1. The creation of angels and men
As I promised in the last book, this final book of the whole work will contain a discussion of the eternal bliss of the City of God. This City is not called ‘eternal’ in the sense that it continues its life throughout many ages, and yet is to come to an end at last, but in the sense of the scriptural saying, that ‘his kingdom will have no end.’1 Nor will this City present a mere semblance of perpetuity by generations arising to succeed generations as they die; as happens in a tree clothed with perennial foliage, where the same greenness seems to persist, the appearance of thick growth being preserved as leaves decay and fall to be replaced by new. But in this City all the citizens will be immortal, for human beings also will obtain that which the angels have never lost. This will be effected by God, the founder of that City; for he has promised it, and he cannot he; and to confirm his promise he has done many things that he has promised, and many that he has not promised.
For it is he who made the world, filled with all good things, things accessible to sense, and those perceived by the understanding; and in the world his greatest work was the creation of spirits, to whom he gave intelligence, making them capable of contemplating him, able to apprehend him; and he bound them together in one fellowship, which we call the Holy and Heavenly City, in which God himself is for those spirits the means of their life and their felicity, is, as it were, their common life and food. He has bestowed on these intellectual natures the power of free choice, which enabled them, if they so chose, to desert God, that is, to abandon their felicity, with misery to follow immediately. He foreknew that some of the angels, in their pride, would wish to be self-sufficient for their own felicity, and hence would forsake their true good; and yet he did not deprive them of this power, judging it an act of greater power and greater goodness to bring good even out of evil than to exclude the existence of evil. There would not, in fact, have been any evil at all, had not that nature which was capable of change (although good and created by the supreme God who is also the changeless good, who made all things good) produced evil for itself by sinning. This sin is itself the evidence that proves that the nature was created good; for if it had not itself been a great good, although not equal to the Creator, then assuredly this apostasy from God, as from their light, could not have been their evil. We may find an analogy in blindness. Blindness is a defect of the eye, and that in itself indicates that the eye was created for seeing; and thus even by its own defect it is shown to be more excellent than the other parts of the body as being capable of perceiving light, since that is why it is a defect in the eye to be deprived of light. In the same way the nature which enjoyed God proves that it was created excellent by that very defect, by the fact that it is wretched simply because it does not enjoy God.
Now God inflicted on the apostate angels, for their self-chosen fall, the just punishment of everlasting misery, while to the others, who continued in that highest good, he gave the certainty of their endless continuance therein, as the reward for that continuance. And God made man also upright, with the same power of free choice, an animal of earth, yet worthy of heaven if he adhered to the author of his being, but, by the same token, destined, if he abandoned God, for a misery appropriate to his kind of nature. Now God foreknew that man would sin by breaking God’s Law through his apostasy from God; and yet, as in the case of the angels, God did not deprive man of the power of free choice, foreseeing, at the same time, the good that he was to bring out of man’s evil. For out of this mortal progeny, so rightly and justly condemned, God by his grace is gathering a people so great that from them he may fill the place of the fallen angels and restore their number. And thus that beloved Heavenly City will not be deprived of its full number of citizens; it may perhaps rejoice in a still more abundant population.
2. The eternal and unchangeable will of God
Evil men do many things contrary to the will of God; but so great is his wisdom, and so great his power, that all things which seem to oppose his will tend towards those results or ends which he himself has foreknown as good and just. For this reason, when God is said to ‘change his will’, as, for example, when ‘he becomes angry’ with those people to whom ‘he was lenient’, it is the people who change, rather than God; and they find him, in a sense, ‘changed’ in their experience. Similarly, to people with inflammation of the eyes the sun ‘changes’ and turns, in a sense, from mild to harsh, from a source of pleasure to a cause of irritation, whereas in fact the sun remains in itself exactly as it was before. God’s activity in the heart of those who obey his commandments is also called God’s will, the activity of which the Apostle speaks when he says, ‘It is God who produces in you both the will…’;2 in the same way, the ‘righteousness of God’ means not only the quality whereby God himself is righteous, but also the quality that God produces in a man who is justified by him. So also we speak of ‘God’s Law’ when it is really the Law for mankind, given by God. For Jesus was certainly speaking to men when he said, ‘It is written in your Law’, whereas in another place we read that ‘the Law of God is in his heart.’3 Thus in accordance with this will which God is said to produce in men, God also is said to will what he does not will himself but makes his followers will; just as God is said to know what he makes the ignorant know. For instance, when the Apostle says, ‘Now that you have come to know God, or rather, now that you have become known to him’,4 it is utterly wrong to suppose that God came to know them at that time; they were known to him before the foundation of the world.5 God is said to have come to know them at that time because it was then that he brought it about that he should be known by them. I remember having discussed those turns of speech before, in previous books.6 It is in accordance with this use of the phrase ‘God’s will’, whereby we say that God wills what he causes others to will, who are ignorant of the future, that God ‘wills’ many things which he himself does not effect.
God’s saints, for example, with a holy will inspired by him, will that many things should happen, which do not in fact happen; as when they pray for others with holy devotion, and God does not give effect to their prayers, although he has produced in them, by his Holy Spirit, this will to pray. For this reason, when holy men will and pray, according to God’s teaching, that a particular person may be saved, we may say, by this mode of speech, that ‘God wills it and does not effect it’, in the sense that we say that God wills something when he makes others will it. But according to his own will, which, along with his foreknowledge, is eternal, God assuredly made all things in heaven and earth; he has made whatever he willed to make, and not only things past and things present. He has already made things that are yet to be. However, before the time comes when he has willed that something should come to be which he has foreknown and planned before all time began, we say, ‘It will happen when God wills.’ This does not mean that God will then have a new will which he did not have before; but that something will then come about which has been prepared from all eternity in his unchanging will.
3. The promise of eternal bliss for the saints and perpetual punishment for the wicked
Therefore (to omit many other points) as we now see fulfilled in Christ the promise given to Abraham, ‘In your posterity all nations will be blessed’;7 so there will be fulfilment of what God promised to the same posterity, when he says through the mouth of the prophet, ‘Those who were in the tombs will rise again’, and
There will be a new heaven, and a new earth; and men will not remember the past, and it will not come to their minds. But they will find gladness and exultation in her. See, I shall make Jerusalem to be exultation and her people to be gladness; and I shall exult in Jerusalem and I shall be glad in my people. No more will the sound of weeping be heard in her.8
And by the lips of another prophet we are told what God said to him: ‘At that time all your people will be saved, all who will be found recorded in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust’ (or, in another translation, ‘the mound’) ‘of the earth will rise up, some to go to eternal life, while the others go to reproach and eternal shame.’ And in another place we have this message from the same prophet, ‘The saints of God Most High will receive the kingdom; and they will possess it for ever and ever’; and, a little later: ‘His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.’9 There are other passages on the same subject which I quoted in the twentieth book,10 and other prophecies, found in the Holy Scriptures, which I have not quoted. All those will come about, just as those things have already come about which the unbelievers thought would never happen. For it is the same God who promised both the latter and the former; and he is the God before whom the pagan divinities shrink in terror, on the witness of Porphyry,11 the most renowned of the pagan philosophers.
4. A reply to the worldly-wise, who suppose it impossible for earthly bodies to be transferred to heaven
Some scholars and philosophers, it is true, defy the force of this great authority which, in fulfilment of its own prediction, made so long ago, has converted all kinds of men to believe in this state of bliss and to hope for it; for they flatter themselves on presenting a shrewd argument against the resurrection of the body when they quote a passage from the third book of Cicero’s On the Commonwealth. For while asserting that Hercules and Romulus were deified human beings, he has this to say: ‘Their bodies were not taken up into heaven, indeed Nature would not allow what comes of the earth to dwell anywhere but on the earth.’12
Such is the impressive reasoning of the wise; but ‘God knows their thoughts, how futile they are.’13 For suppose that we were merely souls, that is, spirits without bodies, and if while we lived in heaven we knew nothing of earthly creatures, and we were told that what was in store for us was that we were going to be linked with earthly bodies by some miraculous bond, to give life to those bodies. Would we not refuse to believe it? Would we not find a much stronger argument against it in saying that Nature does not allow an incorporeal substance to be bound by a corporeal tie? And yet the world is full of souls animating these earthly physical frames, combined and bound up with them in a mysterious fashion. Why then, if it is the will of the same God who made this living creature, cannot an earthly body be raised up to a heavenly body, if the soul, which belongs to a more exalted order of being than any body, even a heavenly body, could be linked with an earthly body? Are we to say that so inconsiderable an earthly particle could hold within itself something superior to a heavenly body, something that gives to that particle sensibility and life, and yet heaven will disdain to receive it when it feels and lives, or will not be able to sustain it when received although it owes its sensibility and its life to a substance superior to any celestial body? The reason why this does not happen now is that the time has not yet come when he has decided that it should happen, he who created this present state of things, which has been cheapened by familiarity, but which is in fact much more wonderful than that translation which our philosophers find incredible. Why, in fact, are we not more violently amazed that immaterial souls, superior to celestial bodies, are bound within earthly bodies, than that bodies, although earthly, should be exalted to abodes which are material, albeit heavenly? It can only be that the former is a matter of common observation, and we ourselves are so constituted, whereas we are not in the latter state and it is something we have never yet observed. For it is beyond dispute that on sober and rational consideration the interweaving of material with immaterial substances proves to be a greater miracle of divine power than the conjunction of the material with the material, different though they may be in that the one is heavenly and the other terrestrial.
5. The resurrection of the flesh, which some refuse to believe, despite its general acceptance
This may once have been incredible; but see, the whole world has now come to believe that the earthly body of Christ has been taken up into heaven. Learned and unlearned alike have now come to believe in the resurrection of his flesh and his ascension to the realms on high, and only a very few among learned and unlearned still remain in stupefied incredulity. If what the world believes is credible, the unbelievers should notice how stupid they are! If it is incredible, then surely it is even more incredible that so incredible a thing should be so credited! So we have two incredible things, the resurrection of our body to eternity, and the world’s credence in this incredibility, both of them foretold by God before either of them came to pass.14
One of the two incredibilities we already observe to have happened; the world credits what had been incredible. Why then should we despair of the one remaining? It has come to pass that the world now believes what was incredible; why should it not likewise come to pass (though the world, in the same way as before, believes this incredible) that the world should believe a thing which is now so incredible? Especially as both those incredibilities (one of which we see fulfilled, while we believe the other) are predicted in the same Sciptures by which the world has been brought to believe. And indeed the actual manner in which the world came to this belief turns out to be even more incredible.
There were just a few men, the merest handful, untrained in the liberal arts, completely uneducated, as far as pagan philosophy is concerned, with no knowledge of literature, no equipment in logic, no trappings of rhetoric. And Christ sent them out as fishermen with the nets of faith into the sea of this world; and in this way he caught all those fish of every kind, including – more wonderful, because rarer – even some of the philosophers themselves. And so, if you please (or rather, because you ought to be pleased), let us add a third incredibility to the two others.
Here then we have those incredibilities; and yet they happened. It is incredible that Christ rose in the flesh and with his flesh ascended into heaven. It is incredible that the world believed so incredible an event; and it is incredible that men of no birth, no standing, no learning, and so few of them, should have been able to persuade, so effectively, the whole world, including the learned men. The first of those three incredibilities our opponents refuse to believe; the second they are compelled to observe; and unless they believe the third, they cannot account for the second. The resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven with the flesh in which he rose again, is by now proclaimed and believed throughout the world; if it is incredible, how is it that it is believed throughout the world? If many people, people of noble birth, of high position, of profound learning, had said that they had witnessed it and had been at pains to spread the news of what they had witnessed, it would be no marvel, if the world believed them; it would be crass obstinacy in our opponents to refuse belief. If, and this is the truth, the world has believed a few men, of obscure birth, of no importance and of no learning, who assert in speech and writing that they have witnessed this event, why do a few men show this perverse obstinacy in continued refusal to believe the believing world? The world has believed a tiny number of men of low birth, low position, with no academic qualifications; and it has believed them just because in the persons of such insignificant witnesses the power of God exercised a much more wonderful persuasion. What I mean is that those who persuaded men of this truth did so by utterances which on their lips were turned into miracles, rather than mere words. For those who had not witnessed Christ’s resurrection in the flesh, and his ascension into heaven in that same flesh, believed the report of those who told what they had seen, who not only spoke of it, but displayed miraculous signs. In fact, people who were known to have only one language, or two at most, were suddenly heard speaking miraculously in the languages of all nations;15 a man lame from birth stood up, sound and strong after forty years, cured at their word in the name of Christ; cloths taken from their persons had power to heal the sick; a countless number of sufferers from various diseases were stationed along the road by which the disciples were to pass, so that as they passed their shadows might pass over the sufferers and, as a rule, the sick were restored to health;16 and many other amazing acts were performed by the disciples in Christ’s name; indeed, even the dead were restored to life. All this was observed by those who had not witnessed Christ’s resurrection.
Now if these people admit that those things happened as they are recorded, then here we have all those incredibilities to add to our first three. And in order to make credible that one incredible event, Christ’s resurrection and ascension, as it is reported, we heap up all this evidence for a multitude of incredible events; and yet we still cannot turn them from their hair-raising obstinacy and bring them to believe. Nevertheless, if they do not even believe that those miracles were effected through Christ’s apostles, to ensure belief in their proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, then this one over-powering miracle is enough for us – that the whole world has come to believe in it without any miracles at all!
6. The Romans made Romulus a god because they loved him: the Church loved Christ because it believed him to be God
Let us also call to mind on this topic the surprise expressed by Cicero at the reputed divinity of Romulus. I shall quote the actual words.
What is remarkable in the case of Romulus is that all the others who have been turned from human beings into Gods, lived in the less advanced ages of mankind, so that a pious fraud was an easier enterprise since uneducated people were readily induced to believe it. But the age of Romulus was less than six centuries ago, when literacy and education was already well established and the errors of primitive times had been entirely removed from a society of developing culture.
And a little later he has this to say, to the same effect, still on the subject of Romulus,
Hence it can be gathered that Homer lived a great many years before Romulus. Men were educated by the time of Romulus, and it was an age of some culture; as a result, there was scarcely any opportunity for the spread of legend. For a primitive age is receptive of fables, which, indeed, often show a degree of skill in their invention; whereas a more cultivated age is especially ready to mock at this kind of thing, and rejects any story which defies possibility.17
Now Marcus Tullius Cicero was among the most learned and eloquent of all mankind, and his reason for saying that the belief in the divinity of Romulus is surprising is that it grew up in times of enlightenment, when false fables did not meet a ready reception. And yet who ever believed in the divinity of Romulus except Rome, and that when Rome was small and at the beginning of her history? Thereafter it was inevitable that posterity should preserve the tradition handed down from earlier times, and the community, as we say, drank in this superstition with its mother’s milk. Then the city grew in power and attained a great empire; and from this height of power she diffused, from that higher level, as it were, this belief among the other nations, whom she dominated. Those nations professed this belief, without indeed believing it, to avoid giving offence to the city to whom they were enslaved, in the matter of that city’s founder. They would have given offence by differing from Rome about the title of Romulus; for Rome’s belief in his divinity did not spring from a love of error but from an error of love. In contrast, although Christ is the founder of the eternal Heavenly City, that City’s belief in Christ as God does not arise from her foundation by him; the truth is that her foundation arises from her belief in Christ as God. Rome worshipped her founder as a god after she had been built and dedicated; but this Heavenly Jerusalem put Christ as the foundation of her faith, so that she might be built and dedicated. Rome believed Romulus to be a god because she loved him; the Heavenly City loved Christ because she believed him to be God. Thus Rome had already an object of her love, which she could readily turn from a loved object into a final good, falsely believed in; correspondingly, our City had already an object of her belief, so that she might not rashly love a false good but with true faith might set her affection on the true good. For apart from all those great miracles which persuaded her that Christ is God, there were also the preceding prophecies, divinely inspired and completely worthy of belief, which are no longer believed as destined for future fulfilment in Christ, as they were believed by the fathers, but are shown to have been fulfilled in him. About Romulus, in contrast, we are told and we read that he founded Rome and that he reigned there. This is what happened; it was not prophesied before it happened. While in the story of his reception among the gods the documents record a belief rather than communicate a fact, for there are no miraculous signs to confirm that this really happened to him. There is, to be sure, that she-wolf, which is thought to have been a notable portent; but is it a portent of a quality or a magnitude to demonstrate his divinity? Even assuming that this she-wolf was really a wild beast, and not a harlot,18 the portent was shared by both brothers; and yet the other brother is not regarded as a god. And has anyone ever been forbidden to assert that Romulus or Hercules, or other similar men are gods, and yet has preferred to the rather than to refrain from asserting it? Again, would any nation worship Romulus among its gods, were it not forced to do so by fear of Roman power? On the other hand, could anyone count the multitude who have chosen to the the most cruel, the most brutal death conceivable, rather than deny the divinity of Christ?
