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Chapter IV.

In what sense we should understand the passions and human arts which are ascribed to the unchanging and incorporeal God.

And so as without horrible profanity these things cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy. For we ought to see that the limbs signify the divine powers and boundless operations of God, which can only be represented to us by the familiar expression of limbs: by the mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant, which are of His mercy continually poured into the secret senses of the soul, or which He spoke among our fathers and the prophets: by the eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things, and so nothing is hidden from Him of what is done or can be done by us, or even thought. By the expression “hands,” we understand His providence and work, by which He is the creator and author of all things; the arms are the emblems of His might and government, with which He upholds, rules and controls all things. And not to speak of other things, what else does the hoary hair of His head signify but the eternity and perpetuity of Deity, through which He is without any beginning, and before all times, and excels all creatures? So then also when we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not ἀνθρωποπαθῶς ; i.e., according to an unworthy meaning of human passion,926926    On the heresy of the Anthropomorphites see the notes on Conference X. c. ii. but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion; so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world; and by reason of these 259terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will. For human nature is wont to fear those whom it knows to be indignant, and is afraid of offending: as in the case of some most just judges, avenging wrath is usually feared by those who are tormented by some accusation of their conscience; not indeed that this passion exists in the minds of those who are going to judge with perfect equity, but that, while they so fear, the disposition of the judge towards them is that which is the precursor of a just and impartial execution of the law. And this, with whatever kindness and gentleness it may be conducted, is deemed by those who are justly to be punished to be the most savage wrath and vehement anger. It would be tedious and outside the scope of the present work were we to explain all the things which are spoken metaphorically of God in Holy Scripture, with human figures. Let it be enough for our present purpose, which is aimed against the sin of wrath, to have said this that no one may through ignorance draw down upon himself a cause of this evil and of eternal death, out of those Scriptures in which he should seek for saintliness and immortality as the remedies to bring life and salvation.


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