(c. 184 – c. 253)

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To what person of intelligence, I ask, will it seem logically consistent that there was a “first day” [of creation] and a “second” and “third,” in which also “evening” and “morning” are named, without a sun, without a moon, and without stars, and even in the case of the first day without a heaven (Gen 1:5-13)?  And who will be found simple enough to believe that like some farmer “God planted trees in the garden of Eden, in the east” and that he planted “the tree of life” in it, that is, a visible tree that could be touched, so that someone could eat of this tree with their physical teeth and gain life; and, further, could eat of another tree and receive knowledge “of good and evil” (Gen 2:8-9).  Moreover, we find that God is said to stroll in the grden in the afternoon and Adam to hide under a tree (Gen 3:8).  Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a symbol by which they point towards certain mysteries.... And this form of Scripture also finds abundant and copious expression in the Gospels, when, for example, the devil is said to have placed Jesus on  “a very high mountain” to show him from there “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” (Mt 4:8).... The aim of the Holy Spirit is that we should understand that woven into the visible narrative are truths that, if pondered and understood inwardly, bring forth an understanding useful to people and worthy of God.... But someone might suspect us of the opinion that no narrative in Scripture actually happened, since we believe that some of them did not happen.... It is evident that in a great many cases the truth of the narrative meaning both can and ought to be preserved.   

There is a threefold meaning in Scripture: 1. Simple people are edified by, so to speak, the body of the Scriptures – the ordinary and narrative meaning.  2. But if anyone has begun to make some progress and can contemplate more fully, they are edified by the soul of Scripture.  3. But, as the Apostle says, “Among the mature we speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age…. We speak a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor 2:6-7).  Such people are edified… by the spirit of Scripture.  Thus, just as a human being is said to be made up of body, soul, and spirit, so also is sacred Scripture, which has been granted by God’s gracious will for our salvation.                                                       

If the usefulness of the Law and the sequence and beauty of sacred history were perfectly transparent in themselves, we would not believe that anything was contained in the Scriptures save what was obvious.  So the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offences, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the law and the history.   In this way we are saved from being trapped by the surface attractiveness of the language.

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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.