Moreover, even the slightest fear of the indignation which, they felt, might be aroused in Roman minds if the worship of Romulus was omitted, drove some of the communities subject to Roman authority to offer him divine honours; but the fear of the heaviest punishments of all kinds, very different from the slight fear of hurting Roman feelings, and even the fear of death itself, the most terrible of all fears, could not restrain a multitude of martyrs throughout the world from worshipping Christ as God and, what is more, from proclaiming him as God. And yet in those times of persecution the City of Christ never fought against her wicked persecutors for her temporal preservation, even though while still on pilgrimage in this world she had on her side whole armies of mighty peoples; instead, she refrained from fighting back, to ensure her eternal salvation. Her people were bound, imprisoned, scourged, tortured, burned, butchered, massacred – and they multiplied. For them there was but one way to fight for their safety and that was to hold safety in contempt for their Saviour’s sake.
I know that Cicero argues (if I am not mistaken it is in the third book of his, On the Commonwealth) that the ideal city never takes up arms except in defence of its faith or its safety.19 He shows in another passage what he means by ‘for its safety’, what kind of ‘safety’ he intends to be undestood:
From the pains which even the most insensitive feel, such as want and exile, imprisonment and scourging, private individuals often make their escape, since the swift escape of death is available; for a community on the other hand, the death which seems to free the individual from his pain, is itself a punishment. For a community must be constituted with a view to its eternal continuance. And so death is never natural to a commonwealth, as it is to a man. For a man death is not only inevitable but very often even desirable; whereas when a city is destroyed, wiped out, extinguished, it is (to compare small with great) as if the whole of this world should collapse and perish.20
The reason for Cicero’s statement is that, like the Platonists,21 he held that the world was imperishable. It is certain, therefore, that he wished a city to take up arms in defence of that safety which ensures its continuance as a city in this world, as he says, for eternity, although this permanence is maintained as the individual members the and are replaced by new births, just as the thick foliage of the olive, the laurel, and other perennial trees is maintained by the fall and renewal of the leaves. As Cicero says, death often rescues individual men from pain, instead of being a disaster to them; but the death of a whole community is always a disaster. Hence it is a fair question whether the Saguntines22 acted rightly when they would rather have their whole city perish than break the faith which bound them to the Roman commonwealth itself, a decision for which they are praised by all the citizens of the earthly commonwealth. But I do not see how they could comply with Cicero’s argument, in which it is said that war should never be engaged on, except in defence either of faith or safety. For we are not told which of the two is to have the preference, if both faith and safety run jointly into the same danger, so that the one cannot be preserved without the loss of the other. For it is obvious that if the Saguntines had chosen safety they must have abandoned faith; if faith had been kept they must certainly have relinquished their safety – which is what happened.
But the safety of the City of God is such that it can be possessed, or rather acquired, only with faith and through faith; and when faith is once lost no one can attain to that safety, or salvation. That thought in a steadfast and resolute heart made so many and such noble martyrs; not one such martyr was inspired, or could have been inspired, by Romulus, when he was believed to be a god.
7. The world’s belief in Christ was due to the power of God, not to human persuasion
However, it is utterly absurd to mention the false divinity of Romulus when we are speaking of Christ. And yet if Romulus lived almost six hundred years before Cicero, and that age, it is said, was so highly educated that it rejected any impossible story, how much more in the time of Cicero, six hundred years later, and still more in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius – which were undoubtedly more enlightened times – would the human mind have been unable to tolerate the notion of Christ’s physical resurrection and his ascension to heaven! Men would have laughed it out of court; they would have shut their ears and their hearts against the idea, had not the possibility and the actuality of these events been demonstrated by the divine power of truth itself or rather by the truth of the divine power, with confirmation by miraculous signs. And so, in spite of all the opposition and all the terror of so many great persecutions, Christians held with unswerving faith to the belief in the previous resurrection of Christ, in the coming resurrection to the new age of all mankind, and in the immortality of the body. And this belief was fearlessly proclaimed; and was to produce a more plentiful harvest throughout the world when the blood of martyrs was the seed sown.23 For the preceding proclamations of the prophets were read, the demonstrations of power pointed the same way, and truth, new to experience though not contrary to reason, exercised its persuasion, until the world which had persecuted in frenzy now followed in faith.
8. Miracles, performed to make the world believe, have not ceased now that the world does believe
Why, it is asked, do no miracles occur nowadays, such as occurred (you maintain) in former times? I could reply that they were necessary then, before the world came to believe, in order to win the world’s belief. Anyone who still looks for portents, to make him believe, is himself the greatest portent, in refusing to believe when all the world believes. But the purpose of the question is to discourage belief in the occurrence of those miracles in the past. How is it then that Christ is now hymned everywhere, with such profound faith, as having been taken up to heaven in bodily form? How is it that in enlightened times, when every impossibility was rejected with scorn, the world believed excessively miraculous incredibilities without the confirmation of any miracles at all? Are our opponents going to say that they were credible, and were credited for that reason? Then why do they themselves not believe them?
Here then, in brief, is my dilemma. Either the incredible event which was not seen was confirmed by other incredible things, which nevertheless occurred and were seen, or else the event is so credible as to need no miracles to support it – and then it proves our opponents’ excessive incredulity. I pose this dilemma, with apology, to refute this extreme foolishness. In fact, many miracles have occurred, as we cannot deny, to testify to that one supreme miracle of salvation, the miracle of Christ’s ascension into heaven in the flesh in which he rose from the dead. Those miracles are all recorded, as we know, in the Scriptures, which never lie. There we are told what happened and the belief they were intended to support. They have become known in order to promote faith; they have become more widely known through the faith which they promoted. The accounts are read among the nations, so that the people may believe; but they would never have been read, had they not been believed. And in fact, even now miracles are being performed in Christ’s name either by his sacrament, or by the prayers or the memorials of his saints, but they do not enjoy the blaze of publicity which would spread their fame with a glory to equal that of those earlier marvels.
The canon of holy Scripture, which had to be defined, ensured that those earlier miracles should be read everywhere, and should stick in the memory of the people everywhere, whereas the more recent examples, wherever they occur, are scarcely known to the whole community there, or even throughout the particular neighbourhood. Even there only a very few know about them in most instances, and all the rest are quite unaware, especially if it is a city of any great size; and when the story comes to other places and other people it is not confirmed by sufficient authority to ensure ready or even hesitating acceptance, although faithful Christians pass the news on to others of the faithful.
A miracle that happened at Milan while I was there, when a blind man had his sight restored, succeeded in becoming more widely known because Milan is an important city, and because the emperor was there at the time. A great crowd had gathered to see the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, and the miracle took place before all those witnesses.24 Those bodies had been lost and nothing at all was known about them; but their hiding-place was revealed in a dream to Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and they were discovered. It was there that the darkness, in which the blind man had lived so long, was dispelled; and he saw the light of day.
In contrast with this, there are surely only a very few at Carthage who know about the healing of Innocentius, sometime counsellor of the vice-prefecture. But I was present as an eye-witness; for when I came with my brother Alypius25 from overseas, when we were not yet ordained though already servants of God, Innocentius entertained us, and we were staying in his house at the time. The counsellor was a most devout man, and it was a very religous household. He was under treatment for fistulas, having a number of them intertwined in the rectum, and others more deep-seated. The surgeons had operated on some and were now proceeding with medical treatment; but the patient had suffered long-lasting and acute pain in the operation. Now there still remained one ulcer which had escaped the notice of the medical men, and it was so deeply hidden that they could not get at it, since it would require to be opened up by an incision. Finally all the ulcers were healed which were open for treatment, but this one only still remained and on it they spent their pains to no purpose. The patient was suspicious of the delay, and grew extremely apprehensive at the prospect of a second operation. Another medical man, a member of his household, had predicted this possibility. The others had not allowed him in as a witness of the first operation, so that he might at least observe their procedure; and Innocentius angrily dismissed him from the house, and could scarcely be brought to allow him back. But now the patient burst out with the question, ‘Are you going to operate again? That fellow whom you barred from the operation, am I to have him saying “I told you so”?’ They laughed at the other as a physician of no experience, and soothed the patient with fair words and promises. Days passed, and all their efforts proved ineffective. Still the physicians stuck to their reassurances, undertaking to close the fistula by medical treatment, without using the knife. Then they called in another doctor, an old man called Ammonius who enjoyed a considerable reputation in his profession, and after his examination he gave the same assurance as the medical attendants and predicted a favourable result from their skill and devotion.
The patient’s confidence was restored by this authoritative prognosis, and he jeered with facetious cheerfulness at his household physician, who had prophesied a second operation to come, and he assumed himself already cured. To cut a long story short, after a considerable time spent to no effect, the doctors, exhausted and embarrassed, had to admit that no cure was possible without further use of the knife. The patient was aghast; he turned deadly pale, distraught with the extremity of terror. When he had recovered his wits and was able to speak, he ordered them to be off and never come near him again. Then, tired out with weeping, he could think of no other course, in his present straits, but to send for a doctor of Alexandria who at that time had the reputation of a surgeon of genius, and to let him perform the operation which Innocentius in his anger had forbidden the others to attempt. The surgeon came; but when the artist in him observed in the scars the quality of the work done by the others, he acted like an honest man and persuaded the patient that it would be better that the doctors who had worked so hard on his case (as he saw, with admiration, from his examination) should have the satisfaction of completing the cure. He added that a cure was really impossible without another operation; and that it would be against his principles to take the crowning honour of all their work from those whose supreme artistry, conscientious pains, and attention to detail, he admired when he inspected the scars. They were accordingly re-instated in the confidence of Innocentius, and it was decided that the Alexandrian should stand by while the others made an incision to open up the fistula, which by now, as all agreed, was otherwise incurable. The operation was put off until the next day. But when the physicians had departed, the lamentations of the master of the house aroused such grief in the household that it resembled the mourning at a funeral: and we had difficulty in getting it under control.
Now there were some holy men who used to visit the sufferer every day, Saturninus of blessed memory, at that time bishop of Uzalis, Gulosus, a presbyter of the church of Carthage, and the deacons of that church; among those (and the only one of them still on earth) was Aurelius, now a bishop and a man to be mentioned by me with due respect. I have often recalled with him ‘the wonderful works of God’, and we have often spoken of this event, for I discovered that he had a vivid recollection of what I am now describing. When those holy men were paying Innocentius their customary evening visit on the day in question, he asked them, with piteous tears, to be good enough to come in the morning to be present at his death, instead of at his suffering. For his previous torments had so unnerved him that he felt sure that he was destined to perish under the surgeon’s hands. The others tried to reassure him, and urged him to trust in God, and submit to God’s will like a man. Then we betook ourselves to prayers; and when we knelt down, in the usual way, and bent towards the ground, Innocentius hurled himself forward, as if someone had pushed him flat on his face; and he began to pray. It is beyond the power of words to express the manner of his prayer, his passion, his agitation, his flood of tears, his groans, and the sobs which shook his whole frame and almost stifled his breath. Whether the others were praying, whether they could take their attention from him, I could not tell; for my part, I was utterly unable to utter a prayer; all I could do was to say this brief sentence in my heart, ‘Lord, what prayers of your people do you hear, if you do not hear these?’ For it seemed to me that he could go no further, unless it was to breathe his last in prayer. We rose from our knees and, after receiving the bishop’s blessing, we left, the sick man entreating his visitors to come back in the morning, while they bade him be of good heart. The dreaded morning dawned; the servants of God arrived as they had promised; the surgeons entered. All preparations had been made which that fateful hour demanded; the fearful instruments were produced, while we all sat there in dumb-founded suspense. Those of the visitors whose authority was greatest tried to raise the patient’s drooping spirits with words of encouragement, while his body was being laid in position ready for the work of the surgeon. The bandages were untied; the place was bared. The surgeon examined it, and knife in hand ready for the incision, he searched for the fistula that was to be cut. He inspected it closely; felt it with his fingers; then he examined it in every way – he found it firmly cicatrized. The rejoicing that followed, the thanksgiving to God, the merciful and almighty, which poured from every mouth with tears of happiness – all this I have not the words to express. The scene can be better imagined than described.
In the same city there was a woman named Innocentia, a woman of great devotion and of high standing in that community. She suffered from a cancer of the breast, a condition, according to the physicians, incurable by the medical treatment. Therefore the general practice is to cut out the cancer, removing from the body the part which harbours the growth; or else they use no treatment at all, in order to prolong the life of the sufferer to some extent, although death, even if somewhat delayed, is the inevitable result of the complaint. This latter course, they say, follows the advice of Hippocrates. Innocentia was told all this by her doctor, a well-qualified man and a close friend of the family; and she turned for help to God alone, in prayer. When Easter was approaching she was instructed in a dream to watch on the women’s side at the baptistery and ask the first newly-baptized woman who met her to sign the affected place with the sign of Christ. This she did; and she was immediately restored to health. The physician who had advised her not to attempt any treatment, if she wished to prolong her life somewhat, examined her and found her completely cured, though when he had made the same examination previously he had recognized her condition. Naturally, he questioned her closely about the treatment she had used, being eager, we may well suppose, to discover a medicine which would prove Hippocrates wrong in his dictum. When he had heard her account of what had happened, his voice and his expression suggested, we are told, that he thought little of it, so much so that she was afraid that he might make some insulting remark about Christ. But he replied with an air of humorous solemnity: ‘Why, I thought you were going to tell me something remarkable!’ And when she looked horrified at this, he hastily added, ‘What was so extraordinary in Christ’s healing a cancer, when he once raised to life a man four days dead?’
Now when I heard of this event I was indignant that so astounding a miracle, performed in so important a city, and on a person far from obscure, should have been kept secret like this; and I thought it right to admonish her and to speak to her with some sharpness on the matter. She replied that she had not kept silence about it; and I then inquired of the matrons who happened to be her most intimate friends at the time, asking if they had known about it. They replied that they were quite unaware of it. ‘Look here’, I then said to her, ‘How can you say you are not keeping it quiet, seeing that those who are so close to you have heard nothing of it?’ The result of my brief question was that she related to her friends the whole sequence of events, just as it happened, and they listened in great amazement and gave praise to God.
There was also a physician in the same city who suffered from the gout. He had given in his name for baptism, and the night before he was to receive that sacrament he had a dream in which a number of curly-haired negro boys, whom he took to be demons, forbade him to be baptized that year. He refused to obey them, and they then stamped on his foot, causing him the acutest pain, worse than he had ever experienced before. But he went on with his purpose and in getting the better of his opponents was all the more resolved not to postpone his washing in the bath of rebirth, as he had vowed; and in his baptism he was there and then not only relieved of the pain, which had been unwontedly excruciating, but was completely free from the gout from then onwards, never suffering any pain in his feet for the rest of a long life. And yet, does anyone know this man’s story? I know it, at any rate, and so do a very few of the brethren to whom it succeeded in reaching.
There was a sometime stage-player of Curubis,26 who was cured at baptism not only of paralysis but also of a serious hernia. He came up from the font of rebirth free from both distressing conditions, as if there had never been anything physically wrong with him. Yet did anyone know of this outside Curubis, except a very few who chanced to hear about it in various places? For my part, when I heard the story I succeeded in getting him sent to Carthage, on the orders of the holy Bishop Aurelius,27 although I had already been told about his case by people whose word I could take without hesitation.
We have in our neighbourhood an ex-tribune named Hesperius. He has a small estate called Zubedi, in the district of Fussala. He discovered, from the harm inflicted on his livestock and his servants, that his house was suffering the destructive attacks of malignant spirits; and in my absence he begged my presbyters that one of them should go to his place to overcome the demons by prayer. One of them went, and offered there the sacrifice of Christ, praying with all his might that this molestation should cease. God straightway took pity, and the trouble came to an end. Now Hesperius had received from a friend a sample of sacred earth taken from Jerusalem, where Christ was buried and rose again on the third day. He had hung it up in his bedroom, to ward off any evil from his own person. But when his house had been purified from this infestation he wondered what should be done with the earth, since, from motives of reverence, he did not want to keep it in his bedroom any longer. Now, as it happened, I was in the neighbourhood, with a colleague of mine, Maximinus, bishop of the church at Sinitis. Hesperius asked us to come to his house; and we went. He told us the whole story; and then he begged us to have the sacred earth buried somewhere, and a place of prayer established on the spot, so that Christians might assemble there to celebrate the worship of God. We had no objection, and the proposal was put into effect. Now there was in that place a young rustic suffering from paralysis. When he heard what had happened he begged his parents to carry him to that sacred spot, and be quick about it. He was carried there; he prayed; and he left the place cured, on his own legs.
