Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 27.--Is the Soul Wounded When the Body is Wounded?
What, then, if some such thing is exhibited among the departed; and souls recognise themselves among them, not, indeed, by bodies, but by the semblances of bodies? Now, when we suffer pain, if only in our dreams, although it is only the similitude of bodily limbs which is in action, and not the bodily limbs themselves, still the pain is not merely in semblance, but in reality; as is also the case in the instance of joyous sensations. Inasmuch, however, as St. Perpetua was not yet dead, you probably are unwilling to lay down a precise rule for yourself from that circumstance (although it bears strongly on the question), as to what nature you will suppose those semblances of bodies to partake of, which we have in our dreams. If you allow them to be like bodies, but not bodies actually, then the entire question would be settled. But her brother Dinocrates was dead; she saw him with the wound which he received while alive, and which caused his death. Where is the ground for the earnest contention to which you devoted your efforts, when you laboured to show, that when a limb is cut off, the soul must not be supposed as suffering a like amount of loss by amputation? Observe, the wound was inflicted on the soul of Dinocrates, expelling it by its force from his body, when it was inhabiting that body. How, then, can your opinion be correct, that |when the limbs of the body are cut off, the soul withdraws itself from the stroke, and after condensation retires to other parts, so that no portion of it is amputated with the wound inflicted on the body,| even if the person be asleep and unconscious when the loss of limb is suffered? So great is the vigilance which you have ascribed to the soul, that even should the stroke fall on any part of the flesh without its knowledge, when it is absorbed in the visions of dreams, it would instantly, and by a providential instinct, withdraw itself, and so render it impossible for any blow, or injury, or mutilation to be inflicted upon it. However, you may, as much as you will, ransack your ingenuity for an answer to the natural question, how the soul withdraws the portions of its own existence, and retreats within itself, so that, whenever a limb of the body is cut off or broken, it does not suffer any amputation or fracture in itself; but I cannot help asking you to look at the case of Dinocrates, and to explain to me why his soul did not withdraw from that part of his body which received the mortal wound, and so escape from suffering in itself what was plainly enough seen in his face, even after his body was dead? Is it, perchance, your good pleasure that we should suppose the phenomena in question to be rather the semblances of bodies than the reality; so that as that which is really no wound seems to be a wound, so that which is no body at all wears the appearance of corporeity? If, indeed, the soul can be wounded by those who wound the body, should we not have good reason to fear that it can be killed also by those who kill the body? This, however, is a fate which the Lord Himself most plainly declares it to be impossible to happen. And the soul of Dinocrates could not at any rate have died of the blow which killed his body: its wound, too, was only an apparent one; for not being corporeal, it was not really wounded, as the body had been; possessing the likeness of the body, it shared also the resemblance of its wound. Still it may be further said, that in its unreal body the soul felt a real misery, which was signified by the shadow of the body's wound. It was from this real misery that he earned deliverance by the prayers of his holy sister.