Augustine – On Christian Doctrine (Text and Audio) – BOOK II

< BOOK I                                                                                                    BOOK III >




1. As when I was writing about things, I introduced the subject with a warning against attending to anything but what they are in themselves,l even though they are signs of something ‘else, so now, when I come in its turn to discuss the subject of signs, I lay down this direction, not to attend to what they are in themselves, but to the fact that they are (Signs, that is, to what they signify. For a ‘ sign is a thing which, over and above the im pression it makes on the senses, causes some thing else to come into the mind as a conse quence of itself: as when we see a footprint, we conclude that an animal whose footprint this is has passed by; and when we see smoke, we know that there is fire beneath; and when we hear the voice of a living man, we think   I See Book 1. 519.   of the feeling in his mind; and when the trumpet sounds, soldiers know that they are to advance or retreat, or do whatever else the state of the battle requires. 2. Now some signs are natural, others con ventional. Natural signs are those which, apart from any intention or desire of using them as signs, do yet lead to the knowledge of something else, as, for example, smoke when it indicates fire. For it is not from any_ intention of making it a sign that it is so, but through attention to experience we come to know that fire is beneath, even when nothing but smoke can be seen. And the footprint of an animal passing by belongs to this class of signs. And the countenance of an angry or sorrowful man indicates the feeling in his mind, independently of his will: and in the same way every other emotion of the mind is betrayed by the tell-tale countenance, even though we do nothing with the intention of making it known. This class of signs, how ever, it is no part of my design to discuss at present. But as it comes under this division of the subject, I could not altogether pass it over. It will be enough to have noticed it thus far.


3. Conventional signs, on the other hand, are those which living beings mutually ex change for the purpose of showing, as well as they can, the feelings of their minds, or their perceptions, or their thoughts. Nor is there any reason for giving a sign except the desire of drawing forth and conveying into another’s mind what the giver of the sign has in his own mind. We wish, then, to consider and discuss this class of signs so far as men are concerned with it, because even the signs which have been given us of God, and which are contained in the Holy Scriptures, were made known to us through men—those, finamely, who wrote the Scriptures. The beasts, too, have certain signs among them selves by which they make known the desires in their mind. For when the poultry-cock has discovered food, he signals with his voice for the hen to run to him, and the dove by cooing calls his mate, or is called by her in turn; and many signs of the same kind are matters of common observation. Now whether these signs, like the expression or the cry of a man in grief, follow the movement of the mind in stinctively and apart from any purpose, or whether they are really used with the purpose of signification, is another question, and does not pertain to the matter in hand. And this part of the subject I exclude from the scope of this work as not necessary to my present object.


4. Of the signs, then, by which men com municate their thoughts to one another, some relate to the sense of sight, some to that of hearing, a very few to the other senses. For, when we nod, we give no sign except to the eyes of the man to whom we wish by this sign to impart our desire. And some convey a great deal by the motion of the hands: and actors by movements of all their limbs give certain signs to the initiated, and, so to speak, address their conversation to the eyes: and the military standards and flags convey through the eyes the will of the commanders. And all these signs are as it were a kind of   visible words. The signs that address them selves to the ear are, as I have said, more numerous, and for the most part consist of words. For though the bugle and the flute and the lyre frequently give not only a sweet but a significant sound, yet all these signs are very few in number compared with words. For among men words have obtained far and away the chief place as a means of indicating the thoughts of the mind. true, gave a sign through the odor of the oint ment which was poured out upon His feet;’ and in the sacrament of His body and blood He signified His will through the sense of taste; and when by touching the hem of His garment the woman was made whole, the act was not wanting in significance.’ But the countless multitude of the signs through which men express their thoughts consist of words. For I have been able to put into words all those signs, the various classes of which I have briefly touched upon, but I could by no effort express words in terms of those signs.


5. But because words pass away as soon as , they strike upon the air, and last no longer than their sound, men have by means of letters formed signs of words. Thus the sounds of the voice are made visible to the eye, not of course as sounds, but by means of certain signs. It has been found impossi ble, however, to make those signs common to all nations owing to the sin of discord among men, which springs from every man trying to snatch the chief place for himself. And that celebrated tower which was built to reach to heaven was an indication of this arrogance of spirit; and the ungodly men concerned in it justly earned the punishment of having not their minds only, but their tongues besides, thrown into confusion and discordance.3


6. And hence it happened that even Holy Scripture, which brings a remedy for the terrible diseases of the human will, being at first set forth in one language, by means of which it could at the fit season be disseminated through the whole world, was interpreted into various tongues, and spread far and wide, and thus became known to the nations for their salvation. And in reading it, men seek nothing more than to find out the thought and will of those by whom it was written, and through these to find out the will of God, in accordance with which they believe these men to have spoken.


