(Augustine, Christian Doctrine. part 6)

it too is changeable (for it is sometimes instructed, at other times
uninstructed), although it holds a middle place between the unchangeable
truth above it and the changeable things beneath it, does not strive to
make all things redound to the praise and love of the one God from whom
he knows that all things have their being;-- the man, I say, who acts in
this way may seem to be learned, but wise he cannot in any sense be

Chap. 39.--To which of the above-mentioned studies attention should be
given, and in what spirit

  58. Accordingly, I think that it is well to warn studious and able
young men, who fear God and are seeking for happiness of life, not to
venture heedlessly upon the pursuit of the branches of learning that are
in vogue beyond the pale of the Church of Christ, as if these could
secure for them the happiness they seek; but soberly and carefully to
discriminate among them. And if they find any of those which have been
instituted by men varying by reason of the varying pleasure of their
founders, and unknown by reason of erroneous conjectures, especially if

they involve entering into fellowship with devils by means of leagues and
covenants about signs, let these he utterly rejected and held in
detestation. Let the young men also withdraw their attention from such
institutions of men as are unnecessary and luxurious. But for the sake of
the necessities of this life we must not neglect the arrangements of men
that enable us to carry on intercourse with those around us. I think,
however, there is nothing useful in the other branches of learning that
are found among the heathen, except information about objects, either
past or present, that relate to the bodily senses, in which are included
also the experiments and conclusions of the useful mechanical arts,
except also the sciences of reasoning and of number. And in regard to all
these we must hold by the maxim, "Not too much of anything;" especially
in the case of those which, pertaining as they do to the senses, are
subject to the relations of space and time.
  59. What, then, some men have done in regard to all words and names
found in Scripture, in the Hebrew, and Syrian, and Egyptian, and other
tongues, taking up and interpreting separately such as were left in
Scripture without interpretation; and what Eusebius has done in regard to
the history of the past with a view to the questions arising in Scripture
that require a knowledge of history for their solution;--what, I say,
these men have done in regard to matters of this kind, making it
unnecessary for the Christian to spend his strength on many subjects for
the sake of a few items of knowledge, the same, I think, might be done in
regard to other matters, if any competent man were willing in a spirit of
benevolence to undertake the labour for the advantage of his brethren. In
this way he might arrange in their several classes, and give an account
of the unknown places, and animals, and plants, and trees, and stones,
and metals, and other species of things that are mentioned in Scripture,
taking up these only, and committing his account to writing. This might
also be done in relation to numbers, so that the theory of those numbers,
and those only, which are mentioned in Holy Scripture, might be explained
and written down. And it may happen that some or all of these things have
been done already (as I have found that many things I had no notion of
have been worked out and committed to writing by good and learned
Christians), but are either lost amid the crowds of the careless, or are
kept out of sight by the envious. And I am not sure whether the same
thing can be done in regard to the theory of reasoning; but it seems to
me it cannot, because this runs like a system of nerves through the whole
structure of Scripture, and on that account is of more service to the
reader in disentangling and explaining ambiguous passages, of which I
shall speak hereafter, than in ascertaining the meaning of unknown signs,
the topic I am now discussing.

Chap. 40.--Whatever has been rightly said by the heathen, we must
appropriate to our uses

  60. Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the
Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith,
we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use
from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had
not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and
fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and
garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to
themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own
authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their
ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves, were not
making a good use of; in the same way all branches of heathen learning
have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of
unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the
leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor
and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better
adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of
morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God
are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver,
which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God's
providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and
unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the
Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable
fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to
their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also,--that is,
human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which
is indispensable in this life,--we must take and turn to a Christian use.
  61. And what else have many good and faithful men among our brethren
done? Do we not see with what a quantity of gold and silver and garments
Cyprian, that most persuasive teacher and most blessed martyr, was loaded
when he came out of Egypt? How much Lactantius brought with him? And
Victorious, and Optatus, and Hilary, not to speak of living men! How much
Greeks out of number have borrowed! And prior to all these, that most
faithful servant of God, Moses, had done the same thing; for of him it is
written that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. And to
none of all these would heathen superstition (especially in those times
when, kicking against the yoke of Christ, it was persecuting the
Christians) have ever furnished branches of knowledge it held useful, if
it had suspected they were about to turn them to the use of worshipping
the One God, and thereby overturning the vain worship of idols. But they
gave their gold and their silver and their garments to the people of God

as they were going out of Egypt, not knowing how the things they gave
would be turned to the service of Christ. For what was done at the time
of the exodus was no doubt a type prefiguring what happens now. And this
I say without prejudice to any other interpretation that may be as good,
or better.