There is a house called Victoriana, less than thirty miles from Hippo Regius. In that house there is a relic of Protasius and Gervasius, the martyrs of Milan. To this place was brought a youth who had come into contact with a demon when he was washing a horse in the river at the height of summer. When he lay there at Victoriana, at the point of death, and indeed looking very like a corpse, the lady of the house came in with her maidservants, accompanied by some other devout souls, for the customary evening hymns and prayers; and they began to sing a hymn. The youth was shaken out of his coma by their voices, as if by a sudden shock; and with a terrifying roar he seized hold of the altar, clutching it as if tied to it or stuck to it, not daring to move, or else without the power of movement. Then with a mighty shriek the demon begged for mercy, and confessed when and where and how it made its way into the young man. Finally it declared that it would depart from him, and named the various limbs and parts which, so it threatened, it would maim as it left them; and while saying this, it withdrew from the man. But one of his eyes slipped down to his jaw, hanging by a small vein from the socket, as from its root, and the whole centre of the eye, which had been dark, became white. Now there were many people present, for others had run up to the place, summoned by his cries, and had prostrated themselves in prayer for him; and when they saw this sight, although they rejoiced to see him standing there in his right mind, they grieved for the loss of his eye, and advised that a doctor should be sent for. Then his brother-in-law, who had brought him there, said, ‘God, who put the demon to flight, has power to restore his eye, at the prayers of the saints.’ He then replaced, as best he could, the eye which had slipped out and was dangling there; he bound it with a napkin, and said that he thought that the bandage should not be untied until a week’s time. Those instructions were followed, and the eye was found to be completely healed. There were many other cures at this place, which it would take too long to describe.
I know of a virgin at Hippo who was quickly cured of demon-possession after anointing herself with oil in which were mixed the tears of a presbyter, shed while he was praying for her. I also know of a bishop who prayed once for a young man whom he had never seen, and the young man was immediately dispossessed of a demon. There was an old man here in Hippo called Florentius, a poor, devout person, who made his living by tailoring. He lost his cloak and had no money to buy another; and so he went to the shrine of the Twenty Martyrs, whose memory is cherished in our part of the world, and prayed in a loud voice that he might get some clothing. His prayer was heard by some young men who happened to be there; they laughed at him, and when he went away they followed him, teasing him by pretending that he had asked the martyrs for fifty pennies, to buy some clothes. He was walking on without a word when he saw a fish, just cast up by the sea, panting on the shore. With the encouragement and support of the bystanders he picked it up, and took it to a delicatessen store kept by a cook called Cattosus, a good Christian, to whom he sold the fish for three hundred pence, after telling him what had happened. He planned to buy some wool with the money, so that his wife could do her best to produce the material for a garment. But when Cattosus was cutting up the fish he found a gold ring in its stomach, and his feeling of sympathy and his fear of a bad conscience compelled him to hand the ring over to Florentius, saying as he did so, ‘Look at this! That’s how the Twenty Martyrs have given you clothes!’
When the relics of the glorious martyr Stephen arrived at Aquae Tibilitanae, brought by Bishop Praejectus, there was an immense gathering of people who flocked to the place. Among them was a blind woman, who begged to be led to the bishop as he carried the relics. The bishop gave her some flowers which he was carrying; she took them, put them to her eyes – and immediately her sight was restored. To the amazement of the bystanders she went on ahead, overjoyed, finding her own way and no longer needing a guide. The relics of this martyr were deposited in the castle of Siniti, near the colony of Hippo; and they were carried by Lucullus, bishop of that place, with the people going in front and following him. Now the bishop had been troubled for a long time with a fistula, and he was waiting for an operation by his medical attendant, a close friend of his. But it was suddenly healed by the carrying of that sacred burden; in fact no trace of the trouble could be found in him afterwards.
Eucharius is a presbyter from Spain, living at Calama. He had been suffering from the stone for a long time; but he was cured by the relics of the same martyr, which were brought to him by Bishop Possidius. Later on he was stricken with another disease; the illness grew worse; he was laid out for dead, and his thumbs were already tied together. But the presbyter’s tunic was sent to the martyr’s shrine; it was brought back and put on his body as he lay there; and by the aid of the martyr the presbyter revived.
In the same place lived a man of high rank in his order, named Martialis. He was by now advanced in years and showed great hostility to the Christian religion. He had, for all that, a daughter who was a believer, and a son-in-law who had been baptized that year. When Martialis fell ill, his daughter and her husband besought him with many tears to become a Christian; but he flatly refused and sent them away in a fury of indignation. His son-in-law then decided to go to the shrine of St Stephen and to pray there with all his might for Martialis that God would bring him to a better frame of mind, so that he should not put off believing in Christ. He carried out his resolve with tumultuous groans and tears, with ardent devotion and sincere affection. On his departure he took some of the flowers from the altar, those nearest to hand, and after nightfall he put them at the head of the sick man. Then they all went to sleep. And what should happen but that before daylight Martialis called out for someone to run to fetch the bishop! Now the bishop happened at the time to be staying with me at Hippo. And so, when Martialis learnt that the bishop was away, he asked the presbyters to come. They came; he said that he believed, and he was baptized, to the general amazement and delight. For as long as he lived after that these words were always on his lips, ‘Christ, receive my spirit’, although he did not know that those were the last words of the blessed Stephen, when he was stoned to death by the Jews. Those were also the last words of Martialis; for he died not long after this. The same martyr was responsible for the cure at that place of two citizens and one stranger, all suffering from the gout. The citizens were well aware of the course to take when they were in pain; but the stranger learnt of it by revelation; and when he had followed that course, his pain was immediately relieved.
Andurus is the name of an estate where there is a church containing a shrine of the martyr Stephen. A little boy was playing there in the square when the oxen drawing a cart got out of control; the child was crushed by a wheel and lay there convulsed, at the point of death. His mother snatched him up and placed him in the shrine, and he not only revived but showed no sign of injury.
There was a holy woman living on a neighbouring manor which is called Caspaliana. She was seriously ill, and when her life was despaired of, her robe was taken to the shrine at Andurus; but before it came back, she was dead. However, her parents covered the corpse with the garment; she breathed again, and was restored to life and health.
At Hippo, a Syrian called Bassus was praying at the shrine of this martyr for his daughter, who was dangerously ill; and he had brought with him one of her garments. Then some boys come running to bring him the news that she was dead. But since he was at prayer his friends intercepted the boys, and stopped them from telling him, for fear that he would begin wailing in the streets. When he arrived back at his house he found it resounding with the lamentations of his household; but he had brought with him his daughter’s garment; he laid it on her, and she was restored to life.
Again, in the same city of ours, the son of a banker, Irenaeus, fell ill and died. His lifeless body was laid out, and preparations for burial were in train amid wailing and lamentation, when one of the friends who were offering words of consolation put in the suggestion that the body should be anointed with St Stephen’s oil. This was done, and the boy revived. Then there was an ex-tribune in our city called Eleusinus whose little son sickened and passed away. His father took the little body and laid it on the shrine of the martyrs which is in his suburb; he poured out his prayers there, accompanied by many tears; then he lifted up the boy, and found him alive.
Now what am I to do? I am constrained by my promise to complete this work, a promise which must be fulfilled; and that means that I cannot relate all the stories of miracles that I know. But I have no doubt that many of my Christian friends, on reading what I have written, will be grieved that I have omitted so much that is quite as familiar to them as to me. I must here and now ask them to forgive me, and to consider what a lengthy and laborious task it would be to give a complete account; and, after all, it is something which the purpose of this work does not oblige me to attempt. In fact, if I decided to record merely the miracles of healing, to say nothing of other marvels, which were performed at Calama and at Hippo through this martyr, the glorious St Stephen, the record would fill many books; and even then it would not be a complete collection, but would contain only those described in the documents issued for reading in public. I have been concerned that such accounts should be published because I saw that signs of divine power like those of older days were frequently occurring in modern times too, and I felt that they should not pass into oblivion, unnoticed by the people in general. It is not yet two years since the shrine we have been speaking of was established at Hippo and, to my certain knowledge, many miracles have occurred there which are not recorded in the published documents; and nearly seventy of these documents have been produced, at the time of writing. The shrine at Calama is of more ancient foundation, and the records are issued more frequently, so that they far outnumber those of Hippo.
Uzalis is a colony near Utica; and we have learnt of many miracles performed there through the same martyr, whose shrine was established by Bishop Evodius a long time before ours at Hippo. But it is not the custom there to publish pamphlets about them; or rather it was not the custom, for it may be that they have started to do so. For there was a lady of high rank, named Petronilla, who at this shrine had been miraculously cured of a serious and chronic illness which had defied all medical treatment; and when I was there I strongly urged her, with the consent of the bishop above mentioned, to have the story published for reading to the people; and she complied with ready obedience. There was one passage in her tale which I cannot refrain from mentioning here, although I am compelled to hurry on to matters of urgent importance for this work.
She says that she was persuaded by a Jew to thread a ring in a girdle of hair and wear this girdle next to her skin, under all her clothes; this ring had, under its jewel, a stone found in the kidneys of an ox. She had this alleged remedy tied round her when she started for the martyr’s shrine; and after leaving Carthage she had stopped at a house of hers by the river Bagrada. Setting out from there to complete her journey she was surprised to see the ring lying on the ground in front of her feet. She tested the girdle of hair, to which it had been attached, and found it firmly tied, just as it had been, with all its knots completely intact. She therefore supposed that the ring had snapped and jumped off. But when she found that the ring also was completely intact she assumed she had been given, in this amazing occurrence, a kind of pledge of her coming cure; and she untied the girdle and threw it, together with the ring, into the stream. This may not be credible to those who also refuse to believe that the Lord Jesus was born without the loss of his mother’s virginity, and that he entered a room to meet his disciples when the doors were shut. But they should investigate this story, and if they find it true, they should believe those other accounts. The lady in question is of high position, of noble birth, nobly married, and she lives in Carthage. The importance of the city, and of the person concerned will not allow the facts to evade detection. Certainly the martyr himself, whose intervention restored the lady to health, believed in the son of a mother who remained a virgin; in one who entered through closed doors to join his disciples; above all (and this is the purpose of all that I am saying) in one who ascended into heaven in the flesh in which he had risen from the dead. And the reason why these great works are performed through this martyr is that he laid down his life for the faith he held.
Thus even at this present time the same God who effected the miracles we read of is at work in the performance of many miracles by what agents he chooses and by what means he chooses for their performance. But these modern miracles are not so widely known; nor have they been pounded into the memory by frequent reading, as gravel is pounded into a path, to make sure that they do not pass out of the mind. At Hippo we have started the practice of reading to the people the accounts of those who receive such blessings. But even where this care is taken those who are present hear the story only once; and many of the people are not present. The result is that after some days those who were there do not keep in their minds what they have heard; and scarcely anyone can be found who is able to tell the story he heard to one whom he knows to have been absent.
There was one miracle performed in our city, no more significant than those I have recounted, but so widely famed that I should imagine no one from Hippo failed to witness it or at least to hear about it, and no one could have forgotten it. There were seven brothers and three sisters from Caesarea in Cappadocia, of respectable standing in their community, whose mother had recently been left destitute by the death of their father. She had been badly treated by her children, and in her bitter indignation had laid a curse on them. As a result, the divine chastisement came upon them, and they were all afflicted with a frightful trembling of the limbs. Being unable to bear the stares of their fellow-citizens, aroused by their distressing appearance, they took to wandering wherever the whim suggested, and in this way they visited almost every part of the Roman world. Two of them came to our part of the world, a brother and sister, Paulus and Palladia; they were known in many other places, and reports of their wretched plight had spread far and wide. They arrived at Hippo about a fortnight before Easter; and they attended church every day, visiting the shrine there of the glorious martyr Stephen, and praying that God would now be appeased and restore them to their former health. There, as wherever they went, they drew the gaze of the whole city. There were a number of people who had seen them elsewhere and knew the cause of their tremors, and they told the story to others whenever they had the chance.
Easter arrived, and on the morning of that very Sunday, when a crowded congregation had already assembled the young man, as he prayed, was holding on to the grating of the holy shrine containing the martyr’s relics. Suddenly he fell flat on his face and lay there as if asleep; and yet he was no longer trembling as he usually did even in his sleep. Those present were astonished; some of them were panic-stricken, others were filled with pity; and when they made as if to lift the man up, some people stopped them and said that they should instead wait and see what happened. Then, suddenly, he got up; he was not trembling. He had been cured, and he was standing there, completely recovered, meeting the stares of the congregation.
Who could then refrain from giving praise to God? The whole church was filled in every corner with shouts of thanksgiving. They ran with the news to where I was sitting, ready for the procession. They came rushing one after another, each one telling me, as if it were fresh news, what I had been told by the one before. I was joyfully offering my private thanks to God when the young man himself came in with many others and bent down at my knees, then straightened himself to receive my kiss. Then we went out to join the congregation. The church was packed, and it rang with the shouts of joy: ‘Thanks be to God! God be praised!’ The cries came from all sides; not a mouth was silent. I greeted the people; they replied with shouts expressing even greater fervour. At last silence was restored and the appointed lessons from holy Scripture were read.
Then when we reached the place for my sermon I simply said a few words appropriate to the occasion and the joy and happiness of the event; for I thought it better to give them a chance to hear, or rather to ponder in their hearts, what might be called the eloquence of God in a work of divine power. The man had breakfast with us and gave a detailed account of the whole tragic history of himself, his brothers, his sisters, and his mother. And so on the following day after the sermon I promised that an official record of his story would be issued for public reading. This promise was fulfilled three days after Easter Sunday, when I made the brother and sister stand on the steps of the bishop’s throne, just below the level from which I addressed the congregation, while the narrative was read.
The whole congregation, men and women alike, fixed their gaze on the pair, the brother standing without any untoward movement, the sister trembling in every limb. Those who had not seen the effect of the divine mercy in him now observed it from seeing his sister. They realized what they had to give thanks for in his case, and what they had to pray for on her behalf. Meanwhile, at the conclusion of the reading, I instructed both of them to withdraw from the sight of the people; and then I had just begun to discuss the whole case in some detail. Then, while I was speaking, what should be heard but the sound of fresh cries of thanksgiving from the martyr’s shrine! The people who had been listening to my address turned in that direction and began to flock to the spot.
The explanation was that when the girl had descended from the step where she was standing, she went over to the martyr’s shrine to pray. As soon as she touched the grating, she, as her brother had done, fell down as if asleep and got up cured. And so while I was asking what had happened and what had occasioned the joyful uproar, they returned with her into the basilica where I was, bringing her back from the martyr’s shrine in perfect health.
Then indeed there arose such a clamour of wonder, such a continuous shouting, mingled with tears, that it seemed impossible that it should ever end. The girl was brought back to the place where just now she had stood trembling. Those who had grieved that she had remained so different from her brother now rejoiced to see her so like him. They perceived that they had not yet poured out their prayers for her, and yet already their first intention of goodwill for her had been so quickly answered. They rejoiced in the praises of God with wordless cries, with such a noise that my ears could scarcely endure it. Now was there anything in their hearts as they rejoiced except the same faith in Christ for which Stephen shed his blood?
9. The miracles performed by the martyrs in Christ’s name bear witness to their faith in Christ
What do these miracles attest but the faith which proclaims that Christ rose in the flesh and ascended into heaven with the flesh? For the martyrs were all martyrs, that is witnesses, to this faith. It was in bearing witness to this faith that the martyrs endured the bitter enmity and the savage cruelty of the world; and they overcame the world not by resisting but by dying. For this faith they died; and they can now obtain these blessings from the Lord, for whose name they were slain. For this faith their wonderful endurance went before, so that all this power might follow in these wonderful works. Now if the resurrection to eternal life has not already taken place in the person of Christ, or if it is not to come in the future, in accordance with the prophecies of Christ, or in accordance with prophecies given before that by the prophets who announced the coming of Christ, how is it that the martyrs, who were slain for the faith that proclaims this resurrection, have the power to work such marvels? For God may himself perform them by himself, through that wonderful operation of his power whereby, being eternal, he is active in temporal events; or he may effect them through the agency of his servants; and when he effects them by his servants he may do this through the spirits of the martyrs, as he also acts through men who are still in the bodily state; or he may effect all those wonders through the service of the angels, the invisible, immaterial, unchangeable agents of his commands, in which case the acts said to be done by the martyrs are in fact done in answer to their prayers, not through their direct activity. Or it may be that some miracles are effected in these ways, others by different methods which are quite beyond mortal comprehension. Be that as it may, they all testify to the faith in which the resurrection to eternal life is proclaimed.