7. But hasty and careless readers are led l astray by many and manifold obscurities and ambiguities, substituting one meaning for an other; and in some places they cannot hit upon even a fair interpretation. Some of the expressions are so obscure as to shroud the meaning in the thickest darkness. And I do not doubt that all this was divinely arranged for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety in the in ; tellect, which generally holds in small esteem Lwhat is discovered without difficulty. For why is it, I ask, that if any one says that there are holy and just men whose life and conversation the Church of Christ uses as a means of redeeming those who come to it from all kinds of superstitions, and making them through their imitation of good men members of its own body; men who, as good and true servants of God, have come to the baptismal font laying down the burdens of the world, and who rising thence do, through the implanting of the Holy Spirit, yield the fruit of a two-fold love, a love, that is, of God and their neighbor;—how is it, I say, that if a man says this, he does not please his hearer so much as when he draws the same meaning from that passage in Canticles, where it is said of the Church, when it is being praised under the figure of a beautiful woman, “ Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are shorn, which came up from the washing, whereof every one bears twins, and none is barren among them ? ” ‘ Does the bearer learn any thing more than when he listens to the same thought expressed in the plainest language, without the help of this figure? And yet, I don’t know why, I feel greater pleasure in contemplating holy men, when I view them as the teeth of the Church, tearing men away from their errors, and bringing them into the Church’s body, with all their harshness soft ened down, just as if they had been torn off and masticated by the teeth. It is with the greatest pleasure, too, that I recognize them under the figure of sheep that have been shorn, laying down the burthens of the world like fleeces, and coming up from the washing, r’.:., from baptism, and all bearing twins, i.e., the twin commandments of love, and none among them barren in that holy fruit.   I Cant. iv. 2.   8. But why I view them with greater de light under that aspect than if no such figure were drawn from the sacred books, though the fact would remain the same and the knowledge the same, is another question, and one very difficult to answer. ever, has any doubt about the facts, both that it is pleasanter in some cases to have knowledge communicated through figures, and that what is attended with difficulty in the seeking gives greater pleasure in the find Nobody, howi 7 ing.— For those who seek but do not findgj suffer from hunger. Those, again, who do not seek at all because they have what they require just beside them often grow languid from satiety. Now weakness from either of these causes is to be avoided. Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more ob scure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere.


