(Late II / Early III Century)
Latin Text of Rufinus
CHAP. I.–THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE DIVINELY INSPIRED.
1. But as it is not sufficient, in the discussion of matters of such importance, to entrust the decision to the human senses and to the human understanding, and to pronounce on things invisible as if they were seen by us, we must, in order to establish the positions which we have laid down, adduce the testimony of Holy Scripture. And that this testimony may produce a sure and unhesitating belief, either with regard to what we have still to advance, or to what has been already stated, it seems necessary to show, in the first place, that the Scriptures themselves are divine, i.e., were inspired by the Spirit of God. We shall therefore with all possible brevity draw forth from the Holy Scriptures themselves, such evidence on this point as may produce upon us a suitable impression, (making our quotations) from Moses, the first legislator of the Hebrew nation, and from the words of Jesus Christ, the Author and Chief of the Christian religious system. For although there have been numerous legislators among the Greeks and Barbarians, and also countless teachers and philosophers who professed to declare the truth, we do not remember any legislator who was able to produce in the minds of foreign nations an affection and a zeal (for him) such as led them either voluntarily to adopt his laws, or to defend them with all the efforts of their mind. No one, then, has been able to introduce and make known what seemed to himself the truth, among, I do not say many foreign nations, but even amongst the individuals of one single nation, in such a manner that a knowledge and belief of the same should extend to all. And yet there can be no doubt that it was the wish of the legislators that their laws should be observed by all men, if possible; and of the teachers, that what appeared to themselves to be truth, should become known to all. But knowing that they could by no means succeed in producing any such mighty power within them as would lead foreign nations to obey their laws, or have regard to their statements, they did not venture even to essay the attempt, lest the failure of the undertaking should stamp their conduct with the mark of imprudence. And yet there are throughout the whole world–throughout all Greece, and all foreign countries–countless individuals who have abandoned the laws of their country, and those whom they had believed to be gods, and have yielded themselves up to the obedience of the law of Moses, and to the discipleship and worship of Christ; and have done this, not without exciting against themselves the intense hatred of the worshippers of images, so as frequently to be exposed to cruel tortures from the latter, and sometimes even to be put to death. And yet they embrace, and with all affection preserve, the words and teaching of Christ.
2. And we may see, moreover, how that religion itself grew up in a short time, making progress by the punishment and death of its worshippers, by the plundering of their goods, and by the tortures of every kind which they endured; and this result is the more surprising, that even the teachers of it themselves neither were men of skill, nor very numerous; and yet these words are preached throughout the whole world, so that Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish, adopt the doctrines of the Christian religion. From which it is no doubtful inference, that it is not by human power or might that the words of Jesus Christ come to prevail with all faith and power over the understandings and souls of all men. For, that these results were both predicted by Him, and established by divine answers proceeding from Him, is clear from His own words: “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” And again: “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached among all nations.” And again: “Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils? And I will say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” If these sayings, indeed, had been so uttered by Him, and yet if these predictions had not been fulfilled, they might perhaps appear to be untrue, and not to possess any authority. But now, when His declarations do pass into fulfilment, seeing they were predicted with such power and authority, it is most clearly shown to be true that He, when He was made man, delivered to men the precepts of salvation.
3. What, then, are we to say of this, which the prophets had beforehand foretold of Him, that princes would not cease from Judah, nor leaders from between his thighs, until He should come for whom it has been reserved (viz., the kingdom), and until the expectation of the Gentiles should come? For it is most distinctly evident from the history itself, from what is clearly seen at the present day, that from the times of Christ onwards there were no kings amongst the Jews. Nay, even all those objects of Jewish pride, of which they vaunted so much, and in which they exulted, whether regarding the beauty of the temple or the ornaments of the altar, and all those sacerdotal fillets and robes of the high priests, were all destroyed together. For the prophecy was fulfilled which had declared, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king and prince: there shall be no victim, nor altar, nor priesthood, nor answers.” These testimonies, accordingly, we employ against those who seem to assert that what is spoken in Genesis by Jacob refers to Judah; and who say that there still remains a prince of the race of Judah–he, viz., who is the prince of their nation, whom they style Patriarch –and that there cannot fail (a ruler) of his seed, who will remain until the advent of that Christ whom they picture to themselves. But if the prophet’s words be true, when he says, “The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, without prince; and there shall be no victim, nor altar, nor priesthood;” and if, certainly, since the overthrow of the temple, victims are neither offered, nor any altar found, nor any priesthood exists, it is most certain that, as it is written, princes have departed from Judah, and a leader from between his thighs, until the coming of Him for whom it has been reserved. It is established, then, that He is come for whom it has been reserved, and in whom is the expectation of the Gentiles. And this manifestly seems to be fulfilled in the multitude of those who have believed on God through Christ out of the different nations.
4. In the song of Deuteronomy, also, it is prophetically declared that, on account of the sins of the former people, there was to be an election of a foolish nation,–no other, certainly, than that which was brought about by Christ; for thus the words run: “They have moved Me to anger with their images, and I will stir them up to jealousy; I will arouse them to anger against a foolish nation.” We may therefore evidently see how the Hebrews, who are said to have excited God’s anger by means of those (idols), which are no gods, and to have aroused His wrath by their images, were themselves also excited to jealousy by means of a foolish nation, which Cod hath chosen by the advent of Jesus Christ and His disciples. For the following is the language of the apostle: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men among you after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (are called): but God has chosen the foolish things of the world, and the things which are not, to destroy the things which formerly existed.” Carnal Israel, therefore, should not boast; for such is the term used by the apostle: “No flesh, I say, should glory in the presence of God.”
5. What are we to say, moreover, regarding those prophecies of Christ contained in the Psalms, especially the one with the superscription, “A song for the Beloved;” in which it is stated that “His tongue is the pen of a ready writer; fairer than the children of men;” that “grace is poured into His lips?” Now, the indication that grace has been poured upon His lips is this, that, after a short period had elapsed–for He taught only during a year and some months–the whole world, nevertheless, became filled with His doctrine, and with faith in His religion. There arose, then, “in His days righteous men, and abundance of peace,” abiding even to the end, which end is entitled “the taking away of the moon;” and “His dominion shall extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” There was a sign also given to the house of David. For a virgin conceived, and bare Emmanuel, which, when interpreted, signifies, “God with us: know it, O nations, and be overcome.” For we are conquered and overcome, who are of the Gentiles, and remain as a kind of spoils of His victory, who have subjected our necks to His grace. Even the place of His birth was predicted in the prophecies of Micah, who said, “And thou, Bethlehem, land of Judah, art by no means small among the leaden of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth a Leader, who shall rule My people Israel.” The weeks of years, also, which the prophet Daniel had predicted, extending to the leadership of Christ, have been fulfilled. Moreover, he is at hand, who in the book of Job is said to be about to destroy the huge beast, who also gave power to his own disciples to tread on serpents and scorpions, and on all the power of the enemy, without being injured by him. But if any one will consider the journeys of Christ’s apostles throughout the different places, in which as His messengers they preached the Gospel, he will find that both what they ventured to undertake is beyond the power of man, and what they were enabled to accomplish is from God alone. If we consider how men, on hearing that a new doctrine was introduced by these, were able to receive them; or rather, when desiring often to destroy them, they were prevented by a divine power which was in them, we shall find that in this nothing was effected by human strength, but that the whole was the result of the divine power and providence,–signs and wonders, manifest beyond all doubt, beating testimony to their word and doctrine.
