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Chapter XVI.—The Heretics Called the Flesh “The Vessel of the Soul,” In Order to Destroy the Responsibility of the Body. Their Cavil Turns Upon Themselves and Shows the Flesh to Be a Sharer in Human Actions.

When, however, we attribute to the soul authority, and to the flesh submission, we must see to it that (our opponents) do not turn our position by another argument, by insisting on so placing the flesh in the service of the soul, that it be not (considered as) its servant, lest they should be compelled, if it were so regarded, to admit its companionship (to the soul). For they would argue that servants and companions possess a discretion in discharging the functions of their respective p. 556 office, and a power over their will in both relations: in short, (they would claim to be) men themselves, and therefore (would expect) to share the credit with their principals, to whom they voluntarily yielded their assistance; whereas the flesh had no discretion, no sentiment in itself, but possessing no power of its own of willing or refusing, it, in fact, appears to stand to the soul in the stead of a vessel as an instrument rather than a servant. The soul alone, therefore, will have to be judged (at the last day) pre-eminently as to how it has employed the vessel of the flesh; the vessel itself, of course, not being amenable to a judicial award: for who condemns the cup if any man has mixed poison in it? or who sentences the sword to the beasts, if a man has perpetrated with it the atrocities of a brigand? Well, now, we will grant that the flesh is innocent, in so far as bad actions will not be charged upon it: what, then, is there to hinder its being saved on the score of its innocence? For although it is free from all imputation of good works, as it is of evil ones, yet it is more consistent with the divine goodness to deliver the innocent. A beneficent man, indeed, is bound to do so: it suits then the character of the Most Bountiful to bestow even gratuitously such a favour. And yet, as to the cup, I will not take the poisoned one, into which some certain death is injected, but one which has been infected with the breath of a lascivious woman, 7374 or of Cybele’s priest, or of a gladiator, or of a hangman: then I want to know whether you would pass a milder condemnation on it than on the kisses of such persons? One indeed which is soiled with our own filth, or one which is not mingled to our own mind we are apt to dash to pieces, and then to increase our anger with our servant. As for the sword, which is drunk with the blood of the brigand’s victims, who would not banish it entirely from his house, much more from his bed-room, or from his pillow, from the presumption that he would be sure to dream of nothing but the apparitions of the souls which were pursuing and disquieting him for lying down with the blade which shed their own blood? Take, however, the cup which has no reproach on it, and which deserves the credit of a faithful ministration, it will be adorned by its drinking-master with chaplets, or be honoured with a handful of flowers. The sword also which has received honourable stains in war, and has been thus engaged in a better manslaughter, will secure its own praise by consecration. It is quite possible, then, to pass decisive sentences even on vessels and on instruments, that so they too may participate in the merits of their proprietors and employers. Thus much do I say from a desire to meet even this argument, although there is a failure in the example, owing to the diversity in the nature of the objects. For every vessel or every instrument becomes useful from without, consisting as it does of material perfectly extraneous to the substance of the human owner or employer; whereas the flesh, being conceived, formed, and generated along with the soul from its earliest existence in the womb, is mixed up with it likewise in all its operations.  For although it is called “a vessel” by the apostle, such as he enjoins to be treated “with honour,” 7375 it is yet designated by the same apostle as “the outward man,” 7376 —that clay, of course, which at the first was inscribed with the title of a man, not of a cup or a sword, or any paltry vessel.  Now it is called a “vessel” in consideration of its capacity, whereby it receives and contains the soul; but “man,” from its community of nature, which renders it in all operations a servant and not an instrument. Accordingly, in the judgment it will be held to be a servant (even though it may have no independent discretion of its own), on the ground of its being an integral portion of that which possesses such discretion, and is not a mere chattel.  And although the apostle is well aware that the flesh does nothing of itself which is not also imputed to the soul, he yet deems the flesh to be “sinful;” 7377 lest it should be supposed to be free from all responsibility by the mere fact of its seeming to be impelled by the soul.  So, again, when he is ascribing certain praiseworthy actions to the flesh, he says, “Therefore glorify and exalt God in your body,” 7378 —being certain that such efforts are actuated by the soul; but still he ascribes them to the flesh, because it is to it that he also promises the recompense. Besides, neither rebuke, (on the one hand), would have been suitable to it, if free from blame; nor, (on the other hand), would exhortation, if it were incapable of glory. Indeed, both rebuke and exhortation would be alike idle towards the flesh, if it were an improper object for that recompence which is certainly received in the resurrection.



“Frictricis” is Oehler’s reading.


1 Thess. iv. 4.


2 Cor. iv. 16.


Rom. viii. 3.


1 Cor. vi. 20.

Next: The Flesh Will Be Associated with the Soul in Enduring the Penal Sentences of the Final Judgment.