10. The superiority of the martyrs over the demons, and the difference between their miracles
At this point we shall probably be told that the pagan gods have performed some miracles. Well then, it is all to the good, if the pagans are ready to put their gods on the same level as our dead men. Are they going to admit that they have gods who are merely men deified after death, like Hercules, like Romulus, like many others whom they suppose to have been received into the ranks of the gods? For us, however, the martyrs are not gods, because we know one only God, who is the God both of us and of our martyrs. And apart from that, the miracles allegedly performed in the pagan temples are not worthy of comparison with those performed at the shrines of our martyrs. And even if there seems to be any similarity, their gods are outdone by our martyrs, as Pharaoh’s magicians were by Moses.28 Moreover, the pagan marvels were the work of demons, in the arrogance of their foul pride which made them ambitious to be the gods of the pagans, whereas the Christian miracles are the work of martyrs, or rather they are the work of God, with the co-operation of the martyrs or in response to their prayers; and the purpose of those miracles is the advancement of that faith by which we believe, not that the martyrs are our gods, but that we and they have the same God. It comes to this: the pagans have built temples for their gods, they have set up altars, established priesthoods and offered sacrifices, whereas we Christians construct, in honour of our martyrs, not temples, as if to gods, but memorial shrines, as to men who are dead, but whose spirits are living with God. We do not in those shrines raise altars on which to sacrifice to the martyrs, but to the one God, who is the martyrs’ God and ours; and at this sacrifice the martyrs are named, in their own place and in the appointed order, as men of God who have overcome the world in the confession of his name. They are not invoked by the priest who offers the sacrifice. For, of course, he is offering the sacrifice to God, not to the martyrs (although he offers it at their shrine) because he is God’s priest, not theirs. Indeed, the sacrifice itself is the Body of Christ, which is not offered to them, because they themselves are that Body.
This being so, which of these are more credible, as workers of miracles? Those whose desire it is to be reckoned gods by those for whom they perform these works? Or those who do something that excites wonder, in order to promote belief in God, which is what Christ also is? Those who have chosen that their ceremonies shall be acts of disgrace?29 Or those who do not choose that ceremonies in their honour should sing their praises but that the whole act, in which they are truly praised, should advance the glory of him in whom they are praised? For, to be sure, it is in the Lord that their souls are praised.30 Let us then believe in those latter, since they speak the truth, as well as performing wonders. In fact, it was for speaking the truth that they suffered; and because of this they have the power to perform miracles. And among all the truths they speak this is the most important: that Christ rose from the dead and first displayed the immortality of the resurrection in his own body, and promised that it would come to us at the beginning of the new age or (which is the same) at the end of this world.
11. An answer to the Platonists’ contention that an earthly body cannot exist in heaven
Now those rational thinkers (‘whose thoughts God knows to be foolishness’31) argue against this great gift of God, the resurrection of the body; and they base their argument on the weights of the elements. They have learnt, to be sure, from their master, Plato, that the two greatest bodies of the universe, at the opposite extremes of the universe, are linked and connected by two intermediary elements, air and water.32 Then, they say, starting from this earth at the bottom and working upwards, the next element is the water, above that the air, and above that, finally, the sky; and it therefore follows that an earthly body cannot exist in heaven; for each element is balanced by its own weight, so that each keeps to its own place. Here you see the kind of arguments that human weakness, swayed by folly, opposes to the divine omnipotence. How is it that there are so many earthly bodies in the air, although air is the third element from earth? God has given to the birds, with their earthly bodies, the ability to be borne aloft in the air because of the lightness of their feathers and wings; are we to suppose that he will not be able to give to the bodies of men, now made immortal, the quality which will enable them to live even in the highest heaven? On the Platonists’ argument the earthly animals which are unable to fly – a category which includes human beings – ought to live under the earth, just as the fishes, the water animals, live under the water. How is it then that an earthly animal lives his life not just as one remove from earth, that is, in water, but in the third element, the air? Why is it that although he belongs to the earth, he is immediately choked if he is forced to try to sustain life in the next element above the earth and yet he succeeds in living in the third? Are the elements out of order here? Or is the fault not in the natural world but in the arguments of the Platonists? I forbear quoting the point I have already made in the thirteenth book,33 about the many heavy earthly substances, lead for example, which may be given a form by a craftsman to enable them to float in water. Are we, I asked there, to deny the Almighty Artist the power to give the human body a quality which will enable it to be borne up to heaven and to exist there?
This much is certain: if the Platonists think over what I said in that former passage, they cannot find any answer to it, in terms of that ‘order of the elements’, about which they are so confident. For even if, in the ascending scale, earth is first, water second, air third, heaven fourth, still, the substance of the soul is above them all. Aristotle calls it ‘the fifth material substance’,34 whereas Plato calls it immaterial. If it were the fifth it would certainly be above the others; but if it is immaterial it is much more superior to all material things. Then what is it doing in an earthly body? It is the most rarefied of substances; what is it doing in this gross mass? It is the lightest; what is it doing in this heavy weight? It is the swiftest; how does it consort with this sluggishness? Must we suppose that it has not the power to ensure, in virtue of its extraordinary quality of nature, that the body belonging to it shall be raised up to heaven? In our present state the natural substance of earthly bodies is able to keep the soul on the earthly level; will not the soul eventually have the power to raise the earthly body to a higher realm?
And now if we turn to examine the miracles of paganism, the achievements of their gods which they oppose to those of our martyrs, we shall find that those achievements support our side, and supply us with invaluable assistance. In fact, among their greater miracles is the one recorded by Varro concerning a Vestal Virgin who had come under suspicion of unchastity and was in danger of her life. The story goes that she filled a sieve with water from the Tiber, and carried it to her judges without spilling a drop. Now who was it that kept that weight of water in the sieve? Who was it who prevented the water from pouring out on to the ground from all those gaping holes? The reply will be, ‘Some god, or some demon.’ If a god, are we to think him a greater deity than the God who made the world? If a demon, is he to be supposed more powerful than an angel, the servant of the God who made the world? If then a lesser god, or angel or demon had the power to suspend a weight of the liquid element in such a way that the natural properties of water appeared to be changed, is it conceivable that Almighty God, the creator of all the elements, will not have the power to annul the heavy weight of an earthly body, to enable the revived body to live in the same element in which God has chosen that the reviving spirit should dwell?
Moreover, these philosophers make air the middle element, with water below and fire above it. How is it then that we often find it between water and water, and between water and earth? What do they make of watery clouds, and the fact that the intermediate air is found between those clouds and the sea? Assuming this classification of elements by weight, how is it that violent torrents, filled with water, which flow on earth under the lower air, begin by being suspended in the clouds above the lower air? Above all, how is it that the air is intermediate between the height of heaven and the dry expanses of earth, wherever the world stretches, if its appointed place is between sky and water, just as water is stationed between air and earth?
Finally, granted this established order of the elements, expounded by Plato, in which the two extremes, fire and earth, are connected by two intermediaries, air and water, with fire located in the sky, while earth is at the bottom as a kind of foundation for the world, and therefore earth cannot be in the sky; granted this, how is it that fire itself can exist on the earth? According to this scheme, to be sure, these two elements, earth and fire, ought to be in their proper places, the lowest level and the highest; and then, if they refuse to allow a place in the highest sphere for the element which belongs to the lowest level, then equally the highest element can have no place in the lowliest region. The Platonists suppose that not a particle of earth can exist in heaven, now or at any future time; by the same token we ought not to see any particle of fire on earth. But in fact there is fire not only on earth but inside the earth, so much so that the tops of mountains belch out fire. And, apart from this, we see that fire exists on earth for the uses of mankind; and we observe that it is derived from the earth, since it is produced from timber and from stones, which are, beyond dispute, earthly material substances. Ah, but that elemental fire (they object) is calm, pure, harmless, everlasting; this fire of ours is turbulent, smoky, at once destructive and destructible. And yet it does not destroy the mountains in which it blazes continually, not the hollows in the earth. But let us agree that our fire is different from that pure element, and is adapted for an existence on earth; then why will they not let us believe that the natural substance of earthly bodies may eventually be made indestructible and thus will be adapted for heaven, just as fire is made destructible and adapted for this earth of ours?
The conclusion is that the Platonist’s arguments for the classification of the elements by weight cannot set limits on the power of Almighty God so that he cannot make our bodies capable even of a dwelling in the heavens.
12. A reply to the calumnies with which unbelievers pour scorn on the Christian belief in resurrection
It is the habit of the pagans to subject our belief in a bodily resurrection to a scrupulous examination and to ridicule it with such questions as, ‘What about abortions? Will they rise again?’ and (seeing that the Lord says, ‘Make no mistake, not one hair on your head will perish’35) they ask, ‘Will all bodies be the same height and size? Or will there be different shapes and sizes? And if they are all the same, what about abortive births? If they rise again, how will they have the bulk they never had in this world? If abortions do not rise, because they were not born, but slipped, then the same question is transferred to little children, ‘How can they attain the size which they have not reached when they the at that early age?’ Now we are not going to say that those infants will not rise again; for they are capable not only of being born, but also of being reborn. The unbelievers then ask, ‘What will be the exact height and size of the resurrected body?’ And if all men are destined to be as tall and as big as the largest and tallest men that ever were on earth, then, they ask, not only in respect of infants, but about the majority of mankind, ‘How are they to have added to them what they lacked here, if each one receives precisely what he possessed here?’ On the other hand if we take the words of the Apostle, that we shall all attain ‘to the stature of the full maturity of Christ’,36 and his other statement about being ‘predestined to be shaped into the likeness of his Son’;37 and if we are to take this to mean that all human beings who will be in his kingdom will have bodies of the same size and shape as Christ’s body, then, say the pagans, ‘many people will need a reduction in size and height of body; and then what happens to that promise that “not a hair will perish”, if such a great amount of the actual body is to be removed?’ And indeed, in this matter of hair, one might ask whether all that the barber has cut off is to be restored! And if so, the ugliness of the sight would be enough to horrify anyone! And what of the fingernails? It seems to follow of necessity that all that has been removed in manicure must be replaced! And then what happens to the body’s comeliness, which ought surely to be greater, in that immortal condition, than it could be in the state of decay? And yet, if all this is not restored, it follows that it will perish; and then, they say, what about that assurance that ‘not a hair will perish’? They produce similar arguments about fatness and thinness. If all are to be equal then obviously there will not be some thin ones and some fat ones. Then some will need an addition, others a subtraction; and in that case there will not be a restoration of the former body as it was. Sometimes it will receive what was not there before; sometimes it will lose what it formerly possessed.
Our opponents then pass on to the actual decay and dissolution of bodies. Some in part are turned into dust, and in part evaporate into the air; some people are consumed by wild beasts, others by fire; others again perish by shipwreck or meet some other watery end, and their flesh decays and dissolves. These considerations influence these thinkers in no small degree, and they cannot believe that all such bodies can be collected and restored to their integrity. They then make play with deformities and defects, either accidental or congenital; they talk with a mixture of horror and derision about monstrous births, asking what kind of resurrection is in store for such unpleasantness. If we reply that nothing of this kind will reappear in the resurrected body, then flatter themselves that they will rebut our answer by quoting the marks of the wounds, since we give it out that Christ rose from the dead with those marks on his body. But among all those posers the most difficult question they confront us with is this: ‘When someone’s body has been eaten by another man, who turns to cannibalism on the compulsion of hunger, into whose body will it return?’ For it has been converted into the flesh of the man who has been nourished by such food, and it has supplied the losses which the emaciation of hunger had produced. Is it then to be returned to the man whose body it had been originally? Or to the man whose flesh it became? The reason for their inquiry is to throw scorn on the belief in the resurrection; and what they themselves offer to the human soul is either the promise of an alternation of genuine unhappiness and false felicity – the prospect offered by Plato – or, with Porphyry, the assurance of an eventual end to misery, with no return to that state, after passing through repeated changes of body;38 but this end does not come with the possession of an immortal body, but by the escape from any kind of body.
13. The problem of abortive births
To all these points, apparently contradictory to my position, which the opposing party has deployed against me, I shall reply, if God in his mercy supports my efforts. As for abortions, which have been alive in the mother’s womb but have died there, I cannot bring myself either to affirm or deny that they will share in the resurrection. And yet, if they are not excluded from the number of the dead, I cannot see how they can be excluded from the resurrection of the dead. For either it is not all the dead that will rise again, and there will be some souls eternally without bodies, although they had human bodies, even if only in the mother’s womb, or else all human souls will receive again the bodies which they had, when those bodies rise again, wherever the bodies they left lived and died. And in the latter case I do not see how I can say that all those who died in the mother’s womb have no share in the resurrection of the dead. But whichever of these views be held, what I am now going to say about newly born infants is to be taken as applying also to abortions, if they take part in the resurrection.
14. The question whether infants at the resurrection will have the body they would have had at maturity
As for little children, I can only say that they will not rise again with the tiny bodies they had when they died. By a marvellous and instantaneous act of God they will gain that maturity they would have attained by the slow lapse of time. For we may be sure that in the Lord’s statement that ‘not a hair of your head will perish’ he promises that what was already there would not be lacking; but that does not deny that what was lacking will be supplied. Now the infant at death lacked its perfect bodily development; even a perfect infant, to be sure, has not the perfection of full bodily development – it has not attained the limit of its potential stature.
All human beings possess that limit of perfection, in that they are conceived and born with it. But they have it in potentiality, not in its material realization, in the same way as all parts of the body are already latent in the seed, although a number of them are still lacking even at birth, the teeth, for instance, and other such details. There is thus, it seems, a kind of pattern already imposed potentially on the material substance of the individual, set out, one might say, like the pattern on a loom; and thus what does not yet exist, or rather what is there but hidden, will come into being, or rather will appear, in the course of time. And so in respect of this pattern or potentiality an infant can be said to be short or tall in that he is destined to be the one or the other.
In view of this pattern we evidently have no need to fear any loss of body at the resurrection. Even if there were a destined equality of all bodies, so that all would attain the stature of giants, to ensure that those who were tallest in this life should not have their stature diminished (for such a loss would contravene the promise of Christ that ‘not a hair will perish’); even so, as we are well aware, it could not be beyond the resources of the Creator, who made everything from nothing, to make the additions that he, the Supreme Artist, knew to be required.
15. Will all resurrected bodies attain the stature of the Lord’s body?
However, Christ himself undoubtedly rose again with the same bodily stature as he had when he died; and we are forbidden to suggest that when the time comes for the general resurrection his body will attain a size that it did not have when he appeared to the disciples in the form that was so familiar to them; the idea being that he should equal the height of the tallest of mankind. Now if we insist that all the larger people must have their bodies reduced to the same size as Christ’s body, then a great deal will ‘perish’ from the bodies of many, although Christ has promised that ‘not one hair will perish’. It remains, therefore, that each person will be given the stature which he had in his prime, even though he was an old man when he died, or, if he died before maturity, the stature he would have attained. As for the Apostle’s statement about ‘stature of the full maturity of Christ’,39 this is either to be taken in a different sense, namely that Christ’s ‘full stature’ is reached when, with Christ as the head, all the members of his body come to maturity, represented by the peoples who accept the Christian faith; or else, if the words refer to the bodily resurrection, we must take them to mean that the bodies of the dead will rise neither younger nor older than Christ. They will be of the same age, the same prime of life, which Christ, as we know, had reached. For the most learned authorities of this world define the age of human maturity as being about thirty years; they say that after that period of life a man begins to go downhill towards middle age and senility. And that is why, on this interpretation, the Apostle speaks not of ‘the full bodily stature’ but ‘the stature of the full maturity’ of Christ.
16. The meaning of ‘shaped into the likeness of God’s Son’
Now St Paul talks of being ‘predestined to be shaped into the likeness of God’s son’.40 This can be taken as referring to the inner man. The Apostle says elsewhere, ‘Don’t model yourselves on the world’s pattern. You have a new outlook; remodel yourselves accordingly.’41 When we remodel ourselves to avoid being modelled on the world’s pattern, then we are shaped into the likeness of God’s son. We can also take it in this way: that as Christ was made like us in the condition of mortality, so we will be made like him in the condition of immortality. This obviously has reference to the resurrection of the body. But if these words are meant to instruct us also about the form of the resurrected body, then this likeness to Christ is to be understood (like the ‘stature’) of the age, not the size of that body.
