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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter I. Statement of the reasons wherefore the matters, treated of shortly in the two former, are dealt with more at length in the three later books. Defence of the employment of fables, which is supported by the example of Holy Writ, wherein are found various figures of poetic fable, in particular the Sirens, which are figures of sensual pleasures, and which Christians ought to be taught to avoid, by the words of Paul and the deeds of Christ.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter I.

Statement of the reasons wherefore the matters, treated of shortly in the two former, are dealt with more at length in the three later books. Defence of the employment of fables, which is supported by the example of Holy Writ, wherein are found various figures of poetic fable, in particular the Sirens, which are figures of sensual pleasures, and which Christians ought to be taught to avoid, by the words of Paul and the deeds of Christ.

1. Forasmuch as your most gracious Majesty had laid command upon me to write for your own instruction some treatise concerning the Faith, and had yourself called me to your presence and encouraged my timidity, I, being as one on the eve of battle, 2097 composed but two books only, for the pointing out of certain ways and paths by which our faith progresses.

2. Seeing, however, that certain malicious minds, bent on sowing disputes, have not yet exhausted the force of their assaults, whilst your gracious Majesty’s pious anxiety calls me to further labours, inasmuch as you desire to try in more things him whom you have proved in a few, I am resolved to deal somewhat more particularly with the matters whereof I have already treated in a few words, lest it should be thought, not that I have advanced those propositions in quietness and confidence, but that I, having asserted them, doubted and so abandoned their defence.

3. Again, seeing that we spoke of the Hydra and Scylla (I. vi. 46), and brought them in by way of comparison, to show how we must beware, whether of the ever-renewed outgrowths of infidelity, or the ill-omened shipwrecks made upon its shallows, if any one holds that such embellishments of an argument, borrowed from the romances of poets, are unlawful, and, from lack of opportunity to speak evil of my faith, assails something in my language, then let him know that not only phrases but complete verses of poetry have been woven into the text of Holy Writ.

4. Whence, for instance, came that verse, “His offspring truly are we,” 2098 whereof Paul, by prophetic experience, 2099 taught, makes use? The course of prophetic speech avoids neither the Giants 2100 nor the Valley of the Titans, 2101 and Isaiah spake of sirens and the p. 243 daughters of ostriches. 2102 Jeremiah also hath prophesied concerning Babylon, that the daughters of sirens shall dwell therein, 2103 in order to show that the snares of Babylon, that is, of the tumult of this world, are to be likened to stories of old-time lust, that seemed upon this life’s rocky shores to sing some tuneful song, but deadly withal, to catch the souls of youth,—which the Greek poet himself tells us that the wise man escaped through being bound, as it were, in the chains of his own prudence. 2104 So hard a thing, before Christ’s coming, was it esteemed, even for the stronger, to save themselves from the deceitful shows and allurements of pleasure.

5. But if the poet judged the enticement of worldly pleasure and licence destructive of men’s minds and a sure cause of shipwreck, what ought we to think, for whom it hath been written: “Train not the flesh in concupiscence”? 2105 And again: “I chastise my body and bring it into servitude, lest whilst I preach to others, I myself become a castaway.” 2106

6. Truly, Christ won salvation for us, not by luxury but by fasting. Moreover, it was not to obtain favour for Himself, but to instruct us, that He fasted. Nor yet did He hunger because He was overcome by the weakness of the body, but by His hunger He proved that He had verily taken upon Himself a body; that so He might teach us that He had taken not only our body, but also the weaknesses of that body, even as it is written: “Surely He hath taken our infirmities and borne our sicknesses.” 2107


Footnotes

242:2097

Lat. “In procinctu,” which is primarily a military phrase, procinctus meaning “girding up” or “girdle,” the expression having reference to the girding on of armour for the battle. “Testamentum facere in procinctu” means “to make one’s will on the eve of battle.” The expression passed into a proverb for readiness in general. E.g.clementiam in procinctu habere,” “to be ready to show mercy.” Here, however, St. Ambrose uses the phrase more in its original sense, with reference to the impending conflict of the Goths and Romans, in which Gratian was expecting to take part, though, as a matter of fact, the battle of Hadrianople had been fought, and Valens was dead, before he arrived on the scene of action.

242:2098

Acts xvii. 28.

242:2099

Meaning that Paul, gifted with a prophet’s insight into divine truth, recognized in these words of the heathen poet a testimony to God, and therefore had no scruples about citing them to this Athenian audience.

242:2100

The Anakim, or “sons of Anak.” Cf. Deut. 9:2, Josh. 11:21.

242:2101

The Valley of Rephaim. 2 Sam. v. 18.

243:2102

Isa. xiii. 22—a passage referring to the desolation of Babylon. In this verse of Isaiah the LXX. has “νοκένταυροι” and “χῖνοι” (onocentaurs and hedgehogs), the “sirens” (σειρῆνες) coming in ver. 21b, in combination with “demons” (δαιμόνια). The Vulgate has in 22 “ululæ” (screech-owls) and “sirenes,” with “struthiones” (ostriches) and “pilosi” (hairy men) in 21b. A.V. has in 22 “wild beasts of the islands” and “dragons;” in 21b, “owls” (marg. “ostriches,” the Hebrew meaning “daughters of the owl”) and “satyrs.” R.V. in 22, “wolves” and “jackals;” in 21b, “ostriches” and “satyrs” (marg. “he-goats”). The “sirens” then appear to be jackals—though the ground of the comparison is hard to find—the “daughters of sparrows” are ostriches (the Greek name for which means, literally, “sparrow-camel”).

243:2103

Jer. l. 39.—The LXX. (Jer. xxvii. 39) has “θυγατέρες σειρήνων;” the Vulg. “struthiones;” A.V. “owls.” For the sirens, see Odyssey, XII. 39–54, 165–200.

243:2104

Odyssey, XII. 178–180, 192–197.

243:2105

Rom. xiii. 14—“Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”—A.V.

243:2106

1 Cor. ix. 27.

243:2107

Isa. 53:4, Matt. 8:17.


Next: Chapter II. The incidents properly affecting the body which Christ for our sake took upon Him are not to be accounted to His Godhead, in respect whereof He is the Most Highest. To deny which is to say that the Father was incarnate. When we read that God is one, and that there is none other beside Him, or that He alone has immortality, this must be understood as true of Christ also, not only to avoid the sinful heresy above-mentioned (Patripassianism), but also because the activity of the Father and the Son is declared to be one and the same.

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