I’ve started reading The City of God again, but I doubt I’ll be able to finish it before spring semester starts. I’m on book 13, so I’m over half-way, which is encouraging for a 1,000 page book. Anyways, in book 13, chapter 16, Augustine is defending his understanding of the fall and I came across this line that is worth quoting.
Now the philosophers against whose attacks we are defending the City of God, that is to say, God’s Church, think that they show their wisdom in laughing at our assertion that the separation of soul from body is to be reckoned among the soul’s punishments. Their reason for this is that, in their view, the perfect bliss of the soul comes only when it has been completely stripped of the body and returns to God, simple and alone, and, as one may say, naked.
On this point, if I had found nothing in their own writings to refute this notion, I should have to engage in a more laborious argument to prove that it is not the body as such, but the corruptible body, that is a burden to the soul. Hence the scriptural statement which we quoted in the last book, ‘The corruptible body weighs down the soul (Wisd. 9:15).’ The addition of ‘corruptible’ shows that the writer meant that the soul was weighed down, not by any kind of body but by the body as it became as a result of sin and the punishment that followed. Even if he had not added this epithet, we ought still to have given this meaning to the statement, as the only correct interpretation.
Augustine, City of God, tr. Henry Bettenson (New York: Penguin, 2003), 524-525.
Okay, I know Augustine was heavily influenced by Platonist philosophy, but this quote shows that he did not merely appropriate it and give its principles Christian names. He critiqued it and modified it in light of the Christian message. In this case, Augustine critiques the platonic idea that the body is a prison in light of the resurrection. Our sinful body is a prison of some sorts, this this does not mean that Augustine is against a physical or bodily existence. Yet, more than just Augustine, there seems to be many who think that the Early Church just imported foreign philosophical concepts blindly. I think that if one examines the actual writings of the Church Fathers, one sees a more complex picture. Sure they used the philosophy of their day (as if we do not do the same?), but they changed it and modified it. Indeed, they were doing something completely new.