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On Christian Doctrine In Four Books by St. Augustine

Chapter 7. And all the methods I have mentioned are constantly used by nearly every oneà

7. And all the methods I have mentioned are constantly used by nearly every one in cases where speech is the agency employed. But as some men employ these coarsely, inelegantly, and frigidly while others use them with acuteness, elegance, and spirit, the work that I am speaking of ought to be undertaken by one who can argue and speak with wisdom, if not with eloquence, and with profit to his hearers, even though he profit them less than he would if he could speak with eloquence too. But we must beware of the man who abounds in eloquent nonsense, and so much the more if the hearer is pleased with what is not worth listening to, and thinks that because the speaker is eloquent what he says must be true. And this opinion is held even by those who think that the art of rhetoric should be taught: for they confess that |though wisdom without eloquence is of little service to states, yet eloquence without wisdom is frequently a positive injury, and is of service never.| If, then, the men who teach the principles of eloquence have been forced by truth to confess this in the very books which treat of eloquence, though they were ignorant of the true, that is, the heavenly wisdom which comes down from the Father of Lights, how much more ought we to feel it who are the sons and the ministers of this higher wisdom! Now a man speaks with more or less wisdom just as he has made more or less progress in the knowledge of Scripture; I do not mean by reading them much and committing them to memory, but by understanding them aright and carefully searching into their meaning. For there are who read and yet neglect them; they read to remember the words, but are careless about knowing the meaning. It is plain we must set far above these the men who are not so retentive of the words, but see with the eyes of the heart into the heart of Scripture. Better than either of these, however, is the man who, when he wishes, can repeat the words, and at the same time correctly apprehends their meaning.

18. And then the future captivity under an oppressive king is announced as approaching, when it is added: |Ye that are set apart for the day of evil, and come near to the seat of oppression.| Then are subjoined the evils of luxury: |ye that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch yourselves upon couches; that eat the lamb from the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the herd.| These six clauses form three periods of two members each. For he does not say: |Ye who are set apart for the day of evil, who come near to the seat of oppression, who sleep upon beds of ivory, who stretch yourselves upon couches, who eat the lamb from the flock, and calves out of the herd.| If he had so expressed it, this would have had its beauty: six separate clauses running on, the same pronoun being repeated each time, and each clause finished by a single effort of the speaker's voice. But it is more beautiful as it is, the clauses being joined in pairs under the same pronoun, and forming three sentences, one referring to the prophecy of the captivity: |Ye that are set apart for the day of evil, and come near the seat of oppression;| the second to lasciviousness: |ye that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch yourselves upon couches;| the third to gluttony: |who eat the lamb from the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the herd.| So that it is at the discretion of the speaker whether he finish each clause separately and make six altogether, or whether he suspend his voice at the first, the third, and the fifth, and by joining the second to the first, the fourth to the third, and the sixth to the fifth, make three most elegant periods of two members each: one describing the imminent catastrophe; another, the lascivious couch; and the third, the luxurious table.

19. Next he reproaches them with their luxury in seeking pleasure for the sense of hearing. And here, when he had said, |Ye who chant to the sound of the viol,| seeing that wise men may practice music wisely, he, with wonderful skill of speech, checks the flow of his invective, and not now speaking to, but of, these men, and to show us that we must distinguish the music of the wise from the music of the voluptuary, he does not say, |Ye who chant to the sound of the viol, and think that ye have instruments of music like David;| but he first addresses to themselves what it is right the voluptuaries should hear, |Ye who chant to the sound of the viol;| and then, turning to others, he intimates that these men have not even skill in their art: |they thought that they had instruments of music like David; drinking wine in bowls, and anointing themselves with the costliest ointment.| These three clauses are best pronounced when the voice is suspended on the first two members of the period, and comes to a pause on the third.

20. But now as to the sentence which follows all these: |and they were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.| Whether this be pronounced continuously as one clause, or whether with more elegance we hold the words, |and they were not grieved,| suspended on the voice, and then add, |for the affliction of Joseph,| so as to make a period of two members; in any case, it is a touch of marvelous beauty not to say, |and they were not grieved for the affliction of their brother;| but to put Joseph for brother, so as to indicate brothers in general by the proper name of him who stands out illustrious from among his brethren, both in regard to the injuries he suffered and the good return he made. And, indeed, I do not know whether this figure of speech, by which Joseph is put for brothers in general, is one of those laid down in that art which I learnt and used to teach. But how beautiful it is, and how it comes home to the intelligent reader, it is useless to tell any one who does not himself feel it.

21. And a number of other points bearing on the laws of eloquence could be found in this passage which I have chosen as an example. But an intelligent reader will not be so much instructed by carefully analysing it as kindled by reciting it with spirit. Nor was it composed by man's art and care, but it flowed forth in wisdom and eloquence from the divine mind; wisdom not aiming at eloquence, yet eloquence not shrinking from wisdom. For if, as certain very eloquent and acute men have perceived and said, the rules which are laid down in the art of oratory could not have been observed, and noted, and reduced to system, if they had not first had their birth in the genius of orators, is it wonderful that they should be found in the messengers of Him who is the author of all genius? Therefore let us acknowledge that the canonical writers are not only wise but eloquent also, with an eloquence suited to a character and position like theirs.

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