Chap. 4i.--What kind of spirit is required for the study of Holy

  62. But when the student of the Holy Scriptures, prepared in the way I
have indicated, shall enter upon his investigations, let him constantly
meditate upon that saying of the apostle's, "Knowledge puffeth up, but
charity edifieth." For so he will feel that, whatever may be the riches
he brings with him out of Egypt, yet unless he has kept the Passover, he
cannot be safe. Now Christ is our Passover sacrificed for us, and there
is nothing the sacrifice of Christ more clearly teaches us than the call
which He himself addresses to those whom He sees toiling in Egypt under
Pharaoh: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek
and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke
is easy, and my burden is light." To whom is it light but to the meek and
lowly in heart, whom knowledge does not puff up, but charity edifieth?
Let them remember, then, that those who celebrated the Passover at that
time in type and shadow, when they were ordered to mark their door-posts
with the blood of the lamb, used hyssop to mark them with. Now this is a
meek and lowly herb, and yet nothing is stronger and more penetrating
than its roots; that being rooted and grounded in love, we may be able to
comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth,
and height,--that is, to comprehend the cross of our Lord, the breadth of
which is indicated by the transverse wood on which the hands are
stretched, its length by the part from the ground up to the crossbar on
which the whole body from the head downwards is fixed, its height by the
part from the crossbar to the top on which the head lies, and its depth
by the part which is hidden, being fixed in the earth. And by this sign
of the cross all Christian action is symbolized, viz., to do good works
in Christ, to cling with constancy to Him, to hope for heaven, and not to
desecrate the sacraments. And purified by this Christian action, we shall
be able to know even "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge," who is
equal to the Father, by whom all things, were made, "that we may be
filled with all the fullness of God." There is besides in hyssop a
purgative virtue, that the breast may not be swollen with that knowledge
which puffeth up, nor boast vainly of the riches brought out from Egypt.
"Purge me with hyssop," the psalmist says, "and I shall be clean; wash
me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness."

Then he immediately adds, to show that it is purifying from pride that is
indicated by hyssop, "that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice."

Chap. 42.--Sacred Scripture compared with profane authors

  63. But just as poor as the store of gold and silver and garments which
the people of Israel brought with them out of Egypt was in comparison
with the riches which they afterwards attained at Jerusalem, and which
reached their height in the reign of King Solomon, so poor is all the
useful knowledge which is gathered from the books of the heathen when
compared with the knowledge of Holy Scripture. For whatever man may have
learnt from other sources, if it is hurtful, it is there condemned; if it
is useful, it is therein contained. And while every man may find there
all that he has learnt of useful elsewhere, he will find there in much
greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be
learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the
  When, then, the reader is possessed of the instruction here pointed
out, so that unknown signs have ceased to be a hindrance to him; when he
is meek and lowly of heart, subject to the easy yoke of Christ, and
loaded with His light burden, rooted and grounded and built up in faith,
so that knowledge cannot puff him up, let him then approach the
consideration and discussion of ambiguous signs in Scripture. And about
these I shall now, in a third book, endeavour to say what the Lord shall
be pleased to vouchsafe.



The author, having discussed in the preceding book the method of dealing
with unknown signs, goes on in this third book to treat of ambiguous
signs. Such signs may be either direct or figurative. In the case of
direct signs ambiguity may arise from the punctuation, the pronunciation,
or the doubtful signification of the words, and is to be resolved by
attention to the context, a comparison of translations, or a reference to
the original tongue. In the case of figurative signs we need to guard
against two mistakes:--1. the interpreting literal expressions
figuratively; 2. the interpreting figurative expressions literally. The
author lays down rules by which we may decide whether an expression is
literal or figurative; the general rule being, that whatever can be shown
to be in its literal sense inconsistent either with purity of life or
correctness of doctrine must be taken figuratively. He then goes on to
lay down rules for the interpretation of expressions which have been
proved to be figurative; the general principle being, that no
interpretation can be true which does not promote the love of God and the

love of man. The author then proceeds to expound and illustrate the seven
rules of Tichonius the Donatist, which he commends to the attention of
the student of Holy Scripture.

