Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Ascetic and Moral Treatises.: Chapter X
What words indeed could possibly express the greatness of that loss in falling away from the possession of real goodness? What consummate power of thought would have to be employed! Who could produce even in outline that which speech cannot tell, nor the mind grasp? On the one hand, if a man has kept the eye of his heart so clear that he can in a way behold the promise of our Lords Beatitudes realized, he will condemn all human utterance as powerless to represent that which he has apprehended. On the other hand, if a man from the atmosphere of material indulgences has the weakness of passion spreading like a film over the keen vision of his soul, all force of expression will be wasted upon him; for it is all one whether you understate or whether you magnify a miracle to those who have no power whatever of perceiving it 1396 . Just as, in the case of the sunlight, on one who has never from the day of his birth seen it, all efforts at translating it into words are quite thrown away; you cannot make the splendour of the ray shine 1397 through his ears; in like manner, to see the beauty of the true and intellectual light, each man has need of eyes of his own; and he who by a gift of Divine inspiration can see it retains his ecstasy unexpressed in the depths of his consciousness; while he who sees it not cannot be made to know even the greatness of his loss. How should he? This good escapes his perception, and it cannot be represented to him; it is unspeakable, and cannot be delineated. We have not learnt the peculiar language expressive of this beauty. An example of what we want to say does not exist in the world; a comparison for it would at least be very difficult to find. Who compares the Sun to a little spark? or the vast Deep to a drop? And that tiny drop and that diminutive spark bear the same relation to the Deep and to the Sun, as any beautiful object of mans admiration does to that real beauty on the features of the First Good, of which we catch the glimpse beyond any other good. What words could be invented to show the greatness of this loss to him who suffers it? Well does the great David seem to me to express the impossibility of doing this. He has been lifted by the power of the Spirit out of himself, and sees in a blessed state of ecstacy the boundless and incomprehensible Beauty; he sees it as fully as a mortal can see who has quitted his fleshly envelopments and entered, by the mere power of thought, upon the contemplation of the spiritual and intellectual p. 355 world, and in his longing to speak a word worthy of the spectacle he bursts forth with that cry, which all re-echo, “Every man a liar 1398 !” I take that to mean that any man who entrusts to language the task of presenting the ineffable Light is really and truly a liar; not because of any hatred on his part of the truth, but because of the feebleness of his instrument for expressing the thing thought of 1399 . The visible beauty to be met with in this life of ours, showing glimpses of itself, whether in inanimate objects or in animate organisms in a certain choiceness of colour, can be adequately admired by our power of aesthetic feeling. It can be illustrated and made known to others by description; it can be seen drawn in the language as in a picture. Even a perfect type 1400 of such beauty does not baffle our conception. But how can language illustrate when it finds no media for its sketch, no colour, no contour 1401 , no majestic size, no faultlessness of feature; nor any other commonplace of art? The Beauty which is invisible and formless, which is destitute of qualities and far removed from everything which we recognize in bodies by the eye, can never be made known by the traits which require nothing but the perceptions of our senses in order to be grasped. Not that we are to despair of winning this object of our love, though it does seem too high for our comprehension. The more reason shows the greatness of this thing which we are seeking, the higher we must lift our thoughts and excite them with the greatness of that object; and we must fear to lose our share in that transcendent Good. There is indeed no small amount of danger lest, as we can base the apprehension of it on no knowable qualities, we should slip away from it altogether because of its very height and mystery. We deem it necessary therefore, owing to this weakness of the thinking faculty, to lead it towards the Unseen by stages through the cognizances of the senses. Our conception of the case is as follows.
ἀναισθήτως ἐχόντων; Reg. Cod.354:1397
αὐγάζειν; intrans. in N.T.355:1398
Ps. cxvi. 11.355:1399
οὐχὶ τῷ μίσει τῆς ἀληθείας ἀλλὰ τῇ ἀσθενεί& 139· τῆς διηγήσεως, the reading of Codd. Vatican & Reg.355:1400
οὐδέ τὸ ἀρχέτυπον, κ. τ. λ.355:1401
These are evidently the elements of beauty as then recognized by the eye; it is still the Hellenic standard.
Next: Chapter XI
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