13 min read
13 min read
The style of an epistle ought not to be altogether unstudied and unadorned; nor should it be over-polished and exquisite in its diction. The one character is homely and ungraceful; the other is meretricious and affected. It admits a chaste degree of ornament, which is all that is wanted for appearance or effect.
That a soothing and seasonable speech has the power sometimes, like a particular medicine, of allaying an angry feeling, boiling in the interior of a man, I dare affirm; but whether in anything I can say there exists a healing power that will be efficacious in the present instance, of that I am not so well assured. If I shall happily accomplish this object, I shall have done well; if I fail, I shall deplore the event, but I shall hold myself absolved from blame. Since your bitter contention has reached, as they say, to heaven, it has not only inflicted wounds on yourselves, but on others also. I have it at heart, if possible, to put an end to it, and make you friends again. But if this, as some assure me, cannot possibly at present be brought about, yet certainly, by maintaining silence, you may enervate the force of this hostility; or you may desist, at least, from aggravating it by angry words, and such as had better have never been uttered. For if you can be prevailed upon to suppress these unwarrantable speeches against each other, your quarrel by little and little may soften of itself, and gradually become extinguished and disappear, from having nothing to excite it; just as when the progress of a disorder is arrested, so that the sick man is stationary, an amendment generally begins. In the acutest diseases, if the patient’s condition remains in an unaltered state, without inclining to better or worse, it is thought to be a good sign; so in the grievous malady with which you both are afflicted, (for you must not think yourselves in any other state than that of severe disease, while you are thus affected toward each other) the inactivity of the disorder will be the symptom of convalescence. Wherefore, if you can resolve to banish all discord from between you, I shall be well pleased; but if you can only stop its progress and suspend its activity, I shall not despair of better things; and shall think that my advice to you to restrain your mutual invectives has not been thrown away.
Do not, my excellent friend, strive after wealth, which is the parent of pride and arrogance, brings upon us a band of destructive pleasures, is the architect and fabricator of every evil, and alienates us from the love of God; but cultivate virtue, which turns us away from all the evils of the world. If it demands of us much sweat and labour, do not avoid it on that account; but embrace it for that very reason; for remember, that in other things, that which is the fruit of sweat and labour, even where it is little in itself, becomes the object of our ardent desire; whereas that which is easily acquired, or comes of its own accord, is despised by us, however great in itself.
I wish Eusebius would learn, as he is set over the church at Pelusium, what a church really is. For it is most absurd, and of the worst consequence, that without this knowledge, he should imagine himself qualified to be a bishop. Now that a church is properly an assembly of holy men, having a sound faith, and the correctest moral discipline, is the view entertained of it by all wise men. From the want of well understanding this, Eusebius is doing what must tend to overturn the true church, and give scandal to many. It is true, he is busy about the building of the temple, but at the same time he is despoiling it of its great ornament, by expelling from it zealous and serious men. No one is ignorant of the pains he takes to decorate the building with variegated marble: but if he well understood that the church is one thing, and the structure of the church another, that the one is composed of holy and harmless spirits, while wood and stone are the materials of the other, I think he would desist from his hostility to the one, while he is bestowing superfluous ornament on the other. For it was not to contemplate walls, but living souls, that the King of Heaven visited us here below. But if he still declares himself ignorant of what I mean, though it be as clear as the light to all who are not in a state of the most gross insensibility, I will try to make myself understood by examples. As the altar is one thing, and the sacrifice another; as the censer is one thing, and the incense another; as the council-chamber is one thing, and the council another, the one signifying the place of assembling, the other the persons meeting for consultation, to whom are committed questions of public danger and safety, the same is the difference between the temple and the church. But if he professes not to understand even this, let him be told for his better information, that in the days of the apostles, when the church abounded in spiritual graces, and shone forth in all the lustre of its discipline, there were no Christian temples at all. But in our times, unnecessary ornaments are bestowed on our temples, while the church is mocked by neglect, to use no stronger terms. Now if the choice lay with me, I would certainly choose rather to live in times in which the temples were not thus expensively adorned, but the church was encircled with divine and heavenly graces, than in times when the fabrics themselves are adorned with all kinds of marble, and the church left naked of spiritual graces.