Chap. 1.--Summary of the foregoing books, and scope of that which follows

  1. The man who fears God seeks diligently in Holy Scripture for a
knowledge of His will. And when he has become meek through piety, so as
to have no love of strife; when furnished also with a knowledge of
languages, so as not to be stopped by unknown words and forms of speech,
and with the knowledge of certain necessary objects, so as not to be
ignorant of the force and nature of those which are used figuratively;
and assisted, besides, by accuracy in the texts, which has been secured
by skill and care in the matter of correction;--when thus prepared, let
him proceed to the examination and solution of the ambiguities of
Scripture. And that he may not be led astray by ambiguous signs, I so far
as I can give him instruction (it may happen however, that either from
the greatness of his intellect, or the greater clearness of the light he
enjoys, he shall laugh at the methods I am going to point out as
childish),--but yet, as I was going to say, so far as I can give
instruction, let him who is in such a state of mind that he can be
instructed by me know, that the ambiguity of Scripture lies either in
proper words or in metaphorical, classes which I have already described
in the second book.

Chap. 2.--Rule for removing ambiguity by attending to punctuation

  2. But when proper words make Scripture ambiguous, we must see in the
first place that there is nothing wrong in our punctuation or
pronunciation. Accordingly, if, when attention is given to the passage,
it shall appear to be uncertain in what way it ought to be punctuated or
pronounced, let the reader consult the rule of faith which he has
gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority
of the Church, and of which I treated at sufficient length when I was
speaking in the first book about things. But if both readings, or all of
them (if there are more than two), give a meaning in harmony with the
faith, it remains to consult the context, both what goes before and what
comes after, to see which interpretation, out of many that offer
themselves, it pronounces for and permits to be dovetailed into itself.
  3. Now look at some examples. The heretical pointing, "In principio
erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat" (In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God,and God was), so as to make the
next sentence run, "Verbum hoc erat in principio apud Deum" (This wbrd
was in the beginning with God), arises out of unwillingness to confess
that the Word was God. But this must be rejected by the rule of faith,
which, in reference to the equality of the Trinity, directs us to say:
"et Deus erat verbum" (and the Word was God); and then to add: "hoc erat
in principio apud Deum" (the same was in the beginning with God).
  4. But the following ambiguity of punctuation does not go against the

faith in either way you take it, and therefore must be decided from the
context. It is where the apostle says: "What I shall choose I wet not:
for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be
with Christ, which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is
more needful for you." Now it is uncertain whether we should read, "ex
duobus concupiscentiam habens " [having a desire for two things], or
"compellor autem ex duobus " [I am in a strait betwixt two]; and so to
add: "concupiscentiam habens dissolvi, et esse cum Christo" [having a
desire to depart, and to be with Christ]. But since there follows "multo
enim magis optimum" [for it is far better], it is evident that he says he
has a desire for that which is better; so that, while he is in a strait
betwixt two, yet he has a desire for one and sees a necessity for the
other; a desire, viz., to be with Christ, and a necessity to remain in
the flesh. Now this ambiguity is resolved by one word that follows, which
is translated denim [for]; and the translators who have omitted this
particle have preferred the interpretation which makes the apostle seem
not only in a strait betwixt two, but also to have a desire for two. We
must therefore punctuate the sentence thus: "et quid eligam ignoro:
compellor autem ex duobus" [what I shall choose I wet not: for I am in a
strait betwixt two]; and after this point follows: "concupiscentiam
habens dissolvi, et esse cum Christo" [having a desire to depart, and to
be with Christ]. And, as if he were asked why he has a desire for this in
preference to the other, he adds: "multo enim magis optimum" [for it is
far better]. Why, then, is he in a strait betwixt the two? Because there
is a need for his remaining, which he adds in these terms: "manere in
carne necessarium propter vos" [nevertheless to abide in the flesh is
more needful for you].
  5. Where, however, the ambiguity cannot be cleared up, either by the
rule of faith or by the context, there is nothing to hinder us to point
the sentence according to any method we choose of those that suggest
themselves. As is the case in that passage to the Corinthians: "Having
therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from
all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear
of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man." It is doubtful whether we
should read, mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis et spiritus" [let
us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit], in
accordance with the passage, "that she may be holy both in body and in
spirit," or, "mundemus nos ab omni coinquintione carnis" [let us cleanse
ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh], so as to make the next
sentence, "et spiritus perficientes sanctificationem in timore Dei capite
nos" [and perfecting holiness of spirit in the fear of God, receive us].
Such ambiguities of punctuation, therefore, are left to the reader's

