Once Out of Nature: Augustine on Time and the Body


Once Out of Nature offers an original interpretation of Augustine?s theory of time and embodiment. Andrea Nightingale draws on philosophy, sociology, literary theory, and social history to analyze Augustine?s conception of temporality, eternity, and the human and transhuman condition.
In Nightingale?s view, the notion of embodiment illuminates a set of problems much larger than the body itself: it captures the human experience of being ...
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Once Out of Nature offers an original interpretation of Augustine’s theory of time and embodiment. Andrea Nightingale draws on philosophy, sociology, literary theory, and social history to analyze Augustine’s conception of temporality, eternity, and the human and transhuman condition.
In Nightingale’s view, the notion of embodiment illuminates a set of problems much larger than the body itself: it captures the human experience of being an embodied soul dwelling on earth. In Augustine’s writings, humans live both in and out of nature—exiled from Eden and punished by mortality, they are “resident aliens” on earth. While the human body is subject to earthly time, the human mind is governed by what Nightingale calls psychic time. For the human psyche always stretches away from the present moment—where the physical body persists—into memories and expectations. As Nightingale explains, while the body is present in the here and now, the psyche cannot experience self-presence. Thus, for Augustine, the human being dwells in two distinct time zones, in earthly time and in psychic time. The human self, then, is a moving target. Adam, Eve, and the resurrected saints, by contrast, live outside of time and nature: these transhumans dwell in an everlasting present.
Nightingale connects Augustine’s views to contemporary debates about transhumans and suggests that Augustine’s thought reflects our own ambivalent relationship with our bodies and the earth. Once Out of Nature offers a compelling invitation to ponder the boundaries of the human.
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Editorial Reviews

Alexander Nehamas

“This is a beautifully written, engaging, and original book that demonstrates Augustine’s complex views on the human body while emphasizing the importance of temporality on his account of the body’s origin, vicissitudes, and future. Andrea Nightingale discusses several aspects of the relationship between body, soul, and time in Augustine as she moves freely and illuminatingly through his major works. Once Out of Nature is simply a pleasure.”
Catherine Conybeare

“Two valuable insights lie at the heart of Once Out of Nature. The first is that Augustine is always concerned with the body and embodiment. The second is that Augustine’s valuing of, and serious thought about, the body leads to his dual notion of time as experienced in the body, earthly time and psychic time. Nightingale’s lucid exposition is an important contribution to the study of Augustine’s thought. This is a clear, compelling, and at times quite moving book.” —Catherine Conybeare, Bryn Mawr College

“Nightingale offers a stimulating introduction to profound existential issues in Augustine’s philosophy. . . . Highly recommended.”
The Classical Review

“For those who enjoy their study of ancient thought straight up with a zestful contemporary twist, Nightingale’s work always combines intellectual satisfaction with a pleasantly astringent kick.”
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses

 “By putting forward a new structural framework to read Augustine’s body-mind doctrine, Nightingale introduces an innovative and intriguing approach and succeeds in unraveling a complex puzzle. Her sharp and scholarly analysis will undoubtedly find its way to all who are interested in the (history of) philosophical anthropology in general, and for researchers in the field of Early Christianity and Augustine in particular.”
Religious Studies Review

“Nightingale’s brilliant, nuanced book explores connections between time, memory, and the body in the works of Augustine of Hippo. . . . The book is an important contribution to the study of Augustine’s thought and will shed new light on the continuing debates about faith and embodiment in Christian theology.”
Journal of the History of Philosophy

“Groundbreaking. . . . In this elegant and fascinating book, Nightingale discovers new ways of thinking about the body and time in ways that are grounded in the Christianity of late antiquity, but that also continue to resonate today.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226585758
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/30/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Nightingale is professor of classics and comparative literature at Stanford University and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in its Cultural Context, among other books.