9. First of all, then, it is necessary that we should be led by thefear 4 God to seek the knowledge of His will, what He commands us to desire and what to avoid. Now this fear will of necessity excite in us the thought of our mortality and of the death that is before us, and crucify all the motions of pride as if our flesh were nailed to the tree. necessary to have our hearts subdued bypiely, and not to run in the face of Holy Scripture, whether when understood it strikes at some of our sins, or, when not understood, we feel as if we could be wiser and give better commands ourselves. believe that whatever is there written, even though it be hidden, is better and truer than anything we could devise by our own wisdom. 10. After these two steps of fear and piety, ‘ we come to the third step, knmz’ledgc, of which I have now undertaken to treat. For in this every earnest student of the Holy Scriptures exercises himself, to find nothing else in them but that God is to be loved for His own sake, and our neighbor for God’s sake; and that God is to be loved with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind, and one’s neighbor as one’s self—that is, in such a way that all our love for our neighbor, like all our love for ourselves, should have refer L ence to God.l And on these two command ments I touched in the previous book when I was treating about things.“ It is necessary, then, that each man should first of all find in the Scriptures that he, through being en tangled in the love of this world—11¢, of tem poral things—has been drawn far away from such a love for God and such a love for his neighbor as Scripture enjoins. Then that fear which leads him to think of the judg ment of God, and that piety which gives him no option but to believe in and submit to the ’authority of Scripture, compel him to bewail i ‘his condition. For the knowledge of a good ‘ hope makes aman not boastful, but sorrowful. And in this frame of mind he implores with unremitting prayers the comfort of the Di vine help that he may not be overwhelmed in despair, and so he gradually comes to the fourth step,—that is, strength and resolution,3 —in which he hungers and thirsts after right eousness. Forin this frame of mind he extri cates himself from every form of fatal joy in transitory things, and turning away from these, fixes his affection on things eternal, to wit. the unchangeable Trinity in unity. 11. And when, to the extent of his power, he has gazed upon this object shining from afar, and has felt that owing to the weakness of his sight he cannot endure that matchless light, then in the fifth step—that is, in the eazmsel qf compassion 4—he cleanses his soul, which is violently agitated, and disturbs him with base desires, from the filth it has con tracted. And at this stage he exercises him self diligently in the love of his neighbor; and when he has reached the point of loving his enemy, full of hopes and unbroken in strength, he mounts to the sixth step, in which he purifier the eye itself whit/l ran see God,5 so far as God can be seen by th0se who as far as possible die to this world. For men see Him just so far as they die to this world; and :so far as they live to it they see Him not. But yet, although that light may begin to appear clearer, and not only more tolerable, but even more delightful, still it is only through a glass darkly that we are said to see, because we walk by faith, not by sight, while we con tinue to wander as strangers in this world, even though our conversation be in heaven.6 And at this stage, too, a man so purges the eye of his affections as not to place his neigh bor before, or even in comparison with, the truth, and therefore not himself, because not him whom he loves as himself. Accordingly, 4*   that holy man will be so single and so purE’l in heart, that he will not step aside from the = truth, either for the sake of pleasing men or with a view to avoid any of the annoyances which beset this life. Such a son ascends to wisdom, which is the seventh and last step, and which he enjoys in peace and tranquillity. For the fear of God is the beginning of wis~ dom.’ From that beginning, then, till we . reach wisdom itself, our way is by the steps_/ now described.


12. But let us now go back to consider the third step here mentioned, for it is about it that I have set myself to speak and reason as the Lord shall grant me wisdom. The most skillful interpreter of the sacred writings, then, will be he who in the first place has read them all and retained them in his knowledge, if not yet with full understanding, still with such knowledge as reading gives,—those of them, at least, that are called eanom’eal. For he will read the others with greater safety when uilt up in the beliefof the truth, so that they ill not take first possession of a weak mind, nor, cheating it with dangerous falsehoods and delusions, fill it with prejudices adverse to a sound understanding. Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judg ment of the greater number of catholic dhurches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge accord ing to the following standard: to prefer those hat are received by all the catholic churches ito those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and ‘those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal. 13. Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following booksz—Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings, and two of Chronicles, —these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected nar rative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are con nected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra,‘ which last look more like a sequel to the con tinuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are as cribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach.’ Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. The re mainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one an other, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as followsz—HOsea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament3 is contained within the limits of these forty-four books. That of the New Testament, again, is contained within the followingz—Four books of the Gospel, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; four teen epistles of the Apostle Paul—one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philip pians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews: two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and one of James; one book of the Acts of the Apostles; and one of the Revelation of John.


14. In all these books those who fear God \ and are of a meek and pious disposition seek     the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the under standing, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to re main wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more dili gently; and the more of these a man discov ers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,–to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evi dence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter mem ory counts foragreat deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.


15. Now there are two causes which pre vent what is written from being understood: its being vailed either under unknown, or under ambiguous signs. Signs are either proper or figurative. They are called proper when they are used- to point out the objects they were designed to point out, as we say 120: when we mean an ox, because all men who with us use the Latin tongue call it by this name. Signs are figurative when the things themselves which we indicate by the proper names are used to signify something else, as we say bar, and understand by that syllable the ox, which is ordinarily called by that name; but then further by that ox understand a preacher of the gospel, as Scripture signifies, according to the apostle’s explanation, when it says: “ Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that \ treadeth out the corn.” ‘


