christ, which, she thought, had been taken from the tomb where it was buried; and similarly we have the ‘whole from part’ figure when ‘flesh’ is mentioned, and ‘man’ is meant, as in the text quoted above.
Thus the inspired Scripture uses the term ‘flesh’ in many ways, and it would be tedious to collect and scrutinize them all. Our present purpose is to track down the meaning of ‘living by the rule of the flesh’ (which is clearly a bad thing, though the natural substance of flesh is not an evil in itself); and to enable us to achieve this purpose, let us carefully examine the passage in St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians where he says,
It is obvious what the works of the flesh are: such things as fornication, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, quarrelsomeness, jealousy, animosity, dissension, party intrigue, envy, drunkenness, drunken orgies, and so on. I warned you before, and I warn you again, that those who behave in such ways will never have a place in God’s kingdom.13
A consideration of this whole passage of Paul’s letter sufficient for the requirements of the present topic will enable us to answer the question of what is meant by ‘living by the rule of the flesh’. For among the ‘works of the flesh’ which he said were obvious, and which he listed and condemned, we find not only those concerned with sensual pleasure, like fornication, impurity, lust, drunkenness and drunken orgies, but also those which show faults of the mind, which have nothing to do with sensual indulgence. For anyone can see that devotion to idols, sorcery, enmity, quarrelsomeness, jealousy, animosity, party intrigue, envy – all these are faults of the mind, not of the body. Indeed, it may happen that a man refrains from sensual indulgence because of devotion to an idol, or because of the erroneous teaching of some sect; and yet even then, though such a man seems to restrain and suppress his carnal desires, he is convicted, on the authority of the Apostle, of living by the rule of the flesh; and it is the very fact of his abstention from fleshly indulgence that proves that he is engaged in ‘the works of the flesh’.
Can anyone feel enmity except in the mind? Would anyone, speaking to an enemy, real or supposed, express himself by saying, ‘Your flesh is set against me’, rather than ‘Your mind’? Finally, if anyone heard of ‘carnalities’ (if there is such a word) he would undoubtedly attribute them to the carnal nature; and by the same token, no one doubts that animosities are concerned with the animus, with the mind. It follows that the reason why ‘the teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’14 gives the name of ‘works of the flesh’ to those and similar failings is simply that he intends the word ‘flesh’ to be taken as meaning ‘man’ by the ‘part for whole’ figure of speech.
3. The cause of sin arises in the soul, not in the flesh; and the corruption resulting from sin is not a sin but a punishment
Now it may be asserted that the flesh is the cause of every kind of moral failing, on the ground that the bad behaviour of the soul is due to the influence of the flesh. But this contention shows a failure to consider man’s nature carefully and in its entirety. For ‘the corruptible body weighs down the soul.’15 Hence also the Apostle, when treating of this corruptible body, first says, ‘Our outer man is decaying.’16 and later goes on thus:
We know that if the earthly house we inhabit disintegrates, we have a building given by God, a house not made by human hands, eternal, in heaven. For in this body we do indeed sigh – as we long for our heavenly dwelling to be put on over it, hoping that when we have put it on, we shall not find ourselves naked. For we, who are in this present dwelling, feel its weight, and sigh; not that we desire to be stripped of our body; rather we desire to have the other clothing put on over it, so that what is mortal may be absorbed by life.17
And so we are weighed down by the corruptible body; and yet we know that the cause of our being weighed down is not the true nature and substance of our body but its corruption; and therefore we do not wish to be stripped of it, but to be clothed with the immortality of the body. For then there will still be a body, but it will not be corruptible, and therefore not a burden. Consequently, in this present life, ‘the corruptible body weighs down the soul, and the earthly habitation depresses the mind as it meditates on many questions.’ However, those who imagine that all the ills of the soul derive from the body are mistaken.
True, Virgil is apparently expounding Platonic teaching18 in glorious poetry when he says,
Of those seeds heaven is the source, and fiery
The energy within them, did not bodies
Hamper and thwart them, and these earthly limbs
And dying members dull them.19
And he will have it that the body is to be taken as the source of all four of the most familiar emotional disturbances of the mind: desire and fear, joy and grief, which may be called the origins of all sins and moral failings.20 Thus he adds these lines,
Hence come desire and fear, gladness and sorrow;
They look not up to heaven, but are confined
In darkness, in the sightless dungeon’s gloom.
However, our belief is something very different. For the corruption of the body, which weighs down the soul, is not the cause of the first sin, but its punishment. And it was not the corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful; it was the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible.
No doubt this corruption of the flesh results in some incitements to wrongdoing and in actual vicious longings; yet we must not attribute to the flesh all the faults of a wicked life, which would mean that we absolve the Devil of all those faults, since he has no flesh. Certainly, we cannot accuse the Devil of fornication or drunkenness or any other such wickedness connected with carnal indulgence, although he is the hidden persuader and instigator of such sins. Nevertheless, he is proud and envious in the highest degree; and this moral corruption has so mastered him that he is destined because of it to eternal punishment in the prison of this murky air of ours.
Now those vices, which are predominant in the Devil, are attributed to the flesh by the Apostle, although it is certain that the Devil is without flesh. For St Paul says that enmity, quarrelsomeness, jealousy ousy, animosity, and envy are ‘works of the flesh’;21 and the fountain-head of all these evils is pride; and pride reigns in the Devil, although he is without flesh. For who is a greater enemy than he is to the saints? Who is found to quarrel with them more bitterly, to show more animosity, jealousy, and envy towards them? Yet he displays all these faults, without having flesh. So how can they be ‘the works of the flesh’ except in that they are the works of man, to whom, as I have said, the Apostle applies the term ‘flesh’?
It is in fact not by the possession of flesh, which the Devil does not possess, that man has become like the Devil: it is by living by the rule of self, that is by the rule of man. For the Devil chose to live by the rule of self when he did not stand fast in the truth, so that the he that lie told was his own lie, not God’s. The Devil is not only a liar; he is ‘the father of lies’.22 He was, as we know, the first to lie, and falsehood, like sin, had its start from him.
4. The meaning of living ‘by the standard of man’ and ‘by the standard of God’
Thus, when man lives ‘by the standard of man’ and not ‘by the standard of God’, he is like the Devil; because even an angel should not have lived by the angel’s standard, but by God’s, so as to stand firm in the truth and speak the truth that comes from God’s truth, not the lie that derives from his own falsehood. For the Apostle has this to say about man also, in another passage, ‘But if the truth of God has been abundantly displayed through my falsehood’.23 The point is that the falsehood is ours, but the truth is God’s.
So when man lives by the standard of truth he lives not by his own standard, but by God’s. For it is God who has said, ‘I am the truth.’24 By contrast, when he lives by his own standard, that is by man’s and not by God’s standard, then inevitably he lives by the standard of falsehood. Not that man himself is falsehood, since his author and creator is God, who is certainly not the author and creator of falsehood. The fact is that man was created right, on condition that he should live by the standard of his creator, not by his own, carrying out not his own will, but his creator’s. Falsehood consists in not living in the way for which he was created.
Man has undoubtedly the will to be happy, even when he pursues happiness by living in a way which makes it impossible of attainment. What could be more of a falsehood than a will like that? Hence we can say with meaning that every sin is a falsehood. For sin only happens by an act of will; and our will is for our own welfare, or for the avoidance of misfortune. And hence the falsehood: we commit sin to promote our welfare, and it results instead in our misfortune; or we sin to increase our welfare, and the result is rather to increase our misfortune. What is the reason for this, except that well-being can only come to man from God, not from himself? And he forsakes God by sinning, and he sins by living by his own standard.
I have already said that two cities, different and mutually opposed, owe their existence to the fact that some men live by the standard of the flesh, others by the standard of the spirit. It can now be seen that we may also put it in this way: that some live by man’s standard, others by God’s. St Paul puts it very plainly when he says to the Corinthians, ‘For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, following human standards in your behaviour?’25 Therefore, to behave according to human standards is the same as to be ‘of the flesh’, because by ‘the flesh’, a part of man, man himself is meant.
In fact, St Paul had previously employed the term ‘animal’ to the same people whom he here calls ‘carnal’. This is what he said,
For what man on earth knows the truth about a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Similarly, no one knows the truth about God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is the gift of God, so that we may understand the gifts which God has granted us. We speak of those gifts in words which we have been taught, not by human wisdom, but by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to men possessed by God’s Spirit. The ‘animal’ man does not grasp what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is all folly to him.26
It is then to such men, that is, to ‘animal’ men, that he says, somewhat later, ‘Now I, my brothers, could not speak to you as I should to men possessed by the Spirit; I could only speak as to men of the flesh.’27 Both these terms, ‘animal’ and ‘carnal’, are examples of the ‘part for whole’ figure of speech. For anima (the soul) and caro (the flesh) are parts of a man, and can stand for man in his entirety. And thus the ‘animal’ man is not something different from the ‘carnal’ man: they are identical, that is, man living by human standards. In the same way, the reference is simply to men when we read ‘No flesh will be justified as a result of the works of the law’,28 and also when Scripture says, ‘Seventy-five souls went down to Egypt with Jacob.’29 In the first case ‘no flesh’ means ‘no man’, and in the second, ‘seventy-five souls’ means ‘seventy-five men’.
Further, in the phrase, ‘in words taught not by human wisdom’, ‘carnal wisdom’ could be substituted; and in ‘you follow human standards in your behaviour’, ‘carnal standards’ would express the same meaning. This comes out more clearly in the words that follow, ‘For when a man says, “I belong to Paul”, and another, “I belong to Apollos”, are you not merely men?’30 Paul said earlier, ‘You are “animal”’, and, ‘You are carnal.’ Now he makes his meaning plainer by saying, ‘You are men.’ That is, ‘You live by man’s standards, not God’s. If you lived by his standards, you would be gods.’
5. The Platonic theory of body and soul; more tolerable than the Mankhean view, but to be rejected because it makes the nature of the flesh responsible for all moral faults
There is no need then, in the matter of our sins and faults, to do our Creator the injustice of laying the blame on the nature of the flesh which is good, in its own kind and on its own level. But it is not good to forsake the good Creator and live by the standard of a created good, whether a man chooses the standard of the flesh, or of the soul, or of the entire man, who consists of soul and flesh and hence can be denoted by either term, soul or flesh, by itself. For anyone who exalts the soul as the Supreme Good, and censures the nature of flesh as something evil, is in fact carnal alike in his cult of the soul and in his revulsion from the flesh, since this attitude is prompted by human folly, not by divine truth.
