Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.01.05 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 1-7

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to | Download

Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.01.05 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 1-7

TOPIC: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 7.01.05 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 1-7

Other Subjects in this Topic:

Lactantius (Cont.)

The Divine Institutes. (Cont.)

Book II.

Of the Origin of Error.

Chap. I - That Forgetfulness of Reason Makes Men Ignorant of the True God, Whom They Worship in Adversity and Despise in Prosperity.

Although I have shown in the first book that the religious ceremonies of the gods are false, because those in whose honour the general consent of men throughout the world by a foolish persuasion undertook various and dissimilar rites were mortals, and when they had completed their term of life, yielded to a divinely appointed necessity and died, yet, lest any doubt should be left, this second book shall lay open the very fountain of errors, and shall explain all the causes by which men were deceived, so that at first they believed that they were gods, and afterwards with an inveterate persuasion persevered in the religious observances which they had most perversely undertaken. For I desire, O Emperor Constantine, now that I have proved the emptiness of these things, and brought to light the impious vanity of men, to assert the majesty of the one God, undertaking the more useful and greater duty of recalling men from crooked paths, and of bringing them back into favour with themselves, that they may not, as some philosophers do, so greatly despise themselves, nor think that they are weak and useless, and of no account, and altogether born in vain. For this notion drives many to vicious pursuits. For while they imagine that we are a care to no God, or that we are about to have no existence after death, they altogether give themselves to the indulgence of their passions; and while they think that it is allowed them, they eagerly apply themselves to the enjoyment of pleasures, by which they unconsciously run into the snares of death; for they are ignorant as to what is reasonable conduct on the part of man: for if they wished to understand this, in the first place they would acknowledge their Lord, and would follow after virtue and justice; they would not subject their souls to the influence of earth-born fictions, nor would they seek the deadly fascinations of their lusts; in short, they would value themselves highly, and would understand that there is more in man than appears; and that they cannot retain their power and standing unless men lay aside depravity, and undertake the worship of their true Parent. I indeed, as I ought, often reflecting on the sum of affairs, am accustomed to wonder that the majesty of the one God, which keeps together and rules all things, has come to be so forgotten, that the only befitting object of worship is, above all others, the one which is especially neglected; and that men have sunk to such blindness, that they prefer the dead to the true and living God, and those who are of the earth, and buried in the earth, to Him who was the Creator of the earth itself.

And yet this impiety of men might meet with some indulgence if the error entirely arose from ignorance of the divine name. But since we often see that the worshippers of other gods themselves confess and acknowledge the Supreme God, what pardon can they hope for their impiety, who do not acknowledge the worship of Him whom man cannot altogether be ignorant of? For both in swearing, and in expressing a wish, and in giving thanks, they do not name Jupiter, or a number of gods, but God;1 so entirely does the truth of its own accord break forth by the force of nature even from unwilling breasts. And this, indeed, is not the case with men in their prosperity. For then most of all does God escape the memory of men, when in the enjoyment of His benefits they ought to honour His divine beneficence. But if any weighty necessity shall press them, then they remember God. If the terror of war shall have resounded, if the pestilential force of diseases shall have overhung them, if long-continued drought shall have denied nourishment to the 41 crops, if a violent tempest or hail shall have assailed them, they betake themselves to God, aid is implored from God, God is entreated to succour them. If any one is tossed about on the sea, the wind being furious, it is this God whom he invokes. If any one is harassed by any violence, he implores His aid. If any one, reduced to the last extremity of poverty, begs for food, he appeals to God alone, and by His divine and matchless name2 alone he seeks to gain the compassion of men. Thus they never remember God, unless it be while they are in trouble. When fear has left them, and the dangers have withdrawn, then in truth they quickly hasten to the temples of the gods: they pour libations to them, they sacrifice to them, they crown3 them with garlands. But to God, whom they called upon in their necessity itself, they do not give thanks even in word. Thus from prosperity arises luxury; and from luxury, together with all other vices, there arises impiety towards God.

From what cause can we suppose this to arise? Unless we imagine that there is some perverse power which is always hostile to the truth, which rejoices in the errors of men, whose one and only task it is perpetually to scatter darkness, and to blind the minds of men, lest they should see the light, - lest, in short, they should look to heaven, and observe the nature4 of their own body, the origin5 of which we shall relate at the proper place; but now let us refute fallacies. For since other animals look down to the ground, with bodies bending forward, because they have not received reason and wisdom, whereas an upright position and an elevated countenance have been given to us by the Creator God, it is evident that these ceremonies paid to the gods are not in accordance with the reason of man, because they bend down the heaven-sprung being to the worship of earthly objects. For that one and only Parent of ours, when He created man, - that is, an animal intelligent and capable of exercising reason, - raised him from the ground, and elevated him to the contemplation of his Creator. As an ingenious poet6 has well represented it: -

“And when other animals bend forward and look to the earth, He gave to man an elevated countenance, and commanded him to look up to the heaven, and to raise his countenance erect to stars.”