16. The great remedy for ignorance of proper signs is knowledge of languages. And men who speak the Latin tongue, of whom are those I have undertaken to instruct, need two other languages for the knowledge of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, that they may have recourse to the original texts if the end less diversity of the Latin translators throw them into doubt. Although, indeed, we often find Hebrew words untranslated in the books, as for example, Amen, Halleluia, Racha, Hosanna, and others of the same kind. Some of these, although they could have been trans lated, have been preserved in their original form on account of the more sacred authority that attaches to it, as for example, Amen and Halleluia. Some of them, again, are said to be untranslatable into another tongue, of which the other two I have mentioned are exam ples. For in some languages there are words that cannot be translated into the idiom of another language. And this happens chiefly in the case of interjections, which are words that express rather an emotion of the mind than any part of a thought we have in our mind. And the two given above are said to be of this kind, Racha expressing the cry of an angry man, Hosanna that of a joyful man. But the knowledge of these languages is nec essary, not for the sake of a few words like these which it is very easy to mark and to ask about, but, as has been said, on account of the diversities among translators. For the translations of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith every man who happened to get his hands upon a Greek manuscript, and who thought he had any knowledge, were it ever so little, of the two languages, ventured upon the work of translation.


17. And this circumstance would assist rather than hinder the understanding of Scrip ture, if only readers were not careless. For the examination of a number of texts has often thrown light upon some of the more ob scure passages; for example, in that passage of the prophet Isaiah,l one translator reads: “And do not despise the domestics of thy seed; ” ‘ another reads: “And do not despise thine own flesh.” 3 Each of these in turn confirms the other. For the one is explained by the other; because “ flesh ” may be taken in its literal sense, so that a man may under     stand that heis admonished not to despise his own body; and “ the domestics of thy seed ” may be understood figuratively of Christians, because they are spiritually born of the same seed as ourselves, namely, the Word. When now the meaning of the two translators is compared, a more likely sense of the words suggests itself, viz., that the command is not to despise our kinsmen, because when one brings the expression “ domestics of thy seed ” into relation with “ flesh,” kinsmen most naturally occur to one’s mind. Whence, I think, that expression of the apostle, when he says, “If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them;”‘ that is, that through emulation of those who had believed, some of them might believe too. And he calls the Jews his “ flesh,” on account of the relation ship of blood. Again, that passage from the same prophet Isaiah: 5 “ If ye will not believe, ye shall not understand,” 6 another has trans lated: “If ye will not believe, ye shall not abide.”1 Now which of these is the literal translation cannot be ascertained without ref erence to the text in the original tongue. And yet to those who read with knowledge, a great truth is to be found in each. For it is diffi cult for interpreters to differ so widely as not to touch at some point. Accordingly here, as understanding consists in sight, and is abid ing, but faith feeds us as babes, upon milk, in the cradles of temporal things (for now we walk by faith, not by sight);“ as, moreover, unless we walk by faith, we shall not attain to sight, which does not pass away, but abides, our understanding being purified by holding to the truth ;-—for these reasons one says, “ If ye will not believe, ye shall not understand; ” but the other, “If ye will not believe, ye shall not abide.” 18. And very often a translator, to whom the meaning is not well known, is deceived by an ambiguity in the original language, and puts upon the passage a construction that is wholly alien to the sense of the writer. As for example, some texts read: “ Their feet are sharp to shed blood;”° for the word 61:05 among the Greeks means both sharp and muff. And so he saw the true meaning who trans lated: “ Their feet are swift to shed blood.” The other, taking the wrong sense of an am biguous word, fell into error. Now transla tions such as this are not obscure, but false; and there is a wide difference between the two things. For we must learn not to interpret, but to correct texts of this sort. For the same reason it is, that because the Greek word riddxos means a calf, some have not under stood that poo’xstiuara’ are shoots of trees, and have translated the word “ calves; ” and this error has crept into so many texts, that you can hardly find it written in any other way. And yet the meaning is very clear; for it is made evident by the words that follow. For “the plantings of an adulterer will not take deep root,” ‘ is a more suitable form of expression than the “ calves; “1 because these walk upon the ground with their feet, and are not fixed in the earth by roots. In this pas sage, indeed, the rest of the context also jus tifies this translation.