6. These points now being briefly established, viz., regarding the deity of Christ, and the fulfilment of all that was prophesied respecting Him, I think that this position also has been made good, viz., that the Scriptures themselves, which contained these predictions, were divinely inspired,–those, namely, which had either foretold His advent, or the power of His doctrine, or the bringing over of all nations (to His obedience). To which this remark must be added, that the divinity and inspiration both of the predictions of the prophets and of the law of Moses have been clearly revealed and confirmed, especially since the advent of Christ into the world. For before the fulfilment of those events which were predicted by them, they could not, although true and inspired by God, be shown to be so, because they were as yet unfulfilled. But the coming of Christ was a declaration that their statements were true and divinely inspired, although it was certainly doubtful before that whether there would be an accomplishment of those things which had been foretold. If any one, moreover, consider the words of the prophets with all the zeal and reverence which they deserve, it is certain that, in the perusal and careful examination thus given them, he will feel his mind and senses touched by a divine breath, and will acknowledge that the words which he reads were no human utterances, but the language of God; and from his own emotions he will feel that these books were the composition of no human skill, nor of any mortal eloquence, but, so to speak, of a style that is divine. The splendour of Christ’s advent, therefore, illuminating the law of Moses by the light of truth, has taken away that veil which had been placed over the letter (of the law), and has unsealed, for every one who believes upon Him, all the blessings which were concealed by the covering of the word.
7. It is, however, a matter attended with considerable labour, to point out, in every instance, how and when the predictions of the prophets were fulfilled, so as to appear to confirm those who are in doubt, seeing it is possible for every one who wishes to become more thoroughly acquainted with these things, to gather abundant proofs from the records of the truth themselves. But if the sense of the letter, which is beyond man, does not appear to present itself at once, on the first glance, to those who are less versed in divine discipline, it is not at all to be wondered at, because divine things are brought down somewhat slowly to (the comprehension of) men, and elude the view in proportion as one is either sceptical or unworthy. For although it is certain that all things which exist in this world, or take place in it, are ordered by the providence of God, and certain events indeed do appear with sufficient clearness to be under the disposal of His providential government, yet others again unfold themselves so mysteriously and incomprehensibly, that the plan of Divine Providence with regard to them is completely concealed; so that it is occasionally believed by some that particular occurrences do not belong to (the plan of) Providence, because the principle eludes their grasp, according to which the works of Divine Providence are administered with indescribable skill; which principle of administration, however, is not equally concealed from all. For even among men themselves, one individual devotes less consideration to it, another more; while by every man, He who is on earth, whoever is the inhabitant of heaven, is more acknowledged. And the nature of bodies is clear to us in one way, that of trees in another, that of animals in a third; the nature of souls, again, is concealed in a different way; and the manner in which the diverse movements of rational understandings are ordered by Providence, eludes the view of men in a greater degree, and even, in my opinion, in no small degree that of the angels also. But as the existence of divine providence is not refuted by those especially who are certain of its existence, but who do not comprehend its workings or arrangements by the powers of the human mind; so neither will the divine inspiration of holy Scripture, which extends throughout its body, be believed to be non-existent, because the weakness of our understanding is unable to trace out the hidden and secret meaning in each individual word, the treasure of divine wisdom being hid in the vulgar and unpolished vessels of words, as the apostle also points out when he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” that the virtue of the divine power may shine out the more brightly, no colouring of human eloquence being intermingled with the truth of the doctrines. For if our books induced men to believe because they were composed either by rhetorical arts or by the wisdom of philosophy, then undoubtedly our faith would be considered to be based on the art of words, and on human wisdom, and not upon the power of God; whereas it is now known to all that the word of this preaching has been so accepted by numbers throughout almost the whole world, because they understood their belief to rest not on the persuasive words of human wisdom, but on the manifestation of the Spirit and of power. On which account, being led by a heavenly, nay, by a more than heavenly power, to faith and acceptance, that we may worship the sole Creator of all things as our God, let us also do our utmost endeavour, by abandoning the language of the elements of Christ, which are but the first beginnings of wisdom, to go on to perfection, in order that that wisdom which is given to them who are perfect, may be given to us also. For such is the promise of him to whom was entrusted the preaching of this wisdom, in the words: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who will be brought to nought;” by which he shows that this wisdom of ours has nothing in common, so far as regards the beauty of language, with the wisdom of this world. This wisdom; then, will be inscribed more clearly and perfectly on our hearts, if it be made known to us according to the revelation of the mystery which has been hid from eternity, but now is manifest through the Scriptures of prophecy, and the advent of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Many, not understanding the Scriptures in a spiritual sense, but incorrectly, have fallen into heresies.
8. These particulars, then, being briefly stated regarding the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, it seems necessary to explain this point also, viz., how certain persons, not reading them correctly, have given themselves over to erroneous opinions, inasmuch as the procedure to be followed, in order to attain an understanding of the holy writings, is unknown to many. The Jews, in fine, owing to the hardness of their heart, and from a desire to appear wise in their own eyes, have not believed in our Lord and Saviour, judging that those statements which were uttered respecting Him ought to be understood literally, i.e., that He ought in a sensible and visible manner to preach deliverance to the captives, and first build a city which they truly deem the city of God, and cut off at the same time the chariots of Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; that He ought also to eat butter and honey, in order to choose the good before He should come to how how to bring forth evil.
They think, also, that it has been predicted that the wolf–that four-footed animal–is, at the coming of Christ, to feed with the lambs, and the leopard to lie down with kids, and the calf and the bull to pasture with lions, and that they are to be led by a little child to the pasture; that the ox and the bear are to lie down together in the green fields, and that their young ones are to be fed together; that lions also will frequent stalls with the oxen, and feed on straw. And seeing that, according to history, there was no accomplishment of any of those things predicted of Him, in which they believed the signs of Christ’s advent were especially to be observed, they refused to acknowledge the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; nay, contrary to all the principles of human and divine law, i.e., contrary to the faith of prophecy, they crucified Him for assuming to Himself the name of Christ.
Thereupon the heretics, reading that it is written in the law, “A fire has been kindled in Mine anger;” and that “I the Lord am a jealous (God), visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation;” and that “it repenteth Me that I anointed Saul to be king; ” and, “I am the Lord, who make peace and create evil;” and again, “There is not evil in a city which the LoRD hath not done;” and, “Evils came down from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem;” and, “An evil spirit from the Lord plagued Saul;” and reading many other passages similar to these, which are found in Scripture, they did not venture to assert that these were not the Scriptures of God, but they considered them to be the words of that creator God whom the Jews worshipped, and who, they judged, ought to be regarded as just only, and not also as good; but that the Saviour had come to announce to us a more perfect God, who, they allege, is not the creator of the world,–there being different and discordant opinions among them even on this very point, because, when they once depart from a belief in God the Creator, who is Lord of all, they have given themselves over to various inventions and fables, devising certain (fictions), and asserting that some things were visible, and made by one (God), and that certain other things were invisible, and were created by another, according to the vain and fanciful suggestions of their own minds. But not a few also of the more simple of those, who appear to be restrained within the faith of the Church, are of opinion that there is no greater God than the Creator, holding in this a correct and sound opinion; and yet they entertain regarding Him such views as would not be entertained regarding the most unjust and cruel of men.