The Platonists, to be sure, do not show quite the folly of the Manicheans.31 They do not go so far as to execrate earthly bodies as the natural substance of evil, since all the elements which compose the structure of this visible and tangible world, and their qualities, are attributed by the Platonists to God the artificer. All the same, they hold that souls are so influenced by ‘earthly limbs and dying members’ that they derive from them their morbid desires and fears, joy and sadness. And those four ‘disturbances’ (to employ Cicero’s word32) or ‘passions’ (which is a literal translation of the Greek, and is the term in common use), cover the whole range of moral failure in human behaviour.33
But if this is true, how is it that, in Virgil, when Aeneas is told by his father in the world below that souls will return again to bodies, he is amazed at this notion, and cries out,
Father, can we believe that souls return
To dwell beneath the sky, again to assume
The body’s lethargy? Oh, what dread lust
For life under the sun holds them in misery?34
Must we really suppose that this ‘dread lust’, deriving from ‘earthly limbs and dying members’, still finds a place in that purity of souls which we hear so much about? Does not Virgil assert that souls have been purified from all such ‘bodily infections’ (as he calls them)? Yet, after that, they begin to feel the desire ‘again to assume their bodies’.
Hence, even if it were true (it is in fact an utterly baseless assumption) that souls pass through a ceaseless alternation of cleansing and defilement as they depart and return, we must infer that there can have been no truth in the claim that all their culpable and perverted emotions that arise in them are derived from their earthly bodies. For we see that, on the admission of the Flatonists themselves, this ‘dread lust’, as their renowned spokesman puts it, is so far from deriving from the body that of its own accord it urges the soul towards a bodily existence, even when the soul has been purified from all bodily infection, and has been placed in a situation outside any kind of body. Thus on their own confession, it is not only from the influence of the flesh that the soul experiences desire and fear, joy and distress; it can also be disturbed by those emotions from a source within itself.
6. The character of the human will determines the quality of the emotions
The important factor in those emotions is the character of a man’s will. If the will is wrongly directed, the emotions will be wrong; if the will is right, the emotions will be not only blameless, but praiseworthy. The will is engaged in all of them; in fact they are all essentially acts of will. For what is desire or joy but an act of will in agreement with what we wish for? And what is fear or grief but an act of will in disagreement with what we reject? We use the term desire when this agreement takes the form of the pursuit of what we wish for, while joy describes our satisfaction in the attainment. In the same way, when we disagree with something we do not wish to happen, such an act of will is fear; but when we disagree with something which happens against our will, that act of will is grief. And in general, as a man’s will is attracted or repelled in accordance with the varied character of different objects which are pursued or shunned, so it changes and turns into feelings of various kinds.
For this reason, the man who lives by God’s standards, and not by man’s, must needs be a lover of the good, and it follows that he must hate what is evil. Further, since no one is evil by nature, but anyone who is evil is evil because of a perversion of nature, the man who lives by God’s standards has a duty of ‘perfect hatred’35 towards those who are evil; that is to say, he should not hate the person because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the person. He should hate the fault, but love the man. And when the fault has been cured there will remain only what he ought to love, nothing that he should hate.
7. The scriptural terms for love
When a man’s resolve is to love God, and to love his neighbour as himself, not according to man’s standards but according to God’s, he is undoubtedly said to be a man of good will, because of this love. This attitude is more commonly called ‘charity’ (caritas) in holy Scripture; but it appears in the same sacred writings under the appellation ‘love’ (amor). For instance, when the Apostle is giving instructions about the choice of a man to rule God’s people, he says that such a man should be a lover (amator) of the good.36 And when the Lord himself had asked the apostle Peter, ‘Are you more fond (diligis) of me than those?’ Peter replied ‘Lord, you know that I love (amo) you.’37 Then the Lord repeated his question, asking, not whether Peter loved him, but whether he was fond of him; and Peter again replied, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’ However, when Jesus asked for the third time, he himself said, ‘Do you love me?’ instead of, ‘Are you fond of me?’ And then the evangelist goes on, ‘Peter was grieved because the Lord said to him, for the third time: “Do you love me?”’ Whereas in fact it was not the third time; the Lord said, ‘Do you love me?’ only once, but he had twice asked, ‘Are you fond of me?’ From this we infer that when the Lord said, ‘Are you fond of me?’ he meant precisely the same as when he asked, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter, in contrast, did not change the word used to express the same meaning, when he replied the third time, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’
The reason why I thought I should mention this is that quite a number of people imagine that fondness and charity are something different from love. They say, in fact, that ‘fondness’ is to be taken in a good sense, ‘love’ in a bad sense. It is, however, well established that this was not the usage even of authors of secular literature. But the philosophers will have to decide whether they make this distinction, and on what principle. Certainly their books are sufficient evidence of the high value they place on love, when it is concerned with good things and directed towards God himself. My task, however, was to make the point that the Scriptures of our religion, whose authority we rank above all other writings, do not distinguish between ‘love’ and ‘fondness’ or ‘charity’. For I have shown that ‘love’ also is used in a good sense.
But I should not like anyone to suppose that while ‘love’ can be employed both in a bad and a good sense, ‘fondness’ can have only a good connotation. I would draw attention to a passage in one of the psalms, ‘The man that is fond of wickedness hates his own soul’;38 and to a statement of the apostle John, ‘If anyone has become fond of the world, there is no fondness in him for the Father.’39 Notice that in this one text we find ‘fondness’ used both in a good sense and in a bad. As for ‘love’, I have already shown its use in a good sense; and in case anyone should demand an example of its employment with a bad connotation, here is a quotation from Scripture: ‘For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money.’40
And so a rightly directed will is love in a good sense and a perverted will is love in a bad sense. Therefore a love which strains after the possession of the loved object is desire; and the love which possesses and enjoys that object is joy. The love that shuns what opposes it is fear, while the love that feels that opposition when it happens is grief. Consequently, these feelings are bad, if the love is bad, and good if the love is good.
Let me prove this statement from Scripture. The Apostle ‘desires to depart and to be with Christ’;41 and, ‘My soul has desired to long for your judgements’,42 or (to put it more appropriately), ‘My soul has longed to desire your judgements’; and, ‘The desire for wisdom leads to sovereignty.’43All the same, it is the established usage that when we use ‘desire’ (cupiditas or concupiscentia) without specifying its object, it can only be understood in a bad sense. ‘Joy’ has a good connotation: ‘Have joy in the Lord, and exult, you righteous ones’,44 and ‘You have put joy into my heart’;45 and ‘You will fill me with joy by your countenance.’46 ‘Fear’ has a good sense in the place where the Apostle says, ‘With fear and trembling work out your own salvation’;47 and, ‘Do not think highly of yourself, but fear’,48 and ‘I fear, however, that as the serpent seduced Eve by’ his craftiness, so your minds will be enticed away from the purity which is in Christ.’49 As for ‘grief, it is a nice question whether any instance can be found of its use in a good sense. Cicero tends to use the word ‘distress’ (aegritudo)50 for this feeling, while Virgil prefers ‘pain’ (dolor), as in the passage, ‘They feel pain and gladness.’51 The reason why I prefer ‘grief’ is that ‘distress’ and ‘pain’ are more generally employed of physical sensations.
8. The three emotions of the wise, according to the Stoics
The Stoics wished to find in the mind of the wise man three dispositions, called in Greek eupatheiai, and by Cicero, in Latin, constantiae, ‘constant states’.52 These were to replace three mental disorders; there would be will instead of desire, gladness instead of joy, caution instead of fear. But they denied the possibility of any emotion in the wise man’s mind answering to distress or pain, which I have preferred to call ‘grief’, to avoid ambiguity.
The will, say the Stoics, undoubtedly pursues the good, and this is what the wise man does; gladness is felt in the attainment of the good, which the wise man attains in every situation; caution avoids evil, and that is what the wise man ought to avoid. Furthermore, grief is occasioned by evil which has already happened; and since they think that no evil can happen to a wise man, they have asserted that there can be no corresponding emotion in a wise man’s mind. What they are saying then comes to this – that only a wise man can have will, gladness, and caution, while a fool can only experience desire, joy, fear, and grief, the three former being ‘constant states’, while the latter four are disorders, called ‘perturbations’ in Cicero, but ‘passions’ in the majority of authors. While in Greek, as I have already said, the three former states are called eupatheiai, while the four latter are known as pathê.
When I was examining, as carefully as I could, the question whether this usage agreed with the practice of holy Scripture, I found this text in one of the prophets, ‘There is no gladness for the wicked, says the Lord.’53 This implies that the wicked can feel joy, rather than gladness, because gladness properly belongs to the good and the devout. Again, the text in the Gospel, ‘Whatever you will that men should do to you, do that also to them’,54 seems to imply that no one can will anything in an evil or dishonourable way; he can only so desire. In fact, because of this linguistic convention a number of translators have added the words ‘good things’ in their translation, rendering the passage thus: ‘Whatever good things you will that man should do to you.’ This was because they imagined it advisable to guard against the chance of anyone’s wishing to have dishonourable things done for him by others – the provision of extravagant banquets, for example, to say nothing of more discreditable possibilities. Such a one might suppose that he would be fulfilling this instruction, if he did the same for others. But in the Greek Gospel, of which the Latin is a translation, ‘good things’ is not in the text, which says, ‘Whatever you will that men should do to you, do that also to them.’ The reason being, I suppose, that the use of ‘you will’, is intended in itself to imply ‘good things’. For the text avoids saying ‘you desire’.
For all that, we are not obliged always to curb our use of language by such niceties of interpretation; they are, however, to be employed occasionally. And when we are reading those writers whose authority we cannot reject without sin, these precisions of meaning are to be understood in places where the straightforward sense can find no other way out; for example in the illustrations I quoted above, from the prophet and from the Gospel. For everyone knows that the ungodly exult with joy, and yet, ‘There is no gladness for the wicked, says the Lord.’ This can only make sense because ‘gladness’ has a special meaning when it is used in a precise and prescribed sense. Again, no one would deny that it is wrong for men to be told to do to others what they desire to have done to themselves by others, in case they should gratify each other in disgraceful and forbidden indulgences. And yet the most wholesome and the truest of all injunctions is this: ‘Whatever you will that men should do to you, do that also to them.’ And this is because in this context ‘will’ is used in a precise sense, and cannot be given a bad connotation. On the other hand if there were not also such a thing as an evil will, there would not be the more familiar usage, very frequently employed in ordinary speech, which produces the command, ‘Let it not be your will to tell any lie.’55 And a distinction is made between the depravity of an evil will and the will of which the angels spoke when they proclaimed ‘Peace on earth to men of good will.’56 The addition of ‘good’ was otiose if will can only be good. Again, there would have been no great commendation of charity in the Apostle’s statement that ‘charity feels no gladness in wickedness’57 were it not that malignity does feel gladness in it.
