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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
On Christian Doctrine: Chapter 21

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 21.—Examples of the Various Styles, Drawn from the Teachers of the Church, Especially Ambrose and Cyprian.

45.  But these writings of the apostles, though clear, are yet profound, and are so written that one who is not content with a superficial acquaintance, but desires to know them thoroughly, must not only read and hear them, but must have an expositor.  Let us, then, study these various modes of speech as they are exemplified in the writings of men who, by reading the Scriptures, have attained to the knowledge of divine and saving truth, and have ministered it to the Church.  Cyprian of blessed memory writes in the subdued style in his treatise on the sacrament of the cup.  In this book he resolves the question, whether the cup of the Lord ought to contain water only, or water mingled with wine.  But we must quote a passage by way of illustration.  After the customary introduction, he proceeds to the discussion of the point in question.  “Observe” he says, “that we are instructed, in presenting the cup, to maintain the custom handed down to us from the Lord, and to do nothing that our Lord has not first done for us:  so that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be mixed with wine.  For, as Christ says, ‘I am the true vine,’ 1989 it follows that the blood of Christ is wine, not water; and the cup cannot appear to contain His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened, if the wine be absent; for by the wine is the blood of Christ typified, that blood which is foreshadowed and proclaimed in all the types and declarations of Scripture.  For we find that in the book of Genesis this very circumstance in regard to the sacrament is foreshadowed, and our Lord’s sufferings typically set forth, in the case of Noah, when he drank wine, and was drunken, and was uncovered within his tent, and his nakedness was exposed by his second son, and was carefully hidden by his elder and his younger sons. 1990   It is not necessary to mention the other circumstances in detail, as it is only necessary to observe this point, that Noah, foreshadowing the future reality, drank, not water, but wine, and thus showed forth our Lord’s passion.  In the same way we see the sacrament of the Lord’s supper prefigured in the case of Melchizedek the priest, according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, where it says:  ‘And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine:  and he was the priest of the most high God.  And he blessed Abraham.’ 1991   Now, that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, the Holy Spirit declares in the Psalms, where the Father addressing the Son says, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’ 1992 ” 1993   In this passage, and in all of the letter that follows, the subdued style is maintained, as the reader may easily satisfy himself.

46.  St. Ambrose also, though dealing with a question of very great importance, the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the p. 591 Son, employs the subdued style, because the object he has in view demands, not beauty of diction, nor the swaying of the mind by the stir of emotion, but facts and proofs.  Accordingly, in the introduction to his work, we find the following passage among others:  “When Gideon was startled by the message he had heard from God, that, though thousands of the people failed, yet through one man God would deliver His people from their enemies, he brought forth a kid of the goats, and by direction of the angel laid it with unleavened cakes upon a rock, and poured the broth over it; and as soon as the angel of God touched it with the end of the staff that was in his hand, there rose up fire out of the rock and consumed the offering. 1994   Now this sign seems to indicate that the rock was a type of the body of Christ, for it is written, ‘They drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ;’ 1995 this, of course, referring not to Christ’s divine nature but to His flesh, whose ever-flowing fountain of blood has ever satisfied the hearts of His thirsting people.  And so it was at that time declared in a mystery that the Lord Jesus, when crucified, should abolish in His flesh the sins of the whole world, and not their guilty acts merely, but the evil lusts of their hearts.  For the kid’s flesh refers to the guilt of the outward act, the broth to the allurement of lust within, as it is written, ‘And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept again and again and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?’ 1996   When the angel, then, stretched out his staff and touched the rock, and fire rose out of it, this was a sign that our Lord’s flesh, filled with the Spirit of God, should burn up all the sins of the human race.  Whence also the Lord says ‘I am come to send fire on the earth.’” 1997   And in the same style he pursues the subject, devoting himself chiefly to proving and enforcing his point. 1998

47.  An example of the temperate style is the celebrated encomium on virginity from Cyprian:  “Now our discourse addresses itself to the virgins, who, as they are the objects of higher honor, are also the objects of greater care.  These are the flowers on the tree of the Church, the glory and ornament of spiritual grace, the joy of honor and praise, a work unbroken and unblemished, the image of God answering to the holiness of the Lord, the brighter portion of the flock of Christ.  The glorious fruitfulness of their mother the Church rejoices in them, and in them flourishes more abundantly; and in proportion as bright virginity adds to her numbers, in the same proportion does the mother’s joy increase. 1999   And at another place in the end of the epistle, ‘As we have borne,’ he says, ‘the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.’ 2000   Virginity bears this image, integrity bears it, holiness and truth bear it; they bear it who are mindful of the chastening of the Lord, who observe justice and piety, who are strong in faith, humble in fear, steadfast in the endurance of suffering, meek in the endurance of injury, ready to pity, of one mind and of one heart in brotherly peace.  And every one of these things ought ye, holy virgins, to observe, to cherish, and fulfill, who having hearts at leisure for God and for Christ, and having chosen the greater and better part, lead and point the way to the Lord, to whom you have pledged your vows.  Ye who are advanced in age, exercise control over the younger.  Ye who are younger, wait upon the elders, and encourage your equals; stir up one another by mutual exhortations; provoke one another to glory by emulous examples of virtue; endure bravely, advance in spirituality, finish your course with joy; only be mindful of us when your virginity shall begin to reap its reward of honor.” 2001

