The Manichaeans argued that human bodies were “the natural substance of evil”. The Platonists rejected this notion but claimed that bodies, being corruptible and undergoing decay, weighed down souls so that souls become free when released from bodies at death. Augustine has agreed with both of these groups at times in his life but in The City of God argues that bodies are created good by a good Creator. Bodies are not the problem, sinful souls are. Bodies are corrupted as an effect of sin: “For the corruption of the body, which presseth down the soul, was not the cause of the first sin, but its punishment; nor was it corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful, but the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible.” Augustine highlights the goodness of created bodies against the philosophies of his day. Otherwise, he wonders, how could the devil be a sinner, since he has no corruptible body? Flesh does not make the devil sinful, instead the pride and envy of his soul makes him sinful. Rejecting the body or elevating the soul does not properly locate the causes of sin, for Augustine.
Human sinfulness is located in the human will, which deals with loves. Humanity was made to love God as our highest good and to love other humans, but in our sin we have chosen to love lesser loves. We love ourselves and other created goods instead of loving the Creator. With our wills, we choose to praise and love things that God made good and not the Maker of all good things. Augustine is dealing with definitions here, mostly, so he has not fully engaged the conversation about loves – he is looking at various words for “love” in Latin and whether the writers of Scripture mean anything different by using different words – but he does argue that those in the City of God love God, while those in the City of Man love self, or man. We are made to love God, and our failure to do so leads us to sin, foolishness, life according to self or the flesh, and death.
God has made us to love Him. May our loves be rightly ordered and our hearts be drawn to Him.