A similarly indiscriminate use of these terms is seen also in secular authors. Cicero, for example a most resourceful speaker, says, ‘I desire, conscript fathers, to be merciful.’58 He used the word ‘desire’ in a good sense; and no one would be so pedantic as to maintain that he should have said, ‘My will is.’ instead of ‘I desire.’ Again, in Terence’s play, there is an immoral young man who is crazed with the heat of his desire; and he says,
My will is set on naught but Philumena.59
But his ‘will’ was in fact his lust: and this is made quite evident by the retort of his slave – more sensible than his master – which is put in at this point. The slave says to his owner,
Better would it be for you
If you’d brace yourself to put this love completely from your mind,
Instead of idly talking, to inflame your lust in vain.
Then again we have evidence for the use of ‘gladness’ in a bad sense in that very verse of Virgil’s which includes the four disorders, concisely enumerated,
Hence come desire and fear, gladness, and sorrow.60
The same author also says,
The evil gladness of the mind.61
This shows that will, caution, and gladness are felt by good and bad alike; and (to make the same statement in other words) desire, fear, and joy are emotions common to both good and bad. But the good feel these emotions in a good way, the bad feel them in a bad way, just as an act of will may be rightly or wrongly directed. Even ‘grief’ – and the Stoics imagined nothing could be found in the mind of a wise man to correspond to this emotion – even ‘grief’ is discovered used in a good sense, especially in our Christian authors. The Apostle, for example, praises the Corinthians for having felt a grief ‘in God’s way’. However, someone may say that the Apostle congratulated his readers on feeling grief in repentance, a grief such as can only belong to those who have sinned. This, in fact, is what the Apostle says:
I see that the letter grieved you, if only for the moment. And so I am glad, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you felt a grief pleasing to God, and so you suffered no hurt from us. For the grief that is according to God’s will produces a repentance which brings salvation, a repentance not to be repented of: this world’s grief produces death. Your grief was according to God’s will; and see what serious intention it has brought about in you!62
This gives the Stoics a chance of replying, in defence of their point of view, that grief does no doubt appear to serve a useful purpose when it engenders penitence for sin; but, they say, it cannot exist in the mind of a wise man, just because sin is not for him a possible contingency, with the chance of grief and penitence; no more is any other evil, to bring him grief in the enduring or the feeling of it. Now there is a story told of Alcibiades – that was the name, if my memory serves me. He was happy, they say, in his own estimation; but when Socrates in an argument proved to him how miserable he was, because he was foolish, he burst into tears.63 Thus for him foolishness was the cause of this salutary and desirable grief, the grief of one who laments that he is not what he ought to be. And yet it is the wise man, according to the Stoics, not the fool, who is incapable of grief.
9. The agitations of the mind, which appear as right feelings in the lives of the righteous
As far as this question of mental disturbances is concerned, I have already given my reply to these philosophers in the ninth book of this work.64 I have shown that they are dealing in words rather than in realities, and are more eager for controversy than for truth. Among us Christians, on the other hand, the citizens of the Holy City of God, as they live by God’s standards in the pilgrimage of this present life, feel fear and desire, pain and gladness in conformity with the holy Scriptures and sound doctrine; and because their love is right, all these feelings are right in them.
They fear eternal punishment and desire eternal life. They feel pain in their actual situation, because they are still ‘groaning inwardly as they wait for adoption, for the ransoming of their bodies’;65 they rejoice in the hope that ‘the saying, “Death has been swallowed up in victory”, will become a reality’.66 Again, they fear to sin, and they desire to persevere. They feel pain about their sins, and they feel gladness in good works. To make them fear to sin, they are told, ‘Because wickedness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.’67 To make them desire to persevere, the Scripture tells them, ‘The man who perseveres up to the end is the man who will be saved.’68 To make them feel pain about sins they are told, ‘If we say that there is no sin in us, we are fooling ourselves, and we are remote from the truth.’69 To make them feel gladness in good works, they are told, ‘God loves a cheerful giver.’70
Similarly, they fear or desire to be tempted, they feel pain or gladness in temptations, according to their weakness or strength of character. To prompt them to fear temptations, they are told, ‘If anyone is caught doing something wrong, you who are guided by the Spirit must set him right in a spirit of kindness. Look to yourself, each one of you, for fear you too may be tempted.’71 By way of contrast, to encourage them to desire temptation, they hear a valiant citizen of God’s City saying, ‘Prove me, Lord, and try me: test my heart and mind in the fire.’72 So that they may feel pain in temptations, they have the sight of Peter weeping;73 so that they may feel gladness in temptations, they hear the voice of James, saying, ‘Consider it nothing but gladness, my brothers, when you come upon temptations of all kinds.’74
Besides this, it is not only on their own account that the citizens are moved by these feelings; they also feel them on account of those whose liberation they desire, while they fear that they may perish; they feel pain if they do perish, and feel gladness if they are set free. Those of us who have come into the Church of Christ from the Gentile world should remind ourselves above all of that ‘teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’.75 He was a man of outstanding virtue and courage who boasted of his own weaknesses,76 who toiled more than all his fellow-apostles,77 and in many epistles instructed the peoples of God, not only those who were seen by him at the time, but also those who were foreseen as yet to be. He was Christ’s athlete, taught by Christ, anointed by him, crucified with him;78 he gloried in Christ, and in the theatre of this world, for which he was made a spectacle in the sight of angels as well as men,79 he fought a great fight and kept the rules80 and pressed on ahead for the prize of the calling to the realms above.81 The citizens of God’s City are happy to gaze at this hero with the eyes of faith. They see him rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep,82 troubled by fighting outside and fears within,83 desiring to depart and be with Christ.84 They see him longing to see the Romans so that he may enjoy a harvest among them also, as among other nations,85 being jealous for the Corinthians, and in that jealousy fearing that their minds may be seduced from the purity which is in Christ.86 They watch him feeling deep grief and ceaseless pain in his heart for the Israelites,87 because, in ignorance of the righteousness that God bestows, and wishing to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.88 They watch him as he makes known not only his pain but his mourning for certain persons who had sinned before and had shown no repentance for their impurity and their acts of fornication.89
If these emotions and feelings, that spring from love of the good and from holy charity, are to be called faults, then let us allow that real faults should be called virtues. But since these feelings are the consequence of right reason when they are exhibited in the proper situation, who would then venture to call them morbid or disordered passions? Hence, when the Lord himself condescended to live a human life in the form of a servant,90 though completely free from sin, he displayed these feelings in situations where he decided that they should be shown. For human emotion was not illusory in him who had a truly human body and a truly human mind. And so, when these feelings are ascribed to him in the Gospel, there is certainly no falsehood in the ascription; when we are told, for instance, that he felt an angry grief at the Jews’ hardness of heart,91 that he said ‘I am glad for your sake, so that you may believe’,92 that he even shed tears when he was about to awaken Lazarus,93 that he yearned to eat the passover with his disciples,94 that at the approach of his passion, his soul was grieved.95 In fact, he accepted those emotions in his human mind for the sake of his fixed providential design, when he so decided, just as he was made man when he so willed.
At the same time, we have to admit that the emotions we experience, even when they are right and as God would have them, belong to this life, not to the life we hope for in the future; and often we yield to them even against our will. Thus we sometimes weep, even when we do not want to, though we may be moved not by any blameworthy desire but by praiseworthy charity. That implies that we have these emotions as a result of the weakness of our human condition; but this was not true of the Lord Jesus, whose weakness resulted from his power. Yet if we felt none of those emotions at all, while we are subject to the weakness of this life, there would really be something wrong with our life. For the Apostle censured and denounced certain people who, he said, were even devoid of natural feeling.96 One of the sacred psalms also blames those about whom it says, ‘I waited for someone to share my grief; but there was no one.’97 In fact, complete exemption from pain, while we are in this place of misery, is certainly as one of the literary men of this world expressed it, ‘a piece of luck that one has to pay a high price for; the price of inhumanity of mind and insensitivity of body’.98
At this point, we may examine that condition which in Greek is called apathtia,99 which might be translated in Latin by impassibilitas (impassibility) if such a word existed. Now, bearing in mind that the reference is to a mental, not a physical condition, if we are to understand it as meaning a life without the emotions which occur in defiance of reason and which disturb the thoughts, it is clearly a good and desirable state; but it does not belong to this present life. For it is not the voice of men of any and every sort, but the voice of the most godly, of those advanced in righteousness and holiness, which says, ‘If we say that there is no sun in us, we are fooling ourselves, and we are remote from the truth.’100 And since this state of apatheia will not come until there is no sin in man, it will not come in this present life.
At present, however, we do well if our life is free from external blame. But anyone who thinks that his life is without sin does not succeed in avoiding sin, but rather in forfeiting pardon. Moreover, if apatheia is the name of the state in which the mind cannot be touched by any emotion whatsoever, who would not judge this insensitivity to be the worst of all moral defects? There is therefore nothing absurd in the assertion that the final complete happiness will be exempt from the spasms of fear and from any kind of grief; but only a man utterly cut off from truth would say that love and gladness will have no place there. Then if apatheia describes a condition in which there is no fear to terrify, no pain to torment, then it is a condition to be shunned in this life, if we wish to lead the right kind of life, the life that is, according to God’s will. But in that life of bliss which, it is promised, will be everlasting, it is clearly right that we should hope for this condition.
Now one kind of fear is that which the apostle John has in mind when he says, ‘There is no fear in love; in fact perfect love sends fear packing; because fear brings punishment. Anyone who is afraid has not reached the perfection of love.’101 This fear is not of the same kind as that felt by the apostle Paul when he was afraid that the Corinthians might be seduced by the craftiness of the serpent.102 This latter is the fear which love feels, which, in truth, only love can feel. But the fear that is not prompted by love is the other kind of fear, the kind the apostle Paul means when he says, ‘You did not receive the spirit of slavery, bringing you back to a state of fear.’103 That fear which ‘is pure, enduring for ever’,104 if it will exist in the world to come (and how else can it be understood to endure for ever?) is not the fear that frightens someone away from an evil which may befall him, but the fear that keeps him in a good which cannot be lost.
