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Home > Fathers of the Church > Contra Faustum (Augustine) > Book XI

Contra Faustum, Book XI

Faustus quotes passages to show that the Apostle Paul abandoned belief in the incarnation, to which he earlier held. Augustine shows that the apostle was consistent with himself in the utterances quoted.

1. Faustus said: Assuredly I believe the apostle. And yet I do not believe that the Son of God was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, Romans 1:3 because I do not believe that God's apostle could contradict himself, and have one opinion about our Lord at one time, and another at another. But, granting that he wrote this—since you will not hear of anything being spurious in his writings—it is not against us. For this seems to be Paul's old belief about Jesus, when he thought, like everybody else, that Jesus was the son of David. Afterwards, when he learned that this was false, he corrects himself; and in his Epistle to the Corinthians he says: "We know no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." 2 Corinthians 5:16 Observe the difference between these two verses. In one he asserts that Jesus was the son of David after the flesh; in the other he says that now he knows no man after the flesh. If Paul wrote both, it can only have been in the way I have stated. In the next verse he adds: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new." The belief that Jesus was born of the seed of David according to the flesh is of this old transitory kind; whereas the faith which knows no man after the flesh is new and permanent. So, he says elsewhere: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11 We are thus warranted in preferring the new and amended confession of Paul to his old and faulty one. And if you hold by what is said in the Epistle to the Romans, why should not we hold by what is said to the Corinthians? But it is only by your insisting on the correctness of the text that we are made to represent Paul as building again the things which he destroyed, in spite of his own repudiation of such prevarication. If the verse is Paul's, he has corrected himself. If Paul should not be supposed to have written anything requiring correction, the verse is not his.

2. Augustine replied: As I said a little ago, when these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error. Unable to answer these statements of Scripture, they deny their genuineness. But if this answer is admitted, or allowed to have any weight, it will be useless to quote any book or any passage against your errors. It is one thing to reject the books themselves, and to profess no regard for their authority, as the Pagans reject our Scriptures, and the Jews the New Testament, and as we reject any books peculiar to your sect, or any other heretical sect, and also the apocryphal books, which are so called, not because of any mysterious regard paid to them, but because they are mysterious in their origin, and in the absence of clear evidence, have only some obscure presumption to rest upon; and it is another thing to say, This holy man wrote only the truth, and this is his epistle, but some verses are his, and some are not. And then, when you are asked for a proof, instead of referring to more correct or more ancient manuscripts, or to a greater number, or to the original text, your reply is, This verse is his, because it makes for me; and this is not his, because it is against me. Are you, then, the rule of truth? Can nothing be true that is against you? But what answer could you give to an opponent as insane as yourself, if he confronts you by saying, The passage in your favor is spurious, and that against you is genuine? Perhaps you will produce a book, all of which can be explained so as to support you. Then, instead of rejecting a passage, he will reply by condemning the whole book as spurious. You have no resource against such an opponent. For all the testimony you can bring in favor of your book from antiquity or tradition will avail nothing. In this respect the testimony of the Catholic Church is conspicuous, as supported by a succession of bishops from the original seats of the apostles up to the present time, and by the consent of so many nations. Accordingly, should there be a question about the text of some passage, as there are a few passages with various readings well known to students of the sacred Scriptures, we should first consult the manuscripts of the country where the religion was first taught; and if these still varied, we should take the text of the greater number, or of the more ancient. And if any uncertainty remained, we should consult the original text. This is the method employed by those who, in any question about the Scriptures, do not lose sight of the regard due to their authority, and inquire with the view of gaining information, not of raising disputes.