From this circumstance the Greeks plainly derived the name ἄνθρωπος,7 because he looks upward. They therefore deny themselves, and renounce the name of man, who do not look up, but downward: unless they think that the fact of our being upright is assigned to man without any cause. God willed that we should look up to heaven, and undoubtedly not without reason. For both the birds and almost all of the dumb creation see the heaven, but it is given to us in a peculiar manner to behold the heaven as we stand erect, that we may seek religion there; that since we cannot see God with our eyes, we may with our mind contemplate Him, whose throne is there: and this cannot assuredly be done by him who worships brass and stone, which are earthly things. But it is most incorrect that the nature of the body, which is temporary, should be upright, but that the soul itself, which is eternal, should be abject; whereas the figure and position have no other signification, except that the mind of man ought to look in the same direction as his countenance, and that his soul ought to be as upright as his body, so that it may imitate that which it ought to rule. But men, forgetful both of their name and nature, cast down their eyes from the heaven, and fix them upon the ground, and fear the works of their own hands, as though anything could be greater than its own artificer.

Chap. II. - What Was the First Cause of Making Images; Of the True Likeness of God, and the True Worship of Him.

What madness is it, then, either to form those objects which they themselves may afterwards fear, or to fear the things which they have formed? But, they say, we do not fear the images themselves, but those beings after whose likeness they were formed, and to whose names they are dedicated. You fear them doubtless on this account, because you think that they are in heaven; for if they are gods, the case cannot be otherwise. Why, then, do you not raise your eyes to heaven, and, invoking their names, offer sacrifices in the open air? Why do you look to walls, and wood, and stone, rather than to the place where you believe them to be? What is the meaning of temples8 and altars? what, in short, of the images themselves, which are memorials either of the dead or absent? For the plan of making likenesses was invented by men for this reason, that it might be possible to retain the memory of those who had either been removed by death or separated by absence. 42 In which of these classes, then, shall we reckon the gods? If among the dead, who is so foolish as to worship them? If among the absent, then they are not to be worshipped, if they neither see our actions nor hear our prayers. But if the gods cannot be absent, - for, since they are divine, they see and hear all things, in whatever part of the universe they are, - it follows that images are superfluous, since the gods are present everywhere, and it is sufficient to invoke with prayer the names of those who hear us. But if they are present, they cannot fail to be at hand at their own images. It is entirely so, as the people imagine, that the spirits of the dead wander9 about the tombs and relics of their bodies. But after that the deity has begun to be near, there is no longer need of his statue.

For I ask, if any one should often contemplate the likeness of a man who has settled in a foreign land, that he may thus solace himself for him who is absent, would he also appear to be of sound mind, if, when the other had returned and was present, he should persevere in contemplating the likeness, and should prefer the enjoyment of it, rather than the sight of the man himself? Assuredly not. For the likeness of a man appears to be necessary at that time when he is far away; and it will become superfluous when he is at hand. But in the case of God, whose spirit and influence are diffused everywhere, and can never be absent, it is plain that an image is always superfluous. But they fear lest their religion should be altogether vain and empty if they should see nothing present which they may adore, and therefore they set up images; and since these are representations of the dead, they resemble the dead, for they are entirely destitute of perception. But the image of the ever-living God ought to be living and endued with perception. But if it received this name10 from resemblance, how can it be supposed that these images resemble God, which have neither perception nor motion? Therefore the image of God is not that which is fashioned by the fingers of men out of stone, or bronze, or other material, but man himself, since he has both perception and motion, and performs many and great actions. Nor do the foolish men understand, that if images could exercise perception and motion, they would of their own accord adore men, by whom they have been adorned and embellished, since they would be either rough and unpolished stone, or rude and unshapen wood,11 had they not been fashioned by man.

Man, therefore, is to be regarded as the parent of these images; for they were produced by his instrumentality, and through him they first had shape, figure, and beauty. Therefore he who made them is superior to the objects which were made. And yet no one looks up to the Maker Himself, or reverences Him: he fears the things which he has made, as though there could be more power in the work than in the workman. Seneca, therefore, rightly says in his moral treatises: They worship the images of the gods, they supplicate them with bended knee, they adore them, they sit or stand beside them through the whole day, they offer to them contributions,12 they slay victims; and while they value these images so highly, they despise the artificers who made them. What is so inconsistent, as to despise the statuary and to adore the statue; and not even to admit to your society him who makes your gods? What force, what power can they have, when he who made them has none? But he was unable to give to these even those powers which he had, the power of sight, of hearing, of speech, and of motion. Is any one so foolish as to suppose that there is anything in the image of a god, in which there is nothing even of a man except the mere resemblance? But no one considers these things; for men are imbued with this persuasion, and their minds have thoroughly imbibed the deception13 of folly. And thus beings endowed with sense adore objects which are senseless, rational beings adore irrational objects, those who are alive adore inanimate objects, those sprung from heaven adore earthly objects. It delights me, therefore, as though standing on a lofty watch-tower, from which all may hear, to proclaim aloud that saying of Persius:14 -

“O souls bent down to the earth, and destitute of heavenly things?”

Rather look to the heaven, to the sight of which God your Creator raised you. He gave to you an elevated countenance; you bend it down to the earth; you depress to things below those lofty minds, which are raised together with their bodies to their parent, as though it repented you that you were not born quadrupeds. It is not befitting that the heavenly being should make himself equal to things which are earthly, and incline to the earth. Why do you deprive yourselves of heavenly benefits, and of your own accord fall prostrate upon the ground? For you do wretchedly roll yourselves15 on the ground, 43 when you seek here below that which you ought to have sought above. For as to those vain16 and fragile productions, the work of man’s hands, from whatever kind of material they are formed, what are they but earth, out of which they were produced? Why, then, do you subject yourselves to lower objects? why do you place the earth above your heads? For when you lower yourselves to the earth, and humiliate yourselves, you sink of your own accord to hell, and condemn yourselves to death; for nothing is lower and more humble than the earth, except death and hell. And if you wished to escape these, you would despise the earth lying beneath your feet, preserving the position of your body, which you received upright, in order that you might be able to direct your eyes and your mind to Him who made it. But to despise and trample upon the earth is nothing else than to refrain from adoring images, because they are made of earth; also not to desire riches, and to despise the pleasures of the body, because wealth, and the body itself, which we make use of as a lodging, is but earth. Worship a living being, that you may live; for he must necessarily die who has subjected17 himself and his soul to the dead.