Chap. 3.--How pronunciation serves to remove ambiguity--different kinds
of interrogation

  6. And all the directions that I have given about ambiguous
punctuations are to be observed likewise in the case of doubtful
pronunciations. For these too, unless the fault lies in the carelessness
of the reader, are corrected either by the rule of faith, or by a
reference to the preceding or succeeding context; or if neither of these
methods is applied with success, they will remain doubtful, but so that
the reader will not be in fault in whatever way he may pronounce them.
For example, if our faith that God will not bring any charges against His
elect, and that Christ will not condemn His elect, did not stand in the
way, this passage, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"
might be pronounced in such a way as to make what follows an answer to
this question, "God who justifieth," and to make a second question, "Who
is he that condemneth?" with the answer, "Christ Jesus who died." But as
it would be the height of madness to believe this, the passage will be
pronounced in such a way as to make the first part a question of inquiry,
and the second a rhetorical interrogative. Now the ancients said that the
difference between an inquiry and an interrogative was this, that an
inquiry admits of many answers, but to an interrogative the answer must
be either "No" or "Yes." The passage will be pronounced, then, in such a
way that after the inquiry, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of
God's elect?" what follows will be put as an interrogative: "Shall God
who justifieth?" the answer "No" being understood. And in the same way we
shall have the inquiry, "Who is he that condemneth?" and the answer here
again in the form of an interrogative, "Is it Christ who died? yea,
rather, who is risen again? who is even at the right hand of God? who
also maketh intercession for us?" the answer "No" being understood to
every one of these questions. On the other hand, in that passage where
the apostle says, "What shall we say then? That the Gentiles which
followed not after righteousness have attained to righteousness;" unless
after the inquiry, "What shall we say then?" what follows were given as
the answer to this question: "That the Gentiles, which followed not after
righteousness, have attained to righteousness;" it would not be in
harmony with the succeeding context. But with whatever tone of voice one
may choose to pronounce that saying of Nathanael's, "Can any good thing
come out of Nazareth?"--whether with that of a man who gives an
affirmative answer, so that "out of Nazareth" is the only part that
belongs to the interrogation, or with that of a man who asks the whole
question with doubt and hesitation,--I do not see how a difference can be
made. But neither sense is opposed to faith.

  7. There is, again, an ambiguity arising out of the doubtful sound of
syllables; and this of course has relation to pronunciation. For example,
in the passage, "My bone [os meum] was not hid from Thee, which Thou
didst make in secret," it is not clear to the reader whether he should
take the word "os" as short or long. If he make it short, it is the
singular of ossa [bones]; if he make it long, it is the singular of ora
[mouths]. Now difficulties such as this are cleared up by looking into
the original tongue, for in the Greek we find not "stome" [mouth], but
"osteon" [bone]. And for this reason the vulgar idiom is frequently more
useful in conveying the sense than the pure speech of the educated. For I
would rather have the barbarism, "non est absconditum a te ossum meum",
than have the passage in better Latin but the sense less clear. But
sometimes when the sound of a syllable is doubtful, it is decided by a
word near it belonging to the same sentence. As, for example, that saying
of the apostle, "Of the which I tell you before [praedico], as I have
also told you in time past [praedixi], that they which do such things
shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Now if he had only said, "Of the
which I tell you before [quae praedico vobis]", and had not added, "as I
have also told you in time past [sicut proedixi]," we could not know
without going back to the original whether in the word praedico the
middle syllable should be pronounced long or short. But as it is, it is
clear that it should be pronounced long; for he does not say, sicut
praedicavi, but sicut praedixi.

