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To My Lord Evodius Most Blessed, My Brother and Partner in the Episcopal Office, Augustin Sends Greeting in the Lord.
1. The question which you have proposed to me from the epistle of the Apostle Peter is one which, as I think you are aware, is wont to perplex me most seriously, namely, how the words which you have quoted are to be understood on the supposition that they were spoken concerning hell? I therefore refer this question back to yourself, that if either you yourself be able, or can find any other person who is able to do so, you may remove and terminate my perplexities on the subject. If the Lord grant to me ability to understand the words before you do, and it be in my power to impart what I receive from Him to you, I will not withhold it from a friend so truly loved. In the meantime, I will communicate to you the things in the passage which occasion difficulty to me, that, keeping in view these remarks on the words of the apostle, you may either exercise your own thoughts on them, or consult any one whom you find competent to pronounce an opinion.
2. After having said that “Christ was put to death in the flesh, and quickened in the spirit,” the apostle immediately went on to say: “in which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were unbelieving,26732673 Increduli. when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water;” thereafter he added the words: “which baptism also now by a like figure has saved you.”26742674 1 Pet. iii. 18–21. This, therefore, is felt by me to be difficult. If the Lord when He died preached in hell to spirits in prison, why were those who continued unbelieving while the ark was a preparing the only ones counted worthy of this favour, namely, the Lord’s descending into hell? For in the ages between the time of Noah and the passion of Christ, there died many thousands of so many nations whom He might have found in hell. I do not, of course, speak here of those who in that period of time had believed in God, as, e.g. the prophets and patriarchs of Abraham’s line, or, going farther back, Noah himself and his house, who had been saved by water (excepting perhaps the one son, who afterwards was rejected), and, in addition to these, all others outside of the posterity of Jacob who were believers in God, such as Job, the citizens of Nineveh, and any others, whether mentioned in Scripture or existing unknown to us in the vast human family at any time. I speak only of those many thousands of men who, ignorant of God and devoted to the worship of devils or of idols, had passed out of this life from the time of Noah to the passion of Christ. How was it that Christ, finding these in hell, did not preach to them, but preached only to those who were unbelieving in the days of Noah when the ark was a preparing? Or if he preached to all, why has Peter mentioned only these, and passed over the innumerable multitude of others?
3.—It is established beyond question that the Lord, after He had been put to death in the flesh, “descended into hell;” for it is impossible to gainsay either that utterance of prophecy, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in 516hell,”26752675 Ps. xvi. 10.—an utterance which Peter himself expounds in the Acts of the Apostles, lest any one should venture to put upon it another interpretation,—or the words of the same apostle, in which he affirms that the Lord “loosed the pains of hell, in which it was not possible for Him to be holden.”26762676 Acts ii. 24, 27, in which the words rendered by Augustin “inferni dolores” are: τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ θανάτου. Who, therefore, except an infidel, will deny that Christ was in hell? As to the difficulty which is found in reconciling the statement that the pains of hell were loosed by Him, with the fact that He had never begun to be in these pains as in bonds, and did not so loose them as if He had broken off chains by which He had been bound, this is easily removed when we understand that they were loosed in the same way as the snares of huntsmen may be loosed to prevent their holding, not because they have taken hold. It may also be understood as teaching us to believe Him to have loosed those pains which could not possibly hold Him, but which were holding those to whom He had resolved to grant deliverance.
4. But who these were it is presumptuous for us to define. For if we say that all who were found there were then delivered without exception, who will not rejoice if we can prove this? Especially will men rejoice for the sake of some who are intimately known to us by their literary labours, whose eloquence and talent we admire,—not only the poets and orators who in many parts of their writings have held up to contempt and ridicule these same false gods of the nations, and have even occasionally confessed the one true God, although along with the rest they observed superstitious rites, but also those who have uttered the same, not in poetry or rhetoric, but as philosophers: and for the sake of many more of whom we have no literary remains, but in regard to whom we have learned from the writings of these others that their lives were to a certain extent praiseworthy, so that (with the exception of their service of God, in which they erred, worshipping the vanities which had been set up as objects of public worship, and serving the creature rather than the Creator) they may be justly held up as models in all the other virtues of frugality, self-denial, chastity, sobriety, braving of death in their country’s defence, and faith kept inviolate not only to fellow-citizens, but also to enemies. All these things, indeed, when they are practised with a view not to the great end of right and true piety, but to the empty pride of human praise and glory, become in a sense worthless and unprofitable; nevertheless, as indications of a certain disposition of mind, they please us so much that we would desire those in whom they exist, either by special preference or along with the others, to be freed from the pains of hell, were not the verdict of human feeling different from that of the justice of the Creator.