9. Now the reason of the erroneous apprehension of all these points on the part of those whom we have mentioned above, is no other than this, that holy Scripture is not understood by them according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning. And therefore we shall endeavour, so far as our moderate capacity will permit, to point out to those who believe the holy Scriptures to be no human compositions, but to be written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and to be transmitted and entrusted to us by the will of God the Father, through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, what appears to us, who observe things by a right way of understanding, to be the standard and discipline delivered to the apostles by Jesus Christ, and which they handed down in succession to their posterity, the teachers of the holy Church. Now, that there are certain mystical economies indicated in holy Scripture, is admitted by all, I think, even the simplest of believers. But what these are, or of what kind they are, he who is rightly minded, and not overcome with the vice of boasting, will scrupulously acknowledge himself to be ignorant. For if any one, e.g., were to adduce the case of the daughters of Lot, who seem, contrary to the law of God, to have had intercourse with their father, or that of the two wives of Abraham, or of the two sisters who were married to Jacob, or of the two hand-maids who increased the number of his sons, what other answer could be returned than that these were certain mysteries, and forms of spiritual things, but that we are ignorant of what nature they are?
Nay, even when we read of the construction of the tabernacle, we deem it certain that the written descriptions are the figures of certain hidden things; but to adapt these to their appropriate standards, and to open up and discuss every individual point, I consider to be exceedingly difficult, not to say impossible. That that description, however, is, as I have said, full of mysteries, does not escape even the common understanding. But all the narrative portion, relating either to the marriages, or to the begetting of the children, or to battles of different kinds, or to any other histories whatever, what else can they be supposed to be, save the forms and figures of hidden and sacred things? As men, however, make little effort to exercise their intellect, or imagine that they possess knowledge before they really learn, the consequence is that they never begin to have knowledge; or if there be no want of a desire, at least, nor of an instructor, and if divine knowledge be sought after, as it ought to be, in a religious and holy spirit, and in the hope that many points will be opened up by the revelation of God–since to human sense they are exceedingly difficult and obscure–then, perhaps, he who seeks in such a manner will find what it is lawful to discover.
10. But lest this difficulty perhaps should be supposed to exist only in the language of the prophets, seeing the prophetic style is allowed by all to abound in figures and enigmas, what do we find when we come to the Gospels? Is there not hidden there also an inner, namely a divine sense, which is revealed by that grace alone which he had received who said, “But we have the mind of Christ, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teacheth?” And if one now were to read the revelations which were made to John, how amazed would he not be that there should be contained within them so great an amount of hidden, ineffable mysteries, in which it is clearly understood, even by those who cannot comprehend what is concealed, that samething certainly is concealed. And yet are not the Epistles of the Apostles, which seem to some to be plainer, filled with meanings so profound, that by means of them, as by some small receptacle, the clearness of incalculable light appears to be poured into those who are capable of understanding the meaning of divine wisdom? And therefore, because this is the case, and because there are many who go wrong in this life, I do not consider that it is easy to pronounce, without danger, that any one knows or understands those things, which, in order to be opened up, need the key of knowledge; which key, the Saviour declared, lay with those who were skilled in the law. And here, although it is a digression, I think we should inquire of those who assert that before the advent of the Saviour there was no truth among those who were engaged in the study of the law, how it could be said by our Lord Jesus Christ that the keys of knowledge were with them, who had the books of the prophets and of the law in their hands. For thus did He speak: “Woe unto you, ye teachers of the law, who have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them who wished to enter in ye hindered.”
11. But, as we had begun to observe, the way which seems to us the correct one for the understanding of the Scriptures, and for the investigation of their meaning, we consider to be of the following kind: for we are instructed by Scripture itself in regard to the ideas which we ought to form of it. In the Proverbs of Solomon we find some such rule as the following laid down, respecting the consideration of holy Scripture: “And do thou,” he says, “describe these things to thyself in a threefold manner, in counsel and knowledge, and that thou mayest answer the words of truth to those who have proposed them to thee.” Each one, then, ought to describe in his own mind, in a threefold manner, the understanding of the divine letters,–that is, in order that all the more simple individuals may be edified, so to speak; by the very body of Scripture; for such we term that common and historical sense: while, if some have commenced to make considerable progress, and are able to see something more (than that), they may be edified by the very soul of Scripture. Those, again, who are perfect, and who resemble those of whom the apostle says, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who will be brought to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, which God hath decreed before the ages unto our glory;”–all such as these may be edified by the spiritual law itself (which has a shadow of good things to come), as if by the Spirit. For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty s for the salvation of man; which we see pointed out, moreover, in the little book of The Shepherd, which seems to be despised by some, where Hermas is commanded to write two little books, and afterwards to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he learned from the Spirit. For these are the words that are written: “And you will write,” he says, “two books; and you will give the one to Clement, and the other to Grapte. And let Grapte admonish the widows and orphans, and let Clement send through all the cities which are abroad, while you will announce to the presbyters of the Church.” Grapte, accordingly, who is commanded to admonish the orphans and widows, is the pure understanding of the letter itself; by which those youthful minds are admonished, who have not yet deserved to have God as their Father, and are on that account styled orphans. They, again, are the widows, who have withdrawn themselves from the unjust man, to whom they had been united contrary to law; but who have remained widows, because they have not yet advanced to the stage of being joined to a heavenly Bridegroom. Clement, moreover, is ordered to send into those cities which are abroad what is written to those individuals who already are withdrawing from the letter,–as if the meaning were to those souls who, being built up by this means, have begun to rise above the cares of the body and the desires of the flesh; while he himself, who had learned from the Holy Spirit, is commanded to announce, not by letter nor by book, but by the living voice, to the presbyters of the Church of Christ, i.e., to those who possess a mature faculty of wisdom, capable of receiving spiritual teaching.
12. This point, indeed, is not to be passed by without notice, viz., that there are certain passages of Scripture where this “body,” as we termed it, i.e., this inferential historical sense, is not always found, as we shall prove to be the case in the following pages, but where that which we termed “soul” or “spirit” can only be understood. And this, I think, is indicated in the Gospels, where there are said to be placed, according to the manner of purification among the Jews, six water-vessels, containing two or three firkins a-piece; by which, as I have said, the language of the Gospel seems to indicate, with respect to those who are secretly called by the apostle “Jews,” that they are purified by the word of Scripture,–receiving indeed sometimes two firkins, i.e., the understanding of the “soul” or “spirit,” according to our statement as above; sometimes even three (firkins), when in the reading (of Scripture) the “bodily” sense, which is the “historical,” may be preserved for the edification of the people. Now six water-vessels are appropriately spoken of, with regard to those persons who are purified by being placed in the world; for we read that in six days–which is the perfect number–this world and all things in it were finished. How great, then, is the utility of this first “historical” sense which we have mentioned, is attested by the multitude of all believers, who believe with adequate faith and simplicity, and does not need much argument, because it is openly manifest to all; whereas of that sense which we have called above the “soul,” as it were, of Scripture, the Apostle Paul has given us numerous examples in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. For we find the expression, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.” And afterwards, when explaining what precept ought to be understood by this, he adds the words: “Doth God take care for oxen? or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written; that he who plougheth should plough in hope, and he that thresheth, in hope of partaking.” Very many other passages also of this nature, which are in this way explained of the law, contribute extensive information to the hearers.