Chap. III. - That Cicero and Other Men of Learning Erred in Not Turning Away the People from Error.

But what does it avail thus to address the vulgar and ignorant, when we see that learned and prudent men, though they understand the vanity of these ceremonies, nevertheless through some perverseness persist in the worship of those very objects which they condemn? Cicero was well aware that the deities which men worshipped were false. For when he had spoken many things which tended to the overthrow of religious ceremonies, he said nevertheless that these matters ought not to be discussed by the vulgar, lest such discussion should extinguish the system of religion which was publicly received. What can you do respecting him, who, when he perceives himself to be in error, of his own accord dashes himself against the stones, that all the people may stumble? or tears out his own eyes, that all may be blind? who neither deserves well of others, whom he suffers to be in error, nor of himself, since he inclines to the errors of others, and makes no use of the benefit of his own wisdom, so as to carry out18 in action the conception of his own mind, but knowingly and consciously thrusts his foot into the snare, that he also may be taken with the rest, whom he ought, as the more prudent, to have extricated? Nay rather, if you have any virtue, Cicero, endeavour to make the people wise: that is a befitting subject, on which you may expend all the powers of your eloquence. For there is no fear lest speech should fail you in so good a cause, when you have often defended even bad ones with copiousness and spirit. But truly you fear the prison of Socrates,19 and on that account you do not venture to undertake the advocacy of truth. But, as a wise man, you ought to have despised death. And, indeed, it would have been much more glorious to die on account of good words than on account of revilings. Nor would the renown of your Philippics have been more advantageous to you than the dispersion of the errors of mankind, and the recalling of the minds of men to a healthy state by your disputation.

But let us make allowance for timidity, which ought not to exist in a wise man. Why, then, are you yourself engaged in the same error? I see that you worship things of earth made by the hand: you understand that they are vain, and yet you do the same things which they do, whom you confess to be most foolish. What, therefore, did it profit you, that you saw the truth, which you were neither about to defend nor to follow? If even they who perceive themselves to be in error err willingly, how much more so do the unlearned vulgar, who delight in empty processions, and gaze at all things with boyish minds! They are delighted with trifling things, and are captivated with the form of images; and they are unable to weigh every object in their own minds, so as to understand that nothing which is beheld by the eyes of mortals ought to be worshipped, because it must necessarily be mortal. Nor is it matter of surprise if they do not see God, when they themselves do not even see man, whom they believe that they see. For this, which falls under the notice of the eyes,20 is not man, but the receptacle of man, the quality and figure of which are not seen from the lineaments of the vessel which contains them, but from the actions and character. They, therefore, who worship images are mere bodies without men, because they have given themselves to corporeal things, and do not see anything with the mind more than with the body; whereas it is the office of the soul to perceive those things more clearly which the eye of the body cannot behold. And that philosopher and poet severely accuses those men as humble and abject, who, in opposition to the design of their nature, prostrate themselves 44 to the worship of earthly things; for he says:21 -

“And they abase their souls with fear of the gods, and weigh and press them down to earth.”

When he said these things, indeed, his meaning was different - that nothing was to be worshipped, because the gods do not regard the affairs of men.

In another place, at length, he acknowledges that the ceremonies and worship of the gods is an unavailing office:22 -

“Nor is it any piety to be often seen with veiled head to turn to a stone, and approach every altar, and fall prostrate on the ground, and spread the hands before the shrines of the gods, and sprinkle thealtars with much blood of beasts, and to offer vow after vow.”

And assuredly if these things are useless, it is not right that sublime and lofty souls should be called away and depressed to the earth, but that they should think only of heavenly things.

False religious systems, therefore, have been attacked by more sagacious men, because they perceived their falsehood; but the true religion was not introduced, because they knew not what and where it was. They therefore so regarded it as though it had no existence, because they were unable to find it in its truth. And in this manner they fell into a much greater error than they who held a religion which was false. For those worshippers of fragile images, however foolish they may be, inasmuch as they place heavenly things in things which are earthly and corruptible, yet retain something of wisdom, and may be pardoned, because they hold the chief duty of man, if not in reality, yet still in their purpose; since, if not the only, yet certainly the greatest difference between men and the beasts consists in religion. But this latter class, in proportion to their superior wisdom, in that they understood the error of false religion, rendered themselves so much the more foolish, because they did not imagine that some religion was true. And thus, because it is easier to judge of the affairs of others than of their own, while they see the downfall of others, they have not observed what was before their own feet. On either side is found the greatest folly, and a certain trace23 of wisdom; so that you may doubt which are rather to be called more foolish - those who embrace a false religion, or those who embrace none. But (as I have said) pardon may be granted to those who are ignorant and do not own themselves to be wise; but it cannot be extended to those who, while they profess24 wisdom, rather exhibit folly. I am not, indeed, so unjust as to imagine that they could divine, so that they might find out the truth by themselves; for I acknowledge that this is impossible. But I require from them that which they were able to perform by reason25 itself. For they would act more prudently, if they both understood that some form of religion is true, and if, while they attacked false religions, they openly proclaimed that men were not in possession of that which is true.