3. As regards the passage from Paul's epistle which teaches, in opposition to your heresy, that the Son of God was born of the seed of David, it is found in all manuscripts both new and old of all Churches, and in all languages. So the profession which Faustus makes of believing the apostle is hypocritical. Instead of saying, "Assuredly I believe," he should have said, Assuredly I do not believe, as he would have said if he had not wished to deceive people. What part of his belief does he get from the apostle? Not the first man, of whom the apostle says that he is of the earth, earthy; and again, "The first man Adam was made a living soul." Faustus' First Man is neither of the earth, earthy, nor made a living soul, but of the substance of God, and the same in essence as God; and this being is said to have mixed up with the race of darkness his members, or vesture, or weapons, that is, the five elements, which also are part of the substance of God, so that they became subject to confinement and pollution. Nor does Faustus get from Paul his Second Man, of whom Paul says that He is from heaven, and that He is the last Adam, and a quickening spirit; and also that He was born of the seed of David after the flesh, that He was made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them that were under the law. Galatians 4:4-5 Of Him Paul says to Timothy: "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, according to my gospel." 2 Timothy 2:8 And this resurrection he quotes as an example of our resurrection: "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures." And a little further on he draws an inference from this doctrine: "Now, if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" Our professed believer in Paul believes nothing of all this. He denies that Jesus was born of the seed of David, that He was made of a woman (by the word woman is not meant a wife in the common sense of the word, but merely one of the female sex, as in the book of Genesis, where it is said that God made a woman before she was brought to Adam Genesis 2:22); he denies His death, His burial, and His resurrection. He holds that Christ had not a mortal body, and therefore could not really die; and that the marks of His wounds which He showed to His disciples when He appeared to them alive after His resurrection, which Paul also mentions, 1 Corinthians 11:5 were not real. He denies, too, that our mortal body will be raised again, changed into a spiritual body; as Paul teaches: "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." To illustrate this distinction between the natural and the spiritual body, the apostle adds what I have quoted already about the first and the last Adam. Then he goes on: "But this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." And to explain what he means by flesh and blood, that it is not the bodily substance, but corruption, which will not enter into the resurrection of the just, he immediately says, "Neither shall corruption inherit incorruption." And in case any one should still suppose that it is not what is buried that is to rise again, but that it is as if one garment were laid aside and a better taken instead, he proceeds to show distinctly that the same body will be changed for the better, as the garments of Christ on the mount were not displaced, but transfigured: "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all be changed, but we shall all rise." Then he shows who are to be changed: "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed." And if it should be said that it is not as regards our mortal and corruptible body, but as regards our soul, that we are to be changed, it should be observed that the apostle is not speaking of the soul, but of the body, as is evident from the question he starts with: "But some one will say, How are the dead raised, and with what body do they come?" So also, in the conclusion of his argument, he leaves no doubt of what he is speaking: "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." 1 Corinthians 15:35-53 Faustus denies this; and the God whom Paul declares to be "immortal, incorruptible, to whom alone is glory and honor," 1 Timothy 1:17 he makes corruptible. For in this monstrous and horrible fiction of theirs, the substance and nature of God was in danger of being wholly corrupted by the race of darkness, and to save the rest part actually was corrupted. And to crown all this, he tries to deceive the ignorant who are not learned in the sacred Scriptures, by making this profession: I assuredly believe the Apostle Paul; when he ought to have said, I assuredly do not believe.

4. But Faustus has a proof to show that Paul changed his mind, and, in writing to the Corinthians, corrected what he had written to the Romans; or else that he never wrote the passage which appears as his, about Jesus Christ being born of the seed of David according to the flesh. And what is this proof? If the passage, he says, in the Epistle to the Romans is true, "the Son of God, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh," what he says to the Corinthians cannot be true, "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." We must therefore show that both these passages are true, and not opposed to one another. The agreement of the manuscripts proves both to be genuine. In some Latin versions the word "born" is used instead of "made," which is not so literal a rendering, but gives the same meaning. For both these translations, as well as the original, teach that Christ was of the seed of David after the flesh. We must not for a moment suppose that Paul corrected himself on account of a change of opinion. Faustus himself felt the impropriety and impiety of such an explanation, and preferred to say that the passage was spurious, instead of that Paul was mistaken.

5. As regards our writings, which are not a rule of faith or practice, but only a help to edification, we may suppose that they contain some things falling short of the truth in obscure and recondite matters, and that these mistakes may or may not be corrected in subsequent treatises. For we are of those of whom the apostle says: "And if you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." Philippians 3:15 Such writings are read with the right of judgment, and without any obligation to believe. In order to leave room for such profitable discussions of difficult questions, there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the Church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood. In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. In other books the reader may form his own opinion, and perhaps, from not understanding the writer, may differ from him, and may pronounce in favor of what pleases him, or against what he dislikes. In such cases, a man is at liberty to withhold his belief, unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement either must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of the canonical books either puts an end to that authority altogether, or involves it in hopeless confusion.