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Read an Excerpt


Augustine on Time and the Body


Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-58575-8

Chapter One

Edenic and Resurrected Transhumans

When she ate the pomegranate, it was as if every seed with its wet red shining coat of sweet flesh clinging to the dark core was one of nature's eyes. Afterward, it was nature that was blind, and she who was wild with vision, condemned to see what was before her, and behind. —Eleanor Wilner, "The Apple was a Northern Invention"

Eternity is in love with the productions of time. —William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

In 410 CE, Alaric the Visigoth sacked the city of Rome. Although this violent event lasted only three days, the Visigoths burned the temples, looted the city, and killed many Romans. The Visigoths had already attacked Rome twice in 408–9: these sieges led to widespread starvation in the city, and some people even resorted to cannibalism. The sack of Rome in 410 had a profound impact on the Roman Empire. Although Rome was no longer the political capital of the empire, it was the symbol of civilized culture in the West. Many pagan senators and aristocrats lived there, nostalgically invoking the old Roman values. The city also had a large population of Christians, who worshipped at the famous Basilicas of Peter and Paul (and many other impressive churches that had been erected in the city).

Not surprisingly, citizens of the Roman Empire reacted differently to the sack of Rome. Pagans claimed that the Christian rejection of the Roman gods caused this disaster; Christians argued that the city was harmed because it tolerated paganism, heresy, and immorality. Augustine had heard many reports about the destruction in Rome, and he encountered Roman families arriving as refugees in Carthage and North Africa. He wrote a number of sermons reacting to this event and opened the City of God with a meditation on the attack on Rome.

At the opening of the City of God, Augustine offers a vivid depiction of the corpses of the people slain in Rome. Although he laments over the destruction, he claims that God will conquer death by resurrecting these bodies at the end of time:

"But many could not even be buried, in all that welter of carnage." Religious faith does not dread even that. We have assurance that the ravenous beasts will not prevent the resurrection of bodies.... If future life was obstructed by anything that the enemies may do with the bodies of the slain, then [Jesus] would not say, "Do not fear those who kill the body—they cannot kill the soul." ... It is true that many Christian bodies did not receive an earthly covering ... but God knows the places in the earth and the air from which He will restore these to life.

Augustine says that humans are "food for the beasts of the earth." Whether buried or unburied, the corpses are part of the food chain and ecosystem until Judgment Day. This raises one of the most important issues in Augustine's thinking: the human place in the natural world and in earthly time. The "ravenous beasts" can and will eat the corpses, but God will get these bodies back from the earth—even from the stomachs of animals—at the end of time. God will take the Christians out of the food chain, offering them denaturalized, transhuman bodies that will live eternally in the City of God.

As Augustine observes, the human body incorporates food, excretes waste, spawns new life, and changes and ages as it heads toward death. Even a healthy human is the site of disintegration. In Augustine's view, humans begin to die from the moment they are born (CD 13.10). As we have seen, a nothing-something pervades all human bodies, and this makes it impossible for them to maintain a single form. Indeed, the fact that one must regularly eat and excrete shows that the body is always in process. The very boundaries of the body are called into question since one's body grows and wastes as one eats and digests:

Our body continually passes away and loses something of itself; but we do not sense that loss because it is restored though the nourishment of food.... This phenomenon takes place in us now and in all our actions; it continues even when we rest.... Why would we use the word replenishment if nothing is lost? We eagerly fill our body with that which it loses by replenishing it with food. Therefore, because of this corruption of the body, we all face death.... This mortality is symbolized by the skins that Adam and Eve put on when they were exiled from paradise. Skins signify death because they are stripped from dead animals. (Sermo. 362.11.11)

For Augustine, the human body is permeated with death: it is disintegrating and losing parts of itself even before it dies. In short, humans are on the food chain as soon as they are born. As earthly bodies, they eat and are eaten. Adam, Eve, and the resurrected saints, by contrast, do not experience bodily disintegration or death: they have no place in nature or the food chain.

In the City of God, Augustine locates Rome and Roman history in a "world history" that commences in Eden and reaches closure on Resurrection Day. In this chapter, I focus on the beginning and ending of this narrative: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the resurrected saints in the City of God. In Augustine's theology, the resurrected body has some commonality with the edenic body: both are free of desire, pain, disintegration, and death. But the resurrected saints enjoy a bodily life that is completely out of nature: they dwell in an eternal city rather than an edenic garden. An examination of Augustine's transhumans sets the stage for an analysis of his conception of human embodiment. These transhumans mark the boundaries of the human. As I argue, Augustine's celebration of transhumanity marks his rejection of the human place in nature and the food chain.