19. But since we do not clearly see what the actual thought is which the several translators endeavor to express, each according to his own ability and judgment, unless we examine it in the language which they translate; and since the translator, if he be nota very learned man, often departs from the meaning of his author, we must either endeavor to get a knowledge of those languages from which the Scriptures are translated into Latin, or we must get hold of the translations of those who keep rather close to the letter of the original, not because these are sufficient, but because we may use them to correct the freedom or the error of others, who in their translations have chosen to follow the sense quite as much as the words. For not only single words, but often whole phrases are translated, which could not be translated at all into the Latin idiom by any one who wished to hold by the usage of the ancients who spoke Latin. And though these sometimes do not interfere with the understanding of the passage, yet they are offensive to those who feel greater delight in things when even the signs of those things are kept in their own purity. For what is called a solecism is nothing else than the put ting of words together according to a different rule from that which those of our predeces sors who spoke with any authority followed. For whether we say infer hamine: (among men) or inter liaminiaus, is of no consequence to a man who only wishes to know the facts. And in the same way, what is a barbarism but the pronouncing of a word in a different way from that in which those who spoke Latin before   I Wisd. iv. . I Adulterinm floatation“ mm Mun! radian alias. ! Vitulaminn.   us pronounced it? For whether the word ig nasare (to pardon) should be pronounced with the third syllable long or short, is not a matter of much concern to the man who is beseeching God, in any way at all that he can get the words out, to pardon his sins. What then is purity of speech, except the preserving of the custom of language established by the authority of former speakers? 20. And men are easily offended in a matter of this kind, just in proportion as they are weak; and they are weak just in proportion as they wish to seem learned, not in the knowl edge of things which tend to edification, but in that of signs, by which it is hard not to be puffed up,‘ seeing that the knowledge of things even would often set up our neck, if it were not held down by the yoke of our Master. For how does it prevent our understanding it to have the following passage thus ex pressed: “ Qua as! lerra in qua isfi imidunt super cam, .ri aana er! an nequam; a! qua: run! ail/Hates, in auiau: {psi inhabitant in iprisf ” 5 And I am more disposed to think that this is simply the idiom of another language than that any deeper meaning is intended. Again, that phrase, which we cannot now take away from the lips of the people who sing it: “Super z’prum autzm florid sana/ifimlia mm,” 6 surely takes away nothing from the meaning. Yet a more learned man would prefer that this should be corrected, and that we should say, not flariet, but flareait. Nor does any thing stand in the way of the correction being made, except the usage of the singers. Mis takes of this kind, then, if a man do not choose to avoid them altogether, it is easy to treat with indifference, as not interfering with a right understanding. But take, on the other hand, the saying of the apostle : “Quad slui fum est Dai, sapienlius est Iramim’bus, e! quad infirmum est Dai, far/[us est llaminibus.” 7 If any one should retain in this passage the Greek idiom, and say, “ Quad :tultum est Dei, sapienlius as! llaminum (I quad iqfirmum 0:! Def far/ius est liaminum,” “ a quick and care ful reader would indeed by an effort attain to the true meaning, but still a man of slower intelligence either would not understand it at all, or would put an utterly false construction upon it. For not only is such a form of speech faulty in the Latin tongue, but it is ambigu ous too, as if the meaning might be, that the folly of men or the weakness of men is wiser or stronger than that of God. But indeed even the expression rapientiu: art hominibu: (stronger than men) is not free from ambigu ity, even though it be free from solecism. For whether lzomz’m’bu: is put as the plural of the dative or as the plural of the ablative, does not appear, unless by reference to the mean ing. It would be better then to say, rapier; lz’ur est quam konu’ner, and fortiu: er! yuam Izomines.


21. About ambiguous signs, however, I shall speak afterwards. I am treating at pres ent of unknown signs, of which, as far as the words are concerned, there are two kinds. For either a word or an idiom, of which the reader is ignorant, brings him to a stop. Now if these belong to foreign tongues, we must either make inquiry about them from men who speak those tongues, or if we have leisure we must learn the tongues ourselves, or we must consult and compare several translators. If, however, there are words or idioms in our own tongue that we are unacquainted with, we gradually come to know them through being accustomed to read or to hear them. There is nothing that it is better to commit to mem ory than those kinds of words and phrases whose meaning we do not know, so that where we happen to meet either with a more learned man of whom we can inquire, or with a pas sage that shows, either by the preceding or succeeding context, or by both, the force and significance of the phrase we are ignorant of, we can easily by the help of our memory turn our attention to the matter and learn all about it. So great, however, is the force of custom, even in regard to learning, that those who have been in a sort of way nurtured and brought up on the study of Holy Scripture, are surprised at other forms of speech, and think them less pure Latin than those which they have learnt from Scripture, but which are not to be found in Latin authors. In this matter, too, the great number of the translators proves a very great assistance, if they are examined and discussed with a careful comparison of their texts. Only all positive error must be re moved. For those who are anxious to know the Scriptures ought in the first place to use their skill in the correction of the texts, so that the uncorrected ones should give way to the corrected, at least when they are copies of the same translation.


