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ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second
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Chapter VII.—On Incorporeal and Corporeal Beings.

1.  The subjects considered in the previous chapter have been spoken of in general language, the nature of rational beings being discussed more by way of intelligent inference than strict dogmatic definition, with the exception of the place where we treated, to the best of our ability, of the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We have now to ascertain what those matters are which it is proper to treat in the following pages according to our dogmatic belief, i.e., in agreement with the creed of the Church.  All souls and all rational natures, whether holy or wicked, were formed or created, and all these, according to their proper nature, are incorporeal; but although incorporeal, they were nevertheless created, because all things were made by God through Christ, as John teaches in a general way in his Gospel, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.”20472047    John i. 1–3.  The Apostle Paul, moreover, describing created things by species and numbers and orders, speaks as follows, when showing that all things were made through Christ:  “And in Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers:  all things were created by Him, and in Him:  and He is before all, and He is the head.”20482048    Col. i. 16–18.  He therefore manifestly declares that in Christ and through Christ were all things made and created, whether things visible, which are corporeal, or things invisible, which I regard as none other than incorporeal and spiritual powers.  But of those things which he had termed generally corporeal or incorporeal, he seems to me, in the words that follow, to enumerate the various kinds, viz., thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, influences.

These matters now have been previously mentioned by us, as we are desirous to come in an orderly manner to the investigation of the sun, and moon, and stars by way of logical inference, and to ascertain whether they also ought properly to be reckoned among the principalities on account of their being said to be created in ᾽Αρχάς, i.e., for the government of day and night; or whether they are to be regarded as having only that government of day and night which they discharge by performing the office of illuminating them, and are not in reality chief of that order of principalities.

2.  Now, when it is said that all things were made by Him, and that in Him were all things created, both things in heaven and things on earth, there can be no doubt that also those things which are in the firmament, which is called heaven, and in which those luminaries are said to be placed, are included amongst the number of heavenly things.  And secondly, seeing that the course of the discussion has manifestly discovered that all things were made or created, and that amongst created things there is nothing which may not admit of good and evil, and be capable of either, what are we to think of the following opinion which certain of our friends entertain regarding sun, moon, and stars, viz., that they are unchangeable, and incapable of becoming the opposite of what they are?  Not a few have held that view even regarding the holy angels, and certain heretics also regarding souls, which they call spiritual natures.

In the first place, then, let us see what reason itself can discover respecting sun, moon, and stars,—whether the opinion, entertained by some, of their unchangeableness be correct,—and let the declarations of holy Scripture, as far as possible, be first adduced.  For Job appears to assert that not only may the stars be subject to sin, but even that they are actually not clean from the contagion of it.  The following are his words:  “The stars also are not clean in Thy sight.”20492049    Job xxv. 5.  Nor is this to be understood of the splendour of their physical substance, as if one were to say, for example, of a garment, that it is not clean; for if such were the meaning, then the accusation of a want of cleanness in the splendour of their bodily substance would imply an injurious reflection upon their Creator.  For if they are unable, through their own diligent efforts, either to acquire for themselves a body of greater brightness, or through their sloth to make the one they have less pure, how should they incur censure for being stars that are not clean, if they receive no praise because they are so?20502050    [See note, supra, p. 262.  S.]

3.  But to arrive at a clearer understanding on these matters, we ought first to inquire after this point, whether it is allowable to suppose that they are living and rational beings; then, in the next place, whether their souls came into existence at the same time with their bodies, or seem to be anterior to them; and also whether, after the end of the world, we are to understand that they are to be released from their bodies; and whether, as we cease to live, so they also will cease from illuminating the world.  Although this inquiry may seem to be somewhat bold, yet, as we are incited by the desire of ascertaining the truth as far as possible, there seems no absurdity in attempting an investigation of the subject agreeably to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

We think, then, that they may be designated as living beings, for this reason, that they are said to receive commandments from God, which is ordinarily the case only with rational beings.  “I have given a commandment to all the stars,”20512051    Isa. xlv. 12. says the Lord.  What, now, are these commandments?  Those, namely, that each star, in its order and course, should bestow upon the world the amount of splendour which has been entrusted to it.  For those which are called “planets” move in orbits of one kind, and those which are termed ἀπλανεῖς are different.  Now it manifestly follows from this, that neither can the movement of that body take place without a soul, nor can living things be at any time without motion.  And seeing that the stars move with such order and regularity, that their movements never appear to be at any time subject to derangement, would it not be the height of folly to say that so orderly an observance of method and plan could be carried out or accomplished by irrational beings?  In the writings of Jeremiah, indeed, the moon is called the queen of heaven.20522052    Jer. vii. 18.  Yet if the stars are living and rational beings, there will undoubtedly appear among them both an advance and a falling back.  For the language of Job, “the stars are not clean in His sight,” seems to me to convey some such idea.

