Document: Letter 34
Date: after 386
Addressee: Honorantius
English Translation: FC 26.272-276
Summary of Contents: On questions of the soul and other scriptural issues

You asked me whether the soul is in all likelihood a heavy substance, for you do not believe that the soul is blood or fire or a harmony of nerves, as ordinary philosophers teach. Again, it seems to you that the soul is that which moves itself and is moved by no other, for this is the teaching of the ancient line of followers of Plato. You feel at least, since Aristotle inferred with remarkable originality some sort of fifth element, that there is an element, entelléchia, from which you would derive or form the substance of the soul.

I suggest that you read the Book of Esdras, for he has his back on those little nothings of the philosophers and with that deeper wisdom which he gathered from revelation has shown quite briefly that souls are of a superior substance.

The Apostle, too, if not expressly, at least like a good teacher and spiritual farmer, quickening the souls of his disciples with hidden seeds of doctrine, leaves us to understand that our souls are of a higher order of creation and a most excellent nature. When he says that “creation was made subject to vanity not by its own will but by reason of him who made it subject in hope, because creation itself will also be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God,” he shows that the grace of the soul is no small thing, for by its strength and power the human race rises to the adoption of sons of God, having in itself that which was given to it in the image and likeness of God. Souls are grasped by no touch, they are seen not with bodily eyes, and they have a likeness to that incorporeal and invisible nature, surpassing with their substance the corporeal and sensible character of things. Objects which are seen are temporal, they indicate the temporal, they are bound up with the temporal; those which are not seen cling to that eternal and highest good, and in it they live and are and move Good men, if they take thought, do not let themselves be separated or drawn away from this [good].

Every soul, then, since it is enclosed within the hovel of the body, if it has not debased itself by partnership with this earthly habitation, sighs under the weight of union with the body, because the corruptible body is a load upon the soul and the earthly habitation presses down the mind which muses on many things. At the same time, realizing that it walks by faith and not by vision, it wishes to be exiled from, the body and to be at home with the Lord.

Let us notice how the creature has been made subject to vanity, not by its own wish, but by the divine will which has arranged that souls must be joined to a body in hope, so that while hoping for good things they may prepare themselves to be worthy of a heavenly reward: “For all of us must be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through his body.” The soul of each person should make provision for the rewards to be meted out for life in the world. Very aptly does he say: “what each has won through his body,” that is, what the part of man which must be ruled has taken upon itself. If she [the soul] has ruled this part well, let her receive the reward for which she was subject in hope; if badly, punishment, since she did not hope in God or strive for that adoption of sons and the freedom of true glory.

The Apostle has taught us that created human nature is subject to vanity. What is so much a man as his soul? Of partnership with it, he says: “When we are in the body, we sigh under our burden.” But David also says: “Man is like a breath of aid,” and: “All things are vanity: every man living.” The life of man in this world is vanity. The soul is subject to this vanity. Therefore, when a saint does the things of the body, he does them, not by choice, not willingly, but by reason of Him who made him subject in hope so that he may obey Him. Let us proceed from this example of the soul to the rest of creation.

Consider that the sun, the moon, and the stars, the lights of the sky which, though they shine with brilliant splendor, are yet creatures, and, whether they rise or fall in their daily performance of duty, they serve the will of the eternal Creator, bringing forth the beauty with which they are clothed and shining by day and by night. How often is the sun covered by clouds or taken from the gaze of the earth when the ray of its light k dispelled in the sky or an eclipse occurs, and as Scripture says: “The moon knows its going down.” It knows when it should shine in full light or weakened light. The stars, which are engaged in service to this world’s advantage, disappear when they are covered by clouds, not willingly, surely, but in hope, because they hope for gratitude for their labor from Him who made them subject. Thus, they persevere for His sake, that is, for His will.

It is not strange that they persevere with patience, since they know that their Lord and the Creator of all that is in heaven or on earth has taken upon Himself the frailty of our body, the slavery of our state. Why should they not persevere patiently in the servitude of their corruption when the Lord of all humbled Himself to death for the whole world, and took the form of a servant, and was made the sin of the world and a curse for our sakes? Although the heavenly creatures, who imitate Him, may groan because they are subject to the vanity of this world, they console themselves in the thought that they will be set free from the slavery of corruption into the liberty of glory, at the coming of the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of all: “When the fullness of the Gentiles comes, then will all Israel be saved.” Will He not forgive those people, He who forgave His persecutor who had said: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and “His blood be on us and on our children”? But, because even the heavenly creation is subject to vanity, in hope the devotion to truth and the redemption of all will allow even their treachery and intoxication to arrive at pardon, since creation was brought low by the vanity of this world.

To conclude, the sun, great as it is and such as it is, and the moon, which the shades of night do not cover, and the stars, which adorn the sky, all now endure the slavery of corruption because every body is a corruptible thing. Indeed, even the skies will perish and heaven and earth will pass. At length the sun and the moon and the other lights of the stars will rest in the glory of the sons of God, since God will be all in all, and will be in you and in us by His plenitude and mercy.

Do we not believe that the angels themselves groan in the performance of their various functions amid the toils of this world, as we read in the Apocalypse of John, for they are made the ministers of penalties and destruction? They who enjoy the life of beatitude would surely prefer to return to that high state of peace rather than be involved in avenging the punishment of our sins. They who rejoice over the repentance of one sinner surely lament the hardships of so many sinners.

If even heavenly creatures and powers endure the slavery of corruption, but through hope, so as to rejoice later for us and with us, let us also comfort ourselves for the sufferings of this time with the hope and expectation of future glory.

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.272-276, adapted by SMT

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