Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 9 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 16

2 Chronicles 9 – The Queen of Sheba hears of Solomon’s fame and comes to Jerusalem “test him with hard questions” (9:1), to test the wisdom he was reputed to possess. She brings a great retinue carrying spices, gold and precious stones. He answers all her questions and impresses her so with the plenty of his court that she is overwhelmed. She recognizes the greatness of Israel’s Lord and gives Solomon many gifts: “9,000 pounds of god, great quantities of spices and precious jewels” (9:9).
Hiram also brings red sandalwood and precious stones from which the king makes steps for the Temple and musical instruments (lyres and harps) for the singers. The account tells of all the gold and goods brought by traders and merchants, gold from which Solomon made many lovely things: gold shields, a great ivory throne overlaid with gold and with two great lions for armrests and twelve smaller lions along each side of the six steps leading up to the throne.  Silver counted for almost nothing—gold was so plentiful. “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (9:22). “Kings from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him” (9:23).

He had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, 12,000 horses imported from Egypt and elsewhere stationed in the chariot cities he established. He ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and down to the border of Egypt. All the acts of Solomon are said to be recorded in the history of the prophet Nathan and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of the seer Iddo concerning Jeroboam, son of Nebat.  He reigns in Jerusalem 40 years. Rehoboam succeeds him.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
16 - But it will be said, the truth is with some few; therefore you already know what it is, if you know with whom it is. Said I not a little above, that we were in search of it as unlearned men? But if from the very force of truth you conjecture that few possess it, but know not who they are; what if it is thus, that there are so few who know the truth, as that they hold the multitude by their authority, whence the small number may set itself free, and, as it were, strain itself forth into those secrets? [“strain itself forth” ???]

Do we not see how few attain the highest eloquence, whereas through the whole world the schools of rhetoricians are resounding with troops of young men? What, do they, as many as desire to turn out good orators, alarmed at the multitude of the unlearned, think that they are to bestow their labor on the orations of Cæcilius, or Erucius, rather than those of Tullius? All aim at these, which are confirmed by authority of our forefathers. Crowds of unlearned persons essay to learn the same, which by the few learned are received as to be learned: yet very few attain, yet fewer practise, the very fewest possible become famous. It is always true in every field that the best interpreters of it are those who have totally dedicated everything in them to understanding it. He speaks of the literature that the learned were expected to master in his day.

What, if true religion be some such thing? What if a multitude of unlearned persons attend the Churches, and yet that be no proof, that therefore no one is made perfect by these mysteries? And yet, if they who studied eloquence were as few as the few who are eloquent, our parents would never believe that we ought to be committed to such masters. Whereas, then, we have been called to these studies by a multitude, which is numerous in that portion of it which is made up of the unlearned, so as to become enamored of that which few can attain unto; why are we unwilling to be in the same case in religion, which perhaps we despise with great danger to our soul? For if the truest and purest worship of God, although it be found with a few, be yet found with those, with whom a multitude albeit wrapped up in lusts, and removed far from purity of understanding, agrees; (and who can doubt that this may happen?) I ask, if one were to charge us with rashness and folly, that we seek not diligently with them who teach it, that, which we are greatly anxious to discover, what can we answer? [Shall we say,] I was deterred by numbers?

Why from the pursuit of liberal arts, which hardly bring any profit to this present life; why from search after money? Why from attaining unto honor; why, in fine, from gaining and keeping good health; lastly, why from the very aim at a happy life; whereas all are engaged in these, few excel; were you deterred by no numbers? In a matter as important as religion, it makes the greatest sense to seek after the wisdom of those who are completely dedicated to it and not make decisions about it based on the talk of the “many” who trail along behind those who are popular or are good at manipulating crowds. That’s what I hear him saying. Like if I know that this guy Augustine has been looked to and revered by people all over the religious spectrum for centuries, then one should perhaps listen to what he says and not just throw him out because he’s associated with a version of the faith that you don’t really like.

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