Document: Letter 8
Date: 381
Addressee: Justus (Bishops of Lyons?)
English Translation: FC 26.115-119
Summary of Contents: On various debates on Scripture

Many persons say that our sacred writers did not write in accordance with the rules of rhetoric. We do not take issue with them: the sacred writers wrote not in accord with rules, but in accord with grace, which is above all rules of rhetoric. They wrote what the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. Yet, writers on rhetoric have found rhetoric in their writings and have made use of their writings to compose commentaries and rules.

In rhetoric, these qualities in particular are demanded: a cause (aítion), a subject (húle), and an end or purpose (apotélesma). Now, when we read that blessed Isaac said to his father: “Behold, you have the fire and the wood, but where is the victim,” are these qualities lacking? The one asking the question is in doubt; the one who answers the question gives the answer and removes the doubt. The fire is the cause; the wood is the subject, called materia in Latin; the third item, the purpose, is that which the child sought and which the father showed him when he asked: “Where is the victim?” “God himself,” he said, “will provide the sacrifice, my son.”

Let us discuss the meaning of the mystery for a little while. God showed a ram sticking fast with its horns; the ram is the Word, full of tranquility and restraint and patience. By this is shown that wisdom is a good sacrifice and belongs to one who is duly wise and making atonement to understand the purpose of an action. The Prophet David therefore says: “Offer up the sacrifice of justice.” Sacrifice belongs to justice as it does to wisdom.

Note, therefore, that the mind which is working is aglow and warm like fire. Note the thing known to the intelligence, the subject matter. Where is the third ingredient, the understanding of the purpose? You see color, but where is “seeing’? You perceive objects, but where is “perceiving”? All men do not see “matter,” and therefore God gives the gift of understanding and perceiving and seeing.

Therefore, the Word of God is our purpose, that is, the end and fulfillment of all our questioning. This Word is infused into the wise and puts an end to doubt. Yet, even men who refuse to believe in the coming of Christ refute themselves very aptly with the result that they profess what they think they should not profess. They say that the “ram” is the Word of God, yet they do not believe in the mystery of the Passion, although the Word of God is, in that mystery, the very one in whom the sacrifice has been fulfilled.

Let us first enkindle in us the fire of the mind, so that it will be at work in us. Let us seek the subject matter, which gives us that which feeds the soul, as if seeking it in darkness, for the patriarchs did not know what manna was, yet they found it, Scripture says, and they called it the speech and Word of God. From, this continual and ever flowing source all learning flows and streams.

This is a heavenly food. It is signified by the person of the one speaking: “Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you.” This is the cause, for God works, watering minds with the dew of wisdom; the subject matter is that which delights souls seeing and tasting it and asking whence comes that which is more splendid than light and sweeter than honey. They are given the answer in the Scripture narrative: “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” And this is the Word of God which God has set in orderly array. By it the souls of the prudent are fed and delighted; it is clear and sweet, shining with the splendor of truth, and softening with the sweetness of virtue the souls of those who hear it.

The Prophet [Moses] learned the cause of what he had to accomplish. When he was sent to the king of Egypt to free the people of God, he said: “Who am I that I should go and should bring forth the people from the power of the king?” The Lord answered: “I will be with you.” Again Moses asked: “What shall I say to them if they ask me: ‘Who is the Lord who sent you, what is his name?’” The Lord said: “I am who am. You will say: He who is has sent me.” This is the true name of God, “Eternal Being.” Therefore, the Apostle says of Christ: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is in you, who was preached among you by us by me and Sylvanus and Timothy was not now ‘Yes’ and now ‘No,’ but only ‘Yes’ was in him.” Moses answered: “lf they will not believe me, nor hear my voice, but they will say: ‘The Lord has not appeared to you,’ what shall I say to them?” God gave him signs to perform so that it would be believed that he was sent by the Lord. A third time Moses said: “I am not worthy and I have a weak voice, and a slow tongue, how will Pharaoh hear me?” He was told: “Go, I will open your mouth and I will teach you what you shall speak.”

The questions in the middle of the passage and the answers contain the seeds and science of wisdom. And the end, too, is pleasing, because God says: “I will be with you.”Although He gave him certain signs to use, when Moses doubted, so that you might know that the signs were for those who would not believe, but the promise for believers, God gave an answer, taking into consideration the frailty of his merit or of his devotion: “I will open your mouth, and I will teach you what you shall speak.” Thus a perfect end or purpose was kept.

You have this also in the Gospel: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Ask from the cause, that is, seek from the Author. You have as the subject matter spiritual qualities by which you seek; knock, and God discloses the Word to you. The mind is that which seeks, which works like fire; the vigor of the mind works upon spiritual qualities as fire does upon wood; and God discloses the Word to you this is the end or purpose. Elsewhere, too, in the Gospel we have the words: “But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour. For it is not you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through you.”

You have this, too, in Genesis when Isaac says: “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” He answered: “The Lord your God let me come upon it.” God is the end. He who seeks in the Lord finds; Laban was a man who did not seek in the Lord; because he sought idols, he did not find.

He [Isaac] observed very well what are called the rules and distinctions of speech. The first distinction is: “Set your game near me, my son, that I may eat/ He arouses and enkindles his son’s mind by a sort of fire of exhortation so that he will work and go in search. The second distinction is: “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” This is in the form of a question. The third distinction is an answer: “The Lord your God let me come upon it.” The end or purpose is God who accomplishes and perfects all things; about this there must be no doubt.

There is also a distinction about things which spring up of their own accord: “You do not sow, you will not reap, for, although cultivation stimulates the growth of seeds, nature works in them by a certain power so that they do spring up.

Thus, the Apostle says: “I have planted, Apollo watered, but God has given growth. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the growth.” God makes His gift to you in the spirit, and the Lord grows in your heart. Act, therefore, so that He may breathe upon you and grow. Then you may reap. But if you do not sow you will not reap. You are warned, as it were, that you should sow; you have not sowed, you will not reap it is a proverb. The final action is included in the first act. Sowing is the beginning; reaping is the end.

Learn from me, nature says. She is a help to the learner. God is the Author of nature. It is also through God that we learn well, because it belongs to nature to learn by the heart. The hard of heart do not learn. There is growth in the nature which has the divine gift of grace. God gives to it full accomplishment and perfection, that is, the most excellent and divine nature and substance of the Trinity.

Farewell, and love us as you do, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.115-119, adapted by SMT

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Last updated: 4-28-2011

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