22. Now among translations themselves the Italian (Itala) ‘ is to be preferred to the others, for it keeps closer to the words with out prejudice to clearness of expression. And to correct the Latin we must use the Greek versions, among which the authority of the Septuagint is pre-eminent as far as the Old Testament is concerned; for it is reported through all the more learned churches that the seventy translators enjoyed so much of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their work of translation, that among that number of men there was but one voice. And if, as is reported, and as many not unworthy of confidence assert,2 they were separated during the work of translation, each man being in a cell by himself, and yet nothing was found in the manuscript of any one of them that was not found in the same words and in the same order of words in all the rest, who dares put anything in comparison with an authority like this, not to speak of preferring anything to it? And even if they conferred together with the result that a unanimous agreement sprang out of the common labor and judgment of them all; even so, it would not be right or becoming for any one man, whatever his experience, to aspire to correct the unanimous opinion of many venerable and learned men. Wherefore, even if any. thing is found in the original Hebrew in a dif ferent form from thatin which these men have expressed it, I think we must give way to the dispensation of Providence which used these men to bring it about, that books which the Jewish race were unwilling, either from re ligious scruple or from jealousy, to make known to other nations, were, with the assist ance of the power of King Ptolemy, made known so long beforehand to the nations which in the future were to believe in the Lord. And thus it is possible that they translated in such a way as the Holy Spirit, who worked in them and had given them all one voice, thought most suitable for the Gentiles. But nevertheless, as I said above, a comparison of those translators also who have kept most closely to the words, is often not without value as a help to the clearing up of the mean ing. The Latin texts, therefore, of the Old Testament are, as I was about to say, to be corrected if necessary by the authority of the Greeks, and especially by that of those who, though they were seventy in number, are said to have translated as with one voice. As to the books of the New Testament, again, if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts, we must of course yield to the Greek, especially those that are found in the churches of greater learning and research.


