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On The Government Of God by Salvian


To the holy bishop Salonius, Salvian sends greeting in the Lord

Practically all men who have chosen some form of literary composition as a fitting expression of their native genius have taken especial pains, whether they were writing of useful and worthy matters, or of useless and unworthy, to lighten the order of their discourse by the brilliance of their language and to illumine by their style the questions under discussion. It is to style therefore that the majority of writers on secular topics, whether in prose or verse, have paid most attention, not considering sufficiently the necessity of choosing subjects worthy of approbation, provided that whatever they said was either chanted in smooth and elegant verse, or narrated in distinguished prose.

These authors have sought their own ends, and looking toward their individual praise rather than the benefit of others have not tried to be considered salutary and helpful, but rhetorical and eloquent. Therefore their writings are swollen with vanity, infamous for their falsehood, smeared with filth, or vicious because of their obscene subjects. Trafficking in such unworthy fashion to purchase praise for ingenuity seems to me less a glorification than a condemnation of one's genius. Since we, on the other hand, are lovers of deeds rather than words, we seek utility rather than applause.

It is not, then, for vain and worldly adornments that we solicit praise, but for salutary prescriptions. Our writings, trifling though they are, shall present no vain lures but actual remedies, calculated not to please idle ears but to benefit the minds of the sick. So do we hope to gain our full reward from heaven.

Now if this healing grace of ours cures the unfavorable opinion of our God held by certain men, it will be no small reward that I have thus aided many. But if no such benefit accrues, the very fact that I have tried to be of service may not be unfruitful. For a mind devoted to a good work and a charitable aim, though it has not achieved full success in its undertaking, is still rewarded for its good intent. At this point then I shall begin.

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