The occasion and date of the composition of this treatise are indicated in a statement which Augustin makes in the seventeenth chapter of the First Book of his Retractations.
From this we learn that, in its original form, it was a discourse which Augustin, when only a presbyter, was requested to deliver in public by the bishops assembled at the Council of Hippo-Regius, and that it was subsequently issued as a book at the desire of friends. The general assembly of the North African Church, which was thus convened at what is now Bona, in the modern territory of Algiers, took place in the year 393 A.D., and was otherwise one of some historical importance, on account of the determined protest which it emitted against the position elsewhere allowed to Patriarchs in the Church, and against the admittance of any more authoritative or magisterial title to the highest ecclesiastical official than that of simply |Bishop of the first Church| (primæ sedis episcopus).
The work constitutes an exposition of the several clauses of the so-called Apostles' Creed. The questions concerning the mutual relations of the three Persons in the Godhead are handled with greatest fullness; in connection with which, especially in the use made of the analogies of Being, Knowledge, and Love, and in the cautions thrown in against certain applications of these and other illustrations taken from things of human experience, we come across sentiments which are also repeated in the City of God, the books on the Trinity, and others of his doctrinal writings.
The passage referred to in the Retractations is as follows: About the same period, in presence of the bishops, who gave me orders to that effect, and who were holding a plenary Council of the whole of Africa at Hippo-Regius, I delivered, as presbyter, a discussion on the subject of Faith and the Creed. This disputation, at the very pressing request of some of those who were on terms of more than usual intimacy and affection with us, I threw into the form of a book, in which the themes themselves are made the subjects of discourse, although not in a method involving the adoption of the particular connection of words which is given to the competentes to be committed to memory. In this book, when discussing the question of the resurrection of the flesh, I say: Rise again the body will, according to the Christian faith, which is incapable of deceiving. And if this appears incredible to any one, [it is because] he looks simply to what the flesh is at present, while he fails to consider of what nature it shall be hereafter. For at that time of angelic change it will no more be flesh and blood, but only body;' and so on, through the other statements which I have made there on the subject of the change of bodies terrestrial into bodies celestial, as the apostle, when he spake from the same point, said, Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' But if any one takes these declarations in a sense leading him to suppose that the earthly body, such as we now have it, is changed in the resurrection into a celestial body, in any such wise as that neither these members nor the substance of the flesh will subsist any more, undoubtedly he must be set right, by being put in mind of the body of the Lord, who subsequently to His resurrection appeared in the same members, as One who was not only to be seen with the eyes, but also handled with the hands; and made His possession of the flesh likewise surer by the discourse which He spake, saying, Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.' Hence it is certain that the apostle did not deny that the substance of the flesh will exist in the kingdom of God, but that under the name of flesh and blood' he designated either men who live after the flesh, or the express corruption of the flesh, which assuredly at that period shall subsist no more. For after he had said, Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God,' what he proceeds to say next, -- namely, neither shall corruption inherit incorruption,' -- is rightly taken to have been added by way of explaining his previous statement. And on this subject, which is one on which it is difficult to convince unbelievers, any one who reads my last book, On the City of God, will find that I have discoursed with the utmost carefulness of which I am capable. The performance in question commences thus: Since it is written,' etc.|
[Additional Note by the American Editor.]
[Another English edition of this treatise De Fide et Symbolo was prepared by the Rev. Charles a. Heurtley, D.D., Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and published by Parker & Co., Oxford and London, 1886.
The following text of the Apostles' Creed may be collected from this book of St. Augustin, and was current in North Africa towards the close of the fourth century:
1. I Believe in God the Father Almighty. Chs.2 and 3.
2. (And) In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten of the Father, or, His Only Son, Our Lord. Ch.3.
3. Who Was Born Through the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. Ch.4 (§ 8.)
4. Who Under Pontius Pilate Was Crucified and Buried. Ch.5 (§ 11.)
5. On the Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead. Ch.5 (§ 12.)
6. He Ascended into Heaven. Ch.6 (§ 13.)
7. He Sitteth at the Right Hand of the Father. Ch.7 (§ 14.)
8. From Thence He Will Come and Judge the Living and the Dead. Ch.8 (§ 15.)
9. (and I Believe) in the Holy Spirit. Ch.9 (§ 16-19.)
10. I Believe the Holy Church (Catholic). Ch.10 (§ 21.)
11. The Forgiveness of Sin. Ch.10 (§ 23.)
12. The Resurrection of the Body. Ch.10 (§ 23, 24.)
13. The Life Everlasting. Ch.10 (§ 24.)]