Augustine's transhumans dwell in unearthly chronotopes. First, they have perfect and immortal bodies that are not subject to earthly time. And, second, they have a transhuman sense of time since they dwell in the eternal presence of God: their minds are not distended into the past and the future in psychic time. In addition to examining the topoi of Eden and heaven, I want to investigate the temporalities—the chronoi—that operate in these "places." Adam, Eve, and the resurrected saints are embodied creatures that live in the present. Although many scholars have analyzed Augustine's discussions of the edenic beings and the resurrected saints, they have not fully explored the ways in which these transhumans experience time. As I argue, one cannot understand Augustine's conception of embodiment without examining the temporalities that govern different kinds of life forms and the places where they dwell: we need to grapple with the chronoi as well as the topoi in both human and transhuman lives. In this chapter, I examine Augustine's attempts to represent perfect and immortal bodies that dwell outside time, nature, and the food chain. And I also investigate the ways in which the transhuman psyche experiences eternal presence. This provides the foundation for the next chapter, which analyzes mental distention in psychic time and bodily disintegration in earthly time.


Starting in the 390s, Augustine wrote extensively on Genesis, adopting different views as he developed his theology. In his early works, On Genesis against the Manichaeans (388–89 CE) and Confessions 12–13 (397–401 CE), he claimed that Adam and Eve had spiritual bodies that were incorporeal. But he changed this position later in his life, offering more literal readings of Genesis. I focus on his later works, especially the Literal Interpretation of Genesis (401–14 CE) and the City of God (413–27 CE). In these texts, he claimed that Adam and Eve had "animal bodies." They ate and drank and would have produced children in Eden if they had not sinned. But these animal bodies were very different from animals as we know them: they were immortal and immune to pain and disintegration. In addition, God created Adam and Eve as adults, with no sense of the past. The edenic beings, then, had no experience of earthly or psychic time before they ate the forbidden fruit. They did, of course, have language, but it was an "Adamic" language very different from our own. Adam and Eve were at one with themselves and with God, and their wills had complete control over their bodies. The edenic transhumans, then, were immortal, integrated, and perfectly good, though they did have the capacity to sin.

Augustine says that Adam and Eve would have achieved the immortality of the angels if they had not eaten the forbidden fruit: "If the first man submitted to his creator ... and obeyed his commands, he should pass over into the fellowship of the angels, attaining an immortality of endless joy, without an intervening death." Indeed, they would have produced children in Eden. Reproduction, of course, involves change and generation. Since Adam and Eve were created as adults whose bodies did not change over time, it is difficult to understand edenic procreation even in its hypothetical formulation. Nonetheless, Augustine claimed that the offspring of Adam and Eve would all have grown up to be perfect adults: "If they lived faithfully and justly and served God obediently, Adam and Eve would have created offspring, but without the restless fever of lust or any labor pains in childbirth. They would not have created children who would replace their parents when they died; rather, the parents would remain in their prime ... while their offspring would be brought up to the same perfect adult state until the correct number of saints had been reached" (Genlitt. 9.3.6). If Adam and Eve had not fallen, all the edenic beings would eat from the Tree of Life and enjoy "immortality and endless happiness." In short, they would have generated an edenic race that would be perfect and immortal (of course this was at odds with the divine plan and thus purely hypothetical).


Augustine's claim that Adam and Eve would have had sex in paradise was a truly radical move. In advancing this position, Augustine rejected the theological claims of almost all his contemporaries. As Peter Brown points out, in the late fourth and the early fifth centuries, the Catholic theologians who propounded rigorous ascetic practices viewed Adam and Eve as nonsexual, "angelic" beings: "The exponents of the 'ascetic paradigm' dealing with the decline and fall of Adam and Eve from their first 'angelic' majesty had usually been content to leave the slopes of Paradise veiled in a golden mist. For what mattered to men like Ambrose was not so much what had happened at that time, as the stance towards the present-day society 'in the world' that the ascetic might adopt. It was sufficient to place the present human person against the haunting backdrop of a pre-sexual and, in effect, a pre-social majesty of man's first state." Though he adopted Ambrose and Jerome's position on Adam and Eve in his early writings, Augustine offered a new interpretation of Eden in his later years. He proceeded to make the shocking claim that Adam and Eve had animal bodies designed for sex and procreation in Eden.