13. Now a “spiritual” interpretation is of this nature: when one is able to point out what are the heavenly things of which these serve as the patterns and shadow, who are Jews “according to the flesh,” and of what things future the law contains a shadow, and any other expressions of this kind that may be found in holy Scripture; or when it is a subject of inquiry, what is that wisdom hidden in a mystery which “God ordained before the world for our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew;” or the meaning of the apostle’s language, when, employing certain illustrations from Exodus or Numbers, he says: “These things happened to them in a figure, and they are written on our account, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” Now, an opportunity is afforded us of understanding of what those things which happened to them were figures, when he adds: “And they drank of that spiritual Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” In another Epistle also, when referring to the tabernacle, he mentions the direction which was given to Moses: “Thou shalt make (all things) according to the pattern which was showed thee in the mount.” And writing to the Galatians, and upbraiding certain individuals who seem to themselves to read the law, and yet without understanding it, because of their ignorance of the fact that an allegorical meaning underlies what is written, he says to them in a certain tone of rebuke: “Tell me, ye who desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond-woman was born according to the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants.” And here this point is to be attended to, viz., the caution with which the apostle employs the expression, “Ye who are under the law, do ye not hear the law?” Do ye not hear, i.e., do ye not understand and know? In the Epistle to the Colossians, again, briefly summing up and condensing the meaning of the whole law, he says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of holy days, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come.” Writing to the Hebrews also, and treating of those who belong to the circumcision, he says: “Those who serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things.” Now perhaps, through these illustrations, no doubt will be entertained regarding the five books of Moses, by those who hold the writings of the apostle, as divinely inspired. And if they require, with respect to the rest of the history, that those events which are contained in it should be considered as having happened for an ensample to those of whom they are written, we have observed that this also has been stated in the EpiStle to the Romans, where the apostle adduces an instance from the third book of Kings, saying, “I have left me seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal;” which expression Paul understood as figuratively spoken of those who are called Israelites according to the election, in order to show that the advent of Christ had not only now been of advantage to the Gentiles, but that very many even of the race of Israel had been called to salvation.
14. This being the state of the case, we shall sketch out, as if by way of illustration and pattern, what may occur to us with regard to the manner in which holy Scripture is to be understood on these several points, repeating in the first instance, and pointing out this fact, that the Holy Spirit, by the providence and will of God, through the power of His only-begotten Word, who was in the beginning God with God, enlightened the ministers of truth, the prophets and apostles, to understand the mysteries of those things or causes which take place among men, or with respect to men. And by “men,” I now mean souls that are placed in bodies, who, relating those mysteries that are known to them, and revealed through Christ, as if they were a kind of human transactions, or handing down certain legal observances and injunctions, described them figuratively; not that any one who pleased might view these expositions as deserving to be trampled under foot, but that he who should devote himself with all chastity, and sobriety, and watchfulness, to studies of this kind, might be able by this means to trace out the meaning of the Spirit of God, which is perhaps lying profoundly buried, and the context, which may be pointing again in another direction than the ordinary usage of speech would indicate. And in this way he might become a sharer in the knowledge of the Spirit, and a partaker in the divine counsel, because the soul cannot come to the perfection of knowledge otherwise than by inspiration of the truth of the divine wisdom. Accordingly, it is of God, i.e. of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that these men, filled with the Divine Spirit, chiefly treat; then the mysteries relating to the Son of God–how the Word became flesh, and why He descended even to the assumption of the form of a servant–are the subject, as I have said, of explanation by those persons who are filled with the Divine Spirit. It next followed, necessarily, that they should instruct mortals by divine teaching, regarding rational creatures, both those of heaven and the happier ones of earth; and also (should explain) the differences among souls, and the origin of these differences; and then should tell what this world is, and why it was created; whence also sprung the great and terrible wickedness which extends over the earth. And whether that wickedness is found on this earth only, or in other places, is a point which it was necessary for us to learn from divine teaching. Since, then, it was the intention of the Holy Spirit to enlighten with respect to these and similar subjects, those holy souls who had devoted themselves to the service of the truth, this object was kept in view, in the second place, viz., for the sake of those who either could not or would not give themselves to this labour and toil by which they might deserve to be instructed in or to recognise things of such value and importance, to wrap up and conceal, as we said before, in ordinary language, under the covering of some history and narrative of visible things, hidden mysteries. There is therefore introduced the narrative of the visible creation, and the creation and formation of the first man; then the offspring which followed from him in succession, and some of the actions which were done by the good among his posterity, are related, and occasionally certain crimes also, which are stated to have been committed by them as being human; and afterwards certain unchaste or wicked deeds also are narrated as being the acts of the wicked. The description of battles, moreover, is given in a wonderful manner, and the alternations of victors and vanquished, by which certain ineffable mysteries are made known to those who know how to investigate statements of that kind. By an admirable discipline of wisdom, too, the law of truth, even of the prophets, is implanted in the Scriptures of the law, each of which is woven by a divine art of wisdom, as a kind of covering and veil of spiritual truths; and this is what we have called the “body” of Scripture, so that also, in this way, what we have called the covering of the letter, woven by the art of wisdom, might be capable of edifying and profiting many, when others would derive no benefit.
15. But as if, in all the instances of this covering (i.e., of this history), the logical connection and order of the law had been preserved, we would not certainly believe, when thus possessing the meaning of Scripture in a continuous series, that anything else was contained in it save what was indicated on the surface; so for that reason divine wisdom took care that certain stumbling-blocks, or interruptions, to the historical meaning should take place, by the introduction into the midst (of the narrative) of certain impossibilities and incongruities; that in this way the very interruption of the narrative might, as by the interposition of a bolt, present an obstacle to the reader, whereby he might refuse to acknowledge the way which conducts to the ordinary meaning; and being thus excluded and debarred from it, we might be recalled to the beginning of another way, in order that, by entering upon a narrow path, and passing to a loftier and more sublime road, he might lay open the immense breadth of divine wisdom. This, however, must not be unnoted by us, that as the chief object of the Holy Spirit is to preserve the coherence of the spiritual meaning, either in those things which ought to be done or which have been already performed, if He anywhere finds that those events which, according to the history, took place, can be adapted to a spiritual meaning, He composed a texture of both kinds in one style of narration, always concealing the hidden meaning more deeply; but where the historical narrative could not be made appropriate to the spiritual coherence of the occurrences, He inserted sometimes certain things which either did not take place or could not take place; sometimes also what might happen, but what did not: and He does this at one time in a few words, which, taken in their “bodily” meaning, seem incapable of containing truth, and at another by the insertion of many. And this we find frequently to be the case in the legislative portions, where there are many things manifestly useful among the “bodily” precepts, but a very great number also in which no principle of utility is at all discernible, and sometimes even things which are judged to be impossibilities. Now all this, as we have remarked, was done by the Holy Spirit in order that, seeing those events which lie on the surface can be neither true nor useful, we may be led to the investigation of that truth which is more deeply concealed, and to the ascertaining of a meaning worthy of God in those Scriptures which we believe to be inspired by Him.
