Augustine continues his look at the nature of death and bodies here at the end of book 13. In the Garden, God formed Adam’s body from earth and breathed life into him. Humanity had bodies of flesh and living souls, enlivened by God’s breath. Augustine argues against some Christian interpreters that this breath is different from the Spirit that Jesus gives the church at Pentecost. The first is the the breath of life, which all humans receives as part of our humanity in Adam. The second is the Spirit of God, which the believers receive as part of our New Humanity in Christ. The breath of life enables us to live and to bear God’s image in the world but we continue in our mortal, fleshly bodies. The Spirit of God is our guarantee that God’s promise of eternal life in spiritual bodies is certain.
We are living in fleshly, mortal bodies but we will have spiritual, immortal bodies in eternity. The Spirit of God that we have received is evidence that He is making us new and delivering on His promises to us. We need God’s breath just for life in His creation – all creation needs His ongoing creative power and attention to continue existing; as Paul says at the Areopagus: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Grace is constantly sustaining Nature, by the will and power of God. These bodies, as Augustine says, could have been made to live forever without sin, had God continued to maintain them. Instead, Adam and Eve sinned and our mortal bodies were presented with death. But our spiritual bodies, post-resurrection, will be identifiable as ours and at the same time immortal. The Spirit, who is the seal of God’s promise, will remake us into something new. We will the New Creation fully realized, now a hope but then a reality. The moment when Jesus breathes the Spirit out on His disciples, then, is the moment of the beginnings of the New Creation. We are the first fruits and we will see the harvest in eternity.
“But those men who belong to the grace of God, and are fellow-citizens of the holy angels who have remained in their blessed life, will be so endued with spiritual bodies that they will never again sin or die. They will be invested with an immortality like that of the angels, which cannot be taken away from them even through sin. The nature of their flesh will remain the same, but with no fleshly corruption and heaviness remaining.”
For Augustine, then, Nature has always needed Grace. Grace fulfills Nature in a way that it cannot fulfill itself. Nature would cease to exist without Grace sustaining it, and Nature by itself is always contingent. Adam and Eve could have lived forever in their state of innocence had they not sinned but they also would have always been mortal. Sin introduced death into the mortal creation. Once the Spirit completes the work of New Creation and Christ’s Kingdom is fully realized, however, Grace will fully complete Nature so that creation itself becomes immortal. Adam and Eve could have lived forever, but in the New Creation, God’s people will live forever without the possibility of sin and death. With sin defeated and death cast down into the lake of fire, immortality will have overcome mortality and Grace will have fulfilled Nature and made her what she was always intended to be.
Blessings in the Spirit,