Thus all human beings will rise again with a body of the same size as they had, or would have had, in the prime of life. And yet, to be sure, it would be no disadvantage even if the form of that body were that of an infant or an old man; for in the resurrection no weakness will remain, either of mind or body. And so, if anyone maintains that every person will rise again with the same kind of body that he had when he departed this life, we need not go to great lengths to contravert this position.
17. Will women retain their sex in the resurrected body?
Because of these sayings, ‘Until we reach the perfection of manhood, the stature of the full maturity of Christ’,42 and ‘Being shaped into the likeness of God’s Son’,43 some people suppose that women will not keep their sex at the resurrection; but, they say, they will all rise again as men, since God made man out of clay, and woman out of man. For my part, I feel that theirs is the more sensible opinion who have no doubt that there will be both sexes in the resurrection. For in that life there will be no sexual lust, which is the cause of shame. For the first human beings, before their sin, ‘were naked, the man and the woman, and they were not ashamed’.44
Thus while all defects will be removed from those bodies, their essential nature will be preserved. Now a woman’s sex is not a defect; it is natural. And in the resurrection it will be free of the necessity of intercourse and childbirth. However, the female organs will not subserve their former use; they will be part of a new beauty, which will not excite the lust of the beholder – there will be no lust in that life but will arouse the praises of God for his wisdom and compassion, in that he not only created out of nothing but freed from corruption that which he had created.
Now in creating woman at the outset of the human race, by taking a rib from the side of the sleeping man, the Creator must have intended, by this act, a prophecy of Christ and his Church. The sleep of that man clearly stood for the death of Christ; and Christ’s side, as he hung lifeless on the cross, was pierced by a lance. And from the wound there flowed blood and water,45 which we recognize as the sacraments by which the Church is built up. This, in fact, is the precise word used in Scripture of woman’s creation; it says not that God ‘formed’, or ‘fashioned’ a woman but that ‘he built it (the rib) up into a woman’.46 Hence the Apostle also speaks of the ‘building up’ of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.47 The woman, then, is the creation of God, just as is the man; but her creation out of man emphasizes the idea of the unity between them; and in the manner of that creation there is, as I have said, a foreshadowing of Christ and his Church.
Thus he who established the two sexes will restore them both. And indeed, Jesus was questioned by the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection; and they asked to which of seven brothers a wife would belong, to whom they had all been married (since each of them wished to produce descendants for his dead predecessor, according to the Law’s instructions); and Jesus replied, ‘You are on the wrong track, because you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God.’ And though he might have said, ‘The woman you are asking about will not be a woman; she will be a man’, he did not say this. What he said was, ‘For in the resurrected life men and women do not marry; they are like the angels of God in heaven.’48 That is, they are like them in immortality and felicity, not in body; nor are they like them in their resurrection, since the angels, being unable to the need no resurrection. Thus Christ denies the existence of marriage in the resurrected life; he does not deny the existence of women in heaven. If he had foreknown that there would be no female sex in that life he could quickly and easily have disposed of the Sadducees’ question by saying as much, whereas in fact he expressly stated that there would be both sexes, when he said, ‘they are not married’, referring to woman, and ‘they do not marry wives’, referring to men. It follows that there will be in that life those who in this life normally marry, and those who are taken in marriage; but they will not do so in heaven.
18. Christ, the perfect man; and the Church, his Body and his fulfilment
To proceed: St Paul speaks about the attainment of perfect manhood by all, and we should notice the whole context of this saying.
The one who descended is the very same as the one who rose up above all the heavens to fill all things. And his gift to some was that they should be apostles; others were to be prophets; others, evangelists; others, pastors and teachers; so that the saints should together make a complete unity in the activity of service, for the building up of the Body of Christ; until we all arrive at unity in the faith and in our knowledge of God’s Son, and reach the perfection of manhood, the stature of the perfect maturity of Christ. Then we shall no longer be children, or tossed to and fro and carried off our feet by every passing wind of doctrine, as the playthings of human cleverness in the devising of deception. Instead, we shall practise the truth in love and thus we shall grow up in Christ in every way; and Christ is the head, through whom the whole Body is fitted and joined together, with strength supplied through every joint, while each separate part performs its orderly function. Thus the body develops towards the building up of its complete structure, in love.49
Here we see what is meant by the ‘perfection of manhood’, the union of head and body, which consists of all the members, and they will be completed in due time. Meanwhile the members are being added to this body every day, while the Church is being built up. And this Church is addressed in the words, ‘You are the Body of Christ, each of you being a separate part’; and in another place we read, ‘on behalf of his Body, that is, the Church’;50 and again, ‘We are many; but we are one loaf, one Body.’51 And about the building up of this Body, St Paul says in the present passage, ‘to make a complete unity in the activity of service, for the building up of the Body of Chris’,52 then adding the words which concern us at the moment, ‘until we all arrive at unity in the faith and in our knowledge of God’s Son, and reach the perfection of manhood, the stature of the perfect maturity of Christ’ and so on. Then he explains how we are to understand ‘stature’ here and the Body to which it refers, when he says, ‘Thus we shall grow up in Christ in every way; and Christ is the head through whom the whole Body is fitted and joined together, with strength supplied through every joint, while each separate part performs its orderly function.’
Thus there is a measure, an orderly function, of each separate part, and, correspondingly, a measure, or stature, of the whole body, which consists of all its parts. And this is the ‘stature of fulfilment’ in the phrase, ‘the stature of the perfect maturity of Christ’. This fulfilment, or maturity, is mentioned also in the place where St Paul says of the Church, ‘And he (God) has made him (Christ) the supreme head of the Church, which is his Body, the fulfilment of him who reaches complete fulfilment in the whole creation.’53
If, however, this passage is to be referred to the form of the resurrected body, what is there to prevent our supposing that the mention of ‘man’ implies ‘woman’ also, vir being used here for homo (‘human being’)? There is a similar use in the verse, ‘Blessed is the man (vir) who fears the Lord’,54which obviously includes the women who fear him.
19. The perfection of the resurrected body
Now what reply am I to make about the hair and the nails? If we take it that the promise, ‘not a hair will perish’, means that there will be no deformity in the body, it follows at once that any constituents which would produce deformity if uncontrolled will go to make up the whole bulk of the body, but they will not be in places where they would disfigure the proportions of the parts. There is an analogy in pottery. If clay is used to make a pot, and then the material is brought back to the original lump to make a completely fresh start, it is not essential that the piece of clay which formed the handle should make the handle in the second attempt; and the same with the bottom of the pot, and so on. All that is required is that the whole pot should be re-made out of the whole lump, that is, that all the clay should go back into the whole pot, with nothing left over.
Now the hair has been cut, and the nails have been pared, again and again. And if the restoration of what has been cut would disfigure the body, then it will not be restored. But that does not mean that anything will ‘perish’ from the person at the resurrection. Such constituents will be returned to the same body, to take their place in its structure, undergoing a change of substance to make them suitable for the parts in which they are used. And yet, in fact, when the Lord said, ‘Not one hair of your head will perish’,55 he can be understood to refer to the number of hairs, not to length of the hair. This more plausible interpretation is supported by the statement elsewhere that ‘all the hairs of your head are numbered.’56 What I mean by saying this is not that I think that anything will perish which is present in any body as belonging to the essential nature of that body; but that anything in that nature that is deformed – and, of course, the sole purpose of the deformity is to give yet another proof of the penal condition of mortals in this life – anything of this kind will be restored in such a way as to remove the deformity while preserving the substance intact. An artist who has for some reason produced an ugly statue can recast it and make it beautiful, removing the ugliness without any loss of the material substance. And if there was any displeasing excess in some parts of the first figure, anything out of proportion to the rest, he does not have to cut it off or throw away any part of the whole; he can simply moisten the whole of the material and remix it, without producing any ugliness or diminishing the quantity of material. If a human artist can do this, what are we to think of the Almighty Artist? Can he not remove all the deformities of the human body, not only the familiar ones but also the rare and the monstrous, such as are in keeping with the miseries of this life, but are utterly incongruous with the future felicity of the saints? Can he not get rid of them, just as the unpleasant products of the waste matter of the body, ugly though natural, are removed without any loss of substance in the body?
This means that fat people and thin people have no need to fear that at the resurrection they will be the kind of people they would not have chosen to be in this life, if they had had the chance. For all physical beauty depends on a harmony between the parts of the body, combined with an attractive complexion. When there is not this harmony and proportion the appearance is displeasing, either because of distortion, or because of some excess or deficiency. Thus there will be no ugliness, which is caused by such disharmony, when distortions have been corrected and unpleasing deficiencies supplied from resources known to the Creator, and unprepossessing excesses reduced without loss of essential substance. Moreover, imagine the beauty of the complexion, when ‘the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom’.57 In the Body of Christ, after his resurrection, this splendour, we must believe, was hidden from the eyes of the disciples; it was not lacking in that body, but the weak eyes of human beings could not have borne to look upon it, and at that time it was essential that his disciples should direct their gaze on him, so that they might recognize him. That was the purpose of his showing the scars of his wounds for them to touch, and of his taking food and drink; it was not that he needed nourishment but that he had the power to take it. Now it sometimes happens that something which is present is still not seen by people who see other things that are there, as that lustre of Christ’s Body was there, as I said, but unseen by those who saw other details of the scene. This condition is called in Greek aorâsia (‘sightlessness’) which in the book of Genesis is represented in our translation by caecitas, (‘blindness’) since the translators could not find an adequate Latin equivalent. This is what happened to the men of Sodom, when they were looking for the door of the righteous Lot, and failed to find it.58 If their condition had been true blindness, preventing them from seeing anything, they would have looked for guides to lead them back home, not for a door to give them entrance to a house.
Now we feel such extraordinary affection for the blessed martyrs that in the kingdom of God we want to see on their bodies the scars of the wounds which they suffered for Christ’s name; and see them perhaps we shall. For in those wounds there will be no deformity, but only dignity, and the beauty of their valour will shine out, a beauty in the body and yet not of the body. And if the martyrs have had any limbs cut off, any parts removed, they will not lack those parts at the resurrection; for they have been told that ‘not a hair of your head will perish.’ But if it will be right that in that new age the marks of glorious wounds should remain in those immortal bodies, for all to see, then scars of the blows or the cuts will also be visible in places where limbs were hacked off, although the parts have not been lost, but restored. And so the defects which have thus been caused in the body will no longer be there, in that new life; and yet, to be sure, those proofs of valour are not to be accounted defects, or to be called by that name.
20. The restoration of the whole body at the resurrection, no matter how its parts have been dispersed
As for bodies that have been consumed by wild beasts, or by fire, or those parts that have disintegrated into dust and ashes, or those parts that have dissolved into moisture, or have evaporated into the air, it is unthinkable that the Creator should lack the power to revive them all and restore them to life. It is inconceivable that any nook or cranny of the natural world, though it may hold those bodies concealed from our detection, could elude the notice or evade the power of the Creator of all things. Cicero, the great pagan author, attempted to define God, as well as he could; and this is what he says: ‘A kind of Mind, free and unconstrained, remote from any materiality and mortality, conscious of all things, and moving all things, endowed with everlasting movement.’59 This is what Cicero found in the teaching of the great philosophers. And so, to speak in their terms, what can be hidden from one who knows everything? What can escape irrevocably from the power of one who moves the universe?
And now we must offer a solution to the problem that seems the most difficult of all, the question to whom a body will be restored at the resurrection when it has become part of the body of another living man. Suppose that someone under compulsion of the last straits of starvation eats human corpses. This terrible thing has happened, as we know from the testimony of ancient history and even from the unhappy experiences of our own times.60 Now surely no one is going to maintain, with any show of truth or reason, that the whole of a body so eaten passes straight through the intestinal tract without any change or conversion into flesh of the eater? The former emaciation of the eater and its subsequent disappearance are sufficient indication that physical deficiencies are supplied by such nutriment. But what I have just said by way of premise should be enough to untie this knot.
Any flesh that starvation stripped from the hungry man evidently exhaled into the air, and the Creator, as I said, has power to bring it back from the air. And so that other flesh will be restored to the man in whom it first began to be human flesh. We must reckon the other man to have borrowed it; and like borrowed money, it has to be given back to the place from which it was taken. And this man’s flesh, which starvation had stripped from him, will be restored to him by the one who can bring back even what has been exhaled into the air. Indeed, even if that flesh had completely disappeared, and none of its material had remained in any cranny of the natural world, the Almighty would reproduce it from what source he chose. But seeing that the Truth stated that ‘not a hair of your head will perish’, it would be absurd of us to imagine that so much flesh could disappear completely when it has been eaten away and destroyed by starvation, whereas a man’s hair cannot so disappear.
When all these arguments have been examined and weighed to the best of our ability, we reach this conclusion: that in the resurrection of the body for eternal life the body will have the size and dimensions which it had attained, or was to attain, at maturity, according to the design implanted in the body of each person, with its appropriate beauty preserved also in the proportions of all the parts. If, in order to preserve this beauty, something has been taken from a part displeasing by excessive size, and if this is dispersed throughout the whole body, in such a way that this material is not lost, while the congruence of the parts is kept, then there is no absurdity in believing that there may be some addition to the stature of the body as a result of this, provided that the material is so distributed in all parts as to preserve the beauty of the whole, which would be spoilt if it were concentrated disproportionately in one place.
On the other hand, if it is maintained that every person is to rise again with the precise stature he had when he departed this life, there is no occasion for violent opposition to such an opinion, provided only that all ugliness must disappear, all weakness, all sluggishness, all corruption, and anything else that is inconsistent with that kingdom in which the sons of the resurrection and of the promise61 will be equal to the angels of God, in felicity if not in body or in age.
21. The new and spiritual body of the saints
Thus all that has perished from the living body, or from the corpse after death, will be restored. And with it will arise all that remains in the grave, changed from the old animal body into a new spiritual body, clothed in incorruptibility and immortality. Even if because of some serious accident, or through the savagery of the enemy, it has been ground utterly into dust and scattered, as far as may be, to the winds or in the waters, so that it has ceased to be an entity in any particular place, even so it cannot possibly be withdrawn from the power of the Almighty Creator, and ‘not a hair of its head will perish.’ The spiritual flesh will thus be subject to the spirit, but it will be flesh, not spirit, just as the carnal spirit was subject to the flesh, and yet was spirit, not flesh.
We have some experience of this situation in the distorted condition of our state of punishment. For Paul was speaking to people who were carnal in respect of the spirit, not merely in respect of the flesh, when he said, ‘I could not speak to you as spiritual people; I had to treat you as carnal.’62Man in this life is called spiritual, though still remaining carnal, and though he is still aware of ‘another law in his body, battling against the law of his reason’.63 But he will be spiritual even in body, when the same flesh rises again and the words of Scripture are fulfilled, in that what ‘is sown as an animal body is raised as a spiritual body’.64 But what will be the grace of that spiritual body, and the extent of that grace, is something of which we have had as yet no experience; and I am afraid that it would be rash to offer any description of it.
And yet we cannot keep silent about the joy of our hope, because of the praise due to God; and it was from the bottom of a heart on fire with holy love that these words came: ‘Lord, I have loved the beauty of your house.’65 And so, with God’s help, we may do our best to conjecture from the blessings which God showers on good and bad alike in this life of trouble, how great will be the joy which of course we cannot adequately describe, because it is beyond our present experience. For I pass over the joy of man’s first-created innocence, the blessed life of that pair in the fertility of paradise, because this was so short; it did not last long enough to be felt by their children. But who can fully describe all the evidence of God’s goodness towards mankind, even in this life that we know, in which we now are, in which we suffer temptations, or rather a life which is a continual temptation,66 however far we may advance in goodness, all the time that we are in it?
22. The miseries to which the first sins has exposed mankind, relief from which comes only through Christ’s grace
As for that first origin of mankind, this present life of ours (if a state full of so much grievous misery can be called a life) is evidence that all the mortal descendants of the first man came under condemnation. Such is the clear evidence of that terrifying abyss of ignorance, as it may be called, which is the source of all error, in whose gloomy depths all the sons of Adam are engulfed, so that man cannot be rescued from it without toil, sorrow and fear. What else is the message of all the evils of humanity? The love of futile and harmful satisfactions, with its results: carking anxieties, agitations of mind, disappointments, fears, frenzied joys, quarrels, disputes, wars, treacheries, hatreds, enmities, deceits, flattery, fraud, theft, rapine, perfidy, pride, ambition,, envy, murder, parricide, cruelty, savagery, villainy, lust, promiscuity, indecency, unchastity, fornication, adultery, incest, unnatural vice in men and women (disgusting acts too filthy to be named), sacrilege, collusion, false witness, unjust judgement, violence, robbery, and all other such evils which do not immediately come to mind, although they never cease to beset this life of man – all these evils belong to man in his wickedness, and they all spring from that root of error and perverted affection which every son of Adam brings with him at his birth. For who is not aware of the vast ignorance of the truth (which is abundantly seen in infancy) and the wealth of futile desires (which begins to be obvious in boyhood) which accompanies a man on his entrance into this world, so that if man were left to live as he chose and act as he pleased he would fall into all, or most, of those crimes and sins which I have mentioned – and others which I was not able to mention.
