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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
On Christian Doctrine: Chapter 28

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 28.—Truth is More Important Than Expression.  What is Meant by Strife About Words.

61.  Such a teacher as is here described may, to secure compliance, speak not only quietly and temperately, but even vehemently, without any breach of modesty, because his life protects him against contempt.  For while he pursues an upright life, he takes care to maintain a good reputation as well, providing things honest in the sight of God and men, 2014 fearing God, and caring for men.  In his very speech even he prefers to please by matter rather than by words; thinks that a thing is well said in proportion as it is true in fact, and that a teacher should govern his words, not let the words govern him.  This is what the apostle says:  “Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 2015   To the same effect also is what he says to Timothy:  “Charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” 2016   Now this does not mean that, when adversaries oppose the truth, we are to say nothing in defence of the truth.  For where, then, would be what he says when he is describing the sort of man a bishop ought to be:  “that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers?” 2017   To strive about words is not to be careful about the way to overcome error by truth, but to be anxious that your mode of expression should be preferred to that of another.  The man who does not strive about words, whether he speak quietly, temperately, or vehemently, uses words with no other purpose than to make the truth plain, pleasing, and effective; for not even love itself, which is the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the law, 2018 can be rightly exercised unless the objects of love are true and not false.  For as a man with a comely body but an ill-conditioned mind is a more painful object than if his body too were deformed, so men who teach lies are the more pitiable if they happen to be eloquent in speech.  To speak eloquently, then, and wisely as well, is just to express truths which it is expedient to teach in fit and proper words,—words which in the subdued style are adequate, in the temperate, elegant, and in the majestic, forcible.  But the man who cannot speak both eloquently and wisely should speak wisely without eloquence, rather than eloquently without wisdom.


Footnotes

596:2014

2 Cor. 8.21.

596:2015

1 Cor. 2.17.

596:2016

2 Tim. 2.14.

596:2017

Tit. 1.9.

596:2018

1 Tim. 1:5, Rom. 13:10.


Next: Chapter 29

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