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De Civitate Dei, Book XIII

December 3, 2011

Chapters 1-12: Two Kinds of Death

This book treats the fall of humanity. The soul is called immortal because it will never stop feeling, whereas the body will be completely bereft of life at some point. However, the soul can experience a kind of death, namely, when God abandons it, just as the body experiences death when the soul abandons it.

This leads to a discussion of two kinds of death: the first death is when the soul abandons the body, and the second death (ultimate death) is when God leaves the soul (Matthew 10:28). Hell is the second death without the first.

This brings to the surface an important question, is the first death a good thing? To be sure, this separation of soul and body remains as punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin. However, due to the remission of sins through Christ, this bad thing can lead to good. It may be asked why the punishment remains when the guilt has been removed. The martyrs show us the answer: it is to show the glorious victory which faith brings. Such victory hinges entirely on faith, because the reward of believing in Christ is unseen. “What has happened is that God has granted to faith so great a gift of grace that death, which all agree to be contrary to life, has become the means by which men pass into life” (p514).

Though death is not good, it leads to a good for Christians. This is inversely analogous to the Law which is good but becomes an evil to us due to our sin. Death, though not good, is made sweet by the washing of baptism. However, one may still have remission of sins and experience blessing through death if they never experienced baptism.

There are three stages as one moves towards the first death: before death, in death, and after death; these have three corresponding adjectives: living, dying, and dead. It is very difficult to define the middle term: “in death” or “dying”, for as long as the soul is in the body the man is alive. But when the soul leaves the body, he is “after death” or “dead”. So when is he in the middle state? This difficulty of definition is why Latin grammar does not conjugate the verb moritur (‘he dies’) in the normal way but forms the perfect without any temporal implications.

But in all of this we must not lose sight of the fact that the worst evil is for the soul and body to be united together for eternal punishment. Here, truly, a man will be “in death” and not simply before it or after it.


Chapters 13-15: The Fall of Adam and Eve

God threatened both deaths to Adam and Eve. After their disobedience, they felt embarrassed by the nakedness of their bodies, specifically their pudenda (“organs of shame”), and covered them with fig leaves. Why did they cover them? Because they felt a “novel disturbance” which was a punishment by God which answered to their disobedience. Just as the soul rejoiced in its freedom to eat of the fruit, so the body was now throwing-off its superior (the soul) to do as it pleased.[1]

God created within Adam the seminal natures of all individuals who would be born as humans. But when Adam sinned, all of those natures in Adam (and Adam’s own nature) were “spoiled”. Why? Because the flesh was set lose from the control of the spirit, just as man’s soul chose freedom from its ruler, God. So the punishment was just. And now, humanity cannot be born into any other condition. When God asked Adam, “where are you” (Genesis 3:9), God was not looking for information but was wanting to bring to Adam’s attention that God was no longer with him.


Chapters 16-18: Human Destiny and the Body

Some of the philosophers laugh at this view, because they think that the soul leaving the body is not a punishment from God but is rather the proper return to God. But these same philosophers explain that the gods are worried about having their bodies severed from their souls. And they claim that God promises to allow the gods (angels) to retain their bodies for eternity and that this is incredibly good news to the gods. Plato’s claim is that the desire to be in a body is granted to the gods, so why is it foolish for Christians to claim that humans will also eternally be in bodies? It is also a contradiction in the Platonist view when they say that no body is eternal while claiming that the whole earth, as a kind of body of God, is eternal. Stated the other way, there is no reason in the Platonic system to suppose that God would not grant bodies everlastingly to humanity. Whatever view they end-up with, to be consistent they either need to deny that the gods who possess bodies are eternally happy or that humans will not inherit eternal bodies after death.

It is not necessary to avoid every kind of body in order to be happy; rather, it is only necessary to avoid corruptible bodies (Wisdom of Solomon 9:15). Platonists reject the corruptible/incorruptible body distinction when they assert that all bodies are inevitably forced down to earth by their weight. But we need to examine this idea of bodily weights more closely, especially in light of the body that is with Christ in heaven and that will be joined to our soul in the resurrection.

Not all things in the natural world are positioned according to weight: a metal boat can float, for example. Similarly, a man of health feels that his arms are lighter than when he is ill. In addition to these observations, it may be noted that angels, Plato affirms, can remove the heat from fire without removing its light. Can he not then also suppose that corruptibility can be removed from the human body, removing the inertia of its weight? There needs to be more discussion about the quality of the resurrected body – this discussion will be deferred until later (see Book XXII).