16. Nor was it only with regard to those Scriptures which were composed down to the advent of Christ that the Holy Spirit thus dealt; but as being one and the same Spirit, and proceeding from one God, He dealt in the same way with the evangelists and apostles. For even those narratives which He inspired them to write were not composed without the aid of that wisdom of His, the nature of which we have above explained. Whence also in, them were intermingled not a few things by which, the historical order of the narrative being interrupted and broken up, the attention of the reader might be recalled, by the impossibility of the case, to an examination of the inner meaning. But, that our meaning may be ascertained by the facts themselves, let us examine the passages of Scripture. Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars–the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that any one eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. The departure of Cain from the presence of the Lord will manifestly cause a careful reader to inquire what is the presence of God, and how any one can go out from it. But not to extend the task which we have before us beyond its due limits, it is very easy for any one who pleases to gather out of holy Scripture what is recorded indeed as having been done, but what nevertheless cannot be believed as having reasonably and appropriately occurred according to the historical account. The same style of Scriptural narrative occurs abundantly in the Gospels, as when the devil is said to have placed Jesus on a lofty mountain, that he might show Him from thence all the kingdoms of the word, and the glory of them. How could it literally come to pass, either that Jesus should be led up by the devil into a high mountain, or that the latter should show him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were lying beneath his bodily eyes, and adjacent to one mountain), i.e., the kingdoms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians? or how could he show in what manner the kings of these kingdoms are glorified by men? And many other instances similar to this will be found in the Gospels by any one who will read them with attention, and will observe that in those narratives which appear to be literally recorded, there are inserted and interwoven things which cannot be admitted historically, but which may be accepted in a spiritual signification.
17. In the passages containing the commandments also, similar things are found. For in the law Moses is commanded to destroy every male that is not circumcised on the eighth day, which is exceedingly incongruous, since it would be necessary, if it were related that the law was executed according to the history, to command those parents to be punished who did not circumcise their children, and also those who were the nurses of little children. The declaration of Scripture now is, “The uncircumcised male, i.e., who shall not have been circumcised, shall be cut off from his people.” And if we are to inquire regarding the impossibilities of the law, we find an animal called the goat-stag, which cannot possibly exist, but which, as being in the number of clean beasts, Moses commands to be eaten; and a griffin, which no one ever remembers or heard of as yielding to human power, but which the legislator forbids to be used for food. Respecting the celebrated observance of the Sabbath also he thus speaks: “Ye shall sit, every one in your dwellings; no one shall move from his place on the Sabbath-day.” Which precept it is impossible to observe literally; for no man can sit a whole day so as not to move from the place where he sat down. With respect to each one of these points now, those who belong to the circumcision, and all who would have no more meaning to be found in sacred Scripture than what is indicated by the letter, consider that there should be no investigation regarding the goat-stag, and the griffin, and the vulture; and they invent some empty and trifling tales about the Sabbath, drawn from some traditional sources or other, alleging that every one’s place is computed to him within two thousand cubits.” Others, again, among whom is Dositheus the Samaritan, censure indeed expositions of this kind, but themselves lay down something more ridiculous, viz., that each one must remain until the evening in the posture, place, or position in which he found himself on the Sabbath-day; i.e., if found sitting, he is to sit the whole day, or if reclining, he is to recline the whole day. Moreover, the injunction which runs, “Bear no burden on the Sabbath-day,” seems to me an impossibility. For the Jewish doctors, in consequence of these (prescriptions), have betaken themselves, as the holy apostle says, to innumerable fables, saying that it is not accounted a burden if a man wear shoes without nails, but that it is a burden if shoes with nails be worn; and that if it be carried on one shoulder, they consider it a burden; but if on both, they declare it to be none.
CHAP. I.–ON THE INSPIRATION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE, AND HOW THE SAME IS TO BE READ AND UNDERSTOOD, AND WHAT IS THE REASON OF THE UNCERTAINTY IN IT; AND OF THE IMPOSSIBILITY OR IRRATIONALITY OF CERTAIN THINGS IN IT, TAKEN ACCORDING TO THE LETTER.
(The translation from the Greek is designedly literal, that the difference between the original and the paraphrase of Rufinus may be more clearly seen.)
1. Since, in our investigation of matters of such importance, not satisfied with the common opinions, and with the clear evidence of visible things, we take in addition, for the proof of our statements, testimonies from what are believed by us to be divine writings, viz., from that which is called the Old Testament, and that which is styled the New, and endeavour by reason to confirm our faith; and as we have not yet spoken of the Scriptures as divine, come and let us, as if by way of an epitome, treat of a few points respecting them, laying down those reasons which lead us to regard them as divine writings. And before making use of the words of the writings themselves, and of the things which are exhibited in them, we must make the following statement regarding Moses and Jesus Christ,–the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and the Introducer of the saving doctrines according to Christianity, For, although there have been very many legislators among the Greeks and Barbarians, and teachers who announced opinions which professed to be the truth, we have heard of no legislator who was able to imbue other nations with a zeal for the reception of his words; and although those who professed to philosophize about truth brought forward a great apparatus of apparent logical demonstration, no one has been able to impress what was deemed by him the truth upon other nations, or even on any number of persons worth mentioning in a single nation. And yet not only would the legislators have liked to enforce those laws which appeared to be good, if possible, upon the whole human race, but the teachers also to have spread what they imagined to be truth everywhere throughout the world. But as they were unable to call men of other languages and from many nations to observe their laws, and accept their teaching, they did not at all attempt to do this, considering not unwisely the impossibility of such a result happening to them. Whereas all Greece, and the barbarous part of our world, contains innumerable zealots, who have deserted the laws of their fathers and the established gods, for the observance of the laws of Moses and the discipleship of the words of Jesus Christ; although those who clave to the law of Moses were hated by the worshippers of images, and those who accepted the words of Jesus Christ were exposed, in addition, to the danger of death.
2. And if we observe how powerful the word has become in a very few years, notwithstanding that against those who acknowledged Christianity conspiracies were formed, and some of them on its account put to death, and others of them lost their property, and that, notwithstanding the small number of its teachers, it was preached everywhere throughout the world, so that Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish, gave themselves up to the worship that is through Jesus, we have no difficulty in saying that the result is beyond any human power, Jesus having taught with all authority and persuasiveness that His word should not be overcome; so that we may rightly regard as oracular responses those utterances of His, such as, “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles;” and, “Many shall say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten in Thy name, and drunk in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils? And I shall say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” Wow it was perhaps (once) probable that, in uttering these words, He spoke them in vain, so that they were not true; but when that which was delivered with so much authority has come to pass, it shows that God, having really become man, delivered to men the doctrines of salvation.