But the divine governance does not altogether abandon man in his condemnation, and God does not in his anger restrain his compassion67 and so his prohibitions and instructions keep watch in the feelings of mankind against those dark influences which were in us at birth, and resist their assaults; and yet those commandments bring us plenty of trouble and sorrow. For what is the meaning of the manifold fears which we use on little children to keep their foolishness in order? What is the purpose of the pedagogue, the schoolmaster, the stick, the strap, the birch, and all the means of discipline? By such means, as holy Scripture teaches,68 the flanks of a beloved child must be beaten, for fear he may grow up untamed, and become so hardened that he is almost, or even completely, beyond discipline. What is the point of these punishments, but to overcome ignorance and to bridle corrupt desire – the evils we bring with us into this world? How is it that what we learn with toil we forget with ease? That it is hard to learn, but easy to be in ignorance? That activity goes against the grain, while indolence is second nature? Is it not clear from this into what a state our spoilt nature sinks readily and promptly, as it were by its own weight? Is it not plain how much help it needs for its reclamation? Sloth, indolence, idleness, indifference – those are the vices which make us shun all toil. For toil, even when profitable for us, is in itself a punishment.
But apart from the punishments of childhood, without which the young cannot learn the lessons their elders wish them to be taught (although what the elders wish is scarcely ever for the child’s advan tage), there are the pains which trouble all mankind. How many of those there are, and how oppressive, which are not directed to the punishment of the wickedness and lawlessness of evil man, but are part of our common condition of wretchedness! Who can discuss them all in a discourse? Who can grasp them all in his thought? Think of the fears of disaster, and the actual disasters, occasioned by bereavement and mourning, by material losses and by judicial condemnation, by the deceits and lies of men, by false suspicion, by all the violent acts and crimes of others! Men are plundered by their fellow men and taken captive, they are chained and imprisoned, exiled and tortured, limbs are cut off and organs of sense destroyed, bodies are brutally misused to gratify the obscene lust of the oppressor, and many such horrors are of frequent occurrence. Then there are the fears of the dreaded calamities from non-human sources; and they are past counting: the dread of the extremes of heat and cold; of storm tempest, and flood; of thunder and lightning, hail and thunderbolt; of earthquakes and upheavals; the terror of being crushed by falling buildings, of attacks by animals, in panic or in malice; of the bites of wild beasts, which may only be painful, but may sometimes be fatal, as in the rabies which is caught from an infected dog, so that an animal normally tame and affectionate to its master sometimes causes more panic and terror than a lion or poisonous snake, and the effect on anyone who happens to be infected by its bite is to make him the object of greater dread to parents, wife, or children than any wild beast. Think of the perils of seafarers and the perils of travellers by land! Anyone walking anywhere is liable to sudden accidents. A man was returning home from the forum, with nothing wrong with his legs; he fell and broke his leg; the injury cost him his life. One would suppose the sitting posture to be perfectly safe. And yet the priest Eli fell from the chair where he was sitting, and died.69 Then there are the apprehensions of farmers for their crops (apprehensions, indeed, shared by all men): all the accidents of the weather and the soil, and the dangers from animal pests. They, however, generally feel secure when once their crops are collected and stored. And yet I know of cases where an excellent harvest has been swept out of barns and ruined by a sudden flood, when men have had to take to flight.
Moreover, can anyone have confidence in his innocence for protection against the myriad and multifarious assaults of demons? Indeed, to warn us against such confidence, even little children who have been baptized (and what could be more innocent?) are often troubled by demons so that by God’s permission of their sufferings it may be made especially clear to us that this life is a calamity to be deplored, while the other life is the felicity for which we should long. Again, there are the evils that arise from the body, in the shape of diseases; and there are so many of them that all the books of the physicians cannot contain them all. And in many of those, indeed in almost all of them, the treatment and the medicines are themselves instruments of torture, so that patients are rescued from a painful end by a painful cure. Moreover, is it not a fact that excessive heat has brought men to such extremity of thirst that they have drunk human urine, and even their own? Has not famine brought men to such a pitch of hunger that they have not been able to refrain from eating human flesh? And not only the flesh of men found dead but of men killed by them for this purpose, and not only unknown strangers; mothers have even eaten their sons, when the frenzied cravings for food brought them to this incredible cruelty. Again, even sleep, whose other name is rest, is often rendered so restless by visions in dreams, disquieted beyond the power of words to describe, disturbed by terrors, horrible albeit insubstantial, presented and, as it were, displayed in sleep so vividly that we are unable to distinguish vision from reality; and thus the soul and all the senses are thrown into confusion. Think also of the delusive visions by which in some diseases and as the result of some drugs the patient is even more pitiably disturbed while awake; indeed, so multifarious is the trickery practised by malignant demons that by such visions they often deceive men in perfect health, so that if they cannot seduce the subjects to their side, they may at least play tricks on them, for the sole delight of imposing false impressions in whatever way they can.
From this life of misery, a kind of hell on earth, there is no liberation save through the grace of Christ our Saviour, our God and our Lord. His name is Jesus; and Jesus, we know, means Saviour. And, above all, it is his grace which will save us from a worse life, or rather death, after this life; and that death will be everlasting. Now it is true that there are many consolations, many alleviations in this life, administered by holy things and by holy men; and yet those boons are not always granted to those who ask, and for this reason: that men should not go to religion for such benefits, since the motive for religion should be rather that other life, which will be completely free of all such ills. And if this grace helps the more deserving amid those miseries, the purpose is that a man’s heart should display courage under those afflictions in proportion to its faith. And to this end, according to the learned of this world, philosophy also is of value, the true philosophy, that is, which the gods, says Cicero, have granted only to a few; ‘No greater gift’, he says, ‘has been given, or could have been given by the gods to mankind.’70 It is noteworthy that even our pagan adversaries are in some fashion compelled to admit their dependence on divine grace for their philosophy, not for philosophy of any kind, but for the true philosophy. Moreover, if true philosophy, the sole defence against the miseries of this life, is divinely given only to a few, it becomes very clear from this that the human race has been condemned to the punishment of those afflictions. But just as this, on the pagan’s admission, is the greatest gift of heaven, so we must believe that it is given by no other god but the one God to whom even the worshippers of many gods ascribe a position of pre-eminence.
23. The afflictions peculiar to the righteous
Apart from the sufferings in this life which are the common lot of good and evil alike, the righteous have some troubles peculiarly their own, in their warfare against evil propensities, and in the temptations and perils in which those battles involve them. For the flesh never ceases to have ‘desires which resist the spirit’ and vice versa, so that ‘we do not do what we would like to do’,71 though this conflict is sometimes fierce, sometimes comparatively slack. We would wish to annihilate all evil desires; but what we have to do is, with divine help, to employ our best efforts in the subjection of those desires to our will by refusing to consent to them; we must be on guard with unfailing vigilance, to make sure that we are not deluded by plausible suggestions, or deceived by clever talk, or immersed in the darkness of error, for fear that we may believe evil to be good, or good evil, that fear may distract us from doing our duty, that ‘the sun’ may ‘set on our anger’,72 that hostility may provoke us into returning evil for evil,73 that dishonourable or immoderate sadness may overwhelm us, that an unthankful heart make us sluggish in doing acts of kindness, that a clear conscience become wearied by malicious gossip, while our ill-founded suspicion of others leads us astray or others’ false suspicion of us breaks our spirits. We must watch against the danger that ‘sin may hold sway in our mortal body’, to make us obey its cravings, so that we may ‘offer our bodies to sin as the instruments of wickedness’;74 that our eyes may be the servants of our desires, that longing for revenge may overcome us, that our vision and our imagination may dwell on wrongful delights, that we may listen with pleasure to shameful and indecent talk, that our liking and not God’s Law may govern our actions; that in this conflict, so full of toil and danger, we should expect to win the victory in our own strength, or ascribe a victory, when won, to our own strength, instead of attributing it to the grace of him, who, as the Apostle says, ‘gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ; let us thank God for it’;75 as he says, in another place, ‘From all these trials we emerge triumphant, through the strength of him who loved us.’76
For all that, we must be aware that however valiantly we battle in the fight against evil propensities, and even if we win the battle and subdue the enemy, as long as we are in this body we shall always have reason to say to God, ‘Forgive us our debts.’77 But in that kingdom, where we shall live for ever, with immortal bodies, there will be no battles to be fought, and no debts to be forgiven; nor would there have been in this life, if our nature had kept the innocence in which it was first created. And so we see that this conflict of ours in which we stand in peril, and from which we long to be set free by a final victory, is bound up with the miseries of this life, which we know by experience, by the evidence of all those heavy afflictions, to be a life under condemnation.
24. The good things of which this life is full, even though it is subject to condemnation
The wretched condition of humanity in this life is the punishment for sin, and we praise God’s justice in that punishment. And yet his goodness has filled even this misery with innumerable blessings of all kinds; and those blessings we must now consider. First there is that blessing conferred on man before his sin, when God said, ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.’78 Even after man’s sin God refused to revoke that blessing, and the fruitfulness thus given remained in the race of man, despite the condemnation. The fault of the first sin could not abolish the marvellous power of seed, and the even more wonderful power by which seed produces seed, a power which is inherent and, we might say, interwoven in human bodies; this power remained although through that sin the inevitability of death was imposed upon us. And in that stream, as it were, of propagation run two currents: the evil derived from the first parent, and also the blessing bestowed by the Creator. In the original evil there are two elements, the sin and the punishment; and in the original good two other elements, propagation and conformation (the identity of species). Now I have already said enough, for my present purpose, about the two evils, the sin which arises from our own recklessness, and the punishment, which comes from God’s judgement. My intention now is to treat the blessings which God has bestowed, and still bestows, even on the corrupted and condemned state of mankind. For even in condemning him God did not deprive man of all the good he had given; had he done so, man would have simply ceased to exist. Nor did God remove man from his power, even when he made him subject to the Devil by way of punishment; for God has not put even the Devil outside his dominion. He who supremely exists gives to the Devil himself his natural subsistence, since whatever exists owes its existence to God.
Those two goods, then, as I have said, flow as it were from the fountain of God’s goodness even into a nature corrupted by sin and condemned to punishment. The first of them, propagation, God conferred by his blessing in the course of those first creative works from which he rested on the seventh day, while the second, conformation, he still gives in his continued activity up to this day. In fact, if God were to withdraw his effective power from the world, his creatures could not make progress, to attain their prescribed development and complete their span of life; in fact they could not even continue in the state in which they were created. Therefore God created man with the added power of propagation, so that he could beget other human beings, conveying also to those offspring the possibility, not the necessity, of propagation. True, God did remove this power from certain individuals, at his pleasure, making them infertile; but he did not deprive the whole race of this gift, when once it had been conferred on the first pair by that blessing on mankind. This reproductive power, then, was not removed by man’s sin; ‘man, placed in a position of honour is brought to the level of the beasts’,79 and he breeds like the beasts. And yet there is still the spark, as it were, of that reason in virtue of which he was made in the image of God; that spark has not been utterly put out.
Now if conformation to type were not preserved in that reproduction, the line of propagation would not keep to its specific forms and modes of being. Furthermore, even if human beings had not cohabited, and God had decided nevertheless to fill the world with mankind, he could have created all human beings, as he created the first man, without the mating of the sexes, whereas without God’s creative power the mating could not produce offspring. And so we may apply to this physical reproduction what the Apostle says about spiritual creation, and the fashioning of man in religion and righteousness. St Paul says, ‘It is not the planter, or the waterer, that is important: it is God, for he gives the growth.’80 Similarly we can say in this context, ‘It is not the act of mating, or the insemination, that matters; it is God who gives the form. It is not the mother, who conceives, carries, bears and feeds, that matters; it is God, for he gives the growth.’
For it is through God’s creative activity which continues to this day that the seeds display themselves and evolve as it were from secret and invisible folds into the visible forms of this beauty which appear to our eyes. It is God who effects that miraculous combination of an immaterial with a material substance, with the former in command, the latter in subjection; God unites them to make a living creature. This is a work of such wonder and grandeur as to astound the mind that seriously considers it, and to evoke praise to the Creator; and this is true not only as that work is observed in man, a rational being and on that account of more excellence and greater worth than all other creatures, but even in the case of the tiniest fly. It is God who has given man his mind. In the infant the reason and intelligence in the mind is, in a way, dormant, apparently non-existent; but, of course, it has to be aroused and developed with increasing years. And thus the mind becomes capable of knowledge and learning, ready for the perception of truth, and able to love the good. This capacity enables the mind to absorb wisdom, to acquire the virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice, to equip man for the struggle against error and all the evil propensities inherent in man’s nature, so that he may overcome them because his heart is set only on that Supreme and Unchanging Good. Man may indeed fail in this; yet, even so, what a great and marvellous good is this capacity for such good, a capacity divinely implanted in a rational nature!
Who can adequately describe, or even imagine, the work of the Almighty? There is, first, this capacity for the good life, the ability to attain eternal felicity, by those arts which are called virtues, which are given solely by the grace of God in Christ to the children of the promise and of the kingdom.81 And besides this there are all the important arts discovered and developed by human genius, some for necessary uses, others simply for pleasure. Man shows remarkable powers of mind and reason in the satisfaction of his aims, even though they may be unnecessary, or even dangerous and harmful; and those powers are evidence of the blessings he enjoys in his natural powers which enable him to discover, to learn, and to practise those arts. Think of the wonderful inventions of clothing and building, the astounding achievements of human industry! Think of man’s progress in agriculture and navigation; of the variety, in conception and accomplishment, man has shown in pottery, in sculpture, in painting; the marvels in theatrical spectacles, in which man’s contrivances in design and production have excited wonder in the spectators and incredulity in the minds of those who heard of them; all his ingenious devices for the capturing, killing, or taming of wild animals. Then there are all the weapons against his fellow-man in the shape of prisons, arms, and engines of war; all the medical resources for preserving or restoring health; all the seasonings or spices to gratify his palate or to tickle his appetite. Consider the multitudinous variety of the means of information and persuasion, among which the spoken and written word has the first place; the enjoyment afforded to the mind by the trappings of eloquence and the rich diversity of poetry; the delight given to the ears by the instruments of music and the melodies of all kinds that man has discovered. Consider man’s skill in geometry and arithmetic, his intelligence shown in plotting the positions and courses of the stars. How abundant is man’s stock of knowledge of natural phenomena! It is beyond description, especially if one should choose to dwell upon particulars, instead of heaping all together in a general mass. Finally, the brilliant wit shown by philosophers and heretics in defending their very errors and falsehoods is something which beggars imagination! It must be remembered that we are now speaking of the natural abilities of the human mind, the chief ornament of this mortal life, without reference to the faith or to the way of truth, by which man attains to the life eternal.
Since the creator of this nature, with all its powers, is, we know, the true and supreme God, and since he governs all that he has made, exercising supreme power and supreme justice, then assuredly that nature would never have fallen into this wretchedness, would never have been destined to proceed from those miseries into eternal woes (except for some, who will be set free), had it not been for the over-whelming gravity of that first sin committed by the first man, the father of the whole human race.
Moreover, even in the body, which is something we have in common with the brute creation – which is in fact weaker than the bodies of any of the lower animals – even here what evidence we find of the goodness of God, of the providence of the mighty Creator! Are not the sense organs and the other parts of that body so arranged, and the form and shape and size of the whole body so designed as to show that it was created as the servant to the rational soul? For example: we observe how the irrational animals generally have their faces turned towards the ground; but man’s posture is erect, facing towards the sky, to admonish him to fix his thoughts on heavenly things. Then the marvellous mobility with which his tongue and hands are endowed is so appropriate, so adapted for speaking and writing and for the accomplishment of a multitude of arts and crafts. And is not this sufficient indication that a body of this kind was designed as an adjunct to the soul? And does it not show the character of the soul it serves? And even if we take out of account the necessary functions of the parts, there is a harmonious congruence between them, a beauty in their equality and correspondence, so much so that one would be at a loss to say whether utility or beauty is the major consideration in their creation.
