Page images

under Lewis XIV.; and even before his reign seculars possessed benefices: the Duke de Sulli had an abbey, although he was a Hugonot.

The father of Hugh Capet was rich only by his abbeys, and was called Hugh the Abbot. Abbeys were given to queens to furnish them with pin-money. Ogine, mother of Louis d'Outremer, left her son because he had taken from her the abbey of St. Mary of Laon, and given it to his wife Gerberge.

Thus we have examples of everything. Each one strives to make customs, innovations, laws,—whether old or new, abrogated, revived, or mitigated,-charters, whether real or supposed,—the past, the present, and the future, alike subservient to the grand end of obtaining the good things of this world; yet it is always for the greater glory of God,

ABLE-ABILITY. ABLE.-An adjective term, which, like almost all others, has different acceptations as it is differently employed.

In general it signifies more than capable, more than well-informed, whether applied to an artist, a general, a man of learning, or a judge. A man may have read all that has been written on war,


have seen it, without being able to conduct a war: he may be capable of commanding; but to acquire the name of an able general, he must command more than once with success. A judge may know all the laws, without being able to apply them. A learned man may not be able either to write or to teach. An able man, then, is he who makes a great use of what he knows._A capable man can do a thing ; an able one does it. This word cannot be applied to efforts of pure genius : we do not say, an able poet, an able orator; or if we sometimes say so of an orator, it is when he has ably, dexterously, treated a thorny subject.

Bossuet, for example, having, in his funeral oration over the Great Condé, to treat of his civil wars, says, that there is a penitence as glorious as innocence itself, He manages this point ably; of the rest he speaks with grandeur.

We say, an able historian; meaning, one who has drawn his materials from good sources, compared different relations, and judged soundly of them ;-one, in short, who has taken great pains. If he has, moreover, the gift of narrating with suitable eloquence, he is more than able, he is a great historian, like Titus Livius, De Thou, &c.

The word able is applicable to those arts which exercise at once the mind and the hand, as painting and sculpture. We say of a painter or sculptor, he is an able artist, because these arts require a long novitiate; whereas, a man becomes a poet nearly all at once, like Virgil, Ovid, &c. or may even be an orator with very little study, as several preachers have been.

Why do we nevertheless say, an able preacher ? It is because more attention is then paid to art than to eloquence, which is no great eulogium. We do not say of the sublime Bossuet, he was an able maker of funeral orations. A mere player of an instrument is able; a composer must be more than able; he must have genius. The workman executes cleverly what the man of taste has designed ably.

An able man in public affairs is well-informed, prudent and active; if he wants either of these three qualifications, he is not able.

The term an able courtier implies blame rather than praise, since it too often means an able flatterer ; it may also be used to designate simply a clever man, who is neither very good nor very wicked. The fox who, when questioned by the lion respecting the odour of his palace, replied, that he had taken cold, was an able courtier; the fox who, to revenge himself on the wolf, recommended to the old lion the skin of a wolf newly flayed, to keep His Majesty warm, was something more than able.

We shall not here discuss those points of our subject which belong more particularly to morality, as the danger of wishing to be too able, the risks which an able woman runs when she wishes to govern the affairs of her household without advice, &c. We are afraid of swelling this Dictionary* with useless declamations. They, who preside over this great and important work, must treat at length those articles relating to the arts and sciences which interest the public, while those to whom they entrust little articles of literature must have the merit of being brief.

ABILITY.—This word is to capacity what able is to capable.Ability in a science, in an art, in conduct.

We express an acquired quality by saying, he has ability-an action, by saying, he conducts that affair with ability.

ABLY has the same acceptations;—he works, he plays, he teaches ably. He has ably surmounted that difficulty.



We must say nothing of what is divine in Abraham, since the Scriptures have said all. We must not even touch, except with a respectful hand, that which belongs to the profane—that which appertains to geography, the order of time, manners, and customs; for these, being connected with sacred history, are so many streams which preserve something of the divinity of their source.

Abraham, though born near the Euphrates, makes a great epoch with the Western nations, yet makes none with the Orientals, who, nevertheless, respect him as much as we do. The Mahometans have no certain chronology before their Hegira.

The science of time, totally lost in those countries which were the scene of great events, has

re-appeared in the regions of the West, where those events were unknown. We dispute about everything that was done on the banks of the Euphrates, the Jordan, and the Nile, while they who are masters of the Nile, the Jordan, and the Euphrates, enjoy without disputing.

* The Encyclopedia, for which this article was composed.

Although our great epoch is that of Abraham, we differ sixty years with respect to the time of his birth. The account, according to the registers, is as follows:

*“ And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abraham, Nahor, and Haran.”

+ “ And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years,

and Terah died in Haran." t“ Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.—”

It is sufficiently evident from the text, that Terah, having had Abraham at the age of seventy, died at that of two hundred and five; and Abraham, having quitted Chaldea immediately after the death of his father, was just one hundred and thirty-five years old when he left his country. This is nearly the opinion of St. Stephen, in his discourse to the Jews.ll But the Book of Genesis also says,

< And Abraham was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” $

This is the principal cause (for there are several others) of the dispute on the subject of Abraham's age. How could it be at once a hundred and thirtyfive years and only seventy-five? St. Jerome and St. Augustine say that this difficulty is inexplicable. Father Calmet, who confesses that these two saints could not resolve the problem, thinks he does it, by saying that Abraham was the youngest of Terah's sons, although the Book of Genesis names him the first, and consequently as the eldest.

According to Genesis, Abraham was born in his father's seventieth year; while, according to Calmet, he was born when his father was a hundred and thirty. Such a reconciliation has only been a new cause of controversy

* Genesis, chap. xi, verse 26. of Ibid, verse 32.

Ibid, chap. xii, verse 1. || Acts, chap. vii. $. Genesis, chap. xii, verse 4.

Considering the uncertainty in which we are left by both text and commentary, the best we can do is to adore without disputing.

There is no epoch in those ancient times which has not produced a multitude of different opinions. According to Moreri, there were in his day seventy systems of chronology founded on the history dictated by God himself. There have since appeared five new methods of reconciling the various texts of Scripture. Thus there are as many disputes about Abraham as the number of his years (according to the text) when he left Haran. And of these seventy-five systems there is not one which tells us precisely what this town or village of Haran was, or where it was situated. What thread shall guide us in this labyrinth of conjectures and contradictions from the very first verse to the very last?—Resignation.

The Holy Spirit did not intend to teach us chronology, metaphysics, or logic; but only to inspire us with the fear of God: since we can comprehend nothing, all that we can do is to submit.

It is equally difficult to explain satisfactorily how it was that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was also his sister. Abraham says positively to Abimelech, king of Gerar, who had taken Sarah to himself on account of her great beauty, at the age of ninety, when she was pregnant of Isaac—" And yet indeed she is my sister ; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.”

The Old Testament does not inform us how Sarah was her husband's sister. Calmet, whose judgment and sagacity are known to every one, says that she might be his niece.

With the Chaldeans it was probably no more an incest than with their neighbours the Persians. Manners change with times and with places; it may be supposed that Abraham, the son of Terah an idolater, was still an idolater when he married Sarah, whether Sarah was his sister or his niece.

There are several Fathers of the Church who do not think Abraham quite so excusable, for having said to

« EelmineJätka »