Document: Letter 32
Date: c. 387
Addressee: Iranaeus
English Translation: FC 26.425-428
Summary of Contents: Answers to various questions posed by Iranaeus

“The partridge has spoken, she has fostered a brood which is not hers.” I should like to borrow the beginning of this letter from the close of my last. It has been frequently discussed, so, in order that we may be able to solve it, let us consider what natural history tells us regarding the nature of this bird. It is the part of no small wisdom to ponder this, for Solomon understood the nature of animals and discoursed on flocks, birds, reptiles, and fish.

This bird is said to be full of craft, fraud, and guile, expert in deceiving a fowler, and experienced in turning him aside from her own brood, since she omits no trial of any action to draw off the hunter from her nest and hiding place. Indeed, if she sees him approach, she sports about long enough to give the young the signal and the opportunity of getting away. When she knows they are gone, she, too, takes herself off, leaving her enemy tricked by her crafty wiles.

It is also said that she is a promiscuous bird, and the males rush on the females with great force and burn with unrestrained desires. Therefore it is thought suitable to compare this unclean, evil-minded, deceptive animal to the adversary and deceitful circumventor of the human race, the author of uncleanness.

The partridge, which derives its name from perdition, is called Satan; in Latin, the Devil. He spoke first in Eve, he spoke in Cain, he spoke in Pharaoh, in Dathan, Abiron, and Core. He spoke in the Jews when they asked that gods be made for them while Moses was receiving the Law. He spoke again when they said of the Savior: “Let him be crucified, let him be crucified,” and “His blood be on us and on our children.” He spoke when they wanted Him to be made king so that they might not walk with the Lord God their king. He spoke in every vain and wicked man.

With these words he has fostered a people who are not his creation, for God made man to His own image and likeness, and the Devil formed a fellowship with man by the cunning of his words. He has fostered the people of the Gentiles, acquiring riches without judgment. Therefore in the proverb it is said of the greedy rich man that the partridge fostered riches without judgment. But my Jesus, like a good judge, does all with judgment, for He comes, as it is written, saying: “I speak justice and the judgment of salvation.”

Therefore, He has robbed that partridge, the Devil, of favor; He has taken from him the riches of the multitude which evil fostered; He has called back the souls of the Gentiles from error and the hearts of nations which were going astray. And because He knew that they were deceived by the words of the Devil, He Himself, to loosen the chains and bonds of long-standing error, spoke first in Abel, whose voice of blood cried out. He spoke in Moses to whom He said: “Why are you crying to me?” He spoke in Josue son of Nun. He spoke in David, who said: “I cried to you; save me. He spoke in all the Prophets. So He says to Isaiah: “Cry,” and he said: “What shall I cry?” He spoke in Solomon, calling to him with a mighty prophecy and wisdom: “Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you.”He spoke in His own body like the beetle in the wood. He spoke to undo the Devil and overthrow him, saying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He spoke to strip him of his spoil when He said to the thief: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in paradise.” Thus, when Jesus spoke, that partridge was abandoned by his brood in the midst of his days.

Some persons have thought they should adopt that custom of the partridge whereby she takes another’s eggs, warms them with her body, and tries by this false means to get the off- spring of others. But (as they say to deceive the wary, for even birds have certain tricks) when [the true mother] notices either that the eggs have been seized, or the nest entered, or the young harassed, deceived by false pretenses or deceptive appearances, although she is the weaker one, she clothes and arms herself with cunning. Then, when all the labor expended on food has exhausted the one who is rearing them, when the chicks begin to grow, she [the true mother] utters a cry and with a sort of trumpet of love calls her brood to her. They, roused with certain natural feelings, recognize their parent and abandon her who had played them false. So, when the one wishes to foster those who are not her brood, she loses those whom she thought she would feed.

Not without profit has Jesus spoken, since the people of the world, deceived by the words of the partridge, by his charms, skill, and appearance, had strayed from their origin, following deceitful ways. Yet, called back by the words of their true parent, they will abandon the deceiver and desert his fraudulent practice in the midst of his days, that is, before the end of the world, whither our Lord is drawing us, calling us to eternal life. Now, dead to the world, we live to God.

As the partridge will be utterly abandoned by her false children, then will the foolish man be saved whom God chose, and confounded the wise, for God chooses the foolish things of the world. So, if anyone seems to be wise in this world, let him become foolish, that he may be wise.

Farewell, son, and love us as you do, since we love you.

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