But this consideration may perhaps have influenced them, that if there were any true religion, it would exert itself and assert its authority, and not permit the existence of anything opposed to it. For they were unable to see at all, on what account, or by whom, and in what manner true religion was depressed, which partakes of a divine mystery26 and a heavenly secret. And no man can know27 this by any means, unless he is taught. The sum of the matter is this: The unlearned and the foolish esteem false religions as true, because they neither know the true nor understand the false.28 But the more sagacious, because they are ignorant of the true, either persist in those religions which they know to be false, that they may appear to possess something; or worship nothing at all, that they may not fall into error, whereas this very thing partakes largely of error, under the figure of a man to imitate the life of cattle. To understand that which is false is truly the part of wisdom, but of human wisdom. Beyond this step man cannot proceed, and thus many of the philosophers have taken away religious institutions, as I have pointed out; but to know the truth is the part of divine wisdom. But man by himself cannot attain to this knowledge, unless he is taught by God. Thus philosophers have reached the height of human wisdom, so as to understand that which is not; but they have failed in attaining the power of saying that which really is. It is a well-known saying of Cicero:29 “I wish that I could as easily find out the truth as I can refute false things.” And because this is beyond the power of man’s condition, the capability of this office is assigned to us, to whom God has delivered the knowledge of the truth; to the explaining of which the four last books shall be devoted. Now, in the meantime, let us bring to light false things, as we have begun to do.

Chap. IV. - Of Images, and the Ornaments of Temples, and the Contempt in Which They Are Held Even by the Heathens Themselves.

What majesty, then, can images have, which were altogether in the power of puny man, either 45 that they should be formed into something else, or that they should not be made at all? On which account Priapus thus speaks in Horace:30

“Formerly I was the trunk of a fig-tree,31 a useless log, when the carpenter, at a loss whether he should make a bench or a Priapus,decided that it should be a god. Accordingly I am a god, a very great terror to thieves and birds.”

Who would not be at ease with such a guardian as this? For thieves are so foolish as to fear the figure of Priapus; though the very birds, which they imagine to be driven away by fear of his scythe, settle upon the images which are skilfully made, that is, which altogether resemble men, build their nests there, and defile them. But Flaccus, as a writer of satire, ridiculed the folly of men. But they who make the images fancy that they are performing a serious business. In short, that very great poet, a man of sagacity in other things, in this alone displayed folly, not like a poet, but after the manner of an old woman, when even in those most highly-finished32 books he orders this to be done: -

“And let the guardianship of Priapus of the Hellespont,33 who drives away thieves and birds with his willow scythe, preserve them.”

Therefore they adore mortal things, as made by mortals. For they may be broken, or burnt, or be destroyed. For they are often apt to be broken to pieces, when houses fall through age, and when, consumed by conflagration, they waste away to ashes; and in many instances, unless aided by their own magnitude, or protected by diligent watchfulness, they become the prey of thieves. What madness is it, then, to fear those objects for which either the downfall of a building, or fires, or thefts, may be feared! What folly, to hope for protection from those things which are unable to protect themselves! What perversity, to have recourse to the guardianship of those which, when injured, are themselves unavenged, unless vengeance is exacted by their worshippers! Where, then, is truth? Where no violence can be applied to religion; where there appears to be nothing which can be injured; where no sacrilege can be committed.

But whatever is subjected to the eyes and to the hands, that, in truth, because it is perishable, is inconsistent with the whole subject of immortality. It is in vain, therefore, that men set off and adorn their gods with gold, ivory, and jewels, as though they were capable of deriving any pleasure from these things. What is the use of precious gifts to insensible objects? Is it the same which the dead have? For as they embalm the bodies of the dead, wrap them in spices and precious garments, and bury them in the earth, so they honour the gods, who when they were made did not perceive it, and when they are worshipped have no knowledge of it; for they did not receive sensibility on their consecration. Persius was displeased that golden vessels should be carried into the temples, since he thought it superfluous that that should be reckoned among religious offerings which was not an instrument of sanctity, but of avarice. For these are the things which it is better to offer as a gift to the god whom you would rightly worship: -

“Written law34 and the divine law of the conscience, and the sacred recesses of the mind, and the breast imbued with nobleness.”35

A noble and wise sentiment. But he ridiculously added this: that there is this gold in the temples, as there are dolls36 presented to Venus by the virgin; which perhaps he may have despised on account of their smallness. For he did not see that the very images and statues of the gods, wrought in gold and ivory by the hand of Polycletus, Euphranor, and Phidias, were nothing more than large dolls, not dedicated by virgins, to whose sports some indulgence may be granted, but by bearded men. Therefore Seneca deservedly laughs at the folly even of old men. We are not (he says) boys twice,37 as is commonly said, but are always so. But there is this difference, that when men we have greater subjects of sport. Therefore men offer to these dolls, which are of large size, and adorned as though for the stage, both perfumes, and incense, and odours: they sacrifice to these costly and fattened victims, which have a mouth,38 but one that is not suitable for eating; to these they bring robes and costly garments, though they have no need of clothing; to these they dedicate gold and silver, of which they who receive them are as destitute39 as they who have given them.