For in a situation where the love of a good thing attained is changeless, there certainly the fear of an evil to be avoided is a serene fear – if that is a possible expression! The phrase ‘fear that is pure’ signifies without doubt the act of will which makes it inevitable that we shall refuse to sin and that we shall be on our guard against sin, not with the anxiety of weakness, in fear of sinning, but with a tranquillity based on love. Or, if no kind of fear whatsoever can exist in that assured serenity, with the certainty of unending and blissful gladness, then the saying, ‘The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever’, is analogous to, ‘The patience of the poor will not perish eternally.’105 For patience itself will not be eternal, since it is only necessary where evils are to be endured; it is the destination reached through patience that will be eternal. So perhaps ‘pure fear’ is said to endure for ever in the sense that the destination to which the fear itself leads will be permanent.
It comes to this then: we must lead a right life to reach the goal of a life of felicity; and this right kind of life exhibits all those emotions in the right way, and a misdirected life in a misdirected way. But the life of felicity, which is also the life of eternity, will show a love and a gladness that are not only right but also assured, while it will show no fear or pain at all. Hence it is clear what must be the quality of the citizens of God’s City during their earthly pilgrimage. They must live a life according to the spirit and not according to the flesh, that is, they must live by God’s standards, not man’s. And it is also apparent what will be their quality in that immortality towards which they are making their way.
In contrast, the city, that is the society, of the ungodly consists of those who live by the standards not of God but of man; of those who follow the doctrines of men or demons in their worship of false divinity and their contempt for the true Godhead. This city is shaken by these emotions as by diseases and upheavals. And if it has any citizens who give an appearance of controlling and in some way checking these emotions, they are so arrogant and pretentious in their irreligion that the swelling of their pride increases in exact proportion as their feeling of pain decreases. Some of those people may display an empty complacency, the more monstrous for being so rare, which makes them so charmed with this achievement in themselves that they are not stirred or excited by any emotions at all, not swayed or influenced by any feelings. If so, they rather lose every shred of humanity than achieve a true tranquillity. For hardness does not necessarily imply rectitude, and insensibility is not a guarantee of health.
10. The emotions of the first human beings before their sin
What of the first human being? Or rather, what of the first human beings, since there was a married couple? We have every reason to ask whether they experienced these emotions in their animal bodies before they sinned – the kind of emotions which we shall not feel in our spiritual bodies, when all sin has been washed away and ended. For if they did feel them, how could they have been happy in that ever-memorable place of bliss called paradise? Can anyone really be described as happy if he is exposed to fear or pain? Moreover, was there anything for them to fear where there was such abundance of all good things, where there was no threat of death or any bodily sickness, and there was nothing lacking that a good will would seek to obtain, nor was anything present that could spoil man’s life of felicity, either in body or mind?
The pair lived in a partnership of unalloyed felicity; their love for God and for each other was undisturbed. This love was the source of immense gladness, since the beloved object was always at hand for their enjoyment. There was a serene avoidance of sin; and as long as this continued, there was no encroachment of any kind of evil, from any quarter, to bring them sadness. Or could it have been that they desired to lay hands on the forbidden tree, so as to eat its fruit, but that they were afraid of dying? In that case both desire and fear was already disturbing them, even in that place. But never let us imagine that this should have happened where there was no sin of any kind. For it must be a sin to desire what the Law of God forbids, and to abstain merely from fear of punishment and not for love of righteousness. Never let us suppose, I repeat, that before all sin there already existed such a sin, the same sin, committed in respect of that tree, which the Lord spoke of in respect of a woman, when he said, ‘If anyone looks at a woman with the eyes of lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’106
How fortunate, then, were the first human beings! They were not distressed by any agitations of the mind, nor pained by any disorders of the body. And equally fortunate would be the whole united fellowship of mankind if our first parents had not committed an evil deed whose effect was to be passed on to their posterity, and if none of their descendants had sown in wickedness a crop that they were to reap in condemnation. Moreover, this felicity would have continued until, thanks to the blessing pronounced in the words, ‘Increase and multiply.’107 the number of the predestined saints was made up; and then another and a greater happiness would have been granted, the happiness which has been given to the blessed angels. In this state of bliss there would have been the serene assurance that no one would sin and no one would die, and the life of the saints, without any previous experience of toil, or pain, or death, would have been already what it is now destined to become after all these experiences, when our bodies are restored to incorruptibility at the resurrection of the dead.
11. The natural state of man, created good and spoilt by sin, can only be restored by its Creator
Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin. It follows that all our assertions about the Holy City must take into account God’s foreknowledge and his providential design; we must not advance theories which could not have become matters of knowledge for us, because they had no place in God’s plan. Man could not upset the divine purpose by his sin, in the sense of compelling God to alter his decision. For God in his foreknowledge anticipated both results: he knew beforehand how evil the man would become whom God himself had created good; he also knew what good, even so, he would bring out of man’s evil.
It is true that God is said to alter his decisions; and so we are told in Scripture, by a metaphorical way of speaking, that God even ‘repented’.108 But such assertions are made from the standpoint of human expectation, or the prospect suggested by the normal procedure of natural causation; they do not take into account the Almighty’s foreknowledge of what he is going to do. Thus, as the Bible says, ‘God made man upright.’109 and therefore possessed of a good will – for he would not have been upright, had he not possessed a good will. Good will then is the work of God, since man was created with it by God.
But the first evil act of will, since it preceded all evil deeds in man, was rather a falling away from the work of God to its own works, rather than any substantive act. And the consequent deeds were evil because they followed the will’s own line, and not God’s. And so the will itself was, as it were, the evil tree which bore evil fruit,110 in the shape of those evil deeds; or rather it was the man himself who was that tree, in so far as his will was evil. Moreover, though an evil will is not natural but unnatural because it is a defect, still it belongs to the nature of which it is a defect, for it cannot exist except in a nature. But it can only exist in a nature which God created out of nothing, not in that nature which the Creator begot out of himself, as he begot the Word through whom all things were made.111 For, although God fashioned man from the dust of the earth,112 the earth itself and all earthly matter are derived from nothing at all; and when man was made, God gave to his body a soul which was created out of nothing.
But in spite of man’s sin, the good things overcome the evil; so much so that although evil things are allowed to exist in order to show how the righteousness and foreknowledge of the Creator can turn even those very evils to good account, nevertheless good things can exist without the evil, just as the true and supreme God, as also all the celestial creation, visible and invisible, exists above this murky air of ours. In contrast, evil things cannot exist without the good, since the natural entities in which evil exists are certainly good, in so far as they are natural. Furthermore, an evil is eradicated not by the removal of some natural substance which had accrued to the original, or by the removal of any part of it, but by the healing and restoration of the original which had been corrupted and debased.
The choice of the will, then, is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins. God gave it that true freedom, and now that it has been lost, through its own fault, it can be restored only by him who had the power to give it at the beginning. Hence the Truth says, ‘If the Son sets you free, then you will be truly free.’113 This is the same as saying, ‘If the Son saves you, you will be truly saved.’ For he is our Saviour for the same reason that he is our liberator.
We know that the first man lived according to God’s will in a paradise both material and spiritual. It was not merely a material paradise – that is, it did not provide merely material blessings, while failing to be a spiritual paradise, because it did not yield the blessings for a man’s spirit. And yet it was not merely spiritual – a paradise which man could enjoy through his inward senses, without being a material paradise, to satisfy man’s outward perceptions. It was clearly both, to satisfy both. But after that, the arrogant angel came, envious because of that pride of his, who had for the same reason turned away from God to follow his own leading. With the proud disdain of a tyrant he chose to rejoice over his subjects rather than to be a subject himself; and so he fell from the spiritual paradise. I have discussed his fall, to the best of my ability, in the eleventh and twelfth books of this work,114 and the fall of his confederates, who, from being angels of God, were turned into angels of this new chief. After his fall, his ambition was to worm his way, by seductive craftiness, into the consciousness of man, whose unfallen condition he envied, now that he himself had fallen. To this end he selected as his mouthpiece a serpent in the material paradise where the other terrestrial animals lived, tame and harmless, with those two human beings, male and female. This animal, to be sure, was suitable for the rebel angel’s work, with his slippery body, moving along in tortuous twists and turns The rebel, in virtue of his angelic prestige and his superior nature subdued the serpent to his will in spiritual wickedness, and by misusing it as his instrument he had deceitful conversation with the woman – no doubt starting with the inferior of the human pair so as to arrive at the whole by stages, supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible, and could not be trapped by a false move on his own part, but only if he yielded to another’s mistake.
That is what happened to Aaron. He was not persuaded by argument to agree with the erring people to erect an idol; he yielded to constraint.115 And it is unbelievable that Solomon mistakenly supposed that he ought to serve idols; he was induced to such acts of sacrilege by feminine cajolery.116It was the same with that first man and his wife. They were alone together, two human beings, a married pair; and we cannot believe that the man was led astray to transgress God’s law because he believed that the woman spoke the truth, but that he fell in with her suggestions because they were so closely bound in partnership. In fact, the Apostle was not off the mark when he said, ‘It was not Adam, but Eve, who was seduced.’117 for what he meant was that Eve accepted the serpent’s statement as the truth, while Adam refused to be separated from his only companion, even if it involved sharing her sin. That does not mean that he was less guilty, if he sinned knowingly and deliberately. Hence the Apostle does not say, ‘He did not sin.’ but, ‘He was not seduced.’ For he certainly refers to the man when he says, ‘It was through one man that sin came into the world.’118 and when he says more explicitly, a little later, ‘by reproducing the transgression of Adam’.119
The Apostle intended us to take ‘the seduced’ as meaning those who do not think that what they do is sin. But Adam knew; otherwise how would it be true that ‘Adam was not seduced’? However, he was unacquainted with the strictness of God, and he might have been mistaken in that he supposed it to be a pardonable offence he had committed. In consequence, while he was not seduced in the same sense as the woman, it remains true that he was mistaken about the kind of judgement that would be passed upon his allegation that ‘The woman you gave me as companion, she gave it to me, and I ate.’120 Need I say more? They were not both deceived by credulity; but both were taken captive by their sin and entangled in the snares of the Devil.