23. In the case of figurative signs, again, if ignorance of any of them should chance to bring the reader to a stand-still, their mean ing is to be traced partly by the knowledge of languages, partly by the knowledge of things. The pool of Siloam, for example, where the man whose eyes our Lord had anointed with clay made out of spittle was commanded to wash, has a figurative signifi cance, and undoubtedly conveys a secret sense; but yet if the evangelist had not inter preted that name,I a meaning so important would lie unnoticed. And we cannot doubt that, in the same way, many Hebrew names which have not been interpreted by the writers of those books, would, if any one could in terpret them, be of great value and service in solving the enigmas of Scripture. And a number of men skilled in that language have conferred no small benefit on posterity by ex plaining all these words without reference to their place in Scripture, and telling us what Adam means, what Eve, what Abraham, what Moses, and also the names of places, what Jerusalem signifies, or Sion, or Sinai, or Lebanon, or Jordan, and whatever other names in that language we are not acquainted with. And when these names have been in vestigated and explained, many figurative expressions in Scripture become clear. 24. Ignorance of things, too, renders fig urative expressions obscure, as when we do not know the nature of the animals, or miner als, or plants, which are frequently referred to in Scripture by way of comparison. The fact so well known about the serpent, for ex ample, that to protect its head it will present its whole body to its assailants—how much light it throws upon the meaning of our Lord’s command, that we should be wise as serpents; = that is to say, that for the sake of our head, which is Christ, we should willingly offer our body to the persecutors, lest the Christian faith should, as it were, be destroyed in us, if to save the body we deny our God! Or again, the statement that the serpent gets rid   I John ix. 7. 1 Matt. x. :6.   of its old skin by squeezing itself through a narrow hole, and thus acquires new strength —-how appropriately it fits in with the direc tion to imitate the wisdom of the serpent, and to put off the old man, as the apostle says, that we may put on the new? and to put it off, too, by coming through a narrow place, according to the saying of our Lord, “ Enter ye in at the strait gate !” ‘ As, then, knowl edge of the nature of the serpent throws light upon many metaphors which Scripture is ac customed to draw from that animal, so ig norance of other animals, which are no less frequently mentioned by way of comparison, is a very great drawback to the reader. And so in regard to minerals and plants: knowl edge of the carbuncle, for instance, which shines in the dark, throws light upon many of the dark places in books too, where it is used metaphorically; and ignorance of the beryl or the adamant often shuts the doors of knowledge. And the only reason why we find it easy to understand that perpetual peace is indicated by the olive branch which the dove brought with it when it returned to the ark,5 is that we know both that the smooth touch of olive oil is not easily spoiled by a fluid of another kind, and that the tree itself is an evergreen. Many, again, by reason of their ignorance of hyssop, not knowing the virtue it has in cleansing the lungs, nor the power it is said to have of piercing rocks with its roots, although it is a small and insignifi cant plant, cannot make out why it is said, “ Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.”6 25. Ignorance of numbers, too, prevents us from understanding things that are set down in Scripture in a figurative and mysti cal way. A candid mind, if I may so speak, cannot but be anxious, for example, to ascer tain what is meant by the fact that Moses and Elijah, and our Lord Himself, all fasted for forty days.’ And except by knowledge of and reflection upon the number, the difficulty of explaining the figure involved in this action cannot be got over. For the number con tains ten four times, indicating the knowl edge of all things, and that knowledge inter woven with time. For both the diurnal and the annual revolutions are accomplished in periods numbering four each; the diurnal in the hours of the morning, the noontide, the evening, and the night; the annual in the spring, summer, autumn, and winter months. Now while we live in time, we must abstain and fast from all joy in time, for the sake of that eternity in which we wish to live; although by the passage of time we are taught this very lesson of despising time and seeking eternity. Further, the number ten signifies the knowledge of the Creator and the creature, for there is a trinity in the Creator; and the number seven indicates the creature, because of the life and the body. For the life con sists of three parts, whence also God is to be loved with the whole heart, the whole soul, and the whole mind; and it is very clear that in the body there are four elements of which it is made up. In this number ten, there fore, when it is placed before us in connection with time, that is, when it is taken four times, we are admonished to live unstained by, and not partaking of, any delight in time, that is, to fast for forty days. Of this we are ad monished by the law personified in Moses, by prophecy personified in Elijah, and by our Lord Himself, who, as if receiving the witness both of the law and the prophets, appeared on the mount between the other two, while His three disciples looked on in amazement. Next, we have to inquire in the same way, how out of the number forty springs the num ber fifty, which in our religion has no or dinary sacredness attached to it on account of the Pentecost, and how this number taken thrice on account of the three divisions of time, before the law, under the law, and under grace, or perhaps on account of the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the Trinity itself being added over and above, has reference to the mystery of the most Holy Church, and reaches to the num ber of the one hundred and fifty-three fishes which were taken after the resurrection of our Lord, when the nets were cast out on the right-hand side of the boat.’ And in the same way, many other numbers and combina tions of numbers are used in the sacred writ ings, to convey instruction under a figurative guise, and ignorance of numbers often shuts out the reader from this instruction. 26. Not a few things, too, are closed against us and obscured by ignorance of music. One man, for example, has not unskillfully ex plained some metaphors from the difference between the psaltery and the harp.“ And it is a question which it is not out of place for learned men to discuss, whether there is any musical law that compels the psaltery of ten chords to have just so many strings; or whether, if there be no such law, the number itself is not on that very account the more to be considered as of sacred significance, either with reference to the ten commandments of the law (and if again any question is raised about that number, we can only refer it to the Creator and the creature), or with refer ence to the number ten itself as interpreted above. And the number of years the tem ple was in building, which is mentioned in the gospelJ—viz., forty-six—has a certain undefinable musical sound, and when referred to the structure of our Lord’s body, in rela tion to which the temple was mentioned, com pels many heretics to confess that our Lord put on, not a false, but a true and human body. And in several places in the Holy Scriptures we find both numbers and music mentioned with honor.


