Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 11 [VII.]--Victor Implies that the Soul Had a |State| And |Merit| Before Incarnation.
Would you hesitate yourself to reprobate what he has said concerning the soul? |You will not have it,| he says, |that the soul contracts from the sinful flesh the health, to which holy state you can see it in due course pass by means of the flesh, so as to amend its state through that by which it had lost its merit? Or is it because baptism washes the body that what is believed to be conferred by baptism does not pass on to the soul or spirit? It is only right, therefore, that the soul should, by means of the flesh, repair that old condition which it had seemed to have gradually lost through the flesh, in order that it may begin a regenerate state by means of that whereby it had deserved to be polluted.| Now, do observe how grave an error this teacher has fallen into! He says that |the soul repairs its condition by means of the flesh through which it had lost its merit.| The soul, then, must have possessed some state and some good merit previous to the flesh, which he would have that it recovers through the flesh, when the flesh is cleansed in the laver of regeneration. Therefore, previous to the flesh, the soul had lived somewhere in a good state and merit, which state and merit it lost when it came into the flesh. His words are, |that the soul repairs by means of the flesh that primitive condition which it had seemed to have gradually lost through the flesh.| The soul, then, possessed before the flesh, an ancient condition (for his term |primitive| describes the antiquity of the state); and what could that ancient condition have possibly been, but a blessed and laudable state? Now, he avers that this happiness is recovered through the sacrament of baptism, although he will not admit that the soul derives its origin through propagation from that soul which was once manifestly happy in paradise. How is it, then, that in another passage he says that |he constantly affirms of the soul that it exists not by propagation, nor comes out of nothing, nor exists by its own self, nor previous to the body|? You see how in this place he insists that souls do exist prior to the body somewhere or other, and that in so happy a state that the same happiness is restored to them by means of baptism. But, as if forgetful of his own views, he goes on to speak of its |beginning a regenerate state by means of that,| meaning the flesh, |whereby it had deserved to be polluted.| In a previous statement he had indicated some good desert which had been lost by means of the flesh; now, however, he speaks of some evil desert, by means of which it had happened that the soul had to come, or be sent, into the flesh; for his words are, |By which it had deserved to be polluted;| and if it deserved to be polluted, its merits could not, of course, have been good. Pray let him tell us what sin it had committed previous to its pollution by the flesh, in consequence of which it merited such pollution by the flesh. Let him, if he can, explain to us a matter which is utterly beyond his power, because it is certainly far above his reach to discover what to tell us on this subject which shall be true.