And not without reason did Dionysius, the despot of Sicily, when after a victory he had become master of Greece,40 despise, and plunder and jeer at such gods, for he followed up his sacrilegious acts by jesting words. For when he 46 had taken off a golden robe from the statue of the Olympian Jupiter, he ordered that a woollen garment should be placed upon him, saying that a golden robe was heavy in summer and cold in winter, but that a woollen one was adapted to each season. He also took off the golden beard from Æsculapius, saying that it was unbecoming and unjust, that while his father Apollo was yet smooth and beardless, the son should be seen to wear a beard before his father. He also took away the bowls, and spoils, and some little images41 which were held in the extended hands of the statues, and said that he did not take them away, but received them: for that it would be very foolish and ungrateful to refuse to receive good things, when offered voluntarily by those from whom men were accustomed to implore them. He did these things with impunity, because he was a king and victorious. Moreover, his usual good fortune also followed him; for he lived even to old age, and handed down the kingdom in succession to his son. In his case, therefore, because men could not punish his sacrilegious deeds, it was befitting that the gods should be their own avengers. But if any humble person shall have committed any such crime, there are at hand for his punishment the scourge, fire, the rack,42 the cross, and whatever torture men can invent in their anger and rage. But when they punish those who have been detected in the act of sacrilege, they themselves distrust the power of their gods. For why should they not leave to them especially the opportunity of avenging themselves, if they think that they are able to do so? Moreover, they also imagine that it happened through the will of the deities that the sacrilegious robbers were discovered and arrested; and their cruelty is instigated not so much by anger as by fear, lest they themselves should be visited with punishment if they failed to avenge the injury done to the gods. And, in truth, they display incredible shallowness in imagining that the gods will injure them on account of the guilt of others, who by themselves were unable to injure those very persons by whom they were profaned and plundered. But, in fact, they have often themselves also inflicted punishment on the sacrilegious: that may have occurred even by chance, which has sometimes happened, but not always. But I will show presently how that occurred. Now in the meantime I will ask, Why did they not punish so many and such great acts of sacrilege in Dionysius, who insulted the gods openly, and not in secret? Why did they not repel this sacrilegious man, possessed of such power, from their temples, their ceremonies, and their images? Why, even when he had carried off their sacred things, had he a prosperous voyage - as he himself, according to his custom, testified in joke? Do you see, he said to his companions who feared shipwreck, how prosperous a voyage the immortal gods themselves give to the sacrilegious? But perhaps he had learnt from Plato that the gods have no43 power.

What of Caius Verres? whom his accuser Tully compares to this same Dionysius, and to Phalaris, and to all tyrants. Did he not pillage the whole of Sicily, carrying away the images of the gods, and the ornaments of the temples? It is idle to follow up each particular instance: I would fain make mention of one, in which the accuser, with all the force of eloquence - in short, with every effort of voice and of body - lamented about Ceres of Catina, or of Henna: the one of whom was of such great sanctity, that it was unlawful for men to enter the secret recesses of her temple; the other was of such great antiquity, that all accounts relate that the goddess herself first discovered grain in the soil of Henna, and that her virgin daughter was carried away from the same place. Lastly, in the times of the Gracchi, when the state was disturbed both by seditions and by portents, on its being discovered in the Sibylline predictions that the most ancient Ceres ought to be appeased, ambassadors were sent to Henna. This Ceres, then, either the most holy one, whom it was unlawful for men to behold even for the sake of adoration, or the most ancient one, whom the senate and people of Rome had appeased with sacrifices and gifts, was carried away with impunity by Caius Verres from her secret and ancient recesses, his robber slaves having been sent in. The same orator, in truth, when he affirmed that he had been entreated by the Sicilians to undertake the cause of the province, made use of these words: “That they had now not even any gods in their cities to whom they might betake themselves, since Verres had taken away the most sacred images from their most venerable shrines.” As though, in truth, if Verres had taken them away from the cities and shrines, he had also taken them from heaven. From which it appears that those gods have nothing in them more than the material of which they are made. And not without reason did the Sicilians have recourse to you, O Marcus Tullius, that is, to a man; since they had for three years experienced that those gods had no power. For they would have been most foolish if they had fled for protection against the injuries of men, to those who were unable to be angry with Caius Verres on their own behalf. But, it will be urged, Verres was condemned on account of these deeds. Therefore he was not punished by the gods, but by the energy of Cicero, by which he either 47 crushed his defenders or withstood his influence.44 Why should I say that, in the case of Verres himself, that was not so much a condemnation as a respite from labour? So that, as the immortal gods had given a prosperous voyage to Dionysius when he was carrying off the spoils of gods, so also they appear to have bestowed on Verres quiet repose, in which he might with tranquility enjoy the fruits of his sacrilege. For when civil wars afterwards raged, being removed from all danger and apprehension, under the cloak of condemnation he heard of the disastrous misfortunes and miserable deaths of others; and he who appeared to have fallen while all retained their position, he alone, in truth, retained his position while all fell; until the proscription of the triumvirs, - that very proscription, indeed, which carried off Tully, the avenger of the violated majesty of the gods, - carried him off, satiated at once with the enjoyment of the wealth which he had gained by sacrilege, and with life, and worn out by old age. Moreover, he was fortunate in this very circumstance, that before his own death he heard of the most cruel end of his accuser; the gods doubtless providing that this sacrilegious man and spoiler of their worship should not die before he had received consolation from revenge.

Chap. V. - That God Only, the Creator of All Things, Is to Be Worshipped, and Not the Elements or Heavenly Bodies; And the Opinion of The Stoics Is Refuted, Who Think that the Stars and Planets Are Gods.