Chapters 19-24: If Humans had not Sinned

Because the first death is a consequence of sin, humans would have never died if sin had not entered their history. While Plato held that wise and unwise souls cycle back and forth between eternal disembodied bliss and embodied misery, Porphyry simply claimed that wise souls remain in disembodied bliss for eternity. But both claimed that disembodied souls submitted to embodied gods. Thus, these teachers have no reason to find the Christian belief in resurrection absurd. Christian souls will long for the fulfillment of the promise of God for resurrection, as they dwell in heaven with him after death. And once that promise is received, saints will have spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44), meaning that the spirit will completely rule over the body and infuse the highest quality of divine life to it.

If one compares this resurrected body to the one Adam and Even possessed, one notes that the former will be superior. Why? Because Adam and Eve still needed nourishment; thus, they possessed bodies of the earth. The tree of life kept them from growing old like a kind of sacrament, and the other plants kept them from feeling hunger at any time. The tree of life is analogous to the wisdom of God in the spiritual/intelligible paradise (Proverbs 3:18).

Some interpret the entire account of paradise from Genesis 1-2 spiritually. They say the fruits are different moral qualities and that the four rivers are the four virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. The Song of Songs interprets paradise as the church (Song of Songs 4:12ff): the four rivers are the Gospels; the fruit trees are the saints; the fruits are their achievements; the tree of life is the Holy of Holies and Christ Himself; and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the personal free will of humanity. It is certain that if a person ignores God’s will all their efforts will be given to his own destruction because he will seek his own good and not that which is shared by all. All of this allegory can be pursued without denying the actual historicity of the original account (just as the Apostle Paul interprets Hagar-Sarah allegorically without denying their actual existence in time: Galatians 4:22).

The resurrected body will not need any nourishment to stave off hunger, but resurrected saints will eat as they desire (not out of necessity). The angels in the Old Testament sometimes visited and ate with their guests. Also, the resurrected Christ partook of food with the disciples though not out of need (Luke 24:43; Acts 10:41).

After all of the above, Augustine outlines categories of bodies in relation to pre-fall, fallen, and resurrected states. There are two main categories: (1) animal body – has a soul but not yet a life-giving spirit; (2) spiritual body – has a life-giving spirit animating their body. Pre-fall humanity had the first, though they never would have experienced death on account of the provision of the tree of life. Fallen humanity had the same body but was now barred from the tree of life and thus subject to physical death. Resurrected humanity will have a body that is empowered by a life-giving spirit. We attain to the resurrected body by means of Christ, the heavenly man who came to be clothed in a body of earthly mortality so that he might clothe it with heavenly immortality (1 Corinthians 15:47ff). So resurrected saints will not have the same body as Adam and Eve which was called earthly.[2]

Some say that humanity was created body and soul and then God breathed life into the soul (Genesis 2:7). They argue that God breathed life into “man” who is never only soul but is body and soul. They are correct that humanity is not only soul but a body-soul unity, though soul is the higher part and body the lower. [3] But this is an argument over words, for do we not say that “the man is dead” – and yet how could he be a man if only a body lies there? So, this verse of Scripture does not teach that God breathed life into a pre-created soul. If certain readers want to insist that it does and that God can only breathe of his own substance into humanity, perhaps they should read Revelation 3:16: “Because you are lukewarm…I shall go on to spit you out of my mouth.”



My Footnotes:

[1] If this analogy outlines the fundamental congruity and ‘fairness’ of what Augustine outlines as disordered fallen human sexuality (more on this in Book XIV), it is important to keep this analogy intact as one seeks to understand Augustine’s account of sexuality. Whatever one says about the soul learning a proper subjection to God must be carried-over to the body learning again a proper subjection to the soul. If the first set (God-soul) can be healed, so can the second (soul-body). This is precisely the point that Augustine does not develop; it is also this silence which leaves interpreters saying things like, “Augustine was always down on sexuality because of his own sinful past.” I’m suggesting that this fundamental connection developed in Book XIII, Chapter 13 suggests that there can be healing and ordering to one’s fallen sexuality.

[2] It is not clear (as Augustine himself admits in Book XIII, Chapter 23) that 1 Corinthians 15:47ff calls the pre-fall body “earthly”. This is important to keep in mind, since we are learning but Augustine but only insofar as he is a faithful reader of Scripture and profound exegete of human life.

[3] Despite all of the ways that the Platonic understanding of humanity gets updated by Augustine on account of the incarnation and resurrection, he never breaks free from the assertion that the immaterial aspect of humanity is superior since it shares the quality of immateriality with God.


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