5. These things being so, if the Saviour delivered all from that place, and, to quote the terms of the question in your letter, “emptied hell, so that now from that time forward the last judgment was to be expected,” the following things occasion not unreasonable perplexity on this subject, and are wont to present themselves to me in the meantime when I think on it. First, by what authoritative statements can this opinion be confirmed? For the words of Scripture, that “the pains of hell were loosed” by the death of Christ, do not establish this, seeing that this statement may be understood as referring to Himself, and meaning that he so far loosed (that is, made ineffectual) the pains of hell that He Himself was not held by them, especially since it is added that it was “impossible for Him to be holden of them.” Or if any one [objecting to this interpretation] ask the reason why He chose to descend into hell, where those pains were which could not possibly hold Him who was, as Scripture says, “free among the dead,”26772677 Ps. lxxxviii. 5. in whom the prince and captain of death found nothing which deserved punishment, the words that “the pains of hell were loosed” may be understood as referring not to the case of all, but only of some whom He judged worthy of that deliverance; so that neither is He supposed to have descended thither in vain, without the purpose of bringing benefit to any of those who were there held in prison, nor is it a necessary inference that what divine mercy and justice granted to some must be supposed to have been granted to all.
6. As to the first man, the father of mankind, it is agreed by almost the entire Church that the Lord loosed him from that prison; a tenet which must be believed to have been accepted not without reason,—from whatever source it was handed down to the Church,—although the authority of the canonical Scriptures cannot be brought forward as speaking expressly in its support,26782678 We give the original of this important sentence:—“De illo quidem primo homine patre generis humani, quod eum inde solverit Ecclesia fere tota consentit: quod eam non inaniter credidisse credendum est, undecumque hoc traditum sit, etiamsi canonicarum Scripturarum hinc expressa non proferatur auctoritas.” though this seems to be the opinion which is more than any other borne out by these words in the book of Wisdom.26792679 Wisd. x. 1, 2. Some add to this [tradition] that the same favour was bestowed on the holy men of antiquity,—on Abel, Seth, Noah and his house, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the other patriarchs and prophets, they also being loosed from those pains at the time when the Lord descended into hell.
7. But, for my part, I cannot see how Abra517ham, into whose bosom also the pious beggar in the parable was received, can be understood to have been in these pains; those who are able can perhaps explain this. But I suppose every one must see it to be absurd to imagine that only two, namely, Abraham and Lazarus, were in that bosom of wondrous repose before the Lord descended into hell, and that with reference to these two alone it was said to the rich man, “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would pass from thence.”26802680 Luke xvi. 26. Moreover, if there were more than two there, who will dare to say that the patriarchs and prophets were not there, to whose righteousness and piety so signal testimony is borne in the word of God? What benefit was conferred in that case on them by Him who loosed the pains of hell, in which they were not held, I do not yet understand, especially as I have not been able to find anywhere in Scripture the name of hell used in a good sense. And if this use of the term is nowhere found in the divine Scriptures, assuredly the bosom of Abraham, that is, the abode of a certain secluded rest, is not to be believed to be a part of hell. Nay, from these words themselves of the great Master in which He says that Abraham said, “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed,” it is, as I think, sufficiently evident that the bosom of that glorious felicity was not any integral part of hell. For what is that great gulf but a chasm completely separating those places between which it not only is, but is fixed? Wherefore, if sacred Scripture had said, without naming hell and its pains, that Christ when He died went to that bosom of Abraham, I wonder if any one would have dared to say that He “descended into hell.”