3. And what need is there to mention also that it was predicted of Christ s that then would the rulers fail from Judah, and the leaders from his thighs, when He came for whom it is reserved (the kingdom, namely); and that the expectation of the Gentiles should dwell in the land? For it is clearly manifest from the history, and from what is seen at the present day, that from the times of Jesus there were no longer any who were called kings of the Jews; all those Jewish institutions on which they prided themselves–I mean those arrangements relating to the temple and the altar, and the offering of the service, and the robes of the high priest-having been destroyed. For the prophecy was fulfilled which said, “The children of Israel shall sit many days, there being no king, nor ruler, nor sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, nor responses.” And these predictions we employ to answer those who, in their perplexity as to the words spoken in Genesis by Jacob to Judah, assert that the Ethnarch, being of the race of Judah, is the ruler of the people, and that there will not fail some of his seed, until the advent of that Christ whom they figure to their imagination. But if “the children of Israel are to sit many days without a king, or ruler, or altar, or priesthood, or responses;” and if, since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is manifest that the ruler has failed out of Judah, and the leader from between his thighs. And since the prediction declares that “the ruler shall not fail from Judah, and the leader from between his thighs, until what is reserved for Him shall come,” it is manifest that He is come to whom (belongs) what is reserved–the expectation of the Gentiles. And this is clear from the multitude of the heathen who have believed on God through Jesus Christ.
4. And in the song in Deuteronomy, also, it is prophetically made known that, on account of the sins of the former people, there was to be an election of foolish nations, which has been brought to pass by no other than by Jesus. “For they,” He says, “moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God, they have provoked Me to anger with their idols; and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people, and will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” Now it is possible to understand with all clearness how the Hebrews, who are said to have moved God to jealousy by that which is not God, and to have provoked Him to anger by their idols, were (themselves) aroused to jealousy by that which was not a people–the foolish nation, namely, which God chose by the advent of Jesus Christ and His disciples. We see, indeed, “our calling, that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (are called); but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and base things, and things that are despised, hath God chosen, and things that are not, to bring to nought the things which formerly existed;” and let not the Israel according to the flesh, which is called by the apostle “flesh,” boast in the presence of God.
5. And what are we to say regarding the prophecies of Christ in the Psalms, there being a certain ode with the superscription “For the Beloved,” whose “tongue” is said to be the “pen of a ready writer, who is fairer than the sons of men,” since “grace was poured on His lips?” For a proof that grace was poured on His lips is this, that although the period of His teaching was short–for He taught somewhere about a year and a few months–the world has been filled with his teaching, and with the worship of God (established) through Him. For there arose “in His days righteousness and abundance of peace,” which abides until the consummation, which has been called the taking away of the moon; and He continues “ruling from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth.” And to the house of David has been given a sign: for the Virgin bore, and was pregnant, and brought forth a son, and His name is Emmanuel, which is, “God with us;” and as the same prophet says, the prediction has been fulfilled, “God with us; know it, O nations, and be overcome; ye who are strong, be vanquished: ” for we of the heathen have been overcome and vanquished, we who have been taken by the grace of His teaching. The place also of His birth has been foretold in (the prophecies of) Micah: “For thou, Bethlehem,” he says, “land of Judah, art by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel.” And according to Daniel, seventy weeks were fulfilled until (the coming of) Christ the Ruler. And He came, who, according to Job, has subdued the great fish, and has given power to His true disciples to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and all the power of the enemy, without sustaining any injury from them. And let one notice also the universal advent of the apostles sent by Jesus to announce the Gospel, and he will see both that the undertaking was beyond human power, and that the commandment came from God. And if we examine how men, on hearing new doctrines, and strange words, yielded themselves up to these teachers, being overcome, amid the very desire to plot against them, by a divine power that watched over these (teachers), we shall not be incredulous as to whether they also wrought miracles, God bearing witness to their words both by signs, and wonders, and divers miracles.
6. And while we thus briefly demonstrate the deity of Christ, and (in so doing) make use of the prophetic declarations regarding Him, we demonstrate at the same time that the writings which prophesied of Him were divinely inspired; and that those documents which announced His coming and His doctrine were given forth with all power and authority, and that on this account they obtained the election from the Gentiles. We must say, also, that the divinity of the prophetic declarations, and the spiritual nature of the law of Moses, shone forth after the advent of Christ. For before the advent of Christ it was not altogether possible to exhibit manifest proofs of the divine inspiration of the ancient Scripture; whereas His coming led those who might suspect the law and the prophets not to be divine, to the clear conviction that they were composed by (the aid of) heavenly grace. And he who reads the words of the prophets with care and attention, feeling by the very perusal the traces of the divinity, that is in them, will be led by his own emotions to believe that those words which have been deemed to be the words of God are not the compositions of men. The light, moreover, which was contained in the law of Moses, but which had been concealed by a veil, shone forth at the advent of Jesus, the veil being taken away, and those blessings, the shadow of which was contained in the letter, coming forth gradually to the knowledge (of men).
7. It would be tedious now to enumerate the most ancient prophecies respecting each future event, in order that the doubter, being impressed by their divinity, may lay aside all hesitation and distraction, and devote himself with his whole soul to the words of God. But if in every part of the Scriptures the superhuman element of thoughts does not seem to present itself to the uninstructed, that is not at all wonderful; for, with respect to the works of that providence which embraces the whole world, some show with the utmost clearness that they are works of providence, while others are so concealed as to seem to furnish ground for unbelief with respect to that God who orders all things with unspeakable skill and power. For the artistic plan of a providential Ruler is not so evident in those matters belonging to the earth, as in the case of the sun, and moon, and stars; and not so clear in what relates to human occurrences, as it is in the souls and bodies of animals,–the object and reason of the impulses, and phantasies and natures of animals, and the structure of their bodies, being carefully ascertained by those who attend to these things. But as (the doctrine of) providence is not at all weakened (on account of those things which are not understood) in the eyes of those who have once honestly accepted it, so neither is the divinity of Scripture, which extends to the whole of it, (lost) on account of the inability of our weakness to discover in every expression the hidden splendour of the doctrines veiled in common and unattractive phraseology. For we have the treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power of God may shine forth, and that it may not be deemed to proceed from us (who are but) human beings. For if the hackneyed methods of demonstration (common) among men, contained in the books (of the Bible), had been successful in producing conviction, then our faith would rightly have been supposed to rest on the wisdom of men, and not on the power of God; but now it is manifest to every one who lifts up his eyes, that the word and preaching have not prevailed among the multitude “by persuasive words of wisdom, but by demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Wherefore, since a celestial or even a super-celestial power compels us to worship the only Creator, let us leave the doctrine of the beginning of Christ, i.e., the elements, and endeavour to go on to perfection, in order that the wisdom spoken to the perfect may be spoken to us also. For he who possesses it promises to speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but another wisdom than that of this world, and of the rulers of this world, which is brought to nought. And this wisdom will be distinctly stamped upon us, and will produce a revelation of the mystery that was kept silent in the eternal ages, but now has been manifested through the prophetic Scriptures, and the appearance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
8. Having spoken thus briefly on the subject of the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures, it is necessary to proceed to the (consideration of the) manner in which they are to be read and understood, seeing numerous errors have been committed in consequence of the method in which the holy documents ought to be examined not having been discovered by the multitude. For both the hardened in heart, and the ignorant persons belonging to the circumcision, have not believed on our Saviour, thinking that they are following the language of the prophecies respecting Him, and not perceiving in a manner palpable to their senses that He had proclaimed liberty to the captives, nor that He had built up what they truly consider the city of God, nor cut off “the chariots of Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem,” nor eaten butter and honey, and, before knowing or preferring the evil, had selected the good. And thinking, moreover, that it was prophesied that the wolf–the four-footed animal–was to feed with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid, and the calf and bull and lion to feed together, being led by a little child, and that the ox and bear were to pasture together, their young ones growing up together, and that the lion was to eat straw like the ox: seeing none of these things visibly accomplished during the advent of Him who is believed by us to be Christ, they did not accept our Lord Jesus; but, as having called Himself Christ improperly, they crucified Him. And those belonging to heretical sects reading this (statement), “A fire has been kindled in Mine anger;” and this, “I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation;” and this,” I repent of having anointed Saul to be king;” and this, “I am a God that maketh peace, and createth evil;” and, among others, this, “There is not wickedness in the city which the Lord hath not done;” and again this, “Evils came down from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem;” and, “An evil spirit from the Lord plagued Saul; ” and countless other passages like these–they have not ventured to disbelieve these as the Scriptures of God; but believing them to be the (words) of the Demiurge, whom the Jews worship, they thought that as the Demiurge was an imperfect and unbenevolent God, the Saviour had come to announce a more perfect Deity, who, they say, is not the Demiurge, being of different opinions regarding Him; and having once departed from the Demiurge, who is the only uncreated God, they have given themselves up to fictions, inventing to themselves hypotheses, according to which they imagine that there are some things which are visible, and certain other things which are not visible, all which are the fancies of their own minds. And yet, indeed, the more simple among those who profess to belong to the Church have supposed that there is no deity greater than the Demiurge, being right in so thinking, while they imagine regarding Him such things as would not be believed of the most savage and unjust of mankind.
9. Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter. And therefore, to those who believe that the sacred books are not the compositions of men, but that they were composed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, agreeably to the will of the Father of all things through Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the ways (of interpreting them) which appear (correct) to us, who cling to the standard of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ according to the succession of the apostles. Now, that there are certain mystical economies made known by the holy Scriptures, all–even the most simple of those who adhere to the word–have believed; but what these are, candid and modest individuals confess that they know not. If, then, one were to be perplexed about the intercourse of Lot with his daughters, and about the two wives of Abraham, and the two sisters married to Jacob, and the two handmaids who bore him children, they can return no other answer than this, that these are mysteries not understood by us. Nay, also, when the (description of the) fitting out of the tabernacle is read, believing that what is written is a type, they seek to adapt what they can to each particular related about the tabernacle,–not being wrong so far as regards their belief that the tabernacle is a type of something, but erring sometimes in adapting the description of that of which the tabernacle is a type, to some special thing in a manner worthy of Scripture. And all the history that is considered to tell of marriages, or the begetting of children, or of wars, or any histories whatever that are in circulation among the multitude, they declare to be types; but of what in each individual instance, partly owing to their habits not being thoroughly exercised–partly, too, owing to their precipitation–sometimes, even when an individual does happen to be well trained and clear-sighted, owing to the excessive difficulty of discovering things on the part of men,–the nature of each particular regarding these (types) is not clearly ascertained.
10. And what need is there to speak of the prophecies, which we all know to be filled with enigmas and dark sayings? And if we come to the Gospels, the exact understanding of these also, as being the mind of Christ, requires the grace that was given to him who said, “But we have the mind of Christ, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth.” And who, on reading the revelations made to John, would not be amazed at the unspeakable mysteries therein concealed, and which are evident (even) to him who does not comprehend what is written? And to what person, skilful in investigating words, would the Epistles of the Apostles seem to be clear and easy of understanding, since even in them there are countless numbers of most profound ideas, which, (issuing forth) as by an aperture, admit of no rapid comprehension? And therefore, since these things are so, and since innumerable individuals fall into mistakes, it is not safe in reading (the Scriptures) to declare that one easily understands what needs the key of knowledge, which the Saviour declares is with the lawyers. And let those answer who will not allow that the truth was with these before the advent of Christ, how the key of knowledge is said by our Lord Jesus Christ to be with those who, as they allege, had not the books which contain the secrets of knowledge, and perfect mysteries. For His words run thus: “Woe unto you, ye lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye have not entered in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”
11. The way, then, as it appears to us, in which we ought to deal with the Scriptures, and extract from them their meaning, is the following, which has been ascertained from the Scriptures themselves. By Solomon in the Proverbs we find some such rule as this enjoined respecting the divine doctrines of Scripture: “And do thou portray them in a threefold manner, in counsel and knowledge, to answer words of truth to them who propose them to thee.” The individual ought, then, to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the “flesh,” as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the “soul,” as it were. The perfect man, again, and he who resembles those spoken of by the apostle, when he says, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of the world, nor of the rulers of this world, who come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God hath ordained before the ages, unto our glory,” (may receive edification) from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men. And therefore we deduce this also from a book which is despised by some–The Shepherd–in respect of the command given to Hermas to write two books, and after so doing to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he had learned from the Spirit. The words are as follows: “You will write two books, and give one to Clement, and one to Grapte. And Grapte shall admonish the widows and the orphans, and Clement will send to the cities abroad, while you will announce to the presbyters of the Church.” Now Grapte, who admonishes the widows and the orphans, is the mere letter (of Scripture), which admonishes those who are yet children in soul, and not able to call God their Father, and who are on that account styled orphans,–admonishing, moreover, those who no longer have an unlawful bridegroom, but who remain widows, because they have not yet become worthy of the (heavenly) Bridegroom; while Clement, who is already beyond the letter, is said to send what is written to the cities abroad, as if we were to call these the “souls,” who are above (the influence of) bodily (affections) and degraded ideas,–the disciple of the Spirit himself being enjoined to make known, no longer by letters, but by living words, to the presbyters of the whole Church of God, who have become grey through wisdom.
12. But as there are certain passages of Scripture which do not at all contain the “corporeal” sense, as we shall show in the following (paragraphs), there are also places where we must seek only for the “soul,” as it were, and “spirit” of Scripture. And perhaps on this account the water-vessels containing two or three firkins a-piece are said to lie for the purification of the Jews, as we read in the Gospel according to John: the expression darkly intimating, with respect to those who (are called) by the apostle “Jews” secretly, that they are purified by the word of Scripture, receiving sometimes two firkins, i.e., so to speak, the “psychical” and “spiritual” sense; and sometimes three firkins, since some have, in addition to those already mentioned, also the “corporeal” sense, which is capable of (producing) edification. And six water-vessels are reasonably (appropriate) to those who are purified in the world, which was made in six days–the perfect number. That the first “sense,” then, is profitable in this respect, that it is capable of imparting edification, is testified by the multitudes of genuine and simple believers; while of that interpretation which is referred back to the “soul,” there is an illustration in Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians. The expression is, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn;” to which he adds, “Doth God take care of oxen? or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this was written: that he that plougheth should plough in hope, and that he who thresheth, in hope of partaking.” And there are numerous interpretations adapted to the multitude which are in circulation, and which edify those who are unable to understand profounder meanings, and which have somewhat the same character.