12. The nature of the first sin
Someone may be worried about the question why other sins do not alter human nature in the same way as it was changed by the transgression of the two first human beings. The effect of that sin was to subject human nature to all the process of decay which we see and feel, and consequently to death also. And man was distracted and tossed about by violent and conflicting emotions, a very different being from what he was in paradise before his sin, though even then he lived in an animal body. Anyone who is worried about this question ought not to regard the offence as unimportant and trivial just because it was concerned with food – a food not evil or harmful except in that it was forbidden. For God would not have created or planted anything evil in such a place of felicity.
But God’s instructions demanded obedience, and obedience is in a way the mother and guardian of all the other virtues in a rational creature, seeing that the rational creation has been so made that it is to man’s advantage to be in subjection to God, and it is calamitous for him to act according to his own will, and not to obey the will of his Creator. The injunction forbidding the eating of one kind of food, where such an abundant supply of other foods was available, was so easy to observe, so brief to remember; above all, it was given at a time when desire was not yet in opposition to the will. That opposition came later as a result of the punishment of the transgression. Therefore the unrighteousness of violating the prohibition was so much the greater, in proportion to the ease with which it could have been observed and fulfilled.
13. In Adam’s transgression the evil will preceded the evil act
It was in secret that the first human beings began to be evil; and the result was that they slipped into open disobedience. For they would not have arrived at the evil act if an evil will had not preceded it. Now, could anything but pride have been the start of the evil will? For ‘pride is the start of every kind of sin.’121 And what is pride except a longing for a perverse kind of exaltation? For it is a perverse kind of exaltation to abandon the basis on which the mind should be firmly fixed, and to become, as it were, based on oneself, and so remain. This happens when a man is too pleased with himself: and a man is self-complacent when he deserts that changeless Good in which, rather than in himself, he ought to have found his satisfaction. This desertion is voluntary, for if the will had remained unshaken in its love of the higher changeless Good, which shed on it light to see and kindled in it fire to love, it would not have been diverted from this love to follow its own pleasure; and the will would not have been so darkened and chilled in consequence as to let the woman believe that the serpent had spoken the truth and the man to put his wife’s will above God’s commandment, and to suppose that his was a venial transgression when he refused to desert his life’s companion even though the refusal entailed companionship in sin.
Thus the evil act, the transgression of eating the forbidden fruit, was committed only when those who did it were already evil; that bad fruit could only have come from a bad tree.122 Further, the badness of the tree came about contrary to nature, because without a fault in the will, which is against nature, it certainly could not have happened. But only a nature created out of nothing could have been distorted by a fault. Consequently, although the will derives its existence, as a nature, from its creation by God, its falling away from its true being is due to its creation out of nothing.
Yet man did not fall away to the extent of losing all being; but when he had turned towards himself his being was less real than when he adhered to him who exists in a supreme degree. And so, to abandon God and to exist in oneself, that is to please oneself, is not immediately to lose all being; but it is to come nearer to nothingness. That is why the proud are given another name in holy Scripture; they are called ‘self-pleasers’.123 Now it is good to ‘lift up your heart’, and to exalt your thoughts, yet not in the self-worship of pride, but in the worship of God. This is a sign of obedience, and obedience can belong only to the humble.
Thus, in a surprising way, there is something in humility to exalt the mind, and something in exaltation to abase it.124 It certainly appears somewhat paradoxical that exaltation abases and humility exalts. But devout humility makes the mind subject to what is superior. Nothing is superior to God; and that is why humility exalts the mind by making it subject to God. Exaltation, in contrast, derives from a fault in character, and spurns subjection for that very reason. Hence it falls away from him who has no superior, and falls lower in consequence. Thus the scriptural saying is fulfilled, ‘You have thrown them down when they were being lifted up.’125 It does not say, ‘When they had been lifted up’, that is, that they were first lifted up and then thrown down; they were thrown down in the very act of being exalted. The exaltation itself is in fact already an overthrow.
That is why humility is highly prized in the City of God and especially enjoined on the City of God during the time of its pilgrimage in this world; and it receives particular emphasis in the character of Christ, the king of that City.126 We are also taught by the sacred Scriptures that the fault of exaltation, the contrary of humility, exercises supreme dominion in Christ’s adversary, the Devil. This is assuredly the great difference that sunders the two cities of which we are speaking: the one is a community of devout men, the other a company of the irreligious, and each has its own angels attached to it. In one city love of God has been given first place, in the other, love of self.
We can see then that the Devil would not have entrapped man by the obvious and open sin of doing what God had forbidden, had not man already started to please himself. That is why he was delighted also with the statement, ‘You will be like gods.’127 In fact they would have been better able to be like gods if they had in obedience adhered to the supreme and real ground of their being, if they had not in pride made themselves their own ground. For created gods are gods not in their own true nature but by participation in the true God. By aiming at more, a man is diminished, when he elects to be self-sufficient and defects from the one who is really sufficient for him.
This then is the original evil: man regards himself as his own light, and turns away from that light which would make man himself a light if he would set his heart on it. This evil came first, in secret, and the result was the other evil, which was committed in the open. For what the Bible says is true: ‘Before a fall the mind is exalted: before honour it is humbled.’128 The fall that happens in secret inevitably precedes the fall that occurs in broad daylight, though the former is not recognized as a fall. Does anyone think of exaltation as a fall, even though the falling away was already there, in the desertion of the Most High? On the other hand, no one could fail to see that there is a fall when there is an obvious and unmistakable transgression of a commandment.
This was the reason why God forbade an act which could not be defended, after it had been committed, by any fantasy of justification. And I venture to say that it is of service to the proud that they should fall into some open and obvious sin, which can make them dissatisfied with themselves, after they have already fallen through self-complacency. Peter’s dissatisfaction with himself, when he wept, was healthier than his complacency when he was overconfident.129 We find the same thought in a verse of a holy psalm: ‘Fill their faces with shame, and they will seek your name, Lord’,130which means, ‘They set their heart on themselves in seeking their own name; let them set their heart on you, by seeking yours.’
14. The pride of the transgressor was worse than the sinitself
Even worse, and more deserving of condemnation, is the pride shown in the search for an excuse, even when the sins are clear as daylight This was shown in the first human beings, when the woman said, ‘The serpent led me astray, and I ate’; and the man said, ‘The woman whom you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’131 There is not a whisper anywhere here of a plea for pardon, nor of any entreaty for healing. True, they did not deny their sin, as Cain did,132 and yet their pride seeks to pin the wrong act on another; the woman’s pride blames the serpent, the man’s pride blames the woman. But in the case of so obvious a transgression of the divine command, to talk like this is really to accuse rather than to excuse oneself. For the fact that the woman committed the offence on the serpent’s suggestion, and the man because of the woman’s offer, did not mean that it was not their own act – as if anything should have priority over God in a claim for credence or obedience!
15. The justice of the retribution
Man took no heed of the command of God who had created him, who had made him in his own image, who had set him above the other animals, who had established him in paradise, who had supplied him with abundance of all things for his well-being, who had not burdened him with a large number of oppressive and difficult rules, but had given him one very short and easy commandment to support him in healthy obedience. God’s intention in this command was to impress upon this created being that he was the Lord; and that free service was in that creature’s own interest. Therefore it was a just punishment that followed, and the condemnation was of such a kind that man who would have become spiritual even in his flesh, by observing the command, became carnal even in his mind; and he who in his pride had pleased himself was by God’s justice handed over to himself. But the result of this was not that he was in every way under his own control, but that he was at odds with himself, and lived a life of harsh and pitiable slavery, instead of the freedom he so ardently desired, a slavery under him with whom he entered into agreement in his sinning. So he was dead in spirit, of his own will; but doomed, against his will, to the in body; forsaking eternal life, he was condemned also to eternal death, unless he should be set free by grace. Anyone who considers this sort of condemnation to be excessive or unjust certainly does not know how to measure the immensity of the wickedness in sinning when it was so immensely easy to avoid the sin.
Abraham’s obedience is renowned in story as a great thing, and rightly so, because he was ordered to do an act of enormous difficulty, namely, to kill his own son.133 By the same token, the disobedience in paradise was all the greater inasmuch as the command was one of no difficulty at all. The obedience of the second man is the more worthy of renown in that ‘he became obedient unto death.’134 By the same token, the disobedience of the first man was the more abominable in that he became disobethent unto death. For where the penalty set for disobedience is great, and it is an easy thing which has been ordered by the Creator, who can adequately describe the enormity of the evil in a refusal to obey in a matter so easy, when the command comes from so great a power, and the punishment that threatens is so grave?
In fact, to put it briefly, in the punishment of that sin the retribution for disobedience is simply disobedience itself. For man’s wretchedness is nothing but his own disobedience to himself, so that because he would not do what he could, he now wills to do what he cannot. For in paradise, before his sin, man could not, it is true, do everything; but he could do whatever he wished, just because he did not want to do whatever he could not do. Now, however, as we observe in the offspring of the first man, and as the Bible witnesses, ‘man has become like nothingness.’135 For who can list all the multitude of things that a man wishes to do and cannot, while he is disobedient to himself, that is, while his very mind and even his lower element, his flesh, do not submit to his will? Even against his volition his mind is often troubled; and his flesh experiences pain, grows old, and dies, and endures all manner of suffering. We should not endure all this against our volition if our natural being were in every way and in every part obedient to our will.
It may be objected that the flesh is in such a state that it cannot serve our will. But what difference does it make how this situation comes about? The important point is that through the justice of God, who is our Lord and master and whom we refused to serve as his subjects, our flesh, which had been subject to us, now gives us trouble through its non-compliance, whereas we by our defiance of God have only succeeded in becoming a nuisance to ourselves, and not to God. For he does not need our service as we need the service of our body, so that what we receive is punishment for ourselves, while what we have done is no punishment for him. Moreover, the so-called pains of the flesh are really pains of the soul, experienced in the flesh and from the flesh. The flesh can surely feel no desire or pain by itself, apart from the soul.
When the flesh is said to desire or to suffer pain, it is in fact the man himself who has this experience – as I have maintained136 – or else some part of the soul which is affected by the experience of the flesh, whether a harsh experience producing pain, or a gentle experience, producing pleasure. Bodily pain is really nothing but a distress of the soul arising from the body, and a kind of disagreement with what happens to the body, in the same way as mental pain, which is called grief, is a disagreement with what has happened to us against our will. And grief is usually preceded by apprehension, which is also something in the soul, not in the body. Whereas bodily pain is not preceded by anything that we may call bodily apprehension, felt in the physical organism before the pain. Pleasure, on the other hand, is preceded by a kind of craving which is felt in the body as its own desire – hunger, for instance, and thirst, and the feeling normally called lust, when it is concerned with the sexual organs, though lust is the general name for desire of every kind.
