26. So far he has set forth a single exposition of the passage; but on whose authority he wishes us to receive this interpretation he has not made clear. What he has done is to make void this first interpretation by what comes after: for he goes on: “But there is another, who tries to show that God is just.” He therefore points out that by that first exposition the justice of God is not vindicated, which of course is contrary to the faith: and he goes on through the mouth of this other, whose assertions he evidently wishes to exhibit as being what is everywhere held for catholic and indubitable, to give a testimony by which he will, as he asserts, seek to show that God is just. Let us see then what this other man says, who proclaims the justice of God.
“Another man,” he says, “who seeks to vindicate the justice of God, argues that it is not according to his own pre-judgment and knowledge, but according to the merit of the elect that Gods choice of men is determined; and he says that, before the creation of the visible world, of sky and earth and seas and all that they contain, there existed other invisible creatures, among which also were souls; and that these souls, for reasons known to God alone, were cast down 2866 into this vale of tears, this place of our mournful pilgrimage, and that this is shewn by the prayer uttered by a holy man of old who, having his habitation fixed here, yet longed to return to his original abode: “Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged, that I have my habitation among the inhabitants of p. 449 Kedar,” 2867 “my soul has long been a pilgrim,” and again “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” 2868 and in another place “It is better to return and be with Christ,” 2869 and elsewhere, “Before I was brought low, I sinned;” 2870 and other words of a like character.”
This relates, they say to the souls condition before they were cast down into the world. The reader of this will be apt to say, Master, you seem to tell us, yet do not really tell us, who these men are who say this, that the souls of men existed before they were cast down into the world. Then he will reply, “Was I not right in saying that you were blind, and no better than a mole? Did I not say before, that they are those who assert that God is just,—by which, if you had any sense at all, you would understand that I mean myself: for I am not such a heretic as not to include myself among those who vindicate the justice of God, which indeed all must do who have the least tincture of good sense.” Then they will reply, “Tell us, then, master, tell us, what it is that these men say, and you among them? We understand that you say that before the souls were cast down into the world, and before the world, which was made up of souls, had been cast down together with its inhabitants into the abyss, God chose Paul and those like him, who were holy and undefiled. But if men are chosen, they are chosen out of a great number; there must be many in a worse condition out of whom the election is made. However, just as in the Babylonian captivity, when Nebuchadnezzar carried away the people into Chaldæa, Ezekiel and Daniel and the Three Children, and Haggai and Zechariah were sent with them, not because they deserved to become captives, but that they might be a comfort to those who were carried away; so also, in that casting down of the world, those who had been chosen by God before the world was, were sent to instruct and train the sinful souls, so that these, through their preaching, might return to the place from which they had fallen; and this is what is meant by the words of the eighty-ninth Psalm: 2871 “Lord thou hast been our refuge in generation and in offspring, before the mountains were established, or the earth and the world were made;” that is to say, that before the world was made, and a beginning was made of the generation of all things, God was a refuge to his saints.”
In our numbering, Ps. xc.
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