8. But seeing that plain scriptural testimonies make mention of hell and its pains, no reason can be alleged for believing that He who is the Saviour went thither, except that He might save from its pains; but whether He did save all whom He found held in them, or some whom He judged worthy of that favour, I still ask: that He was, however, in hell, and that He conferred this benefit on persons subjected to these pains, I do not doubt. Wherefore, I have not yet found what benefit He, when He descended into hell, conferred upon those righteous ones who were in Abraham’s bosom, from whom I see that, so far as regarded the beatific presence of His Godhead, He never withdrew Himself; since even on that very day on which He died, He promised that the thief should be with Him in paradise at the time when He was about to descend to loose the pains of hell. Most certainly, therefore, He was, before that time, both in paradise and the bosom of Abraham in His beatific wisdom, and in hell in His condemning power; for since the Godhead is confined by no limits, where is He not present? At the same time, however, so far as regarded the created nature, in assuming which at a certain point of time, He, while continuing to be God, became man—that is to say, so far as regarded His soul, He was in hell: this is plainly declared in these words of Scripture, which were both sent before in prophecy and fully expounded by apostolical interpretation: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.”26812681 Ps. xvi. 10.
9. I know that some think that at the death of Christ a resurrection such as is promised to us at the end of the world was granted to the righteous, founding this on the statement in Scripture that, in the earthquake by which at the moment of His death the rocks were rent and the graves were opened, many bodies of the saints arose and were seen with Him in the Holy City after He rose. Certainly, if these did not fall asleep again, their bodies being a second time laid in the grave, it would be necessary to see in what sense Christ can be understood to be “the first begotten from the dead,”26822682 Rev. i. 5. if so many preceded Him in the resurrection. And if it be said, in answer to this, that the statement is made by anticipation, so that the graves indeed are to be supposed to have been opened by that earthquake at the time when Christ was hanging on the cross, but that the bodies of the saints did not rise then, but only after Christ had risen before them,—although on this hypothesis of anticipation in the narrative, the addition of these words would not hinder us from still believing, on the one hand, that Christ was without doubt “the first begotten from the dead,” and on the other, that to these saints permission was given, when He went before them, to rise to an eternal state of incorruption and immortality, there still remains a difficulty, namely, how in that case Peter could have spoken as he did, saying what was without doubt perfectly true, when he affirmed that in the prophecy quoted above the words, that “His flesh should not see corruption,” referred not to David but to Christ, and added concerning David, “He is buried, and his sepulchre is with us to this day,”26832683 Acts ii. 28.—a statement which would have had no force as an argument unless the body of David was still undisturbed in the sepulchre; for of course the sepulchre might still have been there even had the saint’s body been raised up immediately after his death, and had thus not seen corruption. But it seems hard that David should not be 518included in this resurrection of the saints, if eternal life was given to them, since it is so frequently, so clearly, and with such honourable mention of his name, declared that Christ was to be of David’s seed. Moreover, these words in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning the ancient believers, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,”26842684 Heb. xi. 40. will be endangered, if these believers have been already established in that incorruptible resurrection-state which is promised to us when we are to be made perfect at the end of the world.
10. You perceive, therefore, how intricate is the question why Peter chose to mention, as persons to whom, when shut up in prison, the gospel was preached, those only who were unbelieving in the days of Noah when the ark was a preparing—and also the difficulties which prevent me from pronouncing any definite opinion on the subject. An additional reason for my hesitation is, that after the apostle had said, “Which baptism now by a like figure saves you (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is on the right hand of God, having swallowed up death that we might be made heirs of eternal life; and having gone into heaven, angels, and authorities, and powers being made subject to Him,” he added: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God;” after which he continues: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you; who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” After these words he subjoins: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit.”26852685 1 Pet. iv. 1, 6.
11. Who can be otherwise than perplexed by words so profound as these? He saith, “The gospel was preached to the dead;” and if by the “dead” we understand persons who have departed from the body, I suppose he must mean those described above as “unbelieving in the days of Noah,” or certainly all those whom Christ found in hell. What, then, is meant by the words, “That they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit”? For how can they be judged in the flesh, which if they be in hell they no longer have, and which if they have been loosed from the pains of hell they have not yet resumed? For even if “hell was,” as you put in your question, “emptied,” it is not to be believed that all who were then there have risen again in the flesh, or those who, arising, again appeared with the Lord resumed the flesh for this purpose, that they might be in it judged according to men; but how this could be taken as true in the case of those who were unbelieving in the days of Noah I do not see, for Scripture does not affirm that they were made to live in the flesh, nor can it be believed that the end for which they were loosed from the pains of hell was that they who were delivered from these might resume their flesh in order to suffer punishment. What, then, is meant by the words, “That they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit?” Can it mean that to those whom Christ found in hell this was granted, that by the gospel they were quickened in the spirit, although at the future resurrection they must be judged in the flesh, that they may pass, through some punishment in the flesh, into the kingdom of God? If this be what is meant, why were only the unbelievers of the time of Noah (and not also all others whom Christ found in hell when He went thither) quickened in spirit by the preaching of the gospel, to be afterwards judged in the flesh with a punishment of limited duration? But if we take this as applying to all, the question still remains why Peter mentioned none but those who were unbelieving in the days of Noah.
