Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book IV/Chapter 10

Chapter X.—That All Things Exist that They May Perish, and that We are Not Safe Unless God Watches Over Us.

15. “Turn us again, O Lord God of Hosts, cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”[1] For whithersoever the soul of man turns itself, unless towards Thee, it is affixed to sorrows,[2] yea, though it is affixed to beauteous things without Thee and without itself. And yet they were not unless they were from Thee. They rise and set; and by rising, they begin as it were to be; and they grow, that they may become perfect; and when perfect, they wax old and perish; and all wax not old, but all perish. Therefore when they rise and tend to be, the more rapidly they grow that they may be, so much the more they hasten not to be. This is the way of them.[3] Thus much hast Thou given them, because they are parts of things, which exist not all at the same time, but by departing and succeeding they together make up the universe, of which they are parts. And even thus is our speech accomplished by signs emitting a sound; but this, again, is not perfected unless one word pass away when it has sounded its part, in order that another may succeed it. Let my soul praise Thee out of all these things, O God, the Creator of all; but let not my soul be affixed to these things by the glue of love, through the senses of the body. For they go whither they were to go, that they might no longer be; and they rend her with pestilent desires, because she longs to be, and yet loves to rest in what she loves. But in these things no place is to be found; they stay not—they flee; and who is he that is able to follow them with the senses of the flesh? Or who can grasp them, even when they are near? For tardy is the sense of the flesh, because it is the sense of the flesh, and its boundary is itself. It sufficeth for that for which it was made, but it is not sufficient to stay things running their course from their appointed starting-place to the end appointed. For in Thy word, by which they were created, they hear the fiat, “Hence and hitherto.”


  1. Ps. lxxx. 19.
  2. See iv. cc. 1, 12, and vi. c. 16, below.
  3. It is interesting in connection with the above passages to note what Augustin says elsewhere as to the origin of the law of death in the sin of our first parents. In his De Gen. ad Lit. (vi. 25) he speaks thus of their condition in the garden, and the provision made for the maintenance of their life: “Aliud est non posse mori, sicut quasdam naturas immortales creavit Deus; aliud est autem posse non mori, secundum quem modum primus creatus est homo immortalis.” Adam, he goes on to say, was able to avert death, by partaking of the tree of life. He enlarges on this doctrine in Book xiii. De Civ. Dei. He says (sec. 20): “Our first parents decayed not with years, nor drew nearer to death—a condition secured to them in God’s marvellous grace by the tree of life, which grew along with the forbidden tree in the midst of Paradise.” Again (sec. 19) he says: “Why do the philosophers find that absurd which the Christian faith preaches, namely, that our first parents were so created, that, if they had not sinned, they would not have been dismissed from their bodies by any death, but would have been endowed with immortality as the reward of their obedience, and would have lived eternally with their bodies?” That this was the doctrine of the early Church has been fully shown by Bishop Bull in his State of Man before the Fall, vol. ii. Theophilus of Antioch was of opinion (Ad Autolyc. c. 24) that Adam might have gone on from strength to strength, until at last he “would have been taken up into heaven.” See also on this subject Dean Buckland’s Sermon on Death; and Delitzsch, Bibl. Psychol. vi. secs. 1 and 2.