How much better, therefore, is it, leaving vain and insensible objects, to turn our eyes in that direction where is the seat and dwelling-place of the true God; who suspended the earth45 on a firm foundation, who bespangled the heaven with shining stars; who lighted up the sun, the most bright and matchless light for the affairs of men, in proof of His own single majesty; who girded the earth with seas, and ordered the rivers to flow with perpetual course!

“He also commanded the plains to extend themselves, the valleys to sink down, the woods to be covered with foliage, the stony mountains to rise.”46

All these things truly were not the work of Jupiter, who was born seventeen hundred years ago; but of the same, “that framer of all things, the origin of a better world,”46 who is called God, whose beginning cannot be comprehended, and ought not to be made the subject of inquiry. It is sufficient for man, to his full and perfect wisdom, if he understands the existence of God: the force and sum of which understanding is this, that he look up to and honour the common Parent of the human race, and the Maker of wonderful things. Whence some persons of dull and obtuse mind adore as gods the elements, which are both created objects and are void of sensibility; who, when they admired the works of God, that is, the heaven with its various lights, the earth with its plains and mountains, the seas with their rivers and lakes and fountains, struck with admiration of these things, and forgetting the Maker Himself, whom they were unable to see, began to adore and worship His works. Nor were they able at all to understand how much greater and more wonderful He is, who made these things out of nothing. And when they see that these things, in obedience to divine laws, by a perpetual necessity are subservient to the uses and interests of men, they nevertheless regard them as gods, being ungrateful towards the divine bounty, so that they preferred their own works to their most indulgent God and Father. But what wonder is it if uncivilized or ignorant men err, since even philosophers of the Stoic sect are of the same opinion, so as to judge that all the heavenly bodies which have motion are to be reckoned in the number of gods; inasmuch as the Stoic Lucilius thus speaks in Cicero:47 “This regularity, therefore, in the stars, this great agreement of the times in such various courses during all eternity, are unintelligible to me with out the exercise of mind, reason, and design; and when we see these things in the constellations, we cannot but place these very objects in the number of the gods.” And he thus speaks a little before: “It remains,” he says, “that the motion of the stars is voluntary; and he who sees these things, would act not only unlearnedly, but also impiously, if he should deny it.” We in truth firmly deny it; and we prove that you, O philosophers, are not only unlearned and impious, but also blind, foolish, and senseless, who have surpassed in shallowness the ignorance of the uneducated. For they regard as gods only the sun and moon, but you the stars also.

Make known to us, therefore, the mysteries of the stars, that we may erect altars and temples to each; that we may know with what rites and on what day to worship each, with what names and with what prayers we should call on them; unless perhaps we ought to worship gods so innumerable without any discrimination, and gods so minute in a mass. Why should I mention that the argument by which they infer that all the heavenly bodies are gods, tends to the opposite conclusion? For if they imagine that they are gods on this account, because they have their courses fixed and in accordance with reason, 48 they are in error. For it is evident from this that they are not gods, because it is not permitted them to deviate48 from their prescribed orbits. But if they were gods, they would be borne hither and thither in all directions without any necessity, as living creatures on the earth, who wander hither and thither as they please, because their wills are unrestrained, and each is borne wherever inclination may have led it. Therefore the motion of the stars is not voluntary, but of necessity, because they obey49 the laws appointed for them. But when he was arguing about the courses of the stars, while he understood from the very harmony of things and times that they were not by chance, he judged that they were voluntary; as though they could not be moved with such order and arrangement, unless they contained within them an understanding acquainted with its own duty. Oh, how difficult is truth to those who are ignorant of it! how easy to those who know it! If, he says, the motions of the stars are not by chance, nothing else remains but that they are voluntary; nay, in truth, as it is plain that they are not by chance, so is it clear that they are not voluntary. Why, then, in completing their courses, do they preserve their regularity? Undoubtedly God, the framer of the universe, so arranged and contrived them, that they might run through their courses50 in the heaven with a divine and wonderful order, to accomplish the variations of the successive seasons. Was Archimedes51 of Sicily able to contrive a likeness and representation of the universe in hollow brass, in which he so arranged the sun and moon, that they effected, as it were every day, motions unequal and resembling the revolutions of the heavens, and that sphere, while it revolved,52 exhibited not only the approaches and withdrawings of the sun, or the increase and waning of the moon, but also the unequal courses of the stars, whether fixed or wandering? Was it then impossible for God to plan and create the originals,53 when the skill of man was able to represent them by imitation? Would the Stoic, therefore, if he should have seen the figures of the stars painted and fashioned in that brass, say that they moved by their own design, and not by the genius of the artificer? There is therefore in the stars design, adapted to the accomplishment of their courses; but it is the design of God, who both made and governs all things, not of the stars themselves, which are thus moved. For if it had been His will that the sun should remain54 fixed, it is plain that there would be perpetual day. Also if the stars had no motions, who doubts that there would have been eternal night? But that there might be vicissitudes of day and night, it was His will that the stars should move, and move with such variety that there might not only be mutual interchanges of light and darkness, by which alternate courses55 of labour and rest might be established, but also interchanges of cold and heat, that the power and influence of the different seasons might be adapted either to the production or the ripening of the crops. And because philosophers did not see this skill of the divine power in contriving the movements of the stars, they supposed them to be living, as though they moved with feet and of their own accord, and not by the divine intelligence. But who does not understand why God contrived them? Doubtless lest, as the light of the sun was withdrawn, a night of excessive darkness should become too oppressive with its foul and dreadful gloom, and should be injurious to the living. And so He both bespangled the heaven with wondrous variety, and tempered the darkness itself with many and minute lights. How much more wisely therefore does Naso judge, than they who think that they are devoting themselves to the pursuit of wisdom, in thinking that those lights were appointed by God to remove the gloom of darkness! He concludes the book, in which he briefly comprises the phenomena of nature, with these three verses: -

“These images, so many in number, and of such a figure, God placed in the heaven; and having scattered them through the gloomy darkness, He ordered them to give a bright light to the frosty night.”

