Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
On Christian Doctrine: Chapter 7
Chapter 7.—Examples of True Eloquence Drawn from the Epistles of Paul and the Prophecies of Amos.
11. For who would not see what the apostle meant to say, and how wisely he has said it, in the following passage: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”? 1940 Now were any man unlearnedly learned (if I may use the expression) to contend that the apostle had here followed the rules of rhetoric, would not every Christian, learned or unlearned, laugh p. 578 at him? And yet here we find the figure which is called in Greek κλίμαζ (climax,) and by some in Latin gradatio, for they do not care to call it scala (a ladder), when the words and ideas have a connection of dependency the one upon the other, as we see here that patience arises out of tribulation, experience out of patience, and hope out of experience. nother ornament, too, is found here; for after certain statements finished in a single tone of voice, which we call clauses and sections (membra et cæsa), but the Greeks κῶλα and κόμματα, 1941 there follows a rounded sentence (ambitus sive circuitus) which the Greeks call περίοδος, 1942 the clauses of which are suspended on the voice of the speaker till the whole is completed by the last clause. For of the statements which precede the period, this is the first clause, “knowing that tribulation worketh patience;” the second, “and patience, experience;” the third, “and experience, hope.” Then the period which is subjoined is completed in three clauses, of which the first is, “and hope maketh not ashamed;” the second, “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts;” the third, “by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” But these and other matters of the same kind are taught in the art of elocution. As then I do not affirm that the apostle was guided by the rules of eloquence, so I do not deny that his wisdom naturally produced, and was accompanied by, eloquence.
12. In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, again, he refutes certain false apostles who had gone out from the Jews, and had been trying to injure his character; and being compelled to speak of himself, though he ascribes this as folly to himself, how wisely and how eloquently he speaks! But wisdom is his guide, eloquence his attendant; he follows the first, the second follows him, and yet he does not spurn it when it comes after him. “I say again,” he says, “Let no man think me a fool: if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit, whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly), I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool), I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities.” 1943 The thoughtful and attentive perceive how much wisdom there is in these words. And even a man sound asleep must notice what a stream of eloquence flows through them.
13. Further still, the educated man observes that those sections which the Greeks call κόμματα, and the clauses and periods of which I spoke a short time ago, being intermingled in the most beautiful variety, make up the whole form and features (so to speak) of that diction by which even the unlearned are delighted and affected. For, from the place where I commenced to quote, the passage consists of periods: the first the smallest possible, consisting of two members; for a period cannot have less than two members, though it may have more: “I say again, let no man think me a fool.” The next has three members: “if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.” The third has four members: “That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.” The fourth has two: “Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.” And the fifth has two: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.” The sixth again has two members: “for ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage.” Then follow three sections (cæsa): “if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself.” Next three clauses (membra): if p. 579 “a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak.” Then is subjoined a period of three members: “Howbeit, whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly), I am bold also.” After this, certain separate sections being put in the interrogatory form, separate sections are also given as answers, three to three: “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.” But a fourth section being put likewise in the interrogatory form, the answer is given not in another section (cæsum) but in a clause (membrum): 1944 “Are they the ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool.) I am more.” Then the next four sections are given continuously, the interrogatory form being most elegantly suppressed: “in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.” Next is interposed a short period; for, by a suspension of the voice, “of the Jews five times” is to be marked off as constituting one member, to which is joined the second, “received I forty stripes save one.” Then he returns to sections, and three are set down: “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck.” Next comes a clause: “a night and a day I have been in the deep.” Next fourteen sections burst forth with a vehemence which is most appropriate: “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” After this comes in a period of three members: “Besides those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” And to this he adds two clauses in a tone of inquiry: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” In fine, this whole passage, as if panting for breath, winds up with a period of two members: “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” And I cannot sufficiently express how beautiful and delightful it is when after this outburst he rests himself, and gives the hearer rest, by interposing a slight narrative. For he goes on to say: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.” And then he tells, very briefly the danger he had been in, and the way he escaped it.