This would be more apparent to us if we were aware of the precise proportions in which the components are combined and fitted together; and it may be that human wit could discover these proportions, if it set itself to the task, in the exterior parts which are clearly visible. As for the parts which are hidden from view, like the complex system of veins, sinews and internal organs, the secrets of the vital parts, the proportions of these are beyond discovery. Even though some surgeons, anatomists they are called, have ruthlessly applied themselves to the carving up of dead bodies, even though they have cut into the bodies of dying men to make their examinations, and have probed into all the secrets of the human body, with little regard for humanity, in order to assist their diagnosis, to locate the trouble and find a method of cure – even after all that, no man could ever find, no man has ever dared to try to find, those proportions of which I am speaking, by which the whole body, within and without, is arranged as a system of mutual adaptation. The Greeks call this adaptation ‘harmony’, on the analogy of a musical instrument; and if we were aware of it, we should find in the internal organs also, which make no display of beauty, a rational loveliness so delightful as to be preferred to all that give pleasure to the eyes in the outward form preferred, that is, in the judgement of the mind, of which the eyes are instruments. There are some details in the body which are there simply for aesthetic reasons, and for no practical purpose – for example, the nipples on a man’s chest, and the beard on his face, the latter being clearly for a masculine ornament, not for protection. This is shown by the fact that women’s faces are hairless, and since women are the weaker sex, it would surely be more appropriate for them to be given such a protection. Now if it is true (and it is scarcely a matter of debate) that there is no visible part of the body which is merely adapted to its function without being also of aesthetic value, there are also parts which have only aesthetic value without any practical purpose. Hence it can, I think, readily be inferred that in the design of the human body dignity was a more important consideration than utility. For practical needs are, of course, transitory; and a time will come when we shall enjoy one another’s beauty for itself alone, without any lust. And this above all is a motive for the praise of the Creator, to whom the psalm says, ‘You have clothed yourself in praise and beauty.’82
Then there is the beauty and utility of the natural creation, which the divine generosity has bestowed on man, for him to behold and to take into use, even though mankind has been condemned and cast out from paradise into the hardships and miseries of this life. How could any description do justice to all these blessings? The manifold diversity of beauty in sky and earth and sea; the abundance of light, and its miraculous loveliness, in sun and moon and stars; the dark shades of woods, the colour and fragrance of flowers; the multitudinous varieties of birds, with their songs and their bright plumage; the countless different species of living creatures of all shapes and sizes, amongst whom it is the smallest in bulk that moves our greatest wonder – for we are more astonished at the activities of the tiny ants and bees than at the immense bulk of whales. Then there is the mighty spectacle of the sea itself, putting on its changing colours like different garments, now green, with all the many varied shades, now purple, now blue. Moreover, what a delightful sight it is when stormy, giving added pleasure to the spectator because of the agreeable thought that he is not a sailor tossed and heaved about on it!83 Think too of the abundant supply of food everywhere to satisfy our hunger, the variety of flavours to suit our pampered taste, lavishly distributed by the riches of nature, not produced by the skill and labour of cooks! Think, too, of all the resources for the preservation of health, or for its restoration, the welcome alternation of day and night, the soothing coolness of the breezes, all the material for clothing provided by plants and animals. Who could give a complete list of all these natural blessings?
I have here made a kind of compressed pile of blessings. If I decided to take them singly, to unwrap each one, as it were, and examine it, with all the detailed blessings contained within it, what a time it would take! And these are all the consolations of mankind under condemnation, not the rewards of the blessed. What then will those rewards be, if the consolations are so many and so wonderful? What will God give to those whom he has predestined to life, if he has given all these to those predestined to death? What blessings in that life of happiness will he provide for those for whom in this life of wretchedness he willed that his only-begotten Son should endure such sufferings, even unto death? That is why the Apostle speaks of those predestined to that kingdom in those words: ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up on behalf of us all. Then is it not certain that with this gift he will give us all he has to give?’84 When this promise is fulfilled, what shall we be? What will be our condition? What blessings are we to receive in that kingdom, seeing that in Christ’s death for us we have already received such a pledge! What will man’s spirit be like when it is free from any kind of imperfection, when there are no evil tendencies for man to be subject to, or to yield to, or to fight against – however praiseworthy such a struggle may be; when the spirit of man is made perfect in undisturbed peace and goodness!
How complete, how lovely, how certain will be the knowledge of all things, a knowledge without error, entailing no toil! For there we shall drink of God’s Wisdom at its very source, with supreme felicity and without any difficulty. How wonderful will be that body which will be completely subdued to the spirit, will receive from the spirit all that it needs for its life, and will need no other nourishment! It will not be animal; it will be a spiritual body, possessing the substance of flesh, but untainted by any carnal corruption.
25. The obstinacy of those who deny the resurrection of the body
Now there is no dispute between us and the well-known philosophers about the blessings that the soul will enjoy in perfect felicity after this life. But they quarrel with us about the resurrection of the body; in fact they strenuously deny it. And yet the increase of believers has left very few who deny this resurrection. Many have come to believe, learned as well as unlearned, the wise of this world as well as the simple. They have turned with faithful hearts to Christ, who has proved, by his resurrection, the truth of what seems absurd to this obstinate few. The world has come to believe in what God foretold would happen; and God foretold also that the world would believe in it. And, of course, it was not the witchcraft of Peter85 that compelled God to make this prediction so long before, to win the praise of believers. For he is the God before whom the pagan divinities themselves shrink in dread. Such, at least, is the admission of Porphyry,86 who is concerned to prove this by the oracles of those goods of his. I have mentioned this several times already; but I think it worthwhile to remind the reader once again. Porphyry in fact goes so far in his praise of our God as to call him Father, and King. It would be intolerable to understand his prediction in the sense desired by those who have not joined the world in believing what God predicted that the world would come to believe. Surely it is better to take it in the sense in which the world believes it, as it had been predicted so long before that the world would come to believe, and not in the sense, or nonsense, suggested by a mere handful, who refuse to join the world in believing it in the way predicted.
Now they may say that we must interpret this belief in another way, on the ground that if they said the scriptural evidence was nonsense they would be offering an insult to the God whom they commend so highly. But surely they insult him as much, if not more, if they say that the Scriptures are to be understood otherwise than the world has believed them; for God himself approved the belief that the world would come to hold; he promised this belief, and he has fulfilled that promise. Are we to suppose that God cannot effect the resurrection of the body to eternal life? Or is it that we must not believe that he will do so, on the ground that it would be an evil thing, something unworthy of God? As for God’s omnipotence, which he shows in the performance of so many great marvels, I have said a great deal about this already. But if our friends want to discover something that the Almighty cannot do, here they have it: God cannot lie. And so let us believe that he will do what he can do by refusing to believe that he does what he cannot do. Thus, by refusing to believe that God can he, our philosophers may reach the belief that he will do what he has promised to do; and let them believe it in the sense in which the world has come to believe it, since God foretold that the world would believe; he approved that the world should hold this belief; he promised that the world would believe; and by now he has shown that the world has come to believe.
And how can these dissentients show that this resurrection is an evil thing? There will be no corruption there, and corruption is the evil of the body. The question of order of the elements I have already discussed; and I have said enough about other conjectural theories put forward by human ingenuity. As for the swiftness of movement to be expected in an incorruptible body, and of the immortal condition of the body, and its incorruptible superiority to the state of perfectly balanced health in this present body, these points I have, I believe, established adequately in my thirteenth book.87Those who have not read those earlier passages, or who wish to refresh their memory, may refer back to what I have said there.
26. Porphyry’s contention, that souls in bliss can have no contact with a body, is refuted by Plato
Our philosophers quote Porphyry as saying that if the soul is to be in bliss it must be free of all contact with a body; and so, according to them, it is of no use for us to say that the body is to be incorruptible, seeing that the soul will not be blessed unless it escapes altogether from anything material. Now I have already dealt with this objection, as far as was required, in the thirteenth book; and here I will call attention to one point only. Plato, the master of all those philosophers, must correct his own writings, if this is true. For Plato says that those gods of theirs have been shut up in heavenly bodies; and so, if Porphyry is right, Plato must say that those gods will escape from their bodies, that is, that they will die, in order to attain to bliss. And yet God, their creator, promised them immortality, that they would dwell for ever in those same bodies in order to assure them of their felicity. And this was not because of something in their nature, but because of his all-powerful design. In the same passage Plato also refutes the contention that the resurrection of the body is incredible simply because it is impossible. In fact, God, the uncreated, is represented in Plato as saying quite explicitly to the gods created by him that he is going to do something impossible; this is when he promises them immortality. This is what he says, in Plato’s narrative: ‘Because you have come into being, you cannot be immortal and indissoluble; and yet you will never suffer dissolution, nor will the fate of death ever destroy you. For that fate will not prevail over my purpose, which is a bond for your perpetuity, a more powerful bond than those by which you are bound together.’88 No one, unless he is deaf as well as daft, could have any doubt, on hearing these words, that the creator God, according to Plato, promised the gods of his creation that he would do an impossibility. For in saying, ‘It is true that you cannot be immortal, but by my will you shall be immortal’, he is saying, in effect, ‘By my act you will become something which is impossible.’
And so he who, in Plato, promised to perform this impossibility, will raise up the flesh so that it will be incorruptible, immortal, and spiritual. Why do these objectors still cry out that what God has promised is impossible, when the world has believed in God’s promise, as it was promised that the world would believe, and when we cry out that it is God who will do this; and God does impossible things, as even Plato himself declares?
It follows that what is needed for the soul’s life of bliss is not the escape from any kind of body but the possession of an imperishable body. And what imperishable body could be more fitting for their joy than the body in which, when it was perishable, they endured their sorrow? For in that condition they will not experience that ‘dread lust’ of which Virgil (following Plato) speaks, that makes them
once more desire
To take a mortal body.89
I mean that in this state they will feel no desire to return to a mortal body, when they will possess the body to which they desire to return, and possess it in such a way as never to relinquish that possession, never to be parted from that body by any death even for a brief moment.
27. The contradictions between Plato and Porphyry. If they yielded to one another in these they would not be far from the truth
Plato and Porphyry each made certain statements which might have brought them both to become Christians if they had exchanged them with one another. Plato said that souls could not exist for ever in a bodiless state; for that is why he said that the souls even of the wise will return into bodies again, after no matter how long a time. Porphyry, on his side, said that the soul completely purified will never return to the evils of this world after it has gone back to the Father. Thus, if Plato had communicated to Porphyry the truth he had seen, namely that even the souls of the just and wise, after complete purification, will return to human bodies, and if Porphyry, on his part, had communicated to Plato the truth that he had seen, that holy souls will never return to the miseries of the perishable body;90 if, that is, those were not beliefs peculiar to each of them, but held jointly by both, then, I imagine, they would see that it followed that souls would return to bodies, and would receive the kind of bodies in which they might live in bliss and immortality. For even holy souls, according to Plato, will return to human bodies, while Porphyry maintains that holy souls will not return to the evils of this world. Let Porphyry, then, join Plato in saying, ‘They will return to bodies; and let Plato say, with Porphyry, ‘They will not return to evils.’ Then let them agree that they will return to the kind of bodies in which they will suffer no evils. Such bodies can only be those which God promises when he says that blessed souls will live for ever with their own flesh. As far as I can see, they would both readily grant so much to us; I mean that, having admitted that the souls of saints will return to immortal bodies, they would allow them to return to their own bodies, the bodies in which they endured the ills of this life, the bodies in which they had worshipped God with faithful devotion so that they might be delivered from these miseries.
28. How Plato, Labeo, or even Varro might have brought themselves to a true faith in the resurrection, if their opinions had combined into a unified statement
A number of our people have a great affection for Plato because of the unique charm of his style, and because of a number of points on which he had a true insight; and for that reason they say that his view about the resurrection of the dead was something like ours. Cicero, however, in touching on this in his work On the Commonwealth,91 asserts that Plato was speaking in fun and not intending a statement of truth. For he tells of a man who came to life again and gave an account of some experiences which agreed with Plato’s arguments.92 Labeo93 also says that there were two men who died on the same day, and they met at a cross-roads, and were afterwards commanded to return to their bodies; and they determined that they would live together in friendship, and they did so, until they afterwards died again. Now these authors have told stories of a bodily resurrection taking place, of a kind such as happened with those whom we know to have been restored to this life, but not in the sense that they did not the again. But Marcus Varro records a more marvellous matter in his book On the Race of the Roman People. I have thought it best to quote his own words:
Some ‘genethliacs’ (casters of nativities) have laid it down that for men who are to be born again there is what the Greeks call palingenesia (‘another birth’); and this, according to them, takes place after four hundred and forty years. Its effect is to bring again into conjunction the same body and the same soul which were formerly united in a human being.
Now there is something of importance said here by Varro, or by his ‘genethliacs’, whoever they were; for he records their opinion without revealing their names. The theory is false, to be sure, because in fact, when the souls have once returned to the bodies in which they were formerly clothed, they are never to leave them thereafter; and yet this theory overthrows and destroys many of the arguments for the impossibility of the resurrection, the subject on which our opponents are continually harping. For those who hold, or have held, this theory cannot suppose it impossible that corpses which have disintegrated into the atmosphere, into dust, into ashes, into fluids, into the bodies of animals, or even of men, who devoured them – that such bodies should return to their former state.
Therefore Plato and Porphyry, or rather their admirers now living, agree with us in believing that even holy souls will return to bodies (as Plato says), but that they will not return to any evils (as Porphyry says). Now it follows from these premises that the soul will receive the kind of body in which it can live for ever in felicity, without any evil; and this is the teaching of the Christian faith. Then all they have to do is to add, from Varro, the doctrine that the soul returns to the same body as before; and then the whole difficulty about the resurrection of the flesh will be solved for them.
29. The kind of vision with which the saints will see God, in the world to come
Now let us see, as far as the Lord deigns to help us to see, what the saints will be doing in their immortal and spiritual bodies, when the flesh will no longer be living ‘according to the flesh’ but ‘according to the spirit’. And yet, to tell the truth, I do not know what will be the nature of that activity, or rather of that rest and leisure. I have never seen it with my physical sight; and if I were to say that I had seen it with my mind – with my intellect – what is the human understanding, in capacity or in quality, to comprehend such unique perfection? For there will be that ‘peace of God which’, as the Apostle says, ‘is beyond all understanding’.94 It surpasses our understanding; there can be no doubt of that. If it surpasses the understanding even of the angels, so that St Paul in saying ‘all understanding’ does not make an exception of them, we must then take him as meaning that the peace of God, the peace that God himself enjoys, cannot be known by the angels, still less by us men, in the way that God experiences it. And so ‘beyond understanding’ means, without doubt, ‘beyond all understanding except his own’.
But we, in our measure, are made partakers of his peace; and so we know the perfection of peace in ourselves, peace among ourselves, and peace with God, according to our standard of perfection. Likewise the angels know it, in their measure. But human beings in their present state know it in a far lower degree, however highly developed may be their intellectual powers. We must remember what a great man it was who said, ‘Our knowledge is partial, and our prophesying is partial, until perfection comes’, and, ‘We now see a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face.’95 This is how the holy angels see already, those who are called our angels, because we have been rescued from the power of darkness, we have received the pledge of the Spirit, and have been transferred to the kingdom of Christ, and so we already begin to belong to those angls with whom we shall share the possession of that holy and most delightful City of God, about which I have already written all these books. Thus those angels of God are also our angels, in the same way as the Christ of God is our Christ. They are God’s angels because they have not abandoned God; they are our angels because they have begun to have us as their fellow-citizens. And the Lord Jesus said, ‘Take care not to despise any of these little ones; for I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.’96 Therefore we also shall see as they see already; but we do not as yet see like this. That is why the Apostle says, as I have already quoted, ‘Now we see a puzzling reflection in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face.’And so this vision is reserved for us as the reward of faith; and the apostle John speaks of the vision in these words: ‘When he is fully revealed, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’97 Now we must take ‘the face’ of God as meaning his revelation and not the part of the body such as we have and to which we give that name.
Hence, if I am asked what will be the activity of the saints in that spiritual body, I cannot say that I see now; I can only say that I believe, as it says in the psalm, ‘I believed, and therefore I spoke.’98 And so I say that the saints will see God in the body; but whether they will see through the eyes of the body, in the same way as we now see the sun, moon, stars, sea and earth and all things on the earth – that is no easy question. It is, for example, hard to say that the saints will then have bodies of such a kind that they will not be able to shut and open their eyes at will; and yet it is more difficult to say that anyone who shuts his eyes there will not see God.