48.  Ambrose also uses the temperate and ornamented style when he is holding up before virgins who have made their profession a model for their imitation, and says:  “She was a virgin not in body only, but also in mind; not mingling the purity of her affection with any dross of hypocrisy; serious in speech; prudent in disposition; sparing of words; delighting in study; not placing her confidence in uncertain riches, but in the prayer of the poor; diligent in labor; reverent in word; accustomed to look to God, not man, as the guide of her conscience; injuring no one, wishing well to all; dutiful to her elders, not envious of her equals; avoiding boastfulness, following reason, loving virtue.  When did she wound her parents even by a look?  When did she quarrel with her neighbors?  When did she spurn the humble, laugh at the weak, or shun the indigent?  She is accustomed to visit only those haunts of men that pity would not blush for, nor modesty pass by.  There is nothing haughty in her eyes, nothing bold in her words, nothing wanton in her gestures:  her bearing is not voluptuous, nor her gait too free, nor her voice petulant; so that her outward appearance is an image of her mind, and a picture of purity.  For a good house ought to be known for such at the very thres p. 592 hold, and show at the very entrance that there is no dark recess within, as the light of a lamp set inside sheds its radiance on the outside.  Why need I detail her sparingness in food, her superabundance in duty,—the one falling beneath the demands of nature, the other rising above its powers?  The latter has no intervals of intermission, the former doubles the days by fasting; and when the desire for refreshment does arise, it is satisfied with food such as will support life, but not minister to appetite.” 2002   Now I have cited these latter passages as examples of the temperate style, because their purpose is not to induce those who have not yet devoted themselves to take the vows of virginity, but to show of what character those who have taken vows ought to be.  To prevail on any one to take a step of such a nature and of so great importance, requires that the mind should be excited and set on fire by the majestic style.  Cyprian the martyr, however, did not write about the duty of taking up the profession of virginity, but about the dress and deportment of virgins.  Yet that great bishop urges them to their duty even in these respects by the power of a majestic eloquence.

49.  But I shall select examples of the majestic style from their treatment of a subject which both of them have touched.  Both have denounced the women who color, or rather discolor, their faces with paint.  And the first, in dealing with this topic, says:  “Suppose a painter should depict in colors that rival nature’s the features and form and complexion of some man, and that, when the portrait had been finished with consummate art, another painter should put his hand over it, as if to improve by his superior skill the painting already completed; surely the first artist would feel deeply insulted, and his indignation would be justly roused.  Dost thou, then, think that thou wilt carry off with impunity so audacious an act of wickedness, such an insult to God the great artificer?  For, granting that thou art not immodest in thy behavior towards men, and that thou art not polluted in mind by these meretricious deceits, yet, in corrupting and violating what is God’s, thou provest thyself worse than an adulteress.  The fact that thou considerest thyself adorned and beautified by such arts is an impeachment of God’s handiwork, and a violation of truth.  Listen to the warning voice of the apostle:  ‘Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.  For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us:  therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ 2003   Now can sincerity and truth continue to exist when what is sincere is polluted, and what is true is changed by meretricious coloring and the deceptions of quackery into a lie?  Thy Lord says, ‘Thou canst not make one hair white or black;’ 2004 and dost thou wish to have greater power so as to bring to nought the words of thy Lord?  With rash and sacrilegious hand thou wouldst fain change the color of thy hair:  I would that, with a prophetic look to the future, thou shouldst dye it the color of flame.” 2005   It would be too long to quote all that follows.

50.  Ambrose again, inveighing against such practices, says:  “Hence arise these incentives to vice, that women, in their fear that they may not prove attractive to men, paint their faces with carefully-chosen colors, and then from stains on their features go on to stains on their chastity.  What folly it is to change the features of nature into those of painting, and from fear of incurring their husband’s disapproval, to proclaim openly that they have incurred their own!  For the woman who desires to alter her natural appearance pronounces condemnation on herself; and her eager endeavors to please another prove that she has first been displeasing to herself.  And what testimony to thine ugliness can we find, O woman, that is more unquestionable than thine own, when thou art afraid to show thyself?  If thou art comely why dost thou hide thy comeliness?  If thou art plain, why dost thou lyingly pretend to be beautiful, when thou canst not enjoy the pleasure of the lie either in thine own consciousness or in that of another?  For he loves another woman, thou desirest to please another man; and thou art angry if he love another, though he is taught adultery in thee.  Thou art the evil promptress of thine own injury.  For even the woman who has been the victim of a pander shrinks from acting the pander’s part, and though she be vile, it is herself she sins against and not another.  The crime of adultery is almost more tolerable than thine; for adultery tampers with modesty, but thou with nature.” 2006   It is sufficiently clear, I think, that this eloquence calls passionately upon women to avoid tampering with their appearance by deceitful arts, and to cultivate modesty and fear.  Accordingly, we notice that the style is neither subdued nor temperate, but majestic throughout.  Now in these two authors whom p. 593 I have selected as specimens of the rest, and in other ecclesiastical writers who both speak the truth and speak it well,—speak it, that is, judiciously, pointedly, and with beauty and power of expression,—many examples may be found of the three styles of speech, scattered through their various writings and discourses; and the diligent student may by assiduous reading, intermingled with practice on his own part, become thoroughly imbued with them all.



John 15.1.


Gen. 9.20-24.


Gen. 14:18, 19.


Ps. 110.4.


Ad. Cæcilium, Eph. 63:0, Eph. 1:0, Eph. 2:0.


Judges 6.14-21.


1 Cor. 10.4.


Num. 11.4.


Luke 12.49.


De Spiritu Sancto, lib. i. Prol.


De habitu Virginum, chap. vii.


1 Cor. 15.49.


De habitu Virginum, chap. xviii.


De Virginibus, lib. ii. chap. i.


1 Cor. 5:7, 8.


Matt. 5.36.


Cyprian, de habitu Virginum, chap. xii.


Ambrose, de Virginibus, lib. ii.

Next: Chapter 22

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