I declare myself the friend of both of you. You both send for me, but I will come to neither of you, to take up the cause of either against the other; as I see no reason for your present hostile disagreement. I will not come to benefit one at the expense of the other. But if you will both do that which it becomes both to do:—if you will lay aside this implacable enmity, and turn your views towards peace, I will come, not to assist one against the other, but to unite you both again in the bond of peace and amity.
My advice to you is, neither to turn an adverse look, nor raise an adverse voice against the Divine Oracles. But even before you hear what is commanded, pledge yourself to the performance. For know what God is, who utters these Oracles.— One who precludes all contradiction, and exacts implicit obedience. For He who possesses an unerring acquaintance with what is best, for us, is the proper object of our entire trust in whatever He pronounces and whatever He ordains.
The relationship of blood is by no means to be put on the same footing with moral propinquity. Wherefore, if I address you as the nephew of the venerable bishop Hermogenes, I do you no favour; but if I call you his affectionate and worthy disciple, I pay a due respect to both—to you as a follower of one of the best of men, to him as one who has made an excellent man of one of his noblest followers.
Hear my opinion, O thou, (in addressing whom I know of no appellation sufficiently exalted,) which is as follows. I think that the first preachers of the word drew willing hearers to their divine instructions, not only by their faithful discourses, but by their personal example; confirming their teaching by the consistency of their practice, the one being the nerve and sinew of the other. It was thus by the consent between their words and actions, without which they would have exposed themselves to ridicule, as do some of the present day, (I mean not to speak offensively) and by this congruity of their lives with their doctrines, that they subdued the minds of men. Wherefore it was that Christ, well knowing that discourse, without a consonant practice, is weak and emasculate, and that he only who is inspired with a performing zeal, as well as with the powers of speech, brings sufficient life and energy to carry on the great work, furnished these teachers with every endowment of virtue and philosophy, instructing them by his own example as well as precept, and adorning them with heavenly gifts; and thus furnished, he sent them forth to catch and reclaim men. For this he well knew, that the conduct and manners of the preachers worked upon men’s minds with an effect scarcely less potent than miracles. Being dispersed, therefore, over the whole world, as a sort of labourers with wings on their shoulders, distributing the word of godliness, and regulating themselves agreeably to the model of their great Master, by exhibiting lives not merely blameless, but admirable, they subdued all things under the sun; whereas nothing could subdue them; neither wisdom and learning, nor power, nor wealth, nor empire, nor dominion, nor barbarian rage, nor demoniacal combination, nor Satan himself, nor hunger, nor headlong violence, nor chains, nor any other things that strike us with terror. All yielded and gave way to them; and counted defeat more splendid than victory, with all its trophies; deeming it far better to be nobly beaten, than to be disgracefully victorious, they were made the citizens of heaven.
Why should you wonder that after the coming of the Saviour in the flesh many heresies should have sprung up, considering that Satan, when he heard it distinctly proclaimed that he was about to be finally condemned, and to suffer his merited punishment, scattered abroad the seeds of these heresies, that he might multiply the sharers and companions of his sufferings: and that even before the blessed advent of our Lord, not a few heresies existed. For some men even denied the very existence of a God; others said that if there was a God, still it was a God without providence; while others admitted both a God and a providence, but confined the providence of God to the things of heaven. Others were for extending the providence of God to the things of earth, but not to all earthly things, only to things more excellent; as to kings and princes. There were some who maintained that all things were left to themselves; and some that all things were controlled by a fatal necessity; while others asserted the dominion of a blind fortuity. Some thought it lawful and right to pay adoration to idols; some that marriage with mothers was to be approved; some justified human sacrifices; some the sacrificial slaughter of animals; some thought oxen to be the properest victims, and some camels; some even thought that men might eat one another. Were I to enumerate all these cases, I might be discredited, though I could not be confuted. Now I argue from these cases thus.—If at all periods of time there have existed these dissentient opinions and practices among men, (for at various periods the eagerness of men after new things, and new modes, with their proneness to sedition, have disposed them to convulse the present, and propose new laws for the future, according to each man’s ingenuity, or the complexion of his mind) why should you wonder that in a matter so far transcending human reason, as the religion of Christ, contentions and discords should distract the minds of beings so subject to the excitements of ambition, and to be agitated by furious and maddening impulses.
