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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
On Christian Doctrine: Chapter 29

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 29.—It is Permissible for a Preacher to Deliver to the People What Has Been Written by a More Eloquent Man Than Himself.

If, however, he cannot do even this, let his life be such as shall not only secure a reward for himself, but afford an example to others; and let his manner of living be an eloquent sermon in itself.

63.  There are, indeed, some men who have a good delivery, but cannot compose anything to deliver.  Now, if such men take what has been written with wisdom and eloquence by others, and commit it to memory, and deliver it to the people, they cannot be blamed, supposing them to do it without deception.  For in this way many become preachers of the truth (which is certainly desirable), and yet not many teachers; for all deliver the discourse which one real teacher has composed, and there are no divisions among them.  Nor are such men to be alarmed by the words of Jeremiah the prophet, through whom God denounces those who steal His words every one from his neighbor. 2019   For those who steal take what does not belong to them, but the word of God belongs to all who obey it; and it is the man who speaks well, but lives badly, who really takes the words that belong to another.  For the good things he says seem to be the result of his own thought, and yet they have nothing in common with his manner of life.  And so God has said that they steal His words who would appear good by speaking God’s words, but are in fact bad, as they follow their own ways.  And if you look closely into the matter, it is not really themselves who say the good things they say.  For how can they say in words what they deny in p. 597 deeds?  It is not for nothing that the apostle says of such men:  “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him.” 2020   In one sense, then, they do say the things, and in another sense they do not say them; for both these statements must be true, both being made by Him who is the Truth.  Speaking of such men, in one place He says, “Whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works;”—that is to say, what ye hear from their lips, that do; what ye see in their lives, that do ye not;—“for they say and do not.” 2021   And so, though they do not, yet they say.  But in another place, upbraiding such men, He says, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” 2022   And from this it would appear that even what they say, when they say what is good, it is not themselves who say, for in will and in deed they deny what they say.  Hence it happens that a wicked man who is eloquent may compose a discourse in which the truth is set forth to be delivered by a good man who is not eloquent; and when this takes place, the former draws from himself what does not belong to him, and the latter receives from another what really belongs to himself.  But when true believers render this service to true believers, both parties speak what is their own, for God is theirs, to whom belongs all that they say; and even those who could not compose what they say make it their own by composing their lives in harmony with it.


Footnotes

596:2019

Jer. 23.30.

597:2020

Tit. 1.16.

597:2021

Matt. 23.3.

597:2022

Matt. 12.34.


Next: Chapter 30

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