14. But in addition to the foregoing rule, which guards us against
taking a metaphorical form of speech as if it were literal, we must
also pay heed to that which tells us not to take a literal form of
speech as if it were figurative. In the first place, then, we must
show the way to find out whether a phrase is literal or figurative.
And the way is certainly as follows: Whatever there is in the word of
God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity
of life or soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative.
Purity of life has reference to the love of God and one's neighbor;
soundness of doctrine to the knowledge of God and one's neighbor.
Every man, moreover, has hope in his own conscience, so far as he
perceives that he has attained to the love and knowledge of God and his
neighbor. Now all these matters have been spoken of in the first
15. But as men are prone to estimate sins, not by reference to
their inherent sinfulness, but rather by reference to their own
customs, it frequently happens that a man will think nothing blameable
except what the men of his own country and time are accustomed to
condemn, and nothing worthy of praise or approval except what is
sanctioned by the custom of his companions; and thus it comes to pass,
that if Scripture either enjoins what is opposed to the customs of the
hearers, or condemns what is not so opposed, and if at the same time
the authority of the word has a hold upon their minds, they think that
the expression is figurative. Now Scripture enjoins nothing except
charity, and condemns nothing except lust, and in that way fashions
the lives of men. In the same way, if an erroneous opinion has taken
possession of the mind, men think that whatever Scripture asserts
contrary to this must be figurative. Now Scripture asserts nothing
but the catholic faith, in regard to things past, future, and
present. It is a narrative of the past, a prophecy of the future,
and a description of the present. But all these tend to nourish and
strengthen charity, and to overcome and root out lust.
16. I mean by charity that affection of the mind which aims at the
enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one's self
and one's neighbor in subordination to God; by lust I mean that
affection of the mind which aims at enjoying one's self and one's
neighbor, and other corporeal things, without reference to God.
Again, what lust, when unsubdued, does towards corrupting, one's
own soul and body, is called vice; but what it does to injure another
is called crime. And these are the two classes into which all sins may
be divided. But the vices come first; for when these have exhausted
the soul, and reduced it to a kind of poverty, it easily slides into
crimes, in order to remove hindrances to, or to find assistance in,
its vices. In the same way, what charity does with a view to one's
own advantage is prudence; but what it does with a view to a
neighbor's advantage is called benevolence. And here prudence comes
first; because no one can confer an advantage on another which he does
not himself possess. Now in proportion as the dominion of lust is
pulled down, in the same proportion is that of charity built up.