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NPNF2-03. Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, & Rufinus: Historical Writings
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17. I say nothing of the Greeks, since you boast of your knowledge of them, even to the extent of saying that, in attaching yourself to foreign literature, you have forgotten your own language. I am afraid that, according to the old proverbs, I might be like the pig teaching Minerva, and the man carrying fagots into the wood. I only wonder that, being as you are the Aristarchus30283028    A native of Samothrace who died at Cyprus b.c. 157. He was tutor to the children of Ptolemy Philometor, and was renowned as a rhetorician and a critic. of our time, you should have shewn ignorance of these matters which every boy knows. It is, no doubt, from your mind being fixed on the meaning of what you write, but partly also from your being so sharp-sighted for the manufacture of calumnies against me, that you despise the precepts of Grammarians and orators, that you make no attempt to set straight words which have got transposed when the sentence has become complicated, or to avoid some harsh collocation of consonants, or to escape from a style full of gaps. It would be ridiculous to point to one or two wounds when the whole body is enfeebled and broken. I will not select portions for criticism; it is for him to select any portion which is free from faults. He must have been ignorant even of the Socratic saying: “Know thyself.”

To steer the ship the untaught landsman fears;

Th’ untrain’d attendant dares not give the sick

The drastic southernwood. The healing drug

The leech alone prescribes. Th’ artificer

Alone the tools can wield. But poetry

Train’d or untrain’d we all at random write.30293029    Horace Ep. ii, 1, 114–7.

Possibly he will swear that he has never learned to read and write; I can easily believe that without an oath. Or perhaps he will take refuge in what the Apostle says of himself: “Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.” But his reason for saying this is plain. He had been trained in Hebrew learning and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, whom, though he had attained apostolic rank, he was not ashamed to call his master; and he thought Greek eloquence of no account, or at all events, in his humility, he would not parade his knowledge of it. So that30303030    1 Cor. ii. 4. “Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Rev. Ver. ‘his preaching should stand not in the persuasive wisdom of words but in the power of the things signified.’ He despised other men’s riches since he was rich in his own. Still it was not to an illiterate man who stumbled in every sentence that Festus cried, as he stood before his judgment seat:

“Paul thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”30313031    Acts xxvi. 24 You who can hardly do more than mutter in Latin, and who rather creep like a tortoise than walk, ought either to write in Greek, so that among those who are ignorant of Greek you may pass for one who knows a foreign tongue; or else, if you attempt to write Latin, you should first have a grammar-master, and flinch from the ferule, and begin again as an old scholar among children to learn the art of speaking. Even if a man is bursting with the wealth of Crœsus and Darius, letters will not follow the money-bag. They are the companions of toil and of labour, the associates of the fasting not of the full-fed, of self-mastery not of self-indulgence.30323032    Jerome often accuses Rufinus of self-indulgence. See esp. Letter cxxv, c. 18. It is told of Demosthenes that he consumed more oil than wine, and that no workman ever shortened his nights as he did. He for the sake of enunciating the single letter Rho was willing to take a dog as his teacher; and yet you make it a crime in me that I took a man to teach me the Hebrew letters. This is the sort of wisdom which makes men remain unlearned: they do not choose to learn what they do not know. They forget the words of Horace:

Why through false shame do I choose ignorance,

Rather than seek to learn?

That Book of Wisdom also which is read to us as the work of Solomon says:30333033    Wisd. of Sol. i. 4, 5 “Into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject to sin. For the Holy Spirit of discipline30343034    Eruditionis. will flee deceit and remove from thoughts which are without understanding.” The case is different with those who only wish to be read by the vulgar, and do not care how they may offend the ears of the learned; and they despise the utterance of the poet which brands the forwardness of noisy ignorance.

’Twas you, I think, whose ignorance in the streets

Murder’d the wretched strain with creaking reed.

If you want such things, there are plenty of curly-pated fellows in every school who will sing you snatches of doggrel from Miletus; or you may go to the exhibition of the Bessi30353035    A tribe of Thrace; probably troupes of them came to exhibit in Rome. and see people shaking with laughter at the Pig’s Testament, or at any jesters’ entertainment where silly things of this kind are run after. There is not a day but you may see the dressed-up clown in the streets whacking the buttocks of some blockhead, or half-pulling out people’s teeth with the scorpion which he twists round for them to bite. We need not wonder if the books of know-nothings find plenty of readers.


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