12. I find, moreover, a difficulty in the reason alleged by those who attempt to give an explanation of this matter. They say that all those who were found in hell when Christ descended thither had never heard the gospel, and that that place of punishment or imprisonment was emptied of all these, because the gospel was not published to the whole world in their lifetime, and they had sufficient excuse for not believing that which had never been proclaimed to them; but that thenceforth, men despising the gospel when it was in all nations fully published and spread abroad would be inexcusable, and therefore after the prison was then emptied there still remains a just judgment, in which those who are contumacious and unbelieving shall be punished even with eternal fire. Those who hold this opinion do not consider that the same excuse is available for all those who have, even after Christ’s resurrection, departed this life before the gospel came to them. For even after the Lord came back from hell, it was not the case that no one was from that time forward permitted 519to go to hell without having heard the gospel, seeing that multitudes throughout the world died before the proclamation of its tidings came to them, all of whom are entitled to plead the excuse which is alleged to have been taken away from those of whom it is said, that because they had not before heard the gospel, the Lord when He descended into hell proclaimed it to them.
13. This objection may perhaps be met by saying that those also who since the Lord’s resurrection have died or are now dying without the gospel having been proclaimed to them, may have heard it or may now hear it where they are, in hell, so that there they may believe what ought to be believed concerning the truth of Christ, and may also have that pardon and salvation which those to whom Christ preached obtained; for the fact that Christ ascended again from hell is no reason why the report concerning Him should have perished from recollection there, for from this earth also He has gone ascending into heaven, and yet by the publication of His gospel those who believe in Him shall be saved; moreover, He was exalted, and received a name that is above every name, for this end, that in His name every knee should bow, not only of things in heaven and on earth, but also of things under the earth.26862686 Infernorum. Phil. ii. 9. But if we accept this opinion, according to which we are warranted in supposing that men who did not believe while they were in life can in hell believe in Christ, who can bear the contradictions both of reason and faith which must follow? In the first place, if this were true, we should seem to have no reason for mourning over those who have departed from the body without that grace, and there would be no ground for being solicitous and using urgent exhortation that men would accept the grace of God before they die, lest they should be punished with eternal death. If, again, it be alleged that in hell those only believe to no purpose and in vain who refused to accept here on earth the gospel preached to them, but that believing will profit those who never despised a gospel which they never had it in their power to hear another still more absurd consequence is involved, namely, that forasmuch as all men shall certainly die, and ought to come to hell wholly free from the guilt of having despised the gospel; since otherwise it can be of no use to them to believe it when they come there, the gospel ought not to be preached on earth, a sentiment not less foolish than profane.
14. Wherefore let us most firmly hold that which faith, resting on authority established beyond all question, maintains: “that Christ died according to the Scriptures,” and that “He was buried,” and that “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” and all other things which have been written concerning Him in records fully demonstrated to be true. Among these doctrines we include the doctrine that He was in hell, and, having loosed the pains of hell, in which it was impossible for Him to be holden, from which also He is with good ground believed to have loosed and delivered whom He would, He took again to Himself that body which He had left on the cross, and which had been laid in the tomb. These things, I say, let us firmly hold; but as to the question propounded by you from the words of the Apostle Peter, since you now perceive the difficulties which I find in it, and since other difficulties may possibly be found if the subject be more carefully studied, let us continue to investigate it, whether by applying our own thoughts to the subject, or by asking the opinion of any one whom it may be becoming and possible to consult.
