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Chapter XXV.—It Behoves Interpreters, When Disagreeing Concerning Obscure Places, to Regard God the Author of Truth, and the Rule of Charity.

34. Let no one now trouble me by saying, Moses thought not as you say, but as I say.” For should he ask me, “Whence knowest thou that Moses thought this which you deduce from his words?” I ought to take it contentedly,11481148    See p. 48, note, and p. 164, note 2, above. and reply perhaps as I have before, or somewhat more fully should he be obstinate. But when he says, “Moses meant not what you say, but what I say,” and yet denies not what each of us says, and that both are true, O my God, life of the poor, in whose bosom there is no contradiction, pour down into my heart Thy soothings, that I may patiently bear with such as say this to me; not because they are divine, and because they have seen in the heart of Thy servant what they say, but because they are proud, and have not known the opinion of Moses, but love their own,—not because it is true, but because it is their own. Otherwise they would equally love another true opinion, as I love what they say when they speak what is true; not because it is theirs, but because it is true, and therefore now not theirs because true. But if they therefore love that because it is true, it is now both theirs and mine, since it is common to all the lovers of truth. But because they contend that Moses meant not what I say, but I what they themselves say, this I neither like nor love; because, though it were so, yet that rashness is not of knowledge, but of audacity; and not vision, but vanity brought it forth. And therefore, O Lord, are Thy judgments to be dreaded, since Thy truth is neither mine, nor his, nor another’s, but of all of us, whom Thou publicly callest to have it in common, warning 186us terribly not to hold it as specially for ourselves, lest we be deprived of it. For whosoever claims to himself as his own that which Thou appointed to all to enjoy, and desires that to be his own which belongs to all, is forced away from what is common to all to that which is his own—that is, from truth to falsehood. For he that “speaketh a lie, speaketh of his own.”11491149    John viii. 44.

35. Hearken, O God, Thou best Judge! Truth itself, hearken to what I shall say to this gainsayer; hearken, for before Thee I say it, and before my brethren who use Thy law lawfully, to the end of charity;11501150    1 Tim. i. 8. hearken and behold what I shall say to him, if it be pleasing unto Thee. For this brotherly and peaceful word do I return unto him: “If we both see that that which thou sayest is true, and if we both see that what I say is true, where, I ask, do we see it? Certainly not I in thee, nor thou in me, but both in the unchangeable truth itself,11511151    As to all truth being God’s, see vii. sec. 16, and note 3, above; and compare x. sec. 65, above. which is above our minds.” When, therefore, we may not contend about the very light of the Lord our God, why do we contend about the thoughts of. our neighbour, which we cannot so see as incommutable truth is seen; when, if Moses himself had appeared to us and said, “This I meant,” not so should we see it, but believe it? Let us not, then, “be puffed up for one against the other,”11521152    1 Cor. iv. 6. above that which is written; let us love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbour as ourself.11531153    Mark xii. 30, 31. As to which two precepts of charity, unless we believe that Moses meant whatever in these books he did mean, we shall make God a liar when we think otherwise concerning our fellow-servants’ mind than He hath taught us. Behold, now, how foolish it is, in so great an abundance of the truest opinions which can be extracted from these words, rashly to affirm which of them Moses particularly meant; and with pernicious contentions to offend charity itself, on account of which he hath spoken all the things whose words we endeavour to explain!


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