Even anger was defined in antiquity as being simply the lust for revenge,137 although very often a man is angry even with inanimate objects where the vengeance cannot be felt, and in a rage he smashes his stylus when it writes badly, or he breaks his reed pen. But even this, irrational as it is, is a kind of lust for revenge and, in a strange way, a shadow, so to speak, of the notion of retribution, the principle that those who do evil should suffer evil. Thus we have the lust for vengeance, called anger; the lust for possession of money, called greed; the lust for victory at any price, called obstinacy; the lust for boasting, called vanity. There are many different kinds of lust, and some of them even have their special titles, while others have not. For instance, one would have difficulty in giving a name to the lust for domination, though the evidence of civil wars shows how powerful is its influence on the minds of tyrants.
16. The evil of lust, in the specifically sexual meaning
We see then that there are lusts for many things, and yet when lust is mentioned without the specification of its object the only thing that normally occurs to the mind is the lust that excites the indecent parts of the body. This lust assumes power not only over the whole body, and not only from the outside, but also internally; it disturbs the whole man, when the mental emotion combines and mingles with the physical craving, resulting in a pleasure surpassing all physical delights. So intense is the pleasure that when it reaches its climax there is an almost total extinction of mental alertness; the intellectual sentries, as it were, are overwhelmed. Now surely any friend of wisdom and holy joys who lives a married life but knows, in the words of the Apostle’s warning, ‘how to possess his bodily instrument in holiness and honour, not in the sickness of desire, like the Gentiles who have no knowledge of God’138 – surely such a man would prefer, if possible, to beget children without lust of this kind. For then the parts created for this task would be the servants of his mind, even in their function of procreation, just as the other members are its servants in the various tasks to which they are assigned. They would begin their activity at the bidding of the will, instead of being stirred up by the ferment of lust.
In fact, not even the lovers of this kind of pleasure are moved, either to conjugal intercourse or to the impure indulgences of vice, just when they have so willed. Sometimes the impulse is an unwanted intruder, sometimes it abandons the eager lover, and desire cools off in the body while it is at boiling heat in the mind. Thus strangely does lust refuse to be a servant not only to the will to beget but even to the lust for lascivious indulgence; and although on the whole it is totally opposed to the mind’s control, it is quite often divided against itself. It arouses the mind, but does not follow its own lead by arousing the body.
17. The nakedness of the first human beings, and the feeling of shame after their sin
It is right, therefore, to be ashamed of this lust, and it is right that the members which it moves or fails to move by its own right, so to speak, and not in complete conformity to our decision, should be called pudenda (‘parts of shame’), which they were not called before man’s sin; for, as Scripture tells us, ‘they were naked, and yet they felt no embarrassment.’139 This was not because they had not noticed their nakedness, but because nakedness was not yet disgraceful, because lust did not yet arouse those members independently of their decision. The flesh did not yet, in a fashion, give proof of man’s disobedience by a disobedience of its own.
It was not that the first human beings had been created blind, as is commonly believed among the uneducated, since Adam saw the animals to which he gave names,140 while of Eve we are told, ‘The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and was pleasant for the eyes to look at.’141 It follows that their eyes were open, but not wide enough open, that is to say, not attentive enough to recognize what a blessing, they were given in the garment of grace, inasmuch as their members did not know how to rebel against their will. When this grace was taken away, and in consequence their disobedience was chastised by a corresponding punishment, there appeared in the movements of their body a certain indecent novelty, which made nakedness shameful. It made them self-conscious and embarrassed.
That is why Scripture says of them, after they had violated God’s command by an overt transgression, ‘The eyes of both of them were opened and they recognized that they were naked. And they sewed together fig leaves and made aprons for themselves.’142 ‘The eyes of both’, it says, ‘were opened’, not to enable them to see (they could see already) but to enable them to distinguish the good which they had lost and the evil into which they had fallen. Hence the tree itself, which was to make this distinction for them if they laid hands on it to eat the fruit in defiance of the prohibition, got its name from that event, and was called ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. For experience of the distresses of sickness reveals the joys of health in a clearer light.
And so ‘they recognized that they were naked’ – stripped, that is, of the grace that prevented their bodily nakedness from causing them any embarrassment, as it did when the law of sin made war against their mind.143 Thus they gained a knowledge where ignorance would have been a greater bliss if they had trusted in God and obeyed him and thus had refrained from an action which would force them to learn by experience the harm that disloyalty and disobedience would do. The consequence was that they were embarrassed by the insubordination of their flesh, the punishment which was a kind of evidence of their disobedience, and ‘they sewed together fig leaves and made aprons (campestria) for themselves.’ (Campestria means ‘loincloths’, and that is the word used in some translations. The Latin word campestria is derived from the custom of the young men who covered their pudenda when they stripped for exercise on the playing-field, the campus. Hence those who are so girdled are called campestrati.)
Thus modesty, from a sense of shame, covered what was excited to disobedience by lust, in defiance of a will which had been condemned for the guilt of disobedience; and from then onwards the practice of concealing the pudenda has become a deep-rooted habit in all peoples, since they all derive from the same stock. Some barbarians even go so far as to refrain from exposing those parts even in the baths, and they keep their covering on when they wash. And in the darkened solitudes of India, those who practise philosophy in nakedness144 (and are hence called ‘gymnosophists’) nevertheless have coverings on their genitals, although they have none on the rest of the body.
18. The sense of shame in sexual intercourse
The sexual act itself, which is performed with such lust, seeks privacy. This is true not only in respect of the various kinds of debauchery for which secret hiding-places are needed to avoid the sentence of human law courts, but also in the practice of fornication, which the earthly city has made a legalized depravity. This practice is not punishable by any law of that city, and yet this permitted lust, which carries no penalty, shuns the public gaze. A natural sense of shame ensures that even brothels make provision for secrecy; and it was easier for immorality to dispense with the fetters of prohibition than for shamelessness to abolish the furtive dens of this degradation.
Fornication, in fact, is called a depravity even by those who are depraved themselves; and, fond as they are of it, they dare not display it in public. But what of conjugal intercourse, whose purpose is, according to the prescriptions of the marriage contract, the procreation of children? It is lawful and respectable certainly; but does it not require a private room and the absence of witnesses? Does not the bridegroom, before he begins even to caress the bride, show the door to all the attendants, and even his groomsmen, and all the others who had been permitted to enter because of some tie of kinship? Now, a certain ‘author supreme of Roman eloquence’ asserts that all right actions desire to be set in the full daylight,145 that is to say, they long to get themselves known. So this right action longs to become known; and yet it blushes to be seen. For everyone knows what act is performed by the married pair for the procreation of children. All the ceremony that attends the marriage of wives is designed towards the fulfilment of that act. Nevertheless, when this act is being performed, with a view to the birth of children, not even the children who have already been born as the result of such an act are permitted to witness it. This right action craves for recognition in the light of the mind’s understanding, but it is equally concerned to escape the light of the eyes’s vision. What can be the reason for this, if it is not that something by nature right and proper is effected in such a way as to be accompanied by a feeling of shame, by way of punishment?
19. Anger and lust were not part of man’s healthy state before his sin
This explains why the Platonists, who approached the truth more nearly than other philosophers, acknowledged that anger and lust are perverted elements in man’s character, or soul, on the ground that they are disturbed and undisciplined emotions, leading to acts which wisdom forbids, and therefore they need the control of intelligence and reason. This third rational division of the soul is located by them in a kind of citadel, to rule the other elements, so that with the rational element in command and the others subordinate, justice may be preserved in the relation between all the parts of man’s soul.146
These philosophers therefore admit that the two divisions of the soul are perverted, even in a wise and disciplined man. Consequently, the mind by repression and restraint bridles them and recalls them from courses they are wrongly moved to follow, while it allows them to follow any line of action permitted by the law of wisdom. Anger, for example, is allowed for the purpose of imposing compulsion, when that is justified, and lust is permitted for the duty of procreation. But in paradise before man’s sin these elements did not exist in their perverted state. For then they were not set in motion, in defiance of a right will, to pursue any course which made it necessary to hold them back with the guiding reins, so to speak, of reason.
The situation now is that these passions are set in motion in this fashion, and are brought under control by those who live disciplined, just, and devout lives, sometimes with comparative ease, sometimes with difficulty. But this control entails coercion and struggle, and the situation does not represent a state of health in accordance with nature, but an enfeebled condition arising from guilt. Again, we observe that modesty does not hide the acts of anger and of the other emotions in the same way as it conceals the acts of lust, which are performed by the sexual organs; but this is simply because in the effects of other emotions the members of the body are not set in motion by the feelings themselves but by the will, after it has decided to co-operate with them, for the will has sovereign power in the employment of those members. Anyone who utters a word in anger, anyone who goes so far as to strike another person, could not do so if his tongue or hand were not put in motion at the command, as one may say, of his will; and those members are set in motion by the same will even when there is no anger. But the genital organs have become as it were the private property of lust, which has brought them so completely under its sway that they have no power of movement if this passion fails, if it has not arisen spontaneously or in response to a stimulus. It is this that arouses shame; it is this that makes us shun the eyes of beholders in embarrassment. A man would be less put out by a crowd of spectators watching him visiting his anger unjustly upon another man than by one person observing him when he is having lawful intercourse with his wife.
20. The ridiculous indecency of the cynics
The Cynics,147 those canine philosophers, failed to observe this fact when they put forward an opinion directly opposed to human modesty, an opinion truly canine, that is to say, filthy and indecent. They hold that since the sexual act is lawful between husband and wife, one should not be ashamed to engage in it in public and to have marital intercourse in any street or square. However, a natural sense of decency has prevailed over this mistaken idea. It is true that there is a story that Diogenes once made an exhibition of himself by putting this theory into practice,148 because he imagined that his school of philosophy would gain more publicity if its indecency were more start-lingly impressed on the memory of mankind. However, the Cynics did not continue this practice, and modesty, which makes men feel shame before their fellows, prevailed over error – the mistaken idea that men should make it their ambition to resemble dogs.
Hence I am inclined to think that even Diogenes himself, and the others about whom this story is told, merely went through the motions of lying together before the eyes of men who had no means of knowing what was really going on under the philosopher’s cloak. I doubt whether the pleasure of that act could have been successfully achieved with spectators crowding round, for those philosophers did not blush to appear willing to he together in a place where lust itself would have blushed to put in an appearance. Even now we see that there are still Cynic philosophers about They are the people who not only wear the philosopher’s cloak but also carry a club.149 However, none of them dares to act like Diogenes. If any of them were to venture to do so they would be overwhelmed, if not with a hail of stones, at any rate with a shower of spittle from the disgusted public.