Now, the prophet Elisha, though not physically present, saw his servant Gehazi receiving the gifts from Naaman the Syrian, whom the prophet had healed from leprosy, while the wicked servant assumed that he had not been observed, since his master was not there to see. How much more then in that spiritual body will the saints see everything, not only if they close their eyes, but even when they are not present in the body! For that will be the time of the perfection of which the Apostle speaks when he says, ‘Our knowledge is partial and our prophesying is partial; but when perfection comes then all that is incomplete will disappear.’ St Paul then tries to find an analogy to express the difference between this life and the life that is to come, and not only the present life of ordinary people but even the life of those endowed with special sanctity. And he says,
When I was a child, I used to think like a child, to speak like a child, to reason like a child: but now that I have become a man I have put childish habits behind me. Now we see a puzzling reflection in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face. The knowledge I now have is partial; but then I shall know as clearly as I am known.99
Thus the prophetic power of men of wonderful powers in this life is as childhood to maturity, in comparison with the knowledge enjoyed in that life to come. And yet even in the conditions of this life Elisha saw his servant receiving those gifts, although he himself was not there. We must conclude then that when perfection has come, when ‘the corruptible body no longer weighs down the soul’,100 but when the body, freed from corruption, offers no hindrance to the soul, the saints will certainly need no bodily eyes to see what is there to be seen, since Elisha did not need them to see his servant when he himself was not present.
According to the Septuagint translation, the prophet said to Gehazi, ‘Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you, and you took the money.…’ But Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew is, ‘Was not my heart there present, when the man returned from his chariot to meet you?’101 It was therefore in his heart that the prophet saw what happened, as he himself said, with the miraculous assistance, as no one doubts, of the divine power. But how much more richly will all abound in that gift, when God will be all in all!102 Nevertheless, those physical eyes also will have their own function and the spirit will make use of them through the spiritual body. For the prophet did not need those bodily organs to see his absent servant; but that did not mean that he did not use them to see things at hand, although he could have seen them by the spirit even if he had closed his eyes, in the same way as he saw things not present, when he was not in any physical relationship with them. So we must never think of saying that the saints in that life will not see God if their eyes are shut; for they will always see him in the spirit.
But the puzzle is, whether they will also see by means of the bodily eyes when they have them open. For if even those spiritual eyes will in this way have no more power in the spiritual body than the eyes which we now have, then without doubt it will not be possible to see God by their means. Therefore they will be possessed of a very different power, if that immaterial nature is to be seen by their means – that nature which is not confined to any space but is everywhere in its wholeness. For we say that God is in heaven and earth (as he himself says, through his prophet: ‘I fill heaven and earth’103); but that does not mean that we are to say that he has part of himself in heaven and part in earth. He is wholly in heaven, wholly in earth, and that not at different times but simultaneously; and this cannot be true of a material substance. Therefore the power of those eyes will be extraordinary in its potency – not in the sense of being a sharper eyesight than that possessed, they say, by snakes and eagles (for however keen-sighted those animals may be, they can see only material things) – but in the sense of having the ability to see the immaterial. And it may be that this extraordinary power of sight was given for a time even in this mortal body to the eyes of the holy man Job, when he says to God, ‘I heard you before by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I am sunk in self-contempt and consumed with self-despair. I am dust and ashes in my own esteem.’104 Although there is nothing here to forbid its interpretation in the sense of the ‘eye of the heart’ referred to by the Apostle when he speaks of having ‘the eyes of the heart enlightened’.105 But no Christian doubts that it is with those eyes of the heart, or mind, that God will be seen, when he is seen. For every Christian accepts with faith the truth of the saying of God, his teacher, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God.’106
But the point in question is whether God will be seen also with physical eyes in that future life. Now we have the scriptural statement that ‘all flesh will see the salvation of God;’107 but this need present no difficulty; it can be taken to mean that ‘everyone will see the Christ of God’, and he certainly has been seen in physical form, and he will be so seen when he comes to judge the living and the dead. And that he is the salvation of God is shown by the testimony of many scriptural passages; but the clearest of testimony is given in the words of the venerable old man Simeon, who took the infant Christ into his arms and said, ‘Now, Lord, you are releasing your servant in peace, according to your promise, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’108 And the words of Job, as given in a version based directly on the Hebrew, ‘and I shall see God in my flesh’,109 were undoubtedly prophetic of the resurrection of the flesh. And yet he does not say, ‘by means of my flesh I shall see God.’ Indeed, even if he had so put it, he could have been taken to mean ‘I shall see Christ, my God, who will be seen in flesh and through the medium of flesh.’ As it is, we may take it to mean, ‘I shall be in the flesh, when I shall see God.’
As for the Apostle’s phrase, ‘face to face’,110 that does not compel us to believe that we shall see God by means of this corporal face, with its corporal eyes. We shall see God by the spirit without any interruption. For if there was not also a ‘face’ of the inner man the same Apostle would not say, ‘But we, gazing at the glory of the Lord with face unveiled, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as it were by the Spirit of the Lord.’111 And we can give no other interpretation to the verse of the psalm which says, ‘Approach him and be enlightened; and your faces will not be ashamed.’112 For it is by faith that we approach God, and faith is a matter of mind and heart, not of the physical body. And yet we do not know what new qualities the spiritual body will have, for we are speaking of something beyond our experience. And so, when there are some things which are beyond our understanding, and on which the authority of holy Scripture offers no assistance, then we must needs be in the state described in the Book of Wisdom, in these words: ‘The thoughts of men are timorous and our foresight is uncertain.’113
Now the philosophers maintain that ‘intelligible’ things are seen by the mind’s vision, and ‘sensible’ things, that is, material things, are apprehended by the bodily senses, whereas the mind, they say, cannot observe intelligible things by means of the body, nor material things by its own unaided activity. If this reasoning could be established as certain, then indeed it would entail the certainty that God cannot be seen at all by the eyes of the body, even of a spiritual body. But in fact this reasoning is shown up as ridiculous both by reason itself and by the authority of the prophets. For who could be so estranged from the truth as to dare to assert that God is ignorant of material things? But does it follow that for such knowledge he must have a body, so as to attain this knowledge by means of bodily eyes? Again, the story of the prophet Elisha, which we were discussing just now, shows quite clearly that material things can be apprehended by the spirit, without the help of the bodily organs. For when the servant Gehazi took the presents, that was certainly a material happening; yet the prophet saw it by the spirit, not by the bodily sense. It is agreed, then, that material things are apprehended by the spirit; why should there not likewise be such a mighty power in a spiritual body that the spirit may be perceived by such a body? For God is Spirit.114 Moreover, everyone is aware of his own life, the life with which he is now alive in the body, the life which makes those earthly members grow, and makes them living; everyone is aware of this life not by means of the eyes of the body but through the inward sense. However, the lives of others, although invisible, he sees by means of the body. For how do we distinguish living bodies from non-living except by observing bodies and lives simultaneously? We cannot see the lives except by means of the body and yet we do not observe with bodily eyes the lives apart from the bodies.
For such reasons it is possible, it is indeed most probable, that we shall then see the physical bodies of the new heaven and the new earth in such a fashion as to observe God in utter clarity and distinctness, seeing him present everywhere and governing the whole material scheme of things by means of the bodies we shall then inhabit and the bodies we shall see wherever we turn our eyes. It will not be as it is now, when the invisible realities of God are apprehended and observed through the material things of his creation, and are partially apprehended by means of a puzzling reflection in a mirror. Rather in that new age the faith, by which we believe, will have a greater reality for us than the appearance of material things which we see with our bodily eyes. Now in this present life we are in contact with fellow-beings who are alive and display the motions of life; and as soon as we see them we do not believe them to be alive, we observe the fact. We could not observe their life without their bodies; but we see it in them, without any possibility of doubt, through their bodies. Similarly, in the future Ufe, wherever we turn the spiritual eyes of our bodies we shall discern, by means of our bodies, the incorporeal God directing the whole universe.
God then will be seen by those eyes in virtue of their possession (in this transformed condition) of something of an intellectual quality, a power to discern things of an immaterial nature. Yet it is difficult, if not impossible, to support this suggestion by any evidence of passages in holy Scripture. An alternative suggestion is easier to understand: perhaps God will be known to us and visible to us in the sense that he will be spiritually perceived by each one of us in each one of us, perceived in one another, perceived by each in himself; he will be seen in the new heaven and the new earth, in the whole creation as it then will be; he will be seen in every body by means of bodies, wherever the eyes of the spiritual body are directed with their penetrating gaze.
The thoughts of our minds will lie open to mutual observation; and the words of the Apostle will be fulfilled; for he said, ‘Pass no premature judgements’, adding immediately, ‘until the Lord comes. For he will light up what is hidden in darkness and will reveal the thoughts of the heart And then each one will have his praise from God.’115
30. The eternal felicity of the City of God in its perpetual Sabbath
How great will be that felicity, where there will be no evil, where no good will be withheld, where there will be leisure for the praises of God, who will be all in all!116 What other occupation could there be, in a state where there will be no inactivity of idleness, and yet no toil constrained by want? I can think of none. And this is the picture suggested to my mind by the sacred canticle, when I read or hear the words, ‘Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they will praise you for ever and ever!’117
All the limbs and organs of the body, no longer subject to decay, the parts which we now see assigned to various essential functions, will then be freed from all such constraint, since full, secure, certain and eternal felicity will have displaced necessity; and all those parts will contribute to the praise of God. For even those elements in the bodily harmony of which I have already spoken, the harmonies which, in our present state, are hidden, will then be hidden no longer. Dispersed internally and externally throughout the whole body, and combined with other great and marvellous things that will then be revealed, they will kindle our rational minds to the praise of the great Artist by the delight afforded by a beauty that satisfies the reason.
I am not rash enough to attempt to describe what the movements of such bodies will be in that life, for it is quite beyond my power of imagination. However, everything there will be lovely in its form, and lovely in motion and in rest, for anything that is not lovely will be excluded. And we may be sure that where the spirit wills there the body will straightway be; and the spirit will never will anything but what is to bring new beauty to the spirit and the body.
There will be true glory, where no one will be praised in error or in flattery; there will be true honour, where it is denied to none who is worthy, and bestowed on none who is unworthy. And honour will not be courted by any unworthy claimant, for none but the worthy can gain admission there. There will be true peace, where none will suffer attack from within himself nor from any foe outside.
The reward of virtue will be God himself, who gave the virtue, together with the promise of himself, the best and greatest of all possible promises. For what did he mean when he said, in the words of the prophet, ‘I shall be their God, and they will be my people’?118 Did he not mean, ‘I shall be the source of their satisfaction; I shall be everything that men can honourably desire: life, health, food, wealth, glory, honour, peace and every blessing’? For that is also the correct interpretation of the Apostle’s words, ‘so that God may be all in all’.119 He will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him for ever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity.
But what will be the grades of honour and glory here, appropriate to degrees of merit? Who is capable of imagining them, not to speak of describing them? But there will be such distinctions; of that there can be no doubt. And here also that blessed City will find in itself a great blessing, in that no inferior will feel envy of his superior, any more than the other angels are envious of the archangels. No one will wish to be what it has not been granted him to be; and yet he will be bound in the closest bond of peaceful harmony with one to whom it has been granted; just as in the body the finger does not wish to be the eye, since both members are included in the harmonious organization of the whole body. And so although one will have a gift inferior to another, he will have also the compensatory gift of contentment with what he has.
Now the fact that they will be unable to delight in sin does not entail that they will have no free will. In fact, the will will be the freer in that it is freed from a delight in sin and immovably fixed in a delight in not sinning. The first freedom of will, given to man when he was created upright at the beginning, was an ability not to sin, combined with the possibility of sinning. But this last freedom will be more potent, for it will bring the impossibility of sinning; yet this also will be the result of God’s gift, not of some inherent quality of nature. For to be a partaker of God is not the same thing as to be God; the inability to sin belongs to God’s nature, while he who partakes of God’s nature receives the impossibility of sinning as a gift from God. Moreover, the stages of the divine gift had to be preserved. Free will was given first, with the ability not to sin; and the last gift was the inability to sin. The first freedom was designed for acquiring merit; the last was concerned with the reception of a reward. But because human nature sinned when it had the power to sin it is set free by a more abundant gift of grace so that it may be brought to that condition of liberty in which it is incapable of sin.
For the first immortality, which Adam lost by sinning, was the ability to avoid death; the final immortality will be the inability to the and in the same way, the first free will is the ability to avoid sin. For as man cannot lose the will to happiness, so he will not be able to lose the will to piety and justice. By sinning we lose our hold on piety and happiness; and yet in losing our happiness we do not lose the will to happiness. Certainly God himself cannot sin; are we therefore to say that God has no free will?
In the Heavenly City then, there will be freedom of will. It will be one and the same freedom in all, and indivisible in the separate individuals. It will be freed from all evil and filled with all good, enjoying unfailingly the delight of eternal joys, forgetting all offences, forgetting all punishments. Yet it will not forget its own liberation, nor be ungrateful to its liberator. It will remember even its past evils as far as intellectual knowledge is concerned; but it will utterly forget them as far as sense experience is concerned. For the highly trained physician is acquainted with almost all diseases, as far as they can be known in theory, while he is ignorant of most of them in respect of personal experience, since he has not suffered from them.
Thus, knowledge of evil is of two kinds: one in which it is accessible to apprehension by the mind, the other in which it is a matter of direct experience. Similarly, vices are known in one way through the teaching of the wise, and in another way in the evil life of the fools. There are two corresponding ways of forgetting evil. The learned scholar’s way of forgetting is different from that of one who has experienced suffering. The scholar forgets by neglecting his studies; the sufferer, by escaping from his misery. The saints will have no sensible recollection of past evils; theirs will be the second kind of forgetfulness by which they will be set free from them all, and they will be completely erased from their feelings.
Yet such is the power of knowledge – and it will be very great in the saints – that it will prevent not only their own past misery but also the eternal misery of the damned from disappearing from memory. Otherwise, if they were to lose the knowledge of their past misery how will they, as the psalm says, ‘sing the mercies of the Lord for all eternity’?120 Nothing will give more joy to that City than this song to the glory of the grace of Christ by whose blood we have been set free. There that precept will find fulfilment: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’121 That will truly be the greatest of Sabbaths; a Sabbath that has no evening, the Sabbath that the Lord approved at the beginning of creation, where it says, ‘God rested on the seventh day from all his works, which he had been doing; and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested from all his works, which God had begun to do.’122
We ourselves shall become that seventh day, when we have been replenished and restored by his blessing and sanctification. There we shall have leisure to be still, and we shall see that he is God, whereas we wished to be that ourselves when we fell away from him, after listening to the Seducer saying, ‘You will be like gods.’ Then we abandoned the true God, by whose creative help we should have become gods, but by participating in him, not by deserting him. For what have we done without him? We have ‘fallen away in his anger’.123 But now restored by him and perfected by his greater grace we shall be still and at leisure for eternity, seeing that he is God, and being filled by him when he will be all in all.124
For all our good works, when they are understood as being his works, not ours, are then reckoned to us for the attainment of that Sabbath rest. If we ascribe them to ourselves they will be ‘servile work’, and it is said that, on the Sabbath, ‘You shall do no servile work.’125 Hence the message by the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel: ‘I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them; so that they might know that I am the Lord, and that I sanctify them.’126 This we shall then know perfectly, when we are perfectly at rest, and in stillness see perfectly that he is God.
Now if the epochs of history are reckoned as ‘days’, following the apparent temporal scheme of Scripture, this Sabbath period will emerge more clearly as the seventh of those epochs. The first ‘day’ is the first period, from Adam to the Flood; the second from the Flood to Abraham. Those correspond not by equality in the passage of time, but in respect of the number of generations, for there are found to be ten generations in each of those periods.
From that time, in the scheme of the evangelist Matthew, there are three epochs, which take us down to the coming of Christ; one from Abraham to David, a second from David to the Exile in Babylon, and the third extending to the coming of Christ in the flesh. Thus we have a total of five periods. We are now in the sixth epoch, but that cannot be measured by the number of generations, because it is said, ‘It is not for you to know the dates: the Father has decided those by his own authority.’127 After this present age God will rest, as it were, on the seventh day, and he will cause us, who are the seventh day, to find our rest in him.
However, it would be a long task to go on to discuss each of those epochs in detail. The important thing is that the seventh will be our Sabbath, whose end will not be an evening, but the Lord’s Day, an eighth day, as it were, which is to last for ever, a day consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, foreshadowing the eternal rest not only of the spirit but of the body also. There we shall be still and see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what will be, in the end, without end! For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?
And now, as I think, I have discharged my debt, with the completion, by God’s help, of this huge work. It may be too much for some, too little for others. Of both these groups I ask forgiveness. But of those for whom it is enough I make this request: that they do not thank me, but join with me in rendering thanks to God. Amen. Amen.