14. It would be tedious to pursue the matter further, or to point out the same facts in regard to other passages of Holy Scripture. Suppose I had taken the further trouble, at least in regard to the passages I have quoted from the apostles writings, to point out figures of speech which are taught in the art of rhetoric? Is it not more likely that serious men would think I had gone too far, than that any of the studious would think I had done enough? All these things when taught by masters are reckoned of great value; great prices are paid for them, and the vendors puff them magniloquently. And I fear lest I too should smack of that puffery while thus descanting on matters of this kind. It was necessary, however, to reply to the ill-taught men who think our authors contemptible; not because they do not possess, but because they do not display, the eloquence which these men value so highly.
15. But perhaps some one is thinking that I have selected the Apostle Paul because he is our great orator. For when he says, “Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge,” 1945 he seems to speak as if granting so much to his detractors, not as confessing that he recognized its truth. If he had said, “I am indeed rude in speech, but not in knowledge,” we could not in any way have put another meaning upon it. He did not hesitate plainly to assert his knowledge, because without it he could not have been the teacher of the Gentiles. And certainly if we bring forward anything of his as a model of eloquence, we take it from those epistles which even his very detractors, who thought his bodily presence weak and his speech contemptible, confessed to be weighty and powerful. 1946
I see, then, that I must say something about the eloquence of the prophets also, where many things are concealed under a metaphorical style, which the more completely they seem buried under figures of speech, give the greater pleasure when brought to light. In this place, however, it is my duty to select a passage of such a kind that I shall not be compelled to explain the matter, but only to commend the style. And I shall do so, quoting principally from the book of that prophet who says that he was a shepherd or herdsman, and was called by God from that occupation, and sent to prophesy to the people of God. 1947 I shall not, however, follow the Septuagint translators, who, being themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their p. 580 translation, seem to have altered some passages with the view of directing the readers attention more particularly to the investigation of the spiritual sense; (and hence some passages are more obscure, because more figurative, in their translation;) but I shall follow the translation made from the Hebrew into Latin by the presbyter Jerome, a man thoroughly acquainted with both tongues.
16. When, then, this rustic, or quondam rustic prophet, was denouncing the godless, the proud, the luxurious, and therefore the most neglectful of brotherly love, he called aloud, saying: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, who are heads and chiefs of the people, entering with pomp into the house of Israel! Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines, and to all the best kingdoms of these: is their border greater than your border? Ye that are set apart for the day of evil, and that come near to the seat of oppression; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch yourselves upon couches that eat the lamb of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the herd; that chant to the sound of the viol. They thought that they had instruments of music like David; drinking wine in bowls, and anointing themselves with the costliest ointment: and they were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” 1948 Suppose those men who, assuming to be themselves learned and eloquent, despise our prophets as untaught and unskillful of speech, had been obliged to deliver a message like this, and to men such as these, would they have chosen to express themselves in any respect differently—those of them, at least, who would have shrunk from raving like madmen?
17. For what is there that sober ears could wish changed in this speech? In the first place, the invective itself; with what vehemence it throws itself upon the drowsy senses to startle them into wakefulness: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountains of Samaria, who are heads and chiefs of the people, entering with pomp into the house of Israel!” Next, that he may use the favors of God, who has bestowed upon them ample territory, to show their ingratitude in trusting to the mountain of Samaria, where idols were worshipped: “Pass ye unto Calneh,” he says, “and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines, and to all the best kingdoms of these: is their border greater than your border?” At the same time also that these things are spoken of, the style is adorned with names of places as with lamps, such as “Zion,” “Samaria,” “Calneh,” “Hamath the great,” and “Gath of the Philistines.” Then the words joined to these places are most appropriately varied: “ye are at ease,” “ye trust,” “pass on,” “go,” “descend.”