15. Consider, however, I pray you, whether all that the Apostle Peter says concerning spirits shut up in prison, who were unbelieving in the days of Noah, may not after all have been written without any reference to hell, but rather to those times the typical character of which he has transferred to the present time. For that transaction had been typical of future events, so that those who do not believe the gospel in our age, when the Church is being built up in all nations, may be understood to be like those who did not believe in that age while the ark was a preparing; also, that those who have believed and are saved by baptism may be compared to those who at that time, being in the ark, were saved by water; wherefore he says, “So baptism by a like figure saves you.” Let us therefore interpret the rest of the statements concerning them that believed not so as to harmonise with the analogy of the figure, and refuse to entertain the thought that the gospel was once preached, or is even to this hour being preached in hell in order to make men believe and be delivered from its pains, as if a Church had been established there as well as on earth.
16. Those who have inferred from the words, “He preached to the spirits in prison,” that Peter held the opinion which perplexes you, seem to me to have been drawn to this interpretation by imagining that the term “spirits” could not be applied to designate souls which were at that time still in the bodies of men, and which, being shut up in the darkness of ignorance, were, so to speak, “in prison,”—a prison such as that from which the Psalmist sought deliverance in the prayer, “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name;”26872687 Ps. cxlii. 7. which is in another 520place called the “shadow of death,”26882688 Ps. cvii. 14. from which deliverance was granted, not certainly in hell, but in this world, to those of whom it is written, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”26892689 Isa. ix. 2. But to the men of Noah’s time the gospel was preached in vain, because they believed not when God’s long suffering waited for them during the many years in which the ark was being built (for the building of the ark was itself in a certain sense a preaching of mercy); even as now men similar to them are unbelieving, who, to use the same figure, are shut up in the darkness of ignorance as in a prison, beholding in vain the Church which is being built up throughout the world, while judgment is impending, as the flood was by which at that time all the unbelieving perished; for the Lord says: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man; they did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”26902690 Luke xvii. 26, 27. But because that transaction was also a type of a future event, that flood was a type both of baptism to believers and of destruction to unbelievers, as in that figure in which, not by a transaction but by words, two things are predicted concerning Christ, when He is represented in Scripture as a stone which was destined to be both to unbelievers a stone of stumbling, and to believers a foundation-stone.26912691 Ps. cxviii. 22; Isa. viii. 14, xxviii. 16; Dan. ii. 34, 45; Matt. xxi. 44; Luke xx. 17; Acts iv. 11; Rom. ix. 33, etc. Occasionally, however, also in the same figure, whether it be in the form of a typical event or of a parable, two things are used to represent one, as believers were represented both by the timbers of which the ark was built and by the eight souls saved in the ark, and as in the gospel similitude of the sheepfold Christ is both the shepherd and the door.26922692 John x. 1, 2.
17. And let it not be regarded as an objection to the interpretation now given, that the Apostle Peter says that Christ Himself preached to men shut up in prison who were unbelieving in the days of Noah, as if we must consider this interpretation inconsistent with the fact that at that time Christ had not come. For although he had not yet come in the flesh, as He came when afterwards He “showed Himself upon earth, and conversed with men,”26932693 Baruch iii. 37. nevertheless he certainly came often to this earth, from the beginning of the human race, whether to rebuke the wicked, as Cain, and before that, Adam and his wife, when they sinned, or to comfort the good, or to admonish both, so that some should to their salvation believe, others should to their condemnation refuse to believe,—coming then not in the flesh but in the spirit, speaking by suitable manifestations of Himself to such persons and in such manner as seemed good to Him. As to this expression, “He came in the spirit,” surely He, as the Son of God, is a Spirit in the essence of His Deity, for that is not corporeal; but what is at any time done by the Son without the Holy Spirit, or without the Father, seeing that all the works of the Trinity are inseparable?
18. The words of Scripture which are under consideration seem to me of themselves to make this sufficiently plain to those who carefully attend to them: “For Christ hath died once for our sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit: in which also He came and preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were unbelieving, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” The order of the words is now, I suppose, carefully noted by you: “Christ being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit;” in which spirit He came and preached also to those spirits who had once in the days of Noah refused to believe His word; since before He came in the flesh to die for us, which He did once, He often came in the spirit, to whom He would, by visions instructing them as He would, coming to them assuredly in the same spirit in which He was quickened when He was put to death in the flesh in His passion. Now what does His being quickened in the spirit mean if not this, that the same flesh in which alone He had experienced death rose from the dead by the quickening spirit?
