Chapter 12 [VIII.]—The Apostle Paul Could Know the Third Heaven and Paradise, But Not Whether He Was in the Body or Not.
See therefore how many facts of our nature, not of the past but of the present time, and not pertaining to the body only, but also to our inner man, we know nothing about, without deserving to be compared with the brute beasts. And yet this is the opprobrious comparison which you have thought me worthy of, because I have not complete knowledge of the past origin of my soul—although I am not wholly ignorant of it, inasmuch as I know that it was given me by God, and yet that it is not out of God. But when can I enumerate all the particulars relating to the nature of our spirit and our soul of which we are ignorant? Whereas we ought rather to utter that exclamation before God, which the Psalmist uttered: “The knowledge of Thee is too wonderful for me; it is very difficult, I cannot attain to it.” 2465 Now why did he add the words for me, except because he conjectured how incomprehensible was the knowledge of God for himself, inasmuch as he was unable to comprehend even his own self? The apostle was caught up into the third heaven, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter; and whether this had happened to him in the body or out of the body, he declares himself unable to say; 2466 but yet he has no fear of encountering from you comparison with the cattle. His spirit knew that it was in the third heaven, in paradise; but knew not whether it was in the body. The third heaven, of course, and paradise were not the Apostle Paul himself; but his body and soul and spirit were himself. Behold, then, the curious fact: he knew the great things—lofty and divine—which were not himself; but that which appertained to his own nature he was ignorant of. Who in the vast knowledge of such occult things can help being astonished at his great ignorance of his own existence? Who, in short, would believe it possible, if one who errs not had not told us, that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought”? 2467 Where, then, ought our bent and purpose mainly to be—to “reach forth to those things which are before”? And yet you compare me to cattle, if among the things which are behind I have forgotten anything concerning my own origin—although you hear the same apostle say: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 2468
Ps. cxxxix. 6.359:2466
2 Cor. xii. 4.359:2467
Rom. viii. 26.359:2468
Phil. 3:13, 14.