13. But the interpretation is “spiritual,” when one is able to show of what heavenly things the Jews “according to the flesh” served as an example and a shadow, and of what future blessings the law contains a shadow. And, generally, we must investigate, according to the apostolic promise, “the wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world for the glory” of the just, which “none of the princes of this world knew.” And the same apostle says somewhere, after referring to certain events mentioned as occurring in Exodus and Numbers, “that these things happened to them figuratively, but that they were written on our account, on whom the ends of the world are come.” And he gives an opportunity for ascertaining of what things these were patterns, when he says: “For they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” And in another Epistle, when sketching the various matters relating to the tabernacle, he used the words: “Thou shall make everything according to the pattern showed thee in the mount.” Moreover, in the Epistle to the Galatians, as if upbraiding those who think that they read the law, and yet do not understand it, judging that those do not understand it who do not reflect that allegories are contained under what is written, he says: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, Abraham had two sons; the one by the bond-maid, the other by the free woman. But he who was by the bond-maid was born according to the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants,” and so on. Now we must carefully observe each word employed by him. He says: “Ye who desire to be under the law,” not “Ye that are under the law;” and, “Do ye not hear the law?”–“hearing” being understood to mean “comprehending” and “knowing.” And in the Epistle to the Colossians, briefly abridging the meaning of the whole legislation, he says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a festival, or of a new moon, or of Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come.” Moreover, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, discoursing of those who belong to the circumcision, he writes: “who serve for an ensample and shadow of heavenly things.” Now it is probable that, from these illustrations, those will entertain no doubt with respect to the five books of Moses, who have once given in their adhesion to the apostle, as divinely inspired; but do you wish to know, with regard to the rest of the history, if it also happened as a pattern? We must note, then, the expression in the Epistle to the Romans, “I have left to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” quoted from the third book of Kings, which Paul has understood as equivalent (in meaning) to those who are Israelites according to election, because not only were the Gentiles benefited by the advent of Christ, but also certain of the race of God.
14. This being the state of the case, we have to sketch what seem to us to be the marks of the (true) understanding of Scriptures. And, in the first place, this must be pointed out, that the object of the Spirit, which by the providence of God, through the Word who was in the beginning with God, illuminated the ministers of truth, the prophets and apostles, was especially (the communication) of ineffable mysteries regarding the affairs of men (now by men I mean those souls that make use of bodies), in order that he who is capable of instruction may by investigation, and by devoting himself to the study of the profundities of meaning contained in the words, become a participator of all the doctrines of his counsel. And among those matters which relate to souls (who cannot otherwise obtain perfection apart from the rich and wise truth of God), the (doctrines) belonging to God and His only-begotten Son are necessarily laid down as primary, viz., of what nature He is, and in what manner He is the Son of God, and what are the causes of His descending even to (the assumption of) human flesh, and of complete humanity; and what, also, is the operation of this (Son), and upon whom and when exercised. And it was necessary also that the subject of kindred beings, and other rational creatures, both those who are divine and those who have fallen from blessedness, together with the reasons of their fall, should be contained in the divine teaching; and also that of the diversities of souls, and of the origin of these diversities, and of the nature of the world, and the cause of its existence. We must learn also the origin of the great and terrible wickedness which overspreads the earth, and whether it is confined to this earth only, or prevails elsewhere. Now, while these and similar objects were present to the Spirit, who enlightened the souls of the holy ministers of the truth, there was a second object, for the sake of those who were unable to endure the fatigue of investigating matters so important, viz., to conceal the doctrine relating to the previously mentioned subjects, in expressions containing a narrative which conveyed an announcement regarding the things of the visible creation, the creation of man, and the successive descendants of the first men until they became numerous; and other histories relating the acts of just men, and the sins occasionally committed by these same men as being human beings, and the wicked deeds, both of unchastity and vice, committed by sinful and ungodly men. And what is most remarkable, by the history of wars, and of the victors, and the vanquished, certain mysteries are indicated to those who are able to test these statements. And more wonderful still, the laws of truth are predicted by the written legislation;–all these being described in a connected series, with a power which is truly in keeping with the wisdom of God. For it was intended that the covering also of the spiritual truths–I mean the “bodily” part of Scripture–should not be without profit in many cases, but should be capable of improving the multitude, according to their capacity.
15. But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offences, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive nature of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learning nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine. And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the “spiritual” connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, He made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the development of super-sensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the Scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not. And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number. And a similar practice also is to be noticed with regard to the legislation, in which is often to be found what is useful in itself, and appropriate to the times of the legislation; and sometimes also what does not appear to be of utility; and at other times impossibilities are recorded for the sake of the more skilful and inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of investigating what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such subjects.
16. It was not only, however, with the (Scriptures composed) before the advent (of Christ) that the Spirit thus dealt; but as being the same Spirit, and (proceeding) from the one God, He did the same thing both with the evangelists and the apostles, –as even these do not contain throughout a pure history of events, which are interwoven indeed according to the letter, but which did not actually occur. Nor even do the law and the commandments wholly convey what is agreeable to reason. For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that any one doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally. Cain also, when going forth from the presence of God, certainly appears to thoughtful men as likely to lead the reader to inquire what is the presence of God, and what is the meaning of going out from Him. And what need is there to say more, since those who are not altogether blind can collect countless instances of a similar kind recorded as having occurred, but which did not literally [ take place? Nay, the Gospels themselves are filled with the same kind of narratives; e.g., the devil leading Jesus up into a high mountain, in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world, and the glory of them. For who is there among those who do not read such accounts carelessly, that would not condemn those who think that with the eye of the body–which requires a lofty height in order that the parts lying (immediately) under and adjacent may be seen–the kingdoms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians, and Parthians, were beheld, and the manner in which their princes are glorified among men? And the attentive reader may notice in the Gospels innumerable other passages like these, so that he will be convinced that in the histories that are literally recorded, circumstances that did not occur are inserted.
17. And if we come to the legislation of Moses, many of the laws manifest the irrationality, and others the impossibility, of their literal observance. The irrationality (in this), that the people are forbidden to eat vultures, although no one even in the direst famines was (ever) driven by want to have recourse to this bird; and that children eight days old, which are uncircumcised, are ordered to be exterminated from among their people, it being necessary, if the law were to be carried out at all literally with regard to these, that their fathers, or those with whom they are brought up, should be commanded to be put to death. Now the Scripture says: “Every male that is uncircumcised, who shall not be circumcised on the eighth day, shall be cut off from among his people.” And if you wish to see impossibilities contained in the legislation, let us observe that the goat-stag is one of those animals that cannot exist, and yet Moses commands us to offer it as being a clean beast; whereas a griffin, which is not recorded ever to have been subdued by man, the lawgiver forbids to be eaten. Nay, he who carefully considers (the famous injunction relating to) the Sabbath, “Ye shall sit each one in your dwellings: let no one go out from his place on the seventh day,” will deem it impossible to be lite (all that is extant)
What do YOU think ?