Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 9
Chapter 9.—Of the Term “Enigma,” And of Tropical Modes of Speech.
15. What has been said relates to the words of the apostle, that “we see now through a glass;” but whereas he has added, “in an enigma,” the meaning of this addition is unknown to any who are unacquainted with the books that contain the doctrine of those modes of speech, which the Greeks call Tropes, which Greek word we also use in Latin. For as we more commonly speak of schemata than of figures, so we more commonly speak of tropes than of modes. And it is a very difficult and uncommon thing to express the names of the several modes or tropes in Latin, so as to refer its appropriate name to each. And hence some Latin translators, through unwillingness to employ a Greek word, where the apostle says, “Which things are an allegory,” 968 have rendered it by a circumlocution—Which things signify one thing by another. But there are several species of this kind of trope that is called allegory, and one of them is that which is called enigma. Now the definition of the generic term must necessarily embrace also all its species; and hence, as every horse is an animal, but not every animal is a horse, so every enigma is an allegory, but every allegory is not an enigma. What then is an allegory, but a trope wherein one thing is understood from another? as in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, “Let us not therefore sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober: for they who sleep, sleep in the night; and they who are drunken, are drunken in the night: but let us who are of the day, be sober.” 969 But this allegory is not an enigma. for here the meaning is patent to all but the very dull; but an enigma is, to explain it briefly, an obscure allegory, as, e.g., “The horseleech had three daughters,” 970 and other like instances. But when the apostle spoke of an allegory, he does not find it in the words, but in the fact; since he has shown that the two Testaments are to be understood by the two sons of Abraham, one by a bondmaid, and the other by a free woman, which was a thing not said, but also done. And before this was explained, it was obscure; and accordingly such an allegory, which is the generic name, could be specifically called an enigma.
16. But because it is not only those that are ignorant of the books that contain the doctrine of tropes, who inquire the apostles meaning, when he said that we “see now in an enigma,” but those, too, who are acquainted with the doctrine, but yet desire to know what that enigma is in which “we now see;” we must find a single meaning for the two phrases, viz. for that which says, “we see now through a glass,” and for that which adds, “in an enigma.” For it makes but one sentence, when the whole is so uttered, “We see now through a glass in an enigma.” Accordingly, as far as my judgment goes, as by the word glass he meant to signify an image, so by that of enigma any likeness you will, but yet one obscure, and difficult to see through. While, therefore, any likenesses whatever may be understood as signified by the apostle when he speaks of a glass and an enigma, so that they are adapted to the understanding of God, in such way as He can be understood; yet nothing is better adapted to this purpose than that which is not vainly called His image. Let no one, then, wonder, that we labor to see in any way at all, even in that fashion of seeing which is granted to us in this life, viz. through a glass, in an enigma. For we should not hear of an enigma in this place if sight were easy. And this is a yet greater enigma, that we do not see what we cannot but see. For who does not see his own thought? And yet who does see his own thought, I do not say with the eye of the flesh, but with the inner sight itself? Who p. 208 does not see it, and who does see it? Since thought is a kind of sight of the mind; whether those things are present which are seen also by the bodily eyes, or perceived by the other senses; or whether they are not present, but their likenesses are discerned by thought; or whether neither of these is the case, but things are thought of that are neither bodily things nor likenesses of bodily things, as the virtues and vices; or as, indeed, thought itself is thought of; or whether it be those things which are the subjects of instruction and of liberal sciences; or whether the higher causes and reasons themselves of all these things in the unchangeable nature are thought of; or whether it be even evil, and vain, and false things that we are thinking of, with either the sense not consenting, or erring in its consent.
Gal. 4.24Gal. iv. 24207:969
1 Thess. 5.6-81 Thess. v. 6-8207:970
Prov. 30.15Prov. xxx. 15
Next: Chapter 10
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at