The virtues of oratory are these,—truth, conciseness, perspicuity, and suitableness to the occasion. The contraries to these are its vices,—falsehood, prolixity, obscurity, and unseasonableness. For what will it avail us to be true, if we are not concise, and concise if not clear, and clear if not seasonable. When all these virtues meet in a composition, it is then that it is effective, and impressive, and living. It leads the hearers by the force of truth, exercises their thoughts by its brevity, captivates by its perspicuity, and is consummated by its suitableness to the occasion.
It seems to me to be a mark of dulness, though to some of you grammarians it may not appear so, to be over nice in the use of terms. But as you are so very wise in these matters, I think it worth while to satiate you with a little of my own on this subject. Oldest and youngest is not to be said of one of two brothers, but of more than two. ‘Older and younger’ are proper when we are speaking of two; the accession of a third demands the use of the superlative.
You must know, your friend, so magniloquous and such a searcher after words, came to my house, just as I was returning home; and when there, became so enchanted with the study of philosophy, that he was content to stay where he was. Mark the effect of his visit,—he has now closed his mouth upon his tongue, and transferred his attention to his mind, and thinks eloquence a small affair in comparison of philosophy.
Those who designedly obscure the truth by the artifices of diction are, in my mind, more contemptible than those who do not comprehend it. Those who from a dulness of capacity fail in the pursuit of it, are, perhaps, to be pitied and pardoned. But those who have pursued it with success, but maliciously hide it from discovery, sin beyond the hope of forgiveness.
Peace, if it is in conjunction with righteousness, is, indeed, a thing truly divine; but if it is not so allied, it betrays the beauty and perfection of virtue. There is peace among robbers, and peace among wolves; but the peace of robbers is a league against men, and the peace of wolves threatens destruction to the sheep. I would not call that peace which has not the ornament of righteousness. When this is added to it, I call it peace. Thus Christ says, ” I came not to bring peace upon earth, but a sword.” Not that he repudiates peace, but the peace that is yoked with evil. In another place he says, “My peace I give to you.” That, therefore, is truly peace which is sanctified by its alliance with righteousness and holiness.
As you are desirous of knowing how I think the precept in Scripture, “Be not righteous over much,” is to be understood; I will give you my opinion. I think it is open to a double explanation. It may mean either “Do not exact or execute rigid justice,” but let benevolence prevail against it: it is just to resent an injury: but it is the part of wisdom to bear it with composure. Or the scriptural passage may be thus interpreted, “Walk in the middle path of virtue;” for excess or deficiency turns us out of the right course, and ends in transgression. And that the very wise precept which immediately follows looks that way is manifest, ” Neither make thyself over wise, why shouldest thou destroy thyself,” which one of the seven wise men, so called, appears to have stolen, unless, indeed, it was an accidental coincidence. The sentiment to which I allude is, “the mean is the best”, which another has thus expressed, “Let nothing be too much”. And not only in virtue, but even in piety, the maxim is of force, for piety is in the middle between impiety and superstition.
