Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
City of God: Chapter 8
Chapter 8.—Of the Three Perturbations, Which the Stoics Admitted in the Soul of the Wise Man to the Exclusion of Grief or Sadness, Which the Manly Mind Ought Not to Experience.
Those emotions which the Greeks call εὐπαθείαι, and which Cicero calls constantiœ, the Stoics would restrict to three; and, instead of three “perturbations” in the soul of the wise man, they substituted severally, in place of desire, will; in place of joy, contentment; and for fear, caution; and as to sickness or pain, which we, to avoid ambiguity, preferred to call sorrow, they denied that it could exist in the mind of a wise man. Will, they say, seeks the good, for this the wise man does. Contentment has its object in good that is possessed, and this the wise man continually possesses. Caution avoids evil, and this the wise man ought to avoid. But sorrow arises from evil that has already happened; and as they suppose that no evil can happen to the wise man, there can be no representative of sorrow in his mind. According to them, therefore, none but the wise man wills, is contented, uses caution; and that the fool can do no more than desire, rejoice, fear, be sad. The former three affections Cicero calls constantiœ, the last four perturbationes. Many, however, calls these last passions; and, as I have said, the Greeks call the former εὐπαθείαι, and the latter πάθη. And when I made a careful examination of Scripture to find whether this terminology was sanctioned by it, I came upon this saying of the prophet: “There is no contentment to the wicked, saith the Lord;” 677 as if the wicked might more properly rejoice than be contented regarding evils, for contentment is the property of the good and godly. I found also that verse in the Gospel: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them?” 678 which seems to imply that evil or shameful things may be the object of desire, but not of will. Indeed, some interpreters have added “good things,” to make the expression more in conformity with customary usage, and have given this meaning, “Whatsoever good deeds that ye would that men should do unto you.” For they thought that this would prevent any one from wishing other men to provide him with unseemly, not to say shameful gratifications,—luxurious banquets, for example,—on the supposition that if he returned the like to them he would be fulfilling this precept. In the Greek Gospel, however, from which the Latin is translated, “good” does not occur, but only, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them,” and, as I believe, because “good” is already included in the word “would;” for He does not say “desire.”
Yet though we may sometimes avail ourselves of these precise proprieties of language, we are not to be always bridled by them; and when we read those writers against whose authority it is unlawful to reclaim, we must accept the meanings above mentioned in passages where a right sense can be educed by no other interpretation, as in those instances we adduced partly from the prophet, partly from the Gospel. For who does not know that the wicked exult with joy? Yet “there is no contentment for the wicked, saith the Lord.” p. 268 And how so, unless because contentment, when the word is used in its proper and distinctive significance, means something different from joy? In like manner, who would deny that it were wrong to enjoin upon men that whatever they desire others to do to them they should themselves do to others, lest they should mutually please one another by shameful and illicit pleasure? And yet the precept, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them,” is very wholesome and just. And how is this, unless because the will is in this place used strictly, and signifies that will which cannot have evil for its object? But ordinary phraseology would not have allowed the saying, “Be unwilling to make any manner of lie,” 679 had there not been also an evil will, whose wickedness separates if from that which the angels celebrated, “Peace on earth, of good will to men.” 680 For “good” is superfluous if there is no other kind of will but good will. And why should the apostle have mentioned it among the praises of charity as a great thing, that “it rejoices not in iniquity,” unless because wickedness does so rejoice? For even with secular writers these words are used indifferently. For Cicero, that most fertile of orators, says, “I desire, conscript fathers, to be merciful.” 681 And who would be so pedantic as to say that he should have said “I will” rather than “I desire,” because the word is used in a good connection? Again, in Terence, the profligate youth, burning with wild lust, says, “I will nothing else than Philumena.” 682 That this “will” was lust is sufficiently indicated by the answer of his old servant which is there introduced: “How much better were it to try and banish that love from your heart, than to speak so as uselessly to inflame your passion still more!” And that contentment was used by secular writers in a bad sense that verse of Virgil testifies, in which he most succinctly comprehends these four perturbations,—
“Hence they fear and desire, grieve and are content” 683
The same author had also used the expression, “the evil contentments of the mind.” 684 So that good and bad men alike will, are cautious, and contented; or, to say the same thing in other words, good and bad men alike desire, fear, rejoice, but the former in a good, the latter in a bad fashion, according as the will is right or wrong. Sorrow itself, too, which the Stoics would not allow to be represented in the mind of the wise man, is used in a good sense, and especially in our writings. For the apostle praises the Corinthians because they had a godly sorrow. But possibly some one may say that the apostle congratulated them because they were penitently sorry, and that such sorrow can exist only in those who have sinned. For these are his words: “For I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For, behold, this selfsame thing that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you!” 685 Consequently the Stoics may defend themselves by replying, 686 that sorrow is indeed useful for repentance of sin, but that this can have no place in the mind of the wise man, inasmuch as no sin attaches to him of which he could sorrowfully repent, nor any other evil the endurance or experience of which could make him sorrowful. For they say that Alcibiades (if my memory does not deceive me), who believed himself happy, shed tears when Socrates argued with him, and demonstrated that he was miserable because he was foolish. In his case, therefore, folly was the cause of this useful and desirable sorrow, wherewith a man mourns that he is what he ought not to be. But the Stoics maintain not that the fool, but that the wise man, cannot be sorrowful.
Cat. i. 2.268:682
Ter, Andr. ii. 1, 6.268:683
Æneid, vi. 733.268:684
Æneid, v. 278.268:685
2 Cor. 7.8-11.268:686
Tusc. Disp. iii. 32.
Next: Chapter 9
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