In arguing that Adam and Eve had animal rather than spiritual bodies, Augustine referred to Paul, 1 Cor. 15:42–48:

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown an animal body, it is raised a spiritual body.... So it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the animal, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

Rejecting competing interpretations of this passage, Augustine claimed that Paul offered "clear proof" that Adam and Eve had physical (and sexual) bodies: "The first man was earthly.... His body was animal [corpus animale], not spiritual. This is shown by the fact that it needed food and drink to prevent its suffering from hunger and thirst.... [If Adam had not sinned,] his body would have become spiritual [corpus spiritale] as a reward for obedience" (CD 13.23).

It was no easy task to make a case for sex and procreation in Eden. As Augustine's contemporaries argued, Adam and Eve did not have lust before they sinned—sex was, therefore, impossible. Augustine proceeded to offer a "lackluster" sexual scenario:

If there had been no sin, marriage would have been happy in paradise. [Adam and Eve] would have given birth to beloved children, but they would not have experienced any lust to be ashamed of. Of course, as it stands, we have no example to show how this could come about. But it should not seem incredible that this particular bodily member was subject to the will, without any lust, seeing that so many other parts are now obedient to the will. We move our hands and feet to perform their special tasks whenever we want.... So why shouldn't we believe that the sex organs could have been obedient servants, moving at the bidding of the will, without lust?

Adam would have moved his genitals not out of lust (libido) but at the direction of his will, just as one moves one's hands or feet. Adam and Eve would have simply willed to have sex as a mutual and rational choice.

Peter Brown claims that Augustine "was quite prepared to include the summa voluptas, the supreme, sharp pleasure of orgasm," in his edenic scenario. But this was, sadly, not the case. Sex was not fun in Eden. Of course, the mind and the body operated in complete harmony in the edenic beings. But Augustine denies Adam and Eve the pleasure of orgasm. He offers, instead, a sex act performed with a "tranquillity of mind":

The seed of children could not have been sown with the disease of lust [libidinis morbo]. Instead, the sexual organs would have been activated by the same will that controlled the other bodily members. Then, without the alluring stimulation of passion [sine ardoris inlecebroso stimulo], the husband would have relaxed on his wife's bosom in tranquillity of mind.... When it was time for sex, those parts of the body would not have been moved by turbulent heat but by a voluntary power [illas corporis partes non ageret turbidus calor sed spontanea potestas]; ... the male seed would have thus entered the womb, which did not lose its integrity.

The will—not the "turbulent heat" of the genitals—would have enabled Adam to inseminate the abidingly virginal Eve. Adam and Eve had been commanded to "increase and multiply": they were designed to have sex, but without sexual desire or sensual pleasure. Indeed, one of the marks of the edenic beings was their lack of desire in general. Adam and Eve wanted for nothing.

Augustine's discussions of edenic sex caused a huge stir among the Pelagians. In contrast to other theologians in this period, the Pelagians believed that Adam and Eve were designed to have sex in Eden (and even have lustful desires). As Julian of Eclanum claimed, God created Adam and Eve in the "natural" form that all humans now possess: edenic bodies were subject to disease and death, but they also enjoyed earthly pleasures, including sexual pleasure. Though their bodies were mortal, Adam and Eve had "fully innocent natures, capable of virtue by the action of the will." After they disobeyed God, they were not punished with physical death (which was natural and inevitable) but with "spiritual death." If they lived virtuous lives, they would be resurrected in heaven; if not, they would be spiritually dead. This was true, not just of Adam and Eve, but of all human beings. The sin of Adam and Eve was not handed down to their offspring: each individual is born innocent and is free to choose virtue or vice.


Excerpted from ONCE OUT OF NATURE by ANDREA NIGHTINGALE Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

1. Edenic and Resurrected Transhumans
2. Scattered in Time
3. The Unsituated Self
4. Body and Book
5. Unearthly Bodies

Epilogue: “Mortal Interindebtedness”
Appendix: Augustine on Paul’s Notion of the Flesh and the Body


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