But if it is impossible that the stars should be gods, it follows that the sun and moon cannot be gods, since they differ from the light of the stars in magnitude only, and not in their design. And if these are not gods,the same is true of the heaven, which contains them all.

Chap. VI. - That Neither the Whole Universe Nor the Elements Are God, Nor Are They Possessed of Life.

In like manner, if the land on which we tread, and which we subdue and cultivate for food, is not a god, then the plains and mountains will not be gods; and if these are not so, it follows that the whole of the earth cannot appear to be God. In like manner, if the water, which is 49 adapted to the wants56 of living creatures for the purpose of drinking and bathing, is not a god, neither are the fountains gods from which the water flows. And if the fountains are not gods, neither are the rivers, which are collected from the fountains. And if the rivers also are not gods, it follows that the sea, which is made up of rivers, cannot be considered as God. But if neither the heaven, nor the earth, nor the sea, which are the parts of the world, can be gods, it follows that the world altogether is not God; whereas the same Stoics contend that it is both living and wise, and therefore God. But in this they are so inconsistent, that nothing is said by them which they do not also overthrow. For they argue thus: It is impossible that that which produces from itself sensible objects should itself be insensible. But the world produces man, who is endowed with sensibility; therefore it must also itself be sensible. Also they argue: that cannot be without sensibility, a part of which is sensible; therefore, because man is sensible, the world, of which man is a part, also possesses sensibility. The propositions57 themselves are true, that that which produces a being endowed with sense is itself sensible; and that that possesses sense, a part of which is endowed with sense. But the assumptions by which they draw their conclusions are false; for the world does not produce man, nor is man a part of the world. For the same God who created the world, also created man from the beginning: and man is not a part of the world, in the same manner in which a limb is a part of the body; for it is possible for the world to be without man, as it is for a city or house. Now, as a house is the dwelling-place of one man, and a city of one people, so also the world is the abode58 of the whole human race; and that which is inhabited is one thing, that which inhabits another. But these persons, in their eagerness to prove that which they had falsely assumed, that the world is possessed of sensibility, and is God, did not perceive the consequences of their own arguments. For if man is a part of the world, and if the world is endowed with sensibility because man is sensible, therefore it follows that, because man is mortal, the world must also of necessity be mortal, and not only mortal, but also liable to all kinds of disease and suffering. And, on the contrary, if the world is God, its parts also are plainly immortal: therefore man also is God, because he is, as you say, a part of the world. And if man, then also both beasts of burden and cattle, and the other kinds of beasts and of birds, and fishes, since these also in the same manner are possessed of sensibility, and are parts of the world. But this is endurable; for the Egyptians worship even these. But the matter comes to this: that even frogs, and gnats, and ants appear to be gods, because these also have sensibility, and are parts of the world. Thus arguments drawn from a false source always lead to foolish and absurd conclusions. Why should I mention that the same philosophers assert that the world was constructed59 for the sake of gods and men as a common dwelling? Therefore the world is neither god, nor living, if it has been made: for a living creature is not made, but born; and if it has been built, it has been built as a house or ship is built. Therefore there is a builder of the world, even God; and the world which has been made is distinct from Him who made it. Now, how inconsistent and absurd is it, that when they affirm that the heavenly fires60 and the other elements of the world are gods, they also say that the world itself is God! How is it possible that out of a great heap of gods one God can be made up? If the stars are gods, it follows that the world is not God, but the dwelling-place of gods. But if the world is God, it follows that all the things which are in it are not gods, but members61 of God, which clearly cannot by themselves62 take the name of God. For no one can rightly say that the members of one man are many men; but, however, there is no similar comparison between a living being and the world. For because a living being is endowed with sensibility, its members also have sensibility; nor do they become senseless63 unless they are separated from the body. But what resemblance does the world present to this? Truly they themselves tell us, since they do not deny that it was made, that it might be, as it were, a common abode for gods and men. If, therefore, it has been constructed as an abode, it is neither itself God, nor are the elements which are its parts; because a house cannot bear rule over itself, nor can the parts of which a house consists. Therefore they are refuted not only by the truth, but even by their own words. For as a house, made for the purpose of being inhabited, has no sensibility by itself, and is subject to the master who built or inhabits it; so the world, having no sensibility of itself, is subject to God its Maker, who made it for His own use.


Chap. VII. - Of God, and the Religious Rites of the Foolish; Of Avarice, and the Authority of Ancestors.