Chap. 4.--How ambiguities may be solved

  8. And not only these, but also those ambiguities that do not relate
either to punctuation or pronunciation, are to be examined in the same
way. For example, that one in the Epistle to the Thessalonians:
"Propterea consolati sumus fratres in vobis". Now it is doubtful whether
"fratres" [brethren] is in the vocative or accusative case, and it is not
contrary to faith to take it either way. But in the Greek language the
two cases are not the same in form; and accordingly, when we look into
the original, the case is shown to be vocative. Now if the translator had
chosen to say, "propterea consolationem habuimus fratres in vobis", he
would have followed the words less literally, but there would have been
less doubt about the meaning; or, indeed, if he had added "nostri",
hardly any one would have doubted that the vocative case was meant when
he heard "propterea consolationem habuimus fratres in vobis", But this is
a rather dangerous liberty to take. It has been taken, however in that
passage to the Corinthians, where the apostle says, "I protest by your
rejoicing [per vestram gloriam] which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I
die daily." For one translator has it, "per vestram" juro "gloriam", the

form of adjuration appearing in the Greek without any ambiguity. It is
therefore very rare and very difficult to find any ambiguity in the case
of proper words, as far at least as Holy Scripture is concerned, which
neither the context, showing the design of the writer, nor a comparison
of translations, nor a reference to the original tongue, will suffice to

Chap. 5.--It is a wretched slavery which takes the figurative expressions
of Scripture in a literal sense

  9. But the ambiguities of metaphorical words, about which I am next to
speak, demand no ordinary care and diligence. In the first place, we must
beware of taking a figurative expression literally. For the saying of the
apostle applies in this case too: "The letter killeth, but the spirit
giveth life." For when what is said figuratively is taken as if it were
said literally, it is understood in a carnal manner. And nothing is more
fittingly called the death of the soul than when that in it which raises
it above the brutes, the intelligence namely, is put in subjection to the
flesh by a blind adherence to the letter. For he who follows the letter
takes figurative words as if they were proper, and does not carry out
what is indicated by a proper word into its secondary signification; but,
if he hears of the Sabbath, for example, thinks of nothing but the one
day out of seven which recurs in constant succession; and when he hears
of a sacrifice, does not carry his thoughts beyond the customary
offerings of victims from the flock, and of the fruits of the earth. Now
it is surely a miserable slavery of the soul to take signs for things,
and to be unable to lift the eye of the mind above what is corporeal and
created, that it may drink in eternal light.

Chap. 6.--Utility of the bondage of the Jews

  10. This bondage, however, in the case of the Jewish people, differed
widely from what it was in the case of the other nations; because, though
the former were in bondage to temporal things, it was in such a way that
in all these the One God was put before their minds. And although they
paid attention to the signs of spiritual realities in place of the
realities themselves, not knowing to what the signs referred, still they
had this conviction rooted in their minds, that in subjecting themselves
to such a bondage they were doing the pleasure of the one invisible God
of all. And the apostle describes this bondage as being like to that of
boys under the guidance of a schoolmaster. And those who clung
obstinately to such signs could not endure our Lord's neglect of them
when the time for their revelation had come. And hence their leaders
brought it as a charge against Him that He healed on the Sabbath, and the
people, clinging to these signs as it they were realities, could not

believe that one who refused to observe them in the way the Jews did was
God, or came from God. But those who did believe, from among whom the
first Church at Jerusalem was formed, showed clearly how great an
advantage it had been to be so guided by the schoolmaster that signs,
which had been for a season imposed on the obedient, fixed the thoughts
of those who observed them on the worship of the One God who made heaven
and earth. These men, because they had been very near to spiritual things
(for even in the temporal and carnal offerings and types, though they did
not clearly apprehend their spiritual meaning, they had learnt to adore
the One Eternal God,) were filled with such a measure of the Holy Spirit
that they sold all their goods, and laid their price at the apostles'
feet to be distributed among the needy, and consecrated themselves wholly
to God as a new temple, of which the old temple they were serving was but
the earthly type.
  11. Now it is not recorded that any of the Gentile churches did this,
because men who had for their gods idols made with hands had not been so
near to spiritual things.

