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Chapter XIV.—Argument:  With Something of the Pride of Self-Satisfaction, Cæcilius Urges Octavius to Reply to His Arguments; And Minucius with Modesty Answers Him, that He Must Not Exult at His Own by No Means Ordinary Eloquence, and at the Harmonious Variety of His Address.

Thus far Cæcilius; and smiling cheerfully (for the vehemence of his prolonged discourse had relaxed the ardour of his indignation), he added:  “And what does Octavius venture to reply to this, a man of the race of Plautus, 17541754     “Plautinæ prosapiæ.”  The expression is intended as a reproach against the humble occupations of many of the Christian professors.  Plautus is said, when in need, to have laboured at a baker’s hand-mill.  Cæcilius tells Octavius that he may be the first among the millers, but he is the last among the philosophers.  Stieber proposes “Christianorum” instead of “pistorum”—“Christians” instead of “millers.” who, while he was chief among the millers, was still the lowest of philosophers?”  “Restrain,” said I, “your self-approval against him; for it is not worthy of you to exult at the harmony of your discourse, before the subject shall have been more fully argued on both sides; especially since your reasoning is striving after truth, not praise.  And in however great a degree your discourse has delighted me by its subtile variety, yet I am very deeply moved, not concerning the present discussion, but concerning the entire kind of disputation—that for the most part the condition of truth should be changed according to the powers of discussion, and even the faculty of perspicuous eloquence.  This is very well known to occur by reason of the facility of the hearers, who, being distracted by the allurement of words from attention to things, assent without distinction to everything that is said, and do not separate falsehood from truth; unaware that even in that which is incredible there is often truth, and in verisimilitude falsehood.  Therefore the oftener they believe bold assertions, the more frequently they are convinced by those who are more clever, and thus are continually deceived by their temerity.  They transfer the blame of the judge to the complaint of uncertainty; so that, everything being condemned, they would rather that all things should be left in suspense, than that they should decide about matters of doubt.  Therefore we must take care that we do not in such sort suffer from the hatred at once of all discourses, even as very many of the more simple kind are led to execration and hatred of men in general.  For those who are carelessly credulous are deceived by those whom they thought worthy; and by and by, by a kindred error, they begin to suspect every one as wicked, and dread even those whom they might have regarded as excellent.  Now therefore we are anxious—because in everything there may be argument on both sides; and on the one hand, the truth is for the most part obscure; and on the other side there is a marvellous subtlety, which sometimes by its abundance of words imitates the confidence of acknowledged proof—as carefully as possible to weigh each particular, that we may, while ready to applaud acuteness, yet elect, approve, and adopt those things which are right.”


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