The foolish, therefore, err in a twofold manner: first, in preferring the elements, that is, the works of God, to God Himself; secondly, in worshipping the figures of the elements themselves under human form. For they form the images of the sun and moon after the fashion of men; also those of fire, and earth, and sea, which they call Vulcan, Vesta, and Neptune. Nor do they openly sacrifice to the elements themselves. Men are possessed with so great a fondness for representations,64 that those things which are true are now esteemed of less value: they are delighted, in fact, with gold, and jewels, and ivory. The beauty and brilliancy of these things dazzle their eyes, and they think that there is no religion where these do not shine. And thus, under pretence of worshipping the gods, avarice and desire are worshipped. For they believe that the gods love whatever they themselves desire, whatever it is, on account of which thefts and robberies and murders daily rage, on account of which wars overthrow nations and cities throughout the whole world. Therefore they consecrate their spoils and plunder to the gods, who must undoubtedly be weak, and destitute of the highest excellence, if they are subject to desires. For why should we think them celestial if they long for anything from the earth, or happy if they are in want of anything, or uncorrupted if they take pleasure in those things in the pursuit of which the desire of men is not unreservedly condemned? They approach the gods, therefore not so much on account of religion, which can have no place in badly acquired and corruptible things, as that they may gaze upon65 the gold, and view the brilliancy of polished marble or ivory, that they may survey with unwearied contemplation garments adorned with precious stones and colours, or cups studded with glittering jewels. And the more ornamented are the temples, and the more beautiful the images, so much the greater majesty are they believed to have: so entirely is their religion confined66 to that which the desire of men admires.

These are the religious institutions handed down to them by their ancestors, which they persist in maintaining and defending with the greatest obstinacy. Nor do they consider of what character they are; but they feel assured of their excellence and truth on this account. because the ancients have handed them down; and so great is the authority of antiquity, that it is said to be a crime to inquire into it. And thus it is everywhere believed as ascertained truth. In short, in Cicero,67 Cotta thus speaks to Lucilius: “You know, Balbus, what is the opinion of Cotta, what the opinion of the pontiff. Now let me understand what are your sentiments: for since you are a philosopher, I ought to receive from you a reason for your religion; but in the case of our ancestors it is reasonable to believe them, though no reason is alleged by them.” If you believe, why then do you require a reason, which may have the effect of causing you not to believe? But if you require a reason, and think that the subject demands inquiry, then you do not believe; for you make inquiry with this view, that you may follow it when you have ascertained it. Behold, reason teaches you that the religious institutions of the gods are not true: what will you do? Will you prefer to follow antiquity or reason? And this, indeed, was not imparted68 to you by another, but was found out and chosen by yourself, since you have entirely uprooted all religious systems. If you prefer reason, you must abandon the institutions and authority of our ancestors, since nothing is right but that which reason prescribes. But if piety advises you to follow your ancestors, then admit that they were foolish, who complied with religious institutions invented contrary to reason; and that you are senseless, since you worship that which you have proved to be false. But since the name of ancestors is so greatly objected to us, let us see, I pray, who those ancestors were from whose authority it is said to be impious to depart.69

Romulus, when he was about to found the city, called together the shepherds among whom he had grown up; and since their number appeared inadequate to the founding of the city, he established an asylum. To this all the most abandoned men flocked together indiscriminately from the neighbouring places, without any distinction of condition. Thus he brought together the people from all these; and he chose into the senate those who were oldest, and called them Fathers, by whose advice he might direct all things. And concerning this senate, Propertius the elegiac poet thus speaks: -

“The trumpet used to call the ancient Quirites to an assembly;70 those hundred in the field often formed the senate. The senate-house, which now is raised aloft and shines with the well-robed senate, received the Fathers clothed in skins, rustic spirits.”

These are the Fathers whose decrees learned and sagacious men obey with the greatest devotion; and all posterity must judge that to be true and unchangeable which an hundred old men clothed in skins established at their will; who, however, 51 as has been mentioned in the first book,71 were enticed by Pompilius to believe the truth of those sacred rites which he himself delivered. Is there any reason why their authority should be so highly esteemed by posterity, since during their life no one either high or low judged them worthy of affinity?72


1 [See Tertullian, vol. 3. p. 176, this series.]

2 Nomen. Another reading is numen, deity.

3 It was a custom among the heathen to crown the images of the gods with garlands of flowers.

4 The allusion is to the upright attitude of man, as compared with other created beings. The argument is often used by Lactantius.

5 This sentence is omitted in some editions.

6 Ovid, Metamorphosis, [book i. 85.

Os homini sublime dedit: cœlumque tueri

Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus.]

7 The allusion is to the supposed derivation of the word ἄνθρωπος, from ἀνὰ, τρέπω, ὤψ, to turn the face upwards.

8 The word temples is not here applied to the buildings which the faithful set apart for the worship of God, but to the places used by the heathens for their rites and sacrifices. [For three centuries templa was the word among Christians for the idolatrous places.] That buildings were set apart by Christians from the earliest ages for their religious assemblies, is gathered from the express testimony of Tertullian, Cyprian, and other early writes. They were called ecclesiæ; churches, not temples. [For κυριακὸν, dominicum, basilica, etc., see Bingham, book viii. cap. i. sec. 2.]

9 The heathens thought that the souls of the unburied dead wandered about on the earth, until their remains were committed to the tomb.

10 The words simulacrum, “an image,” and similitudo, “a likeness,”or “resemblance,” are connected together through the common root similis, “like.”

11 Materia is especially used in the sense of wood or timber.

12 Stipem jaciunt, “they throw a coin.” The word properly means a “coin,” money bearing a stamped impression; hence stipendium, “soldier’s pay.”

13 Fucus, “colouring juice;” hence anything not genuine, but artificial. Others read succum, “juice.”

14 Persius, Satire 2d, 6. Lactantius uses the testimony of heathen writers against the heathen.

15 Or wallow ”voluto.”