Human nature then is, without any doubt, ashamed about lust, and rightly ashamed. For in its disobedience, which subjected the sexual organs solely to its own impulses and snatched them from the will’s authority, we see a proof of the retribution imposed on man for that first disobedience. And it was entirely fitting that this retribution should show itself in that part which effects the procreation of the very nature that was changed for the worse through that first great sin. This offence was committed when all mankind existed in one man, and it brought universal ruin on mankind; and no one can be rescued from the toils of that offence, which was punished by God’s justice, unless the sin is expiated in each man singly by the grace of God.
21. The blessing of fertility not forfeited by sin, but associated with morbid lust
We must never allow ourselves to believe that God’s blessing, ‘Increase and multiply and fill the earth’150 would have been fulfilled through this lust by the pair who were set in paradise. It was, in fact, after the sin that this lust arose. It was after the sin that man’s nature felt, noticed, blushed at, and concealed this Just; for man’s nature retained a sense of decency, although it had lost the authority to which the body had been subordinate in every part. But the nuptial blessing, bidding the married couple to increase and multiply and fill the earth, still stood, although they were offenders; yet it had been given before the offence, so that it might be realized that the procreation of children belonged to the glory of marriage and not to the punishment of sin.
There are, however, men at the present time who are evidently unaware of the bliss that existed in paradise. They suppose that children could not have been begotten except by the means with which they are familiar, namely, by means of lust, which, as we observe, brings a sense of shame even in the honourable state of matrimony. Some of them151 utterly reject the holy Scriptures, and even scoff at them in their unbelief, in the passage where we are told that after their sin our first parents were ashamed of their nakedness and that they covered their parts of shame – their pudenda. Others of them, in contrast, accept and honour the Scriptures; but while so doing they maintain that the words ‘increase and multiply’ should not be interpreted as referring to carnal fertility, on the grounds that a somewhat similar remark is made with reference to the soul, ‘You will multiply me with strength (or virtue) in my soul.’152 And so they interpret the words that follow in Genesis, ‘Fill the earth and hold sway over it’, in this way: ‘earth’ they take to mean the flesh, which the soul ‘fills’ with its own presence and over which it ‘holds sway’ when it is ‘multiplied in strength (virtue)’. Carnal offspring, in their opinion, could not then have been born, any more than they can be born now, without the lust which arose after sin, the lust which was noticed, caused embarrassment, and was concealed. They assert that children would not have been born in paradise, but outside it, which is what in fact happened. For it was after the pair had been sent away from paradise that they came together to beget children, and did beget them.
22. Marriage as originally instituted and blessed by God
For myself, however, I have no shadow of doubt that to increase and multiply and fill the earth in accordance with God’s blessing is a gift of marriage, and that God instituted marriage from the beginning, before man’s Fall, in creating male and female: the difference in sex is quite evident in the physical structure. And the actual blessing was obviously attached to this work of God, for the words, ‘he created them male and female’, are immediately followed, in the scriptural account, by this statement: ‘And God blessed them, saying, “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and hold sway over it”’, and so on.153
Now it is true that we can quite properly give this a spiritual meaning; however, we cannot interpret ‘male’ and ‘female’ allegorically, by finding an analogy in the individual, namely a distinction between the ruling element and the ruled. There is no denying the obvious evidence of bodies of different sex, which shows that it would be a manifest absurdity to deny the fact that male and female were created for the purpose of begetting children, so as to increase and multiply and fill the earth. And when the Lord was asked whether it was allowed to dismiss a wife for any cause whatever (since Moses allowed the giving of a bill of divorce because of the hardness of heart of the Israelites) his reply had nothing to do with the spirit which commands and flesh which obeys, or the rational mind which rules and the irrational desire which submits to rule, or the contemplative virtue which is pre-eminent and the active virtue which is subject to it, or the intellectual power of the mind and the body’s perception. The Lord’s answer explicitly concerned the marriage bond which binds the two sexes to one another. He said,
Have you not read that the Creator made the male and female from the start? And that he said: ‘This is why a man will say goodbye to his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife, and they will be two in one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God joined together, man must not separate.154
It is certain then that at the beginning male and female were constituted just as two human beings of different sex are now, in our observation and knowledge, and that they are said to be ‘one’ either on account of their being joined together in marriage, or because of woman’s origin, since she was created from the man’s side. For the Apostle appeals to this latter fact as an illustration, a precedent instituted by God, when he admonishes husbands, telling them that each one of them should love his wife.155
23. Would procreation have taken place in paradise, if no one had sinned?
If anyone says that there would have been no intercourse or procreation if the first human beings had not sinned, he is asserting, in effect, that man’s sin was necessary to complete the number of the saints. For if they would have remained in solitude by refraining from sin, because, as some imagine, they could not have bred if they had not sinned, it follows that sin was essential if there were to be a number of righteous people, instead of a single pair. But if that is absurd beyond belief, we must believe instead that even if no one had sinned there would have come into being a number of saints sufficient to complete the muster of that Blessed City, as large a number as is now being assembled, through God’s grace, from the multitude of sinners, so long as the ‘children of this world’ beget and are begotten.156
It follows that, if there had been no sin, marriage would have been worthy of the happiness of paradise, and would have given birth to children to be loved, and yet would not have given rise to any lust to be ashamed of; but, as it is, we have no example to show how this could have come about. Yet that does not mean that it should seem incredible that the one part of the body could have been subject to the will, without the familiar lust, seeing that so many other parts are now in subjection to it. We move our hands and feet to perform their special functions, when we so will; this involves no reluctance on their part, and the movements are performed with all the ease we observe in our own case and in that of others. And we observe it particularly in craftsmen engaged in all kinds of physical tasks, where natural powers which lack strength and speed are developed by active training. Then why should we not believe that the sexual organs could have been the obedient servants of mankind, at the bidding of the will, in the same way as the other, if there had been no lust, which came in as the retribution for the sin of disobedience?
In Cicero’s discussion of the different types of government, in his book On the Commonwealth,157 the author takes an analogy from human nature. He says, it will be remembered, that the members of the body are governed like children, because of their ready obedience, while the perverted elements of the soul are coerced like slaves under a harsher régime. Now in the order of nature the soul is unquestionably ranked above the body; and yet the soul itself finds it easier to rule the body than to rule itself. In fact, this lust we are now examining is something to be the more ashamed of because the soul, when dealing with it, neither has command of itself so as to be entirely free from lust, nor does it rule the body so completely that the organs of shame are moved by the will instead of by lust. Indeed if they were so ruled they would not be pudenda – parts of shame.
As it is, the soul is ashamed of its body’s resistance when the body is subordinate to it by reason of its inferior nature. When the soul is in opposition to itself in respect of the other emotions, it feels less shame just because it is conquered by itself, and thus is itself the victor. No doubt this victory is disordered and perverse, because it is due to elements which ought to be subject to reason, yet it is a victory won by the soul’s elements, and therefore, I repeat, the soul is conquered by itself. For when the soul defends itself in an orderly fashion, so that the irrational impulses are subordinated to the reason and the intellect, that is a laudable and virtuous victory, provided that the reason is itself subjected to God. Nevertheless, the soul is less ashamed when it is divided against itself by the disobedience of its perverted elements than when the body does not yield to its will and obey its command; for the body is something different from it, inferior to it, and the body’s natural substance has no life without the soul.
But when restraint is imposed by the will’s control on the other members, without whose assistance the organs that are excited by lust in defiance of the will cannot satisfy their appetite, then decency is preserved, not because the pleasure of sin has been foregone but because it has been forestalled. Without doubt, the marriage in paradise would not have known this opposition, this resistance, this tussle between lust and will, or at least the contrast between the insatiability of lust and the self-sufficiency of the will, had there not been that guilt of disobedience which was followed by disobedience as a punishment. Instead of this, the will would have received the obedience of all the members, including the organs of sex.
Then the instrument created for the task would have sown the seed on ‘the field of generation’158 as the hand now sows seed on the earth, and there would be no cause for modesty to object when I wish to discuss this subject in detail, no reason for decency to insist on my asking pardon, with an apology to pure ears. Discussion could then have free scope, without any fear of obscenity, to treat of any idea that might come to mind when thinking about bodily organs of this kind. Nor would there be any reason for calling the actual words obscene; in fact whatever was said on this subject could be as respectable as any talk about other parts of the body. Accordingly, if anyone has indecent thoughts in approaching what I am now writing, it is his own guilt that he should beware of, not the facts of nature. He should censure the actions prompted by his own depravity, not the words imposed on me by necessity. The modest and religious reader or hearer will readily excuse my use of such words, provided that I refute the infidelity which bases its argument not on a faith in things outside our experience but on its perception of the facts of our experience. What I am saying will not shock the reader who is not horrified at the Apostle’s attack on the horrible vices of the women who ‘instead of natural practices have changed to practices contrary to nature’,159 especially as, unlike the Apostle, I am not now mentioning and condemning abominable obscenities. Nevertheless, in explaining, to the best of my powers, the processes of human generation, I must endeavour, like him, to avoid obscene words.
24. The power of the will over the body
Then (had there been no sin) the man would have sowed the seed and the woman would have conceived the child when their sexual organs had been aroused by the will, at the appropriate time and in the necessary degree, and had not been excited by lust. For we set in motion, at our command, not only those members which are fitted with bones and joints, like the hands, feet and fingers, but also those which are loosely constructed of pliant tissues and muscles, which we can move, when we choose, by shaking, which we extend by stretching, which we twist and flex, contract and harden – such parts, I mean, as those of the mouth and face, which the will moves, as far as it can. In fact, even the lungs, which are the softest of all the internal organs and for that reason are protected in the cavity of the chest, are controlled by the will for the purpose of drawing breath and expelling it, and for producing and modulating the vocal sounds. In the same way as bellows serve the purpose of smiths and of organists, the lungs are obedient to the will of a man when he breathes out or breathes in, or speaks or shouts or sings.
I pass over the fact that some animals are endowed with a natural power of moving the covering which clothes their whole body; if they feel anything in any part which needs to be driven away, they can move their hide at the spot, and only there, where they feel the irritation, and thus they can by this quiver shake off not only flies but even spears that are sticking into them. Man has not this ability; but surely that does not mean that the Creator could not have bestowed it, at his pleasure, on any animate creatures? Then man himself also may have once received from his lower members an obedience which he lost by his own disobedience. It would not have been difficult for God to fashion him in such a way that even what is now set in motion in his flesh only by lust should have been moved only by his will.
