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1. At last I have received your joint letter from Africa, and I do not regret the importunity with which, though you were silent, I persevered in sending letters to you, that I might obtain a reply, and learn, not through report from others, but from your own most welcome statement, that you are in health. I have not forgotten the brief query, or rather the very important theological question, which you propounded in regard to the origin of the soul — does it descend from heaven, as the philosopher Pythagoras and all the Platonists and Origen think? Or is it part of the essence of the Deity, as the Stoics, Manichæus, and the Priscillianists of Spain imagine? Or are souls kept in a divine treasure house wherein they were stored of old as some ecclesiastics, foolishly misled, believe? Or are they daily created by God and sent into bodies, according to what is written in the gospel,
My Father works hitherto, and I work? John 5:17 or are souls really produced, as Tertullian, Apollinaris, and the majority of the Western divines conjecture, by propagation, so that as the body is the offspring of body, the soul is the offspring of soul, and exists on conditions similar to those regulating the existence of the inferior animals. I know that I have published my opinion on this question in my brief writings against Ruffinus, in reply to a treatise addressed by him to Anastasius, of holy memory, bishop of the Roman Church, in which, while attempting to impose upon the simplicity of his readers by a slippery and artful, yet withal foolish confession, he exposed to contempt his own faith, or, rather, his own perfidy. These books are, I think, in the possession of your holy kinsman Oceanus, for they were published long ago to meet the calumnies contained in numerous writings of Ruffinus. Be this as it may, you have in Africa that holy man and learned bishop Augustine, who will be able to teach you on this subject viva voce, as the saying is, and expound to you his opinion, or, I should rather say, my own opinion stated in his words.
2. I have long wished to begin the volume of Ezekiel, and fulfil a promise frequently made to studious readers; but at the time when I had just begun to dictate the proposed exposition, my mind was so much agitated by the devastation of the western provinces of the empire, and especially by the sack of Rome itself by the barbarians, that, to use a common proverbial phrase, I scarcely knew my own name; and for a long while I was silent, knowing that it was a time for tears. Moreover when I had, in the course of this year, prepared three books of the Commentary, a sudden furious invasion of the barbarous tribes mentioned by your Virgil as
the widely roaming Barcæi, and by sacred Scripture in the words concerning Ishmael,
He shall dwell in the presence of his brethren, Genesis 16:12 swept over the whole of Egypt, Palestine, Phenice, and Syria, carrying all before them with the vehemence of a mighty torrent, so that it was only with the greatest difficulty that we were enabled, by the mercy of Christ, to escape their hands. But if, as a famous orator has said,
Laws are silent amid the clash of arms, how much more may this be said of scriptural studies, which demand a multitude of books and silence, together with uninterrupted diligence of amanuenses, and especially the enjoyment of tranquillity and leisure by those who dictate! I have accordingly sent two books to my holy daughter Fabiola, of which, if you wish copies, you may borrow them from her. Through lack of time I have been unable to transcribe others; when you have read these, and have seen the portico, as it were, you may easily conjecture what the house itself is designed to be. But I trust in the mercy of God, who has helped me in the very difficult commencement of the foresaid work, that He will help me also in the predictions concerning the wars of Gog and Magog, which occupy the last division but one of the prophecy, and in the concluding portion itself, describing the building, the details, and the proportions of that most holy and mysterious temple.
3. Our holy brother Oceanus, to whom you desire to be mentioned, is a man of such gifts and character, and so profoundly learned in the law of the Lord, that he may probably give you instruction without any request of mine, and can impart to you on all scriptural questions the opinion which, according to the measure of our joint abilities, we have formed.
Source. Translated by J.G. Cunningham. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. 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/1102165.htm>.
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