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NPNF1-06. St. Augustine: Sermon on the Mount; Harmony of the Gospels; Homilies on the Gospels
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Chapter V.—Concerning the Two Virtues, of Which John is Conversant with the Contemplative, the Other Evangelists with the Active.

8. Moreover, there are two several virtues (or talents) which have been proposed to the mind of man. Of these, the one is the active, and the other the contemplative: the one being that whereby the way is taken, and the other that whereby the goal is reached;527527     Illa qua itur, ista qua pervenitur. the one that by which men labour in order that the heart may be purified to see God, and the other that by which men are disengaged528528     Qua vacatur. and God is seen. Thus the former of these two virtues is occupied with the precepts for the right exercise of the temporal life, whereas the latter deals with the doctrine of that life which is everlasting. In this way, also, the one operates, the other rests; for the former finds its sphere in the purging of sins, the latter moves in the light529529     Reading lumine; but one of the Vatican mss. gives in illuminatione, in the enlightenment of the purged. of the purged. And thus, again, in this mortal life the one is engaged with the work of a good conversation; while the other subsists rather on faith, and is seen only in the person of the very few, and through the glass darkly, and only in part in a kind of vision of the unchangeable truth.530530     1 Cor. xiii. 12. Now these two virtues are understood to be presented emblematically in the instance of the two wives of Jacob. Of these I have discoursed already up to the measure of my ability, and as fully as seemed to be appropriate to my task, (in what I have written) in opposition to Faustus the Manichæan.531531     Book xxii. 52. For Lia, indeed, by interpretation means “labouring,”532532     Laborans. whereas Rachel signifies “the first principle seen.”533533     Visum principium. In various editions it is given as visus principium. The mss. have visum principium. In the passage referred to in the treatise against Faustus the Manichæan, Augustin appends the explanation, sive verbum ex quo videtur principium, = the first principle seen, or the word by which the first principle is seen. The etymologies on which Augustin proceeds may perhaps be these: for Leah, the Hebrew verb Laah, to be wearied (לָאָה); and for Rachel the Hebrew forms Raah = see, and Chalal = begin (רָאָה ,חָלַל). For another example of extravagant allegorizing on the two wives of Jacob, see Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, chap. cxl.—Tr. And by this it is given us to understand, if one will only attend carefully to the matter, that those three evangelists who, with pre-eminent fulness, have handled the account of the Lord’s temporal doings and those of His sayings which were meant to bear chiefly upon the moulding of the manners of the present life, were conversant with that active virtue; and that John, on the other hand, who narrates fewer by far of the Lord’s doings, but records with greater carefulness and with larger wealth of detail the words which He spoke, and most especially those discourses which were intended to introduce us to the knowledge of the unity of the Trinity and the blessedness of the life eternal, formed his plan and framed his statement with a view to commend the contemplative virtue to our regard.


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