We do in fact find among human beings some individuals with natural abilities very different from the rest of mankind and remarkable by their very rarity. Such people can do some things with their body which are for others utterly impossible and well-nigh incredible when they are reported. Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. Others without moving the head can bring the whole scalp – all the part covered with hair – down towards the forehead and bring it back again at will. Some can swallow an incredible number of various articles and then with a slight contraction of the diaphragm, can produce, as if out of a bag, any article they please, in perfect condition. There are others who imitate the cries of birds and beasts and the voices of any other men, reproducing them so accurately as to be quite indistinguishable from the originals, unless they are seen. A number of people produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region. I know from my own experience of a man who used to sweat whenever he chose; and it is a well-known fact that some people can weep at will and shed floods of tears.
Far more incredible is the phenomenon which a great many of our brothers witnessed in recent times. There was a presbyter in the diocese of Calama, named Restitutus. Whenever he pleased (and he was often asked to perform the feat by people who desired to have firsthand experience of so remarkable a phenomenon) he would withdraw himself from all sensations, to the accompaniment of cries like those of someone making lamentation, and would then he immobile, exactly like a corpse. When pinched and pricked he felt nothing whatsoever; and even when he was burned by the application of fire he was quite insensible to pain, except later on from the resulting burn. That this immobility was not achieved by an effort of endurance, but through loss of sensitivity is proved by the fact that no trace of breathing was observed in him, as in a dead man. However, he related that he heard people talking, if they spoke with particular clarity, though they sounded as if a long way off.
We observe then that the body, even under present conditions, is an obedient servant to some people in a remarkable fashion beyond the normal limitations of nature; this is shown in many kinds of movements and feelings, and it happens even in men who are living this present troubled life in the corruptible flesh. If this is so, is there any reason why we should not believe that before the sin of disobedience and its punishment of corruptibility, the members of a man’s body could have been the servants of man’s will without any lust, for the procreation of children? It was because man forsook God by pleasing himself that he was handed over to himself, and because he did not obey God he could not obey himself. Hence came the more obvious misery where man does not live as he wishes to live. If he lived as he wished, he would consider himself happy; yet even so he would not be really happy if he lived in degradation.
25. True happiness, which is unattainable in our present life
In fact, a closer examination will show that no man lives as he wishes, unless he is happy; and no man is happy, unless he is righteous. But even the righteous man himself will not live the life he wishes unless he reaches that state where he is wholly exempt from death, deception and distress, and has the assurance that he will for ever be exempt. This is what our nature craves, and it will never be fully and finally happy unless it attains what it craves. In our present state, what human being can live the life he wishes, when the actual living is not in his control? He wishes to live; he is compelled to die. In what sense does he live as he wishes when he does not live as long as he wishes? Even if he should wish to die, how can he live as he wishes, when he does not wish to live? And if the reason why he wishes to die is not that he does not wish to live, but so that he may have a better life after death, then he does not yet live as he wishes, but will do so when by dying he has reached the object of his wish.
Come then, let us behold him living as he wishes, since he has put the screw on himself and ordered himself not to wish for what is beyond his power, but to wish for what he can get; in the words of Terence,
Since what you wish is not within your power
Direct your wish to what you can achieve.160
Now is this man happy, just because he is patient in his misery? Of course not! If a man does not love the happy life he certainly does not possess it. And besides, if he does love it and possess it, he must needs love it more dearly than all other things, since everything else that he loves must be loved for the sake of the happy life. Again, if it is loved as much as it deserves to be loved (and a man cannot be happy unless he loves that life as it deserves) the man who so loves it must inevitably wish it to be eternal. Therefore life will only be truly happy when it is eternal.
26. Generation in paradise would have occurred without the shame of lust
We conclude then that man lived in paradise as long as his wish was at one with God’s command. He lived in the enjoyment of God, and derived his own goodness from God’s goodness. He lived without any want, and had it in his power to live like this for ever. Food was available to prevent hunger, drink to prevent thirst, and the tree of life was there to guard against old age and dissolution. There was no trace of decay in the body, or arising from the body, to bring any distress to any of his senses. There was no risk of disease from within or of injury from without. Man enjoyed perfect health in the body, entire tranquillity in the soul.
Just as in paradise there was no extreme of heat or of cold, so in its inhabitant no desire or fear intervened to hamper his good will. There was no sadness at all, nor any frivolous jollity. But true joy flowed perpetually from God, and towards God there was a blaze of ‘love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that was no pretence’.161 Between man and wife there was a faithful partnership based on love and mutual respect; there was a harmony and a liveliness of mind and body, and an effortless observance of the commandment. Man was at leisure, and tiredness never wearied him, and sleep never weighed him down against his will.
When mankind was in such a state of ease and plenty, blest with such felicity, let us never imagine that it was impossible for the seed of children to be sown without the morbid condition of lust. Instead, the sexual organs would have been brought into activity by the same bidding of the will as controlled the other organs. Then, without feeling the allurement of passion goading him on, the husband would have relaxed on his wife’s bosom in tranquillity of mind and with no impairment of his body’s integrity. Moreover, although we cannot prove this in experience, it does not therefore follow that we should not believe that when those parts of the body were not activated by the turbulent heat of passion but brought into service by deliberate use of power when the need arose, the male seed could have been dispatched into the womb, with no loss of the wife’s integrity, just as the menstrual flux can now be produced from the womb of a virgin without loss of maidenhead. For the seed could be injected through the same passage by which the flux is ejected. Now just as the female womb might have been opened for parturition by a natural impulse when the time was ripe, instead of by the groans of travail, so the two sexes might have been united for impregnation and conception by an act of will, instead of by a lustful craving.
The activities I am discussing are bound to induce a feeling of shame, under present conditions. And although I am doing my best to imagine the state of affairs before these activities were shameful, nevertheless, in present circumstances, my discussion must be held in check by the restraining appeal of modesty instead of being furthered by such little eloquence as I command. The possibility that I am speaking of was not in fact experienced by those for whom it was available, because their sin happened first, and they incurred the penalty of exile from paradise before they could unite in the task of propagation as a deliberate act undisturbed by passion. The result is that the mention of this subject now suggests to the mind only the turbulent lust which we experience, not the calm act of will imagined in my speculation.
This is the reason why a sense of shame inhibits my speech, though reason supplies abundant material for thought. But despite what has happened, God almighty, the supreme and supremely good creator of all beings, who assists and rewards good wills, while he abandons and condemns the bad (and yet he controls both good and bad) surely did not fail to have a plan whereby he might complete the fixed number of citizens predestined in his wisdom, even out of the condemned human race. He does not now choose them for their merits, seeing that the whole mass of mankind has been condemned as it were in its infected root; he selects them by grace and shows the extent of his generosity to those who have been set free not only in his dealings with them but also in his treatment of those who have not been freed. For each person can recognize that his deliverance from evils is due to an act of kindness freely granted, not owed to him by right, when he is exempted from sharing the final destiny of those whose just punishment he had shared. Then is there any reason why God should not have created men in the foreknowledge that they would sin? For that made it possible for him to show in them and through them what their guilt deserved and what his grace could give; and with God as creator and disposer of all things, the perverse disorder of transgressors did not pervert the right ordering of the universe.
27. The perversity of sinners does not disturb God’s providential design
It follows that the actions of sinners, whether angels or men, cannot obstruct the ‘great works of God, carefully designed to fulfil all his decisions’,162 since in his providence and omnipotence he assigns to each his own gifts and knows how to turn to good account the good and the evil alike. Hence the evil angel had been so condemned and so hardened in evil, as the fitting retribution for his first evil will, that he could no longer have a good will; but nothing prevented God from turning him to good use and allowing him to tempt the first man, who had been created upright, that is, with a good will. For the fact is that man had been so designed that if he had trusted in God’s help as a good human being he would have overcome the evil angels, whereas if in pride and self-pleasing he deserted God, his creator and helper, he would be overcome. Thus he would win a good reward with a rightly directed will that was divinely helped, but an evil retribution with a perverted will that deserted God.
Now man could not even trust in the help of God without God’s help; but this did not mean that he did not have it in his power to withdraw from the benefits of divine grace by self-pleasing. For just as it is not in our power to live in this physical frame without the support of food, and yet it is in our power not to live in it at all (which is what happens to suicides), so it was not in man’s power, even in paradise, to live a good life without the help of God, yet it was in his power to live an evil life; but then his happiness would not continue and a most just punishment would follow. Therefore, since God was well aware that man would fall as he did, was there any reason why he should not have allowed him to be tempted by the malice of the jealous angel? God was perfectly certain that man would be defeated, but he foresaw with equal certainty that this same Devil was to be overcome by the man’s seed,163 helped by God’s own grace, to the greater glory of the saints.
Thus it came about that God was not unaware of any event in the future, and yet he did not, by his foreknowledge, compel anyone to sin; and by the consequent experience he showed to angels and men, the rational part of creation, what a difference there was between the individual’s own self-confidence and God’s divine protection. Who would dare to believe or assert that it was not in God’s power to ensure that neither angel nor man should fall? But God preferred not to withdraw this issue from their power, and thus to show the magnitude of their pride’s power for evil and of God’s grace for good.
28. The character of the two cities
We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self. In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.164 The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience. The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the Heavenly City says to its God: ‘My glory; you lift up my head.’165 In the former, the lust for domination lords it over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other both those put in authority and those subject to them serve one another in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience. The one city loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’166
Consequently, in the earthly city its wise men who live by men’s standards have pursued the goods of the body or of their own mind, or of both. Or those of them who were able to know God ‘did not honour him as God, nor did they give thanks to him, but they dwindled into futility in their thoughts, and their senseless heart was darkened: in asserting their wisdom’– that is, exalting themselves in their wisdom, under the domination of pride – ‘they became foolish, and changed the glory of the imperishable God into an image representing a perishable man, or birds or beasts or reptiles’ – for in the adoration of idols of this kind they were either leaders or followers of the general public – ‘and they worshipped and served created things instead of the Creator, who is blessed for ever.’167 In the Heavenly City, on the other hand, man’s only wisdom is the devotion which rightly worships the true God, and looks for its reward in the fellowship of the saints, not only holy men but also holy angels, ‘so that God may be all in all’.168