4.  And now we have to ascertain whether those beings which in the course of the discussion we have discovered to possess life and reason, were endowed with a soul along with their bodies at the time mentioned in Scripture, when “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars also,”20532053    Gen. i. 16. or whether their spirit was implanted in them, not at the creation of their bodies, but from without, after they had been already made.  I, for my part, suspect that the spirit was implanted in them from without; but it will be worth while to prove this from Scripture:  for it will seem an easy matter to make the assertion on conjectural grounds, while it is more difficult to establish it by the testimony of Scripture.  Now it may be established conjecturally as follows.  If the soul of a man, which is certainly inferior while it remains the soul of a man, was not formed along with his body, but is proved to have been implanted strictly from without, much more must this be the case with those living beings which are called heavenly.  For, as regards man, how could the soul of him, viz., Jacob, who supplanted his brother in the womb, appear to be formed along with his body?  Or how could his soul, or its images, be formed along with his body, who, while lying in his mother’s womb, was filled with the Holy Ghost?  I refer to John leaping in his mother’s womb, and exulting because the voice of the salutation of Mary had come to the ears of his mother Elisabeth.  How could his soul and its images be formed along with his body, who, before he was created in the womb, is said to be known to God, and was sanctified by Him before his birth?  Some, perhaps, may think that God fills individuals with His Holy Spirit, and bestows upon them sanctification, not on grounds of justice and according to their deserts; but undeservedly.  And how shall we escape that declaration:  “Is there unrighteousness with God?  God forbid!”20542054    Rom. ix. 14. or this:  “Is there respect of persons with God?”20552055    Rom. ii. 11.  For such is the defence of those who maintain that souls come into existence with bodies.  So far, then, as we can form an opinion from a comparison with the condition of man, I think it follows that we must hold the same to hold good with heavenly beings, which reason itself and scriptural authority show us to be the case with men.

5.  But let us see whether we can find in holy Scripture any indications properly applicable to these heavenly existences.  The following is the statement of the Apostle Paul:  “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”20562056    Cf. Rom. viii. 20, 21.  To what vanity, pray, was the creature made subject, or what creature is referred to, or how is it said “not willingly,” or “in hope of what?”  And in what way is the creature itself to be delivered from the bondage of corruption?  Elsewhere, also, the same apostle says:  “For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”20572057    Rom. viii. 19.  And again in another passage, “And not only we, but the creation itself groaneth together, and is in pain until now.”20582058    Rom. viii. 22, cf. 23.  And hence we have to inquire what are the groanings, and what are the pains.  Let us see then, in the first place, what is the vanity to which the creature is subject.  I apprehend that it is nothing else than the body; for although the body of the stars is ethereal, it is nevertheless material.  Whence also Solomon appears to characterize the whole of corporeal nature as a kind of burden which enfeebles the vigour of the soul in the following language:  “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.  I have looked, and seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity.”20592059    Eccles. i. 1, 14.  To this vanity, then, is the creature subject, that creature especially which, being assuredly the greatest in this world, holds also a distinguished principality of labour, i.e., the sun, and moon, and stars, are said to be subject to vanity, because they are clothed with bodies, and set apart to the office of giving light to the human race.  “And this creature,” he remarks, “was subjected to vanity not willingly.”  For it did not undertake a voluntary service to vanity, but because it was the will of Him who made it subject, and because of the promise of the Subjector to those who were reduced to this unwilling obedience, that when the ministry of their great work was performed, they were to be freed from this bondage of corruption and vanity when the time of the glorious redemption of God’s children should have arrived.  And the whole of creation, receiving this hope, and looking for the fulfilment of this promise now, in the meantime, as having an affection for those whom it serves, groans along with them, and patiently suffers with them, hoping for the fulfilment of the promises.  See also whether the following words of Paul can apply to those who, although not willingly, yet in accordance with the will of Him who subjected them, and in hope of the promises, were made subject to vanity, when he says, “For I could wish to be dissolved,” or “to return and be with Christ, which is far better.”20602060    Phil. i. 23.  For I think that the sun might say in like manner, “I would desire to be dissolved,” or “to return and be with Christ, which is far better.”  Paul indeed adds, “Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you;” while the sun may say, “To abide in this bright and heavenly body is more necessary, on account of the manifestation of the sons of God.”  The same views are to be believed and expressed regarding the moon and stars.

Let us see now what is the freedom of the creature, or the termination of its bondage.  When Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father, then also those living things, when they shall have first been made the kingdom of Christ, shall be delivered, along with the whole of that kingdom, to the rule of the Father, that when God shall be all in all, they also, since they are a part of all things, may have God in themselves, as He is in all things.


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