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Chapter 15.—Of the Appearance on Sinai. Whether the Trinity Spake in that Appearance or Some One Person Specially.

25. But now of the clouds, and voices, and lightnings, and the trumpet, and the smoke on Mount Sinai, when it was said, “And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace; and all the people that was in the camp trembled; and when the voice of the trumpet sounded long and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.”297297    Ex. xix. 18, 19 And a little after, when the Law had been given in the ten commandments, it follows in the text, “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking.” And a little after, “And [when the people saw it,] they removed and stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness298298    Nebulam where God was, and the Lord said unto Moses,”299299    Ex. xx. 18, 21 etc. What shall I say about this, save that no one can be so insane as to believe the smoke, and the fire, and the cloud, and the darkness, and whatever there was of the kind, to be the substance of the word and wisdom of God which is Christ, or of the Holy Spirit? For not even the Arians ever dared to say that they were the substance of God the Father. All these things, then, were wrought through the creature serving the Creator, and were presented in a suitable economy (dispensatio) to human senses; unless, perhaps, because it is said, “And Moses drew near to the cloud where God was,” carnal thoughts must needs suppose that the cloud was indeed seen by the people, but that within the cloud Moses with the eyes of the flesh saw the Son of God, whom doting heretics will have to be seen in His own substance. Forsooth, Moses may have seen Him with the eyes of the flesh, if not only the wisdom of God which is Christ, but even that of any man you please and howsoever wise, can be seen with the eyes of the flesh; or if, because it is written of the elders of Israel, that “they saw the place where the God of Israel had stood,” and that “there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness,”300300    Ex. xxiv. 10 therefore we are to believe that the word and wisdom of God in His own substance stood within the space of an earthly place, who indeed “reacheth firmly from end to end, and sweetly ordereth all things;”301301    Wisd. viii. 1 and that the Word of God, by whom all things were made,302302    John i. 3 is in such wise changeable, as now to contract, now to expand Himself; (may the Lord cleanse the hearts of His faithful ones from such thoughts!) But indeed all these visible and sensible things are, as we have often said, exhibited through the creature made subject in order to signify the invisible and intelligible God, not only the Father, but also the Son and the Holy Spirit, “of whom are all things, and through whom are all things, and in whom are all things;”303303    Rom. xi. 36 although “the invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”304304    Rom. i. 20

26. But as far as concerns our present undertaking, neither on Mount Sinai do I see how it appears, by all those things which were fearfully displayed to the senses of mortal men, whether God the Trinity spake, or the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit severally. But if it is allowable, without rash assertion, to venture upon a modest and hesitating conjecture from this passage, if it is possible to understand it of one person of the Trinity, why do we not rather understand the Holy Spirit to be spoken of, since the Law itself also, which was given there, is said to have been written upon tables of stone with the 50finger of God,305305    Ex. xxi. 18 by which name we know the Holy Spirit to be signified in the Gospel.306306    Luke xi. 20 And fifty days are numbered from the slaying of the lamb and the celebration of the Passover until the day in which these things began to be done in Mount Sinai; just as after the passion of our Lord fifty days are numbered from His resurrection, and then came the Holy Spirit which the Son of God had promised. And in that very coming of His, which we read of in the Acts of the Apostles, there appeared cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them:307307    Acts. ii. 1–4 which agrees with Exodus, where it is written, “And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire;” and a little after, “And the sight of the glory of the Lord,” he says, “was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.”308308    Ex. xxiv. 17 Or if these things were therefore wrought because neither the Father nor the Son could be there presented in that mode without the Holy Spirit, by whom the Law itself must needs be written; then we know doubtless that God appeared there, not by His own substance, which remains invisible and unchangeable, but by the appearance above mentioned of the creature; but that some special person of the Trinity appeared, distinguished by a proper mark, as far as my capacity of understanding reaches, we do not see.


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