6. With regard, then, to this apparent contradiction between the passage which speaks of the Son of God being of the seed of David, to the words, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more," even though both quotations were not from the writings of one apostle,— though one were from Paul, and the other from Peter, or Isaiah, or any other apostle or prophet—such is the equality of canonical authority, that it would not be allowable to doubt of either. For the utterances of Scripture, harmonious as if from the mouth of one man, commend themselves to the belief of the most accurate and clear-sighted piety, and demand for their discovery and confirmation the calmest intelligence and the most ingenious research. In the case before us both quotations are from the canonical, that is, the genuine epistles of Paul. We cannot say that the manuscript is faulty, for the best Latin translations substantially agree; or that the translations are wrong, for the best texts have the same reading. So that, if any one is perplexed by the apparent contradiction, the only conclusion is that he does not understand. Accordingly it remains for me to explain how both passages, instead of being contradictory, may be harmonized by one rule of sound faith. The pious inquirer will find all perplexity removed by a careful examination.

7. That the Son of God was made man of the seed of David, is not only said in other places by Paul, but is taught elsewhere in sacred Scripture. As regards the words, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more," the context shows what is the apostle's meaning. Here, or elsewhere, he views with an assured hope, as if it were already present and in actual possession, our future life, which is now fulfilled in our risen Head and Mediator, the man Christ Jesus. This life will certainly not be after the flesh, even as Christ's life is now not after the flesh. For by flesh the apostle here means not the substance of our bodies, in which sense the Lord used the word when, after His resurrection, He said, "Handle me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have," Luke 24:39 but the corruption and mortality of flesh, which will then not be in us, as now it is not in Christ. The apostle uses the word flesh in the sense of corruption in the passage about the resurrection quoted before: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither shall corruption inherit incorruption." So, after the event described in the next verse, "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump (for the trumpet shall sound); and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality," 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 — then flesh, in the sense of the substance of the body, will, after this change, no longer have flesh, in the sense of the corruption of mortality; and yet, as regards its own nature, it will be the same flesh, the same which rises and which is changed. What the Lord said after His resurrection is true, "Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have;" and what the apostle says is true, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The first is said of the bodily substance, which exists as the subject of the change: the second is said of the corruption of the flesh, which will cease to exist, for, after its change, flesh will not be corrupted. So, "we have known Christ after the flesh," that is, after the mortality of flesh, before His resurrection; "now henceforth we know Him no more," because, as the same apostle says, "Christ being risen from the dead, dies no more, and death has no more dominion over Him." Romans 6:9 The words, "we have known Christ after the flesh," strictly speaking, imply that Christ was after the flesh, for what never was cannot be known. And it is not "we have supposed," but "we have known." But not to insist on a word, in case some one should say that known is used in the sense of supposed, it is astonishing, if one could be surprised at want of sight in a blind man, that these blind people do not perceive that if what the apostle says about not knowing Christ after the flesh proves that Christ had not flesh, then what he says in the same place of not knowing any one henceforth after the flesh proves that all those here referred to had not flesh. For when he speaks of not knowing any one, he cannot intend to speak only of Christ; but in his realization of the future life with those who are to be changed at the resurrection, he says, "Henceforth we know no man after the flesh;" that is, we have such an assured hope of our future incorruption and immortality, that the thought of it makes us rejoice even now. So he says elsewhere: "If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon things above, and not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:1-2 It is true we have not yet risen as Christ has, but we are said to have risen with Him on account of the hope which we have in Him. So again he says: "According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration." Titus 3:5 Evidently what we obtain in the washing of regeneration is not the salvation itself, but the hope of it. And yet, because this hope is certain, we are said to be saved, as if the salvation were already bestowed. Elsewhere it is said explicitly: "We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope. But hope which is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." Romans 8:23-25 The apostle says not, "we are to be saved," but, "We are now saved," that is, in hope, though not yet in reality. And in the same way it is in hope, though not yet in reality, that we now know no man after the flesh. This hope is in Christ, in whom what we hope for as promised to us has already been fulfilled. He is risen, and death has no more dominion over Him. Though we have known Him after the flesh, before His death, when there was in His body that mortality which the apostle properly calls flesh, now henceforth know we Him no more; for that mortal of His has now put on immortality, and His flesh, in the sense of mortality, no longer exists.