18. And then the future captivity under an oppressive king is announced as approaching, when it is added: “Ye that are set apart for the day of evil, and come near to the seat of oppression.” Then are subjoined the evils of luxury: “ye that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch yourselves upon couches; that eat the lamb from the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the herd.” These six clauses form three periods of two members each. For he does not say: Ye who are set apart for the day of evil, who come near to the seat of oppression, who sleep upon beds of ivory, who stretch yourselves upon couches, who eat the lamb from the flock, and calves out of the herd. If he had so expressed it, this would have had its beauty: six separate clauses running on, the same pronoun being repeated each time, and each clause finished by a single effort of the speakers voice. But it is more beautiful as it is, the clauses being joined in pairs under the same pronoun, and forming three sentences, one referring to the prophecy of the captivity: “Ye that are set apart for the day of evil, and come near the seat of oppression;” the second to lasciviousness: “ye that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch yourselves upon couches;” the third to gluttony: “who eat the lamb from the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the herd.” So that it is at the discretion of the speaker whether he finish each clause separately and make six altogether, or whether he suspend his voice at the first, the third, and the fifth, and by joining the second to the first, the fourth to the third, and the sixth to the fifth, make three most elegant periods of two members each: one describing the imminent catastrophe; another, the lascivious couch; and the third, the luxurious table.
19. Next he reproaches them with their luxury in seeking pleasure for the sense of hearing. And here, when he had said, “Ye who chant to the sound of the viol,” seeing that wise men may practise music wisely, he, with wonderful skill of speech, checks the flow of his invective, and not now speaking to, but of, these men, and to show us that we must distinguish the music of the wise from the p. 581 music of the voluptuary, he does not say, “Ye who chant to the sound of the viol, and think that ye have instruments of music like David;” but he first addresses to themselves what it is right the voluptuaries should hear, “Ye who chant to the sound of the viol;” and then, turning to others, he intimates that these men have not even skill in their art: “they thought that they had instruments of music like David; drinking wine in bowls, and anointing themselves with the costliest ointment.” These three clauses are best pronounced when the voice is suspended on the first two members of the period, and comes to a pause on the third.
20. But now as to the sentence which follows all these: “and they were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” Whether this be pronounced continuously as one clause, or whether with more elegance we hold the words, “and they were not grieved,” suspended on the voice, and then add, “for the affliction of Joseph,” so as to make a period of two members; in any case, it is a touch of marvelous beauty not to say, “and they were not grieved for the affliction of their brother;” but to put Joseph for brother, so as to indicate brothers in general by the proper name of him who stands out illustrious from among his brethren, both in regard to the injuries he suffered and the good return he made. And, indeed, I do not know whether this figure of speech, by which Joseph is put for brothers in general, is one of those laid down in that art which I learnt and used to teach. But how beautiful it is, and how it comes home to the intelligent reader, it is useless to tell any one who does not himself feel it.
21. And a number of other points bearing on the laws of eloquence could be found in this passage which I have chosen as an example. But an intelligent reader will not be so much instructed by carefully analysing it as kindled by reciting it with spirit. Nor was it composed by mans art and care, but it flowed forth in wisdom and eloquence from the Divine mind; wisdom not aiming at eloquence, yet eloquence not shrinking from wisdom. For if, as certain very eloquent and acute men have perceived and said, the rules which are laid down in the art of oratory could not have been observed, and noted, and reduced to system, if they had not first had their birth in the genius of orators, is it wonderful that they should be found in the messengers of Him who is the author of all genius? Therefore let us acknowledge that the canonical writers are not only wise but eloquent also, with an eloquence suited to a character and position like theirs.
Cf. Cicero, Orator. 62: “Quæ nescio cur, cum Græci κὁμματα et κῶλα nominent, nos non recte incisa et membra dicamus.”578:1942
Cf. Cicero, de Claris Oratoribus, 44: “Comprehensio et ambitus ille verborum (si sic periodum appellari placet).”578:1943
2 Cor. 11.16-30.579:1944
The only apparent difference between membrum and cæsum is, that the former is the longer of the two. It is impossible to express the difference in English.579:1945
2 Cor. 11.6.579:1946
2 Cor. 10.10.579:1947
Amos 1:1, Amos 7:14.580:1948
Amos 6.1-6. The version given above, which is a literal translation of Jeromes Latin, as quoted by Augustin, differs slightly from the English authorized version.
Next: Chapter 8
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