19. For who will dare to say that Jesus was put to death in His soul, i.e. in the spirit which belonged to Him as man, since the only death which the soul can experience is sin, from which He was absolutely free when for us He was put to death in the flesh? For if the souls of all men are derived from that one which the breath of God gave to the first man, by whom “sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men,”26942694 Rom. v. 12. either the soul of Christ is not derived from the same source as other souls, because He had absolutely no sin, either original or personal, on account of which death could be supposed to be merited by Him, since He paid on our behalf that which was not on His own account due by Him, in whom the prince of this world, who had the power of death, found nothing26952695 John xiv. 30.—and there is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that 521He who created a soul for the first man should create a soul for Himself; or if the soul of Christ be derived from Adam’s soul He in assuming it to Himself, cleansed it so that when He came into this world He was born of the Virgin perfectly free from sin either actual or transmitted. If, however, the souls of men are not derived from that one soul, and it is only by the flesh that original sin is transmitted from Adam, the Son of God created a soul for Himself, as He creates souls for all other men, but He united it not to sinful flesh, but to the “likeness of sinful flesh.”26962696 Rom. viii. 3. For He took, indeed, from the Virgin the true substance of flesh; not, however, “sinful flesh,” for it was neither begotten nor conceived through carnal concupiscence, but mortal, and capable of change in the successive stages of life, as being like unto sinful flesh in all points, sin excepted.
20. Therefore, whatever be the true theory concerning the origin of souls,—and on this I feel it would be rash for me to pronounce, meanwhile, any opinion beyond utterly rejecting the theory which affirms that each soul is thrust into the body which it inhabits as into a prison, where it expiates some former actions of its own of which I know nothing, it is certain, regarding the soul of Christ, not only that it is, according to the nature of all souls, immortal, but also that it was neither put to death by sin nor punished by condemnation, the only two ways in which death can be understood as experienced by the soul; and therefore it could not be said of Christ that with reference to the soul He was “quickened in the spirit.” For He was quickened in that in which He had been put to death; this, therefore, is spoken with reference to His flesh, for His flesh received life again when the soul returned to it, as it also had died when the soul departed. He was therefore said to be “put to death in the flesh,” because He experienced death only in the flesh, but “quickened in the spirit,” because by the operation of that Spirit in which He was wont to come and preach to whom He would, that same flesh in which He came to men was quickened and rose from the grave.
21. Wherefore, passing now to the words which we find farther on concerning unbelievers, “Who shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead,” there is no necessity for our understanding the “dead” here to be those who have departed from the body. For it may be that the apostle intended by the word “dead” to denote unbelievers, as being spiritually dead, like those of whom it was said, “Let the dead bury their dead,”26972697 Matt. viii. 22. and by the word “living” to denote those who believe in Him, having not heard in vain the call, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light;”26982698 Eph. v. 14. of whom also the Lord said: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.”26992699 John v. 25. On the same principle of interpretation, also, there is nothing compelling us to understand the immediately succeeding words of Peter—“For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit”27002700 1 Pet. iv. 6.—as describing what has been done in hell. “For for this cause has the gospel been preached” in this life “to the dead,” that is, to the unbelieving wicked, “that” when they believed “they might be judged according to men in the flesh,”—that is, by means of various afflictions and by the death of the body itself; for which reason the same apostle says in another place: “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God,”27012701 1 Pet. iv. 17.—“but live according to God in the spirit,” since in that same spirit they had been dead while they were held prisoners in the death of unbelief and wickedness.
22. If this exposition of the words of Peter offend any one, or, without offending, at least fail to satisfy any one, let him attempt to interpret them on the supposition that they refer to hell: and if he succeed in solving my difficulties which I have mentioned above, so as to remove the perplexity which they occasion, let him communicate his interpretation to me; and if this were done, the words might possibly have been intended to be understood in both ways, but the view which I have propounded is not thereby shown to be false.
I wrote and sent by the deacon Asellus a letter, which I suppose you have received, giving such answers as I could to the questions which you sent before, excepting the one concerning the vision of God by the bodily senses, on which a larger treatise must be attempted. In your last note, to which this is a reply, you propounded two questions concerning certain words of the Apostle Peter, and concerning the soul of the Lord, both of which I have discussed,—the former more fully, the latter briefly.27022702 See paragraphs 19 and 20. I beg you not to grudge the trouble of sending me another copy of the letter containing the question whether it is possible for the substance of the Deity to be seen in a bodily form as limited to place; for it has, I know not how, gone amissing here, and though long sought for, has not been found.
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