8. The context of the passage containing this clause of which our adversaries make such a bad use, brings out its real meaning. "The love of Christ," we read, "constrains us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but to Him who died for them, and rose again. Therefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; and though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." The words, "that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again," show plainly that the resurrection of Christ is the ground of the apostle's statement. To live not to themselves, but to Him, must mean to live not after the flesh, in the hope of earthly and perishable goods, but after the spirit, in the hope of resurrection,— a resurrection already accomplished in Christ. Of those, then, for whom Christ died and rose again, and who live henceforth not to themselves, but to Him, the Apostle says that he knows no one after the flesh, on account of the hope of future immortality to which they were looking forward—a hope which in Christ was already a reality. So, though he has known Christ after the flesh, before His death, now he knows Him no more; for he knows that He has risen, and that death has no more dominion over Him. And because in Christ we all are even now in hope, though not in reality, what Christ is, he adds: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new. And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:14-18 What the new creature— that is, the people renewed by faith— hopes for regarding itself, it has already in Christ; and the hope will also hereafter be actually realized. And, as regards this hope, old things have passed away, because we are no longer in the times of the Old Testament, expecting a temporal and carnal kingdom of God; and all things have become new, making the promise of the kingdom of heaven, where there shall be no death or corruption, the ground of our confidence. But in the resurrection of the dead it will not be as a matter of hope, but in reality, that old things shall pass away, when the last enemy, death, shall be destroyed; and all things shall become new when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality. This has already taken place in Christ, whom Paul accordingly, in reality, knew no longer after the flesh. But not yet in reality, but only in hope, did he know no one after the flesh of those for whom Christ died and rose again. For, as he says to the Ephesians, we are already saved by grace. The whole passage is to the purpose: "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, by whose grace we have been saved." The words, "has quickened us together with Christ," correspond to what he said to the Corinthians, "that they which live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him that died for them and rose again." And in the words, "by whose grace we have been saved," he speaks of the thing hoped for as already accomplished. So, in the passage quoted above, he says explicitly, "We have been saved by hope." And here he proceeds to specify future events as if already accomplished. "And has raised us up together," he says, "and has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Christ is certainly already seated in heavenly places, but we not yet. But as in an assured hope we already possess the future, he says that we sit in heavenly places, not in ourselves, but in Him. And to show that it is still future, in case it should be thought that what is spoken of as accomplished in hope has been accomplished in reality, he adds, "that He might show in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:4-7 So also we must understand the following passage: "For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." Romans 7:5 He says, "when we were in the flesh," as if they were no longer in the flesh. He means to say, when we were in the hope of fleshly things, referring to the time when the law, which can be fulfilled only by spiritual love, was in force, in order that by transgression the offense might abound, that after the revelation of the New Testament, grace and the gift by grace might much more abound. And to the same effect he says elsewhere, "They which are in the flesh cannot please God;" and then, to show that he does not mean those not yet dead, he adds, "But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit." Romans 8:8-9 The meaning is, those who are in the hope of fleshly good cannot please God; but you are not in the hope of fleshly things, but in the hope of spiritual things, that is, of the kingdom of heaven, where the body itself, which now is natural, will, by the change in the resurrection, be, according to the capacity of its nature, a spiritual body. For "it is sown a natural body, it will be raised a spiritual body." If, then, the apostle knew no one after the flesh of those who were said to be not in the flesh, because they were not in the hope of fleshly things, although they still were burdened with corruptible and mortal flesh; how much more significantly could he say of Christ that he no longer knew Him after the flesh, seeing that in the body of Christ what they hoped for had already been accomplished! Surely it is better and more reverential to examine the passages of sacred Scripture so as to discover their agreement with one another, than to accept some as true, and condemn others as false, whenever any difficulty occurs beyond the power of our weak intellect to solve. As to the apostle in his childhood understanding as a child, this is said merely as an illustration. 1 Corinthians 13:11 And when he was a child he was not a spiritual man, as he was when he produced for the edification of the churches those writings which are not, as other books, merely a profitable study, but which authoritatively claim our belief as part of the ecclesiastical canon.

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Source. Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/140611.htm>.

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