That while the church was flourishing, and not yet in the diseased state in which it now is, divine graces formed a sacred band or chorus around it, its affairs being under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and every minister moved and directed by its influence, is known and admitted by all. And that after a time it became diseased, and fell into disorder and insubordination, so that not only the graces (for that might not be so grievous an event, if that were all) but the life and virtue of the church abandoned it, is also well known to all. To pass by other matters, I will take one fact for a specimen. The name of peace is everywhere, the thing itself nowhere. The church is like a woman fallen from her first estate of purity and felicity, and retaining only the vestiges of her former self. The church has her caskets and her cases of jewels and ornaments, but of her real wealth she is bereaved, not from the neglect of him who first adorned her, but from the unfaithfulness of those who have mal-administered her affairs. Some have dared to buy, and some to sell the priesthood; others do what, if I might, I should not dare to publish; others say what it is not lawful even to think. Justly, therefore, has the Lord and Bridegroom of the church threatened these persons with that of which you now seek from me the disclosure. “The Lord of that servant, who has so acted, will come, and will cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” But this threat is to them a fable, and this sentence an idle tale, although the end of the world is approaching, and is in travail with their punishment. But do thou, O thou illustrious pupil of the church, pay no respect to those who are on the eve of shipwreck, nor compare yourself with these senseless persons; but render still more luminous the light of your understanding, refreshing it from the source of living virtue. And expect the Bridegroom to come attended by those who are, as virgins, pure in mind and body, to take vengeance upon those who, by their iniquities, have sullied the dignity of the priesthood, and its virgin sanctity.
It has quite escaped these Greeks, that by the arguments which they bring against the Christian religion they confute themselves. They say that the sacred Scriptures are barbarously written, and full of foreign terms and idioms, without the connexion and order required in composition, and embarrassing the meaning of what is said by a redundancy of diction. But let these very things teach them the force of truth. For how has it happened that eloquence itself has been persuaded and convinced by this artless and simple dialect? Let the wise say how it is, that this language, so full of barbarisms and solecisms, has mastered dogmatic error, with all its advantages of Athenian eloquence. How is it that Plato, that prince and Choryphaeus of Gentile philosophy, could never bring over a single tyrant to his opinions, but this barbarous dialect, so full of solecisms, has spread its conquests over sea and land.
As the strength and skill of a wrestler is most conspicuously displayed when, though locked in the powerful grasp of his adversary, he yet subdues him in the struggle on the stadium; so Christ engages in combat with the demons on the strength of his cross alone, that the trophies of his triumph may be the more signal and illustrious. And this is what you wish me to expound. Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it, i. e. by his cross. Thus, in truth, were the demons triumphed over by a wrestler transfixed to the cross by his hands and feet. Thus was the devil baffled and worsted by a single arm of flesh, and that flesh suspended on a cross, to which he is obliged to yield the palm of victory.
Be persuaded of this, my excellent friend, that we act sinfully in resenting wrongs done to ourselves, and passing lightly over offences against God. I grant that when we ourselves are injured, a forgiving temper is very commendable; but when the Divine Goodness is offended, as it is by intemperance and excess (and various are the ways in which we may thus offend), a feeling of indignation becomes us rather than complacency. The practice of men is the opposite to this course, we cannot forgive those who act as our enemies, while we are mild and philanthropic towards those who arm their tongues against God. Moses was full of wrath against the Israelites when they formed the calf, and this wrath was far better than gentleness would have been in such circumstances. Elias was angry with the idolaters, John Baptist with Herod, and Paul with Elymas, not for themselves, but from loyalty to the majesty of God, who, indeed, needs no avenger, being sufficient for himself; but is pleased with the zeal of the good against the transgressors of his laws. The virtuous are regardless of injuries intended against themselves, and consider this to be the true philosophy.
Fly, my dearest friend, from the commerce of the wicked; for intercourse with the bad, by an unperceived advance, introduces defilement into the soul. Many with a high opinion of their own steadiness and excellent principles, and fancying themselves secured thereby from whatever temptations may occur, have by slow and gentle steps been led on till they fall into the gulf. Habit is a powerful agent, and by degrees is changed into nature itself; so that some call it a second nature. Others say that nature is subverted by habit, adopting the notion of the old poet:
“The drop continuous hollows out the stone.”
What is harder than stone, or what softer than water? but by perpetual attrition nature is thus overcome.