27. For we must not listen to the falsities of heathen superstition, which represent the nine Muses as daughters of Jupiter and Mer cury. Varro refutes these, and I doubt whether any one can be found among them more curious or more learned in such matters. He says that a certain state (I don’t recollect .the name) ordered from each of three artists a set of statues of the Muses, to be placed as an offering in the temple of Apollo, intending that whichever of the artists produced the most beautiful statues, they should select and purchase from him. It so happened that these artists executed their works with equal beauty, that all nine pleased the state, and that all were bought to be dedicated in the temple of Apollo; and he says that afterwards Hesiod the poet gave names to them all. It was not Jupiter, therefore, that begat the nine Muses, but three artists created three each. And the state had originally given the order for three, not because it had seen them in visions, nor because they had presented themselves in that number to the eyes of any of the citizens, but because it was obvious to remark that all sound, which is the material of song, is by nature of three kinds. For it is either produced by the voice, as in the case of those who sing with the month without an instrument; or by blowing, as in the case of trumpets and flutes; or by striking, as in the case of harps and drums, and all other in struments that give their sound when struck.


28. But whether the fact is as Varro has r a ed, or is not so, still we ought not to give up music because of the superstition of the heathen, if we can derive anything from it that is of use for the understanding of Holy ucriptureQor does it follow that we must busy ourse ves with their theatrical trumpery because we enter upon an investigation about harps and other instruments, that may help us to lay hold upon spiritual things. For we ought not to refuse to learn letters because they say that Mercury discovered them; nor because they have dedicated temples to Jus tice and Virtue, and prefer to worship in the form of stones things that ought to have their (,_place in the heart, ought we on that account 1 to forsake justice and virtue. Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master; and while he recognizes and ac knowledges the truth, even in their religious literature, let him reject the figments of superstition nd let him grieve over and avoid men who, “when they knew God, glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing them selves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”‘


29. But to explain more fully this whole topic (for it is one that cannot be omitted), there are two kinds of knowledge which are in vogue among the heathen. One is the knowledge of things instituted by men, the other of things which they have noted, either as transacted in the past or as instituted by God. The former kind, that which deals ‘ with human institutions, is partly superstitious, partly not.


30. All the arrangements made by men for the making and worshipping of idols are superstitious, pertaining as they do either to the worship of what is created or of some part of it as God, or to consultations and arrange ments about signs and leagues with devils, such, for example, as are employed in the magical arts, and which the poets are accus tomed not so much to teach as to celebrate. And to this class belong, but with a holder reach of deception, the books of the harus pices and augurs. In this class we must place also all amulets and cures which the med   ! Rom. i. 21-23. a   ical art condemns, whether these consist in incantations, or in marks which they call characters, or in hanging or tying on or even dancing in a fashion certain articles, not with reference to the condition of the body, but to certain signs hidden or manifest; and these remedies they call by the less offensive name of p/zyu‘ca, so as to appear not to be engaged in superstitious Observances, but to be taking advantage of the forces of nature. Examples of these are the ear-rings on the top of each ear, or the rings of ostrich bone on the fingers, or telling you when you hiccup to hold your left thumb in your right hand. 31. To these we may add thousands of the most frivolous practices, that are to be ob served if any part of the body should jump, or if, when friends are walking arm-in-arm, a stone, or a dog, or a boy, should come be tween them. And the kicking of a stone, as if it were a divider of friends, does less harm than to cuff an innocent boy if he happens to run between men who are walking side by side. But it is delightful that the boys are sometimes avenged by the dogs; for fre quently men are so superstitious as to venture upon striking a dog who has run between them,——not with impunity however, for in stead of a superstitious remedy, the dog sometimes makes his assailant run in hot haste for a real surgeon. To this class, too, belong the following rules: To tread upon the threshold when you go out in front of the house; to go back to bed if any one should sneeze when you are putting on your slippers; to return home if you stumble when going to a place; when your clothes are eaten by mice, to be more frightened at the pros pect of coming misfortune than grieved by your present less. Whence that witty saying of Cato, who, when consulted by a man who told him that the mice had eaten his boots, replied, “That is not strange, but it would have been very strange indeed if the boots had eaten the mice.”


32. Nor can we exclude from this kind ofw superstition those who were called gene/lilz’aa’, on account of their attention to birthdays, but are now commonly called malriematici. For these, too, although they may seek with pains for the true position of the stars at the time of our birth, and may sometimes even find it out, yet in so far as they attempt thence to predict our actions, or the conse quences of our actions, grievously err, and sell inexperienced men into amiserable bond age. For when any freeman goes to an as¢_]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s