Chap. 7.--The useless bondage of the gentiles

  And if ever any of them endeavoured to make it out that their idols
were only signs, yet still they used them in reference to the worship and
adoration of the creature. What difference does it make to me, for
instance, that the image of Neptune is not itself to be considered a god,
but only as representing the wide ocean, and all the other waters besides
that spring out of fountains? As it is described by a poet of theirs, who
says, if I recollect aright, "Thou, Father Neptune, whose hoary temples
are wreathed with the resounding sea, whose beard is the mighty ocean
flowing forth unceasingly, and whose hair is the winding rivers." This
husk shakes its rattling stones within a sweet covering, and yet it is
not food for men, but for swine. He who knows the gospel knows what I
mean. What profit is it to me, then, that the image of Neptune is used
with a reference to this explanation of it, unless indeed the result be
that I worship neither? For any statue you like to take is as much god to
me as the wide ocean. I grant, however, that they who make gods of the
works of man have sunk lower than they who make gods of the works of God.
But the command is that we should love and serve the One God, who is the
Maker of all those things, the images of which are worshipped by the
heathen either as gods, or as signs and representations of gods. If,
then, to take a sign which has been established for a useful end instead
of the thing itself which it was designed to signify, is bondage to the
flesh, how much more so is it to take signs intended to represent useless
things for the things themselves! For even if you go back to the very
things signified by such signs, and engage your mind in the worship of
these, you will not be anything the more free from the burden and the
livery of bondage to the flesh.

Chap. 8.--The Jews liberated from their bondage in one way, the gentiles

in another

  12. Accordingly the liberty that comes by Christ took those whom it
found under bondage to useful signs, and who were (so to speak) near to
it, and, interpreting the signs to which they were in bondage, set them
free by raising them to the realities of which these were signs. And out
of such were formed the churches of the saints of Israel. Those, on the
other hand, whom it found in bondage to useless signs, it not only freed
from their slavery to such signs, but brought to nothing and cleared out
of the way all these signs themselves, so that the gentiles were turned
from the corruption of a multitude of false gods, which Scripture
frequently and justly speaks of as fornication, to the worship of the One
God: not that they might now fall into bondage to signs of a useful kind,
but rather that they might exercise their minds in the spiritual
understanding of such.

Chap. 9.--Who is in bondage to signs, and who not

  13. Now he is in bondage to a sign who uses, or pays homage to, any
significant object without knowing what it signifies: he, on the other
hand, who either uses or honours a useful sign divinely appointed, whose
force and significance he understands, does not honour the sign which is
seen and temporal, but that to which all such signs refer. Now such a man
is spiritual and free even at the time of his bondage, when it is not yet
expedient to reveal to carnal minds those signs by subjection to which
their carnality is to be overcome. To this class of spiritual persons
belonged the patriarchs and the prophets, and all those among the people
of Israel through whose instrumentality the Holy Spirit ministered unto
us the aids and consolations of the Scriptures. But at the present time,
after that the proof of our liberty has shone forth so clearly in the
resurrection of our Lord, we are not oppressed with the heavy burden of
attending even to those signs which we now understand, but our Lord
Himself, and apostolic practice, have handed down to us a few rites in
place of many, and these at once very easy to perform, most majestic in
their significance, and most sacred in the observance; such, for example,
as the Sacrament of baptism, and the celebration of the body and blood of
the Lord. And as soon as any one looks upon these observances he knows to
what they refer, and so reveres them not in carnal bondage, but in
spiritual freedom. Now, as to follow the letter, and to take signs for
the things that are signified by them, is a mark of weakness and bondage;
so to interpret signs wrongly is the result of being misled by error. He,
however, who does not understand what a sign signifies, but yet knows
that it is a sign, is not in bondage. And it is better even to be in
bondage to unknown but useful signs than, by interpreting them wrongly,
to draw the neck from under the yoke of bondage only to insert it in the
coils of error.

Chap. 10.--How we are to discern whether a phrase is figurative

  14. But in addition to the foregoing rule, which guards us against
taking a metaphorical form of speech as if it were literal, we must also
pay heed to that which tells us not to take a literal form of speech as
if it were figurative. In the first place, then, we must show the way to
find out whether a phrase is literal or figurative. And the way is
certainly as follows: Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot,
when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness
of doctrine, you may set down as figurative. Purity of life has reference
to the love of God and one's neighbour; soundness of doctrine to the
knowledge of God and one's neighbour. Every man, moreover, has hope in

(continued in part 7...)

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