Chapter II.—The Disputation of Nebridius Against the Manichæans, on the Question “Whether God Be Corruptible or Incorruptible.”
3. It was sufficient for me, O Lord, to oppose to those deceived deceivers and dumb praters (dumb, since Thy word sounded not forth from them) that which a long while ago, while we were at Carthage, Nebridius used to propound, at which all we who heard it were disturbed: “What could that reputed nation of darkness, which the Manichæans are in the habit of setting up as a mass opposed to Thee, have done unto Thee hadst Thou objected to fight with it? For had it been answered, It would have done Thee some injury, then shouldest Thou be subject to violence and corruption; but if the reply were: It could do Thee no injury, then was no cause assigned for Thy fighting with it; and so fighting as that a certain portion and member of Thee, or offspring of Thy very substance, should be blended with adverse powers and natures not of Thy creation, and be by them corrupted and deteriorated to such an extent as to be turned from happiness into misery, and need help whereby it might be delivered and purged; and that this offspring of Thy substance was the soul, to which, being enslaved, contaminated, and corrupted, Thy word, free, pure, and entire, might bring succour; but yet also the word itself being corruptible, because it was from one and the same substance. So that should they affirm Thee, whatsoever Thou art, that is, Thy substance whereby Thou art, to be incorruptible, then were all these assertions false and execrable; but if corruptible, then that were false, and at the first utterance to be abhorred.” 484 This argument, then, was enough against those who wholly merited to be vomited forth from the surfeited stomach, since they had no means of escape without horrible sacrilege, both of heart and tongue, thinking and speaking such things of Thee.
Similar arguments are made use of in his controversy with Fortunatus (Dis. ii. 5), where he says, that as Fortunatus could find no answer, so neither could he when a Manichæan, and that this led him to the true faith. Again, in his De Moribus (sec. 25), where he examines the answers which had been given, he commences: “For this gives rise to the question, which used to throw us into great perplexity, even when we were your zealous disciples, nor could we find any answer,—what the race of darkness would have done to God, supposing He had refused to fight with it at the cost of such calamity to part of Himself. For if God would not have suffered any loss by remaining quiet, we thought it hard that we had been sent to endure so much. Again, if He would have suffered, His nature cannot have been incorruptible, as it behooves the nature of God to be.” We have already, in the note to book iv. sec. 26, referred to some of the matters touched on in this section; but they call for further elucidation. The following passage, quoted by Augustin from Manichæus himself (Con. Ep. Manich. 19), discloses to us (1) their ideas as to the nature and position of the two kingdoms: “In one direction, on the border of this bright and holy region, there was a land of darkness, deep and vast in extent, where abode fiery bodies, destructive races. Here was boundless darkness flowing from the same source in immeasurable abundance, with the productions properly belonging to it. Beyond this were muddy, turbid waters with their inhabitants; and inside of them winds terrible and violent, with their prince and their progenitors. Then, again, a fiery region of destruction, with its chiefs and peoples. And similarly inside of this, a race full of smoke and gloom, where abode the dreadful prince and chief of all, having around him innumerable princes, himself the mind and source of them all. Such are the five natures of the region of corruption.” Augustin also designates them (ibid. sec. 20) “the five dens of the race of darkness.” The nation of darkness desires to possess the kingdom of light, and prepares to make war upon it; and in the controversy with Faustus we have (2) the beginning and issue of the war (Con. Faust. ii. 3; see also De Hæres, 46). Augustin says: “You dress up for our benefit some wonderful First Man, who came down from the race of light, to war with the race of darkness, armed with his waters against the waters of the enemy, and with his fire against their fire, and with his winds against their winds.” And again (ibid. sec. 5): “You say that he mingled with the principles of darkness in his conflict with the race of darkness, that by capturing these principles the world might be made out of the mixture. So that, by your profane fancies, Christ is not only mingled with heaven and all the stars, but conjoined and compounded with the earth and all its productions—a Saviour no more, but needing to be saved by you, by your eating and disgorging Him. This foolish custom of making your disciples bring you food, that your teeth and stomach may be the means of relieving Christ, who is bound up in it, is a consequence of your profane fancies. You declare that Christ is liberated in this way,—not, however, entirely; for you hold that some tiny particles of no value still remain in the excrement, to be mixed up and compounded again and again in various material forms, and to be released and purified at any rate by the fire in which the world will be burned up, if not before. Nay, even then, you say, Christ is not entirely liberated, but some extreme particles of His good and divine nature, which have been so defiled that they cannot be cleansed, are condemned to stay for ever in the mass of darkness.” The result of this commingling of the light with the darkness was, that a certain portion and member of God was turned “from happiness into misery,” and placed in bondage in the world, and was in need of help “whereby it might be delivered and purged.” (See also Con. Fortunat. i. 1.) Reference may be made (3), for information as to the method by which the divine substance was released in the eating of the elect, to the notes on book iii. sec. 18, above; and for the influence of the sun and moon in accomplishing that release, to the note on book v. sec, 12, above.